The White Hindu has moved

The White Hindu has moved! This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at Patheos.com.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Introduction

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.

25 comments:

  1. huh? who says a white/black girl/person cant be Hindu! Absolute BS! When I was in Chicago, the priest at the local ISKCON was a black, I wasnt too perturbed by that, tho i was a bit surprised ( I was new to the country then) glad to hear u converted, interested in following ur journey down this road!

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  2. Well, there certainly are people who say that! :) ISKON I think is a bit different, there are a lot of non-Indians there and I'm not sure what caused that.

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  3. Wow such a wonderful blog!

    I'm an Indian Hindu but I don't think the notion that Hinduism is an ethnic religion is true. It became so in the middle ages particularly after Islamic invasions. Else how can one explain the Balinese Hindus, how can one explain the Ankor Vat? There was a time when indigenous Hindu Kingdoms ruled from Afghanistan to Philippines. In ancient times we had Greek Hindus,we can still see the Heliodorus pillar in Vidisha, right in the center of India.

    Latter in the middle ages the Hindu religion got limited to India and many superstitions entered the life of ordinary Hindus. So people started thinking that one has to born a Hindu to be a Hindu. Every single early reformer right from Swami Dayananda Saraswati stated that practice of Dharma has nothing to do with race or ethnicity, as a result we are again witnessing people of different racial and ethnic groups taking up and practicing Dharma, but as this is still a relatively new phenomenon there may be some suspicions on both sides, over the period of time when more and more non-Indians start practicing people will get open to the idea. Who knows maybe in future decedents of Hindu immigrants from India will find more in common with their White American counterparts that their cousins back home.

    Once again a nice blog, I'm delighted to find it.

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  4. Thanks! You make some good points and it's very encouraging.

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  5. I am so thrilled to find your blog and even more thrilled that you are also a fellow Marylander! I began my spiritual search 20+ years ago. After studying most of the world's religions, the one that I was most drawn to was Hinduism. It just made sense and spoke to my inner being. I would not consider myself Hindu because I am not practicing, per se. However, it is what I aspire to be. Hopefully, through more research and finding like minded people, I can one day consider myself to be Hindu. My 5 yr old son knows more about Hinduism than any other religion and is a "big fan of Ganesha" (his words). Thank you for relieving my feeling of alienation in my personal beliefs. Your blog is an inspiration :)

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  6. Awesome, S.Trumpower. Feel free to send me an email if you want to get together, both being in Maryland and all :)

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  7. oh so nice to see u.....
    "sarve jana sukino bhavanthu"

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  8. Ah, thank you, I love that prayer :)

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  9. A hindu to india is not like a jews israel or a muslims mecca.

    Hinduism is a decentralized religion. There are no authorities or organisations that can control it or act a reformist. Hence, the idea that white americans cannot become hindus will stay for a long time to come. Face this fact and consider ignoring the indian community. Cause no one can stop you from being a hindu at heart.

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  10. Hi, Amba! I am a white Hindu, too! I grew up in a Hindu yogic group from the age of 12 and it is the religion I feel closest to. And I made a discovery recently. There actually is a historical precedent for being white and Hindu. As one of your commentators mentions above, Hinduism once covered much of Central Asia. It turns out there was an ancient, white, Indo-European tribe or tribes called the Tocharians, who lived 2 to 4 thousand years ago in the Tarim Basin in western China, and who later moved to the Afghanistan area and northern India. They helped create the Kushan dynasty in northern India. They were very connected to Sanskrit and Vedic culture and later helped bring Buddhism to China from India along the Silk Road. And they were very white--blond and red hair, blue and green eyes, full beards, etc. Check out the "Tocharians" on Wikipedia for more info, as well as the "Tarim mummies", which were found in China a few years ago. It is fascinating! Here was a whole culture of white Hindus and Buddhists who lived thousands of years ago! So, you see, in historical terms, we are not all that odd after all!
    Best,
    Sarah

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  11. Good to see you! :) Welcome.

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  12. No, you are not odd at all, Sarah. There are many other precedents like Tocharians, whom you mention in your well researched comment. Human migrations into and out of India have been a part of larger historical reality. That means human connection and mingling of ideas, even if slowly in the past. Now the communication revolution has accelerated the whole process. We have the examples of waves of Hunas, Kushanas, Indo-Greeks and many others coming into India and getting merged into the ocean of Hinduism. Similarly we have historical examples of waves of migration out of India like the Gypsies, who carried with them many practices of Hinduism. Interesting similarities between Hindu practices, language, and even the names of Gods testify to a very old connection. Some good research on this was done by European scholars during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But that strand of research was stopped and discredited due to the political needs of the British. Anyway, I am so glad to see all of you here on this page where I reached accidentally. I am a Hindu by accident of birth (though I am grateful to the destiny for that wonderful accident) but all of you are Hindus by conscious choice. Kindly accept my respects for that choice.

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  13. Thank you, Atul Rawat, that is very kind! I am certainly very conscious in my choice to follow Hinduism, as this blog can show! lol.

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  14. I am so excited to see other members of the non-Indian Hindu community. I hope we can be more recognized as legitimate, as ridiculous as that sounds, and I always encouraged others to look inside of themselves for their true religious beliefs!
    I can't tell you how many times I get a reassuring "Ok then" or a scoffing laugh when I tell people I am Hindu. I am a Durga devotee and have been for about 3 and a half years. I too grew up with specifically a very spiritual Eastern religious mother but still was Christian.
    I find myself to be the only non-Indian in my temple but the community accepts me as one of their own. I feel so right at temple or during puja or just telling others I am Hindu. Before I still had the faith for nearly all my life, but living in the south I was afraid to make it "official"- I faked the fact that I was Christian to get others to treat me with the same respect; but what I had succumb to was oppression. I feel myself as a Hindu, and I am proud to be one. :) Although I am only 18 I feel right as being just me. I love hearing stories similar to mine and I wish you a happy journey through life! Jai Mata Di!
    Liz

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  15. Welcome! Great to have you here :)

    Pretending to be Christian is familiar to me, I tried that for a while and it was soul crushing. I found that I had to just follow my heart, no matter how wacky some other people might think it was! lol

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  16. Yep, the reincarnation thing made sense to me the day in 1974 when I opened a Bhagavad gita for the first time. Every word, every page made total sense to me. It was natural, it was easy, it felt like home. I was raised Southern Baptist in the rural South, but let that go when I went to college. Finding the teachings of Hinduism was like waking up from an amnesic dream to rediscover my real self. I've been a practicing Hindu ever since---for the last 37 years, and never had a moment's regret. Jai Sri Krishna! Namaste and thank you for your insightful blog. Keep up the good karmic and dharmic work!

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  17. That's great to hear! I'm the same way, Hinduism just always made sense where nothing else did. I know it's the right path for me :)

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  18. Love your blog, even though I'm not a Hindu (yet, perhaps), the religion is very interesting. The Bhagavad Gita was such a joy to read and I found myself to *love* a deity for the first time in my life. It all makes sense and just fits together with the way I always thought.

    This blog really helps learning and reading about the religion from a non Indian perspective. I'm really thankful to have a white Hindu woman to relate to.

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  19. It's wonderful to hear from you!

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  20. VASUDAIVA KUTUMBAKAM.
    Welcome sis,
    i am a hindu and thats my nationality, i belong to bharat.
    You are a hindu no matter wot others say.
    LOKA SAMASTA SUKINO BHAVANTU

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  21. Fantastic blog, Ambaa! I am also an aspiring white Hindu. I find inspiration in blogs such as yours. The power of community has virtually no parallel, so I hope to be in touch with you. Like yourself and so many others commenting, my soul feels drawn to the Sanatana Dharma. Thanks!

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  22. It's great to hear from you! I hope you'll keep in touch :) I'm pretty bad about checking my email, but I always check the comments here!

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  23. Do you know that there are ethnic africans(50-60000) living in india? They were brought by arabic slave traders some 400 years ago. Most of them follow islam but there are two particular tribes in karnataka which follow hinduism.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhyyAvoV9-c

    This is a song from this particular tribe. They have mixed with the local population; half indian-african. I don't speak their language but I can understand some words. They are singing about rain and asking it to be benevolent and how the arrival of rain will reset everything back to normal(good).

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  24. Hi Ambaa, loved your blog, and it is my privilege that you are reading my novel:) Like you I grew up with my grandmother telling me stories from Indian mythology - the Mahabharatha, Ramayana and more. I started writing about ten years ago, and no one more than me was surprised to find that these stories emerged through the plotlines in my novel - albeit set in a futuristic scenario. It was in embracing my roots I found my voice :)
    Laxmi

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    1. I'm really excited about your book! I tried years ago to do a fantasy novel based on an Indian aesthetic and I failed miserably, so I'm glad someone else is doing it! :)

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