In our series of interacting with non-Indian Hindus, this is the second part. The blogger writes under the pseudonym “Accidental Hindu”. She lives in UK, although has spent a long time in the US as well. TAH, who traversed many paths before settling into calling herself Hindu and feeling comfortable with the ethos of Sanatana Dharma – the Eternal Cosmic Law. In her post where she describes her spiritual journey she writes:
And with that I felt at ease. I found that –- quite by accident –- I was a Hindu. The Sanatana Dharma was the natural dharma of my soul. It had always been so. I just didn’t know it until later in life.
Let us read about her thoughts on “being a Hindu”. Please visit her blog to learn more.
1. How did you know for the first time that you were a “Hindu”? What did it mean?
I first began to do prayers to Devi nine years ago, and that is when I realised that I was following a definite ‘Hindu’ path. I had practiced yoga as physical exercise since I was a child, but only in my 30s had I begun to incorporate the more spiritual aspects of yoga practice into my life. Those included study of Patanjali and prayers to Shiva. But it was not until I began to read the Upanishads and other texts and to understand that Shiva and Shakti could not be separated, any more than whiteness can be separated from milk, than wetness can be separated from water that I began to understand how all-embracing the ‘love of God’ was from a Hindu perspective. So I’d begun incorporating prayers to Shiva & Shakti and their mantra into my yoga practice, and things began to feel very complete. But I’d never felt comfortable saying “I am Hindu” until about 3 years ago. Mainly because everyone expects Hindus to be Indian, and I was unfamiliar with the more cultural aspects of Indian-Hindu life.
2. Beyond all the ideological stuff, what is it about Hinduism that appeals to you?
Beyond the ideology and philosophy, it’s daily puja, reciting mantra, satsang with my teacher, and studying (right now, I’m reading the Isha Upanishad) that are the practices I feel most bonded to as a Hindu. As far as what aspects of Hinduism most appeal to me – karma, reincarnation and the truth that eventually everyone and everything will return to Oneness with Brahman, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many lifetimes, and that eventually as this universe is dissolved, a new universe will come into being out of the sheer creative necessity of God’s love. These beliefs of how the universe is, what God is, and the eventual liberation of all souls, was just entirely in-tune with what I had always believed as long as I could remember. The teachings of the faith I was raised in were entirely at-odds, on these issues, with how I felt the world must be, what the universe must be, and what God/dess must be. Hinduism, once I had properly learned what it was, simply was ‘right’ to me.
3. Since everyone can have a God of his/her own making (out of the 330 million already articulated), people find Hinduism to be a maze. A confusing amalgam of “stuff”. How do you make sense of it all?
Ah, well, I have a really good teacher! And when I am sitting quietly in front of the images of Shiva & Devi that evoke the most emotion and thought in me, I feel at peace and things just feel right and I am able to let go of (most of!) my thoughts and just let myself feel and be in the presence of God, then things don’t seem complex or confusing, they just feel right. But – to be fair, to reach that point, I asked my teacher a great many questions and read an enormous amount of books. I study the Hindu religion/way of life and work at it until things make sense and once they make intellectual sense, I let my emotions take over and let things settle into me organically – things all eventually begin to feel at-home and natural within the daily working of my life. It can be daunting coming from the Western milieu and having to shake off a lot of presumptions and notions that were inculcated into you about what Hinduism is, what Hindus believe, etc. But once I was able to view Hinduism on its own terms and let go of old baggage, I was free to let the emotional side of my faith, love for God, come to the forefront.
4. In your spiritual journey, what is it that you look forward to? If you had all the time, will, health and resources, what would you like to do?
Oh, I think of that all the time. For myself, I would carve out more time in each day to do puja, asana and meditate. For my community, I would like to offer yoga, meditation and mantra chanting classes for people who usually don’t believe they can afford such things (in the part of the world where I live, things like yoga and meditation actually cost so much money people think of them as elite activities and not something that can be of benefit to everyone). I would like to work with some charities that I now give a little to, but which need much more support.
5. In the world of evangelists and Islamists, how can and should Hinduism hold its own?
Very good question and very simple answer: on its own terms. Hinduism must not get into a defensive position where, in western nations (I am speaking specifically of the USA and the UK, where I have lived most of my life), it feels it has to speak apologetically about its differences from the dominant religions. While sharing knowledge and explaining things is wonderful, Hindus in the part of the world where I live must never apologise for being what it is. Never apologise for worshipping God in many forms, for not believing in only one prophet or messenger, for not having only one holy text, etc.
For instance, I find the question “What is your bible?” to be possibly offensive and definitely getting off on the wrong foot with a Hindu person. Because it presumes that one particular religion and its focus on a single, authoritative book is *the* standard of how all religions should be. To even begin a conversation asking that kind of question sets up an antagonistic relationship and tries to put the Hindu in the position of defending why they are different, believe differently and worship differently. It closes the door or truly loving understanding between people.
Finding a way to be positive and confident in the face of people who are determined to vilify Hinduism or belittle it, is very important. I cannot speak to how this can happen in parts of the world I’ve not lived in, where conflicts can quickly turn deadly — but in the US and the UK, this is an issue mostly of public perception and private rhetoric.
6. Given that you have come to Hinduism from “outside”, what would be your advice to Indian Hindus?
Basically, have a bit of faith in converts. We really are sincere. We know that there have been, over the past few decades particularly, many instances of people who seem to have just been spiritual tourist breezing by Hinduism as if it were a fad. But I genuinely believe those times are, if not past, then coming to a close. The people who are non-Indian and say to you that they are Hindu are most likely to be sincere and devoted. One of the things that all non-Indian Hindus I have met or spoken with have said over and again is that there comes a moment when they want to go to temple or join in with a local Hindu community, only to feel intimidated or fearful that they will not be welcome. Some of the responses that Hindu converts get on the internet, in discussion forums or on some blogs, can be quite off-putting as well, making us feel that we will never have a chance to know other Hindus in our communities and be respected for being sincere.