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Dr. Ramdas Lamb's Take on Conversion Challenges

on 2011/6/30 2:00:04 ( 4808 reads )


NEW DELHI, INDIA, June 22, 2011 (By Rajiv Malik, HPI Chief Correspondent for India and South Asia):

"The problem of conversion in India will be greatly diminished if Hindu parents live and practice Hinduism in their lives. Just preaching is not enough and it is not going to work. You have to walk the talk. Parents have to put Hinduism into action in their lives so that their children can observe and follow them. This is how I have taught my children and it has worked well." These are some of the views expressed by Dr. Ramdas Lamb, Associate Professor, Dept. of Religion, University of Hawaii while speaking on the subject- "Effects of Conversion on Native Cultures and Society" at a meeting organized by Vivekananda International Foundation on Thursday, 23rd June, 2011. The event, which was attended by a large number of intellectuals and students of Delhi University, was chaired by Shri Bharat Gupt, an Associate Professor in English at the College of Vocational Studies of the University of Delhi. Dr. Ramdas Lamb began his speech by stating, "There is a need to understand the dynamics of conversion. I am not against conversion. I cannot be as I am a convert myself. However, then we need to understand what is conversion and how conversion is taking place in India today." He went on to say, "There are three basic types of religions. The first type consists of those that are based on the teachings of a single prophet. The process of converting to such a religion involves the pledging of loyalty to a single religious belief system and a single version of truth along with the rejection of all other religious beliefs as being false. This is the kind of belief that is promoted here in Christianity and Islam. You are taught that only you are good and will go to heaven while all others will go to hell. Christian or Muslim converts are both taught that their religious beliefs are more important than their families, than their communities, and their countries. Their religion becomes more important than even their fathers and mothers or brothers and sisters. One can leave all those but cannot the religion. As a result of this mind set, tolerance for others is often viewed negatively or even rejected completely. When you convert to this kind of prophetic religion, you often gain the attitude of superiority over all others who do not think like you." "The second type of religion is an ethnic religion. Membership is typically restricted to members of a specific ethnic group. If you do not belong to that ethnicity you usually cannot be a part of that religion. For instance if you are not Japanese you cannot be a Shinto. Such religions tend to be numerically small in size, being bound by genetics." "Then comes the third type, which includes the universal religions, and Hinduism is one of the major universal or world religions that I discuss when I teach religions. Moreover, Hinduism is the largest non converting religion. Universal religions do not proselytize. When you convert to or adopt such a religious belief system, it is only for the purpose of expanding your consciousness. It involves growing with and adding to awareness, not subtracting from or limiting one's beliefs. You add consciousness and you add awareness. This is what universal religions ideally teach." Dr. Ramdas Lamb said, "When my guruji gave me diksha ["initiation"] he told me to allow thoughts and understanding to evolve and allow my consciousness to expand. He told me that I was a soul and that a soul has no limitations whatsoever. Therefore, I should not accept limits on my mind either. Thus far, I have taught nearly ten thousand students, and I encourage them likewise to not limit their awareness or their possibilities. I also try to get my students understand Hinduism as a universal religion. Needless to say many of them develop a deep interest in Hinduism, because most want to expand their consciousnesses. They are not looking for a label, like what prophetic religions will provide them. If you want to enhance your perception of reality and allow consciousness to grow within, then ignore the labels, that is what a universal religion gives you an opportunity to do." He further stated, "What missionaries do not tell people in India is that Christianity is losing popularity in Christian countries. Why it is losing popularity is that actually it does have much depth to its teachings for most people. In India, becoming a Christian involves simply believing in something. Once people become Christian, they are assured that they are going to heaven. So much so that even if they kill or loot somebody, it does not matter as heaven is guaranteed to those who have become Christian. This way of belief functions to remove responsibility for one’s actions. Missionaries generally do not have much to offer in terms of teaching, and if they are asked too many questions, it is not appreciated. In contrast, my guru always told me that Lord Rama has given you brain and you must use it for thinking and questioning." Dr. Lamb furthered said that in a country like India, there is a great need for people of differing belief systems to learn to live together. However, the promotion of ideologically narrow religions such as Christianity and Islam in the country will only lead to further division, not to greater unity.

Introducing Professor Ramdass Lamb, chairperson for the event Shri Bharat Gupt said, "Professor Lamb is one of the very few professors of Hindu religion in American Universities. Why he is one of the few, the reason is that he is Hindu himself. Around forty years back he became a sadhu and wandered in various places for around one decade. Later on the behest of his guru he became a householder and a professor. For a lot of die hard Hindus it is difficult to understand how a sannyasin becomes a householder but then there are times when certain things become essential as they are done due to apat dharma [dharma to be followed in emergency situations] or yuga dharma [dharma to be followed according to the need of a particular period of time] . But what is most important is that he is one of the very few Hindus who are there in the American academia."

He went on to say, "You know Hinduism is not taught in India and there are no departments of religious studies in India. The cruel joke is that though we declare ourselves the torch bearers of eastern spirituality, there is no formal study of it at all. This is the real face of the Indian secularism that thinking about religion is kept out of the educational system. So as a consequence we have no Hindu professors teaching Hinduism anywhere in the world. If we are not training scholars in Hinduism then how will they teach Hinduism in the universities abroad. As a result our own children are studying Hinduism books written by non Hindu scholars in the universities abroad."

Shri Bharat Gupt pointed out, "There are forces who say that if the colour of one's skin is white one cannot be a Hindu and there are others who say that if you have left India and settled abroad, you cannot be a Hindu. So according to such people neither Professor Lamb, nor my two children settled abroad can be treated as Hindus. If this is how we are going to think, then finally how many Hindus will be there in this world. Time has come that we now need to openly debate on many such questions and arguments."

The event ended with a lively interaction between the audience and the speaker. Expressing their views during this period, some of the youth leaders of Delhi University made a somewhat sensational revelation that there were forces which were trying to convert the cream of the students of Delhi University to Christianity and so much so that around three to four hundred bright students who came to Delhi from all parts of India were getting converted every month. Shri Mukul Kanitkar of Vivekananda International Foundation invited these students to share the details of such conversions so that appropriate measures could be taken to check this menace which was there right in the capital of India.

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