Diwali festival a good time to ask: Are we all Hindus now?

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun November 4, 2010 12:04 AM

                       'We are all Hindus now."

That was the headline of a noted essay that appeared in 2009 in Time
magazine, and it's well worth reflecting on as Canadians of all
backgrounds are increasingly drawn to the annual South Asian festival
of Diwali.

North Americans have not, we know, openly converted en masse to
Hinduism -- even if Elizabeth Gilbert's book about exploring Indian
mysticism, Eat, Pray, Love, has become a hugely popular movie, and the
lead actress, Julia Roberts, declared this fall she is Hindu.

But it is remarkable how Hindu beliefs, metaphysics and practices have
quietly and thoroughly become integrated into North American culture
in the past couple of decades, almost as if by stealth. Or osmosis.

For instance, Canada, especially the West Coast, has witnessed the
rise of hundreds, if not thousands, of yoga studios, meditation
centres, vegetarian restaurants and Ayurvedic health spas, all of
which could be said to have roots in Hinduism.

The key Hindu teaching about reincarnation, as well, is accepted now
by 30 per cent of all Canadians, including 37 per cent of Canadian
women, according to a recent Leger poll.

Hindu meditation philosophy has also gone mainstream through
best-selling spiritual teachers like Deepak Chopra and Vancouver's
Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now.

In addition, a Pew Forum poll found that two out of three Americans
now reject the theologically conservative Christian teaching that
there is only one way to heaven, or salvation.

Most North Americans, even while declaring themselves "Christian" or
"Jewish" or "secular," are signing onto the long-held Hindu attitude
there are many authentic roads to spiritual truth.

It can't be claimed that Diwali, the autumn "festival of lights" that
officially kicks off Friday at temples, is the main vehicle by which
Hindu ideas and practices are becoming assimilated across North

Still, Diwali's growing acceptance among non-South Asian Canadians,
especially among schoolchildren in urban centres such as Toronto and
Vancouver, may have contributed to the quiet trend.

As most Canadians know, Diwali is celebrated not only by Hindus, but
in different ways by Sikhs and Jains of South Asian heritage.

One of the many reasons Hinduism tends to be overshadowed in B.C. is
that the province has four times more Sikhs than Hindus. Yet, across
Canada, there are slightly more Hindus (roughly 360,000) than Sikhs
(about 340,000).

Hinduism's unusually low profile in Canada is furthered by the fact
Sikhs share many teachings with Hindus: Both promote reincarnation,
karma, cremation and the belief that time is cyclical rather than

Both teach the soul is continually reborn in different bodies.

Yet, compared to Sikhism, Hinduism is a much older, much larger and
much more geographically and philosophically diverse religion.
Compared to Sikhism, Hinduism has had a much wider impact on the
planet (including by indirectly giving birth to Buddhism).

What is the biggest reason most North Americans fail to recognize
there is truth in the provocative statement: "We're all Hindus now"?

It's simple: The religion is often not given credit where it is due.
To put it another way, Hinduism is being plagiarized.

The co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation, Suhag Shukla, is
among those miffed that many promoters of yoga, meditation, Ayurvedic
health and Indian philosophy often go out of their way to avoid using
the word "Hindu."

Shukla charges that most North Americans stereotype Hinduism as being
about "caste, cows and curry." As a result, he maintains everyone from
Eckhart Tolle to fitness teachers routinely act as if things like yoga
and reincarnation have next to nothing to do with Hinduism.

How exactly does this intellectual theft occur? Many North Americans
who market or teach what are in essence Hindu beliefs or practices
often call them something else, such as "ancient Indian," "Vedic,"
"yogic" or even "universal."

Shukla says none of these euphemistic labels for describing
Hindu-based practices are exactly wrong, but they're still misleading.

"Without a nod to their Hindu origins, this de-linking disenfranchises
admitted Hindus of recognition and appreciation for the breadth and
depth of their faith," Shukla writes.

He has a point. It's time to give proper credit as South Asian Hindus
continue to take

a larger role in everyday Canadian life, as Diwali becomes mainstream
in Metro Vancouver, as yoga and meditation become firmly established
and as more North Americans begin to concur with the foundational
teaching of Hinduism's Rig Veda:

"Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names."

dtodd@vancouversun.com Read Douglas Todd's blog at

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