I found some examples of the kind of attitude that I find so difficult to deal with.
A spiritual discussion got going in the comments at the White Indian Housewife blog. People turned to debating whether it is possible to convert.
Here are a few of the comments:
"Besides, keep your lectures about vastness and riches of Dharma for these
'whites' who escape to east in search of alternative or peace of mind,
just as many Indians escape to west in search of prosperity or education."
"In my view, Lot of people from the west see these particular beliefs
in India (i’m not saying they are true/false) exotic. They are sick &
tired of what the western world offers in terms of spirituality which is
now in a corrupted state. A void is created in their mind which leads to an
unknown search. Curiosity first, followed by the amazing & never seen/heard
rituals etc bring them closer to Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, Taoism, etc.
Lot of these would give them temporary relief, but once they get to see the
corruptions in these new faiths, they’ll again feel the void."
In response to a post saying that convert Hindus are valid, they simply don't have a caste: "That’s the point. Traditionally since last 800 years or so, Hinduism became more segregated and structured in terms of castes. So, what kind of Hindu are you if you don’t belong to any jati? Even untouchables are considered a ‘jati’. So if you don’t belong to any ‘jati’, you are nobody, according to traditional Hindus."
"Abdullah, you are not Hindu nor a member of any Hindu sect, therefore you are not privy to those Hindu sects that do indeed accept converts as 'bonafide'…. in India.
Re: 'This is different from Christianity or Judaism for example, where converts are bonafide members'
Judaism? Maybe some “renewal” or “reform” sects. It’s controversial, and rare.
Even Hindu sects are more open than Judaism."
--Sharrell's Celebrity Doppleganger
"I live in India and have dated, lived with and live around Hindus. I have also observed many who converted into or out of Hinduism. That is more real than sitting 12000 kilometers away and pretending to be an expert on India after picking things off internet blogs."
- Abdullah K.
"So then where is your authority on 'Judaism'????
I am a Hindu and so is 90% of my family."
-Sharrell's Celebrity Doppleganger
"NRI/Sharrells Celebrity doppleganger/gori princess or whatever, pardon me but I don’t think anyone here respects or takes into account your views on Hinduism. I personally hold Abdullahs comments in a much higher regards then yours."
Sigh. People are so mean. Where does all the anger come from? (BTW, NRI means Non-resident Indian, so again, as I was saying earlier, that can refer to people of Indian ethnicity growing up in America.)
Anyway, what the really brings up for me is that I want to escape from this stereotype that a white person practicing Hinduism does so because she thinks it's exotic and different and wants to escape corruption in the West.
Yes, there is corruption in parts of the religions of the West. Yes, there is corruption in parts of the religions of the East. People are people, where ever you go. There are those who are corrupt and those who know how to use religion to mis-guide people.
None of that changes the fact that, for me, Hinduism most clearly fits the world around me. Its explanations for things make the most sense. I'm the child of a scientist and though I am not terribly scientific myself, I still need for the explanations in my religion to match what I experience in the world. Hinduism fits the evidence around me.
I realize that I do not have a caste and that is a problem. Some people say Hindu converts just don't have a caste, others say that foreigners are automatically untouchables. I don't have a solution to this.
I do think it is time for people to expand their minds about what is possible. We're stuck in a loop of old rhetoric about how Hinduism does not recognize converts. The situation has become more complex and people need to be willing to reexamine. We're no longer talking about a group of hippies, smoking pot, and running away from the strict religion of their parents.
Even that stereotype has more depth to it. Yes, there were people who turned to the East for something new and were disappointed by it. But look at my parents. They may have been hippies, running away from the strict religion of their parents, but they did not/do not smoke pot and they have faithfully followed their Indian-philosophy-based path for thirty years.
It hurts me deeply when I hear or see people making comments that assume that white people have this very surface level understanding of what Hinduism is. I know Hindu philosophy and ritual deeply and it has been a part of me since I was a baby.
I have been told that perhaps I need to stop taking things so personally. It's difficult. Every time I run across a discussion like this I get so tired of hearing the same old statements.
But, as previous posts have shown, there is a variety in how people respond to this kind of thing. So far the people I have met here in America who come from Indian origin have been welcoming and understanding. I appreciate that and I hope that this blog can illustrate to others that some of the ideas about who a white person practicing Hinduism is are not accurate.