Here are some quotes from emails I've received:
There are very, very few people who talk frankly about practicing Hinduism from the non-Indian perspective, and so it's great that you're helping to fill that void...This is one of the first times I've had the opportunity to talk to someone who's gone through something vaguely similar to my own (unfinished) story,
However, as I turned 20, I started to feel more acutely the fact that I was different [from the Indians at temple]. When I was younger, I felt it too, but I could ignore it. That wasn't the case anymore. I felt like I didn't belong, and to be honest I felt a bit foolish. I felt alien, and then confused and disheartened, wondering if I would ever want to go back.
It's not as if I dislike Christianity especially, but I prefer seeing God in all things, not just in a book here or a crucifix there.
So really, Hinduism is simply the Indian version of what Christianity displaced in Europe and North Africa. In other words, it's not just for Indians, or at least it shouldn't be.
I won't lie, I would feel a lot more comfortable if there were a few other non-Indian Hindus around my way (not counting the Hare Krishnas), but it's encouraging just to know that I'm not the only one out there.
I'm also a white Hindu, having come to Sanatana Dharma after a number of years of tumultuous spiritual searching. I've identified as Hindu for only about eight months now.
It can definitely be a lonely path to travel. Sometimes I'm alright with that. Lately, not so much.
Keep writing. It's good to hear from others.
Religious conversion shouldn't be like this. Hopefully people like you and me can gradually help change some attitudes so that those who come after us have an easier time of it.
Also, there is a practical side to being an official and recognized member of a religion. What if my boss requires me to do something in opposition to my beliefs, or expects me to work on a holiday where I should spend the day in prayer and fasting? He will expect some legitimate references, not just scriptural quotations that anyone could produce. What if I want to be part of some group or gathering of Hindus? It will be predominantly, if not entirely, Indian, and I may be expected to site sampradaya, or my teacher, or at least a priest with whom I'm familiar.
I am what I describe to people as “vaguely Hindu.” I wear Western clothing, but have an Ayervedic nose ring. I am a devout yogi but I eat beef (I can’t help it, it just tastes so good, and I don’t eat pork oddly enough). And, of course, I recite the 108 Ganapati Salutations and the Ganapati Mantra.
But your blog is wonderfully written, informed, and conscious of the issues that arise on both cultural sides about conversion.
One person asked about what kind of options there are for an official conversion, so I've done some research on different movements.
First, though, here are two perspectives on Westerners from the message boards at www.HinduNet.com:
February 25, 2010 at 22:27
Well in essence everyone is born a Hindu so its not about converting but it's about awakening to that realization that decides if you are a Hindu or not. Many Indian Hindus are just Hindu in name and that’s it. So Hindu Dharma is not confined to the borders of any country, region or race or even physical form…yes even the animal kingdom are Hindus on some level because they follow the Dharmic laws in accordance to their consciousness. So if you follow and feel you are a Hindu then you are and you should say it openly. These days some Hindu temples do perform ‘Shuddi’ initiation into Hinduism. so the doors are now opening for anyone who wants to become a Hindu..
#58705 - 06/10/04 06:48 PM Re: Cultural Appropriation
Unfortunately, I live in a part of the U.S. where I don't know if that would even work with all people. I remember seeing a post on another thread from someone saying "I am interested in Hinduism, New Age, etc." This is typical of a lot of people in my town -- they think Hinduism, Chinese medicine, Buddhism, and all kinds of "Easternisms" are just a cool, groovy thing -- just like New Ageism. I actually heard someone at a party say once, "Buddhism isn't really a religion, it's more like a way of life." They see only the outer trappings of our religions and beliefs, like the funky South Indian temples, and the nice-smelling incense, and they think they've got it. It's like learning the postures of yoga but never grasping anything about devotion. These people think I should be flattered that Ganesh was on a lunchbox, because it just proves how cool and popular he is! And many of them are equally superficial about other things, like their country or the religion they were raised in, so they wouldn't necessarily care if someone put the flag on a pair of panties, or Jesus on a pair of shoes. In fact, I see things like that all the time around here. I would be very offended if I were extremely patriotic, or a Christian. But I feel like a person raised Christian, for example, can desecrate their own religion if they want to. I just want them to leave mine alone!
This is the branch that our friend at Western-Hindu belongs to. They have an entire book available in hard copy or online called How to Become a Hindu.
These are the steps:
1. Begin practicing Hinduism, performing daily pujas and participating in a community with other Hindu events and rituals.
2. Write a comparison of one's former beliefs or religion to Hinduism. Discuss each promise made in another religion and when and why it was dropped. Present this document to a Hindu elder to show a true understanding of one's undertaking.
3. Sever ties with former religions. You must try to get a letter from any former pastor or rabbi, etc. saying that you have been released from your duty to their path by meeting with them in person and explaining why you are leaving and going to Hinduism. However, first you attend several of the services to see if you really want to leave this religion.
4. A legal name change to a Hindu name and that name should be used in all areas of life.
5. The namakarana samskara is performed. This is a naming ceremony. This must be done by a priest in the sect that you are joining. Also, you must inform your friends and family and have at least three witnesses to the ceremony. (Lots of details about this ceremony in the link above). A certificate will be provided which will help the individual with any times he needs proof of being a Hindu (such as for admittance to certain temples in India).
6. A three-day announcement is placed in a local newspaper telling the name and religion change of the person.
This is something the guru called "Ethical Conversion" and it seems like a great idea for any religion one is going to or from. It makes sure that a person is willingly choosing the new religion and has not been badgered into it and it requires a high level of commitment to the new religion. I think it's a great idea. The only reason I haven't done something like this is because I feel it is disrespectful to my parents to change my name. I might change my mind about that at some point, though.
I haven't been able to find any details about how one joins ISKON (Hare Krishna). If any readers here practice it, I would love to hear from you in the comments. Please tell us how one joins, what kind of conversion process there is, etc.
ISKON does have a bit of a bad reputation. My only experiences with them have made me feel like the Western members are just Christians who basically call Jesus "Krishna." I've only had a couple of interactions, however, so I wouldn't want to judge all of them based on that alone.
Amma is a holy woman who has been touring the world and spreading a teaching of love. She seems to have many Western followers. In fact, I was a bit disappointed when I realized that the only members of the Santana-Dharma group at Ravelry.com were Amma followers. There don't seem to be any other Hindus there!
I don't know if they have any particular conversion, but I know several people spoke of meeting Amma and her giving them a Hindu name. Again, if anyone follows her teachings, I would love to have comments from you about what exactly is involved in joining.
She is called the "Hugging Saint" because she is known for hugging everyone at her talks.
This is something that is part of a movement called Arya Samaj, which is about returning to the Vedic roots of Hinduism and letting go of social class problems and other issues that have come up over time in society but are not part of the Vedas.
One website to learn more about them is Arya Samaj 101.
Their Shuddi is more of a reconversion, for those whose families were originally Hindu and were converted away to Islam or Christianity. It isn't clear whether a white person could undergo this ritual, but they seem to believe that Hinduism is the true religion, so that suggests to me that they would be open to more people joining.
They are working against the practice of untouchability and many Hindus converted away to other religions because they could have full status as people in the other religions. Of course, in Hinduism they should have had that, untouchability being a social construct and not part of the religion, but it is a very ingrained social construct.
I haven't been able to find anything online about what this ritual actual involves or how to do it, but I think I will write to one of the centers and ask them about it as an option for white Hindus.
There is also a really nice essay about why non-Indians should be fully allowed into the Hindu fold here: Becoming a Hindu is Easy