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 This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hindu/Indian things I don't do

Miss. Mouse's motto in the comments on the last post: "Do whatever makes YOU happy and the hell with what everyone else thinks" is becoming quite true for me as well. On the one hand, I agree with my mom that I don't want to be making people unhappy on purpose. On the other hand, people are going to be offended no matter what. There are people who disagree on whether Mother Theresa was a good person, for goodness sake. No matter what you do, everyone has their own take on it. There are people my age who are offended by how old fashioned I am, my lack of feminism. That's just life.

Anyway, on to the point of this post.

There are aspects of Hinduism and/or Indian social customs that I do not follow. I am aware of them and I am making a conscious decision that they do not fit into my belief system. Part of having a religion is being able to use it to accomplish what you need it to in your life, so I don't think it is a good idea to take an entire faith system and go with it no matter what. Some people might call that having faith, but understanding why I do something is very important to me. I love tradition, but only if there is a meaning and a reason behind the tradition. I am not going to do it "just because."

Astrology is very important in India. Before getting married, a bride and groom (or their families) will usually have their charts drawn up and compared. They also use astrology to determine an auspicious day to get married. There are many things that one has to find auspicious days for.

I am not a particularly superstitious person and I don't believe in luck. To me, karma negates the possibility of luck. Not everyone sees it that way. (More on karma another time). Of course, auspicious and lucky might not be exactly the same thing.

I can understand how people can believe that the stars drive fate and I think this is one instance where American culture is more strong in me. I do believe that we make our fate ourselves (perhaps partly due to choices made in a past life). In my belief system, nothing fated is completely inevitable. In the present moment, one always has a choice. I do think there are things that are fated to happen to us, but how we interpret those things is completely up to us and that is what sets the course for the next fated thing. There is a fluidity to fate in my understanding and the idea of fates being pre-written in the stars does not mesh with that.

This is a major one. A vast majority of Hindus are vegetarian and even those that eat fish, chicken, or even lamb, would not eat beef.

Here in America it can be so hard to understand not eating beef, it just seems so weird. I explain to people to think of it the way we think of Koreans eating dog meat. I don't even know if that is true or not, but it is a common enough legend in America. The way we feel about the idea of eating dogs is the same way Indians feel about the idea of eating cows.

Cows in India are not worshiped per se, but they are sacred. Actually, all life is sacred, but cows get special status for a couple of reasons. They are frequently used as an image to represent the mother, since they provide so much without their meat. They give milk and cheese and butter. Also, they are said to be the favorite animal of Krishna, who was a cow herder in his teenage years.

Many Hindus are vegetarian because of the doctrine of ahimsa, which means non-harmfulness. This is a major part of Ghandi-ji's message and a driving force in Buddhism. It is also present in Hinduism. Krishna lists "ahimsa" as one of the qualities of a perfect man.

My parents do not eat red meat and only my mom eats chicken. They don't do it for ahimsa, but because the digestion of heavy red meats is said to be detrimental to meditation.

For two years in college I was a vegetarian. I stopped because it became impractical. The men I date have never been vegetarian and I end up cooking for them, also I never had a good reason for it. People would ask me why I was vegetarian and I really had nothing to say.

Again, I don't think it's enough for me to say, "I am Hindu, therefore I don't eat beef." The reasons for not eating beef are not compelling for me. I think it's part of the natural cycle of birth and death that humans eat meat and I don't think the cow is an exception. For me it would have to be either all or nothing.

I feel very self-conscious about eating beef. It is difficult for me to claim to be a Hindu, yet eat hamburgers.

UPDATE: I stopped eating meat May 2010 (so two months after this post), but I'm still eating eggs.

I don't always eat with my right hand. In India it is very rude to eat with the left hand because that is supposed to be the hand you wipe yourself with when you use the bathroom. The only time I consciously eat with my right hand is when I am in Indian restaurants.

I point. Pointing a finger at someone in India is also very rude. This one is just a habit that I would like to break, but pointing is a sub-conscious gesture at this time.

Those are all I can think of at the moment.


  1. Oh agreed.. I totally don't go OUT of my way to be difficult but I also don't put myself out to make someone else happy. I have a VERY difficult set of Inlaws- they're the exact polar opposite of my lifestyle, beliefs and background and they chafe me on a daily basis like a pair of sandpaper pants. My MIL hates dreads.. thinks they are "gross". I tie my hair up and usually cover it while I'm with her. That's my peace offering.. beyond that, I'm not willing to change for her.
    I love astrology, was raised with it being important in my life, and know how to do charts. I don't stake 100% faith in it but I do feel like its nice background information and makes a lot more sense of things for me. As for vegetarianism.. I totally fail on that front as well. My husband is a meat eater and not eating it in this house would be difficult to cook 2 meals every day. I also love garlic, onions & mushrooms- which along with the beef- removed me from Krishna Consciousness (Hare' Krishna) being a choice for me.

  2. It must be really hard to have in-laws against you. What a challenge!

    I also love garlic and onions and mushrooms. I didn't realize those were out in ISKON. I guess because they are rajasic foods...?

  3. Hi Aamba

    Just started reading your blog and I am enjoying your posts! I must say, though, whilst I respect your decision not to be vegetarian simply as your personal choice, I'm not sure I can agree with your take on the subject.

    My parents turned vegetarian before I started on solid food so for me, it has always been a very easy path - but as you say, a choice, nonetheless, which I freely make in the present moment. However, my parents never preached about vegetarianism because when they set out, they felt it was a relevant decision for the health benefits it afforded them and us at that point in their lives rather than a moral or ethical choice.

    That being said, I'd argue that there has never been more reason to be vegetarian than today, and perhaps more so in the West (such as the USA) than elsewhere. As with our environmental policies, I find it important to remember that ours are lives of plenty, of great fortune and, as a result, great freedom. I think of that as freedom to do what is right - which is not necessarily the same as what is easy. Since we already live in a developed world, we are in the position to be able to make better choices about our use of fuel and packaging, for example, which in turn may influence our less-developed neighbours but will definitely benefit the world we all live in. I sometimes think it's only our own greed, selfishness and pride that allows us to consider anything but a better way. There is certainly a good number of vegetarians and vegans in the US who would not agree with the idea that eating meat is culturally American (or that they were by definition “un-American” for choosing not to eat it). After all, Americans are a culturally diverse lot with many different lifestyles!

    I have never dated a man who was a vegetarian either and I agree that it’s a difficult issue. However, if you felt it was the right path for you, I’m sure it is something you could negotiate a way through for, in the same way that you already do where religion is concerned. If your life partner cares for you, it should mean that they love you for the person that you are, the person you have become as a result of your lifestyle, your religious beliefs and so on. It is a very difficult and contentious topic and if you enjoy being the cook, it is problematic, I know. Nevertheless, if being vegetarian was a key value for you I can’t imagine that you would not find a way to compromise which did not mean you having to cook meat!

    If you eat meat because you enjoy it, your argument is indisputable. There are plenty of ethnically-Indian Hindus who eat meat feel no need to be apologetic about it. I expect the tricky part is in the issue of “fitting in”, your feelings on which you’ve written about eloquently. Since you are not ethnically-Indian or Hindu-by-birth, I imagine there can be significant pressure to conform to a model which born-Hindus feel more free to mould to their personal belief system. That must be difficult but I imagine as you find your way and develop your own personal Hindu identity, you’ll become more assured about the way you practice your faith.

    If you are interested in reading about someone else’s vegetarian dilemma, you could try reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer

    Wishing you all the best on your journey!


  4. Hi Aamba

    Phew! Sorry I rambled on! I've just read on a few posts further and have seen in a comment by you that you have become vegetarian after all! I hope you are happy with your decision and are finding that it's working for you!

  5. Thanks for reading, xaspireonfirex! I'm glad that you are so engaged with my material :) It's true, I have since become vegetarian, though I'm still working on cutting eggs out.

  6. I'm so glad I found your blog! I wish I could subscribe to follow up comments though, because I am losing track of the posts I've commented on!

    I wrestle with vegetarianism, but it is not right for me or my family right now. I have given up beef, which is definitely a sacrifice right now. But that feels good, so I'll keep with it.

    I'd love to hear why you don't think you're a feminist.

  7. I know, I have that problem with comments all the time. I go back to someone blog and completely lose track of what I said!

    I have a later post about how I have become a feminist. I would consider myself one now. The way I grew up was quite anti-women and I really bought into it. I can see the error in my thinking now and I wish I had been more confident in my femininity when I was younger.

  8. Hi Ambaa, I'm going through your old posts now. :) So far learning very many things...

    I'm glad to see you were (at one point) not a vegetarian but Hindu - and okay with that. I am not vegetarian and I'm not sure if I could be, at least right now. I do understand why going veg is very important and meaningful, but I have to admit that I don't believe it's the biggest violence one can do. Now, I absolutely hate factory farms, so I do what I can to avoid those. BUT I also love to cook, and it just happens that a lot of my "classic" and favorite dishes include meat which cannot be substituted. It may be that later in life I will be more ready for this decision, but now I am not.

    1. I've gone back and forth on this one a lot. I try to follow cues from my body and not be hard on myself if I go through a meat eating period.