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Hinduism is not a religion. Hinduism is a world view: social, economic, cultural, religious beliefs and practices all intertwined in a way of life and a way of belief, a way of social status and a way of worship. A weltanschauung with porous boundaries.

I once asked a Hindu priest about converting to Hinduism and he told me that was impossible. That a person is born into and grows up embedded in a social, cultural and religious matrix that is as much a part of him as his family background. To a Hindu, one could no more convert to another belief system than one could shed ones skin.

He pointed out how deeply embedded I was in my own cultural tradition that I would even use the word "convert".

In fact, most Hindus will identify themselves by caste and sect and by the 20th century, increasingly as Indian. Because the Hindu matrix in which they are embedded is a given, background, invisible.

We have some parallel experiences. We identify ourselves, if asked, as American, not Judaeo-Christian.

As a world view, Hinduism embraces a wide range of spiritual beliefs and practices, as well as cultural and social ones: pantheistic, monotheistic, physical practices (yoga) and mental discipline (meditation).

Some of the symbolisms and practices resound strongly with us in our western traditions. One such symbol is the OM (AUM).

A (ah) is the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet. Mmm (with lips closed) is the final letter. The Greeks (and later the Christians) used Alpha and Omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet) to symbolize the beginning and the end, the wholeness of experience, God. For Hindus, much the same. And think about OM and Amen....

We have added the OM (written in Devanagiri) to the mobile which hangs in our sanctuary to symbolize Hindu philosophy, psychology, cultural traditions--and religious beliefs. Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end, world without end.


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