Oprah as religious leader - Hindu American Foundation
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Oprah as religious leader

By May 24, 2011 June 25th, 2021 No Comments

Oprah’s message is an iteration of the eternal teachings of the Dharma traditions.

“I know that every thought that I think, every thought that I have, that moves into action is going to create an equal and opposite reaction. So everything that I put out into the world is going to come back. It’s the golden rule on steroids.”

“There are many paths to what you call God….there is not just one way…”

“The ego is the illusory Self!”

These reflections on karma, pluralism and enlightened self-realization are basic tenets–core beliefs–for the Dharma religious traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism.  The Holy Vedas or the Buddhist sutras are replete with insights into those understandings on the path of liberation.  But the quotes above are not translations from the original Sanskrit or Pali, but rather the words and musings of the scriptures of Oprah.com.

Oprah Winfrey’s phenomenal success as an eponymous media conglomerate is a testament to incomparable gifts as an entertainer and even thought leader of our times.  Her savvy as a business mogul is no less amazing.  She is bold and brilliant, perhaps the most influential media personality ever.  She wears many monikers very well, but if some are eager to burden her with another epithet–messiah–then let us be very clear:  Oprah’s message, her religion, is very much an iteration of the eternal teachings of the Dharma traditions.

Paraphrasing and then repackaging the wisdom of Hindu sages, Sikh gurus and Boddhisatvas into New Agey aphorisms is certainly not a new practice.  I have written before and been queried, of course, by Deepak Chopra on my assertions against the appropriation and delinking of yoga from its Hindu origins.  And while Chopra’s reluctance to acknowledge explicitly the Hindu roots of his own empire is well known, Eckhart Tolle, the author whisked to international fame by Oprah’s endorsement, comes in for similar criticism for a softer deceit in expounding on the Hindu school of nondualism, or Advaita Vedanta, albeit beautifully.  Hindus read his book and realize that his concepts, embraced enthusiastically by Oprah’s audience as novel revelatory insights, are something they know well as a retelling of the three thousand years old Upanishads.

So while Hindu Americans should be pleased and proud that their erstwhile esoteric and lofty ideals–long misunderstood and misinterpreted–are going very much mainstream, they are also undergoing their own awakening as to the dangers when appreciation and assimilation border on appropriation.  Hindu Americans realize now that they may have failed to shape the narrative of their faith and other dharma traditions, allowing its reductionist caricaturization while ceding the transcendent teachings of pluralism, inherent divinity of the soul, reincarnation, meditative contemplation and much more to be sanitized for mass marketing.

Oprah and charisma are synonymous, just as charisma and messiah are intertwined.  She may not claim the mantle of a religious leader, but like any prophet, Oprah has her flock, her commandments and her scrolls.  Her unabashed embrace of pluralism–many potential paths to one eternal Truth–is an urgent message for contemporary times.  

But Oprah’s is not a new message, a new Commandment, nor a new god, but rather a message heard over eons of time, reverberating from the Himalayas where ascetics passed on wisdom for the ages in an oral tradition continuing today.  It is the eternal relevance of those verses that reverberate within, spiritually uplift and empower Oprah and her flock.

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