Plenty of religious or spiritual groups offer a chance for personal change. Some proselytize. They want you to assume their beliefs and join their group to change. Also, they may require you to convince others of their views and the benefits of membership. Others are non-proselytizing. They do what they do. Some non-proselytizing groups accept new members, but others do not. New members are born. They are the children of current members.
Since doctors thought that I would not live long after birth, someone baptized me into my parent’s proselytizing religion. Thanks to a concentrated effort on the part of my mother, I did survive. My parents were not entirely sure about this proselytizing religion for themselves. For both of them, it was their mother’s religion. They wanted me to have some religious training;so they sent me to a religious school for elementary and high school. In keeping with its aim to have everyone in the world share their views, the church school held frequent fundraisers for “the missions.”
I grew up to be an angry young adult with many questions. Then, for ten evenings in New York City, I listened to a world-renowned Hindu Swami (Dayayanda Saraswati of Arsha Vidya) teach. I was impressed by what he said. It made more sense to me than any religious or spiritual message I had heard. I decided to study in-depth with him, wherever that would lead me.
To prepare, I went to Ganesh Temple, Flushing for a year and a half. From my point of view, I became a Hindu. However, Hinduism is a non-proselytizing religion. You are born a Hindu, according to some. You can’t convert. That’s one reason why the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and its founder meet with disapproval. They are busy turning people into new Hindu Krishna devotees.
I thought that my immersion into Hinduism prepared me to understand the Swami when I studied with him. It did not matter at all. Swamiji did not want to convert his American students. What he was teaching was not religion but the vision of who we were, who I am, as preserved in short texts at the end of the Vedas. He wanted to teach the most valuable knowledge that Hinduism had preserved, and he was masterful.
After the study with the Swami, I had “The Truth.” Unfortunately, my mind was a shipwreck. Fortunately, I knew it. “The Truth” lit up the conflicts, pain, and unhealed trauma.
Part of the healing happened in my next spiritual group, Centers for Spiritual Living. We learned that we could change ourselves by changing the thoughts that served as our operating system. We learned that our ideas were powerfully creative. Through a series of classes, we were encouraged to examine the accumulated beliefs, habits, and thinking in our minds and to change them if necessary. A lot of the thoughts and feelings in our minds were not our own. They came from parents, teachers, and the society and culture in which we lived. This practice of evaluating our thoughts continues throughout life. When we want to improve any area of our lives, we return to it in earnest.
Part of the emotional healing took place under the auspices of my Health Maintenance Organization. Through the Behavioral Health Department, I participated in some body-based therapies to get the effects of emotional abuse out of my body. I also took Mindfulness Meditation.
The examination and revision of our thinking in the church group established a harmonious inner landscape. Mindfulness meditation provides a quieter mind for a time. Thoughts are supposed to be in our minds. They only slow down a bit with mindfulness meditation. The mind clears for moments in between surges of thinking. The American Psychological Association said, the changes in thinking achieved with mindfulness meditation “ contribute to effective emotion-regulation strategies.”
A clear mind, a mind with no thoughts, is not possible. It may not be desirable either. The APA reports that research shows mindfulness meditation results in
- Reduced rumination (thinking about something over and over)
- Stress reduction
- Boosts to working memory
- Less emotional reactivity
- More cognitive flexibility (Practitioners
- Develop the skill of self-observation
- Automatically disengages the automatic pathways created by prior learning so that present-moment input integrates in a new way
- Activates the brain region associated with responses to stress. This activation results in a faster return to baseline after being negatively provoked.
- Relationship satisfaction.)
(Daphne M. Davis, Ph.D. and Jeffrey A. Hayes, Ph.D., “What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness,” Monitor on Psychology, July/August 2012, Vol. 43, №7. Print version: p. 64)
To the extent that a mind can be clear, that mind is free. It is free to choose the thinking it maintains. If that is valid, is the mind of an adult convert to a religious faith free? If group members pressure an adult to adopt the ideas of their particular religion, does the target freely choose to affiliate, or do they give in? If a person sees value in the way a person or group lives their lives and decides to learn more, that is different. If a clear mind is a free one, the convert, cannot attain such freedom.
My teacher Swami Dayanda wrote a brief publication entitled Conversion is Violence. At first, I found it disturbing. After all, I was raised in a religion that made conversion a major business and thought it was beneficial. Swamiji founded an international organization of non-proselytizing religions. He hoped that they would work together for their mutual protection and survival. The Declaration of the Second Hindu-Jewish Summit resulted from several years of discussion in Delhi, Jerusalem and Haifa.It cleared up misunderstandings of the Hindu faith and some of its symbols like the swastika. Longstanding but debatable ideas such as the Aryan invasion of India were challenged. The declaration stated the common beliefs and values of these two ancient religions. Scholars from both religions agreed to continue to work together and produce books that would increase understanding of each tradition.
In 1999 Swami Dayananda called upon the Pope to embrace religious inclusion and forego conversion but the Pope did not do so. In 2000 Swamiji spoke to the Millennium Summit of the United Nations. His call to religious leaders to respect each other and not to convert the members of another religion to their own failed at that time. Swamiji also participated in two Hindu/Buddhist summits. The first was organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Women and held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The second took place in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2010.
As a child, I thought Christian missions were doing good work teaching people who did not know about Jesus. Due to what Swamiji said about conversion and my own discovery of the richness of Hindu and Buddhist religion, art and culture, I now oppose it.
A relatively clear mind is a valuable human achievement. A person who has achieved it can be the best version of him or herself possible. A free mind, a clear mind gained through the practice of mindfulness, and living mindfully, protects against conversion. The mindful person lives from the calm awareness behind beliefs of all kinds.
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