"Shubham Karoti Kalyaanam, Aarogyam Dhan Sampadah
Shatru Bhudhi Vinaashaaya Deepa Jyotir Namostute"
I begin this very first column for the new, Hindu Renaissance quarterly in the tradition of our Samskriti (culture). All beginnings must be auspicious, so Shubham is just the word I needed. A prayer done for eons by Hindus as they light a lamp in their home or Mandir altars each morning. To me this is one of the wisest prayers -- as it asks for all that Humans usually hold important like, wealth and health, but it goes on to include the one thing which is the base of all our emotions and desires including the feeling of happiness – The Mind. This we are made to understand is the Aadhaar (foundation) of all feeling! So very beautifully, this Praarthanaa asks for a mind that can be a friend and not an enemy! A mind that turns into an enemy creates a world vision that is disruptive to our own Peace and often destructive to everything around us.
It is true that without a proper frame of mind nothing can be enjoyed. Even when everything seems to be in order we are left with a feeling of agitation. Then there are those moments when all seems to be well in spite of something obviously amiss. When we start to consciously, be aware of such moments we find the dawning of wisdom.
Having come from such a culture my arrival in the USA can certainly be called a culture shock, though I was not really aware of such words then. Over the last thirty-six years of living here in Mid Western USA, gradually my mind learnt many words and the complications that go with such learning. A word and its meaning go together, in time the words become thoughts that remain in the mind -- then they have the ability to manifest into actions. Knowing this power of words we were advised to use good words so we may have good thoughts and hence good actions. For a twenty one year old Bhaaratiya girl from small town India, that too in the late sixties, such words had a powerful effect, which slowly took her from a happy simple mind set to a complicated one -- at times even an angry mind set. Perhaps this was an unfolding of my Karma and a way to reconnect with my own Spiritual Tradition, that was to bring me back -- full circle to my own roots – a kind of home coming. The path has consisted of all the ups and down that paths are made of -- but has deposited me now at a deeper, more contended level – not simple like the beginning, but surely wiser.
USA has of course changed over these past decades, like every other place changes, but then, some things stay the same – it is the collective Svabhaava of a Nation much like the Svabhaava of a person that can only be modified, to an extent, if one realizes the changes will be beneficial. In other words it is a very long and slow process especially when it involves a whole society -- that too, made up of races that thought themselves superior and discriminated on the bases of color, creed, religion and various other things both with in their own lands and later the world over. This attitude of superiority, though somewhat modified, has not come to an end yet, in spite of all the talk about Human rights, women’s equality and a host of other objections. Jokingly I have said a few times that Humans must live in other places since we rarely hear of such violations in our country here!
As one from the East, I am to this day surprised that present day USA is called a new country, even though people have lived here since the times of the last Glacial age when the Berrien straights became a land bridge from Asia to the North American continent, leading to a large migration of Asian people. Only after coming here and being mistaken for a Native American, then known as Red Indian or American Indian, did I begin to read American history and learnt how sad is the story of these people who once freely roamed this land and who were kind to the foreign white man from Europe, helping them survive through happily sharing all resources then at their disposal.. Here too, we of Bhaarat see similarities; Atithi Devo Bhava was perhaps the norm! Second thing I found was the fact of slavery of the Black races that had been ended by President Lincoln but not gone out of the minds of people yet. My very first summer, I was witness to Civil Rights riots in Milwaukee Wisconsin where we lived then. Next year saw the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, a Black follower of Mahatma Gandhi fighting for his peoples right to dignity just like us of India who had to fight against the British even in our own country. This was followed by the murder of Senator Bobby Kennedy for his liberal views. Much too much for a, homesick Bhaaratiya youth, who was a reluctant immigrant at best and carried a Disneyland syndrome (fun and frolic) about this country in her mind! When young, we are able to put much out of our mind, as I did to make a life here. This endeavor of making a life where ever you find yourself has been aided by the wise teaching of my beloved land of birth which insisted that you find what is good and connect to that while letting go of the bad – a great asset in a world where lives are often disconnected with the comfort of familiar surroundings for so many now.
The Svabhaava of present day USA is European in nature, which thinks in linear terms as opposed to the Indian way that thinks in cyclical ways. This type of thinking must be why an ancient land and its inhabitants have been ignored rather than included in the history of the land. How very strange? A natural assimilation was not allowed to take place as it has done a thousand times in the land called Bhaarat. This has today created guilt and fear among one side while permanently alienating the other. Such thinking is rooted in our respective religious systems – one is exclusive, static and historical in its characteristics; where as the other (Indian) is inclusive, adaptive and sees an unending cycle as well as complete interconnectedness within this Universe. Individual well-being rests in the well being of the Whole. Perhaps this difference in thinking is the greatest culture shock for an Indian – a limited, narrow worldview in the most advanced nation of the current world! This permeates every phase and facet of life here, in mainstream America, causing the people to have lives that are in constant disarray and full of fear --- fear of the end of the World, fear of World Wars, fear of Hell, fear of impending diseases, even fear of flying and driving. Imagine fear of flying in a country that flies a lot and driving where cars are prized more than owning a house. Culture shock? You bet! And this is just the tip of the glacial shocks that keep me amazed even now after more than three decades -- some bring sadness others are out right funny. What is even stranger is, that hardly anyone here thinks about the culture shock that others receive on arrival in the USA. Then there is the fact that very few in Bhaarat or it seems, anywhere realize the unpleasant aspect of life in the Western World, especially the USA. But the pleasant must necessarily be accompanied by the unpleasant -- that is how it is in this world made up of opposites!
There is a lot to share in this area, which can lead to better understanding between two major Democracies of our world. As we go along we can explore more. For now I want to end with this thought -- that it is not the people of a country or race or religion who are at fault, rather it is the systems and the culture that are a result of certain beliefs and practices which either help refine or unrefined the basic person. In that respect those of us who are given the name of Non Resident Indians, have gained a lot from living away from our country of origin. Many of us have realized what the Vedic Sanatana Hindu Dharma gave us and continues to give in terms of abilities to deal with life and its constant upheavals. So many of us are able to act rather than react, stay calm in situations that cause panic in many. The goal of this Genius culture has been to make us fearless and let us be Spiritually free. I feel blessed every moment for the privilege of being born into this wisdom tradition!