A Lifelong Journey of Faith

By Pooja Patel

Growing up in America as a second generation Hindu hasn’t always been the easiest experience. Belonging to a minority race as well as religion, particularly in the Southern United States area labeled “The Baptist Belt” has been a continuous journey of finding myself, with my faith as my guide along the way.
What makes an American? According to dictionary.com, an American is someone pertaining to the United States of America, however for most who have grown up in this country, the word resonates to something much deeper. Core values from liberty, freedom, generosity, to a sense of living in a nation full of a diversity of beliefs and cultures are more than just a stigma of “the land of the free” but a living, breathing, constantly evolving experience.
The idea of leading two separate lives, one of a Hindu identity, and the other of an average American, had never crossed my mind. I viewed each spectrum of my identity as an entirety, part of who I was, and what made me different. This constant diversity offered a different approach when dealing with any aspect of daily life. Growing up, everyone comes to the point where they are forced to make choices, to learn new things about themselves, and to realize what kind of being they plan on choosing to lead their lives as.
Hinduism has always been a stronghold in my life, both my parents understood the importance of passing on this beautiful tradition to the next generation, and because of their constant support and encouragement I’ve been able to not only appreciate the wisdom of our great religion, but also not shy away from being proud of my faith and it’s diversity. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami once proclaimed, “To all Hindus, who today are found in every country on the Earth, I say: Courage! Courage! Courage! Have the courage to know beyond a doubt that Hinduism is the greatest religion in the world. We must be proud of this.”
The American values of freedom and justice for all resonate soundly within the core of Hinduism. Take for example the common Hindu greeting, ‘Namaste’, with two hands held together near the heart, with one hand solemnly bowed, literally “I bow to the divinity within you.” Honoring this purity within all is a sign of respect and treating every individual as God unto themselves. Truly symbolizing justice for all as well as the embodiment of ethical equality, despite differences in race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, etc.
The great American Dream is centered around the ideals of effort and optimism, change and progress, and fore mostly achievement and success. Hinduism is always something we can go to, despite the tumultuous materialism we call day-­‐to-­‐day life, and with not only the acceptance but also the practice of our religious tenets, can we center ourselves in constructing our very own path towards success. Change and progress are as once noted in a famous quote by a Greek philosopher, “the only constant in life.” Hinduism embraces this ideal through its vast literary trove of examples of the soul’s constant evolution through various states of mind and body until reaching Satchidananda, the ultimate supreme. Not only that, but the belief in karma and reincarnation, the law of cause and effect similar to reaping what one sows, and evolving through multiple births through the process of resolving one’s karmas is quite in line with this tenet. Another utmost practices of Hindus around the globe is ahimsa, non-­‐injury. This belief leads to the view of all life being sacred, and deserving nothing less than reverence and love. As a country which is ever evolving in acceptance, innovation, and ideas, the ability that Hinduism gives me to embrace new ideas while remaining steadfast in my beliefs paves the road for progress ahead, both individually and as a community.
Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Path, can be likened to a magical tapestry with a variety of colors, patterns, textures, yet as a whole encompassed by none in beauty or greatness. One of Hinduism’s beauties is its ability to accept all religions equally, with respect and appreciation. We do not view our religion as the only way to God, echoing the ancient Hindu saying, “Truth is one, paths are many.”
I feel that my Hindu-­‐ness makes me a better American as the values I have been brought up with continue to shape my present and my future, as individual and a member of this wonderful country. As a Hindu American, I feel it is my utmost duty to strive to preserve and defend my religion, as well as using it as a tool to progress every day.

Pooja's Biography

Pooja Patel is a sophomore at Robert E. Lee High School in Midland, Texas. She is active in her local Hindu youth group, plays tennis for her high school team, and proudly supports HAF.