Today, I had the opportunity to attend a Hindu temple and observe one of their poojas, or prayer ceremonies.
My dad is taking a world religions class, and one of his assignments is to attend a religious ceremony in a religion that is different from your own, in order to gain perspective. He just finished studying Hinduism, and was fascinated by their beliefs, and so decided to attend a ceremony of theirs. Religion has always fascinated me, so I asked if I could go with him. Being a nice human, he said yes, and today was the day!
The temple itself, as far as construction goes, was a simple building with red trim. We took our shoes off outside, washed our feet, and entered. Inside the prayer hall was rather simple as well, except for the front of the fall, where the deities sat in their temples, and a corner of the room, where many dolls were situated upon nine steps.
For the next nine days, the Hindus are having a celebration, and these dolls play an integral part of the celebration. Each doll tells a story, interestingly enough. It's not unlike our nativity sets, actually. The dolls tell a story. These figurines were exquisitely made, with intricate decorations and brilliant colors. The deities at the front of the temple were much the same, but each deity was decorated with flowers and had a bowl of fruit at their feet. Those are offerings made to the deity each day.
Something I found wonderful was the respectful way they treat their deities. Only a specially appointed priest has authority to enter the shrines to perform the pooja, and before he can set foot in the shrine, he must shower to make sure he is clean. They may end up showering as many as five times a day! Purity is important to them, and I loved that.
Throughout this visit, I found so many similarities in this religion and my own religion; that is, Mormonism. For instance, when they set up the temple, their deity is simply granite, nothing special or sacred-yet. Then they spend the next while blessing it, and infusing life into the figure, and finally, when they are finished, it becomes a deity, much like our temples. In the beginning, they aren't anything special, just a beautiful building. But after they've been consecrated they become sacred and only those worthy may enter. Isn't that amazing?
Hinduism is misunderstood, I think. All this time, I've found them to be just a little bit odd, because they have so many gods. Who needs thousands of gods? I thought. Today, they were able to explain what they believe to me. They don't believe in thousands of gods, they believe in just one God! They believe that there is one supreme, all-encompassing God, but that He is in everything around us. The couch you're sitting on? God is in that couch. God is in your dog, in your daughter, in you. God is all around us, and they treat the world accordingly. Mala, one of the Hindu women we spoke with said that they greet each other by doing namaste, which translates to "I bow to you."
They do this in order to respect the Lord within the other person, because they believe God is in everything, and they do not wish to disrespect the Lord in any way. That is harmonious with the belief Mormons have where we believe we are children of God, and we need to treat others as such. We are all God's children, and we need to respect them as such. We all have the potential to become like Him, so why not treat each other as well as possible? That idea is so beautiful to me.
When we first came, we were both nervous about being there. What if they got offended? What if we did something disrespectful? Were we intruding? With these thoughts in our heads, it felt awkward for the first few minutes, but then I realized that they were not only offended, they were completely welcoming and loving towards us! And why shouldn't they be? I tried to put myself in their shoes (or feet, since shoes are not worn in their temples), and decided that our fears were completely unnecessary. Whenever someone has asked me questions about my beliefs, I am always happy to share them as honestly as I can. I have never gotten offended by earnest questions, mostly I'm just pleased they wanted to hear it from me, and not from the Internet, where things get twisted all too easily. I love it when people investigate my church, and I'm sure they love it, too!
I'm a firm believer in the goodness of religion. To me, it doesn't matter if you're Southern Baptist, Muslim, or Jehovah's Witness, because religion is so good. It helps bring people closer to God in one way or another, and encourages everyone to be better than they are. What's not to love? From experiencing this religion today, it cemented that particular belief even more. There are really so many of their beliefs that are similar to ours, it's amazing! I truly hope everyone can have the chance to experience a different religion at least once, because I think if everyone practiced religious tolerance, and religious pluralism (a term I learned just today, meaning understanding other's religions while still maintaining your own belief system), the world would be changed for the better.
The last experience of the night was listening to the final prayer to the ultimate god, and then we were invited to receive a blessing from the priest. We stood in line to receive the blessing, which was a sip of holy water infused with rosemary, being anointed with the holy water, and receiving some of the offering made to the deity, which was a small handful of pecans. It was beautiful, and I really, truly feel made better by attending that ceremony. Will I be back again? Probably. It was a beautiful experience, and even though it's not the way I normally worship, I still felt close to God, and I think only good can come from that. And the neat part of Hinduism is you don't have to convert. There is no such thing as baptism. So if you ever wish to attend a Hindu ceremony, never feel like an intruder, because they are just happy to have you there! They will happily let you know what they believe, and it is a fascinating, lovely experience.
Thanks for letting me tag along, Daddy! I love you! Namaste.