Religion is part of one’s daily existence here in Nepal. I have realized how important it is to have an open mind about religious practices while working at an NGO. The 103 caste and ethnic groups and 92 languages are extremely complicated and are impossible to learn the complexities of each. However, religion seems to bind people here, whether Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or even Christian.
The majority of people in the Udayapur district are Hindu, a religion that I was not very familiar about before coming here and still have much to learn. Not understanding what is going on around me due to the language barrier while attending many of the religious festivals here hinders my experience for sure. Although I still feel an undeniable spiritual presence in Nepal where I haven’t felt anywhere else. I can’t put it into words and maybe it’s because it’s so woven into people’s lives here where it has been entangled into my own as well. I often wonder if I would understand more if my own religious faith were deeper before coming here and if I was devoted to one growing up.
I have always wanted to question what religion means to me and think my own beliefs should evolve along with my experiences in life. I have always wanted to explore new faiths and understand different paths to God. Nepal has certainly awakened my spiritual quest which I hope never dies.
While in Kathmandu I wanted to learn what was happening in the rest of the world so I picked up the mainstream American magazine, Newsweek. ” 21 surprising things you need to know right now” caught my attention while I was in a daze at the bookstore. Inside, there is an article, “We are all Hindus Now” that is very relevant to the world I am living in relating back to America’s changing religious values. 76 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, which is the lowest figure in history. There are over a million Hindus in the U.S, more than a billion in the world. The article points out that the rest of Americans are beginning to think like Hindus.
“The Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names,” from the Rig Veda, the ancient Hindu scripture. There are many ways to reach God Hindus believe, completely opposite in how the majority of Christian Americans are taught, that the only way is through Jesus. The number of Americans who call themselves spiritual, not religious has increased to thirty percent also according to the Newsweek piece.
My host family took me to a ceremony this morning celebrating the life of their friend’s grandfather. The issue of how Hindus consider death arose and surprised me a little by the large celebration. I figured once a person dies they are reincarnated and that’s the end. Hindu’s believe that at the time of death the body burns while the spirit escapes and returns back to earth many times through different bodies. I am happy to read that American’s religious views are evolving from a literal translation to what can happen in the afterlife to an attitude which values other paths to God as well. There is great danger I believe in trapping yourself in a bubble in believing there is only one path.
Politically, religion is of course in the forefront of issues. It will be at turning point in the next few years with how the “New Nepal” will have religion in it’s democracy. The recent UN Human development report insists that a strong nation state is essential in building peace. The country is rebuilding based upon secularism, an ideology that took over a nation that was ruled by religion. Hinduism surely is the ruling religion in Nepal, often causing great discrimination. Those in power must acknowledge the major differences between social groups here; religions, ethnicities and castes. It is essential in the future for peace. The laws being written in the new constitution should be in every respect through inclusion and participation of all groups.
This is where NGO’s like NESPEC step in to pressure local governments, ideally by empowering people from marginalized groups. It is very encouraging that civil society is strong here and that young people are very involved in helping those less fortunate. Rural women who have never been educated in the hill side now know that their rights will be changed. The future can only tell what will happen and I will be watching no matter where I am.
Posted By Morgan St. Clair
Posted Aug 25th, 2009