Sometime back, I had a series of discussions with people who weren’t born Hindus but now have embraced Hinduism. I wanted to ask them about their experience and reasons for taking such a journey. Here is a discussion with Tāṇḍava Nadesan, who runs a blog Western Hindu, which I am sure you will profit from.
1. How did you know for the first time that you were a “Hindu”? What did it mean?
This is a very difficult question to answer, because rather than “becoming a Hindu” for me it was more of a process of realising that I was a Hindu. The first time I remember thinking about Hinduism seriously was when I overheard a friend’s daughter talking to her Hindu friend, Rushna. They were only about 8 at the time, and my friend’s daughter was talking about what they had learned in a religious education lesson. She said “The Christians say one thing is true, the Muslims something else, and the Hindus something else – they can’t all be right. Rushna said “they can all be true, God is so much that he can be different to different people, They are all following what they see”. I have phrased this is in adult language, I can’t remember the exact words but I remember thinking “That little girl has said something that is wiser than the clever speeches of many great preachers and politicians. If everyone believed that then half the conflicts and wars would never have happened”.This seeded an idea, which grew. I didn’t consciously realise it at first, but when I came across articles, programs, and discussions on Hinduism I read, watched, and listened intently, discovering more about the great heritage of Hinduism. At the same time I was searching spiritually, I knew that the Christian idea of “believe this and you’re saved, don’t and you’re damned” was not right. Having bought a Nataraja, looking at it one day I felt Shiva within. To my own surprise I was not thinking “I must become a Hindu”, but “Ah this is how my Hinduism will express itself”.
2. Beyond all the ideological stuff, what is it about Hinduism that appeals to you?
Shiva! Going back towards ideology a bit, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the earth as one family, and Shiva in all.
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?
In many ways it makes perfect simple sense. There is a lot of confusion in the West because both Ishvara (ultimate God) and Deva (divine being) is translated as God. As a Saivite Hindu I believe that Shiva is Ishvara the ultimate God in us all.God being in us all makes many conundrums that other religions ponder over as “unanswerable questions”, like “how can we have free will if God knows everything?” become trivial. If we are God then how can we not have free will, and how can God not know our course? Similarly if we are God then devotion to a God of our choosing then God (Ishvara) in us will create the God (deva).This above answer is jumping the gun a bit, it comes from the sense I have made from the maze. The way that I and most people make sense of the maze is by following a lineage. Everyone needs a Guru. For some it is a physical guru, others a guru who has passed on to the subtle plane, and for the very few God directly from within (Dakshinamurthy). My lineage is the The Kailasa Parampara Of the Nandinatha Sampradaya.
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?
Given time, health, and resources I would like to visit the spiritual home of my lineage, the Iraivan Temple and monastery in Hawaii. I would also like to visit India, some of the sacred Saiva temples like Chidambaram and Somnath. I would also like to master meditation. My active mind is a hindrance in this, as I commented to a fellow devotee I can sit down intending to meditate and then find that I have thought through and sloved a computer systems probelm we had at work rather than looking inward! Perhaps spending some time with the monks and my Satguru would help with this too.
5. In the world of evangelists and Islamists, how can and should Hinduism hold its own?
One thing that I think is important is that every Hindu should understand the differences between evangelists and the followers of Sanatana Dharma. They must know that whereas a Hindu priest will be bound by Satya, to the evangelist conversion is worthwhile at almost any cost. This includes misrepresentation of their belief in hell, treating Hindus with fake medicine and people who pray to Jesus with real medicine, and all sorts of deceit. Hindus should also understand that evangelists will use long term strategies. What might seem innocuous, putting a statue of Jesus in your shrine in return for money is the start of a long game. Your children ,may be told “your parents obviously respected Jesus, if all are images of God throw out the other murtis”. Your grand-children will be told “your parents were obviously Christian”, spread the word …. but lets start by telling your neighbours just to add Jesus to their shrine”.Evangelists also use the thin end of the wedge argument. They will start by saying that “everyone has the right to follow their own religion”. They know that Hindus won’t argue with this – but then they will say “our religions says we must try to convert”. Now this is really saying that they don’t think that Hindus have a right to follow their own religion, but they phrase it as though stopping them would infringe their rites!The obvious answer would be “There are Islamic factions who believe that their religion says that you should be killed for precticing your religion in public, let alone preaching. By your argument they should be allowed to kill you – you don’t want to infringe their right to practice do you? Now when you announce that these factions are free to kill you on the grounds that it is practising their religion, then we will allow you to use deceptive means to convert Hindus, break up communities, and set family members against eachother to practice your religion.Finally, Hindus should understand that all religions are not the same. There may be good people in all religions, but that does not mean all religions are good. We should understand that the belief in freedom of thought that is inerrant in in Hinduism does not mean that all thoughts are as valid. Belief in democracy means letting parties that are undemocratic stand candidates, though it does not mean that undemocratic systems are as good as democracy. Belief in many paths means allowing people to believe that they have the only path, but that does not mean that this belief is as good or that it should be imposed on others.
6. Given that you have come to Hinduism from “outside”, what would be your advise to Indian Hindus?
I don’t feel that I am in a position to give any advice to Indian Hindus. If I had to say something I would say appreciate the beauty and depth of Hinduism, and don’t ever think of it as second place. Be proud and firm in your beliefs. Don’t try to express your religion in ways that make it seem acceptable to others. If you believe in one ultimate God but many devas, then say so. Don’t feel obliged to say “ultimately all are one God” without qualifying it with “the other Gods are as real as you and me, no more so or no less so”.