This is a phrase that I hear a lot. It is said that one should stay within the religion of one's birth.
Why is that?
Firstly, because of reincarnation, there are no mistakes with birth. You are exactly where you are supposed to be and facing what you should be facing. Presumably, you would be born into the proper religion and ethnicity for your soul at this time (the same reason given for the caste system).
Secondly, one of the reasons that Hinduism is not a converting religion is that there is the belief in One Mountain, Many Paths. This is another phrase you'll hear a lot! It means that almost everyone believes that there is One Truth (in fact, probably everyone does because really there is a way that the universe is functioning, it isn't functioning multiple different ways at the same time). So, everyone believes that there is One Truth of what is going on in this world, but Hindus believe that there are many different paths one can take to arrive at the same Truth.
Many, many Hindus believe that all the world's religions are valid ways of approaching the same Truth and the same God. (Of course, some do not, and it can be hard when one has a chip on one's shoulder about Christianity and Islam, as some of us definitely do.)
So if you do believe that all the religions are equally valid ways to approach God, what would be the benefit in switching?
Well, I'll tell you!
I personally do believe that all religions and even atheism lead to the same Truth. We all have very different ways of thinking about divinity and the universe and that's why there are so many different options. We, as people, are all different.
Our differences don't really line up along ethnic lines, though. Not all Indians think about the universe and the purpose of life the same way and not all Americans think of it the same way either.
I believe that each of us, as an individual, has a path that speaks to us most clearly and will be the most beneficial way to achieve the purpose of life (whatever that is). Sometimes that is not the path into which we are born.
As my very kind boyfriend has pointed out a few times, if God wanted to experience all varieties of life and created the universe for that purpose, wouldn't He also want to experience the struggle of leaving the religion of birth to find a new path?
I understand that sometimes this can cause great conflict within a family, so that is something to consider if you are converting to another religion. Think about whether the strife or pain it causes is worth it to you. Perhaps try to find the Truth you are seeking within the religion of your parents. But that is not always going to work.
Also, for some of us that is not really a conflict. I've spoken before about my own personal history. It is very hard to pin down what religion I was born to. I know many other people my age in this country who were raised without religion. Not necessarily with atheism, but rather with a neutral base so that the child can decide for him or herself what religion to follow. This, it seems to me, leads to a lot of confusion and difficulty for the child who has no religion, which is why I intend to give my kids a good strong base before they go off and explore their own beliefs, but nonetheless, it means that there are a number of young adults now who have no religion of their birth.
We each make our choices in life, weighing how individual we are going to be versus what considerations our family needs. We rarely make perfect choices. Sometimes there are no perfect answers and sometimes we just make mistakes. But if we were already perfect, there would be no need for a manifest world at all. (Although, at the same time, we are already perfect and everything that happens is perfectly as it should be...there I go being ambivalent again.)
The thing I believe most firmly of all is that we cannot make choices for others. Each of us is responsible to make the choices in life and if we see someone else on a path we think is wrong, we can talk to that person and try to understand, but their choice is ultimately their own. All this is to say that we cannot know if another person's life is going to lead him to leave the religion of his birth and pursue another. He needs to be free to do that in order to try and experience and see if that brings him the peace he needs.
Hinduism being my chosen path, it is easy to get somewhat jealous of born Hindus because any time they want to become religious, the religion I adore is there waiting for them as the legitimate religion of their birth. However, then I remember that I don't believe that our ethnicity lines up with our religious path and there are some born Hindus who might do better in another religion and they are free to choose that as well.
It might be the American in me that focuses so much on choice, but I am not willing to sit this life out while I wait to be born into an ethnically Hindu home.