Did I Start as a Christian?

Sometimes in life we see things really simplified. But rarely are things actually that simple.

When we hear about someone who isn’t Indian, who grew up in America, and is now practicing Hinduism, our first thought is that person must have started out Christian or Jewish. We tend to think of the world divided between east and west and the west is all Christian and Jewish while the east is all Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.

But of course, we know that’s not true.

There are Indians who have been Christian for generations and here in America we have an enormous variety in religions and ethnicities.

I’ve known and know that we have readers here who are non-Indian Americans who grew up Christian. We have some who have grown up without a religion.

So what about me?

My situation requires an explanation. It’s not simple!  There are times when people say, why do you call yourself a convert? Didn’t you grow up with this? And again, it’s not that simple.

So here is my story:

My parents got married in 1977. My dad was from the southern U.S. and had grown up Lutheran (a branch of Protestant Christianity). My mother was from the north east U.S. and had grown up Catholic.

My dad moved to the north east for graduate school and discovered two things that changed his life. He met my mother and he joined an organization called The School of Practical Philosophy.

The school’s purpose was to uncover the meaning of life and help guide people towards enlightenment. It began in England, founded by a Scottish man. Within a few years the leader, Mr. MacLaren, was connected with Ouspensky and the Maharishi who visited the west to encourage meditation. MacLaren was intrigued with the Hindu philosophy, particularly advaita. He traveled to India to meet Shankaracharya Shantanada Saraswati.

By the time my father joined, the School was an established entity, helping western people to pursue meditation, chanting, and Sanskrit, but also had a strong emphasis on discipline, austerity, and proper respect.

After my parents married, my mother also joined. As they established a new home for themselves, they both left their home faiths. They found a good compromise in Unitarian Universalism. The UUs are known for being liberal, open minded, and welcoming. It was a good place for a married couple from different ends of Christianity to come together.

When I was born in 1982 we went to UU church on Sunday and we went to Philosophy School on Saturday. My parents went to Philosophy School more often. They had class one night a week, they eventually were teaching another night a week. And they also went on weekend retreats three or four times a year and a week long retreat once a year. As a kid, Philosophy was Saturday mornings for me.

I watched my parents do mantra meditation twice a day every day for half an hour. I learned philosophy at the School, but it was almost all separated from India and Hinduism. It was westernized except for some of the original stories that the Shankaracharya told. I had Sanskrit words mixed up into my vocabulary from such an early age that it never seemed odd. They were all words that were just part of my world. My mother told me once in a while that some of what we did was based on Hinduism and Buddhism. She took out a children’s version of The Mahabharata and read it to me at bed time. From the time I was born she told me stories about Krishna. A friend of hers who visited India lent me a Krishna comic book that I loved. Krishna and Jesus had pretty much the same emphasis in my childhood. It was almost like they were brothers.

I had no idea at that age how different my experience was from other kids!

Because of all the talk about philosophy and how much my family cared about it, I was a very introspective child. I thought a lot about life, death, and meaning. As a child and teenager, I was quite rigid (as I think most are!). I was very religious. And I had no reason to think I was anything other than Christian. 

At the School I started meditating, taking classes, and going on retreats. I was taught to see how the principles of Philosophy School fit in with Christianity. The leaders believe that all true religious impulses are towards the same Truth. There are ways to look at Christianity to make it fit Advaita philosophy.

Throughout history we’ve had years and years and years of leaders interpreting the Bible and Jesus for us. It’s a very different mindset to go back to the basics and re-look at it all. The way I was taught Christianity, reincarnation fits in perfectly and Jesus is an enlightened man who taught unity and that the kingdom of heaven is within you. When asked by a little boy if Jesus was really the son of God, my mother said, “Yes. And so are you.”

When it came time for me to go to college, I only looked at schools in locations that had Philosophy Schools. It was an enormous part of my life and the thing that really gave me a sense of meaning. I was starting to see it more and more as my religion even though the creators saw it only as a way to help you interpret your birth religion.

I went to Rochester where there was a small branch of Philosophy School. I was very nervous about being away from my community. I had heard for years that college students were wild and into drinking and partying and staying up late. That wasn’t me at all and I was really afraid that I wouldn’t relate to anyone.

When I arrived I saw posters that advertised a Christian campus group. It sounded like exactly what I was looking for to find other weirdos like me who were really focused on a religious life.

From the very first meeting I could see that I had made a mistake. I was not at all Christian by these people’s definition. Jesus dying had never been a part of his message from what I had seen. There was no emphasis at all on what him dying meant. Sure he rose. But we all do! I had never heard this Jesus died for your sins message. Never.

I considered this. I thought a lot about what made sense to me and what I saw in how the world worked. No matter who I talked to, what I read, what I tried, this Jesus dying to take away people’s sins made no sense at all to me.

I took classes in the religious studies department and learned a lot about the Bible, about Hinduism, about religious history. The more soul searching I did, the clearer it became that I was a Hindu and I always had been.

There is more to the story as the rest of college and then graduate school pushed me further from Philosophy School and more into Indian culture, but I think that’s a long enough story for today!

So you can see that it’s hard for me to say for sure whether I ever was Christian, whether I came from Christianity, whether I ever changed from one thing to another, or if I’ve always been Hindu even before I knew to call myself that. I’ve developed a lot of resentment towards Christianity, unfortunately. It’s hard being fully a Hindu now but looking to others as though I am Christian. I distance myself from that assumption whenever and however I can.

Related Posts:

 

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • HARRY

    @ Ambaa

    Dear god woman, you sound more and more like an Indian. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. :) Come oooon, you must have gone to atlest one wild party being an american and at Roachester. You can tell me if you want. Promise, I want tell anybody. I’m crossing my heart. Don’t forget jesus did die for our sins according to good christians. I was told this by few individuals as well. Have a good one, that what they say here (UK).

    HARRY

    • Ambaa

      Hahahahaaha.

      I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not, depends who you ask, but I have never been “fun.” I’ve never had a drink with alcohol. I don’t stay up late. I don’t like noise and crowds so I didn’t go to any college parties. I was perfectly content to be a stick in the mud with my college nickname “grandma.” I crocheted. I didn’t party! I act old now, but I’ve been this way all my life! lol.

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

    I think that because “Christian” is so mainstream in the US that most of us are considered nominally Christian despite our actual beliefs. It is the norm, and it makes sense that the Philosophy School would design its lessons around Christianity in the US.

    If you look at Hinduism as “a way of life” and actually believe in the concept of Advaita and that Truth is One, then you can see it’s possible to live a Hindu life with Christian symbology. That I think is what the intention of this Philosophy School is. Doesn’t matter if you say Jesus, Vishnu, Buddha, Muhammad, it is all leading to the same source.

    Mainstream Christianity subscribes to the view that “sacrificial atonement” of Jesus, who was at once fully god and fully man, is the cornerstone of Christianity. Hundreds of years of theology studies center around this interpretation. And Christian leadership in the early days was not very tolerant to opposing views; they were labeled ‘heresies’ and believing in them was punishable by excommunication. Basically: If you do not follow the form of Christianity the Pope follows, you’re not really a Christian. Obviously the Protestant Reformation changed that but the general ideas in the populace did not change.

    There are other Christian groups that do not follow this interpretation (liberal Episcopalians, particularly Bishop John Shelby Spong, certainly fall into this category) but mainstream Christians, taking their cue from the theologians of ages past, do not consider such people to be Christians — nor people whose interpretation of Christianity is based on Hindu philosophy instead of the interpretation of the Bible through the scholarship of the early Church Fathers, the reformers (for the Protestants), and even current theologians and pastors (who I refuse to term ‘theologians’ or name here).

    So in your eyes, you were Christian, but in Janie Baptist’s eyes, you weren’t Christian. What a dilemma, and one only a Hindu mindset can really resolve! Ha ha.

    • Ambaa

      Yes, “living a Hindu life with Christian symbology” is exactly what I was trying to get at!

  • http://www.jjbooks.com John Jackson

    Very interesting to read about your story. When I travelled in Nepal, I meet many people whose beliefs and practices combined elements of Hinduism and animism. It was hard, probably impossible, to ‘define’.

    • Ambaa

      Hinduism has always been more difficult to define than many other religions. It is so wide and varied. It covers so many practices and beliefs! And it can keep on gathering more too.

  • Penn Temp

    Hello Ambaa,

    Chandrashekara Bharathi III, Shringeri Shankaracharya, was once asked by a White man: Why don’t Hindus agressively convert other people to their faith? To which, the Jagadguru replied that when the whole universe is Hindu, what is there to convert?

    So I as a Hindu, believe that all human beings are Hindu, it’s just that they are not aware of it. Our goal should be to make people introspect themselves and then come to the conclusion of who they are.

    • Ambaa

      I agree! Though I am careful about telling people that I think everyone is already Hindu.

      After all, I absolutely hate the snide Christians who tell me that I’ll be Christian eventually because it is the one truth.

      So I don’t want to do that to anyone else!

      I know I’m Hindu and every one else can work on figuring themselves out in their own time :)

  • N. B.

    “…too find other weirdos like me who were really focused on….” I have a place called the Holy Mary Mother of God sanctuary ,no I have many places called that but this one place I have in mind I go to so very very very beautiful , my simple prayer:” Please please Please Holy Mary do not yet let your feet touch the ground.” I can not help but say this ,maybe because i am aware of my own flaws or maybe like the song of Solomon :”do not arose love before the appointed time” perhaps this is why people become priests ,nuns ,stay single chaste then touched by the spirit of something that allows them in a measure of peace to serve people who have experienced great loss ,waiting for the cup to be filled someday
    Song of Solomon
    6 Set me as a seal upon your heart,

    as ya seal upon your arm,

    for zlove is strong as death,

    ajealousy1 is fierce as the grave.2

    Its flashes are flashes of fire,

    the very bflame of the Lord.

    7 Many waters cannot quench love,

    neither can floods drown it.

    If a man offered for love

    all the wealth of his chouse,

    he3 would be utterly despised.

    • Ambaa

      I’m sorry, I’m having trouble understanding your comment. I’m afraid I don’t understand even a single sentence of what you’ve posted :(

      • N.B.

        What you wrote caught my eye : I had no idea at all how different my experience was from other kids

        That wasn’t me at all and I was really afraid that i wouldn’t relate to anyone

        Now I think you are happy. The visions the children of Fatima had they were told they would be thrown in the fire if they continued to say it was true
        it is difficult to stand alone in the proverbial fire


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X