A woman on a religious message board I am on asked me about something she has observed, which is that there seem to be two different types of Hindus--the Indian and Indian Americans who grew up with it and then the others who are very into the philosophy. She points out that those raised in the faith tend to do the rituals and the holidays, while the others are into theology and philosophy, but don't seem to participate in any group worship, taking it as a solitary practice. The two groups do not seem to integrate at all.
She asked me my take on this phenomenon and I think it is exactly the bridge that I have been trying to cross.
My response to her was that I thought the young adults who discovered Indian philosophy forty years ago were not interested in finding another dogma and another old tradition. They wanted something fresh and new and to get away from traditional religion. They took the philosophy, but left behind the traditions.
I want both. I don't like the feeling of practicing a religion in a vacuum. Part of me is stunned that my parents did not see this coming. They taught me to believe in so many Indian concepts, but they never thought I would want to adopt the entire culture. Which makes me wonder if I could just take the philosophy and leave the rest.
After all, I do not know of anyone else who grew up in my community who has gone the direction I have gone. Even my own brother leans more Christian than Hindu. The people I grew up with are either Christian or Jewish. Many of them never saw our organization as a religion. I always did. Because I didn't have anything else.
I think part of that is just the personality that I was born with. Ritual and devotion has always appealed to me along with knowledge and study. I was a deeply religious child, but I didn't know how to channel that.
I did join an evangelical Christian group in college and I tried to make myself fit in there (particularly since I fell deeply in love with one of the boys there). But there were certain fundamental aspects of being a Christian that I just kept banging my head against. I could not accept them. Things such as God being a separate being from us, the idea of heaven and hell with no reincarnation, devotion being the only way to be close to God, and others. Again and again I just kept coming back to the foundation of my beliefs being Hindu.
All of my life I have longed for a community, a feeling of belonging. I envied my best friend who is Jewish because the Jewish community is so strong and dedicated. I never fit in, even within the organization I grew up in. I took things more seriously than other people. Through no one's fault, my memories of my childhood are filled with an overwhelming sense of loneliness and the desire to belong.
And yet I was never to make myself into the kind of person who would belong with the people around me. Maybe a latent stubbornness in me, I don't know.
So the point is that I want it all. I do not want to extract the philosophy from a religion that is quite possibly the oldest in the world. I want to be accepted as I am. Maybe too much to hope for.
I want to clarify here that I love being American. I do not wish to be otherwise. Being American leaves me unfettered by social expectations. Our belief in the freedom of each individual to follow her own path is what makes this country what it is. Being American is what allows me to pursue this path I am on.
I have never been to India. I don't know how to explain that I feel deeply that I know India. I understand its pulse. I believe that I lived there in another life, as loopy and stupid as that sounds. I am not one of these people who thinks that India is this magical land of religion. I know sometimes people have the tendency to think that everyone in China knows kung-fu and quotes Lau-tzu all day and that people in India are free from material desires and meditate under trees all the time (or else sing and dance in the streets!). I have no such illusion.
I understand that it is a place like any other, and that people are people no matter where you go. By that I mean that there is a percentage of people in India who are deeply religious, just as in America and anywhere else in the world. There is also a percentage who are motivated by social standards and competing with neighbors, and a percentage who use the idea of religion for personal gain, etc., etc. These things happen everywhere.
When the movie Slumdog Millionaire came out, some people I knew told me that when I saw it it would change my opinion of India, that I wouldn't like it so much anymore. That's plain crazy. I am not unaware of social problems in India. I am not unaware of its weaknesses and its strength or its variety. I love it because everything I see of it and everything I hear of it makes me feel at home deep in my heart.
Someday soon I hope to visit and see the battle field of Kurukshetra from the Mahabharata, and the city of Ayodhya from the Ramayana. And just experience the plain, every day magic of it.