Hinduism, like Judaism, is a religion that is also an ethnicity. Conversion is almost unheard of. If you are of Indian decent, you might be any religion; but if you are Hindu, you are almost certainly Indian or from a country very nearby. It is much more than a religion—it is a culture and a way of seeing the world. It is also as varied as the hundreds of sects of Christianity.
One of the reasons conversion is so rare in Hinduism is the belief in reincarnation. Part of that philosophy is that one cannot be born into the “wrong” place. Whatever circumstances we encounter were part of what we were meant to encounter in order for our soul to grow. So if one were meant to be Hindu, one would be born Hindu.
On the other hand, perhaps the struggle that a particular person is born to deal with is the divide between culture and religion; the sense that she was meant to practice a religion that was not handed to her by her ancestors.
Let me tell you a little about me. I am American and I am white. My ancestors are European. However, I can make the argument that I was born Hindu.
In the 1970s my parents began practicing Indian philosophy. I was born in the 80s and all my life I listened to Sanskrit prayers and my bedtime stories came from the Mahabharata. As a child I started reading the Gita and the Upanishads, and as a teenager I was initiated into mantra-based meditation. When I was four, the family cat died. My parents told me that he would be reincarnated and if he had been a very good cat, perhaps he would have a human embodiment. Those are just a few examples of how Indian philosophy permeated my early years.
Despite being taught these things, I had no Indian culture or the ritual that goes along with these beliefs. My parents took me to a Unitarian Universalist church and they still considered themselves to be Christian.
The Hindus believe that there are many paths to the same truth, so my parents were following the Christian path toward the same truth as the Hindus. However, they still told me that of the many paths, each person would find one that would call to them more than the others. Supposedly the religion of your birth is the one that will be the right path for you. I think I'm an example of how that is not always true. Then again, what religion is the religion of my birth?
Once I moved out of my parents’ house, I discovered more about the various religions of the world. I learned about Christianity and I learned about Islam and I learned about Buddhism, but my beliefs were still firmly rooted in Vedic philosophy.
I got in touch with the Indian community and fell in love at once. It was like coming home. The ritual, the language, the dance, the culture, it all made sense to me. I realized that I did not have to forge a path of uniqueness, as my parents had, by pulling the philosophy out of Hinduism and keeping the rituals of Christianity. From then on I called myself a Hindu and began to study how to more fully engage in my chosen path.
This blog will explore the issues that this choice has raised for me. I will talk about my experiences trying to become part of the Indian community , how my family has reacted to this, and address the concerns that I have romanticized a religion that doesn’t belong to me. Along the way, I hope I can clear up some of the common misconceptions about Hinduism, including the one that says a white girl cannot be a Hindu.