I've attempted temple visits before and I've found it very difficult. I had no experience going to temples growing up, so as much as I've researched about rituals and behavior at temples, I still don't feel all that comfortable. Being so clearly non-Indian also makes me stand out, so I feel self-conscious about not quite knowing what I'm doing.
I would stop going and just do rituals and such at home, but part of the joy of being a part of a religion is having the community. Also, when I have children I want to be able to raise them fully Hindu and so I feel that I have to get it all figured out before then (still got a number of years, though).
A while back I was visiting home and I went with my mother's Indian friend to the temple. She took me around and showed me what to do. I felt a sense of panic come over me that no matter how hard I tried or how long I did this, I was never going to fit in here and never going to get it right. I was afraid her friend thought this was a game to me. No matter what I do, I am not Indian and I never will be. I came home feeling very sad.
I explained this feeling to my mother. She is not all that happy about this development in my spiritual path. She and my dad raised me with Indian philosophy, but with western social traditions. My parents do not believe in the rituals of Hinduism and they do not feel comfortable labeling themselves as Hindu (even though they follow Advaita, which is a less-ritualized branch of Hinduism). I've told my mother before that whether she wants to call herself that or not, she is a Hindu. She goes to the temple every week to study Sanskrit. She reads the Upanishads and the Gita and tries to put into practice what they say. But the point is, this particular day mom said to me, "Why don't you just be Catholic?"
I was momentarily stunned. She was suggesting that I solve the problem of wanting to fit in in a place where I don't fully know the rituals by going to another place that I've never been where I don't fully know the rituals. Sometimes I think that my mother forgets that I do not have the same experiences, background, and knowledge that she has. She was raised Catholic. I have been inside a Catholic church three times in all my life and only one of those times was for a service. Before I was born, my mother rejected the Catholic church. Or so I thought.
I said, "Aren't you sort-of against the Catholic church?"
"I never said that," she replied.
Again, stunned. I felt as though I had slipped into a parallel universe, as our memories or my childhood were so utterly different.
I hope that I can ease my way into being comfortable going to temples. As I said before, I hope that starting with a university group will be a stepping stone on that path. I think a lot of the first generation Americans with Indian parents are in a similar position to me. We're all missing a few of the links that people who grew up in India got just from being there.
More later on what Advaita is and my plans for how I will raise my own children. Also more later on why having this label is so important to me.