Two Students Reflect about What They Learned in the Online Course Hinduism and the Bahá’í Faith

Mai Musta, from Toronto, Ontario, wants to study the Bahá’í and Hindu Faith in greater depth:

I would like to thank the Wilmette Institute, its faculty, and my fellow students for this wonderful opportunity to interact with you and the course material in consultation! I now realize that my previous background of Vedanta is only one aspect of Hinduism. . . . I am truly enriched by the depth of our exchanges! Taking courage from this course, I want to attempt a research paper on the Baha’i Faith and Vedanta.

This learning is already part of me in my interaction/dialogue with others. The rest will come with further immersion in our Holy Writings on their relevance to Hindus as well as others. [I have acquired] greater appreciation of the challenge facing us as Bahá’ís to educate ourselves to world traditions of the past and present as we try to live the teachings of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh.

Barry W. Clatt, from Washington, D.C., discovered a new way to feel like a world citizen and a new way to look at the Bahá’í Faith by studying Hinduism:

This study of Hinduism and the Baha’i Faith has genuinely galvanized my understanding of progressive revelation in a way that I had never before attained. Beforehand, I had just accepted it as a principle that is prominently held as a truth in the Baha’i teachings; but now, with a more in-depth study of any other religion I have ever undertaken, I clearly see the parallels, the need for progressive revelation, the many similarities, the comparisons. . . .

The whole concept of dharma has definitely changed my thinking for the better. Having a purposeful life in whatever role you may be in might seem like a self-evident concept, but to my way of thinking in Hinduism the clarity and desirability of incorporating these concepts in one’s life seems incredibly attractive. Therefore, the framework from everything from relationships within a family, to relationship to God, to relationship to work and other obligations seems elevated to a part of one’s very religion in Hinduism, rather than a series of personal social choices which are not necessarily emphasized or even really promulgated in the West. . . .

I realize that, prior to this course, my ignorance about this religion can only be described as phenomenally vast. Not only was there so very much of which I was unaware, I found that there were quite a few myths and misconceptions imbedded in my “knowledge” that I had passively heard about and accepted in the past, especially with regard to commonly held stereotypes and misconceptions about the caste system, the status of cattle, and certain deities (e.g., Ganesh, Hanuman) whose physical forms present challenges to the average Western mind. . . . This course obviously brought me up to speed in my knowledge of Hinduism and the resultant healthy respect I now have for it. I recently purchased copies of the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and planned to read them both; however, I may put that on hold since a good Indian friend has referred me to his DVDs on both!

I am also surprised that completion of this course has helped me feel like more of a world citizen, in that now I do have a grasp of another major religion and now I “know” and “accept” and “own” (in the sense that now Hinduism is more familiar rather than unfamiliar to me) knowledge of that faith. I no longer consider the Indian subcontinent and the world’s approximately 1.5 billion adherents to Hinduism as strange, unfamiliar, unattainably exotic, or bizarre. Oddly enough, I now feel more familiar with Hinduism than I do with Christianity, in that I was raised in a Swedish Lutheran church without a lot of theology or in-depth introspection; rather, it was just a standard diet of average, generally accepted Christian fare, more going through the motions than ‘living the life.’

. . . At times I have also experienced a certain feeling of helplessness. While I am so much more conversant and confident about basic knowledge of Hinduism, at the same time I am aware of the vast amount of related knowledge that remains to be uncovered. Perhaps this is an unusual outcome of thought processes, but what has happened in this instance is that I feel so much more strongly compelled to immerse myself in the Bahá’í teachings, and go to the next level of faith and knowledge in the religion I have chosen to prescribe to. I now have a brand new interest in developing my knowledge base in the other religions of the world, whereas I can (sadly) state that beforehand, I really didn’t care.

There are many Indian IT technicians in my group at work, and I have already used some of the information gleaned in the course to discuss their religion with them at length, and to introduce the Bahá’í Faith. Many of these discussions have been in-depth, and I would say that these people are highly impressed that an American knows so much about their religion. (A reflection of the fact that most Americans are highly ignorant about most non-Judeo-Christian faiths.)

I have also found that in society in general (there is a very large number of Indians and Hindus in the Washington metropolitan area) for example, at a grocery store, or at an Indian restaurant, or just in some public waiting area, I am able to strike up a conversation with someone who looks Indian and in many cases the discussion touches on Hinduism and the Bahá’í Faith. Granted such conversations are fleeting and not too substantive, but I do believe they make an impression and are not easily or readily forgotten.

It is obvious by extension that this course will assist me in teaching the Faith, and in being a more well-rounded and knowledgeable Baha’i who now knows and respects the tenets of another of the world’s major religions. From social and work contacts to study circles to meeting Hindus in society at large, this course will help me tremendously in all of these ways. In addition, I have been asked to provide as much information as possible about Hinduism and teaching Hindus to an Auxiliary Board Member in my former pioneer post, as there is a considerable Indian/Hindu presence in East Africa.

I have also been able now to connect infinitely better with a Punjabi Hindu friend from Northwestern University. He seems astonished at the amount of knowledge I seem to have retained about his religion, and it is fairly obvious that he greatly respects the fact that his friend now knows about—and deeply respects and is much more reverent towards—his beautiful and esoteric faith, Sanatana Dharma. Without really trying, in the process of this course I also seem to have picked up quite a bit of knowledge about Indian history, geography, and demographics simply because study of the predominant religion in a country just naturally leads to learning more about other aspects of that country.

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