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 This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Monday, August 23, 2010

Eat Pray Love

I got an email from another white Hindu who was a bit concerned about this movie that's just come out.

Would the character flirting with Indian philosophy as part of her three-country tour reflect badly on the rest of us non-Indian Hindus. Would it reignite the idea of us not being serious about it?

The subject of the movie, based on a memoir, is a woman in her mid-thirties, who has a crisis in her life and goes out into the world to find peace. She goes to Italy, then India, then Bali in search of a happy life.

I went to see this movie with my mother this past weekend and I was very pleasantly surprised.

I enjoyed it very much and it seemed to open my heart back up to the joy of the search for meaning. The most powerful moment for me was when she was getting ready to leave India (where she had been living in an ashram) and she summed up her experience there by saying she had learned that "God dwells in you, as you." This image you have of what a spiritual person looks like isn't a real person. You are not the silent, ethereal, angel floating around being nauseatingly spiritual all the time. That's not God. God is you exactly as you are (the person we imagine we should be is Ingrid Bergman in The Bells Of St. Mary, as the character says).

That spoke to me deeply. I feel I have been going through some similar issues to what this woman was dealing with. It seemed as though she was addressing me directly. She was working to find the balance between being spiritual and enjoying life.

I am always trying to be my vision of what a spiritual or enlightened person should look like and it is exhausting.

I was so inspired by the movie that I went the next day to buy the book. I'm more than half way through it now and it is astoundingly good. I've underlined almost every page and I want to just quote the entire thing for you!

I highly recommend it. She has wonderful and very insightful descriptions of meditation. She tells it like it is, as a real person, discovering her soul for the first time.

One thing that is not so clear in the movie is that she has been practicing Hinduism for two years before she arrives at that ashram. India is not just a random stopover for her in the midst of a world tour, it is deeply personal and meaningful.

I know the guru that she speaks of. I'm familiar with that school, though she doesn't name it. She is still a devote of that guru as far as I can tell. I doubt that she labels herself as a Hindu, but she certainly practices advaita and practices it with great sincerity. It may be that she is beyond the need for labels, while I am not yet. I know that someday I will need to let go of the label and be universal, but right now I really need the label of "Hindu."

In fact, the author has more claim than I to Hinduism in some ways, since she actually went to India and lived at the ashram for four months.

And so I think that Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert fits into our rag-tag little group. If she ever stumbled upon this blog, I would welcome her heartily as another American, non-Indian Hindu. I would give her a guest aarti and feed her chai and chaat.

Inspired by the book, I plan to do a few different posts on subjects that she made me reflect on, such as how prayer works, cherry-picking religion, and how we are imperfect and perfect at once.

I feel better than I've felt in months, refreshed with energy to tackle my meditation again, and to look for a mantra that suits me better. It's cliche to say, but these last months have been very dark for me. I didn't ever lose faith or my beliefs, but I did distance myself from God and from those beliefs as I dealt with the grief and rage of losing a dear friend. I can feel myself starting to find my way back, though, back to the traditions and practices that will heal me. I thank Elizabeth Gilbert for her book because she really showed how spiritual practices work for a real person, not just a monk or a holy person.


  1. Hi
    I have been reading your blog for some time now. I am from India. Its interesting that u r hindu. in this post u say that u really need this label hindu. may i ask why ? just curious..

    newton (not my name)

  2. I'm not entirely sure why. It's something that I felt a deep lack of as a child. I always wanted a label, a way to understand my place in the world.

    I have a brief post about it here:

  3. hi aamba

    thanks for reply. i am from hindu background but over the years i felt this hindu label which muslims put on us is probably problematic. in india there r countless debates what is hindu , what is not hindu. ancient indians didn't feel the need for such label. its sad it has stuck


  4. Namaste Aamba,

    I really liked the book, so I am glad you enjoyed the movie. I don't know if there is ever an end to "all Hindus" taking us seriously. My husband and I have been going to a particular temple for 15 years now, got married there, had all the traditional ceremonies for our son, and still some people infer we are just "experimenting"- LOL. Worry about what your friends and teachers say and ignore the rest- we have the respect of the priests and our elders and that's what matters :) Besides you can't really base your life on needing approval from others who may not be half as serious as you are. Tomorrow they may be learning from your example. Om shanti...

    S Radha

  5. Nice that you reviewed the movie.
    I will try to find some weekend to watch it.

    The most enthusiastic indians about this film are actually the tourism department of govt. of India.
    they are treating it like a free advertisement of their incredible India campaign.

    - basu

  6. Basu, I hope that the movie does drum up some interest in India in the West. The scenes there are chaotic and joyful and caused my mother to whisper, "Yes, India was exactly like that." (She has been, I have not).

    Ms. Radha, Every day I work on trying not to need the approval of others! A very hard lesson. It's true that really all we can do is keep on showing up. The people who really matter to us will see our sincerity.

    Newton, I think labels are always problematic. Yet, they can also be so useful. In ancient times the Indians did not have contact with many other groups and they didn't have the same diversity of religion. It can't work that way anymore, there are so many religions and ethnicities in India and in the world. We have to have something to call ourselves, but I think we also need to make sure that we are defining what our label is and what it means, not letting someone else tell us what it means to be Hindu.

  7. aamba

    there is a book written by a belgian scholar, koenraad elst. "who is a hindu ? "

    look here

    the book explores complicated question , who is a hindu.. nice book


  8. newton,
    the highest court in India has clarified once for all: Hindus are those who believe in Vedas.That was back in 1950s.

  9. S Radha,

    as a brown and born hindu (sic)I am sorry about the ill treatment you receive from fellow hindus. Could that be racism of some sorts?

    the one and only way to remedy this is to pursue your goals, why even lot of brown hindus dont even know about hindu texts, besides you dont need anyones approval or recognition, i know it helps if you are embraced with love. But I hope the dumb people will change their attitudes. 15 years is a longtime

  10. hello surya

    please read the book listed by me. its interesting discussion there. supreme court is not ultimate authority.. by the way many jains consider themselves hindu and VHP also considers jains hindus. and jains don't believe in vedas.
    also the legal definition of "Hindu" in india includes jains, buddhists, sikhs too.
    so its quite complicated issue.


  11. The question of who is a Hindu is quite a sticky one! I'm not sure that a court will ever find a totally satisfactory answer. It would almost be a shame to find a solid answer, since one of the beautiful things about Hinduism is how vast, sprawling, and diverse it is!

  12. Newton,
    i read a few pages on his weblink, he is good alright but seems like a split personality. One minute he stands with hindus and next minute takes a swipe at them. See if you can find a stronger alliance in FRANCOIS GAUTIER, a French Indian, who stayed back in India abandoning his original objective of proselytization, he, instead fell in irreversible love with Bharat. The dumb hindus dont give him the recognition he deserves...Suurya

  13. i hope that aamba doesn't end up being FRANCOIS GAUTIER or koenraad elst!

    the fact that he didn't get much recognition outside a certain circle is a proof that hindus are not dumbs.

    anyway talking about books, i will recommend "nine lives" by william dalrymple.

    - basu

  14. hinduism is the only faith that truly understand life.

    first of all caste system in its conception was to control the people through division of labour to create society and culture. India for almost 5000years was the richest land on earth, romes treasury was emptied every year to indian kings in return for silk, spices, diamond jewellery so and so on. Roman governers would argue with their state for virutally giving away their wealth to india. Alexander the great went to india to find the riches and wisedom of the greatest civilisation india. The chinese culture is rooted in indian hindu, buddist , yoga culture...martial arts went from india to china, sankrit is the father language of all european langauges which was created in india, the wealth that made europe start the industrial revulution was looted from india. indian culture as never spread though wars, yet from iran to indonesia indian culture was readily adopted and taken, even to this day south east asia is deeply rooted to it......and to think their even evidence to sugget that jesus christ himself for the first 30 yrs of this life was educated in non violence, peace, tolreance by indian sadhus has merit....india never once used slavery and genocide never....that why tody africa is in a war between arab muslims and white christians by black african...a disgrace of ideology that kills millions. Indias poverty is diretly linked to the 150 yrs of british rule wher their literally ROBBED THE LAND DRY...india is the source..and if julia roberts goes to hinduism she will DEFINNTALY have faith in a system that has been part of mankind since the first days of civilisation. julia robeerts will truly understand life and its meaning with a cultre so deep so rich that no even muslims or christians where able to convert..........morally, spiritually,, and even socially india and its faith, hindu, buddist, sikh and jain are faaarrr superior in every way to abarhanic faiths..if jesus was alive today he will say he was a man of dharma......not abrham,