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 This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Going to Temple

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.


  1. This story illustrates an interesting question I've been having: who is Hindu? I know many yoginis who read the Gita, are vegetarian, follow yogic philosophy but wouldn't call themselves Hindu. I know a handful of followers of Gurumayi, but the one I'm friends with doesn't call herself a Hindu - even though her satsang chants Om Namah Shivaya. And yet.... they are, yes? Does one have to be ritualistic? Based soley on the Vedas it seems that one must have caste, attend all the social norms and rituals. But other Indian philosophies are, if not rejections of, at least part of the larger dialog of Hindu tradition. It does seen that those people are legitimately Hindu. Like Catholics and Protestants and Eastern Orthodox are all legitmately Christian.

    What do you think?

  2. How people see themselves and label themselves is quite varied and I can hardly tell someone that she is wrong about what she is!

    But personally in my mind I do think of Gurumayi followers as Hindus. I do think of my mom as Hindu, even though she says that she isn't.

    However, the point you raise that I cannot answer is whether if you follow the philosophy of Hinduism only if you are still a Hindu.

    Certainly some people who follow the philosophy only are, and call themselves that, and I personally don't think that you have to be involved in ritual in order to be. It is a big umbrella with not much to define it, i.e. no pope, no cannon.

    But there are those who use pieces of Hindu philosophy to round out their lives. It calls to mind the quote that a study of Hinduism would make any Jew a better Jew, Christian a better Christian, and every persona better human being.

    Is that picking of a few pieces of Hinduism that one likes being a Hindu? I don't know.

  3. I hope you don't mind me asking a rather personal question. Perhaps it gets answered in a post I've not seen yet.

    What is your relationship with the gods? Do you pratice bhakti to any particular god/desses? Or do you just honor the eternal One? Are you devotional, or is your love of Hinduism more cultural?

  4. I used to be more devotional than I am now. I started out devotional and as I grew up I became more and more path of knowledge. I still try to surrender and pray to, in particular, Shiva or Ganesha. But always with the awareness that in a deeper reality I am praying to and for my Self. If that makes any sense!

  5. Namakskar,i am reading your blogs for some time.i will straight come to the point.your upbringing as a child in a advaita tradition was a far fetched.this philosopy is for people who are introvert and knowledge seeking.very few people are of that bent of mind.most are social and extrovert or combination of both.children are mostly extrovert and can learn faster and enjoy all hindu such young age conditioning one mind to advaita is not good.the solution from my point of view will be to de-learn(a bit difficult),go to temple,join a culture group like this link [Bruhan Maharashtra Mandal of North America | Promote and nurture Marathi culture] because lot of marathi speaking non resident have non indian wifes and are more accomdating;secondly there are many indian websites(web pages from india specific) which tell the meaning of various rituals.even many indians do not know of their own rituals.most of the rituals are devoted to respect and celebrate something(womens festivels;enviroment festivels;animal festivels;etc)


    1. I don't know if I agree with you on that. I definitely valued my advaitic upbringing and the philosophy it taught me. I think it might depend on the child.

      I was introverted and introspective right from the start. I took well to advaita immediately because I was a rather philosophical child.

      I'm happy to have you here, reading. If you continue, you'll find that I joined the Chinmaya group, which is a great fit for me culturally speaking!