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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Feeling deflated

This was a packed full weekend. On Saturday morning Chinmaya was having a celebration of the birth of Shankara that I went to. Shankara is a sage from around 788 A.D. who revitalized Hinduism and tried to unite it as one thing (advaita), so he is the founder of the smartha branch of Hinduism that I follow. The celebration was at the large temple in the area instead of the Chinmaya center. It was hard to find the group at first, since they were in the lower level auditorium area and not the main temple floor. I wore one of my saris. I love sari and there aren't enough opportunities to wear them!

Sunday morning I went to the Chinmaya service and then I stayed for several hours so I could go to the youth group's discussion in the late afternoon.

The youth group is for people 18-35, but I was the oldest there by a few years. The vast majority of people were younger than my little brother and were in college or just starting college. They also grew up together, knew the same people, and many went to the same college.

A couple of things didn't work out well for me in this group. One is that I feel like I'm at a very different place in life than they are and that they aren't able to understand my perspective, since I have now realized the foolish stubbornness of being 18!

The other thing is that there was another girl there who was new. She was a friend of one of the other girls. She was a Christian Indian. The book we were discussing was talking about being your own person (a good lesson for me!) and I spoke about the need to separate your own desires and dreams from your parents desires for you.

This girl spoke next. She said, "Well, as brown people, we really respect our parents..." She dismissed everything I said and implied that because I'm not "brown" I am a monster who doesn't respect or care about her parents.

Apparently my insight is useless because I'm not Indian. As though I don't know anything about parental pressure!

I was deeply disheartened by that. She is not, and I'm not sure anyone there is, interested in my unique struggles.

I'm going to look into finding an adult discussion group.


Also on Saturday a friend came over and we discussed Hinduism. I find that I have a hard time explaining many concepts because I have believed them for so long that I'm rusty on the whys.

In essence he asked why we act in the world at all if it is ultimately just an illusion and not meaningful (as stipulated in my post on Good and Evil) (Correct me if I'm wrong about the question, J!)

This life is an illusion, and yet we have to participate in it and play our roles. Why?

I don't have a great answer for this, but I think that people are always going to do something. People will always act. If you were enlightened and you could see that the world was just a game, would you do nothing at all? I doubt it. I think that you'd have fun and do things that made you happy.

What if the things that make you happy are "bad" things (again, there is not really anything bad or good in reality, but there are things that help other souls move toward enlightenment and things that hurt). I would argue that no one actually finds joy from destructive acts. There's another reason behind an act like killing a puppy. A person might think that will make him happy, but I don't believe that it actually does.

An enlightened person gets happiness from helping others quite naturally because he can see that the others are himself. Not to start the whole Christian v.s. Advaita debate again, but my mother used to tell me that Jesus said to love one's neighbor as one's self because the neighbor really is yourself.

Fate is a very slippery concept in Hinduism. Do your actions have effects or does everything happen the way it has to based only on sanskara? Somehow, there is both fate and free will operating together in a very complex web that we will probably never understand. They say that there are certain issues that we will have to face in order for our soul to move forward, but when the problem comes up, if we are present, we have the choice. We can choose something that will move our soul forward or we can rely on a fog of habit.

In reading the Mahabharata, one of the things that you'll notice is that there's always a fate driven explanation for people's actions. For example, Kunti just happens to say to her sons that they must share what they have brought home, not knowing that it is a wife. To not make her a liar, all the brothers marry that one woman. But then Vyasa comes in and says that this woman prayed devoutly in a previous life five times for a husband, so she was fated to have five husbands. It is never clear whether Kunti caused this to happen or if it had to happen and how those two things go together. There are hundreds of examples of this in the Mahabharata.

I don't really have answers. I think is is dangerous to think that you have the answers to things already. If that were the case, I would already be enlightened. I like that Hinduism leaves a lot of things open for one to ponder and wonder about and it might take lifetimes to figure out the truth. The most important thing is to think about it, to keep wondering.


  1. Did she seriously refer to herself as "brown people"? 0_o I can't come up with any response that doesn't include multiple swear words on what I think of that group and how they acted towards you.. so I'll just keep my mouth shut and say instead that I hope you find a group more suitable to your age & intellect.

  2. I regret that I didn't make a fuss about it right then and there. I hate to judge the group based on that, since she was also a first time there person, but clearly for other reasons it isn't the right group for me!

    I've met a lot of first generation Indians who call themselves "brown people." I think because it covers so many bases. Not just Indian, but Pakistani and from any of the different religions and castes.

  3. Firstly, to Mouse, go ahead and swear because I would and yes I am 'brown' and I know that different perspectives make it just as much fun.

    To Carolyn, I would say that Mahabharata is not to be seen literally. Look at it as a series of choices made. Fate is only a crutch. The choice to be who you are is in ones own decisions.

  4. In the UK " people from the Indian sub-continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.) use the term "Desi" to refer to themselves. I don't think they would say "Brown people", possibly because it could also refer to North Africans, etc.

  5. That was blatantly rude of that girl. But you know better. You are far more experienced in life per se and more matured. While she is talking through her age. I'm saddened that they made you feel out of place. Try looking out for an adult group.

    Like Sriram said, look at it as choices made. Fate is only the end result. Alot of where we are in life are really choices made by us. As an old saying goes, your destiny is in your hands. Think of it as a bus journey. You have to get to point B from A, you can use a car to get there or a train. Whichever choice you make will determine if you get there faster by car or train. But you will get there but how you get there is up to you. Hope that makes sense.

    p.s I don't think I left a comment to you reply under the dancing post. I live in Brisbane, Australia. There is a school here but I hear she doesn't really take in older people. I told my mum that if I do end up taking classes then it'd be in the hope of performing as well - whether as a career, that is another matter. Right now I'm quite happy studying to be an accountant.

  6. Actually people here also use Desi. Not sure what the distinction is. I'm obviously not in a position to use either!

    Sriram, good point about the non-literalness of Mahabharata. I agree, it isn't something to take too seriously, but I do find it very interesting how fate works in the story. It's quite...different.

    Dhurga, my experience of coming to dance as an adult is that it is tricky to get a teacher to take you on, but once they do, they seem delighted to have me perform. Not on a professional level at all, but they do encourage me to do stage shows and maybe try for an arangetram. If you really want it, I would pursue that teacher and see if she'll let you join in a little kid's class! I've done that before because I just wanted to learn no matter how foolish I looked :)

  7. Hi Aamba,

    Perhaps I may give it a go. Probably once I'm back from India. I'm buying a Veena to take back with me as well, so that I can play it.. My family unfortunately is not a artsy type.

  8. If someone says/does something rude, there are several lessons for us to learn-

    1) How to speak for what one believes in objectively and to stand up for that
    2) The different inherent biases in human-beings
    3) How to move on after the experience taking it as a learning opportunity
    4) How not to let it affect you profoundly - remember remaining unperturbed in face of fame or criticism and all such opposite conditions...from Bhagavad Geeta(?)

    Think of the incident in these terms and may be you won't feel so 'deflated' after sometime.

  9. Don't be disheartened by anything that the Indian Christian girl says to you. I myself have at times found SOME Indian Christians to have a very dim view of Hinduism, and they never miss a chance to put Hinduism down. This has to do with what you said in an earlier post, about Converts to a faith being more zealous than the people born into a particular faith (Indian Christians are all descended from Indian Hindus who were converted by missionaries or by the bloody Goa Inquisition committed by the Portuguese Catholics upon the Hindus of Goa). Moreover, SOME Indian Christians have been trained and instructed by the Missionaries to prey on Hindus, and to attempt to convert Indian Hindus at every chance that they get.

    Now, this Indian Christian girl probably sees herself as "The Last Keeper of the Christian Torch", and sees you, incorrectly I might add, as an apostate, who has wandered away from the Christian faith. Hence, she probably resents your presenting yourself openly as a Hinduism, and feels threatened by a white American openly singing the praises of Hinduism, as she is now forced to question her own "Christianness". She is forced to confront the fact that, as a brown-skinned Indian Christian, she is clearly NOT following the homegrown religion of her own Hindu forefathers, and that she is definitely following the imported religion that was thrust upon her Hindu forefathers.
    All of this makes her uncomfortable, and consequently she resents you, and tries to put you down.

    I've seen this phenomenon several times in the US, when Indian Christians try to be "Christianer than Thou", as compared to white Americans. Such Indian Christians also align themselves more with the American Christians, and try to distance themselves from their brown-skinned Hindu fellow-Indians.

    On the other topic of fate, it's more like "Cummulative Karma". Our actions and inactions from ALL of our previous lives determine our Cummulative Karma, which in turn, determines, TO SOME EXTENT, what happens to us in the present life. Thus, the events of the present life are partially pre-determined, and partially depend on the choices and decisions that we make in the Present Birth.

  10. anon@May 31, 2010 8:44 AM

    the comment of the girl doesn't look typical to an "indian christian" as you are putting it. but it definitely typical to an indian. though people may not say so rudely.

    indians , mainly who live in india has a stereotypes of western people based on various facts like they don't live with parents . so we judge such western behaviors with the cultural norms of indian society and come to erroneous conclusion.

    a behavior which means disrespect or cruelty to parents in india may not means so in USA.


  11. I'm not surprised, Anonymous, to hear your assessment of Indian Christians. I have no doubt that it happens a lot.

    I tend to agree with Basu, though, in this case I don't think that was what was happening.

    I think this girl was just young and willing to fall back on stereotypes of whites.

    I hate to think that people see me as being disrespectful to my parents. I know that is an area of Hinduism that I am not perfect in (and Christians should be doing it too, look at "honor thy mother and father.") I struggle a lot with the balance between my parents' happiness and my own happiness. I don't want to be "typical" American and disregard their feelings!

  12. This is so sad. In the early years of my marriage, I was told often, repeatedly, many, many times, that Indians have MUCH better family values, respect their elders, NEVER think of putting Amma or Appa in a nursing home, lovingly care for them in their old age...

    And then I see I family that I know of coming completely, aggressively, and permanently unglued over who gets to inherit what. And they are Indian, devout, run to the temples all the time...

    So if someone had made a stupid comment to me like that, that "brown people respect their parents", I would have laughed good and hard in her (or his) face and told the to grow up and take a good hard look at the world around you. It isn't always as rosy as you want it to be!

  13. My dear you will always be perceived as an outsider unless you marry into an Indian Hindu family. Generally speaking if you marry into a Hindu family the community will see you as one of their own.