Source: America Magazine
I was in Orlando, Florida, for the Seventh International Conference of the World Association of Vedic Studies (WAVES). This is a meeting of Hindus who meet every second year for a conference that is in part a cultural event, in part a confidence-building gathering, and in part an academic conference. Most of those who came reside in the US, including a good number of young Hindus born in the West, but some participants came all the way from India. Some are professors in religious and philosophical studies, while others are professionals in other fields, but nonetheless deeply committed to their religion's well-being. I was there because I was invited to give the keynote address on the first night, on "How the Hindu community can contribute to religious life here in America." I stayed the entire weekend, knowing that I would enjoy the gathering, and also learn much from the papers given and from the conversations at meals and between sessions.
As an event, WAVES is a sign of a community that has "arrived" and is big enough to sponsor serious conferences, and yet is [still] finding its way. The Hindu community is well-established in the United States, and is largely very successful in business, technology, and the sciences; there are now Hindu temples in most large and medium-sized American cities, as well as many educational organizations, cultural centers, publications and websites, etc. If one also counts yoga as a practice most closely connected to Hinduism, we can say that Hinduism is already having a great impact in the United States, and this influence is destined to increase in the next decades. In saying this, I realize that some readers will be not used to thinking about the Hindu community, since we usually think of Islam and Buddhism as the "newly arrived" religions that are having the most influence on our society. Perhaps it is a blessing, though, that Hindus are simply here and flourishing, without any great fanfare or headlines.
But of course, with success there are also growing pains. One underlying theme of the weekend was the need to keep continuity between Hindu life and values in India and here in America -- a problem that surely every immigrant group has faced. How do the venerable values of Hindu traditions still matter in today's world? More implicitly, there seemed to be an underlying concern to sort out a love-hate relationship with the West: there is the legacy of colonialism, of centuries of Christian attacks on idolatry, paganism, and the deficiencies of the Hindus, and a feeling that even today, Indian culture and religion are little appreciated and understood in the West. So how to become increasingly American -- while yet having doubts about the good will and welcome of the West and its Christian majority? How to fit in, while keeping traditional values?