The White Hindu has moved

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 This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Monday, February 28, 2011

To Achieve Before Dying

I worry a lot (actually, I could end the sentence there) about feeling accomplished in my life. I have a fear of dying without feeling satisfied by what my life was.

I've had the sense from the time I was around ten years old of my life draining away. Like in The Last Unicorn (which, if you haven't read it, is an awesome and very philosophical book). The unicorn, who is immortal, has to be disguised in a human body through magic. Her first experience of being human is the feeling of decay, she says she can feel the body dying around her and it terrifies her. (Eventually she spends so much time in the human body that she forgets what she really is and is afraid to go back).

But anyway, this feeling of my life slipping away has made me very ambitious. For some reason, though, we always focus on the things we don't have or haven't done. I've written books and short stories and I've dipped deeply into myself to write about spirituality. I hope that my writing has touched lives and will continue to do so.

It never feels like enough. No matter how much I am doing, it is never good enough. I still panic when I think of facing my deathbed and I don't know what it will take for me to feel at peace with leaving this life.

I had a brief reprieve from it when Ilana died. It seemed that she had done enough in her life, though it wasn't much more than I and I've been granted more time than she. There was a sense of peace with her that she had been wonderful and perfect and done everything she needed to do. (Even though I still wanted her here and could have continued to use her help and advice).

What is enough? How do we learn to feel satisfied with what we've done/are doing?

Friday, February 25, 2011


Mrs. BBBB is at it again with fascinating, thought-provoking posts. Jubeee at My USA Life has also been talking about feminism.

I have a different relationship with feminism, I think. Despite growing up in the 1980s in America, I did not get the same post-70s messages of equality.

I used to be against feminism.

I was taught, and fully believed, that feminists and women who fought against social expectations of them were pathetic, lonely, overly masculine, and would bring only misery to themselves.

I followed the rules. I was a good girl, ready to be quiet and submissive. I saw that as a spiritual practice. I was taught that if I was a good girl, I would get the things I wanted in life: a husband and children and spiritual enlightenment.

Yet here I am, turning 29 in April and I don't have those things. I did everything right and I still somehow became an independent woman, living on my own, with no family. But, as horrified as younger me would be by my life, I like it. I'm happy with my choices. And grateful to have choices, which I came to realize is what feminism is all about.

It hit me hard to realize that the women who end up alone, who don't marry and don't have families, are not always there by choice. It isn't necessarily because they were too focused on a career and let life pass them by or whatever other lies women tell to make themselves feel better about the sad realities around us. Some women want a husband and a family and don't get it. And it's not their fault. There's nothing they should have been doing differently. That is a harsh and difficult idea to swallow. As a society we like to come up with reasons why they ended up that way so that we can avoid those things and be okay. It's how we get kept in line, too. We hear, if you are a good girl and follow the rules, you get satisfaction and fulfillment. If you are fill-in-the-blank-with-any-non-society-approved-personality-trait you will be miserable and alone. So, you better behave yourself.

I bought into that and I worked really hard at being the good girl. I didn't work on a career, I planned to marry and be a stay at home wife. So, here I am almost thirty and I don't have a career or a family, I have nothing but my dog and my soul-searching (which are certainly not bad things to have!)

You will see the words "I was taught" a lot in this post. I'm beginning to understand some of my upbringing as brainwashing.

I wonder if I would still be the way I am now if I had been married off young. They say that if women go unmarried too long they become stubborn, strong-willed and difficult. And I am those things! I wonder if I had married at 18 as planned if my stronger personality still would have shown up and asserted itself at some point. I'm thinking that's why young marriages fail so often. Because becoming strong-willed and stubborn isn't just for single girls, I think it happens to young married girls too just as part of getting older.

I am no longer in touch with the people who taught me these things and I don't know whether the things I think I want are really my wants or what I was told to want. I was taught that women's experience of the divine is through their husbands. Their husbands are their gurus, their husbands are worshiped as their Lord. This was the best kind of woman, she who devoted herself selflessly to her husband with no thought of herself. Like Yajnavalkya's wife Maitreyi, who followed him into a life of poverty to find spiritual wealth.

Selfless service, humility, lack of vanity, silence, lack of opinion. Those were valued qualities in my world. It turns out that I am too big a personality to fit in that box. I always thought I was fitting in the box and I couldn't understand why I was so unhappy.

I wonder if any one of us actually fits into the submissive, good girl box. Some of us have no choice. I'm lucky that I do have choice, even when those close to me say that I should sacrifice personal fulfillment for a socially acceptable match, even when people I trust still say that is the path to spiritual joy. "People do it all the time. What do you think arranged marriage is? It's learning to live with what you've got, not desire more." Stop wanting more, be happy with what we give you.

A strong personality is emerging in me. This is why I go back and forth so much and feel so torn. I have not fully grown into the new person I am discovering within myself.

There's part of me that wants to be patted on the head and praised for being a good girl. But the fact is, no matter how hard I tried to be that girl when I was growing up, I never did it well enough. There was always something I was criticized for, there were no pats on the head, there were only comparisons to other girls who were better than me.

Another personality is showing up as the brainwashing wears off and I think this strong-willed, irreverent, dark-humored person is the real me.

I've fought it all my life because I thought I should be the other one. "Should" doesn't have a place in my life any more. Everything is about what is, not what should be. Yet I don't fully know what that looks like. I am still a people-pleaser, especially with the people who were a strong presence in my childhood. I can't snap my fingers and make that go away.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

For Dhurga

Reader Dhurga is the one who talked me into buying the sari that I wore for the temple dedication. This is the first time I wore it. It's my first sari with a matching blouse!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Same End

It was strange to me during this trip to realize that I'm not the only one who has gone this direction with the background I have.

What I mean by that is this:

One of the people we went to India with was a leader in the organization I grew up in. I always found him intimidating and a little scary, didn't really get to know him at all. This trip I got a chance to talk to him and really enjoyed his company.

He has been traveling to India frequently and meeting with the guru there. He said that if he had to give a label for himself, he would consider himself a Hindu. He participates in the culture and does his best to fit in when there.

This all started about seven years ago, which strangely is exactly the same time I started identifying as Hindu.

I was out in California, on my own, and just discovering that my beliefs were Hindu beliefs and beginning to explore Indian culture and trying to figure out where I fit in. At the exact same time, this other person was doing something very similar!

This person totally understands that I'm not ready for a guru, understands much better than my parents. He did say, though, that he has come to believe in the guru's grace. I had an experience that has me thinking I might be starting to believe it too.

I can't go into too much detail without revealing information that I don't want to be on this blog, but something happened right after we went to see the guru that helped my mother to accept and deal with something in my life that has been a source of a lot of conflict. It was very unexpected and startling and I don't know whether to chalk it up to a coincidence or to believe in something more. I'm going to sit with it for a while and see what I think.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Not Ready for a Guru

I've been more scarred by my childhood than I realized.

My parents went to India to see their guru. They didn't seem to realize that I wasn't there for the same reason. I was in India just to be in India. I feel that I carry my spirituality with me and I don't need to be in a particular place for it and I don't need my relationship with God mediated through a third party. My parents seemed upset and disappointed that I wasn't thrilled at the idea of going to see the guru three times a day while we were in Sringeri.

I didn't feel comfortable prostrating to him, I don't know him and he doesn't know me. I find that there is a lot of mistrust in my gut.

This is a natural stage to go through. Particularly because I put a lot of trust and faith in certain figures of authority when I was growing up and I was crushed to find them mere human beings. I feel betrayed in some ways and it has left me very skeptical of gurus and having a lot more faith in myself than in anyone else.

I'm sure this guru is legit. He is part of an incredible lineage. He has good credentials. He came recommended by someone who did his taxes! He comes recommended not only from my parents, but also a good friend of ours who tends to be skeptical and pragmatic like me. He says he has seen the grace of the guru work in his life.

But even if he is a great guru, I am not at all ready to let someone into my heart in that way.

I also don't know about being connected to a guru who lives so far away and who doesn't speak the same language as me. Apparently I just need his grace and his energy, but I would like to be connected to a guru I could communicate with, who I felt understood me and what I'm going through.

They say, when you are ready a guru will appear.

I am not ready yet. There is a guru available and a lot of good reason to go with it, but I can't do it yet. I need my time and my space to feel comfortable again with trust.

Tomorrow I'll have a bit more to say about some of the interesting experiences with the guru himself.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

General Impressions

I'll have a number of different posts on my India trip. I thought I would start out with an overview.

I loved it.

I felt very comfortable in India. It met my expectations exactly. It seemed like I had been there before. I really do think I lived there in another life. I know, everyone says that, reincarnation is a good excuse for these sort-of feelings!

We spent a week touring and shopping. It was awesome to be in a place where the cultural references were all familiar! Our hotel in Bangalore was right next to Garuda mall, for example.

I am always surprised when I travel by the similarities between places. I know it shouldn't surprise me that it is all one earth and the divisions are so arbitrary. When I see the grass and the trees it just gives me that sense of the unity of the planet.

I ate better than I can ever remember. I adore Indian food, and I even enjoyed things I didn't expect to like. I stuffed myself every day! I bought some cookbooks at Gangaram's bookstore and I'm looking forward to trying to recreate some of those awesome meals.

We had lunch with my cousin's in-laws who live in Bangalore and they let us use their driver for the rest of the trip, which was wonderful. He was a lot of fun and took good care of us. I attempted some Hindi with him, though his primary languages are Telegu and Kanada. I'm pretty sure I told him that the trunk of the car was a very old man, rather than very big.

None of my Hindi worked out very well. It takes me a while to formulate a sentence, and I was trying to force myself to do it faster in order to talk. I would realize about five minutes later how I had messed the sentence up! No one seemed to understand me. Partly because most of the people I interacted with aren't Hindi speakers, but I think also because it was too weird and unexpected for Hindi to be coming from me. I was really encouraged that I understood almost all the Hindi I heard, so that made me feel pretty good.

I was delighted to discover that very, very few women wore western clothes. I thought at least in the city there would be lots of jeans and such, but that was not the case. I really think American women could take a lesson from Indian women's wardrobes! Everywhere you look there are amazing colors and patterns. I would say half salwar kameez and half saris. For anyone who doesn't think saris are practical everyday wear, women there wear them as part of uniforms, old women washing floors were wearing beautiful saris. I got a picture of a woman officer in the army wearing a khaki sari. It just shows there is never an excuse not to look gorgeous!

The second week we spent at a small town called Sringeri, where there is an ashram dedicated to the shankaracharya of the south. We went to darshans and pujas there and asked for blessings from the guru, etc. I'll have more detailed posts about that later.

Everywhere we went outside the city, I felt like an exhibit at a zoo. People stared at me and wanted to take pictures of me or have their picture taken with me. I was surprised by how noticeable it is when people are staring at you! I was glad that people were happy to see me wearing Indian clothes and embracing Indian culture. A couple of high school girls in Sringeri were asking me what I thought of Indian culture and they were just thrilled when I said I liked it! They were very impressed with my sari wrapping skills too.

I felt very inspired while there and got a lot of good writing done. I also came home feeling emotionally lighter and steadier.

I have almost 200 pictures, so I'll link to my flickr album rather than post them all here! (At the beginning are some pictures from my parents' house in Concord that were on my dad's camera, so that's what it looked like at home while we were gone)


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Greetings from Mysore

I'm in a hotel and half way through my vacation in India. I spent two days in Bangalore and now I'm on my second day in Mysore, tomorrow we head for Sringheri and my parents' ashram.

I'm having a great time.

My head is cleared and I'm feeling so much more grounded than I have in weeks.

I'll post detailed stories when I get back, but I wanted to check in and say hello and let you all know that I'm doing very well.

You know, a while back I spoke about labels and how important it felt to me to have them. I thought there might come a time when I didn't feel like I needed it and I think that time may have come. I'm feeling a lot more at peace with myself and therefore much less defensive and consumed with labels and identity.

I am how I am, as strange and varied as it is!

It is very interesting to me to see my own progress over the last year and the changes that have come about as I have written this blog. I'm sure some of those feelings of insecurity will be back, everything in my life seems to go in cycles, but I hope that I can hold onto this peace for a while.