Julia Roberts’ Hindu practice

I just returned from a glorious Seattle vacation, stopping in an airport bookstore to see what I missed for a week. Here’s what I gathered from the newsstands: Bristol broke it off, Chelsea tied the knot, California judge reversed Proposition 8, Time published a startling cover on Afghanistan, Shaq will go to Boston, and Brett Favre joked about retiring.

What I somehow missed was that Julia Roberts had converted to Hinduism. You can read all about it on David Gibson’s Politics Daily post where he refers to Elle magazine’s latest cover story on the star.

Julia Roberts, the star of the movie “Eat Pray Love” tells Elle magazine that she and her entire family are practicing Hindus, making her the most prominent convert to one of America’s smaller but increasingly prominent immigrant religions.

Roberts, 42, tells the fashion magazine that she and husband Danny Moder and their three children, 5-year-old twins Phinnaeus and Hazel and 3-year-old Henry, all go to temple to “chant and pray and celebrate.”

“I’m definitely a practicing Hindu,” says Roberts, who grew up with a Catholic mother and Baptist father. That seems to make her the most famous convert since the late George Harrison, a member of the Beatles who embraced Indian mysticism in the 1960s.

What I like about Gibson’s post is that he offers a little bit of context for what it means to practice Hinduism, including her thoughts on reincarnation. Unfortunately, these details were too complex for a paper like the New York Daily News, which offered nothing about Hinduism. Other news outlets found Robertson’s rejection of Botox more fascinating.

What’s unclear from the excerpts available from Elle interview is whether Roberts started practicing Hinduism because of the character she most recently portrayed.

The entire Roberts-Moder family, she reveals, goes to temple together to “chant and pray and celebrate. I’m definitely a practicing Hindu,” says Roberts, who grew up with a Catholic mother and Baptist father.

And since in Hindu cosmology souls can be reincarnated in other bodies, where does she see herself in the next life? “Golly, I’ve been so spoiled with my friends and family in this life,” she says. “Next time I want to be just something quiet and supporting.”

Roberts’ upcoming movie Eat, Pray, Love is based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s her bestselling memoir. In the book, Gilbert travels to Italy, where she consumes food (Eat), searches for spirituality in India (Pray), and finds a boyfriend in Indonesia (Love). Gilbert seems to toy with practicing spirituality and Hinduism without fully identifying herself with something specific, so it’s somewhat surprising to see Roberts come out full force.

As with any bestselling idea, marketers expect to make lots of money off of products tied to the movies, reports Sandy Cohen of the Washington Post.

Soon, though, stores will be flooded with all things “Eat, Pray, Love.” Look for candles and moisturizing creams; jewelry, bookmarks and tote bags; a dedicated shop at Cost Plus World Markets featuring furniture, food and clothing inspired by the film; a branded digital reader pre-loaded with the book; a Republic of Tea blend; a line of designer clothing by Sue Wong; and a weekend special on HSN filled with products pegged to the movie, including prayer beads, scarves and hundreds of other items from the countries the story’s main character visits during her quest for self.

…Such partnerships work when the products and brands signing on as licensees have a natural connection to the movie or characters in question. Candles, journals and prayer beads make sense for “Eat, Pray, Love,” [chief of Platinum Rye Ryan] Schinman says, noting that “there’s no ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ phone or calculator.”

You would think that there would be room for one or two sentences about the “pray” part of the book, since prayer beads seem pretty generic. It will be interesting to see whether that gets very much time in the movie and subsequently in the reviews and news coverage of the movie.

Back to Roberts, the Telegraph reported that she angered Hindus when she was shooting for the film at a temple in India last fall. At that point, it didn’t appear that Roberts was necessarily practicing Hinduism. If Roberts is doing more publicity interviews, hopefully we’ll see more about her new found faith.

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  • Stoo

    I was a bit concerned about use of the word “converted” in the quoted passage, but fortunately the article goes on to say it doesn’t apply so much to Hinduism.

    Anway while we know Buddhism has now attracted a small western following, I hadn’t thought of Hinduism following in the same steps so much (apart from the odd Pagan looking into eastern gods). So it’s an interesting topic.

  • Robert Khan Sid

    This is just a publicity stunt for the movie.

  • Peggy

    If she’s genuinely committed, more power to her.

    While it’s not your topic, you mentioned the TIME cover with the disfigured Muslim woman. My 8 year old saw it yesterday in a medical waiting room before I realized what it was myself. He’s been rather upset by it asking lots of Qs. So, I went to TIME to find out a bit more and try to explain it to him in a way he could comprehend. Yikes!

  • Ira Rifkin

    Gilbert seems to toy with practicing spirituality and Hinduism without fully identifying herself with something specific…

    Gilbert’s association was with Siddha Yoga (also known as the SYDA Foundation) and the ashram she stayed at was Gurudev Siddha Peeth located in Ganeshpuri, north of Mumbai (Bombay). I do not know if Gilbert has ever publicly stated this, but those of us who have spent time there – as I did in 1981 – know it to be the place from her description.

    I suspect Gilbert never identifies the ashram so as not to run afoul of the organization’s desire for privacy and control of its public image. Siddha Yoga came into corporate being in the 1970s under the leadership of Swami Muktananda, who was very public and attracted a fair number of Hollywood types. He died in 1982.

    His successor, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, has followeded a more private path, particularly since the organization’s brush with the usual sex and power scandals.

    I have no idea if Gilbert maintains any connection to Siddha Yoga today. I do not. But I do know that one does not need to stay connected to Siddha Yoga to continue the meditation practices it teaches, even while self-identifying as a Christian, Jew or whatever.

    I’d also say, based on my experience and those of many friends, that few who have been associated with Siddha Yoga think of themselves as Hindus – as opposed to seekers looking for answers where ever they might stumble upon them (as opposed to those Westerners who joined the Hare Krishna movement, which is far more dogmatic about such things).

    My guess is that’s Roberts’ case as well, despite the quote, which I find suspect, or perhaps just theologically naive.

    A personal note: My brush with Siddha Yoga is what prompted me to request a move from covering film and TV for the LA Daily News to the religion beat. The rest, as they say, is all commentary.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    Being Hindu can mean a lot of different things. From the article I can’t tell what it means in Ms. Roberts’ case.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I did a readings course on Hinduism when I was in seminary. The best definition I found was that Hinduism is the “ism of the Indus Valley.” That is, whatever you find there. I see it as somewhat of a smorgasbord. You might be able to set some boundaries as to what you might find served, but you might also find two people whose plates share no dishes. For some Hinduism is a form of devotion. For others it is mostly a philosophy. Though you probably could discover some elements common to most Hindus. The variety would make it more difficult to define in a short space.

  • Jan Ignace

    It is my understanding that truly devout Hindus divest themselves of all property when they become elderly and take up the life of mendicants. Actually among the truly devout of almost any major religion this is relatively the case. I should be most happy to give alms to Julia Roberts should I see her in a few years begging out on the street.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Thanks for some good discussion.

    Peggy, here’s another angle on that Time cover.

    Ira, it sounds like you’ve done some digging on Gilbert. When I read the book, it seemed like she had an interest in spirituality rather than attaching herself to a specific religion. But maybe she’s closer to Hinduism than I thought.

    Matt, I agree that it’s hard to get more specifics from the article, so feel free to send links if you see more coverage.

  • http://www.ifocusmission.com Sekhar, iFocus

    Hinduism is a vast subject dating time immemorial. Since there was no other group(might have been called religion at later times?) known to have established at that time, all beings were understood to be as Hindus. Thats why there is nothing called conversion. It was a lifestyle, It was not just started by an individual like many other modern religions do. The scriptures of hinduism tells life styles through various ages and ways to attain the ultimate goal through righteous living and devotion to God. Re-incarnation is one of the important aspects in it, Righteous living- Dharma is another important aspect. Ultimate peace and end of re-incarnation is the goal. There are many ways to acheive the ultimate goal within the practice. Yoga is one of the many paths to it, but not at all the main one. Please do not misunderstand the so called commercialized YOGA known popularly to the western world for the real YOGA. With the limited knowledge that i have on other practices, i think the important differences between the modern religions and the Hindu dharma are in defining the ultimate goal and understanding logic of karma for e.g. born-handicapped, born-rich, natural calamities etc. If a sinner dies, in non-hindu practices, there seems no offering for reformation and liberation, And also there seems to have no reason from God’s kindness perspective on people being born handicapped, underpriveleged, and why should there be natural calamities if God has control over them etc.

  • Harry

    one word, FLAKE!

  • Utpal Chakrabarty

    Some undergo baptism to become Christian – some circumcise to become Muslim – etc. etc. What were they before baptism or circumcision?

    Julia was born a Hindu – her parents would have baptized her into Christianity.

  • susie

    Julia Roberts aka the Hillbilly Hindu! That’s it for me folks, I’m done with her at the box office. Anyone else?