I Grew Up as a Hindu
IN 1968 I returned from college in the United States to visit my family in Jamnagar, India. Some friends had arranged a big dinner in my honor, and my father’s guru, Swami Trivenipuri, was there. After dinner he was talking about the supreme god and his relationship to the Hindu triune god, Tri-Murti, and what the three faces of the trinity represent. So I asked him:
“Aren’t the statues that Hindus worship simply idols? Is it good or bad that these are worshiped?”
He answered: “This is very good, because they are stepping-stones to the supreme god.”
So I asked: “Aren’t the statues really a stumbling block to understanding the supreme god? Don’t most persons think that the idols themselves are gods?”
“It is just the common people that believe that,” he said. And he went on with his discussion. But that did not seem right to me. I knew that my mother was not uneducated. She had studied in college for a law degree. And yet when she would go to the temple, she would say that she was going to durshan god. That Gujarati word durshan means “to see.” That was her understanding of the matter; she was going to the temple to see god, because the stone or idol was there. I know that mother viewed the idol itself as sacred, because that is what she taught me.
Trained in Hinduism
Among my earliest memories is visiting the Bhidbhanjan temple near our home. From infancy I was trained in Hindu worship. Even before I could walk, mother would carry me to the temple.
When I became five or six years old, I would go to the temple by myself. Every day, when I came home from school, I would either walk or ride my bicycle to the temple before supper. I would remove my shoes and enter. To worship there before the many gods was a moving experience to me. I always had a feeling of awe and adoration.
Inside the rather small, seatless hall I would bow on my knees before the image of Siva, repeating to myself his name. Silently, in prayer, I would ask Siva to help me to get good grades in school, to keep my father and mother well, and for other things. None speak out loud in the temple, not even the priests.
My visit to the temple would take about ten minutes or so. Then I would go home for supper, about five blocks away.
My Home in Jamnagar
My parents’ home is Mukund Villa on Swaminarayan Street. It is a more than twenty-room residence, occupying half a city block in Jamnagar, a city of about 150,000 population. I was born in this house in 1946, and grew up there with my grandfather, parents and four brothers and sisters.
When I was a youth my grandfather was minister of agriculture for the Indian state of Saurastra, which is now part of Gujarat State. My father had a law degree, but he went into business instead of practicing law, becoming part owner of two factories—one in Bombay and another in Jamnagar.
In our house there was a long, narrow room, or temple, filled with idol gods. Before entering it we would bathe ourselves completely. I was taught how to sit in front of the gods with my legs crossed, and to empty my mind of all thoughts. One way of doing this, my parents explained, is to repeat a god’s name over and over, saying, for example, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna.”
Later I was given a string of brown stone beads, similar to the Catholic rosary. The idea is to go through the beads repeating the name of the god each time a bead is moved forward on the string.
My Desire to Know God
Although I was faithful in performing these prescribed religious acts, I did not feel I knew God. I wondered to myself, Is God a real person? What is His will for man? When I was young my questions were never answered.
Hindu parents generally are unprepared to give their children religious instruction. However, my mother did try to help me, but in a way that only caused confusion. For example, she taught me to kneel by my bed every night before going to sleep and to address my prayer, “Oh, God!” But really, I wondered, who is this God, for we had scores of images of gods around our home, several of them in every room.
As I was growing up there was no way for me to study the subject of religion. There is no provision for the vast majority of India’s more than 400 million Hindus to receive religious instruction in Hinduism. Hindu temples are not places of religious instruction. The priests there are not teachers of religion. Their work is simply to care for the temple and its grounds, to open the gates and doors in the morning and close them at night, to burn incense to the gods and receive offerings from worshipers.
Hindu priests have not studied at some school to prepare them for their position. A person becomes a priest simply because he is the son of a priest. So, surprising as it may seem to Westerners, Hindu priests have no more religious learning than the average Hindu. They are ignorant insofar as knowing anything about God, and so were unable to satisfy my personal desire to know God.
Life Beyond Death
The principal concept of Hinduism is that of the ever continuance of life. As the eminent Hindu Swami Vivekananda put it: “The human soul is eternal and immortal, . . . The soul will go on evolving up or reverting back from birth to birth and death to death.”
This belief is impressed upon every Hindu by daily attitudes and customs. For example, my mother would leave food out on our rooftop for the birds. And she would explain to me: “These birds may be the departed souls of persons we knew, and they will appreciate our kindness.”
Also, many cows walk freely around the streets of Jamnagar. I remember once, when I was about six years old, the gate to our yard was left open and some cows walked in. It was my job to shoo them out, and so I picked up a board and hit a cow to get it moving. My mother really scolded me for that. “Cows are not to be hit! They are holy!” she said, believing they have departed souls in them.
The reverence with which Hindus regard all living things at times creates problems and difficult-to-explain actions. For example, a Hindu mousetrap appears very strange to Westerners. It is a small box-like object into which a mouse enters to get the bait, and is caught alive when the door falls shut. When we would catch a mouse, mother would tell me to take it out into the street and release it. “But it will only come back in the house again,” I remember saying once. So she told me to take it several blocks away and let it go.
The main problem is with flies and insects. Usually when we would eat, someone had to stand by to wave the flies away. They would not swing so as to hurt them, but just to keep them off the food, all because they believed someone’s departed soul was in each fly.
I, too, believed that the human soul transmigrated, and that the goal was to advance to a superior state with each rebirth. Sitting together on our rooftop at night, my grandfather would sometimes talk to me about reaching nirvana, which is supposed to be nothingness or an ultimate union with God. This hard-to-comprehend idea certainly did not help me to know God. It only made God even more confusing to me.
Could a Guru Help Me?
The idea of nirvana convinced me that I needed to progress intellectually in Hinduism. This required getting a guru, or personal teacher. I can remember when my father first obtained his. The way he made his selection was to have different gurus visit our home. They would have dinner or lunch, and then sit around and talk. I sometimes would listen, although at the time I was quite young. Finally my father found the one he liked best.
A guru is a student of the Hindu sacred writings. He becomes a guru by first serving as a disciple of a guru. Gurus will usually not bother talking with less educated Hindus, because they feel that such persons cannot comprehend their teachings. Thus my father and grandfather, who were each instructed by their guru in the Hindu sacred writings, had a concept of god that was different from that of persons with less education.
They would sometimes talk about a god beyond the idols, and how the idols are not really gods. I remember sitting out on the rooftop at night with grandfather and listening to him explain about Tri-Murti, the triune god consisting of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. “They are really just one god,” he would say. “There is only one supreme god.”
But it all seemed contradictory to me, especially when grandfather and father would bow down in worship to the idols! Some day, I thought, I would understand, for I really desired to know the true God. In the meantime, my parents convinced me that I must get a secular education.
Pursuit of Secular Knowledge
My parents strongly emphasized education. From the time I was two years old they had a special tutor for me. He was the headmaster of the elementary school. By age four I could read and write well. When I was eligible to start school at age six I was put in the fourth grade.
When I was fourteen years old I graduated from the Nawanagar high school in Jamnagar. Then for two years I went to the well-known Elphinstone College in Bombay, which is about 350 miles from Jamnagar. Here I was prepared for an advanced education in the United States.
In 1962 I flew to the United States and was enrolled at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. In time, I was given a scholarship that paid my tuition. I had the highest grades in the University in such subjects as calculus, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and physics.
After four years at Bucknell I went to the University of New Hampshire for two years on a teaching assistantship. There I taught thermodynamics and fluid mechanics, for which I received $200 a month plus free tuition. Since I taught only a few hours a week, the rest of my time I devoted to furtherance of my scientific studies.
Later I went to the University of Colorado, in Boulder, where I had a teaching fellowship. Here, too, my tuition was free and I was paid $250 a month while teaching about analogue computers and doing special research on the new science of holography.
During these years of study I had accumulated quite an abundance of worldly knowledge. But I had learned nothing more about God, as I had desired. I still thirsted for knowledge about the God who gave us life and created our marvelous mental abilities. So it was that in September 1966 something happened that caused me to begin a careful search for a knowledge of God.
Coming to Know God
I was on my way to start school at the University of New Hampshire when I stopped unannounced at the home of my brother. He had married an American girl and was now living in Elmira, New York. That evening my sister-in-law had invited two Bible teachers called Jehovah’s witnesses to the house. I had never heard of Jehovah’s witnesses before, nor had I ever looked inside a Bible. I had never spoken to a Christian in India. And at Bucknell I had not discussed religion with anyone. So this was my first contact with Christianity.
The Witnesses talked about the fine influence the Bible can have on people’s lives. My brother and I, however, could not agree with that. I was quick to point to the horrible record of those called Christians; for example, the two world wars began in so-called Christian lands. And in Christendom, I noted, there is more crime and immorality than in Hindu India.
To my surprise the Witnesses agreed. They did not try to defend Christendom. They simply said that Christendom is not Christian—that it has rejected the teachings of Jesus Christ—and is therefore condemned by God. They claimed that Jehovah’s witnesses were entirely separate from Christendom, and therefore took no part in its wars or wrongdoing. They were so sincere that I believed there must be some truth to what they were saying.
I began to see during the discussion that the Witnesses apparently have principles that actually govern their lives. I had principles too I thought. And yet, as a Hindu, I knew I could twist them anyway I wanted so as to justify about anything I wanted to do. Even my father had said that Hindus commonly are dishonest in business practices, and yet are able to justify their dishonesty by their religious principles.
The discussion that night disturbed me. The Witnesses seemed so sure of what they believed.
I Went Searching for the Witnesses
The discussion was still on my mind when I arrived at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. So Sunday morning I got up early and started driving. I stopped at each town and checked the telephone directory for Jehovah’s witnesses. It was not until I reached Manchester, New Hampshire, that I found them listed. An elderly sounding man answered when I called, gave me the address of the nearest Kingdom Hall, and said the meetings were at 2 p.m.
That afternoon I could hardly believe the way I was treated. Almost everyone came up and said ‘hello’ and made me feel welcome. After the meetings a Greek man invited me to his home for dinner.
Soon I was in another discussion. The Witnesses talked about an improvement of the earth under the rule of God’s kingdom. In Hindu teaching nothing is ever said about improving conditions on the earth. We only learn about achieving personal advancement by coming back in a superior reincarnation. But the Witnesses showed me where the Bible says the earth will be made a paradise by a government of God. There will be no more war and crime, and even sickness and death will be eliminated—God’s promises were there in the Bible! This really impressed me.
It was past midnight before I left. I took home with me the name of the presiding overseer of the congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses nearest to the university.
The following week I called this Witness and he offered to come and study the Bible with me each week free of charge. That was hard for me to believe, for in India one pays a lot of money for instruction from a guru. So I readily accepted his offer.
Our first discussions were about the identity of God, the thing I had wondered about for so long. I was shown from the Bible, as I now already believed, that idols are not God. It was then a surprise to learn that the churches of Christendom worship a trinity of three gods in one, very similar to the Hindu triune god Tri-Murti. I was very pleased to learn, though, that the Supreme God is not a trinity.
I was particularly impressed to learn that God has a name. It is Jehovah. This helped to make God more understandable to me. He was not mysterious anymore. It became clear to me, as we continued studying, that God is a real invisible Person.
In Hinduism I was taught that God created man. But that was about all. I never learned why he created us, or why wicked conditions exist. Now I was finding the answers. I learned that long ago a rebellion occurred among God’s creatures, and that God has permitted time to settle certain issues that arose. This time period has about elapsed, I learned, and soon Jehovah will wipe out wickedness and usher in a righteous new system. This was certainly good news and it thrilled my heart.
I had always accepted the Hindu teaching that man has an immortal soul that lives on when the person dies. After a number of discussions, however, I could see that this belief is wrong and that the Bible is correct in its teaching that the soul dies. Yet, I learned, the dead are not without hope. God can and will bring them back to life again. This Bible promise of the resurrection really made sense to me. It has given me a marvelous hope of seeing on earth again loved ones who have passed away, such as my dear grandfather.
Why I Now Believe the Bible
It may seem strange for one raised as a Hindu to be speaking this way about Bible teachings. Yet even the famous Hindu Mahatma Gandhi said: “I have endeavoured to study the Bible. I consider it as part of my scriptures.” In my studies I have found that there is real reason to believe the Bible.
For example, I am impressed that the Bible does not contain unscientific myths, as are common in Hindu teachings. The Bible nearly 3,000 years ago correctly spoke of the earth as being circular in shape, not flat as people in ages past generally believed. (Isa. 40:22) Also, the Bible explains that the earth does not have any physical support, such as an Atlas holding it up, as many ancients thought. ‘The earth hangs on nothing,’ the Bible says. (Job 26:7) Since I was scientifically oriented, this accuracy of the Bible really impressed me.
Another thing that helped to convince me of the Bible’s trueness is its unerring prophecies. Hindu writings, to my knowledge, do not contain any prophecies. The Bible, on the other hand, foretold many events that actually came to pass, in fact, the very world-shaking events of this generation, including the wars, famines, pestilences, juvenile delinquency and other conditions, are in remarkable fulfillment of Bible prophecy.—Matt. 24:3-14; 2 Tim. 3:1-5.
Then there is the superlative counsel of the Bible that is so helpful to happy living. For example, the Bible urges husbands: “Continue loving your wives . . . In this way husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies.” And will not a woman be a fine wife if she heeds this admonition: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord”?—Eph. 5:22-28.
My wife and I can truly thank God for his counsel in the Bible for helping us in our marriage. The Bible is simply filled with practical guidance, and this, too, is a reason why I have come to believe it is really the Word of God.
Other Joys from Knowing God
In time I dedicated my life to serve Jehovah God, and symbolized this by being baptized in water. It truly is a joy to be able to pray to the God that I desired to know ever since my childhood. And it is also a joy to have so many friends earth wide whose lives are governed by what this great God says in his Word the Bible.
I have also found happiness in sharing the good things I have learned about God with others, helping them to know him too. As an elder in the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses it has been a pleasure to be of spiritual assistance to my brothers and sisters in the faith, for Jesus Christ said, “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
I often think of my relatives and others in India with whom I grew up. I wish that they would get a copy of the Bible and see for themselves the wonderful things that it contains. Really, it would make their hearts rejoice to know the truth.
My grandfather, I know, worked hard to bring about conditions that can be realized earth wide only in God’s righteous new system. So I’m looking forward to seeing him when he is resurrected. His heart will be thrilled to see that then there will be no more poverty, oppression or even sickness anywhere on earth. How fine it will be, perhaps, to go up on the rooftop, as we used to do, and talk about the Supreme God Jehovah and all the grand things that He has done for mankind!—Contributed.