Hindu Scholar Ms. Upasana Dhankhar
I met Ms. Dhankhar many times over April to August 2019, this is my conversation with her
What is one core principle that unites all the followers of your faith (either the faith as a whole or this particular sect of the faith)?
Ms Dhankhar explained that respect for personal choice in the matter of denying, accepting or questioning an omnipresent and omnipotent force as God or collective conscious is a fundamental feature of Hinduism. This leads to acceptance of atheists and agnostics and also makes space for multiplicity of forms accorded to God.
2. How did you decide to study religion?
Ms Dhankhar said she did not study religions. She said she studies history and culture. She further added, she studies people and their ideas. Religion is a subset of all of this.
3. What was your first experience (experience of a union with God)?
Ms Dhankhar explained that her life has been full of strange coincidences but to say that she has had any experience of union with God will be an exaggeration. At the same time there is always a constant inner call to do something worthwhile which often leads her to take decisions which are not dictated by consideration for temporal or material gains. This journey of self exploration with all bittersweet experiences makes her feel that God guides us even when we do not quite see it.
4. What objects are employed during religious ceremonies and what is the significance of each?
She explained there are several ways of connecting with God and rituals are not mandatory. Even questioning God is a way of connecting with God. There are four different ways that have been spoken of in ancient texts viz. Jnana Marg (way of knowledge) , Karma (through fulfilling duties), Bhakti Marg (total devotion to God) and Raja Yoga (way of meditation). For rituals, there are yajna, puja, upavasa and many others and each has its own variants.
5. What is the purpose of life?
Ms Dhankhar said the purpose of life is to attain four different things called purusharthas (purush here does not refer to man but rather implies all humans) viz. Dharma (righteousness), Artha (Material means), Kama (pleasure) and Moksha(liberation from cycles of births and deaths).
6. What is your view on death and what comes after it?
Ms Dhankhar explained the theory of karma and cycles of births and deaths with possibility of liberation through right action appeals to her.
7. What are some essential daily activities of practitioners of your religion?
Ms Dhankhar said as earlier explained there is no essential to Hindu religion. Anyone can have varied ideas and can keep testing or practicing whichever appeals to the person.
8. Do you think younger people are less religious? Can you comment on why this is so?
Ms Dhankhar said it may be fashionable amongst the young people to say that they are not religious and yet even today kids are excitedly waiting for all the festivals based on religious or cultural texts. Even told when someone falls in love they compare it with the pure love as one has for God or God has for us. Even today when people go through crises they grapple with the questions of faith, belief and more. She said she does not think younger people are less religious. She added young people can go beyond the narrow confines of their own religion and our world is opening for better dialogue and multi religious practices.
9. Why is there evil in the world?
Ms Dhankhar said human beings are complex entities. The rational, emotional and instinctive parts of our existence are all acting based on various urges and arguments based on our limited knowledge at the time. Hence, not all actions are good. Many are evil. Human life is an opportunity to be discerning in our actions.