A new blog I found, The Big, Bad, Blonde Bahu Blog (Bahu meaning daughter-in-law) had a really interesting post on the subject of Western Hindus. I've quoted part below, but you should really go and read the whole thing.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments.
I’ve never known what to think of Westernized versions of Hinduism. One way a person could think of it is that it’s just another aspect of multi-culturalism—people being open to a variety of religious traditions. One could also think about it as profoundly disrespectful. It could be seen as appropriation, or as a friend of mine recently put it, “using other people’s religion or culture as a playground for rich white people." Most Indians I know openly mock Westerners who take on Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism).
Then she tells the story of her first taste of American Hinduism, which involves chanting to a far-off guru and giving money.
...What bothered me most was what came next. The woman took out a square of carpet from a wooden box and placed a pair of sandals on it. The square of carpet, she told us, came from the actual meditation chamber of the actual guru. Some of the audience oh-ed and ah-ed as she placed it in on the floor under the guru’s photo. The woman then invited us to meditate silently while thinking of the guru. She told us that after we had finished our meditation, we could come up and touch the square of carpet, either with our heads or our hands, and then we were free to leave money if we wanted to.
I will say, I have been to similar sorts of things and felt very uncomfortable. I understand the path of devotion, but I'm a little creeped out by devotion to a guru that one has never met.
Actually hearing the guru speak and thinking he has a great philosophy, then I wouldn't be too surprised by people performing devotions to his sandals or the carpet.
Maybe because I'm wary of that mocking that she speaks of, I'm reluctant to be part of events that are all non-Indians. I don't trust a non-Indian to lead a Hindu group. (In general. There are exceptions to this, but I'm very, very cautious of them).
At the end she hangs out with the child of one of these people who says it is more his parents thing than his. That will probably be my kid some day. I hope I'm not that far out there for my poor kids!
What do you all think about the “using other people’s religion or culture as a playground for rich white people"?