The religious traditions that we now know as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, all originated on the South Asian peninsula where they have developed a stunning array of religious ideas and practices over the course of the last 3,500 years.
In her upcoming class, “The Silk Road: Seven Religions Of The East,” Sravana Borkataky-Varma introduces us to religious traditions that we now know as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, which all originated on the South Asian peninsula. We visited with her to find out more.
WIH Reporter: What are the mistaken impressions about Eastern religions and why a course on religions?
Borkataky-Varma: Let me begin with few personal situations I deal with, often. At Starbucks, when I say “Varma” on my order, I often get a cup saying “Cakra.” How and why does Varma translate into “Cakra?” Since Starbucks gets my name wrong every single time, I like to go order “Tea Tea.” The teller invariably looks at me confused. So I explain “Chai” means tea in Hindi. So, technically, you are selling Tea Tea, which of course makes no sense. And we usually laugh.
WIH Reporter: Do you have more instances that you can tell us about?
Borkataky-Varma: At the end of a yoga class, the instructor says Namaste. Namaste in the Indian social context means “Hello.” Why do we say Hello at the end of a class? People assume that Hindus and Buddhists are vegetarians. So I go on a teaching mode. Sixty percent of 1.2 billion people in India eat meat. I add some humor at the end of my teaching moment by saying Indian holy cow is not the American cow. So, technically eating beef in the USA should be acceptable and justified. After all filet mignon is delicious.
WIH Reporter: What else would surprise us about the view from the Eastern perspective?
Borkataky-Varma: In India, Buddhism and Jainism were counter-culture, counter-religious movements that began in response to Hinduism in late 6th century BCE—approximately around the same time Confucianism and Taoism originated in China. So, why does history define timelines around BC and AD. Is it a true representation? What are the inherent biases embedded with a BC and AD understanding? Also, India produced four World Religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
WIH Reporter: Why is it important for us to know about the seven Eastern religions?
Borkataky-Varma: A course on Eastern religions fosters conversations. At a fundamental level, the course provides an introduction to seven different religions and the basic tenets of each of the religions. But at a deeper personal level, it leads to participants asking and or exploring some myths and biases that are embedded deep within each one of us.
WIH Reporter: What is the format of your class?
Borkataky-Varma: I will use a PowerPoint presentation as a lead into meaningful conversation paired with assigned light reading.
WIH Reporter: We like to ask the following question. What books are on your night table?
Borkataky-Varma: “Rainbow Body” by Kurt Leland and “The Flavors of Nationalism” by Nandita Haskar.
Dr. Sravana Borkataky-Varma’s 7-week class begins on Monday, October 22, 2018 at 10:00 am-12:00 pm. For more information or to register, click here.