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The Future of Hinduism in America’s Changing Religious Landscape




A new generation of American Hindus will answer this question in ways different from the earlier generation. A significant number of the first generation Hindus in the U.S. are immigrants from India. For good historical and other reasons, there is a deep connection to India and to its languages and cultural traditions. There is a close connection between Hindu identity and Indian identity. I hope that the richness of Indian cultural traditions will continue to flourish in the United States. It is also true that a new generation of Hindus will identify strongly as Americans and engage the world politically and otherwise on the basis of this identity. The Hindu tradition, if it finds expression in their lives, will be less connected with India, nationally, linguistically and culturally. Religion will be, for them, a profound understanding of the meaning of life and a source of values for acting in the world.

In the transmission of the tradition to a new generation, our emphasis will have to be on its deep wisdom that is accessible and meaningful to all human beings. The teachings of the Hindu tradition, after all, are not only relevant and valuable to those with ancestral and cultural roots in the Indian sub-continent. If in the transmission of the Hindu tradition to a new generation we are not attentive to this fact, we risk losing its universal dimension. As we look to new generations of Hindus in the United States, these universal teachings will become more important and appealing.

If the universal insights of the Hindu tradition are the ones that will be especially important to a new generation, it is in a particularly strong place to articulate and to offer these teachings. The Hindu tradition is a knowledge-based tradition. Its pre-eminent sacred text are the Vedas (knowledge) The Vedas describes the fundamental human problem as ignorance (avidyā), and it values in a special way the teacher of wisdom (guru). The tradition does not have to be fearful of truth, whatever its source.

The Hindu tradition values knowledge that aims at the overcoming of suffering (duḥkha) and this concern must again be prominent in its transmission. We need to focus on how its teachings promote a deeper human fulfillment and meaning that are not attainable by prosperity and success in the world. We must show also how these teachings promote the common good and contribute to the flourishing of communities. Religious teachings cannot be good for us if these inflict and legitimize suffering on others. We must return to Hinduism’s emphasis on religious teaching and practice that are always concerned with the public good (lokasaṅgraha).

Although the PEW findings suggest a future of change and uncertainty, a Hindu tradition that commits itself to truth (satyam) goodness (shivam) and beauty (sundaram) is more than likely to win the allegiance and hearts of a new generation in the United States.

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