Asian Shades of Spirituality: Implications for Multicultural School Counseling

Article excerpt

In many cases, Asian students can be better served by understanding the spiritual aspects of Asian spiritual and religious traditions. Three specific traditions are outlined in this article: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Each tradition is described and a case example that illustrates working with students of these traditions is provided.

In the current practice of school counseling, little consideration is given to the spiritual background of students of Asian cultures. Although there is a body of literature on Asian culture in counseling, we could find remarkably few articles pertaining to counseling students in the context of Asian religious and spiritual traditions. In many cases, understanding these traditions can be of immense help in establishing relationships with these students. If the student is from an Asian family strongly dedicated to their religious tradition, we have found that demonstrating understanding and empathy toward that tradition can provide a powerful invitation to trust the counselor. The importance of establishing a relationship in counseling is well-known and well-documented in the literature (e.g., Orlinsky, Grawe, & Parks, 1994; Sexton & Whiston, 1994). Spirituality is often overlooked as a way of strengthening the counseling relationship and engendering trust.

We have also found that knowledge of Asian religion and spirituality can be extraordinarily effective in establishing trust with Asian parents. When a counselor can demonstrate some depth of knowledge of an Asian parent's religious tradition, the degree of trust generated can be deeper and even more inspired than what results from a counselor's understanding of culture. There is no question that multiculturalism is a crucial and important aspect of counseling. The wisdom of a counselor can cross cultural barriers and be the primary catalyst for establishing relationships (Hanna, Bemak, & Chung, 1999; Hanna, Talley, & Guindon, 2000). Part and parcel of this wisdom is how to apply a working understanding of the student and the family's spirituality to effective counseling. That understanding provides knowledge of the client's primary values which can then be aligned to counseling (Hanna, 2002). This article is intended to elucidate the central aspects of several Asian religious and spiritual traditions and relate this knowledge to counseling students. Specifically, we describe and discuss Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. At the end of each section we provide a case example in which the respective spirituality played a part in helping a student.

HINDUISM

Hinduism originated in India and is the oldest of the major religions on earth, being well over 3,000 years old. Interestingly, it is not a religion that seeks converts, as does Christianity or Islam. Practitioners are usually from India or are of Indian descent. Like Christianity, however, there are many individual sects and belief frameworks in Hinduism, and our necessarily brief description of it here will address it only in general terms.

Hinduism includes a pantheon of deities. This often appears strange to people raised in Western countries, where monotheism is often a religious given, but in many ways, it is not so different at all from Western faiths and traditions. As many are aware, Hinduism is pantheistic, and this also appears to be different. But the difference between monotheism and Hindu pantheism can be easily summarized. The God of Christianity, according to the Bible, created the world out of nothing. Hindu scriptures such as the Upanishads (Nikhilananda, 1963) and the Yoga Vasistha (Venkatesananda, 1984) inform us that Brahman or God, created the world out of its own being. Thus, it is only this seemingly insignificant variant that turns out to be the crux of the difference between pantheism and monotheism.

In essence, there is little difference between these theologies, as the act of creation of the universe is involved in both. …