Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

VERY Mixed Feelings

September 6, 2009 · 1 Comment

I have not had much experience with other religions besides various denominations of Christianity, so the recent visits to the Sikh and Hindu temples were eye-opening experiences for me.  My lingering feelings and perceptions of the two are strikingly different, even though I associate the two closely in my mind.  Because I don’t know much about Sikhism or Hinduism, their doctrines seem similar: live peacefully, teach future generations in a moral and religious way, and maintain a relationship with God.  The services, though, spurred entirely different reactions for me.

I found the Sikh temple to be comfortable and enjoyable.  I didn’t feel as though a lot was expected of members of their particular congregation (or me).  So many religions spend so much time outlining and detailing every aspect of how to be a “successful” follower of that particular sect, but this one felt much more relaxed.  More of a focus seemed to be put on finding a personal feeling of fulfillment rather than following specific doctrine or dogma.  For example, even though I am not Catholic I do attend mass frequently and help lead a Catholic youth group.  I know that part of being Catholic (for most parishes) involves carefully following a certain timeline: baptism as an infant, a CCD program during elementary/middle school, communion as a child, and so on.  In contrast, our guide said that there is no specific time to be welcomed into the Sikh family; rather, a child may join the congregation when he feels that it is appropriate, whether as a child, teenager, or adult. I enjoyed the personal emotion and experience that our guide shared in the talk, and I think it was wonderful that his job is not specifically that of a tour guide because it made him that much more believable.  Instead of a series of memorized facts, it felt much more individual and real.

That said, I felt a bit strange as a visitor in the temple.  I completely support going for the sake of learning and reflecting, but if I was a member of the congregation, I think I would look at our group almost as if we were mocking them.  Since they don’t normally do tours, I think having such a large group dressed in regular street clothes with scarves tossed on haphazardly outside the temple to cover our hair was borderline disrespectful.  I feel that smaller groups would have been more effective, since we would not be making such a spectacle of ourselves.

Again, the following is simply my personal reaction and is not meant to offend: I found the Hindu temple creepy and bewildering.  The most striking aspect, to me, was the ornate dolls (is there another term for them?) scattered throughout the temple. Given the nature of my religious upbringing, I looked at them as a form of idolatry.  I don’t understand the significance of them, nor do I understand how anyone has the authority to “put the spirit of God” into them.  I felt that the concept of one main guru to govern the entire Hindu population was strange and didn’t make sense.  How does he objectively know who the next authority should be?  If it is subjective, how can he be chosen by God?  What if a detrimental ruler is chosen?  How can people blindly trust one man when they do not know the logic behind his decisions?  I’m sure his followers find reasons to unquestioningly follow his choices, but I’m not sure that I would be able to.  Even a matter as small as the cost of the temple, shrouded as a secret, makes me uneasy.

Overall, I learned a lot but I think that my experience was certainly affected by my own religions upbringing and spiritual opinions.  I hope to learn more about the aspects of each temple that I did not understand, and am glad I had the opportunity to glimpse the way that such a large portion of the world’s population worships God.

Categories: Amy
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1 response so far ↓

  •   roseam // Sep 6th 2009 at 15:42

    Just checked, the dolls I was talking about are called “deities.”

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