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A Discussion with a Roman Catholic Priest on Hinduism


I was recently honored to have a wonderful discussion with Fr Joseph Mahoney, MDiv , a   Roman Catholic diocesan priest with 25 years of Chaplaincy experience, currently assigned as Consulting Chaplain in Christian Service, Archdiocese of Detroit. Phone (810)573-8244. I visited his website, "Trauma and Chaplaincy" at http://www.jmahoney.com. and gave him some input on Hinduism to add to his already rich resource page on Hinduism. We had a very nice disscussion, which I felt was worth sharing.

He introduces himself on his web page: "In the past I was a key member of a hospital MPD team, participating in both in-patient and out-patient consultations, diagnostic workups, and treatment. I've done educational presentations on dissociative disorders both locally and in Canada, and have served as a contracted diagnostic consultant in Canada. I began and hosted an MPD support group for about 8 years. An "unofficial" aspect of my current assignment by the Archdiocese is to work on developing ministry and resources for severely traumatized persons. I have a strong focus on the unique religious issues that arise for traumatized persons."


From: AMBER SUKUMARAN

To: Fr J Mahoney

Subject: Hindu Beliefs

Dear Fr J Mahoney,

Your page on health-related beliefs is very informative and useful for people in the health care industry to deal with sensitive cultural issues. I commend you for this great bit of information.

However, may I suggest some corrections with regards to your Hinduism page?

Most devout Hindus object to the practice of abortion. Although you will not find them in Pro-life marches (reproduction is a private issue), they do not practice abortion unless the mother's health is threatened and all other avenues have been explored. The following excerpt is taken from a book on Hinduism called Dancing With Siva written by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a member of the Parliament of the World's Religions and a leading authority on contemporary Hinduism.

"abortion: The deliberate termination of pregnancy. From the earliest times,
Hindu tradition and scriptures condemn the practice, except when
the mother's life is in danger. It is considered an act against rita and
ahimsa (non-violence). Hindu mysticism teaches that the fetus is a living, conscious
person, needing and deserving protection (a Rig Vedic hymn [7.36.9, RvP,
2469] begs for protection of fetuses). The Kaushitaki Upanishad (3.1
UpR, 774) describes abortion as equivalent to killing one's parents. The
Atharva Veda (6.113.2 HE, 43) lists the fetus slayer, brunaghni, among
the greatest of sinners (6.113.2). The Gautama Dharma Shastra (3.3.9 HD,
214) considers such participants to have lost caste. The Sushruta
Samhita, a medical treatise (ca 100), stipulates what is to be done in
case of serious problems during delivery (Chikitsasthana Chapter,
Mudhagarbha), describing first the various steps to be taken to attempt
to save both mother and child. "If the fetus is alive, one should
attempt to remove it from the womb of the mother alive..." (sutra 5). If
it is dead, it may be removed. In case the fetus is alive but cannot be
safely delivered, surgical removal is forbidden for "one would harm both
mother and offspring. In an irredeemable situation, it is best to cause
the miscarriage of the fetus, for no means must be neglected which can
prevent the loss of the mother" (sutras 10-11)."

Hindus object to artificial life support, organ transplants, and cloning. They believe that unless the body is completely at rest, the soul is not allowed to be released, and will be confined to that body until it dies. By interfering with the natural cycle of the releasing the soul, they interfere with the timing and cycle of that soul's travel to another life, which will set the soul off course in its spiritual evolution. Though many will accept a transplant to save a life, they do not support the practice in principle. For more information, refer to the following site:

http://hoohana.aloha.net/~htoday/Newspaper/IssuesInFocus/Cloning/Editorial.html

Suicide is another thing Hindus do not believe in, as it also interferes with the soul's evolution. There is one exception: fasting. When a Hindu guru or saint feels that they have accomplished all they need to in the present life, they choose to fast to death. Likewise, when a very old person has settled their affairs and no longer has anyone depending on them, they may choose to fast to death. For more information, please visit the following site:

http://hoohana.aloha.net/~htoday/Resources/Suicide/LeadersViews.html

For other health-related issues, you may find this link useful:

http://hoohana.aloha.net/~htoday/HimalayanAcademy/Publications/Health/Healing.html

Thank you for taking the time to read this information. Keep up the good work on your site. Education is the key to cross-cultural interaction.

Sincerely,

Amber Sukumaran


From: Fr J Mahoney

To: AMBER SUKUMARAN

Subject: Re: Hindu Beliefs

Hi,

I appreciate the information and references you've included, and I plan to make use of them. I've got several problems that I hope you could help with.

In India, my understanding is that there are frequent times of killing or allowing newborn babies to die, especially girls, and even more common abortions on the basis of sex. Severe and widespread poverty I'm sure is part of all of that, but it seems directly contrary to the information that

you're providing.

Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Fr J Mahoney


From: AMBER SUKUMARAN

To: Fr J Mahoney

Subject: Hindu Beliefs

Dear Fr J Mahoney,

You are certainly correct that selective abortion is being used in some countries including India and China. However, abortion in general is against Hindu principles. . Abortion is considered wrong because the soul is said to enter the body at the time of conception. Not everyone in India is a devout Hindu, and social pressures and poverty play a big part in the practice of selective abortion and infanticide among even devout Hindus.

At the risk of getting into gender issues, most poor women in India have very little voice in their own families and may feel pressured to make such a horrible choice to allow her girl babies to die, or to abort them before birth. Girl babies are seen as a burden, but this attitude has only come about in modern times (the last 500 years or so). Modern Hindu leaders are starting to go back to the Vedas and teach that women are very sacred and special. The Vedas teach that women are sacred and should be treated as queens. In the wedding vows, the groom declares to his bride, "You are the queen of my home." He promises to adorn her with jewels and wealth. Then he places silver rings on her toes. To touch someone's feet is a great sign of respect. It is usually only done with one's parents and guru. It is even taboo to touch one's feet to a book or other household object! Unfortunately, the less educated have neither the luxury, or in some cases the ability, to read and ponder the Vedas. They are too busy keeping all the mouths fed.

I doubt very strongly that any mother would choose abortion or infanticide on her own without pressure from society, her husband, or poverty! There are many social situations that interfere in a woman's ability to make choices, marry who she approves of, etc. These situations are not related to the principles taught in Hinduism and Hindu scripture. Great efforts are being undertaken in India to counteract these backward social trends. Seti (bride burning), dowries, and underage marriages are illegal, and have been for 50 years, but it is difficult to enforce these laws in such a poor and populated country. In more educated circles, the practice of selective abortion is decreasing. I know one family with three girls and no boys. I have never seen more wanted and loved children.

Birth control is a controversial subject among Hindus and no firm stance has been taken. Generally it is believed to be undesirable, but not forbidden. In the days of the Vedas, birth control was not available in its present form, so not much mention of it is made. Many poor people in India are starting to see the benefits of family planning through birth control. When I went to Madras, billboards and even the auto-rickshaws and trucks had slogans such as "One Family, One Child" painted on them by the owners of the vehicles. It is catching on rapidly. Many states in India are reporting a rapid decrease in births, though it will take a few more generations to see the effects. Among the more educated Indians (note that I am not differentiating between Hindus and other religions here), it is very uncommon to see families with more than 4 children. Two children are very common. Birth control is free in India to anyone who wants it. Nurses and social workers visit even the most remote villages to pass out condoms and educate women to their body cycles and personal hygiene.

When I provided the information to you in my last mail, I was speaking strictly on Hindu principles and what the religious leaders and sacred texts teach. Just as not all Jews are Kosher, and not all Hindus are vegetarian, there are gaps in most religions between principle and practice. Society often alters these principles, but they should still be presented in an educational manner for the more devout Hindus that come into your care.

Sincerely,

Amber Sukumaran


From: Fr J Mahoney

To: AMBER SUKUMARAN

Subject: Re: Hindu Beliefs

Hi,

I appreciate the information that you’re sending. As you’ve perhaps noticed, in the Internet versions of “Religions and Health Care” as well as for the printed version that I’m preparing, when that would be the most helpful or appropriate route I’ve included a section called “Comments received” and included edited information that has been sent to me. In some situations, where requested, with the name of the person sending the information. Not in this situation, but with some religious groups it’s a way of avoiding having to choose between competing information from different sources, often representing strongly held theological differences. I’d like to think that it can be a way of encouraging discussion, with perhaps my role as being a kind of moderator. I included the info you sent earlier, along with listing the Electronic Ashram. The information in this e-mail would also be very helpful. Would you be comfortable with your name being used? Gender issues are very important in health care, whether talking about domestic violence, selective abortion, the process of decision-making, etc. I’m focusing on the US and religious groups as they’re represented here, but where someone “comes from” and the understandings of that culture clearly come with people as they immigrate to the US, or come here to study, etc. Those comments are very appropriate. Was the other information about Hinduism reasonably accurate in your view?

Fr J Mahoney


From: AMBER SUKUMARAN

To: Fr J Mahoney

Subject: Hindu Beliefs

Dear Fr J Mahoney,

Dear Fr J Mahoney,

Thanks for inviting my feedback. Although I'm not an expert by any means, I enjoy educating people about mainstream Hinduism.

I would be honored if you used my feedback in your comments section. You may also use my name if you wish. I would be interested in acquiring a printed version when it is available for my own reference. Although I am not practicing at this time (besides my webpage and by personal request), I am an ordained minister and find such references very useful. I think your work is commendable and would encourage you to continue with it.

The other information on your page was accurate and would be helpful to someone not familiar with Hinduism. Again, the information I provided you is based on traditional mainstream beliefs that are backed up by Vedic scripture. Vedic scripture is the "safest" to refer to because it's authority is recognized by all sects of Hinduism. Hinduism is a very big umbrella term that covers a lot of people, much like Christianity is. Individual beliefs may vary widely.

Thank you for receiving my comments so openly. You have bridged the gaps between cultures quite beautifully!

Sincerely,

Amber