Each night ended with a reminder to pray before I went to bed. Sometimes I did, and sometimes I would conveniently “forget”. My parents are semi-religious Hindus, who put me in Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam dance classes in order to learn about Hindu scriptures. The dances taught me the basic stories in Hinduism, but not much about what it means to be a Hindu. It wasn’t until junior year that I decided to put my curiosity to rest.
After a series of misfortunes, I decided to turn to religion as a way to cope. I googled the basic principles of Hinduism and read about the Hindu belief in one God with many manifestations and an emphasis on truth and nonviolence. Then, I stumbled upon a quote in the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred text depicting a conversation between God and the warrior prince, Arjuna.
As men approach Me, so I receive them. All paths, Arjuna, lead to Me.
The quote struck a chord with me. Hinduism preaches that every belief is equal and that choosing to receive approval from God or the universe is entirely up to you. Pious or not, everyone has a purpose. Everyone takes a different journey to fulfill their dreams and aspirations.
I was instantly inspired to compare my religion with other ones. I joined my school’s Muslim Student Association and Jewish Student Association, researched Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, and asked questions about Christianity to my best friend, an Indian Orthodox. Every discussion reaffirmed my thought that each religion preaches the same basic principles of compassion and respect for others and unity of existence through love.
My journey revealed an aspect that I will remember forever: our existence is characterized by diversity. From math problems to interpreting God, there is nothing in this world that can not be approached in multiple ways. Then, why do we always believe our ideas conquer others?
Immediately, I started to alter the way I thought about everything and realized that if I wanted to be the best person I could be, I had to listen. Instead of mirroring the opinions of my friends, I read and tried to understand all perspectives before judging. When friends had distinctive opinions on politics, I took my time to understand both sides, their backgrounds, and how it would influence their decision. All of them cared deeply for America, but like God told Arjuna, they each believed in different paths for the success of the country.
However, this process was difficult and I was tested many times. One day, my debate team, majority of them being South Asian, was heading to an out-of-town tournament when we stopped at a gas station. As I reached for a gatorade, an older white man approached me. He asked in a snarky tone, “Did y’all just escape a refugee camp?” At first I was furious because of his blatantly racist remarks. However, I surprised myself when I started to question his thinking. He was scared. 9/11 was one of the most horrendous events in American history and completely altered our stance on Islamic Terrorism and immigration. The difference is how we let it alter our daily lives. I had the opportunity to gain wonderful Muslim friends, and not many Americans do, as they sometimes live in a bubble of fear. Even though there wasn’t an excuse for his racism, I allowed myself to see his point-of-view.
This refusal to accept other perspectives is the basis of many current conflicts such as Islamophobia, Gun Control, and Syrian Refugees. I have successfully rewired my thought process to one that questions, researches, and learns rather than mimicking surrounding viewpoints. Hinduism taught me that tolerance trumps hatred, no matter what side of the spectrum you are on. Appreciating every viewpoint will lead to a deeper understanding for our brothers and sisters on Earth and ultimately reflect humanity’s hope of unity of existence through love.
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