Learning about my own faith through interfaith dialogue – Asha Jain

When I applied to be an Interfaith Fellow, it was to increase my religious literacy by hearing about the daily experiences of my peers who follow different faiths. This semester especially, we have been having substantive discussions not only about practices and values, but about struggles we’ve faced to reach our present level of religious or spiritual devotion, particularly between families that are divided by differing ideologies. I admire the courage it takes to search for one’s own religious path because I am only now starting to understand what a significant part of my identity my religion is. Being able to explain the adaptation of religious values and beliefs into my daily life during our meetings has reaffirmed my own commitment to faith. More importantly, I have realized that without a solid religious foundation based primarily on teachings from the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most well known Hindu scripts, I would be lost.

Surprisingly, however, before this semester I did not even know that my ideology comes from the Bhagavad Gita. Hindu philosophy is transcribed in thousands of ancient Sanskrit manuscripts, some of which date back to 1300 BC, resulting in a very unstructured culture. Thus, I never stopped to think about the origin of the values my father instilled in me at a young age. Because of the regional differences within India and the adaptation to modern society, I assumed that he was simply sharing with me what his father shared with him, values that have been passed through generations but were not really based off of Hindu literature. I first began wondering about their origin during our discussions, where many other fellows were able to back up their statements with religious texts while I was not. 

In an effort to learn more about my faith, I am currently enrolled in a Hinduism course, for which I was required to read an English translation of the Gita in its entirety. This was the first time I had ever read any part of the Gita, and I was taken aback when I read verses that stated the exact message my father has shared with me countless times. For example, in the Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that if actions are performed as sacrifices, renounced from the bondage of desired outcomes, we can be unified with Him and escape the cycle of suffering. Similarly, one of the main principles I have been taught is that the Divine controls what happens to us, and whatever He/She chooses is for the best. To adapt this to college life, although it seems trivial, I interpret this as follows: it is my responsibility to work hard, but exam grades or other results are not in my hands. In a more serious way, this ideology has helped my family and I cope with the death of relatives, assuring us that they are in a better place and did not suffer at the end of life. 

This is just one example of how I have become more knowledgeable about Hinduism. Yes, I have increased my religious literacy regarding other faiths through this Fellowship, but just as important, I have grown within my own faith.

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