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Thursday, June 17, 2010

And another perspective

There are so many different perspectives on these issues and I find it fascinating to gather all the different view points together in one place. I think it is clear that there is not one right answer and people's feelings about white Hindus depend a lot on their own background and interpretations as well as the unique individual who is trying to follow Hinduism.

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"?


  1. I've heard this critique about white Buddhists, too. Asian Buddhists are not charmed by white people embracing their faith, either, and sneer at popular Buddhist publications, written and edited mostly by white people, and the ads are all for expensive Buddhist retreats, and expensive Zafus and designer malas and costly Buddha statues for the garden... no wonder. Only rich people, it seems, can afford to be Buddhist.

    It pained me to read this post. Not again. White people just don't belong! Well, look, not all white people belong, I guess. I don't go for the ganga-smoking, Krishna is my Om Boy tee shirt wearing, barefoot groover as Hindu. Most Indian Hindus I know or have ever seen are not like that.

    I would probably never have chosen Hinduism as my own religion has I not met and fallen in love with and married an Indian Hindu. So I got into it by marriage and out of respect to him and to his family, I follow his faith, having never had a close tie to my own religious heritage.

    There is a lot of truth, though, to the notion that bored rich white people seek spiritual thrills by "following" Eastern religions. They are colorful and spicy and exotic. (But I wonder why no one bats an eyelash when an Indian or other Asian or any other non-white person embraces Christianity or Islam and a "western" lifestyle... Is that appropriation?)

    I found serious Hinduism the first time I went to India and traveled with DH (darling hubby) to a well-known pilgrimage temple in the south, and spent a night there and got up at the crack of dawn to wait in hours-long lines to do the puja and then see the main deity (have a darshan). What I saw of real humanity, rich, poor, sick, young, healthy, dying, and the devotion there in the inner sanctum, was something that a rich white person probably can't access in the same way in a cushy resort on a beach in Goa or Kerala, having $1,000 ayurvedic treatments, and the like. I have to admit, as a white (dare I say it) Hindu, even I have to sneer at that.

    The culture part, I haven't figured out for myself yet. I am from Appalachia, and we have a rich, deep culture there that we are proud of. I can't erase that and pretend to be something I am not. I am not Indian. I never will be. I have great respect for Indian culture, and I have great respect for my own. For me, I have to be able to separate the Indian culture from my practice of Hinduism for it to work as my "own" religion.

    But I do understand the point. I am very cautious about following anyone who is a "guru", too, Indian or Western.

  2. "What do you all think about the “using other people’s religion or culture as a playground for rich white people"?"

    I think it is a profoundly ugly point of view; cynical, jaded and sad.

    Christianity is an Eastern religion. My European ancestors stole it 1500 years ago, but does that make it any less stolen? Jesus was not European, and even my most ancient Irish ancestors could not have begun to understand the cultural milieu in which Jesus lived and preached.

    No one owns Hinduism, anymore than they own any other faith. Every great religion is a gift from the Lord. Who is any man or woman to decide that another is not worthy of that gift?

    In the most widely loved Hindu scripture, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna tells us that none are more or less dear to Him, that He is the Lord of the universe, that He dwells in the hearts of all. He does not say that Indians are more dear to Him than Americans, that He is the Lord of the Indian sub-continent, or that He dwells in the heart of every Indian.

    I hope for acceptance and I hope for friendship, but I will never be influenced by the discouragement of Hindus or non-Hindus, Indians or Americans. I will pray to Sri Krishna that I may attain complete devotion to Him, and through that devotion, love for all. If He does not want my belief and my worship, that is only for Him to say.

    And for what it's worth, my family is far from rich. We're barely lower middle class.

  3. I agree with the other posters who have said what I thought much more eloquently than I could manage. I honestly can't figure out which part of that statement (the 'rich white folks playground' comment or the "Indians mock westerners with eastern religions" part) I find more personally offensive because they're both so hateful. I guess as a white girl (of Eastern European descent)with dreads who wears Indian clothing & jewelry and is a mix-mosh of Buddhist/Hindu/Pagan/etc etc religion/philosophy that the whole 'cultural appropriation" business has been sort of done to death and is something that I tire of discussing. I always find it intriguing though that ONLY Americans (or "white folks")can "steal" other people's cultures... as if we ALL have absolutely no respect for anyone else and couldn't possibly be doing x for a good reason. I'm also (like you) exhausted by the notion that because I'm a "white girl" I must have this horribly romantic notion of how things are in other parts of the world (especially India) because I haven't been there to "see the other side" first hand. *sigh*

  4. I am a Hindu Brahmin, and let me give my perspective
    *The largest Hindu temple is in Cambodia, Angkor Vat
    *Bali has millions of non-Indian Hindus
    *There is a caste of oriental looking brahmins in Thailand, descended from Hindu brahmins and Thai women
    *Within recorded history, during the last 500 years, tens of millions of Ahoms and Manipuris, originally from Yunnan China were accepted enmasse into Hinduism
    *The only opposition comes from certain temple priests in Orissa
    *In Tirupati temple, which has 20 million visitors a year, any non-Hindu who signs a register, accepting faith in the local deity is admitted in
    *Hinduism Today, a very mainstream sect, is run by white Hindus and they do offer ethical conversion
    *Serious converts are welcome but we dont want new age type dabblers
    *Hindu parents object to their children marrying whites due to non-vegetarian diet and christian religion. And to remove these factors, many white people do convert to Hinduism

  5. Just when I feel like throwing in the towel and giving up on Hinduism, I read the comments here and am reminded that I need to get over myself.

    I loved every word that Art wrote, about not caring a whit about what anyone, Indian or otherwise, has to say about his religious beliefs. If only this weren't such a daily battle for me! (I guess I would only say that Christianity was sort of handed to us Europeans by the kings and emperors, not necessarily that we stole it...)

    The Hindu Brahmin who posted gave examples of non Indian Hindus, like the Balinese and the Nepalese - how is this okay and not okay when we white people find Hinduism in the marketplace of ideas? Yes, the Tirupati temple still allows white people in. Madurai Meenakshi no longer does, I hear, which is sad, since I went once, and will probably never be able to go again. And if you are white and want to have darshan in the temples in Kanchipuram, forget it. They will tell you to your face that you are not Hindu, stay out! So it's not just Orissa. Hinduism Today is interesting because it is run by westerners. Sometimes I feel it's almost trying too hard, trying to be more Indian than most Indians. But I have enormous respect for what they do.

    And I have to agree with what Mouse said, too: this bashing of white converts to Hinduism and cultural appropriation is tiresome. It is politically correct to bash white people. Fine. But what I have seen in my travels - and I'm not trying to say that I'm a better Hindu because I've been to India. It's just that hubby's family lives there, so we go - what I have seen in my travels is that all over the world there are rich people. There are poor people. There are greedy jerks and materialistic swine, and people who will cheat their parents for their share of the inheritance, and have no respect for their elders, and who swear they keep to their strictly religious diet and then go cheat, and yes, these are Indians and other Asians who do this.

    And there are people who are so compassionate and forgiving and generous and loving you could weep.

    In the end, brown skinned, white skinned, who CARES? We are all human, all subject to the making the same bad decisions or all capable of rising to our highest impulses. Your brown skin and my white skin doesn't say one damned thing about who's better and who's worse as a human being, and thus who's eligible to be Hindu or not.

    Seeing that we are all the same has made me realize that I, as a white German-Jewish-Norwegian-Lutheran woman, am no better and no worse than an Indian Hindu, or a Japanese Buddhist or a Brazilian practioner of Candomble. So if I want to call myself a Hindu, and you don't like it, just go busy yourself with your prayers and I'll do the same.

    This is the thing that got me - when Art said it's up to God alone to decide if we are or are not worthy to accept Hinduism.

  6. Personally I have never thought that Indians were mocking me. Perhaps I am lucky in that I am fairly dark-skinned for an English person and with dark hair a lot of Indians have assumed that either my mother or my father was Indian. I know that my wife does feel "out of place" sometimes, and thinks that people are staring. She puts this down to having fair hair and very pale skin, and immediately being obviously different to most worshippers.

    Personally I feel that if someone finds something funny or to mock about anybody going to a temple, worshipping God and the Devas, and showing reverence to the Pandit Ji then this is their problem.

    Someone once told my wife that you do get some Hindus that are unhappy about non-Indians going to the temple, because as well as being a place of worship it is a cultural refuge. They are surrounded by Western culture all the time, and see the temple as a place where they can get away from this. Most of these people will be accepting when they see that you are there to worship. The woman who told my wife this said she thought that genuinely spiritual Hindus would be accepting very quickly, whereas those who were "social Hindus" may always have difficulty with non-Indians.

    Also, one of the Indians who attends regularly told me that he liked me coming because it meant than he wasn't the only outsider! He came from Kolkatta and spoke very little Hindi, so he had to speak to the other Hindus in English just like me. Most Hindus at our Mandir are Hindi and Punjabi speakers.

  7. @CS
    The Hindu Brahmin who posted gave examples of non Indian Hindus, like the Balinese and the Nepalese - how is this okay and not okay when we white people find Hinduism in the marketplace of ideas?

    In the case of Balinese, Nepalese, the whole society took up Hindu culture, and Hinduism is more easily adaptible to absorbing large masses as another caste, than on an individual basis
    Hinduism is more about action than faith
    so people look for things like vegetarianism, non-beef eating, learning sanskrit, than which deva you worship


    Hinduism and white people go back thousands of years. The Heliodorus column, built 200BC was built by a white greek devotee of Krishna

    There were plenty of Hindu settlements in the Roman empire, until the christians exterminated them after 300AD

    'Saint Gregorius' was famous for demolishing Hindu temples in the Roman Empire

    Christians hijacked Dec 25, from the Hindu God Mitra ( a vedic solar deity )
    who was very popular in the Roman Empire


    Most Hindus of the older generation, cannot distinguish between white person and christian

    Saint Francis Xavier of Goa, set up the Inquisition and thousands of Hindu men, women and children were tortured and killed . Hundreds of Hindu temples were demolished and churches built on top of them

    The portuguese catholics even looted the Tirupathi temple
    The SanThome church in Chennai is built on the original Kapaleeswarar temple

    The british protestants siezed Hindu temple land and jewels. The Kohinoor diamond was stolen by the british from Orissa temple and in general harassed Hindus and encouraged conversion, since the neo-converts were loyal to the colonialists

    Christian missionaries entered temples and abused Hindu religion
    This led to a ban on non-Hindus entering Hindu temples
    Even now, occasionally missionaries enter Hindu temples and preach against Hinduism ( which leads to reprisal riots )

    After 1500AD, when Indian Hindus saw a white person, they were classified as Mlecha ( foreign barbarian ), due to colonial atrocities which had a very heavy anti-Hindu pro-christian conversion angle

    Hindus will be more receptive to white people when their association with christianity fades away, as is slowly happening in the west

    The temple entry rules vary per local temple and if you have a local contact, they can get you in

  8. I agree with all the points that have been raised by Anonymous. Unfortunately Hindu's especially the older generation associate pre and colonial activites with White folks. And like he or she said, until it fades away. But that being said, it is not the fault of post colonial white generation.

    Whenever I see a Non-Indian Hindu, I love them for their sincerity, and the love for all things Indian. Infact I personally think some of them have far greater respect and love for Hinduism than Indian Hindus. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If the love and respect for Hinduism is genuine, go for it =)

  9. The caste heirarchy is strongly related to vegetarianism. Upper castes are vegetarian, backward castes eat meat, whereas only the very lowest castes eat beef. Castes that wish to raise their heirarchical rank, give up beef, meat and turn vegetarian
    This process is called Sanskritisation

    Hinduism Today, run by white Hindu gurus, very strongly pushes vegetarianism

    A white Hindu who eats beef would be considered a new age type dabbler, whereas a vegetarian white non-Hindu would be respected, and even better if they start learning sanskrit

    Hinduism is about Dharma, which is right action, and not about belief

  10. Sounds like it's a good thing I'm going veg again!

  11. It was interesting reading everyone's experiences. I think the reason some western Hindus get stared in a temple is because
    some of us Indians are curious about what motivated them to come to a temple. Some of us who had bad experiences with Christian conversions will be wary and cautious. But I really haven't come across any Indian Hindus who mocks Westerners for believing in Hinduism.
    And I also did not understand what is meant by "Hinduism is about right action, not about beliefs." (!!?)
    Dharma is nothing without its philosophies, without its spiritual experiences. There can be no right action if there is no Viveka, i.e. the ability to discriminate between the right and the wrong. And this discrimination comes only from the philosophies.

  12. And I also did not understand what is meant by "Hinduism is about right action, not about beliefs." (!!?)

    The beliefs of Hindus vary widely even within a caste, however, their behavior pattern usually follows a pattern

    1. to be a true hindu respect your parents and love every living creature equally.

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  14. Sorry, to clarify, So does that mean that one isn't a Hindu just by believing oneself to be, one has to follow it through with right action?

  15. Yes I think one has to follow it up with action. This is because, jnana and anushtaanam are the two important things that are emphasised in Hinduism by many traditions. you must have knowledge of the philosophy including the dharma and continuously work towards it. For eg, there are many big-mouthed people who talk about karma yogam etc but do not do even a single sandhyavandhanam in a day. This then becomes pretentious non-sense.

    However, I am not sure what specific dharmas a white hindu must follow but atleast the daily pooja, going to temple when possible, chanting sthotrams, helping the needy etc.

  16. Amba, the reason why Hindus are wary of White Hindus is because a blog like yours. I don't see your musings/questions on any central tenets/beliefs of Hinduism. All I see is whether to wear salwar kameez/bindi etc, that sari is oppression because married women were 'forced' to wear it. It looks and sounds very superficial. To other Hindus it does not seem like you are getting the essensce of Hinduism. Agreed not many Hindus get it either but they don't have to prove anything.

    I am a Hindu living in Canada for 10 years. I hardly wear my Indian dress except occassionaly over summer and during festivals. But I am still a Hindu because I believe that there are 3 ways of reaching God: Devotion, knowledge & Renownciation. I believe in doing my dharma (I haven't cultivated the mind to do it selflessly), the responsibilities I have in this life: in my profession, as a wife, daughter, mother. And I believe that my ultimate aim is to release my soul from the cycle of life and birth and merge my soul with God and if I try to live a better life this birth, I can be born as a more evolved soul next birth and so a step closer to being free from the cycle of birth and death.

    When people dabble in any religion and don't 'get' the religion and you can't blame the people to get irritated. It would be the same with any other religion.

  17. I didn't realize that my deep knowledge of Hinduism was not clear. I apologize for that.

    I started this blog because the aspect of my life that I was having trouble with were the cultural, the fitting in, the society parts.

    My religion is rock solid. I have no issues with it.

    I grew up with Hinduism. I was read the Gita as a child. I learned Vedic prayers as a toddler. I have always devoutly believed in reincarnation and in breaking the cycle of birth and death. I live my entire life based on that.

    I definitely am not dabbling.

  18. Here are some of my posts about things other than clothes:

  19. Madurai allows white people.
    Many temple except GURUVAYOOR allows whites. But GURUVAYOOR Allows hindus, budhists, jains and OFFICIAL converts only. You see a famous Indian singer who hasnt convertd to enter temple. There s no Racism here, its just some priest who dnt allow it and the temple governance s under government.
    We Hindus in kerala ,who are hard core fans of this singer tried and failed to let hm into temple.
    ITS THE PSEUDO SECULAR GOVERNMENTS , AND SOME CORRUPTED PRIESTS, influenced by some missionaries WHO DOESN'T LIKE WESTERNS FOLLOWING HINDUISM, are behind such activities. AM SAYING Coz i knw dirty politics here.

  20. the true meaning of hindism is love.the hindu diety parvati represents power or life force.all children get a part of h life force of their mothers when they are born.that is why mothers who give birth to many children die early.when angry parvati becomes kali who destroys everything around her.kali represents a mother whose family has been hurt.hindus have 4 crore gods because everything that helps us is god and every being is god.the entire universe is the manifestation of the supreme lord who we worship in many ways.

  21. hinduism is a religion of love.we have 4 crore gods.this is because everything that helps us is considered as a god.the supreme god has its manifestation in everything.example-the hindu godess parvati represents power.she is a mother who gives birth to her child.when the child is born he\she recieves a part of their mothers life force.hence mothers who give birth to many children die respect every mother in this world we worship mother parvati.

  22. Posting a bit late into the game... I think it's interesting that it's thought Hinduism is appropriated by rich white people. I don't consider myself poor by any means, as I am able to leave well with what I have, but I am extremely far from rich, not even within the realm of middle class as far as income is concerned. And yet I'm "dabbling" in Hinduism. Not for exotic fun, but for spiritual happiness and calm and purpose in my life. Much the same reason anyone joins a religion. It just so happens this is the one that speaks to me.