General state of temples in North America and the way "representatives of Hindus" are selected
Recently on the Rajiv Malhotra discussion group, Shri. Rajiv Malhotra started a thread ‘How lack of "Hindu hierarchy" gets used by the other side’. Here we will see some excerpts from the discussion on this thread that shed light on the general state of temples and the way “representatives of Hindus” are selected. You can learn more about Rajiv Malhotra, a prominent Hindu thinker and researcher of our times, here : http://forumforhinduawakening.org/articles/id/contributions-hindu-dharma
Main thread: How lack of "Hindu hierarchy" gets used by the other side - by Rajiv Malhotra
Recently a group has emerged in Canada that wants to engage in a series of Catholic-Hindu webinars, in order for both sides to honestly articulate their views on matters of importance.
One Canadian Hindu supporter of mine asked me if I would join the Hindu team, and with my consent, he suggested my name to the Catholic side. Meanwhile, I also pointed out a few key items in the draft memorandum of understanding between both sides that should be changed. This MOU lists the range of topics for the webinars, but it excludes issues like inculturation, digestion/appropriation, Hinduphobia, conversions, negative propaganda, etc.
The latest development is that the Catholic side sent me the following statement: "One of the outstanding questions is the representation and accountability of the Hindu members of the proposed dialogue. ..each side should also have the security in knowing that they are interacting with persons who truly represent their faith community, and are accountable to it. The Catholic Church has a clearly defined hierarchy, body of doctrine, tradition of spirituality and worship, canon of Scripture."
So while the Church has an official institutional structure, hence an official authority will assign who represents them, Hindus lack such formal structure. Every churchman knows this divisiveness and vulnerability, because they have been doing their purva paksha on Hinduism for centuries. This caveat mentioned above allows them to effectively decide who gets to represent Hinduism, and who is to be left out - because they get to decide which "authority" of Hindus they will recognize. Naturally, if you get to choose the players on the opposing team, you can throw out "troublemakers" and those you dont want to deal with. Remember that the British used to decide who become the raja of a given place in India.
This is just one example of a very common syndrome. In this way, the other side creates in-fighting among rival Hindus and Hindu groups, each seeking to "represent" the community. In the end the mediocre Hindus get in, because they tend to be for sale, easier to "pacify" (like children), too moronic to know one thing from another, and with lots of idle time to waste on sucking up...
This is also how Hindu representatives have been selected in the US for some White House religious council, for US Congress commission on religious freedom, and other similar bodies. We need to fix the rot among our own leadership.
Comment 1 on the thread: Re: How lack of Hindu hierarchy gets used by the other side
Rajiv, correct me if im wrong but Im surprised that you are not seen as a 'Hindu' authority in the US with your years of work and experience because the reputation you carry automatically makes you the person that Hindus should be putting forth first to interact with the church or anyone else but then saying
that with the type of photo session hindus we have representing us in the US or anywhere else in the world then what to expect something the opposition know very well how to manipulate..
Rajiv Malhotra’s comment : The strategy of the church is to USE ITS CRITERIA of authority,
which is based on a corporate institution and not on guna or knowledge or varna by merit. Our side succumbs to this very quickly. At a major Hindu foundation claiming to de-colonize dharma studies and to promote dharma, I made the point that by accepting the Western academy's criteria of who is qualified to represent our faith, we are practicing colonialism rather than fighting it. I pointed out that if the western academic criteria of who is a scholar were applied to Adi Shankara, Buddha, Gandhi, Patanjali, Panini, Swami Viveknanda, and hundreds of other exemplars, none of them would be allowed to enter the forums and speak. Yet our folks love to "impress the whites" - a deeply rooted difference anxiety from below. I say that when we have the right and power to do so, let’s question the very categories being used, more so than trying to argue our case within the opponent's categories.
Comment 2 on the thread: Re: How lack of "Hindu hierarchy" gets used by the other side
On that note couldn't the Hindu Dharmacharya sabha (with sri Dayananda Saraswati as its convener) qualify to provide this system/structure for selection of representative speakers?
Rajiv Malhotra’s comment : That body only includes traditional groups and not (1) new groups that are much bigger nowadays, and (2) independent temples that predominate in the west. Most Canadian temples like the USA ones are unaffiliated with old Hindu groups. These are where most Hindus are going, and they represent Hindus in the public square.
The internal dynamics of most Hindu temples in North America are :
- Some enterprising group of local Hindus organizes fund raisers to build temple, appoint themselves as lifetime trustees, and in most cases to be succeeded by those they select.
- To appeal to maximum number of persons, they install a buffet of deities. Often lots of politics in deciding which deities. - focus on pujas and rituals with donors asked to give on a per transaction basis. i.e. $51 to buy X ritual, $101 to be named as the person who performed Y, etc.
- Little or no depth of knowledge beyond rituals. The knowledge that gets imparted is by some local elder who typically represents some narrow view. In any case this knowledge tends to avoid "difference" discussions or other contentious issues. Tend to avoid having anything to do with the kinds of topics I would speak on - too controversial to touch or be seen associated with.
- Activities focus on what generates money. Many temples are flush in cash. Yet virtually no investment in funding the kind of issues we deal with here. Not even willing to let us host fund raisers for such causes.
- So where does the money go? What voice does the donor community have in deciding the budget and priorities? How much external oversight on the trustees? An apathetic community only interested in performing an occasional "transaction with God" does not care about anything else. Hence, trustees are all powerful, little accountability. Temple becomes like a business partnership among a small group.
- Much infighting for power given that trustee have lots of power concentrated in their hands. (It) does not require being well read or well informed or having vision, or even a genuine devotion. More like a business/political post.
- Next generation has pretty much abandoned these temples after they leave home to go to college. In the school years the kids get taken by the parents but later on most of them abandon the temple.
- Trustees get a big boost in personal social and political capital as spokespersons for the Hindu community. Mainstream Americans assume that the authoritative place to get a Hindu position on something would be the local temple (because thats the role the church serves). Yet these temples seldom have anyone who feels comfortable engaging media, academic or school systems, or other aspects of the public square. Beyond pujaris and trustees, there is nobody.
- HMEC is doing a great job to deal with these challenges. Everyone must support them.
I hope I am not offending anyone. The above does not mean there are no exceptions; there are, but very few.
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