Faith and Hindu Identity
In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’ve invited members of our Springtide Ambassadors Program (SAP) to reflect on how their racial and ethnic identities impact their religious or spiritual beliefs. Below, SAP member Akhil shares how being a Hindu American shapes his identity, beliefs and how he shows up in everyday life.
Hinduism is an important part of my heritage and culture and it influences my opinions and lifestyle. Hinduism is a very unique faith that includes several meaningful beliefs, customs and beautiful traditions. One of the religious aspects of Hinduism I believe in is Karma. Karma is the idea that our actions always have consequences, both positive and negative depending on what you choose to do, and these can come back soon, in the future or even in the afterlife. This has made me become more aware of my actions and their effect on others.
My Hindu identity is also shaped by the various festivals and holidays I celebrate, such as Diwali and Holi. Diwali, the festival of lights, is a celebration of the Hindu God Lord Rama’s victory over an evil king Ravana. Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil. Celebrating festivals are important ways for me to connect with my community, stay grounded in my faith and honor the traditions of my ancestors.
These festivals have also taught me valuable lessons. A few years ago on Diwali, I wasn’t feeling well. I had a lot of things going on that were stressing me out – I could not keep them out of my head. Diwali is a pretty hectic day in my household, since the day is full of celebrations and customs that we follow, and I was feeling extremely overwhelmed. As the nighttime celebration ended, I was glad to finally get some sleep but my family called me outside.
As I came out, I saw several traditional oil lamps lit in a circle. My family and I sat down, and we prayed to our gods, thanking them for all the blessings they gave us. As I prayed, I felt a strong sense of calmness and serenity around me, which was exactly what I needed. As I felt a connection between God and myself, I forgot about everything that was bothering me. After we finished praying, I got up and went back to my room. I was surprised to find out that I wasn’t nearly as stressed as before, and my mind was in a much more relaxed state. It was only then that I truly learned that faith wasn’t just about the grand rituals or external celebrations. It was about finding light amidst darkness, hope amidst despair, and strength amidst challenges.
As a Hindu American, I follow “Ahimsa” which means non-violence and not harming other living beings. This has made me adopt vegetarianism and show empathy towards animals. Staying a vegetarian since I was born has deeply influenced my lifestyle and thought process. Ever since I was little, I have always had a deep love for animals and the environment. As I got older, I started to realize the detrimental impact of treating and consuming animals as food. I was deeply troubled and shocked by the cruelty in the treatment of the animals as well as the harmful environmental impact from factory farming.
While it can be challenging for someone to satisfy their dietary needs as a vegetarian, I have always found a variety of delicious plant-based alternatives that sustain me as a competitive athlete. I have embraced ahimsa into other aspects of my life as well. For example, when I go shopping I make sure that I only buy products and accessories that are cruelty-free, and I educate my friends and family on how vegetarianism promotes compassion and kindness. I feel fortunate that I was raised as a vegetarian and I plan to remain one.
Going to the temple is an activity that is of significance to me since I can practice my spirituality at my place of worship, freely and completely. I pray sincerely and bring offerings like fruits and flowers to Lord Ganesha, the Hindu God of wisdom. I try to practice Yoga which has Hindu roots and is a gift to this world and humanity because of its scientifically-proven health benefits. Meditation and prayer chants invoke gratitude, calmness, and help me stay grounded. These practices, which are based on my religious beliefs, have helped me develop my spirituality.