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Critical Podium Dewanand


part of book from Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, Loving Ganesha: How to become a Hindu

Sacrificer           Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami
Sacrifice code       wfor0215
Sacrifice date       25 march 2009
  • http://www.himalayanacademy.com
  • How to become a Hindu

    The following is excerpted from the new and extraordinary book by
    Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, Loving Ganesha: Hinduism's Endearing Elephant-Faced God. You don't deserve to be without it! The text below makes reference to certificates which can be photocopied.
    These can be obtained by purchasing the book. You can also download and photocopy freely the simple GIF certificates which are linked below.
    Click here to order Loving Ganesha.
    Click here for this document in Spanish (Espanol).

    Copyright Himalayan Academy 1996.
    This service of Himalayan Academy is intended for the private personal use of our readers. No part, except for the certificates, may be reprinted, reposted, broadcast or re-used in any way without written permission. The certificates may be downloaded, printed, photocopied, used and distributed freely.

    # The Importance of the Hindu Name
    # What Is Hinduism?
    # What Makes One a Hindu?
    # A Summary of What Most Hindus Believe
    # Five Obligations of all Hindus
    # Hinduism Has Always Accepted Adoptives and Converts
    # The Steps of Conversion
    # Breaking the Idol Barrier: an Essay by Rudit J. Emir
    # Embracing Hindu Culture: Cues and Clues

    Click here to view the Namakarana certificate
    Click here to download a PDF of the Namakarana certificate
    Click here to view the Vratyastoma certificate

    How to Become a Hindu

    Xenophobia is a foreign concept to Hindus, who embrace even those who are unlike themselves. How do you know if you are a Hindu deep inside? if an elder, your guru or a friend has given you a Hindu name? If you have met a swami or yogi, pandita or satguru who speaks out the truths you always knew to be the way of the universe? If you feel in your heart of hearts that no other religion suits you better, expresses your native spirituality more profoundly, offers you a way to personally know the Divine within you? Let us analyze and through the process of elimination find out. If you believe, as your guru does, in the existence of God everywhere and in all things, you are certainly not a Christian, Muslim or Jew. If you believe in one Supreme God and many Gods, you are certainly not a Christian, Muslim, Jew or Buddhist. The Buddhists don't believe in a personal God. They do not like to use the word God. They do not feel the concept of God is part of their deepest understanding. They do not accept a creator, or a knowing God who guides His creation. I was deeply impressed at hearing the Dalai Lama and the head of a Japanese Buddhist tradition make a strong and articulate point of this to several hundred spiritual leaders at the Presidents' Assembly at the Parliament of the World's Religions 1993 centennial in Chicago, when they appealed to the other religions to please not include the use of the word God in an important declaration, "Toward a Global Ethic," that all faith leaders were asked to affirm and to sign.

    If you believe in the law of karma, action receiving its comparable just due, you might be a Buddhist, but then you have the personal God problem. But you are certainly not a Christian, Jew or Muslim, because their doctrines do not include karma. If you believe in reincarnation, punarjanma "being born again and again," you might be a Buddhist or a Jain, but then there is the God problem again. But again, you are not a Christian, Jew or Muslim, because they adamantly reject these Vedic revelations (though Hasidic Jews do attest to reincarnation).

    In summary, your religion is the group that you are the most comfortable with, those who think like you, share the same ideals, according to their similar philosophies. Another point: if you are attracted to Hindu temples, well then certainly you are not a Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Shintoist or Taoist. The Parliament of the World's Religions brought all these faiths together, and it became very clear that the religions of the world are happy to be different, unique, not the same. They celebrated these differences, while also affirming an inner oneness. As one of the three presidents of Hinduism at the Presidents' Assembly, along with Swami Chidananda Sarasvati and Mataji Amritanandamayi, I can say that each one of the leaders of the world's religions knows who the others are and is not about to change. The whole idea that all religions are one may be true in spirit, but in actuality no. One path or another must be chosen and then lived fully. We don't hear Indian Hindus saying much anymore, "I'm a Christian, I'm a Muslim, I'm a Jew," as they used to proclaim in the '70s. Today they are proudly saying, "I am a Smarta, a Vaishnavite, a Shakta or a Saivite." Much of this change is due to the courageous stand that Hindu leaders of all denominations and traditions have taken.

    If truly you find you are the Hindu an elder, friend or guru saw in you by giving you a Hindu name (they usually give Ananda or Jyoti for starters), then take the next step and accept the culture, the protocol, the fullness of the world's oldest spiritual tradition, with its yogas and its multitudinous wisdoms. Carefully choose the sect within the Sanatana Dharma that you will devote your life to following.

    It is important to know that one cannot simply enter the Hindu religion. That is not possible. It is necessary to enter one of Hinduism's specific sects or denominations. Even in these tempestuous times, the subtle differences of Hindu lineages are clearly and methodically demarcated by our priesthoods. Go with your Hindu friends to a Hindu priest in a temple of your choice and arrange for the name-giving sacrament, namakarana samskara. Your beliefs and way of life have affirmed your inner decision to become a Hindu. This ceremony brings you formally into the Hindu community, recognizing and ratifying your proclamation of loyalty and wholehearted commitment to the Sanatana Dharma and validating, now and forever, your Hindu first and last name.

    A model namakarana certificate is included in the book Loving Ganesha that you can photocopy or re-typeset to document the event, signed by the priest and several witnesses, especially members of the society you are entering, who will share your joy in becoming a full-fledged Hindu. Then have your new name made legal on your passport, social security card, driver's license, telephone listing and more.

    The certificate marking entrance into the Hindu fold is a legal document giving the name of the temple, home or hall the ceremony was performed in. It is signed by yourself, and by the priest, his assistant and at least three witnesses who are established members of Hinduism. It is proof of your Hindu name which can be used for name changes on other documents, though ideally the name change should be legalized before the namakarana samskara. In the United States, a legal change by court order is required to obtain a passport and in some states it must be signed by a secretary of state. Each country has its own rules, and for these matters it is best to consult the proper authorities. For strength of character, commitment, loyalty and integrity, a double standard should be avoided at all costs, such as being a Hindu in the home and a non-Hindu to others by using the former name, or using a Hindu on your driver's license but a non-Hindu name on your passport for international travel. This type of behavior reaps no spiritual benefits.

    When seeking out a liturgist who will perform the name-giving rite, or namakarana samskara, it is necessary to approach a priest from within the sect that one wishes to enter (note: Smarta priests most likely will not give namakaranas). Bring with you to the ceremony an offering basket of incense, fruit, coconut, candy, loose flowers and a beautiful flower garland for Lord Ganesha. Dakshina, a love offering for the priest, is traditional in appreciation for his services in bringing you into the Sanatana Dharma sect of your choice. A generous dakshina, a sum of $900 or more is appropriate by 1995 standards in the US, depending upon the number of priests attending. It is estimated that such a Vedic ceremony will take one to two hours and require many more hours of strict preparations. The presiding priest would be given us$301 or more, his second helper $201 and other helpers $101. Traditionally, cash is wrapped in a betel leaf or its equivalent, and handed personally to the priests right after the ceremony. Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime happening, the cost of the giving should not be a consideration. Of course, when the rite is performed in a temple, the management should also be given $100 to $200 for the use of their facilities, which would be arranged in advance with the management and could be paid by check. In general, generosity is preferred to miserliness when it comes to rewarding our priests for these enormously important sacred ceremonies and passages. Such appreciation in the form of equitable payment ensures the gratitude and good feelings of the priests for the life ahead. If more than one family member is receiving the namakarana samskara, the amount paid to the priests and the temple would not necessarily be increased. This depends on the protocol of the particular temple. Any reception held afterwards would, of course, involve additional costs. You may elect to give gifts to the temple, such as a picture of your guru and his books and other publications, in thanks for the assistance and services.

    Four originals of the namakarana certificate should be signed: one for temple management to display, one for your records, one for your guru and one for legal matters, such as immigration and travel. From your original, many photocopies should be made and sent to friends and relatives. Further, a copy of this significant document proving your membership in the Hindu faith should always be kept with your passport to respond to institutions that ask of your Hindu identity when entering their premises.

    The Importance of the Hindu Name

    Of all the aspects of fully embracing the Hindu religion, the legal changing of one's name is certainly the most public, requiring adjustment on the part of friends, relatives, neighbors and even business acquaintances. A few approach this with trepidation, but the expected negative reaction--particularly from personal and business acquaintances--seldom materializes. If the immediate family becomes genuinely concerned, this will be overcome by the obvious love, sincerity and depth of conviction of the individual.

    Having one's name legally changed is not unusual. Women do it all the time, at marriage. Movie stars rarely use their birth name. Name changes for religious reasons are almost as common. Heavyweight boxer Casius Clay startled the world in 1967 by proclaiming his conversion to Islam and changing his name to Muhammed Ali.

    But anyone who has gone through the experience of a religious name change knows that there are real obstacles. Here are a few:

    1. Grandma's fears that you are rejecting your family traditions.

    2. Business associates: your fears of what they might think.

    3. The tendency to use the old name when you are among your non-Hindu friends.

    4. The tendency to use the new first name and the old last name.

    5. Using the name but not having it made legal.

    6. Using the Hindu name with one group and former name with another, a practice of double standard that erodes one's self-image and by which no one will take you seriously.

    The most ancient and common source of Hindu names is from the names of God and the Gods. Each child receives a name selected from those of the family's Ishta Devata, or chosen Deity. Such names are called theophoric. The custom of choosing a name from the Gods is among the most ancient, with examples in Persia, Greece, India and the early Indo-European civilizations. In Vedic times there was a Sanskrit convention for forming patronymics: If Garga was the father, then Gargi was the son, Gargya the grandson and Gargyayana the greatgrandson.

    Hindu names often indicate caste and sect. Iyer is for a certain caste of South Indian brahmins. Sharma is for a caste of North Indian brahmins. The God names Venkatenvara or Krishna indicate a follower of Vishnu. Common names of Saivites are Nataraja, Mahadevan, Sivalinga, Nilakantha, Subramaniam, Kandiah and Kumara. Das or Dasa is a frequently used suffix meaning "slave" and is used by all denominations--hence Sivadas, Kalidas, Haridas. Often the first name is chosen according to the syllable mystically related to the individual's nakshatra, birth star. There are 108 different such sounds used to begin a name: four for each of the twenty-seven nakshatras.

    Hindus sometimes change their name during their life as a result of a blessing at a temple or when a holy man initiates them. Swami Vivekananda--who said, "Certainly, there is a great deal in a name!"--was originally named Narendranath Dutt and had several names as a monk. The Tamil Saint Manikkavasagar was originally named Vathavooran. My satguru, Asan Yogaswami, gave new names to many of his devotees, and many of those names were made legal. A good example is myself. Yogaswami gave me the name Subramuniya in 1949. Returning to the United States, I had it made legal in the courts in 1950. Such changes of name in Hinduism are considered sacred moments, indicative of spiritual changes taking place on the inside.

    The change of name, and using it under all circumstances, is an important sign of religious sincerity to the Hindu community. It shows the willingness to stand up and be counted as a Hindu. Proceed with confidence. Be a hundred-percenter. Don't remain on the fence. It is risky to walk down the middle of the road. Stand up boldly and declare who you are. Realize that if your guru gave you a Hindu name, he saw something in you, and that is what attracted you to him. Or if you don't find you hold the basic beliefs of the other religions named above, then "stand strong for Hinduism."

    The following paragraphs of this chapter explain what Hinduism is and what is necessary to go through to become a full Hindu of your chosen sect: Saiva, Vaishnava, Shakta or Smarta. Thousands of seekers have converted to or adopted Hinduism in modern times, and we have a wonderful book that outlines the entire process in more detail than we have presented below: Saivite Names: Satguru Speaks on Becoming a Hindu. Remember, no one reaches out to convert anyone to the Sanatana Dharma. Hinduism is not and never has been a proselytizing religion. For its strength and that of its devotees, elders, religious leaders and established extended families rely on the soul of the individual to burst forward. What follows is the methodology that was developed in personal lives and through the peerless "wisdom council of elders'' as to how, with the blessings of Hindu priests, the witness of observers and the sanction of their guru, devotees have irrevocably and of their own volition turned themselves into full members of the Sanatana Dharma, the world's oldest religion on planet Earth.
    What Is Hinduism?

    Hinduism is India's indigenous religious and cultural system, followed today by nearly one billion adherents, mostly in India, but with large populations in many other countries. Also called Sanatana Dharma, "eternal religion," and Vaidika Dharma, "religion of the Vedas," Hinduism encompasses a broad spectrum of philosophies ranging from pluralistic theism to absolute monism. It is a family of myriad faiths with four primary denominations: Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism. These four hold such divergent beliefs that each is a complete and independent religion. Yet, they share a vast heritage of culture and belief: karma, dharma, reincarnation, all-pervasive Divinity, temple worship, sacraments, manifold Deities, the many yogas, the guru-nishya tradition and a reliance on the Vedas as scriptural authority.

    From the rich soil of Hinduism long ago sprang various other traditions. Among these were Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism, which rejected the Vedas and thus emerged as completely distinct religions, disassociated from Hinduism, while still sharing many philosophical insights and cultural values with their parent faith.

    Not unlike all the other religions of the world, Hinduism has no central headquarters. Neither do the Christians, Jews, Muslims or Buddhists. They all have many who represent and are the secretariates for their various denominations. Hinduism is no different in today's world. It has had many founders in the past and will in the futures of its sects, its teaching lineages within them, each headed by a pontiff. Then there are the exemplary few spiritual beings to whom all flock for upliftment and solace, who have renounced sectarianism, lineage and formalities for the Self and all the greatness it contains.

    Critics have claimed Hinduism as not being an organized religion. In truth, they are correct. Islamic and Christian rule in India, Hinduism's central citadel, for 1,200 years eroded greatly upon its perpetuation. Yet it survived. In today's world it may be accused of being a purely unorganized religion, but it's getting better daily. Its temples and active organizations surround the world. Whatever its faults, it has kept the fires of sadhana and renunciation, of unabashed spiritual life and yoga disciplines, alive. No other faith has done that to the same extent. Hinduism's nearly three million swamis, gurus and sadhus work tirelessly within and upon themselves and then, when ready, serve others, leading them from darkness into light, from death to immortality.
    What Makes One a Hindu?

    In our discussion of Hindu conversion, the question clearly arises of how Hinduism historically has looked at the matter. Second, what is it exactly that makes a person a Hindu? We will approach the latter question first. To the born Hindu of today, the question of entering Hinduism may appear unnecessary, for by definition Hinduism is a way of life, a culture, both religious and secular. The Hindu is not accustomed to thinking of his religion as a clearly defined system, distinct and different from other systems, for it fills his life. It encompasses all of life. Partly this pure, simple view stems from the relative isolation Hindu communities have enjoyed for centuries, with little interaction with alien faiths to highlight Hinduism's uniqueness. Even more so, it has to do with Hinduism's all-embracing quality which accepts so many variations of belief and practice into itself. But this view ignores the true distinctions between this way of life and those ways of the other great religions of the world. There is no denying that Hinduism is also a distinct world religion.

    Those who follow that way of life are Hindus. It is similar to the story in the Mahabharata in which the great King Yudhishthira was asked, "What makes a brahmin--birth, learning or conduct?" to which he replied, "It is conduct which makes a brahmin." Similarly, the modern Hindu may well state that it is conduct, based upon belief in dharma, karma and reincarnation, which makes a Hindu. After all, he might muse, is not a true devotee whose heart is filled with faith in and love for his Ishta Devata and who lives the Hindu dharma as much a Hindu as his agnostic neighbor, though the first was born in Indonesia or North America and the second in Andra Pradesh?

    Sri K. Navaratnam of Sri Lanka, devotee of Paramaguru Siva Yogaswami for some 40 years, in his book Studies in Hinduism quotes from the book, Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines, "Hindus are those who adhere to the Hindu tradition, on the understanding that they are duly qualified to do so really effectively, and not simply in an exterior and illusory way; non-Hindus, on the contrary, are those who, for any reason whatsoever, do not participate in the tradition in question." Sri K. Navaratnam enumerates a set of basic beliefs held by Hindus:

    1. A belief in the existence of God.

    2. A belief in the existence of a soul separate from the body.

    3. A belief in the existence of the finitizing principle known as avidya or maya.

    4. A belief in the principle of matter--prakriti or maya.

    5. A belief in the theory of karma and reincarnation.

    6. A belief in the indispensable guidance of a guru to guide the spiritual aspirant towards God Realization.

    7. A belief in moksha, or liberation, as the goal of human existence.

    8. A belief in the indispensable necessity of temple worship...in religious life.

    9. A belief in graded forms of religious practices, both internal and external, until one realizes God.

    10. A belief in ahimsa as the greatest dharma or virtue.

    11. A belief in mental and physical purity as indispensable factors for spiritual progress.

    Shri Shri Shri Jayendra Sarasvati, 69th Shankaracharya of the Kamakoti Peetham, Kanchipuram, defines in one of his writings the basic features of Hinduism as follows:

    1. The concept of idol worship and the worship of God in his Nirguna as well as Saguna form.

    2. The wearing of sacred marks on the forehead.

    3. Belief in the theory of past and future births in accordance with the theory of karma.

    4. Cremation of ordinary men and burial of great men.

    An article in Hindu Vishva (Jan./Feb., 1986) cites various common definitions including the following: "He who has perfect faith in the law of karma, the law of reincarnation, avatara, ancestor worship, varnashrama dharma, Vedas and existence of God, he who practices the instructions given in the Vedas with faith and earnestness, he who does snana, sraddha, pitri-tarpana and the pancha mahayajnas, he who follows the varnashram-dharmas, he who worships the avataras and studies the Vedas, is a Hindu.' "

    "Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and the realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshiped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of the Hindu religion." B.G. Tilak's definition of what makes one a basic Hindu, as quoted by India's Supreme Court. On July 2, 1995, the Court referred to it as an "adequate and satisfactory formula."

    The Vishva Hindu Parishad's official definition of a Hindu, stated in its Memorandum of Association, Rules and Regulation (1966) is: "'Hindu' means a person believing in, following or respecting the eternal values of life, ethical and spiritual, which have sprung up in Bharatkhand [India] and includes any person calling himself a Hindu."

    In the above and other definitions, the three pivotal beliefs for all Hindus are karma, reincarnation and the belief in all-pervasive Divinity--forming as they do the crux of day-to-day religion, explaining our past existence, guiding our present life and determining our future union with God. It is apparent from the pervasiveness of these beliefs today that a large number of non-Hindus qualify as self-declared Hindus already, for many believe in karma, dharma and reincarnation, strive to see God everywhere, have some concept of maya, recognize someone as their guru, respect temple worship and believe in the evolution of the soul. Many of these beliefs are heretical to most other religions, especially Christianity and the Jewish religion, and those who do believe in karma and reincarnation and in union with the Divine have evolved beyond the boundaries of Western religion.

    A Summary of What Most Hindus Believe

    In the last decade we crafted a simple summary of Hindu belief and distributed hundreds of thousands of pamphlets around the world sharing these. They were printed side-by-side with their Christian counterparts in Christianity Today magazine, February 8, 1993, so Christians could better comprehend Hindus. On August, 1995, they were published by the Religious News Service in Washington, DC, for hundreds of American newspapers. These nine beliefs offer a basic summary of Sanatana Dharma's spirituality.

    Nine Beliefs of Hinduism

    1. Hindus believe in the divinity of the Vedas, the world's most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God's word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion which has neither beginning nor end.

    2. Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.

    3. Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.

    4. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
    5. Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, spiritual knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.

    6. Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments as well as personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.

    7. Hindus believe that a spiritually awakened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and meditation.

    8. Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, "noninjury."

    9. Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God's Pure Love and Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.

    Five Obligations of all Hindus

    1. worship, upAsanA: Young Hindus are taught daily worship in the family shrine room--rituals, disciplines, chants, yogas and religious study. They learn to be secure through devotion in home and temple, wearing traditional dress, bringing forth love of the Divine and preparing the mind for serene meditation.

    2. Holy days, Utsava: Young Hindus are taught to participate in Hindu festivals and holy days in the home and temple. They learn to be happy through sweet communion with God at such auspicious celebrations. Utsava includes fasting and attending the temple on Monday or Friday and other holy days.

    3. virtuous living, dharma: Young Hindus are taught to live a life of duty and good conduct. They learn to be selfless by thinking of others first, being respectful of parents, elders and swamis, following divine law, especially ahimsa, mental, emotional and physical noninjury to all beings. Thus they resolve karmas.

    4. Pilgrimage, tIrthayAtrA: Young Hindus are taught the value of pilgrimage and are taken at least once a year for darnana of holy persons, temples and places, near or far. They learn to be detached by setting aside worldly affairs and making God, Gods and gurus life's singular focus during these journeys.

    5. rites of passage, samskara: Young Hindus are taught to observe the many sacraments which mark and sanctify their passages through life. They learn to be traditional by celebrating the rites of birth, name-giving, head-shaving, first feeding, ear-piercing, first learning, coming of age, marriage and death.

    Hinduism Has Always Accepted Adoptives and Converts

    It is sometimes claimed that one must be born in a Hindu family in order to be a Hindu, that one cannot adopt or convert to this world's most ancient faith. This is simply not true. The acceptance of outsiders into the Hindu fold has occurred for thousands of years. Groups as diverse as local aborigines and the invading Greeks of Alexander the Great have been brought in. Entering Hinduism has traditionally required little more than accepting and living the beliefs and codes of Hindus. This remains the basic factor in the process, although there are, and always have been, formal ceremonies recognizing an individual's entrance into the religion, particularly the namakarana samskara, or naming rite in the case of adoptives and converts, and the vratyastoma, oath-taking rite, in the case of those returning to the Hindu faith.

    The most compelling testimony to Hinduism's acceptance of non-Hindus into its fold is history. Here we quote the writings of well-known Hindus who present both their own opinions and cite examples from history. Possibly the most thorough exposition of the subject appears in the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume V, pg. 233), in an interview called "On the bounds of Hinduism," which first appeared in the Prabuddha Bharata in April, 1899: "Having been directed by the Editor, writes our representative, to interview Swami Vivekananda on the question of converts to Hinduism, I found an opportunity one evening on the roof of a Ganges houseboat. It was after nightfall, and we had stopped at the embankment of the Ramakrishna Math, and there the Swami came down to speak with me. Time and place were alike delightful. Overhead the stars, and around, the rolling Ganga; and on one side stood the dimly lighted building, with its background of palms and lofty shade-trees. 'I want to see you, Swami,' I began, 'on this matter of receiving back into Hinduism those who have been perverted from it. Is it your opinion that they should be received?'

    'Certainly,' said the swami, 'they can and ought to be taken.' He sat gravely for a moment, thinking, and then resumed. 'The vast majority of Hindu perverts to Islam and Christianity are perverts by the sword, or the descendants of these. It would be obviously unfair to subject these to disabilities of any kind. As to the case of born aliens, did you say? Why, born aliens have been converted in the past by crowds, and the process is still going on.'

    [NOTE: Swami Vivekananda's use of the word "pervert" here is correct and is intended to convey the simpler meaning of the word more common in his day, which is "to misdirect, corrupt or lead astray," as opposed to the more modern connotation of the word. His use of the word does not in any way imply sexual perversion.]

    'In my own opinion, this statement not only applies to aboriginal tribes, to outlying nations, and to almost all our conquerors before the Mohammedan conquest, but also to all those castes who find a special origin in the Puranas. I hold that they have been aliens thus adopted.'

    'Ceremonies of expiation are no doubt suitable in the case of willing converts, returning to their Mother-Church, as it were; but on those who were alienated by conquest--as in Kashmir and Nepal--or on strangers wishing to join us, no penance should be imposed.'

    'But of what caste would these people be, Swamiji?' I ventured to ask. 'They must have some, or they can never be assimilated into the great body of Hindus. Where shall we look for their rightful place?'

    'Returning converts,' said the swami quietly, 'will gain their own castes, of course. And new people will make theirs. You will remember,' he added, 'that this has already been done in the case of Vaishnavism. Converts from different castes and aliens were all able to combine under that flag and form a caste by themselves--and a very respectable one, too. From Ramanuja down to Chaitanya of Bengal, all great Vaishnava teachers have done the same.'

    'Then as to names,' I enquired, 'I suppose aliens and perverts who have adopted non-Hindu names should be named newly. Would you give them caste names, or what?' 'Certainly,' said the Swami thoughtfully, 'there is a great deal in a name!' and on this question he would say no more.

    Dr. S. Radhakrishnan confirms the swami's views in a brief passage from his well-known book The Hindu View of Life (page 28-29): "In a sense, Hinduism may be regarded as the first example in the world of a missionary religion. Only its missionary spirit is different from that associated with the proselytizing creeds. It did not regard it as its mission to convert humanity to any one opinion. For what counts is conduct and not belief. Worshipers of different Gods and followers of different rites were taken into the Hindu fold. The ancient practice of vratyastoma, described fully in the Tandya Brahmana, shows that not only individuals but whole tribes were absorbed into Hinduism. Many modern sects accept outsiders. Dvala's Smriti lays down rules for the simple purification of people forcibly converted to other faiths, or of womenfolk defiled and confined for years, and even of people who, for worldly advantage, embrace other faiths."
    How Swami Vivekananda's Wisdom Applies Today

    Today, one who holds only a single Hindu name or who appreciates Hinduism's essence but has not accepted its totality is called an ardha-Hindu, or "half-Hindu." Ardha-Hindus include not only Westerners who have taken a Hindu first name, but Easterners who have taken a Western name, first or last, to disguise their true Hindu name or to render it easier for Westerners to pronounce. Other religions abhor this. For instance, in the Islamic community we would never meet Mohammed Ali Johnson or Joe Mohammed. They are proud to be who they are, abhoring all disguises. They set a good example for us. Hindus, or ardha-Hindus, seeking to be ecumenical and all-embracing observe Easter or celebrate Christmas, thinking themselves tolerant. But are they? In fact, they are not, for they do not equally celebrate the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, nor do they observe Jewish or Shinto or Buddhist holy days, or those of other faiths that, as universalists, they profess to proclaim as their own.

    People of other religions and those who choose not to commit, who are committed to being non-committal, are called mlecçha, outsiders. Those who enter the Sanatana Dharma from other religions or from none at all are considered to be within the caste (jati) of their occupation at the time of entrance. Workers under others are nudra. The self-employed are vainyas--lawyers, bankers, businessmen, arbitrators and government personnel. Lawyers, arbitrators, soldiers and politicians are kshatriyas. Religionists, scholars, inventors and visionaries are the brahmins.

    These converts or adoptives are distinguished by the appellation Arsha, derived from rishi, meaning "seer," an ennobling term closely bound to the Vedas, because they have had to fulfill deep study and soul-searching to enter the faith. The seer, their guru, sees where the soul is in its evolution and brings it into the proper dharma, whatever the place of birth or ethnic-racial background.

    Thus, in modern times, the term Arsha has encompassed the meaning of convert or adoptive, a soul brought into the faith by a satguru, guru or swami, pundit or elder who has indoctrinated the devotee to the point of fully entering the Eternal Path through the entrance sacrament, namakarana samskara. They, therefore, may use the term Arsha after their name, as the followers of Sri Ramanuja use Iyengar, generation after generation. Similarly, in India, the designation Arya, meaning "noble," is given by the Arya Samaj, the Vishva Hindu Parishad and others to Indians who convert to or reenter the Hindu faith through the vratyastoma or nuddhi rites. Another term recommended for those reentering Hinduism, is Sanatani, which conveys the meaning of eternal connection to the root religion.

    As an example, I had the Arsha evolution in my prarabdha karma which was seen by my satguru, Sage Yogaswami, when I told him that I had adopted the Sanatana Dharma as the first and only religion of my life. Without hesitation he brought me into his Saiva Hindu tradition. After my namakarana samskara, my body relaxed and felt secure, like being home. My emotions satisfied because of acceptance, my intellect quieted, its task now done, my spirit welled, its task just begun. A few days later, he gave me my life's mission, of building a bridge for all his devotees to the lands beyond Sri Lankan shores--Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries--preparing the way for the visarjana, the diaspora, of the Sri Lankan Tamil people brought about by the great civil war which started in 1983 and continued beyond 1995. Until his departure he communicated with me, through Kandiah Chettiar who took me to the first meeting, year after year. I was young then and did not understand much of the international impact that was to occur. But in the 1980s and '90s it became quite clear: my satguru was the seer of seers and I had been enlisted as a Sivathondar, slave of Siva, and given a mission that I had not applied for. But in my heart of hearts, soul of souls, spirit of spirits, I understood that it was my duty to fulfill my guru's edicts better than his expectations on my individual path to moksha. He was a great seer who saw ahead to the future of futures, and as his mission unfolded within me unto this day I wonder how the impact of a forceful slap on the back could have transferred his mission to me. As a knowledgeable nastric priest explained to me in later years, Yogaswami put his samskaras into me and awakened my futuristic samskaras past this birth. A mystery of mysteries that only the Nathas of Nathas of Natha rishis could ever explain.

    The Steps of Conversion

    To gain a clear subconscious for his future religious life, the individual must examine and reject those beliefs of his previous religion or philosophy which differ from those of the sect of Hinduism he wishes to join. Then he must examine and accept the Hindu beliefs which are new to him.

    If he was confirmed or otherwise initiated in another religion or ideology, he must effect formal severance from his previous religion or faith before formally entering the Hindu religion through the namakarana samskara, the name-giving sacrament. Full religious conversion means that one's former religious or philosophical leader is made aware, preferably through a personal meeting with the convert, that the individual is entering a new religion.

    Further, ethical conversion means that the parents and relatives, too, understand the momentous change that has taken place. This societal recognition, along with initiation and vow-giving, legal change of name on passport and all documents, signifies true conversion on all levels of being. Nothing less will suffice. Even within Hinduism itself there are formal ceremonies and soul-searching requirements for Hindus converting from one denomination to another, as when a Saivite becomes a Vaishnavite or a Smarta becomes a Shakta, accomplished, in part, in some communities by writing with a golden needle the divine mantras on the convert's tongue.

    Before explaining the steps of conversion, we want to advise Hindu societies worldwide to make close inquiries of adoptives and converts as to their fulfilling the six steps of conversion which our loving Ganesha has given to us to open the doors to the ardha-Hindu into the fullness of the sectarian faith of his or her choice. Detailed below are the procedures for religious reconciliation that we have established in our own fellowship, leading through the process of severance from former faiths and into Hinduism.

    1. Joining a Hindu Community

    First and most importantly, the devotee mixes socially and earns acceptance into an established Hindu community. The devotee should be worshiping regularly at the community's satsangas or temples, making yearly pilgrimages, performing daily puja and sadhanas within the home and seriously striving to live up to the culture defined in the 365 Nandinatha Sutras of Living with Siva, which is a complete statement of Hindu values and culture.

    2. Point-Counterpoint

    The devotee undertakes certain assigned Hindu studies and a formal analysis of former religions, denominations, sampradayas or philosophical systems. He or she writes a point-counterpoint comparing Hinduism with each such school of thought to demonstrate a thorough grasp of the similarities and differences. Part two of this assignment is to complete a written analysis of all former pledges or vows, indicating when and why each point mentioned in those vows was abandoned. This point-counterpoint is then presented to a Hindu elder for his review and comment.

    3. Severing from Former Mentors

    If formal severance is required, the devotee returns to the former institution and attends services or lectures for a few weeks. Then, accompanied by a relative or friend as a witness, he or she meets personally with the former mentor. In the case of a married person, the spouse is preferred as a witness. The devotee explains that he will be joining the Hindu religion and wishes to sever ties with this church or institution. For an intimate understanding of severance, I would like to share with you a letter that one of my kulapati counselors wrote to a potential convert from Catholicism:

    "Your point-counterpoint will do much for you in preparing you to meet your former priest to convince him that an inner transformation has occurred and you are indeed a Hindu soul, not a Catholic. This is a face-to-face meeting with the religious leader of your former faith or his successor. This step is done on a very personal level, as the fire of severance takes place during this confrontation. It cannot be done through the mail or on the telephone. During this meeting, your conviction and clear understanding of both religions will allow your priest to see the thoughtfulness and sincerity of the decision you have made. A letter of release can, many times, be obtained before you leave his office when he sees clearly that you have completely abandoned the Catholic faith. This letter validates your personal release and clears the way for your formal entrance into Hinduism in all three worlds. It is an essential experience and document necessary for your namakarana samskara."

    We have many letters from Catholic priests, even archbishops, attesting to full conversion to Hinduism on the part of their former paritioners. In the case of formal religions, the devotee requests a letter of release, as an apostate (such as with the Catholic Church) or as inactive (as in most Protestant Christian denominations). If the religious leader grants a verbal severance but will not convey it in writing, the witness to the interview writes a letter stating what took place. This letter is later given to the guiding elder of the Hindu community the devotee seeks to fully join.

    Even if there is no granting of severance, verbally or in writing, the conversion is still considered complete, based on the canon law of the Catholic church (and which applies to other faiths in principle, such as Judaism) that someone who adopts another religion is, ipso facto, an apostate. In cases where there has been no formal commitment, such as in nonreligious schools of thought, an inner severance may be effected through heartfelt conversation in which the devotee shares his or her true convictions.

    4. Adopting a Hindu Name

    The devotee then proceeds to have his or her name legally changed and then placed on one's passport, driver's license and all important financial or legal instruments, including credit cards, library cards and bank accounts. Even before formal entrance to Hinduism, devotees are encouraged to begin using their Hindu names at all times.

    5. The Namakarana Samskara

    The name-giving sacrament can be held at any Hindu temple. Before the namakarana samskara, the devotee informs family, relatives and close friends of his or her name change and intended entrance into Hinduism. At the sacred name-giving rite, the Hindu name is received, vows are taken and a certificate is signed, documenting the former name and the new name, place of ceremony and signature of the priest and at least three witnesses. We have included a sample namakarana certificate on the next page for this purpose.

    6. Announcing the Severance and Name-Giving

    After the severance and name-giving, the devotee publishes a three-day announcement in a local newspaper stating that the name-change has been completed and he or she has entered the Hindu religion through the namakarana samskara. The devotee should keep a copy of these announcements and all other documents related to the conversion (such as letters from attorneys and elders) as part of a dossier verifying the name-giving which may be needed in the future, such as when seeking acceptance into a conservative Hindu organization, seeking permanent residency or citizenship in a foreign country or in other cases when the Hindu name may come into question. Similarly, many temples in India and other countries will ask to see the passport or other appropriate proof of Hindu identity before admitting devotees of non-Indian origin for more than casual worship.

    Name-Giving Certificate

    Below is a certificate that can be photocopied (enlarged) to document a namakarana held at any temple. This sacrament marks the formal entrance into a particular sect of Hinduism, through the acceptance and blessings of established members and the blessings of Gods and devas invoked through rites performed by an authorized Hindu priest.
    The Ceremony of Welcoming Back

    It is one of the duties of the Hindu priesthood to stand guard at the gates of Sanatana Dharma and perform the sacred ceremonies for worthy souls to allow them entrance for the first time or reentrance into the Hindu fold in case they strayed into an alien faith and desire to return. The priesthoods of all four major denominations of Sanåtana Dharma--Saivism, Vaishnavism, Smartism and Shaktism--are performing the duty, empowered by the Gods, of bringing devotees back into the Hindu fold through a congregation of devotees.

    When such souls do return, it is the duty of established followers to shepherd them, blend them in and assist at every opportunity to make them successful members of the international extended family of our venerable faith.

    The process of "reconversion" of Hindus previously converted to other faiths has been widely practiced in India throughout this century. In many cases the earlier conversion, generally to Islam or Christianity, occurred several generations ago. Another institution, the Masuranrama in Bombay, specializes in reconversions through a Shuddhi Shraddha ceremony, bringing in dozens of new converts each month. Masuranrama's founder, Dharma Bhaskar Masurkar Maharaj, set a strong precedent in 1928 when he organized the nuddhi ceremony for 1,150 individuals in Goa who were previously converted to Christianity.

    In recent decades, two South Indian anramas--Madurai Aadheenam and Kundrakuddi Aadheenam--have brought thousands of Indians back into Hinduism through mass conversion rites. This century the Vishva Hindu Parishad has reportedly brought back into the Hindu fold, beginning in the early 1960s, over one-half million individuals through Shuddhi ceremonies all over India.

    Vratyastoma Certificate

    On-line here is a vratyastoma certificate that can be printed and photocopied to document this purification ceremony held at any temple. This sacrament marks the formal reentrance into a particular sect of Hinduism, through the acceptance of established members and the blessings of Gods and devas invoked through rites performed by an authorized priest.

    Breaking the Idol Barrier
    An Essay by Rudit J. Emir
    From Hinduism Today, August, 1995

    I grew up in a Christian family. Not only was it Christian, it was Protestant. Protestants tend to be austere in their ritualism and in their portrayal of holy images. The typical church holds a cross, perhaps a statue or painting of Christ. Stained glass windows may depict the life of Christ or of his apostles--that is all. The Catholic propensity for richer symbolism was viewed through my Protestant family's eyes as a strange kind of extravagance, colored by a touch of something almost pagan. I remember looking skeptically at Catholics kneeling in front of statues of saints and burning candles by their images to invoke their blessings.

    That's the kind of mind that came in contact with the religious thought and culture of the Hindus. Around the age of sixteen the impact of spiritual India began to enter my life. The influence came first through contemplative literature--the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads. Though they touched my heart and initiated new stirrings deep within, still, the heart was not blasted wide open. I had not yet met my guru.

    Then I met Gurudev, Swami Chinmayananda. I was twenty-six, with an unappeased hunger that had begun ten years earlier and had still not been satisfied. Swamiji blasted my heart wide open as his love-drenched intellect pierced through my rational mind to reach the sanctuary within.

    Around that time the symbolic and ritual aspect of Hindu worship also became known to me through bhajanas and kirtana, prostrations to the teacher, receiving of prasada from the hands of the guru, and the first tentative, uncertain, yet strangely overpowering experiences with a padapuja, worship of the guru's sandals. Still, the Protestant in me affirmed, "I am a Vedantin, not a Hindu. The ritualistic aspect of the spiritual search is for the Hindu, not for me, a Westerner. I am striving for the essence behind the symbol; the symbol itself I can forego."

    My first trip to India, about ten years after I had met Swamiji, included a few unforgettable visits to temples and some dutiful prostrations in front of idols. I did it out of respect for the spiritual traditions of a country I had grown to revere and out of my intellectual appreciation that each symbol stood for a deeper meaning behind it. But the Protestant in me still persisted in her protest against worship of inanimate stone and wood.

    In the fall of 1987 I had the good fortune to participate in a Chinmaya Spiritual Camp at Sidhabari, Himachal Pradesh, at the foothills of the Himalayas. The spiritually charged setting, the meditative stillness of the Himalayas, left my mind in awe. One morning after meditation, I found myself walking toward the temple. After doing my pranams in front of the idols in the sanctuary, I followed the other worshipers to the rear of the temple. I must confess I had no idea what I might find there. As I turned the corner, my eyes fell upon a wooden image of Ganesha. A blast of overpowering emotion almost pushed me to the ground. I was reeling inside. Lord Ganesha, through the idol, had just come alive for me. In fact, He had caught me totally unawares, had taken me by surprise by this unexpectedly powerful announcement of His undeniable presence. "Lord Ganesha what have You done? Of all the idols that I had contemplated upon in my intellectual studies of Hindu symbolism, You of all the many Deities left me quizzical and wondering--You with the strange animal head, the bloated belly, the broken tusk. I could never take You seriously. I wondered how so many Hindus could. And now, what have You done? Among the bevy of beautiful, statuesque, inspiring images of Hindu Gods, dear Lord, You chose to speak to me through the strange, even comical, form of Ganesha!"

    I left the temple as though struck by a bolt of lightning. My mind later pondered over what had transpired. Perhaps my encounter with Ganesha was simply the extension of a fulfilling hour of contemplation that had ended just moments before my visit to the temple. The experience would most likely not be repeated. The next day I decided to test the previous day's newfound reality. As I rounded the corner toward the back of the temple, I found myself talking to Ganesha, half-reverently, half-jokingly (as He had left me with a very intimate, slightly jovial feeling of His presence the day before): "Ganesha, will You really be there for me again? Will you assert Your reality through the dead image of carved wood? Go ahead, prove it to me!"

    He did it again. And again and again, for many days afterward.

    The Protestant in me no longer protests.

    How can she? Not only does Ganesha speak to me through the idol now, He has also proven His presence as the Remover of Obstacles for me.

    On my return trip for Sidhabari, I had no train reservations. Gathered in a huddle on the station platform, my friends were valiantly trying to persuade the railway personnel to allow me to use a ticket unused by another passenger. In vain. The conductor's face remained stern; his head continued to shake in an adamant "No!" Departure time was approaching fast. By the minute, it looked less and less likely that I would reach New Delhi in time to meet Swamiji when he arrived there.

    Only one thing to do. "Ganesha !" I cried in my mind, "You must come to help me now! Remove this obstacle!" The very instant I shouted those words in my mind, a smile broke across the conductor's face. "OK," he said, "we'll arrange for a seat."

    The Protestant protests no more.
    The idol barrier has been broken.

    Embracing Hindu Culture
    Cues and Clues

    Those seeking to adopt the Hindu culture fully who have been raised in non-Hindu environments will face many changes. The refinements of Hindu culture must be carefully studied and practiced. Western culture gives freedom to the individual, irrespective of the hurts he may cause to elders, spouse and children. Eastern culture gives freedom within the bounds of duty to elders, spouse and children. The sense of duty is the foundation of Hindu culture, and in performing duty one finds freedom within oneself through the higher accomplishments of yoga. Arriving at this state of unity requires study, worship, sadhana and effort to mold oneself into the beliefs and culture of the religion you seek to adopt. The gentle Hindu culture is the embodiment of the profound philosophy. Therefore, to become fully Hindu means fully adopting the attitudes, customs and protocol of Hinduism. Of course, the best way to absorb the subtle nuances is to associate with and live among high-minded Hindus and learn from their example.
    The Meaning of Culture

    Each of the religions of the world has its own culture with many beautiful, refined qualities. Each religious culture naturally embodies the beliefs of that religion as followers live out their convictions and goals at all levels of life. The same is true of philosophies that are nonreligious, such as existentialism, humanism, materialism and communism. They, too, have a culture. Each country has its combined culture as well. Today in the West and in Asia as well there are also many "sub-cultures," some of which are made up of "anti-establishment" "anti-religious'' people who consciously defy others by being "uncultured" by the standards of the mainstream society. That is actually part of their culture.

    A Few Cultural Cues and Clues

    To be cultured, in the highest sense, means to be in control of oneself and exemplify the highest qualities of one's society, religion or philosophy. For Hindus and those of other Eastern faiths, this means to consistently conduct oneself in accordance with the higher nature. The Hindu culture is a culture of love, respect, honoring others and humbling one's own ego so that the inner nature, which is naturally pure and modest, will shine forth. There are countless ways the Hindu attitudes of compassion, respect and self-effacement are expressed. Below we briefly describe some of the most important for new converts and adoptives to incorporate into their lifestyle.

    1. Respect for Elders: Respect for elders is a keystone of Hindu culture. This genuine acknowledgment of seniority is demonstrated through endearing customs such as: sitting to the left of elders, bringing gifts on special occasions, not sitting while they are standing, not speaking excessively, not yawning or stretching, not putting one's opinions forward strongly, not contradicting or arguing, seeking their advice and blessings, giving them first choice of seats, inviting them to take their food first or serving them first.

    2. Name protocol: Youngers never use the proper name of their elders. Younger brother, for example, refers to his elder brother as annai, or periannai (in Tamil), not by name. The elder may use the name of the younger. Children are trained to refer to all adults as auntie or uncle. Adults too refer to each other as elder or younger brother or simply as brother (likewise for women). Only men the same age will occasionally address each other by first name. A Hindu wife never speaks the name of her husband. When referring to him she uses terms such as "my husband," "him" or, for example, "Jothi's father." When addressing yogis, swamis or sadhakas, one uses the title, not personal pronouns, such as you or your (nor by the name alone). For example, one would never ask, "What do you want?" Instead, one would inquire, "What does swami want?"

    3. Touching Feet in Respect: One touches the feet of holy men and women in recognition of their great humility and inner attainment. A dancer or a musician touches the feet of his or her teacher before each lesson. Children prostrate and touch the feet of their mother and father at special times, such as New Year's day, birthdays and before parting for a journey.

    Cleanliness in Western culture tends to be thought of almost entirely as a physical issue. A thing is pure if it lacks "dirt." Eastern culture regards purity as more than just physical. Something may be perfectly clean, yet be impure or polluted by thoughts of another or by undesirable vibrations.

    Here are several ways purity is preserved in Hindu culture.

    1. Purity and food: Food is central to the concept of purity, for the nature of one's nourishment deeply affects one's physical, mental and emotional nature. In a marketplace, one does not touch food they don't intend to buy. One cooking food for others would never taste of the dish from a spoon and then put the spoon back in the pot. Similarly, one would not touch the lips to a water vessel that is also used by others. Nor would one offer something to another from which one has taken a bite or a sip.

    2. Sanctified Food Offerings: However, the opposite of this is true in the case of the satguru's food leavings. Food that he has tasted of is revered as sacred prasada or ucçhishta. This, and the water from the washing of his feet, is sought after and imbibed by all devotees for the great spiritual blessings that it contains toward moksha.

    3. Flower Offerings: One does not sniff flowers picked for offering to the Deities--even the smell is for the Gods, not for us. Flowers that fall to the ground should not be offered.

    4. offerings: Offerings, such as an archana basket, flowers or garlands, are carried with both hands on the right side of the body, so as to not be breathed on. All items are washed in preparation and, if carried more than a short distance, wrapped or covered.

    5. the left Hand: In Asian culture, the left hand is considered impure because it is used for personal hygiene by washing after answering the call of nature. Handing another person anything with the left hand may be considered a subtle insult.

    6. no shoes inside the home: Shoes are considered impure objects. The cultured Hindu never wears shoes or sandals inside a temple or shrine, nor in his own home or the homes of other Hindus. Carrying shoes in the hands from one part of the premises to another is also avoided.

    7. caution with footwear: It is very important to apologize immediately if one touched someone with their shoe or sandal. This is done by touching the right hand to where foot touched the other person and then touching one's right hand lightly to the left eye and then the right. This same remedy applies to inadvertently hitting someone with the hand or foot or bumping into them.

    Exchange of Prana

    1. Giving and Receiving with Both Hands: Giving and accepting things from one to another, presenting offerings to the Deity, etc., is most properly done with both hands. The reason for this is that with the gift, prana is also given through both hands, thus endowing more energy to the object. The recipient of the gift receives it with both hands along with the prana from the gracious giver. It is known that this exchange of energies is vital for friendship, harmony and the total release of the gift to the recipient.

    2. Not Pointing the finger: Pointing with the forefinger of the right hand or shaking the forefinger in emphasis while talking is never, ever done. This is because the right hand possesses a powerful, aggressive pranic force, an energy that moves the forces of the world. Pointing the index finger channels that force into a single stream. The harshness of this energy would be severely felt in the nerve system of the recipient. More properly, rather than pointing or shaking the index finger to give direction or emphasize a verbal statement, the entire hand is used as a pointer, with the palm up and the thumb held alongside the forefinger.

    3. Shaking Hands: The traditional way that Hindu men greet one another is with the anjali mudra, then, with palms still held together, extending their hands to one another, in a two-handed handshake, in a deliberate transfer of prana. The hands of one man, usually the less senior, are gently clasped between the other's. Each looks smilingly into the other's face while bowing slightly in humility. This handshake is not firm, but relaxed and gentle.

    4. Greeting women: However, Hindu men never shake hands with women in the above manner or in any other way. Women are greeted by only placing hands in anjali mudra, hands in the prayerful gesture.

    5. Not Throwing Things: Throwing any kind of object from one person to another is considered extremely improper, even if the persons know each other very well. Cultured Hindus consider this crude and even mildly violent, even if done in efficiency or jest.

    6. Care in Sitting: It is improper to ever sit with one's legs outstretched toward a temple, shrine or altar, or even toward another person. This is a grave insult. Crossing one leg over the knee when sitting in a chair should be avoided, though crossing at the ankles is permitted. One must always try to follow the example of traditional elders. Worshiping in the kneeling pose is not acceptable among Hindus.

    7. Doorways: Conversations are not held inside or through doorways. This is considered inauspicious. Similarly, to exchange or give or lend an object, one steps inside the room first, or the recipient steps out of the room so that both parties are in the same room.

    1. modesty: Interactions in public between men and women are usually much more restrained in Asian culture than in Western culture. In Asian culture, for the most part, men socialize with men, and women with women. Men never touch women in public, such as helping a woman out of a car, unless the lady is very elderly or infirm.

    2. displaying affection: Married couples in Asia do not hug, hold hands or kiss in public. Even embracing at airports and train stations is considered out of the question. Men, however, frequently walk hand in hand.

    The Role of Women

    Women in Hindu society are held in the highest regard, far more respected, in truth, than in the West. But this does not imply the kind of "equality" or participation in public interactions that are common in the West. The qualities traditionally most admired in an Eastern woman are modesty of manner, shyness and self-effacement. Self-assertive or bold tendencies are regarded with circumspection. Feminine refinements are expressed and protected in many customs including the following.

    1. Womanly reserve: In mixed company, a Hindu woman will keep modestly in the background and not participate freely in conversation. This, of course, does not apply to situations among family and close friends. When male guests are in the home, women of the household will appear when it is proper for them to do so. Visitors do not expect or ask to meet them. Women are not expected to speak out or make themselves a part of the conversation.

    2. Wife Walks Behind Husband: The wife walks a step or two behind her husband, or if walking by his side, a step or two back, always giving him the lead. (In the West, the reverse of this is often true.)

    3. serving at meals: At meals, women follow the ancient custom of serving the men first before eating.

    4. chaperoning: It is customary for a woman to always be accompanied when she leaves the home. Living alone, too, is unusual.

    5. women in public: Generally, it is improper for women to speak with strangers on the street, much less strike up a casual conversation. Similarly, drinking or smoking in public, no matter how innocent, is interpreted as a sign of moral laxity.

    Guests in the Home

    1. Home visits: Close friends can visit one another anytime without being announced or making arrangements first. When they drop in, at least a refreshing drink is always served.

    2. hosting guests: Children generally leave the room, with a smile, when guests enter. The mother remains close by to serve as needs arise. The father, if present, will speak with the guest. If not present, the mother and a son will fulfill this role, and if no son is present, the mother may act as hostess, but only with the accompaniment of someone close to the family.

    3. Wife Home alone: If the lady of the house is home alone and a male visitor comes to see her husband, it is not proper for her to invite him in, nor for him to expect to enter. Rather, he will leave a message and take his leave.

    4. Giving Gifts: Gifts are always given when one stays over night as a guest in someone's home. The value of the gift varies greatly, depending upon circumstance. It is proper to give a separate gift for the wife and the husband. The wife receives the nicest item.

    Body Language

    All Hindus know that "Life is meant to be lived joyously!" All is God, and God is everywhere and in all things. This understanding and appreciation is exemplified in every aspect of Hindu deportment.

    1. Kindly words and countenance: Hindus strive to keep a pleasant expression on their face, a gentle smile and a kind word for everyone they meet through the day. They know in their heart of hearts that God is everywhere and that all in the Universe is perfect at every point in time. This knowledge gives them strength and courage to face their daily karmas positively and graciously.

    2. Refined gestures: Hindus know that every movement of the body, the face, hands, eyes, mouth, head, etc., has a meaning. They are taught to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others in their body language. It is wise for new adoptives and converts to realize that they are "talking" even when they are not speaking.

    Transmitting Hinduism to the Next Generation

    It goes without saying that many responsibilities accompany the momentus step of entering the world's most venerable faith. Having walked through this doorway, it becomes the duty of the new adoptive or convert to follow the principles of the Sanatana Dharma to the best of his or her ability. One of the most important duties is to pass the religion on to the next generation through raising children according to the tenets of our faith. In Dancing with Siva, we developed a Primer for Children. On the following pages we bring that chapter to you in Loving Ganesha with all its five parts: Hinduism A-Z, Five Precepts, Five Obligations, Five Parenting Guidelines and Eight Sacraments.

    Return to the Sanatana Dharma Ashram Page

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