Saturday, May 20, 2006

Miscegenation Smiscegenation – Are There Gods for Mix-breeds?

Before Miah and I married, a number of people in my family had said to me, “Look, when you are young and you fall in love, your differences do not seem to matter. But when you get older and life’s troubles come your way, when death is nearer, people go back to the religion they were raised with. So you should think twice about marrying a Christian.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Miah wasn’t raised as a church-going Christian. I care more about the Bible than she does. If someone takes our kid to church, it’s going to be me.”

But I decided to act on my family's concerns and I asked Miah to sit down with me to talk about religion. I dug up an old pamphlet someone gave me in college that explained basic Hindu beliefs and we read it together. It was written by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, who I imagined, by virtue of the number of letters in his name, to be as authentic a guru as is possible. The pamphlet claimed that all Hindus – every single one of the billion Hindus – believe in these principles paraphrased below:

1) One Supreme Being, both immanent and transcendent, Creator and Unmanifest Reality, pervades the universe and can take innumerable forms. By worshipping these forms, we can have communion with the Supreme Being.

2) The soul reincarnates, progressing, and developing toward union with the divine universe.

3) Karma is the law of cause and effect by which individual navigates his/her own destiny by his/her thoughts, words, and deeds. Dharma is the set of duties that guide us along the moral path.

4) Spiritually awakened gurus help devotees with personal discipline, good conduct, purification, self-inquiry, and meditation.

5) All life is sacred and should be loved and revered, leading to ahinsa or the practice of non-violence.

6) The universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation, and dissolution.

7) No religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others.

When Miah and I finished reading the list, we talked about whether we agreed with each principle or not. It turned out I was skeptical of almost all of them. I was taught all these principles as a child and they shaped who I am, and they continue to shape me, as do the sacraments, songs, mantras, and books that I was exposed to. But now, as an adult, I question these principles. Since there is a four-thousand-year-old history of atheism and agnosticism within the Hindu tradition, I do not see myself as an ex-Hindu, a jack-Hindu, or a lapsed Hindu.

The weird thing was that Miah agreed with almost all of the principles. According to the pamphlet, she’s more of a Hindu than I am. So there! If our baby believes in reincarnation, it’s going to be because of Miah not me. To top things off, while writing this entry I found out that Sivaya Subramuniyaswami was a white, American man born in Oakland, California! There is no pure, stable Hinduism (or Christianity) that we can fail to raise our daughter in.

I'm not saying my family members are flat wrong. Marriages across religions often don't work. I've seen it happen – closet Christians, Moslems, and Hindus suddenly demanding that their partner and their children adopt a particular set of religious views. All I am saying is that I think Miah, I, and our baby will be fine regarding gods, goddesses, and the monistic all-pervasive manifest and unmanifest that each of us may or may not believe in.

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Fiddler said...

You guys are on the right path... There is no one true church or religion... The right way is the one of peace, and love, and being/ doing your best for your family, for yourself and humanity... You can center yourself in whatever organized religion you find comfort in, but it's the centering, the connecting with humanity and nature, being one in spite of the masses, that will bring that spiritual harmony... And doing it together, as a couple, as parents, is really important...

GreenDaddy said...

Thanks Fiddler for the supportive comment. Miah and I have talked more about religion since my post. Miah pointed out that we might have more difference between our desires to follow specific traditions than we will with metaphysical beliefs.

I think we'll be OK with traditions too, because we can always add on. We don't have to choose between celebrating Christmas and Navratri, Easter and Holi, Mother's Day and Rakshabandan. None of these traditions contradict each other or overlap much in terms of dates, activities, or meaning.

I'm planning on posting an interview I did with Nobel Prize Winner Amartya Sen about religion. First I need to do some final touch ups to the recording. He's a fantastically brilliant person, so please keep a look out for it.