The White Hindu has moved

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 This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Monday, May 3, 2010

Westeners choosing different paths

I've been reading through the back posts at Western Hindu (see link in the side bar). It's very interesting because he is someone who has taken a slightly different approach to mine.

He started learning about Hinduism in part from Chinmaya, a Smarta organization, but decided to follow the Himalayan Academy instead. They follow Shaivism and I've talked about them before. They are the people behind Hinduism Today and the ones who actually have a conversion ritual for those who wish to join Hinduism. I respect them a great deal, but their philosophy is too devotional for me. It seems that the man at Western Hindu felt the opposite. That he respected Smarta, but it was not devotional enough. He writes:

"Firstly the course expounds the position of Immaterialistic Advaita Vedānta. According to this philosophy the only ultimate reality of God (or of anything) is the impersonal Brahman. They claim that the Great Gods Śiva, Viṣṇu, and Brahmā are only a deeper level of illusion, beyond the māyā of the material universe...Naturally there are some people for whom seeking God in the immaterial is the correct path, but for me bhakti or devotion to Shiva is central."

I would agree with some of that and disagree with some. First, yes, in Advaita Vedanta, the various gods are all part of the hierarchy that is only present in illusion. In reality there is only one, and we do call it Brahman, but the name is not what is important. You could call the ultimate reality Shiva if you wanted to, or Bob.

To say that Advaita is "impersonal" seems very odd to me. Yes, you don't have a "personal relationship with Shiva" (or Jesus, since that's a phrase evangelical Christians use a lot). But you don't have to because God is not some being far above you that you need to become friends with. God is inside you. God IS you. It doesn't get more personal than that.

In other of his posts I was startled to find that he makes the argument that if it were Hinduism that had spread like wildfire over the Western world, there would have been no Inquisition or other violence because Hinduism is a tolerant religion.

This seems very naive to me. On paper, Hinduism is a tolerant religion, but so is Christianity. People don't need much excuse for violence and Hinduism does include a warrior caste. There is also strong support in its scriptures for the idea of a holy war.

Sadly, Hindus have participated in bloody riots and massacres against people of different religions into the present day. Like most religions, Hinduism does have an extremist branch. Western Hindu might argue that they are misunderstanding the religion and their behavior cannot define the vast numbers of peaceful Hindus. I tend to agree, except he did criticize Christianity for saying things like “No Christian would ever do this, that or the other. The Christian Terrorists are not true Christians. The Branch Davidian [are] not true Christians. The Catholics, Westboro Baptists or whoever that you don’t agree with are not true Christians." So, I don't think we can distance ourselves from Hindu extremism for the same reason.

Some points he make that I really like are about the gross misunderstandings that Westerners tend to have about what Hinduism is about. For example, he writes:

"The average Westerner knows very little about Hinduism, especially the underlying philosophies and beliefs. They will have heard about things like the Kama Sutra and sacrificing animals to Kali and believe that these are mainstream tenets of Hinduism , because this is what the media often portrays. This a natural affect of the coverage, many people in the UK think that a US policeman will shoot a criminal at least once a week because of what they see on crime dramas, whereas I have read that it is actually a very rare occurrence.

Also “strange TV” sells, so we have seen things like a recent tv program that shown Hindu Sadhus hanging large rocks from their penises. Many people have no idea that this is alien to the average Hindu! There have been programs showing Christians handling poisonous snakes, whipping themselves until they are covered with blood, and shouting in “tongues” at scared children they believe to be possessed, but people in the West have the background knowledge to know that this does not go on in most local churches.

The end result is that many people think they know about Hinduism when what they actually know is either a marginal practice carried out by a handful of people, or is wrong. Some have such an ingrained opinion that they will even argue when they are corrected.

Also, I wanted to show that Hinduism is often seen as fair game by people who want to ridicule it, even though they won’t ridicule Christianity or Islam. This often happens because the backlash if Christians boycotted them would hurt economically, and that Muslims are perceived as a threat – though of course they suffer from the problem that minority activities are perceived as mainstream by the public too. Can you imagine someone bringing out a film called “the Love Pope” or “The Love Imam”?"

All in all, a very interesting read and I look forward to continuing to learn from his journey.

Basu brought up in a comment on the last post that there are concepts of hell in Hinduism. That is true. I was simplifying a bit when I said that there weren't. There are multiple hells and heavens in Hindu mythology, but what makes them different from the Christian idea is that these hells and heavens are temporary. Some believe that after life a soul goes to one of these to work through some of their sanskara, good or bad, before returning to be reincarnated in the world. This makes a lot more sense to me than the Christian definition and I'll turn again to the Western Hindu to explain why:
"I think that the idea of eternal hell can only make sense to people who have no concept of vastness or infinity. Even a lifetime of a century is a fleeting instant from this perspective. Judging for eternity on the basis of a single life would be like releasing mice in the middle of a room and looking at the direction of the very first step they took. Those that stepped right would be given rewards for the rest of their life. Those that stepped forwards, left or backwards would be taken and tortured for the rest of their lives."

Could not possibly have said that better myself.

One last topic for today. Yesterday we went to my boyfriend's niece's Catholic baptism. It was a bit of an odd and uncomfortable experience. I didn't want to draw attention or be contrary on a day devoted to the lovely little baby, so I wore Western dress (unusual for me these days) and I picked a decorative bindi so that it would look more like jewelry and less like a statement. No one commented on that, so I think it worked.

I was surprised that the Priest made blanket assumptions about all the people at the church. I guess that's just part of the ritual, but he had the friends and family chanting the Lord's Prayer and "reconfirming your own baptism." Why would he think we were all baptized to begin with? (I was as a baby, but that is beside the point!). We were supposed to state "I agree" to statements like "The lord Jesus is my savior" and such. I was in the front row and tried to keep my face forward so no one in his family would see that I wasn't saying any of the prayers or the agreements.

That kind of thing really makes me want to be argumentative and point out that I'm not Christian and I'm just there to support my boyfriend's wonderful and welcoming family. But I was good. I didn't say anything. Basically just for the sake of my boyfriend's sister, for whom I care very much.


  1. Namaskar Aamba,
    I have started reading your blog with great interest since you posted a comment on mine. Perhaps I am naive thinking that Hinduism promotes peace more than Christianity. I know that there will always be extremists, but Hinduism does a lot to discourage it.

    The lack of conflict between very different Hindu sects in India contrasts greatly with the conflicts within Islam and Christianity (Sunni-Shia, Catholic-Protestant, etc.). Hinduism fosters respect for other beliefs, whereas Islam and Christianity foster disrespect, with the "my way is the right way and all others are wrong" attitude.

    Also, look at the various heresy trials within these religions. Compare this with the number of Swamis with differing philosophies and teachings within Hinduism and you will again see how Hinduism's inclusiveness avoids conflict.

    Secondly, every Hindu knows that they will be responsible for their Karma, so a terrorist act which kills innocents will have dire consequences on their future life. Contrast that with Christianity, where it will be completely forgiven, or Islam, where if committed in the name of the religion it will be rewarded.

    On the matter of Smarta seeing God as impersonal, it is possible that I did not fully understand the teachings but this is what I understood of it. Though the Brahman pervades all, it is a force without qualities. Part of the aim of Smartism was to realise that our own nature is without qualities, the dualism of emotions and thoughts does not exist. The aim of moksha was to reach samadhi, a state of pure bliss (ananda) without thought.

    By the way, the Chinmaya Mission West e-vedanta course is a fine and informative course. I don't think this path was right for me, but I am sure that for many people it will be.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog. Aum Shivaya

  2. there are indeed extremist hindus in india. and they are not only running riots but also ignorant and intolerant. but i believe that it was originated from pre-partitioned india and as a reaction to the communal conflicts of that time.

    because i don't hear any historic stories of violence against other non-hindu communities in india. jains, buddhists , zoroastrians , jews, even early muslim traders didn't face any violence or persecution.

    so, may be if europe was hindu then inquisition wouldn't have happened . but other sorts of violence would have.

    since you are discussing west and hinduism this article may interest you -

    - basu

    and thanks for commenting on hell .

  3. Interesting thoughts Amba...Have you read Swami Vivekananda's writings? Perhaps you can try some...I have been reading some online resources of late and trust me its pure magical:).
    I have shared a link below, which might be useful @

  4. Wow, thank you everyone for the links. More material to chew over. I do like that!

    Good point, Tandava, about karma. That should deter people from violence! Also, I think you have smarta right. I can't explain how the lack of qualities and lack of thought makes sense to me. Maybe at some point I'll be able to put that into words!

    Here's hoping that India can make it through the dark period of learning how to rule itself. I would hate to see the world divide into countries for particular religions only. We all benefit from diversity, from discussing our viewpoints, and thereby better understanding ourselves.

  5. Like someone mentioned, read Swami Vivekananda's materials. It's Hinduism in a nutshell. Unfortunately I have to echo with Western Hindu's sentiments regarding the Western world's perception of Hinduism. They all think of us as snake charmers and what not. Even more saddening is the attitude of the christian church.

    While there are fundamentalists in every religion, one has to question why they are the way they are. I'm not knowledgable enough with the Abrahamic religions but for Hinduism and this is purely my opinion, perhaps it could be because of the past, colonialism. If you read Marco Polo's travel about what he had to say about India, he paints a beautiful picture about the country. But when the western invaders came in, they stipped the land bare. Missionaries came in as wolf in sheep's clothing. When your very core being is attacked, people react in undesirable ways.

    I'm Indian Hindu by the way, and I was visiting a church, one of the older women told me that wearing a tilak on the forehead and burning incense at home is pure evil. That was absolutely devastating to hear.

    Anywhoo...well done on the blog. You write very well and your thoughts are interesting. Wish you well.


  6. Sigh. Yeah, missionaries seem like a really bad idea. They help out sometimes, but it's always with a condition. They're going to preach while they're doing it.

    I'm so sorry someone told you tilak and incense are evil, Dhurga. That just seems so insane to me. People just seem to get very afraid of other ways of life. Why it would be a threat to her I can't imagine. Thank goodness I didn't get called out for my bindi at the Catholic church!

  7. Missionaries are a bad idea. All through the years, they've been using fear and picking on the masses weakness as a way to convert. It's just a numbers game for them.

    Yes it was unfortunate that someone told me that tilak and incense are evil. The ignorance is bewildering. But at the end of the day I am who I am, an Indian and someone who practices Sanatana Dharma, and no-one can change that.

    p.s thanks for the reply.


  8. The extremism in Hindus is a reaction to a complex web of political sidelining, terrorist activities and communal acts. This is relatively new in the history of India.
    Also, the concept of Holy War or 'Dharma Yuddha' that you mentioned in Hindu scriptures is not the Holy War/Crusades/Jihad of Islam or Christianity. It is the fight for the victory of good over evil. It is fought for the victory of righteousness over injustice and not with the aim of converting people of other failths at the point of sword/gun.

  9. SM,

    I am sure muslims and christians also say their holy war is a war against injustice and evil. and not to convert people or conquer lands.


  10. Basu,
    Again, evil in Hinduism is different from the evil in Islam and Christianity. This is again due to the differences in philosophies of the religions. I would urge you to study the concepts of evil in these faiths to understand more fully how the Dharma-Yuddha stated in Geeta is different from the Crusades/Jihad.

  11. I do have an earlier post about good and evil in Hinduism. At least in my branch, it is quite different from the Western perspective.

    Also, the idea of Holy War is different. You have a point, SM. The war in the Mahabharata might all be a metaphor for the war within our souls (as Krishna said, "You will not have a choice between war and peace...your choice will be between war and another war." Arjuna asks, "Where will this other war take place, on a battle field or in my heart?" Krishna replies that there isn't a real difference).

    However, people do manage to use stories like this to justify their violence. As in every religion, people who want to be violent find a way to make it look like their religion supports it.

  12. In other of his posts I was startled to find that he makes the argument that if it were Hinduism that had spread like wildfire over the Western world, there would have been no Inquisition or other violence because Hinduism is a tolerant religion.

    Emperor Ashoka did send thousands of buddhist missionaries to the Hellenic world

    There were plenty of Hindu colonies in the Roman Empire

    The greek mathematician Pythagoras visited India and came back a virtual Hindu. He started a new religion, that had vegetarianism and believed in transmigration of souls

    The Hindu god Mitra was very popular in the Roman empire and December 25 was the rebirth of Mitra

    At the time of Constantine, christians were only 2% of the Roman empire
    Constantines mother Helena was a christian and she converted him to christianity and using the power of the Roman army, Constantine and his descendants eradicated Hinduism in the Roman empire using inquisition type methods

  13. litrally dharma doesnt mean religion.
    religion is a modern and narrow concept when compared to ancient word dharma
    dharma was the dutirs assigne to various varnas like brahman did meditation etc,kshatriya were warriors etc
    so his or her karma became his dharma.
    in case of a warrior {arjun} his dharm was to do his karma ie to fight
    hope u understand.

  14. correction

  15. corrected version
    litrally dharma doesnt mean religion.
    religion is a modern and narrow concept when compared to ancient word dharma
    dharma was the duties assigned to various varnas like brahman did meditation etc,kshatriya were warriors etc
    so his or her karma became his dharma.
    in case of a warrior {arjun} his dharm was to do his karma ie to fight
    hope u understand.