India-A Traveler’s Hope

I travel to learn about other people in unfamiliar places. I go to listen to their stories and understand.

I was raised Catholic and have since left that religion. I don’t call myself a Christian but rather a Jesusist because I believe in the doctrine of inclusion and I honor all religions. I still post a picture of an angel on my Facebook page every Christmas with the words, “Be not afraid. I bring you tidings of great joy.” In this troubled world, this declaration always brings me comfort.

I also travel to learn about other religions. Through direct experience during my time in India, I got to witness the history and practices of Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism. I was really touched by many lovely philosophies. The meaning of namaste which states that “the goodness in me recognizes the goodness in you”. The belief in the interconnectedness of all people and creatures. The fact that the Sikhs feed hundreds of people each day. The call from Eastern religions for self examination and responsibility to others. And I will never forget the acceptance and kindness the Indian people showed me. I could not spend 17 days with these wonderful people and not be changed forever.

In 2018, I took a journey close to home, a tour called “The Lost Villages of Fort Drum.” I was thrilled to see our local history preserved and acknowledged by the archaeological department on the base. This prompted me to started reading about the Antebellum Era of the early 1800’s when America was new and trying to define itself. There was a shift away from Calvinism that defined a person’s fate as a good or bad person before birth. The movement called The Second Awakening put more emphasis on the importance of doing good deeds. I loved a quote from that time that stated “injustice to one is injustice to all.” This belief motivated people to work for reform, the emancipation of slaves, and the right of women to vote.

This year of travel has given me great hope. I have seen the history and geography of humanity’s heart. The spirit of the human soul wants the best for others, for all of us. There will always be people in this world who will believe in that light and will work to keep it alive.

India-What’s Up with the Turbans?

In my travels to Canada and Europe,  I have occasionally seen men wearing turbans.  To me, they were strange and very foreign.  I have never taken the time to understand who they are. 

Our tour guide took us to a Sikh temple.  Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world with 25 million followers, most of them living in India.  It was founded in 15th century as a monotheistic religion that rejected the Hindu caste system and dedicated itself to the principles of unity, equality, and social justice.  The men of this faith never cut their hair and wrapping it, cover it with turbans.

What really impressed me was that the temple was also a “soup” kitchen.

Everyday Sikh volunteers feed anyone who needs food.  Even our tour group was invited to join in the meal. This temple feeds hundreds of people each day.

People waiting outside for the next round of meals.

Sikhs do not evangelize or try to convert people to their religion.  The foundation of their doctrine is to do good deeds in the form of helping the needy and serving the community.

I understand now.  Next time I see a Sikh in a turban, I won’t stare. Instead I will hope for the opportunity to tell that man that  I’ve been to India and that  I respect his religion very much.

India-My Pandora’s Box, Painful Pondering

17 days in India, a place filled with thousands and thousand of details, each significant.  I had direct experience, I didn’t use computers or TV screens to separate me from reality.  I saw, heard, and smelled India and it was overwhelming.

I’m in The US now, a place of physical order, roads are paved, the overall colors are somewhat subdued, and litter is picked up.  But there are screens here, they are everywhere. They scream with chaos and division.

My emotions are are frazzled because I have been involved in two very intense worlds and they have open a Pandora’s box of contradictions and painful pondering.

India had Gandhi. After independence, he worked so the poorest would have a voice, that the caste system would be discontinued, the curse of drink and drugs would be stopped, and that women would have the same rights as men. Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948.

India had this great reformer but today even with the economic growth rate at 7.4 percent  (almost double of that of the US) there is there so much poverty .  Five percent of the population, 70.9 million citizens, make less than $1.90 a day.  And if you hike that daily number to $3.20, 1/3 of the Indian people are below the poverty level. Thousands of farmers are committing suicide and 40% of all children under 5 are shorter than they should be because of malnutrition. 

And when  I came back and  went to my local Walmart to print out some pictures from my trip, the clerk at the photo counter became interested in what I had experienced in India. I told him that Gandhi had made a big impact on me. And then this young man of 19 or 29 told me that Gandhi  had really  been a horrible person and he gave me the names of some internet sites to prove it. This was like a slap in the face. Yes, since I had come home, I  had become immersed in the cynicism and negativity of  America as I watched TV in the privacy of my own living room. But this was a personal affront to something  treasured  that I had brought back from India. 

How can we make the this crazy world better?  What can I do? The Hindus believe in the interconnection of all living things, doing good deeds, and self examination. Gandhi believed in civility. In my life, I have made a ton of mistakes. And according to Hindu thought, since I am connected to it all,  I’m definitely part of the problem. 

I think all humans face a dilemma of trying to be good people while not being doormats. In my school district we taught our students “The Peace Table”.  It involve using “I” statements without blame and simply telling people how we felt when something was wrong.  Gandhi also used that method. He respectfully told his government  about a problem, as the Indian people saw it, and and then offered a solution. I have not been good at this, as I usually stay silent and then finally speak up with anger. I’ve been a pain in the neck, a lot.  Somebody once advised me that when dealing with difficulties,  it is always wise to be polite and if there isn’t a chance for change,to keep that interaction to a minimum and let it go.  But I also need to remember to go beyond this and not to seek revenge or gossip about the person to justify myself  or to band people against them.  It’s going to be hard for me, I have a lot of bad habits. But I am definitely part of the problem in this world and I  need to take responsibility.

I bought a beautiful handmade rug in India which shows the passage of the seasons. I put it next to my bed so I could stand on a bit of India each morning and look out my window to the east and know that each day is a new beginning and an opportunity for me to do better. This is my hope.

India-Gandhi’s Salt March

British Prince of Wales Tiger Hunting in India 1875-1876

In the 1800’s, various European entities were eager to expand their reach   The East India Company, a British company, made a lot of money selling spices, cotton, silk, tea, and opium from India. The Indian people were heavily taxed and became suspicious of the corruption and untrustworthiness of the company. They fought back in The Mutiny  Rebellion of 1857.  In 1858, the British took over the country and set up form of government in which they were the majority

Gandhi devoted  much of his life to winning independence for India. He was arrested, jailed, and released.  In 1930, a simple substance  gave him the momentum he needed.  Salt was processed and distributed by the British in India and  heavily taxed.  A year’s worth of tax could equal two weeks wages for a laborer. Gandhi saw this as an economic injustice. “Next to air and water,” Gandhi argued, “salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life.” Salt was important to all classes and the British had tight control of it.

Gandhi recruited followers from his ashram, asking them if they could face death without fear. Eighty agreed to support him and adhere to his philosophy of nonviolence. The average age of the original group was 26. Gandhi was 60 at the time. The plan was to walk 240 miles to the sea to gather salt illegally.

Gandhi carefully laid the foundation for the march.

  • He notified Viceroy Lord Irwin that the march would be taking place. In a letter, he addressed the viceroy as “dear friend” and communicated with civility and respect.
  • He stated the problem, British rule was sapping the foundation of Indian culture, reducing the people to serfdom, and degrading the country spiritually.
  • He articulated the solution, self-determination and independence from British rule.
  •  Thousands appeared on the eve of the march to protect him.  His cause rallied all facets of the India populous including the poor, women, and students.
  • He used the media of the time. His march was covered in newspapers around the world with the simple slogan,”right against might”.

The group marched ten miles a day and tens of thousands of people joined in. They successfully reached the sea and over the next few years,  this civil nonviolence movement grew and grew. 

India became an independent country on August 15, 1947.

Long before I went to India and now that I have returned,  I have been reading books and listening to YouTube lectures by Professor Dennis Dalton who lived in India for three years and studied Gandhi’s life. During one of his talks, he mentioned The Occupy Movement, an attempt in our country to use civil nonviolence to bring about change. In citing the approach of Gandi, he stated that our America attempts failed for three reasons.

  • Lack of a strong leader
  • Absence of a clear unifying goal
  • Poor overall organization

It is very apparent why Gandhi, after all these years, is still a revered figure in India and all over the world.