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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Asking Permission

When starting to practice a religion that is not your native one, it is natural to look to natives for insight. You want to learn how to behave and how best not to stick out as you master new practices.

There is also a tendency to see ones self as lower than the "real" people of the religion. It feels as though we need the permission of a native practicer for every thing that we do. I remember early on feeling like I needed a signed endorsement to carry with me to show people who doubted my Hinduness. "See? This Indian Hindu said that it's okay for my to practice Hinduism."

At some point this will change.

If you truly become a member of that religion, then it becomes equally yours. That is my belief, anyway. And that is how things have gone in my own life.

After ten years practicing Hinduism, I now have complete confidence that it is my religion and I am as valid a member as any other. My interpretations of scripture equally valid, my choices about which practices to take on equally valid, my relationship with the Gods equally valid.

I am a Hindu. And I don't need anyone's permission to make that claim!

What I have come to see as I publicly talk about my journey in Hinduism is that there is no one authority. And I mean that beyond the fact that there's no pope or leader of Hinduism. I mean that every individual has his own understanding of each aspect of Hinduism and almost no matter what you do or assert, someone will tell you that you're wrong. And someone else will tell you that you're right.

The only one that matters is the one in your heart, the Self within.

The Indian Hindu who tells you that you shouldn't enter a temple is not the authority over you. Neither is the Indian Hindu who tells you that it's wonderful that you are practicing this religion.

You are a Hindu and every moment of struggling to understand some piece of your faith is the same struggle that every other Hindu is also going through.  The others can give you advice, but always remember that they do not know everything or have the clarity of God. Their advice is their opinion. Which is well and good and you must decide if you trust that opinion. Being a native practicer of Hinduism does not give someone authority over your practice of Hinduism.

So choose your advisers with care and trust your intuition as you proceed in Hinduism.

I do not seek permission any longer. I trust in my own relationship with God and the universe.


  1. I love this post, it is truly at the heart of our condition!

  2. I understand your feelings. I spent years identifying as Hindu. I went through the name change ceremony at my temple, attended faithfully but was never included nor made to feel very welcome. I took it to another step becoming a monk for three years and still could not stop that nagging feeling of not being good enough to "truly" be Hindu. I finally gave up. Just last week I was told off by a Hindu professor for trying to practice a tradition that Westerners know nothing about and they should stop trying to be Hindu. It is a tough journey and I wish you the best! I know people have fully integrated within Hinduism, though I did not and did give up, I encourage you to not give up!

    1. Ugh. How awful of him to say that! Sometimes people don't believe me that we have these prejudices against us, but we really do. When I encounter someone like that, I try to remember that he is going through his own stuff and his bad experience isn't connected to me. His feelings are his own responsibility!

    2. @ Green Monk - So sorry to hear of the challenges you faced and even more sorry that you were not able to practice your chosen faith.

      @ Ambaa - I agree with what you've said in your post, and have to add just this - Every Hindu, IMO gains better understanding and clarity through a Guru, a mentor. The complexity of the religion is such and it always help to have someone to ask. I say this out of experience. It took me a long time to find and accept A Guru. My Mother and brother found a Guru who I revered a lot, but I wasn't able to get to submit myself to him. He is a normal, social person with a very ordinary lifestyle, not at all like the media-hyped kinds. One respected gentleman, an acquaintance of our family suggested during a social visit, that I pray to Lord Ganesha to help me find a Guru (somehow, the conversation had steered along those lines). And it worked. I now have found my Guru in the very same person my family gets mentored by. Each of us got initiated as his disciples at different times of our lives, but only when each of us were convinced that it was the right path to follow. Basically, I'm trying to say -
      1. Reading and following one's heart & mind works, but finding a Guru helps progress smoother.
      2. Praying to Lord Ganesha removes any obstacles one could be facing in finding their Guru.

      Hope that helps, Have a great day !

    3. Do not wear your religion on your sleeve. Hindu practice is intensely personal. Ignore what the professor told you.

    4. Mom with a Dot, I do need to do some more praying to Ganesha, actually. I've been struggling with having a lot of trouble with gurus since leaving the organization I grew up in. I used to be very devotional, but my experiences as an adult have made me very wary of gurus and I have a hard time accepting authority figures. But you're right, praying to Ganesha can help me move past that mental block.

  3. It's nice that you feel this confidence but there's a more important issue. Are you truly a part of a Hindu community? Do Indian Hindus see you as a genuine member of their community or do they perceive you as an eccentric wannabe? We are social animals. I think we need to belong to a community to be happy so it's an important issue. I think you're missing the boat by not marrying into an Indian family. Through marriage you can join an Indian community. Why not give it a chance? Why not try to meet some Indian guys and see how it goes?

    1. They can see me as an eccentric if they want to. That might be part of their path.

      Me? I'm happy and content, fully confident in myself as a Hindu.

      I have dated Indian men, but the right man for me turned out not to be Indian. That's just how it happened. I am absolutely certain that I have found the man I was meant to be with, the perfect partner for me in my journey through life. :)

    2. I wonder. Are you still interested in Indian culture and Indian communities? I ask because, evidently, some of the people who follow your blog have no interest in Indian culture. They're only interested in Hinduism. Has your interest in the culture waned?

    3. Absolutely I'm involved in the culture.

      That may not be true of everyone here and there's nothing wrong with that.

      If people want to just come here and learn about Hinduism without Indian culture, I have no problem with that.

      For me personally, I feel the two go together and the longer I've been a Hindu, the more Indian culture has come into my everyday life.

      As I've said before, I don't feel that I need an Indian husband to justify my use of Indian things. I am about as Indian as a white woman can get and I fully expect my Indian-ness to rub off on my probably-soon-to-be husband.

    4. I don't think it has anything to do with justification. If you marry an Indian it will be much easier for you to experience the culture. You and your Indian husband would have the Indian culture in common. You would also become part of an Indian family. I think you're making a mistake by marrying a white guy. You expect your Indian-ness to rub off on the guy but bear in mind that when guys are courting they tolerate much about the woman they want. But after the marriage things can change quickly. If he's not interested in Indian culture like you are it's going to be something that divides the two of you.

    5. I appreciate where you're coming from with this, but it is simply not how my life turned out.

      I am not going to continue to wait to find an Indian man when I have a wonderful, perfect man who adores me and I adore him.

      I spent twelve years trying to get married to no avail. I never found an Indian guy who was a good match for me. It is not so easy as you might think to find an Indian man who is in touch with his religion and culture who wants a white woman.

      The discussion is done. I have found the love of my life and I am confident in him. We will find our way along the journey of life together. I have no doubt or worry. You don't know him, so I can understand why you are concerned. But I am not going to throw away the best gift that the Gods have ever given me.

      My personal life is my choice and I know with absolute certainty that this is the right man for me.

  4. "Genuine Member" in context of Sanatan Dharm is irrelevant. You have a set of ideas passed on by your ancestors. All these ideas are in public realm. You interpret and practice whichever way you want. Who am I or anyone else to tell you what to do and what not to, whether you are real or fake.

    1. I agree! Though I'm not sure what I got from my ancestors, as my link to my family's past was mostly broken.

  5. I live in chennai, India. My landlord's wife is a white woman from new York. They have a beautiful little girl of 5. She is a mix of white and brown. Anyway the point is the white woman is Hindu, she came to our apartment to invite us to a puja. She was decked in saree with a bindi in her forehead... I could see from her manner and body language that she is completely integrated and very comfortable.

    Amba, no one needs approval or permission to practice Hinduism. And having a guru is not mandatory. I am born hindu and I never had a guru, don't intend to have one. Most gurus are just con artists. Pray directly to Ganesha, shiva... Any deity of your choice. No one has copyright or monopoly on Hinduism.
    If someone says something to discourage you send them off with two words. Who says Hindus should have a brown skin?
    I am a Hindu and I welcome you with open arms.

    1. I love that story about your landlord's wife! How sweet :)

  6. Appreciate your views Ambaa...hinduism is not just praying hindu gods..but it is a way of life