Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Volunteering abroad in a Hindu community
"The sun and the moon, the Lord created like the suns and the moons of previous cycles." Religion is the driving force behind many communities; it is common practice for people to have a prayer meeting before they begin any meaning full project in their lives. In some cases we find people who say a word of prayer before they embark on a journey, in these prayers many people simply ask for blessings from the God they believe in, they believe that without Gods’ blessings their project may be doomed to failure. With this beliefs come a strong feeling that if anything happens that acts as a bad omen, or that is contrary to religious practices, then the work that these people have put their time and energy into will fail. A volunteer needs to remember this, wherever they choose to carry out their volunteer work. Understanding the locals’ religion and respecting it may be the line that separates success or failure of their volunteer work in the community.
The origins of Hinduism can be traced to the Indus Valley civilization. The basis of Hinduism is the belief in the unity of everything. This totality is called Brahman. They believe that the purpose of life is to realize that we are part of God and by doing so we can leave this plane of existence and rejoin with God. This enlightenment can only be achieved by going through cycles of birth, life and death known as Samsara. One's progress towards enlightenment is measured by his karma. This is the accumulation of all one's good and bad deeds and this determines the person's next reincarnation. Selfless acts and thoughts as well as devotion to God help one to be reborn at a higher level. Bad acts and thoughts will cause one to be born at a lower level, as a person or even an animal.
Hindus follow a strict caste system which determines the standing of each person. The caste one is born into is the result of the karma from their previous life. Only members of the highest caste, the Brahmins, may perform the Hindu religious rituals and hold positions of authority within the temples. They also believe that members of different castes cannot inter marry, or hold the same positions socially and economically. As a volunteer you need to remember that members of the Hindu community to not take lightly also to intermarriage between themselves and members form outside the community, you therefore should tread carefully in social circles with members of the opposite sex.
With regards to dieting in a Hindu community, a volunteer needs to remember that In general, Hindus avoid all foods which are thought to inhibit physical and spiritual development. Although eating meat is not explicitly prohibited, many Hindus are vegetarian because they adhere to the concept of Ahimsa, non-violence as applied to foods. Beef is, which never eaten because the cow is considered sacred, and pork is often avoided. Some foods are prohibited depending on what regions the locals come from.
The concept is that some foods promote purity of the body, mind, and spirit also influences Hindu dietary practices. Some foods are considered innately pure, such as the products from cows (especially milk, yogurt, and ghee), thus foods which aren't as pure can be improved by preparation with these pure foods, such as frying in ghee. Other foods are considered inherently polluted (such as alcohol and beef) and can never be made pure.
Your best weapon as a foreign volunteer would be observation and where you are at a loss, get a local who you can ask for advice on any issues you may find confusing or that you feel may be causing any tension between you and the locals