Happy Diwali written in burning rope against a brick background

By Aruna Rao-McCann

November 15, 2015


This reflection is dedicated to the memory of my late parents.

I was born in New Delhi, India in a Hindu household. I attended a Catholic School and College.  I had the privilege of experiencing not only the rituals and traditions of Hinduism but of all religions.

India, the largest democracy in the world has more than eight major religions and a myriad of other small ones and, for the most part, all co-exist peacefully. I had friends from different social economic and religious backgrounds and it was always fun to experience the rich varieties of spirituality as seen by other forms of worship.

This week we celebrated Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. This is one festival that is respected and honored by almost all religions, as light represents hope and allows you to see your inner strength.  It spreads a feeling of warmth across the board.

For Diwali, Indians clean and paint their homes, buy new clothes, exchange sweets and clothes between friends and relatives, and usher in the new year with firecrackers and plenty of oil lamps lit all over their homes. Sadly, electric lights are quickly replacing the traditional oil lamps and candles.

While there is a deeper story behind the festival of lights, the main message is one of victory of good over evil, light over darkness. Everyone is able to meet and greet their loved ones with good wishes for a new year filled with light and prosperity.

While there are many mythologies in Hinduism that appear to be chauvinistic in their approach, as a young girl and woman growing up in India, I was very fortunate to be brought up in a household that respected both genders. My parents never showed any discrimination or favoritism towards my brother, my two sisters, or me. My poor brother never got any preferential treatment and, if anything, had to survive amidst three very strong-minded women, namely his sisters.

I’ve always maintained that Hinduism is a way of life – you do not convert into or out of this religion or spiritual practice. Instructions outlined in the holy book The Gita along with what I learned from Mom always emphasized the importance of how you conduct yourself at home and in other facets of your life. Life had stages that corresponded with different responsibilities.

My mother always encouraged questioning the priest and other learned people about anything I felt uncomfortable about. And, boy, did I have issues with many of the beliefs and practices that made no sense to me! While some of them had their roots in our rich tradition and heritage, societal prejudices and skewed interpretations made it possible for the social evils I saw to flourish.

I have always compared myself to salmon – swimming against the current and the general and accepted flow of things. In the US, I carried my passion and willingness to stand up for the weak and the defeated, the vulnerable and the abused in society, be it animals women or children. Gay rights, reproductive choice and rights for women, domestic violence, and unjust labor laws are some of the critical fights where I strive to fight for the inherent worth and dignity of every being.

In my professional life as a disability case manager, I have been able to use the same lessons of life and spiritual practice to guide and accept my clients whose lives have changed in a split second, robbing them off their physical abilities and – in some cases – their mental acumen due to traumatic brain injuries.

Finding Unitarian Universalism and being introduced to “The Four Agreements” by my beloved friend Asim allows me to integrate Hinduism and UUism in a simple way. I use them as a guide to live my life and in how I treat all creatures great and small in this world.  I feel it adequately incorporates the 7 UU Principles and beliefs of Hinduism.

THE FOUR AGREEMENTS by Don Miguel Ruiz are:

Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using your Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

Don’t Make Assumptions.  Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Don’t Take Things Personally. (I have extended this agreement by adding love and forgiveness as well as letting go of people and events.) Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Always Do Your Best. Our best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Hinduism and its inherent principles of acceptance, tolerance, love, pursuit of knowledge, peace, meditation and dharma or a sense of duty made it easy for me to become a UU. The four agreements simply sealed the bond between these two practices.

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts. Happy Diwali to you all!


(Photo credit: Happy Diwali by Kushal Goenka)