Where Does a White Hindu Start?

The big question for a lot of native Hindus is, how does anyone not born to Hinduism learn about it enough to become a Hindu?

I’m not the very best example of this since I’m a bit of a hybrid. I grew up listening to Sanskrit prayers, having Mahabharata bed time stories, and seeing my parents meditate. On the other hand, I didn’t know when I was a child that any of these things were associated with Hinduism.

There are plenty of other non-Indian Hindus today who didn’t grow up with it at all. Something drew them to Hinduism and they discovered it on their own.

But how?

I think, as with anything new, it’s a process. You start with one step and then the next and the next. Before long, you’re very knowledgeable about whatever it is.

For me it went something like this…

  • I started exploring and questioning my beliefs as a teenager. It was really then that I came to understand that the belief system I had been raised with was mostly taken from Hinduism
  • In college I really started to see how much I didn’t fit in with Christian peers.
  • I took some classes on world religions and I explored the origins of the beliefs I had, such as reincarnation and enlightenment
  • I realized that I was a Hindu based on the beliefs, values, and priorities that I have but I still had absolutely none of the culture. I didn’t know any Indian people (my one Indian friend had been back in elementary school).
  • I joined a Hindu Student’s Association in graduate school. It was sometimes uncomfortable and strange. I didn’t know the rituals, though I vaguely knew some of the Gods from classes or things at home. I went to a temple with them and felt very self-conscious and unsure. But still, the more I did, the more right it felt. I was rediscovering something my psyche already knew.
  • I started taking Bharatnatyam dance lessons and from the teacher and other students I became very exposed to Indian culture and practice. I felt very comfortable with it even though it was very different from how my home as a child had been.

Over the last ten years I have built slowly on that base, discovering and incorporating new bits every so often. I learned more about my religion by reading commentaries, going to temple, discussing religion with other Hindus and non-Hindus, but also by watching Indian movies, eating Indian food, and making Indian friends.

Sure there are people who come to Hinduism because the clothes are beautiful. Is that a great reason? Maybe not. But it’s a starting point. We all start somewhere. Even for a native Hindu, there has to be a point where he or she becomes aware of the rituals and starts to wonder about what he is doing and what it means.

Some people discover Hinduism because of a class at school. Some discover it because they see a temple in their neighborhood and they wonder what it is. Some discover it through finding Bollywood movies.

And from there they begin to learn and to absorb information from a wide variety of sources. When we are interested in something, our brains soak up enormous amounts of information about it!

Over time the practices of these new Hindus becomes more refined and more sophisticated. 

That’s why I talk about it as a journey. We don’t come to a static place where we have learned all we ever will. A religious identity is something that is always evolving and growing. No matter where a new Hindu starts from, he will learn more and more until he is startling native Hindus with his unexpected ability to write in Sanskrit!

I don’t think that it’s bad if people get sidetracked into false promises from questionable gurus or misunderstand the philosophy. I think that is all a temporary state. Their souls are learning and growing and will eventually settle into the groove of the perfect path for them. Yes, sometimes we non-Indian Hindus look like nut jobs following something we think is pretty or cool or better than what we were born with. Every religion has flaws. Enough time spent in one and you will find those flaws, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t the right religion for you. You just have to learn enough that you can integrate disparate ideas within the religion and follow what makes sense to you.

What was your first exposure to Hinduism? Was it from birth or were you introduced to it later?


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About Ambaa Choate

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.

  • Ram

    Amba good to read and I see you are an intelligent person. I am a south Indian Brahmin grew up in India educated in India, the UK and then in the US. Since 1980 I have been living in the US teaching at an Ivy league. Met a blonde girl at Berkeley married and we have two sons. My wife and I are Hindus. I have taught Vedanta and Bagavatha gita during off times from my professional scientific research. Love to hear more from you. Educationist@bellsouth.net

    • Ambaa

      What a wonderful story!

  • http://www.deafdrummer.org Stephanie Ellison

    I am not sure where my first exposure came from, but I can tell you this – it started here, in three parts;

    http://www.gold-eagle.com/article/indias-love-gold-1

    http://www.gold-eagle.com/article/indias-love-gold-2

    http://www.gold-eagle.com/article/indias-love-gold-3

    The Part 2 and Part 3 links on that first page do not work; use the following two links instead. It was about 2005 or 2006 when I ran across it in my “research” on something unrelated, as I’ll call it that. That really got my attention. I started reading about Sanatana Dharma, and I have to admit I have trouble connecting with a lot of it, like the gods and goddesses and what I’m supposed to do, what not to do, etc. As I mentioned elsewhere, I don’t assimilate into anything. This thing inside me is just too strong. It’s like what I experience and what I read don’t match, and I have to follow what’s inside me. It’s like I’m on an iron pipe rail, and nothing can get me off it except death, so I will go ONLY where it (my sense of self) takes me. Sure, there is TREMENDOUS benefit in feeling like I belong somewhere and have a group of people I socialize with, BUT not if I feel like something isn’t right or I’ve made a compromise with myself somewhere, and I feel this friction within me.

  • Jitendra Joshi

    I happen to be a born in hindu family.

    One thing so sure is that there is no condition to be a Hindu.
    There is no “to do” list.
    It makes me so happy to realize that all beings at their will can choose to be a hindu and take up a method to pursue as is best
    suitable for their well being.
    You can even expand hindu methods if you find a new path to truth !!
    Thus any human or even an animal can be a hindu !! Surprised?
    The e vedic sages have helped various birds, reptiles, animals who approached them to progresson their path of dharma.

    Not only that hindu gods have even assumed bodies of animals for the welfare of this mother earth.

    e.g., the very first three manifestations of Vishnu are: 1. Matsya – the fish
    2. Kurma – the tortus
    3. Waraha – the wild bore !!

    Every body is most wellcome in Hindusm.
    As Vedas declare “Vasudha eva kutumbakam.” – i.e.., The whole earth is the family.
    Everybody (by birth or not by birth) can feel wellcome.
    That,s why sages saw thousands of different paths to the same source of truth.
    A new american hindu will certainly give new paths in future.
    You are ever wellcome in hindu family there is NO overt or covert condition.

    Jitendra Govind Joshi

    • Ambaa

      Beautifully said! Thank you!

  • Nit Cher

    Nice blog site. I am an Indian origin Christian (Syrian Orthodox) with ancestry from both the mideast around the region where Jesus was born and India. Syrian orthodox is the oldest denomination – established in 52 AD by Thomas the disciple and his followers. It is interesting to see how you call yourself a ‘white’ Hindu. I never called myself a ‘brown’ Christian…lol. Even though Christianity is considered a ‘western’ religion these days, my Church has always been more or less like the synagogue from ancient Israel (Palestine/Jordan culture).
    Personally though, I always feel affinity with European culture and peoples (esp British)…I was told once that in my past life, I was an Irish man who taught English. I always get visions of England and Ireland, and I love the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode…lol. And I see there are people such as yourself who were born of European ancestry but have affinity with India. This is why I believe in at least one thing out of Hinduism – reincarnation. There is more proof of reincarnation and astral planes than heaven/hell. Everything in nature is birth/death/rebirth, whether its water, land, air, etc. So why can’t it apply to our conscience (souls)?
    Anyways, it’s nice to hear your experience… :) I live in the US and honestly don’t have much affinity to India though I was born there…it’s weird how this happens but I believe life is a school where we are born as different peoples at any point in time to learn new things and enhance our conscience. In my next life, I might be born somewhere else and have affinity to India :)

    • Ambaa

      I do often get comments about the “white” part. lol. In retrospect maybe that wasn’t the best label to give myself, but when I started blogging five years ago it really felt like my skin color was keeping me from being authentically Hindu. Christians are happy to have people of all races, but there are some Hindus who do not accept non-Indian Hindus. It’s a completely different mindset.

      I definitely believe in reincarnation and I think it makes sense in Christianity too! How can you not when you see things like your connection to European cultures and mine to Indian cultures?! :)

      Great to hear your point of view. Thanks for commenting!

  • 31415926535

    I’m an Indian raised in India. I’m here in the United States for my education. I was wondering where I can find Americans who are interested in Hinduism. I’ve been to the ISKCON meetings in the US. Granted they are very much into Hinduism, but for some reason, I found it very uncomfortable. My beliefs are a combination of Advaita Vedanta and of ISKCON.

    • Ambaa

      That is a good question. Let’s see. I’d suggest starting with meetup.com It’s a site where you can look up groups dedicated to your interests based on your location. Try looking up Hinduism, Bhagavad Gita, Kirtan, etc. and see if there are groups near you.

  • Michelle

    I was exposed to Hinduism at an early age because growing up in north Portland,white was diffently the minority. I was adopted at age 7 by Baptist grandparents. But it all felt….wrong to me. Not wrong as in the religion itself, but felt contrary to my nature. It felt almost alien. I first wanted to be hindu after learning a lot about it privately and by a couple hindu.friends. One said if I believe in it, then I am hindu I just have to learn how to live it. However, another friend of mine told m I couldn’t be hindu because I am white…and that shattered me. I dabbled in Wicca and neopaganism for nearly all my religious life, and became a devotee of the.greek manifestations of divinity, while always retaining my hindu beliefs.
    It hasn’t been until rather recently I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care any more. Lol. I’ve begun reading all I can about the faith and have been meditating daily to mantras, usually of ganesha and durga and kali and Lord shiva. I feel like my soul can breathe again after so many years. I feel a coming home in it. And while I am very new….I am filled with much bliss. While I may be scared about.the challenges that face me…Lord ganesha and kali ma defend and protect me in the face of adversity and mighty durga fill me with courage and conviction!!

    • Ambaa

      Good for you! I’m so glad you’re back on track :)

  • Eren

    I was raised Christian, but from a very young age, I have always believed in reincarnation and past lives (among other things). I never thought about it much until middle school when I realized that the people at church had very different beliefs and values than I did. I started looking into other religion that had similar views and when I started reading about Hinduism, everything started to make sense. I’m always very content with everything Hindus value, and especially since I’ve started talking to other Hindu people online, I feel a lot more comfortable with my religious beliefs.

    • Ambaa

      Awesome!

  • dr.viraj pradhan

    Dear Ms.Madonna,Sorry for jutting in but I felt like advising you to read the following to understand many concepts in Hinduism:-(1)The Book Of Secrets by Osho( forget that man and his cult,just read the book.It’s the better translation of Vijnana Bhairav Tantra of Kashmir Shaivism School and gives us 112 Meditative Techniques to choose from).

    (2) God Talks With Arjuna by Paramahansa Yogananda–This is a book on an esoteric interpretation of the Bhagwad Gita.Other translations,and there are many,only give intellectual ones.

    (3) The Second Coming Of Christ by Paramahansa Yogananda. Translation of The Bible and drawing parallels between Gita and Bible.These show the essential similarity of the spiritual basis of religions.These indicate how unnecessary it’s to convert to other religions.

    (4) Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Muktibodhananda.

    A very scientific explanation of various Yogic asans,mudras and other concepts by an Australian woman who became a Hindu monk.She has been a disciple of Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Bihar School Of Yoga.

    (5) Four Chapters On Freedom by the Late Swami Satyananda Saraswati from Bihar School Of Yoga where she studied.One does not have to go there.Just read a few books by the Late Swami Satyananda Saraswati,the Guru of Muktibodhananda.

    There are yet too many books but the correct ones will give you the idea of the symbolism and the Twilight Language ( Coded Language which says something and means something more profound).For example:-Moses Raising the snake in the wilderness is a reference to raising the Kundalini.And Therefor Thine Eye Be Single,Thy Body Is Full Of Light is a reference to the Third Eye .Unless these esoteric concepts are known,Christianity &Hinduism remains a riddle and draws ridicule from various quarters.Hence,I suggested these books.In case,I find any more and you need to know,please let me know.With Best Regards,


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