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World’s oldest religion alive and well in ABQ

I am a proud United States citizen.

I am a proud Albuquerque resident.

I am a proud native of India – born, raised and educated.

I am a proud retired physician – internal medicine and geriatrics – who, along with my physician wife – psychiatry – treated patients in the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Atlanta for decades.

And, I am a proud Hindu.

Hinduism is one of the six major, living religions in the world. According to their time of appearance, they are: Hinduism, Judaism, Zorastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is the oldest and third largest religion behind Christianity and Islam. It is, however, not a mainstream religion in many countries, including the United States. And that – along with many misconceptions – has prompted me to help spread some knowledge about both the religion and the culture.

India, of course, continues to be home to 94% of the world’s 1.1 billion Hindus. The United States includes 2.4 million Hindus. Albuquerque’s Hindu population, while considered small, consists of about 2,000 people, 500 or so families. A temple at the intersection of Zuni and Utah streets provides a welcoming gathering space for a vibrant and active population. And we look forward to having our first priest in the coming months.

A religion dating further back than 5000 BCE, Hinduism boasts having the oldest scriptures in the world. Like India, they are rooted in peace. India has never conducted a religious war; it is a most tolerant country.

Hindu is a word coined by Persian and other Western visitors who entered India through passes in the Himalayas and found a civilization settled around the river Sindhu. They called these people Hindus. Hinduism, a British term, was used to refer to the faith followed by the people of the Indian subcontinent. The long and popular use of the term has endured.

Perhaps the term “Dharma” rings familiar. In Hinduism, Dharma is a cosmic law underlying right behavior and social order. The Hindu faith is called Sanatana Dharma, which means eternal way of life. It also is called Vaidika Dharma, or religion of the Vedas. Vedas are the foundational scriptures of Hinduism – revered as eternal truths revealed by God to the great, ancient sages of India. One might compare the Vedas to the Bible of Christianity, the Torah of Judaism or the Koran of Muslimism.

Hinduism allows the widest freedom in matters of faith and worship. It respects all religions and all beliefs. It is way of life based on morals, ethics and social laws aimed at harmonious living – individually and within community. Through the years, scriptural philosophy of Hinduism has been studied by a wide variety of influential people. A sampling of recognizable individuals who were inspired by the Hindu philosophy includes Aldous Huxley, Alfred North Whitehead, Arthur Schopenhauer, Francois Voltaire, Will Durant, Arnold J. Toynbee, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman.

Though the above is admittedly a brief and limited overview, hopefully it provides a basic understanding of Hinduism, and perhaps whets the appetite to learn more of a somewhat complicated history. If chance brings you into contact with a Hindu – and, by the way, we have no distinct attire to identify us – please do strike up a conversation. Ask questions, share thoughts. We welcome that.

Knowledge breeds understanding, and understanding breeds tolerance, and tolerance breeds peace. And peace is the core of Hinduism.

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