I am not sure that I can stick with the twice a week thing. I like to just write when I'm inspired. I'd love feedback from all of you on which you would prefer. One friend has mentioned that you can sign up with the RSS feed to get all postings as emails.
It is true that I have been longing for a community for a long time. I've moved around a lot and I haven't been able to settle in anywhere until now. If any of you are Dr. Who fans, I feel rather like the Doctor in The Waters Of Mars, when he's starting to get a little crazy from being the only one like him. It's not a good idea to practice Hinduism without any guidance, going only on your own memory and maybe some reading. In many cases, one would have a guru who is more advanced to teach and help along the path. I have been lacking that.
But I think I have found the solution.
I've talked before about the organization I grew up in. It had been known at that time as The Philosophy School. The leader of the school would go to India every few years and speak with the guru, one of the Chankaracharyas (teachers of Shankara). The Vedantic philosophy was brought to us, but all the social customs were British (the school was founded in England). We would gather for class with a tutor and ten or so other people once a week, and on Saturday mornings we would have a work party, where people would gather to do work around the house the organization owned. Once advanced enough, people would also have a night of the week to be a tutor. Also, we went on frequent weekend retreats, and over the summer week retreats.
This past weekend, on Saturday, I went to the local Chinmaya mission building for SEVA day, which I read about on their web page http://www.chinmayadc.org/. It is a yearly celebration of the founder's birthday and the day starts with service around the building. After that there is a puja, singing of bhajans (hymns), and prasad (eating of food that has been blessed).
I got there half an hour early, but people were already there and working. I volunteered myself and was first instructed to have lunch. I was brought to the kitchen part of the building and seated next to the Swami-ji (the leader). A swirl of ladies served a full South Indian meal and I ate with the Swami-ji and a bunch of children. (South Indian food is an acquired taste, which I do not have. The food in Indian restaurants in America is North Indian because that's what American tastes can handle. I was an extremely picky eater as a child and only started eating even the North Indian food a few years ago. I struggled through the meal I am sorry to say).
Then I set off for the garage and helped take everything out, sweep and wash the floor, build shelves, and reorganize things to go back in. I chatted with people and for most of the work I was paired with a lovely young woman who seemed about my age (although she, unlike me, is married and has two children). Everyone was friendly and welcoming and they teased me about coming for the work when they found out it was my first time there. It felt exactly like a work party and it made me ache for missing Philosophy School. Yet, it was a good ache, because I knew that I had found my Philosophy School.
My Dad joined the Philosophy School when he was just a year or two younger than I am now. I wonder what it felt like to him to discover it. I know that I felt like I was coming home. I called my Dad when I was driving home and told him that I had found Philosophy School for Indian people.
Almost everyone there was Indian, I saw only two other non-Indians. When I was growing up there were no Indians in Philosophy School and no other minorities either, it was pretty much all white. That is no longer the case, but it is still mostly white. (My parents, who I think obsess about offending people, have told me that they think it is offensive for me to call myself white. I guess they think it looks like I'm setting myself apart. As much as I'd like to fit in, I don't. I am very pale. My parents think that I should be careful about pointing that out because of sensitivities in India over skin color and the preference for light skin. They think I should call myself simply a westerner, but that seems at least equally offensive to me. It seems to me that to distinguish myself from people of Indian descent by saying that I am a westerner is to imply that the kids who grew up here in America and in Britain are not. It would be like saying that they are less American than I am because they have darker skin, even though our ancestors arrived in America around the same time. This is not at all, by the way, a criticism of the Western Hindu blog. I think he is very clear about how he is using that word and it is not to divide. However, for me, the thing that makes me feel like I stick out and I can't belong is only my skin, not the place of my birth. I guess I just have to call myself a non-Indian. Although, I'm sure my parents will think of a reason why that's offensive).
Everyone I met at Chinmaya was delighted to see me. I learned about their structure. It seems that there are weekend lectures about Vedanta (philosophy) from the Swami-ji and then there are study groups during the week where people gather in groups of around ten to discuss. I also met one of the leaders of the youth group who I had been emailing with. The youth group is very active and involved and three or four of them were there at SEVA. They were all much younger than I am, but they expressed excitement to have me join.
I also discovered that they have very organized children's programs that lead up through the grades to the youth group and then to adult members. The kids have a sort-of Sunday school during the weekend lectures and they learn language, culture, and values.
I am so delighted to have found this. As I have been lately thinking a lot about having children and I have worried a little bit about how to raise them with my values and the things I had growing up when I don't have Philosophy School to send them to. (Also, my boyfriend isn't crazy about some of the Philosophy School teachings and policies and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't allow our kids to go there anyway!). Chinmaya is the perfect place for our future children to learn culture and values along with other kids and families.
When I mentioned this to my Dad on the phone, he said my kids will really stick out and be different. I think it will take a while for the little ones to notice that my children have lighter skin. By the time they start processing the differences, they will already be friends.
The Chinmaya program is wrapping up for the summer, so I'm going to go to the lecture next weekend and then in the fall I can sign up.
There was a request a while ago to talk about pronunciation of the Indian words I use, so I'll have to write about that soon. I'll also talk about the differences between Sanskrit and Hindi and some of the many other Indian languages.
I'll be going back and updating my first Hindi post with more web links and resources. I want to keep all of that in one place. I have found that there isn't a centralized place to find all the available products and programs for Hindi learning and I want to create such a place even if it's just for my own reference.
Oh, and check out these great toys I found:
Hindi Alphabet Blocks
Oh, and I find it rather hilarious that the ad currently displaying beneath my posts is for scientology! Now there are some people who think they already have the answers. Not sure how my blog attracted that ad, but it makes me laugh every time I see it.