Transcendent In America: A Brief Review

Over the past few class meetings we read and discussed “Transcendent in America” and have been tasked with writing a review. While I can’t speak to how qualified I am to do this, I’ll attempt to give you an idea of how I felt about the book and its usefulness in our curriculum. Transcendent in America presents an interesting look at HIMM (Hindu -Inspired Meditation Movements) and how they came to shape Hinduism in America over the years.  The author is able to come from aplace of personal experience, having participated in and had contact with many of these movements first hand, which provided a plethora of  fascinating first hand accounts and testimonies.  She did a fair job nof addressing negative aspects or things that were widely perceived negatively, but her overall look at HIMM ignored more ‘cultish’ aspects as discussed in class. Furthermore she did little to relate the HIMM and Christianity at the time, though only selectively. She relates spiritual experiences to Pentacostalism, for example, but later pointedly states the stark line between Evangelical Christianity and HIMMs.  She also seems rather reluctant to delve into the question of why abuse of power (and abuse in general) seemed to be so endemic to these organizations (as well as many other organizations, of course, particularly those featuring charismatic leaders who demand loyalty), though she displays a great deal of empathy and compassion for those hurt in said scenarios.  Additionally, she spends a great deal of time towards the end of the book relaying first hand accounts of spiritual experiences without providing much analysis, or any methodological information. In this way I think she occasionally presents a more narrowed view. However, despite these issues I found the book as a whole to be incredibly informative and useful, as well as inadvertently raising interesting questions on the nature of insider/outsider observation.

Thoughts on “Transcendent in America”

     We are currently going over “Transcendent in America” in class. This book goes into detail concerning Hindu-inspired meditation movements (HIMMs). I thought that the first section of this book was good and that the second section was informative, and I found the third section enlightening. Overall I think that this book was very informative and a good read. I really had no idea what went on in these religious movements, and this book really helped to explain it. The author does a good job at remaining impartial in her explanations despite her background of being in a HIMM, and she does not leave out information that show the HIMMs in a less than positive light. The author does her best to make some of the stranger practices seem relatable, but some of the things that go on in Hindu-inspired meditation movements seem a bit cultish. The absolute faith that one is expected to place in one’s guru seems to me to be dangerous, especially since this relationship is abused on occasion, and the cover-ups that happen to hide negative information do not sit well with me either. I think that the biggest problem that the author has is that there is an innate inability to explicate the experiences had by those who participate in HIMMs. The book relates some of them to Pentecostal church happenings, which are equally mysterious to me, and sometimes attempts physiological explanations (i.e. tingling spine), but ultimately I do not know what their spiritual experiences are like. If you have a spiritual experience by looking at the image of Gurumayi on this blog, please let me know.

Teachers and Religious Education

 

Murali Balaji wrote this article that highlight the misconceptions between Hindu Americans and their teachers and classmates. Balaji grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and was often confronted with inappropriate questions from “misinformed” classmates and teachers. His parents would feel frustrated and powerless about their child’s unfortunate circumstances. He gives two extremes that could arise between Hindu parents and their children’s teachers. This first approach is the  “in-your-face” and the second is the “non-confrontational”.  Often Hindu parents take the latter approach.

Balaji is the Hindu American Foundation’s Director of Education and curriculum Reform where he has talked with many parents frustrated by what their children are learning about Hinduism. He points out two truths in education: 1) teachers don’t intentionally teach wrong information and are almost always willing to learn and 2) parents can work with schools, school boards, and individual teachers to help fight stereotypes and wrong information. Harsh confrontation rarely yields results, as with Passivity. He encourages parents to meet with their child’s teachers to calmly discuss cultural or religious meanings.

Interfaith or America How To?

I found this article about a married couple, consisting of a Baptist minister and a Hindu monk, who wrote a book called Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk.  According to this article 27 percent of Americans are married to or live with a partner of a different religious faith.

Amazon describes the book as a story of a “East-meets-West partnership.”  While the couple’s individual identities seem to be wrapped up in their religious identity I do not see this as the East meeting the West but as two Americans and the success of eHarmony.  Hindu does not equal East as Baptist does not equal West.  (People are Baptist and Hindu in many places all over the world).  I will go further and say there is no East or West.  There are just two parts of the ‘American’ imagination of itself and of the other.

India-Pakistan Conflict

This article gives some recent information on the developments in the India-Pakistan conflicts recently. At first I was just thinking that it was a pretty small scale conflict, and that this is just what happens in that region, but then I read this article, which states that Indian forces have fired 59,000 rounds of ammunition and over 4,000 mortars. Now 4,000 mortars is a whole lot of potential damage, and that is just the attacks from India. Whenever nations who both have nuclear weapons clash like this it is always frightening. It is believed that these conflicts are the result of disputes over Kashmir,  which I found has a significant Muslim majority even in the Indian controlled areas. I was curious as to why these nations would fight over this country so violently with such potentially severe costs, so I looked around a bit. Now with my basic understanding I knew that the Partition of India was intended by the British to accommodate religious differences between India and Pakistan. With this in mind, it is understandable that Pakistan would want to take Kashmir as part of Pakistan because it is majority Muslim, but no country wants to give up land, which explains India’s resistance. It just seems like a bad situation with no easy reconciliation in the near future.

The Abused Goddesses Campaign: Problematic or Not?

Image

 

Recently there has been a pictorial campaign launched in India depicting various Hindu goddesses as victims of abuse- it presents a jarring contrast between the serene, traditional poses and depictions of powerful goddess by showing them with bruised faces, as seen in the image above. This is intended to play on the shock value of the idea of these powerful, benevolent figures being so disrespected, in order to shed light on the awful issue of domestic violence and violence against women in India. However, this blogger argues that it is emblematic of a problematic change in representations of Hinduism.  According to Vamsee Juluri, a professor at USF, Hindu deities are increasingly being presented in ways that do not highlight their virtues of compassion, kindness, and so on. Instead, modern Hindu representations reflect only the violent, action driven motifs present in their mythos, and Juluri believes this campaign to be similarly problematic. The underlying problem, he says, is that children being raised by Hindu parents today see more compassion and kindness from the Wiggles and Cailou than they do from representations of Hindu deities, and as such are missing out on the messages of compassion in favor of an increasingly violent idea of Hindu deities and as such extending into Hinduism itself. Given the discussed propensity for Americans to assume that Hinduism and Buddhism are purveyors of some ancient and mystical, peaceful vision of wisdom, I found his concerns to be quite fascinating, and something I would not previously have ever considered, and I wonder how American converts to Hinduism would address his worries. 

Rude Buddha : SNL And Orientalism

Some time ago, SNL featured a sketch called ‘The Rude Buddha‘. While I tried to find a video for you all, it was rudely interrupted by copyright and a lack of youtube availability, though you can watch it directly on the NBC website here I was unable to figure out how to embed it, so my bad on that front, guys. Anyway, the point of the sketch was to have the Buddha dispense wisdom… in the form of vague and largely pointless statements that sounded a little bit like the might have been ancient Chinese proverbs, followed up by lewd, rude commentary and derision. I had planned to write a blog post describing how this perfectly reflects the interesting phenomena of regarding the East as an enlightened and magnificent place of mysterious and ancient wisdom, and then promptly turning that stereotype on its head by portraying the Buddha as the complete opposite for the sake of easy humor. As I was looking for a clip of the skit, I came across a few interesting blog posts, including this post reflecting how Buddhism was an easy target for a sketch because it is a marginalized community in America, making the skit “funny” to the mainstream population- although she argues that it wasn’t, in fact, funny at all, because it took cheap shots at a serious religion. She also goes on to discuss other representations and references to Buddhist culture in mainstream media, including a lot of examples from Lost that I didn’t really understand because I honestly never watched the show (I must be the only person who hasn’t, right?). Still, I think the skit itself reflects interestingly on what SNL writers are assuming are mainstream American ideas of Buddhism, which are akin to what we’ve discussed in prior classes. While it may not have been funny, or may have been insensitive or in bad taste or otherwise rubbed people the wrong way, it was at the very least an interesting discourse on what stereotypes of Buddhism are present in the collective American mindset.