A statue of the elephant-headed Ganesha, the "Remover of Obstacles," sat in Tom Brady's locker at the Super Bowl earlier this year for some pre-game spiritual motivation. Toddlers to seniors worldwide have taken to practicing the physical form of yoga to achieve wellness and rejuvenation. Hinduism is happy to share - no strings or labels attached.
As an "open-source" faith, though, it is a challenge to assert any platitudes about Hinduism, past or present, much less to put forth an idea of its future. There is neither a central authority nor common dogma, leaving room for everyone. Many adherents, who view time as a circular concept without beginning or end, might feel the question of a "future" for Hinduism is misguided. Others wonder if it can be called a religion at all, favoring the more practical sanatana dharma or "eternal way of life" instead. As a whole, it can seem rather confusing. Yet this diversity of form and thought is also the source of Hinduism's beauty and endurance.
In this way, Hinduism is much like water. It takes the shape of whatever vessel it fills, customized but not compromised. It caters to the unique individual, yet views each as an equal part of the universal whole - a drop in the cosmic ocean. Over the last several thousand years, individual and collective practices described as Hindu have evolved organically to suit their circumstances, finding new relevance among new generations in new environments. Thus when imagining a future for Hinduism, I believe that, true to form, it will continue to flow forth - negotiating new terrain as needed, at once distinct and the same, sustaining life as it goes.
Self-navigating Hinduism's vastness can be a daunting prospect, which is where a Guru can help. There is much joy and comfort to be found in choosing a hand to hold and guide you on the seeker's path. For me, that guide is Dada J. P. Vaswani, the spiritual head of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission in Pune, India, who simplifies immense philosophy into bite-sized lessons of self-discovery and service, oneness and love. I believe that these four qualities will be the undercurrents of my faith's future. In my life as a young Hindu born and raised in America, I see them manifested admirably by many of my peers and role models, leaving me excited for what's next.
In the fall of last year, the Hindu American Seva Communities hosted its annual conference at the White House, where a panel featuring youth and their perspectives on Hinduism in America was particularly engaging. Sai Santosh Kolluru of the Dharmic Feeding Coalition stressed the importance of encouraging Hindu scholarship, pointing to an age-old relationship between Hinduism and the pursuit of knowledge, often termed as Gyana Yoga.
Mathematician Manjul Bhargava, a Fields Medal winner and one of the youngest-ever tenured professors at Princeton University, claims inspiration from his Vedic-era predecessors and their manuscripts. Computer scientist Rohan Murty, son of Indian tech giant Infosys' founder Narayana Murthy, is the benefactor of Harvard University Press' newly published Murty Classical Library of India, which aims to preserve and reintroduce Indic thought. They each lend a face to the next generation of this academic legacy. By leaving room for constructive doubt and intellectual curiosity, Hinduism recognizes that what exists between science and faith is harmony, not the struggle to reconcile.
Dada Vaswani, a physicist himself, has often relayed that, "The end of knowledge is service." Many Hindus believe that ultimately, we are accountable for our actions relative to our duty - frequently discussed as the law of karma - and that using our knowledge and skills in the spirit of selfless service ennobles these actions.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, the first Hindu elected to the United States Congress, pursues this path of Karma Yoga. When elected in 2012, at 31, she was the youngest member of the House. Along with Lt. Col. Ravi Chaudary in the Air Force and Capt. Pratima Dharm, the Army's first-ever Hindu Chaplain, Gabbard has been part of a number of Hindus serving to protect America, having deployed to the Middle East twice with the Army. She often speaks about how the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text set on a battlefield, supported her through war, and that its message of doing one's duty as an offering to the Divine inspires her to approach her legislative work as a servant leader. She is one visible example among many young Hindus who employ their work as worship, contributing to their communities as part of their spiritual pursuits.
The concept of oneness transcends equality, and explains why Hindus should obey the Golden Rule to treat others as we ourselves would be treated: because the others are not apart from us. All are one and One is in all. Channeling this noble sense of Universal Oneness is often described as Raja Yoga in Hinduism. Empathy, justice, and peace follow from its practice.
Based upon its reasoning, woman and man are both beautiful expressions of the same Divinity, as symbolized by the deity Ardhanarishwara, who is portrayed as female and male in equal halves. The "Abused Goddesses" campaign, in which female Hindu deities were depicted as battered women, starkly and disturbingly highlighted the incongruity of Hindu thought with gender exploitation. To move ahead, we require and must revere the Shakti (the Sanskrit, feminine word for "Divine Power") that women bring to our faith, families, and firms.
Oneness extends naturally beyond humanity to our flora and fauna. The Bhumi Project, an initiative of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, is directed by the young Gopal Patel, and "aims to make traditional Hindu culture and wisdom relevant to address environmental concerns." As part of this mission, the Project hosts an annual Hindu Environment Week in February. As the youth understand and leverage Hindu texts, teachings, and traditions to speak to modern issues, the faith will continue to find intergenerational relevance, facilitating healthy debate and inspiring sustainable action.
I believe that the keystone of Hinduism's future is the practice of love - love for the Divine, or Bhakti, and love for everyone and everything that flows from It. Love is the ardor behind intellectual discovery, the selfless motivation of service, and the lens through which oneness is crystal clear. Love is not the preserve of any one religion, and it is universally understood from birth to death. Love is truth. Therefore, regardless of how our individual vessel is shaped, let it be filled to the brim with love. This is my prayer - for the future of my faith and of our world.