|HOME | US EDITION | PERSONALITY|
January 14, 2000
Have Questions About Hinduism: Ask Aunt Beth
A P Kamath
Beth Beckwith was not satisfied with being a devout Methodist. So, she taught at a Sunday School in Stockton in California where she was studying for a degree in physics at the University of the Pacific.
"I was a devout Christian," she says. "But I was never a dogmatic person. Even when I went to church as a child, I used to ask my mother -- 'If God created everything, who created God?' "
When she married Sharad R Kulkarni, a fellow student at Pacifica, in 1965, she did not think much about what religion she would follow.
"He was not very much of a Hindu then," Beth Kulkarni says. "So we hardly discussed anything about religion."
But soon Beth would start wondering about Hinduism, reading books on the religion, visiting temples and ashrams.
"And soon I felt it was the religion meant for me," she says. It was not an overnight development; there were no dramatic stories or incidents that drew her into Hinduism, either. In fact, many Hindus discouraged her from taking up Hinduism.
Her conversion came about "in a natural way," she says. "No one encouraged me to do become a Hindu." Perhaps it was her karmic destiny that led her into the Hindu fold.
"But I knew in my heart and my mind what I wanted," says Beth who is a pillar of Hinduism in Greater Houston today. Her husband, who began discovering the depths of Hinduism with her in the late 1960s, never for a moment felt she could not be as good a Hindu as someone who was born and raised in a Hindu family in India.
The sight of an elderly white woman leading discussions and activities at the Sri Meenakshi Temple and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Houston may surprise some newcomers to the city.
But to local Hindu residents, Beth Kulkarni, who was recently elected as the president of the VHP of America's Houston branch, is a strong member of the Hindu parivar. She is also the only non-born-Hindu to have served on the board of the Sri Meenakshi Temple in Houston.
"If there is anybody who doubts that a white person, in fact a white woman, could become an ideal Hindu, Beth's work and example is enough of proof for the doubters," says Vijay Pallod, a local businessman and a rakhi brother to Beth Kulkarni.
"She energizes us with her own enthusiasm and example," he continues. "And often she is a moderating force, constantly reminding us that it is through dialogue and discussion that we could win over those who dislike Hinduism or make fun of it."
In a way, Beth Kulkarni still goes to church. She is the Hindu representative of the interfaith group of the local Catholic diocese and assists the Rothko Chapel in its interfaith programs.
Beth Kulkarni's service to the community in Houston began many years ago with volunteer work in the Hindu Worship Society where she edited the Jyoti newsletter for two years and assisted with the temple's administrative work for several years.
She also began helping in organizing the Janmashtami events in Houston which now get over 5,000 participants.
While working with the Hindus of Greater Houston organization, Dr G S Gopalakrishna, a well-known community leader, encouraged her to accept a position on the board of the Sri Meenakshi Temple on which she served two terms.
She has been editing Temple Times, which reaches 6,000 families, for almost four years and has written and published a temple Visitor's Guide.
With Dr Mohan V Chari, another well-known Hindu leader, Beth Kulkarni leads interfaith and non-Hindu groups on guided tours of the Sri Meenakshi Temple, emphasizing not only the unique aspects of Hinduism and the temple, but the common values shared by many religions.
To the second and third generation Hindus in Houston she is a favorite "auntie" who can explain a few facts about Hinduism to them in a way their parents cannot. If you cannot understand something about Hinduism, many in Houston say, ask Aunt Beth.
As a VHP leader in America, she says her key mission is to continue encouraging Hindus to let their self-respect and self-esteem grow and understand other religions and faiths.
Beth Kulkarni recently retired from BP Amoco where she worked in the technical training department.
"One of the most beautiful things about Hinduism is its universality," she says. "No one is forced to follow a particular path."
Her two children do not identify themselves as Hindus, she says. "And we never insisted they do," she says. "But philosophically they believe in the essence of the Gita -- do the right thing and not expect results or reward."
Her daughter Shanti is a Ph D student in social work at the University of Texas and son David is a vice-president at Howard Frazier Barker Elliot, a local consulting and investment firm.
"They are busy with their studies and careers. And yet we are glad that they have made time for seva (service) in their lives," she says. "And ultimately that is what good Hindus should do, isn't it?"
SINGLES | NEWSLINKS | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL BOOKINGS
AIR/RAIL | WEATHER | MILLENNIUM | BROADBAND | E-CARDS | EDUCATION
HOMEPAGES | FREE EMAIL | CONTESTS | FEEDBACK