By Emma Gold
Isn’t it fascinating how one, brief experience can have a long-lasting impact on you? As young adults, we’re constantly being thrown into new situations — situations that, little by little, teach us about ourselves.
Last week I found myself driving to Albany with three friends to attend a service at the Hindu Temple Society. While certainly not a destination I would have anticipated going to a week prior, one of my professors assigned a project for us that entailed attending a service of a religion not our own and treating it as an anthropological study. So, we perused the list of nearby places of worship, and, for a myriad of reasons, decided on the Hindu temple.
As we pulled into the parking lot, we all acknowledged how nerve-wracking this experience was. The biggest fear one has while participating in a cultural act they are not familiar with has to be accidentally doing something disrespectful, and we were all freaking out over this possibility.
We were afraid of doing something wrong, standing out, not being welcome, being disrespectful … the list goes on. Upon walking into the lobby and just standing there — painfully awkwardly, I have to admit — for about 10 minutes, a woman walked over to us and introduced herself. Grateful for the warm welcome, we explained why we were there and asked if it was okay for us to participate in their service.
Clearly pleased by our interest in her religion, the woman, named Anavi, approved our attendance and note-taking and generously took us under her wing for the morning.
The service was beautiful. While we couldn’t understand what was being chanted (we’re all a little rusty on our Sanskrit), we could feel the power that this service had. Our informant (to use the anthropological term) explained that we were celebrating the birth of Rama — the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu — and that this was to be a 24-hour long service. Although we only stayed for three of those hours, we left the sanctuary in the highest of spirits, with warmth in our hearts and a standing invitation to go to Anavi’s house for dinner. For the entire car-ride home, we couldn’t speak about anything other than the glorious morning we had.
The people were welcoming, the reverence was palpable, and the desire to go back was strong. None of us could believe how apprehensive we had been prior to walking into the temple, for the experience could not have been more excellent.
Every now and then, I think we need to be reminded of how vital it is to challenge our comfort zones and ourselves. While Union is great, it’s no secret that our school is a bit of an island where it’s easy to fall into ruts disguised as routines. We’re at the age where new experiences are the most beneficial, and the opportunities we have to do so should be taken advantage of. This past fall I went abroad to Fiji, and I can say, as well as any other student who’s traveled abroad, that the deep immersion into an unfamiliar culture is an invaluable experience.
The enculturation into a new place not only broadens your scope of the world, but also teaches you about yourself. If you don’t have a respect for the unknown, then you can’t possibly truly appreciate what you do know or what you have, for that matter!
If you’re wracking your brain for ways to go beyond your comfort zone, I can’t quite say where the best place to start is — that’s different for everyone. That being said, I can attest to how extraordinary it was attending a Hindu ceremony. Religious intolerance is one of society’s oldest issues, but putting forth the effort to learn and respect a new school of worship is one of the best ways to personally combat said intolerance. Whether you regard yourself as pious, irreligious or somewhere in between, I can’t express enough how wonderful an experience this was for us.
In all the time you spend being a student at Union, don’t forget the importance of being a student of the world.