Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

Dynamics of Interfaith — Dr. Anita Joshi

Rachel Koehler interviews CIC board member Dr. Anita Joshi as part of her Dynamic of Interfaith series of podcasts

Dr. Anita Joshi is very involved in the Hindu community within Indianapolis, and she takes the time to address common misconceptions surrounding her faith. She is also passionate about passing hate crimes legislation in Indiana and speaks from its position in the legislative process as of the Fall of 2018. 

Headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Center for Interfaith Cooperation (CIC), works to create an environment for meaningful engagement and peaceful dialogue between and among a wide variety of faith communities. This podcast seeks to record the stories of CIC Board members representing the Jain, Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Pagan, Church of Latter-day Saints, Buddhist, Ba’haí, Catholic, and Hindu religious traditions. Each individual brings a unique, enriching story, so tune in to begin “de-othering” unfamiliar faith communities.
Music: LXtronic “Run Away (Stay With Me)”

Dr. Anita Joshi Interview

Rachel: Today, we have Dr. Anita Joshi. Welcome! I would love to just start learning about a little bit about you and how you came to the Center for Interfaith Cooperation.

Anita: Sure, so I am a pediatrician. I was born and raised in New Jersey, so a little bit of a ways from here, but my family grew up Hindu, and I grew up Hindu, and when I came out to the Midwest I found that you know at that time we didn’t actually have a Hindu temple, and it was a little bit different for me from where I grew up in New Jersey and so I got more involved in the building of that temple and got more involved in having to talk a lot about my faith and answer questions for people and so I had met Charlie at several interfaith events and decided that I thought this would be a really interesting group of people to get to know, and it would help me not only get to talk about my own faith but in fact really to broaden my horizons and get to understand and learn about other people’s faiths as well.

Rachel: Can you tell me a little bit about your faith journey and how you came to be Hindu? Is that how you were raised? Did you ever question that identity?

Anita: Well, I think we all question our identity as we grow up. I was raised a Hindu. Both of my parents are originally from India. Both are practicing Hindus. I grew up in a very small town in New Jersey, which was primarily Italian Catholic, so I spent a lot of time singing in mass and learning choir music because I enjoyed that when I was younger and so really loved learning about the Catholic faith and then started to question what makes me a Hindu and why do I believe these things or should I believe these things. I really went through a journey of kind of exploring different faiths – Christianity, Judaism, a little bit of Islam – and really came back to feeling comfortable within my own tradition and so I felt like it spoke to me and decided that I would stay in that tradition.

Rachel: For me, I am going to be honest and say that I don’t know too much about Hinduism so for people like me, could you give a little bit of back story of how you practice Hinduism.

Anita: Sure, I think one of the biggest misconceptions that people in the West have about Hinduism is they’ve been taught many things through textbooks which we know are written by people who don’t always know the background as well as they should and Hinduism is often described as a polytheistic religion. It’s often described as very primitive. It has ancient roots, and they talk about things like the caste system. I think a lot of these misconceptions are things that people just learn and hold on to. In fact, Hinduism is very much a monotheistic religion. We believe in one supreme being. One divinity that we all share and the principle of Namaste which means that I bow to the divine in you that’s also in me and so not only do I recognize the one divinity, but I recognize that each of us has a small spark of that divinity that lives within us and so that we can connect to each other at a much deeper more meaningful level. In fact, we recognize that really we are all part and parcel of the same great Oneness. I think another
misconception that often gets translated into the West is this idea of a caste system in a way of discrimination and creating negativity whereas in the faith itself and the religion it really was just a way of describing what people’s roles were within this particular life cycle and obviously for Hindus, we don’t believe that we have one go around to get this right. We believe in reincarnation and the idea that we are on a spiritual journey of elevation that will ultimately end when we recognize that relationship between the self and the divine and really understand our connection to that divine and then we can escape that cycle, but those concepts of differentiation in castes were often used to marginalize people, but they were used and exploited by many of the forces that came into India to try and stratify the population and so, fortunately, it’s not really part of religion in the way that people understand it and so it really is also misunderstood. Then I think probably the third largest misconception is the idea that we worship animals or cows, in particular, and that’s often another misconception that you hear in the West but really for Hindus
the concept of one God goes even beyond that and I would say it really is the concept that all living beings of all living creatures have some spark of divine energy within that and so that all living creatures including animals and plants and even rivers and mountains should be respected and should be treated with dignity and so should not be exploited or misused and that’s where that concept and that idea comes from.

Rachel: Interesting yeah, I would have to say that there’s a lot of those things that I didn’t realize. You’ve alluded to the West a lot, so do you find that you can still find your place here in Indiana and that you have that community despite these misconceptions?

Anita: I think that we all have misconceptions about other faiths and other religions and other races and other ethnicities and other cultures. I don’t think any of us knows everything about everything and medicine taught me that more than anything, which is that we know very little about things, but I think it’s important to understand that you know we really need each other, and we really are the same human family. We are really a one world family, and there is a concept in Hinduism that talks about that called Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which actually means we are a one world family and so I don’t feel separate or distinct I think when I say the West it is just to make the distinction between Western religions which fall under the Judeo Christian Islamic umbrella of Abrahamic faiths and Eastern traditions which fall under the Sanatana faiths, the Sanatana Dharma faiths the Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, Sikhism. These are faiths that fall in a different realm because they have a different understanding of divinity. So it isn’t to say that somehow we are distinct from one another. It’s just to give people an understanding of the ideas that we hold.

Rachel: Looking at your connection with interfaith, in general, do you see that this community coming together and being able to share maybe some misconceptions and allowing people to understand your religion has been beneficial?

Anita: I think it’s beneficial for everybody. I think I’ve certainly benefited from learning more about the faith of my sister and brother Hoosiers who share different faiths, and I’ve enjoyed that. I think that’s been a great awakening and understanding for me. I see a lot of commonalities between us. I see far more similarities than I do differences, and I think when people explore the universal truths that we all share that you should care about one another, you should be kind to one another. There are certain ways you should treat each other. You shouldn’t take what’s not yours. You shouldn’t harm other things or people. I think those are all universal values that every religion shares, and I think we can find a great commonality. It’s not to say that we’re all the same. We have very different ways of practicing things, but that doesn’t make us incapable of understanding one another.

Rachel: Do you think that being exposed to things and people that are different than you make you stronger in your personal beliefs, or does it make you question other views of the world?

Anita: I think if you’re smart you’ll always ask questions, right? Just like you’re doing right now. I think we always ask questions. We want to know, and we need to know more. It’s the very basis of science, right? It’s the very basis of exploration and so I think questioning is always important. I think it is the nature in which you ask the question. If you ask it in an honest way, wanting to really hear and understand the answer. Then you open yourself up to truly learning things. If you ask a question because you have an answer that you’d like to give and a viewpoint that you would like to convince the other person of and I don’t think you’re actually asking a question. I think your disguising your question in a statement or disguising your statement in a question I should say, so you’re not really asking a question. I think questioning is very important. I think has it strengthened my own faith? Yeah. I think I am very comfortable answering those questions for people and feeling confident that what I believe works for me, and I think that’s the other thing about a religion like Hinduism. There is no conversion in Hinduism. There is no me sitting here and telling you that Hindus know and we are the only way and the one way and the right answer. I think the concept is to drive your own understanding of God deeper within you so that you can really connect at a deeper level. It really doesn’t matter what you call yourself, and too for Hindus, it’s never been an issue of going out and trying to change other people’s minds, so I don’t feel the need to have my mind changed, but I certainly don’t feel the need to have to change the minds of others.

Rachel: I like that a lot. I’ve said this in several other interviews, too, but I feel like you can’t know because there’s so many uncertainties, so trying to tell people what to believe doesn’t really seem productive in my mind if it’s an uncertain realm.

Anita: Yeah it is you know, and I think you’re right. I think it is very interesting. It’s hard to know the unknowable, so I think I’m always a little bit careful when people say well I know that that’s true. I think there have been many times and again I kind of go back to my practice of medicine where you know against all odds something turned out differently than I thought or given all the odds that it should have come out right it didn’t and so I think there are things that we simply don’t know and can’t always predict even given the best facts, knowledge, and resources and so if we can’t do that in the concrete mundane world. I don’t know how we could possibly think that we could do this in the much larger cosmic universe. I’m not sure that we have the ability to see that.

Rachel: Would you say that science and your background in medicine have somewhat strengthened or helped you believe more so in Hinduism?

Anita: For me it’s worked pretty well because I think the Hindu faith has a lot of scientific principles that guide it. Science and religion don’t fight with each other quite so starkly as maybe in some other faiths and that helps me because I feel like I can still understand the universe and how it works and not have to abandon my faith and beliefs in order to do that. So for me it works, yeah.

Rachel: Awesome and too just the power of the interfaith community, would you say that just in Indianapolis… what power does that hold?

Anita: I think it holds tremendous power. I think when you are in a city like Indianapolis. I think a lot of people look at Indiana, and they think of Indiana as being very homogeneous in some ways and certainly you know there is a majority population and there are minority populations and so we’re not going to argue statistics and numbers here, but I do think that Indianapolis’ diversity is tremendously strong and that it actually leads to a stronger society, in general, when we can understand one another and stand with one another and work on universal principles of goodness and kindness and real Hoosier hospitality. I think we show the best of ourselves, and the interfaith community absolutely allows for that to happen because of its very nature of working for the ideals of peace through understanding one another. That is really the mission of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation here in Indianapolis and I think it really is one of the most important things that we do is to bring groups together that you never would’ve thought could really be in a room working on a project, working on an issue together and do so in great harmony and with great love and respect for each other, so I do think it’s a very important part of what happens here in the city.

Rachel: Have there been current events recently and that have created this as such a community of support that you’ve realized and noticed maybe in light of certain vandalism in the city or hate crimes across the nation?

Anita: Sure absolutely. I think the unfortunate incidents that occurred both in the Carmel Synagogue and also obviously nationally in Pittsburgh as well as you know the targeting of African-American populations in a variety of different places in the country even targeting of a business here of one of our Hindu members of the temple simply because of the faith that they
practiced. I think there are people who are intolerant, and I think the reason that that exists is because there is a lack of understanding, misconceptions and often just fear that is really in many ways baseless and so if we can get to that understanding of that fear we can help to dispel those myths and misconceptions and fears that people have and lead to a better understanding. Unfortunately, Indiana does fall into the dubious category of being only one of five states without a hate crimes law, and I think that that is unfortunate, and I am very optimistic that with the governor’s support and with the support of business leaders here in the community and health-care industry leaders and other leaders that we can finally see this pass in Indiana and right this great injustice because really hate doesn’t have a place. It is not something that we should allow to be a part of our society. I don’t think that you’re going to eliminate hate, but I
think you can eliminate the consequences of crimes when they’re committed with those intents to harm a greater community. I think that is an important part of the hate crimes law.

Rachel: Can you give a brief history or what it looks like coming up with this hate crimes legislation in Indiana?

Anita: Wow so this has been a long process. We have been trying to get a hate crimes law passed Indiana for quite some time now and really I think it has finally dawned on people frankly that it’s not good for business it is not good for the image of the community. It’s not good for just a general pathos of how we live here in the city and in the state as a whole. We want to change the image of what people see when they think of Indiana again of being a homogeneous as you know kind of backwater, backward way of living, and it really isn’t. I mean I think people are very intelligent. They’re very good hearted. They’re very wonderful people, and I think if we can get rid of this distinction of not having a hate crime legislation I think it will go a long way to letting people see that there is a lot of broad thought acceptance and movement in this state.

Rachel: And so for listeners who may be tuning in and wanting to participate or help get this passed is there any way people can become involved and make it more well-known?

Anita: I think the beauty of democracy is to do what you’re doing, right. You talk. You use your voice. You use the power of your vote and your voice to support legislators who support this kind of legislation. I think we do our best to contact those people and say the time is now to get this done, and I think it’ll be a very good legislative session for us if we can get this passed. I think it will go a long way to again to showing that Indiana is far more than people think it is, and I think that’s important.

Rachel: I agree and looking at interfaith and trying to get what y’all are getting at with this peaceful dialogue and trying to eradicate hate through that, I feel like the Center for Interfaith Cooperation attracts those who want to be a part of that dialogue, right, and perhaps those listening to a podcast will be tuning in because they have some sort of interest in the matter. Do you have any ideas, I know this is a really heavy question, on just how do you broaden the scope to reach those who may be stuck in their ways or think that their way is the way and don’t want challenge that if that makes any sense?
Anita: Yeah I mean I think you know you have to try to use the opportunity you have to meet people first to connect with them just as human beings. You know, I can recognize for myself as a mother, as a woman, as a sister, as a daughter. I have all these different identities right that spring for my feminism. I have different identities that spring from my religion. I have different identities that spring from my culture. I have different identities that spring from being born in New Jersey and being a Jersey girl. I have all of these different identities and yet we all share really important, common human values that just can’t be taken away from us right. As the mothers, we are always going to worry about our children. As sisters, we’re going to worry about our siblings. As wives, we’re going to want to care for our husbands. I mean I think we all share these values and to understand that that’s where you start to connect with people and you start to realize that it doesn’t matter what food you eat or how you dress or what your house of worship looks like. You are still a human being who has needs and desires that is the same as all of your brother and sister human beings, and I think if you connect in that way and then talk about what it was like to grow up in New Jersey, what was it like to grow up in a different family, what was it like to go to a different celebration of a different religious tradition. I think then people are more interested, but I think the most important thing is to connect as human beings.

Rachel: Build up that relationship for sure and that trust. Then you can tackle the harder stuff.

Anita: Exactly because you can’t get to the tough stuff unless you can first see each other as human beings. I mean there is nothing inherently superior or inferior about any human being. We all have the same dignity and worth, and I think you if we can hold on to that understanding it would go along to healing a lot of the decisiveness that we hear. It’s very easy to divide people if you just kind of fractionate, make them feel like they don’t belong, but it doesn’t lead anywhere Hatred has been around for a long time and doesn’t serve any good purpose. Nothing positive has come out of that. Nothing lasting has come out of that. I really think it only comes out of love that you find those lasting changes that make a true impact in people’s lives, so if you approach things from that again shared value that all religion share of love. I think we may go a long way.

Rachel: Wow, thank you so much for being here. To end, is there one broad definition or how would you define interfaith?

Anita: That’s a really tough question. I think interfaith is really that understanding that there are shared common human values that are expressed by different groups in different ways with different practices but that are all in pursuit to finding our place in the universe with God, and I think that is probably the essence of interfaith.

Rachel: Great. Thank you so much for being here, Anita.

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