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Alternate Activity 1: Engagement (90 minutes), Workshop 4: Hinduism—One God, a Thousand Faces

In "Building Bridges," a Tapestry of Faith program

Preparation for Activity

  • See general suggestions on Engagement in the program Introduction, under Implementation.
  • Contact a local temple and arrange a visit for a service. Hindu Mandir US is a good website for locating temples in the United States. Arrange, if possible, for a leader or the temple's youth group to meet and talk with your youth following the service.
  • If possible, invite one or two members of Hindu heritage from your congregation to talk to the group before and/or after the temple visit. If before, ask them to tell youth what to expect during the visit and what behavior is appropriate. They may also wish to share personal experiences that illustrate what their Hindu heritage means to them and how it relates to their Unitarian Universalist identity.
  • Find out the guidelines for appropriate clothing (for example, if shoes are removed, should socks be worn?) and behavior from your host at the temple, or consult How to Be a Perfect Stranger, 4th edition, edited by Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur J. Magida (Woodstock, Vermont: Skylight Paths, 2006). Ask your Hindu host about other ways to prepare for the visit.
  • Compile these guidelines as a handout and give it to participants before the day of the visit. For example:
    • Participants should dress conservatively and modestly. This includes tops with sleeves and no shorts. They will be asked to remove their shoes in the temple, so they should wear clean socks with no holes. Women might be asked to cover their heads. As a sign of respect, they should avoid wearing leather or other products made from dead animals.
    • At the temple, languages other than English may be spoken. Again, participants should be respectful.
  • Optional: Provide a handout with questions to guide participants' observations during the visit, for example:
    • What can you tell about connections between the members' faith and their daily lives? For example, what classes or services are offered to the congregation? What notices and announcements are posted?
    • What level of familiarity is expected of members? For example, are explanations or instructions offered during the service? Does the entire congregation seem to know the order of service, the words spoken, the tunes sung? Are directions written or spoken in English and/or another language? If another language, which language?
    • What are the signs that the members respect the service, its leaders, and the space in which it is held? How can you tell which spaces, objects, or moments are most sacred and least sacred for this congregation?
    • What is the role of children in the service? How well-behaved are the children or youth attending the service? Do congregants practice communal parenting; in other words, do adults correct other congregants' children?

Description of Activity

Participants visit a Hindu temple and/or interact with a speaker.

Visiting a Hindu Temple

Before leaving, remind participants that they will be visitors in other people's sacred home. They come not as observers, but as people of faith worshipping with other people of faith. They should be prepared to converse with people in the temple. Remind them it is okay to tell people that this is their first visit and to ask forgiveness for any mistakes they may make. People will be understanding, just as they themselves are welcoming and understanding with visitors to their own congregation. Some things will be unfamiliar and surprising; they should save their startled or amused observations for discussion later. This is a learning opportunity and a privilege.

Provide guidance for the observations you expect youth to make during the visit. If you have prepared one, distribute the handout of questions to guide participants' observations during their visit. Ask them to write their observation notes after, not during, the worship service.

Attend service at a temple. If possible, meet afterward with someone knowledgeable in Hinduism or with the temple's youth group for discussion.

After the visit, follow up with participants on the observations you suggested. To prompt further discussion, ask:

  • Was the speaker like what they expected? How so? In what ways were they different?
  • Did the speaker say anything that surprised them? What? Why was it surprising?
  • Typically, Hindu swamis exude tranquility. Did this speaker have that quality? If so, how did youth respond to that tone?
  • Most Western students of all ages are accustomed to flashy, energetic presentations. As a general rule, does teaching have to be energetic and varied to hold the youth's interest? Is it a weakness of our society if, in fact, things have to be flashy to hold our attention? Could regular spiritual study be a way to offset this tendency?
  • What did the youth notice about the appearance of the temple? Most are beautiful inside, even if the outside is plain. This expresses respect for God and thankfulness for the beauties of creation. What effect do you think this ornamentation might have on a spiritual seeker? Would it be helpful—a reminder or an inspiration—or a distraction? Was there an altar?
  • Was there music? What instruments, if any, were used? Was the music recorded? Was there singing? Was there other art?
  • Did anyone wear special clothing? If so, what was its purpose?
  • Were people treated differently because of their gender or age?
  • There are many shared values between Unitarian Universalism and Hinduism. What familiar elements or themes were in the sermon, if any? Could the sermon have been delivered from a Unitarian Universalist pulpit?
  • What message did the sermon deliver? Did it seek action from the congregants? Did it suggest thought? Did it address any of the themes discussed in this workshop, such as the four yogas?

Thank the youth for their participation.

Inviting a Speaker from a Hindu Temple

To adapt this activity for a visitor in your space, deduct the travel time and restate the questions about the temple as questions for your visitor, for example:

  • What role does the arrangement and decoration of the space play in the spiritual purpose of your temple?
  • Which spaces, objects, or moments in the service are most sacred and least sacred for your congregation?
  • What is the role of children in the service?
  • Was role does music play in your service?
  • Do members wear special clothing? If so, for what purpose?
  • (If the speaker is a UU) What elements or themes in a Hindu sermon would we find familiar, if any? Could a Hindu sermon be delivered from a Unitarian Universalist pulpit?

Including All Participants

Visit the temple ahead of time to determine what, if any, accommodations are needed for youth with disabilities.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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