The first Hindu elected to Congress, Tulsi Gabbard, will be taking her oath on the Bhagavad Gita. Rep. Gabbard's oath on the Gita is interesting for two reasons. To begin with, Rep. Gabbard wasn't born Hindu. She was raised by a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, fully embracing Hinduism in her teens. Amusingly, it would seem as though Ms. Gabbard and I had opposite epiphanies during our teens, as I was raised Hindu and turned to atheism in my teens, while she fully embraced the religion of my forefathers at the age of 14.
Secondly, it is noteworthy that Rep. Gabbard is choosing the Gita over other Hindu sacred texts. There is no one Hindu text or doctrine, although Ms. Gabbard states that the Gita is her primary sacred text.
The Gita is comprised of a dialogue between Prince Arjuna and his guru, Krishna. The overriding theme in the Gita is that of dharma, or what can be considered the natural law or order of things. Distraught on the battlefield, Arjuna seeks the counsel of Krishna, whereby Krishna imparts his wisdom on the prince, discussing the merits of selfless actions and the metaphysical aspects of the soul. It is thus quite fitting that Rep. Gabbard considers the Gita to be her chief moral and spiritual guide, given that she is one of the first female combat veterans in the United States Congress.
As an atheist, and as someone who truly believes that the hallmark of any civilized society is a secular legislature, it makes me somewhat apprehensive that law makers feel compelled to swear on a religious text. Would it not seem more fitting to swear on a copy of the document they are swearing to uphold? Whatever happened to the separation of church and state? Interestingly, swearing on a religious text is not a requirement; article VI of the United States Constitution asserts:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Many Hindus are quite forthcoming in their pride of having an active Hindu in Congress. Anju Bhargava, founder of Hindu American Seva Charities and a former member of the White House's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, stated: "It is my hope is that this swearing in will be another learning opportunity for our country about Hindus and Gita. Another step towards bringing the knowledge and values of Gita even more prominently to the American political landscape so that it becomes part of the everyday vocabulary in applying the moral principles in our political arena."
This is the kind of thinking that I think should be avoided in a secular society. What Rep. Gabbard believes for her own moral guidance is good for her, but to want to extend the principles of the Gita, however innocuous they may be, to the political climate of the United States seems to be treading on rather dangerous territory.
Ms. Gabbard is Caucasian, and not of East Indian descent, who make up the largest proportion of Hindus. It has been speculated that this will cause Indo-Americans to be less accepting of her, as my people have been known to be quite the acrimonious bunch at times. Although I am hopeful that there are enough Indians out there that exist somewhere in between Ms. Bhargava and those who would be unreceptive toward Rep. Gabbard simply on the basis of race. Besides, I think Indo-Americans should keep in mind that the bar set for Indians in the political sphere is quite low, as demonstrated by Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal. I say let all Indians adopt Tulsi Gabbard as our own.
From Congressmen taking their oaths on the Quran to the president celebrating Diwali in the White House, what has become increasingly clear is that the legislators in the U.S. are becoming ever more diverse, mirroring the electorate they represent. That, unto itself, is what we should be proud of, regardless of one's religious affiliations.
This blog is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post on the Bhagavad Gita, the ancient text whose wisdom continues to inspire Hindus and non-Hindus alike. To read other pieces in the series, click here. What is your experience with this sacred scripture? We invite you to submit pieces of 600-800 words for possible publication in The Huffington Post to firstname.lastname@example.org.