“Mom, I want to be Hindu”.
The devout Mormon mother looks deeply into the earnest blue eyes of her teenaged daughter. She sees sincerity and anxiousness, combined with notable fear of retaliation or rejection. Mom quietly tries to process her child’s declaration. She waits for the immediate flood of unspoken questions, thoughts, panic and concern crowding into her brain to settle down. She waits for the perfect response to magically appear in her mind.
She invokes a silent prayer.
Instead, she finds herself uttering a less-than-profound:
Despite herself, she wonders if she should have tried “Ohm”, for a nice cultural effect, then inwardly smiles that she found unexpected humor “at a time like this”. Outwardly, she is properly composed and calm. She focuses into her specialty trait: “Listening Mode”.
Over the next few days Mom and Dad will bemoan the fact [yet again, during their 18 years of parenthood] that there is no “user-guide” conveniently attached to each child’s umbilical cord at birth. There is especially no “user-guide-for-Parents-whose-child-is-having-a-crises-of-faith”. They acknowledge they have been placed on a roller-coaster they didn’t agree to ride, and thought they had done everything to avoid. They vacillate between the urge to cry and the urge to laugh. They immerse themselves in communion with God for guidance, because only He could truly know and understand their situation and how best to proceed. They fast. They pray. They attend their temple and add their beloved daughter’s name to the prayer roll. And they add their own names, too.
They ponder the scriptures, and are reminded of this popular verse:
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
Unfortunately, this Proverb offers little comfort to parents of a struggling child. Rather, it tends to make them agonize even more over their apparent “training deficiencies”. They rack their minds searching for all the things they may have done or not have done over the years that would have brought about this crises for their child. They feel defective, and depressed. Worse, they feel alone. They realize there are few they can confide in, and no one truly objective. Any human being would automatically pass some sort of judgement, or leap to conclusions [either positive or negative] toward them or their child. Well-meaning family members or church leaders might over-react and make the situation worse. It is inevitable for human beings to do this. We most often react based upon our own belief system, life experience or lack of experience.
(Chances are, you’re doing it right now, aren’t you? Making assumptions, passing judgements, leaping to conclusions, comparing this situation to one of your own … you can’t help yourself)
So, Mom and Dad search their church sites, such as lds.org for parenting articles on helping children with testimony trouble. They find some comfort in John Carmack’s article “When our Children Go Astray“, and other quotations of hope and eternal promise given by prophets and church leaders. But it doesn’t solve their specific challenge, nor make their worry disappear.
And, then they investigate Hinduism.
They learn that although Hinduism is generally viewed as synonymous with the country and culture of India, not all Hindu’s are Indian, and not all Indians are Hindu. They learn there is much debate even among the gurus and Hindu’s in general on who actually qualifies as “Hindu”.
There are obvious differences between Mormonism and Hinduism. In Hinduism, although there are many websites, scholars and philosophies, there is no main authoritative place wherein to answer ‘all things Hindu’ definitively which all those practicing Hinduism would fully agree with. In a very basic Hinduism breakdown, there is no one founder, and no one standard of belief. There are several versions of Hindu History, and at least four branches, or denominations. There are no Hindu prophets or organized leadership, but rather gurus [wise spiritual guides]. Hindus may choose from several different practices to follow, and dieties to worship. Hinduism acknowledges Jesus Christ as a great spiritual teacher, but does not accept him as the Only Begotten Son of God.
In Contrast, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormonism”) offers several official websites. They have a prophet and founder, and universally standardized beliefs. There is a clear Mormon historical timeline, and organized leadership structure. Mormons follow uniform practices, and all members worship the same Diety. Jesus Christ is at the head and heart of Mormonism, and He is worshipped as Savior, Redeemer and Only Begotten Son of God.
However, there are many similarities between the two belief systems, and that is what this particular Mom and Dad seek. They know that building common ground is the first step to understanding, and gaining mutual respect and edification.
A Way of Life: Both Hinduism and Mormonism are a way of daily living, sometimes classified as “difficult” to adhere to by non-practitioners. One article on How to Be An Ideal Hindu has an incredibly similar outline to a typically devout Mormon household. Multiple daily prayers, fasting, family togetherness, family worship, temple attendance, singing together as worship…In fact, based upon just that article alone, one could conclude Mormons definitely have an ‘inner Hindu’, and Hindus are just ‘dry Mormons’ [Mormon slang for someone unbaptised, but living the principles]
A Health Code: Those practicing Hindu belief consider their bodies a temple [ditto Mormons], and keep to a strict health code. Some Hindu are vegetarian, others eat poultry but abstain from beef, and some eat beef sparingly. The use of tobacco is sinful, along with alcohol, and any other stimulants or things that are generally considered ‘unhealthy’. They also practice fasting. Mormons also live a parallel health code called the Word of Wisdom, and practice the Law of the Fast.
Other points of particular harmony are:
Temple building and worship. Temples considered the House of God. Sexual purity before marriage and fidelity afterwards Family unity and traditions. The Divine Power of Music. The soul (atman) as eternal and ever progressing. Living a life filled with as much goodnessas possible – imperitive, in order to gain a higher reward in the next life - A desire to live with God again (Hinduism = “Nirvana” / Mormonism = “Exaltation”). The Hindu ‘transmigration’ of a soul after bodily death can be equated to the Mormon/Christian belief in ‘Resurrection‘, and even the basic concept of multiple Gods and Godesses can find common ground between the two, although differing in their interpretation.
Contrary to popular belief, several leading Hindu scholars stress that Hindus have ONE Great God (Brahman / The AUM), and all others gods are subject and separate manifestations. Mormons also believe in one Great God [Elohim / The Father], and all being subject to Him. The Hindu God (Supreme Being) is manifest in a Hindu Trinity [also called Trimurti comprized of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva]. The Mormon trinity is called The Godhead [comprised of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and The Holy Ghost]. The Hindu God has the ability to manifest himself in many different forms, both male or female. Latter-day Saints believe that God’s holy spirit dwells within all men and women born on earth – and, additionally, that each human being is a literal spirit child of God the Father; a manifestation of God, with the potential of all offspring to learn and grow and eventually become like their Father.
When we are willing to reach out to bridge the gap between belief systems, we can always find harmony.
Prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have repeatedly taught that all religions have good and truth, and are of great worth to the Latter-day saints to study. Indeed, one of the most powerful tenets of the LDS church penned by founding prophet Joseph Smith proclaims:
“…If there is anything Virtuous, Lovely or of Good Report or Praiseworthy, we Seek After these things.” – Article of Faith 13
The Mormon Church actively encourages study, and is a champion of the importance of obtaining Higher Education. The Mormon-owned Brigham Young University offers many courses on world religions, and has an Institute of Religious Studies, as well as a Center for The Preservation of Religious Texts . There is also the well-respected Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Often a series of articles will appear in church magazines by LDS scholars to encourage better understanding of other cultures and religions [including Hinduism], promoting the “brotherhood of man’.
That said, in my perception, lay-Mormons as a whole tend to avoid world religion studies. This could be for many reasons. Here’s my top three personal conjectures:
1. The “Fear Factor” : Study will involve walking into uncharted territory. One may ponder: ‘What if I become confused? What if I begin to doubt my testimony in some way after walking down this unknown path?’
2. The “Superiority Factor“ – after all, if we are the one “true and living church” upon the face of the earth, then why bother learning about others that only contain half-truth?
3. The “Time Factor“ – as in, “who actually has time to study other religions when we are working so hard to study our own!?” … Not to mention attending our meetings, preparing Sunday School lessons, holding Family Night, going to the Temple, doing service projects, accomplishing our Visiting and Home teaching before the end of each month, baking a meal for Sister Jones who just had her baby, doing crafts at Enrichment Night, playing Ward Basketball, transporting our children to Youth night activities, and Youth Camps, and Firesides….etc….etc…etc…
I don’t mean to point these ‘factors’ out in a mean spirited way (as perhaps some Mormon critics enjoy). On the contrary, Mormons are wonderful people. [take me, for example...] Our devotion to “doing good” is admirable, and we truly LIVE our religion in every aspect of our lives. Mormons are also like everyone else; they love their families, they try to make ends meet and pay their bills, they have crises with health, elderly parents, broken pipes, parent-teacher conferences, dog accidents to clean up…you name it, and doing the best that they can with the individual circumstances and challenges given them. Let’s be fair, how many devout Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus or what-have-yous spend their time sincerely studying other religions? It’s not likely to be a large percentile, and I submit it is due to all the same reasons I just listed above, among any myriad of others. It’s human nature to stay in our own comfortable universe. Like the saying goes, “If it’s not broke, why fix it?”
But this particular Mormon Mom & Dad in our story, with their new ‘Hindu aspirant’, have been placed into a position of seeing perceived cracks and loose hinges through the eyes of their child, with no “easy fix”. They desire to gain further light and knowledge. They desire harmony, and unity with their child, and peace in their home. They are smart, educated, and caring. They are both open-minded, yet religiously devout people, and they realize that the only honest response to this situation is to take a respectful approach. Their child deserves validation of her personal spiritual journey; whether this is a passing “phase” or the beginning of a life-altering change.
And thus, these Latter-day parents have joined their child as true seekers of Enlightenment. They have entered into a journey of the soul, which has led them to find their own inner Hindu. They are discovering that as they walk past fear, there is peace.
If you haven’t guessed yet, this post isn’t really about Hinduism. I am certainly not an expert, although I have gained a much greater respect and understanding through my study. The commonalities to my own belief I find fascinating and edifying, although I am not qualified to instruct.
This post also does not offer a story with a concise solution, a moral or a “happy ending”. The particular family story I have shared is still in “draft stage” for the individuals involved. Just like all other families, their journey together is being measured on a long-term scale, and is eternal in scope.
Thus, this post is offered as a ‘modern parable’ to promote understanding and acceptance. These parents deserve unconditional love and respect, not condemnation or judgement from others, nor of themselves. This child deserves unconditional love, acceptance, and respect - from her parents, family, friends, fellow church members and leaders. This Mom, Dad, and Child have each discovered that there is an amazing treasure trove of “goodness, loveliness and praiseworthiness” in Hinduism, and in studying other belief systems in general. One can intelligently make the leap to realize this holds true for any religion, culture, person, and the world at large. As a Hindu guru might say; “the mind is capable of opening like a lotus flower to all the possibilities of truth“.
Many Hindus refer to their tradition as santana-dharma, the eternal law that governs everyone, irrespective of belief. [similar to the Mormon belief called God's Plan]. Hindu philosophy validates the great worth and eternal nature of the human soul:
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you…nor in the future shall any of us cease to be…The [soul] is everlasting and infinite, standing on the motionless foundations of eternity” – Bhagavad Gita 2 12, 23-25
This is in harmony with Mormon doctrine.
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” – D & C 18:10
“And thou art … without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity.” Moses 6:67
According to Swami Bhaskarananda, in Essentials of Hinduism [as quoted in Wikipedia]:
“Most Hindu sects do not seek converts because they believe that the goals of spiritual life can be attained through any religion, as long as it is practiced sincerely.”
Thus, Hinduism is much more a philosphy than an organized religion. It encourages each human being to look deeper for good, to ponder, to meditate, to seek truth, and to live in harmony with others, irrespective of belief.
“What counts is not creed but conduct. By their fruits ye shall know them and not by their beliefs. Religion is righteous living. The Hindu view that every method of spiritual growth, every path to the Truth is worthy of reverence has much to commend itself.” - The Hindu View of Life. Radhakrishnan – philosopher President of India (1962-67)
There is another important Hindu saying, viewed as a guiding tenet:
“The Truth is One; the sages call it by many names” – Rig Veda 1:164:46
Mormons have a strikingly similar tenet:
“We Believe All Things” – Article of Faith 13
“…And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” D & C 93:24
The Prophet Joseph Smith emphasized the importance of unity of truth. He once stated in an editorial:
“While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes ‘His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’ or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India.” (History of the Church, 4:595–96.)
In conclusion, it is the Great Parent of our earth, called by many names, who is in charge. We have the reponsibility to respect His judgement, which allows each soul the process of taking an individual spiritual journey. Through personal prayer and meditation we can discover our own faith in God, and trust that He will tenderly guide all sincere parents and all seeking children toward Truth and Happiness.