My fellow Patheos blogger, Ambaa, The White Hindu over at the Hindu Portal, has a short e-book out on what a new follower of Hinduism needs to know. I was curious about what she’d have to say and thought my readers might enjoy an review, as well. I am a long time reader of Ambaa and we are friendly colleagues, but this review was my idea and I paid for the e-book.
The New Hindu Toolbox is a short, easy to read introduction for those who want to begin practicing Hinduism and don’t know where to start. Why am I avoiding the word convert? Well, that’s a contentious word in Hindusim. Some say that no one can convert because everyone is a Hindu. Others acknowledge that Hinduism is so vast that one must be more specific about just what one is converting to. Still others say that being Hindu is a cultural and/or ethnic identity and a person can’t just become Hindu. All of those ideas are right!
So, ideas of conversion aside, what if Hinduism speaks to you? Where do you begin? For less than $3 you could do worse than starting with this book. Ambaa was raised in a family that followed a Hindu philosophy and later adopted a more all encompassing version of Hinduism. As a white, North American, female, she has some hard-won insight for us.
The book covers a variety of topics, from her preferred editions of the Bhagavad Gita (her favorite is also mine), how to set up an altar in your home, how to do basic puja, common cultural issues, a glossary, and more.
The book is written for a more mainstream Hindu, which I am not, so personally the book wasn’t super helpful for me. For example, I have no qualms being naked or having sex in front of my altar or gods. I also don’t have the option of joining up with a Hindu community, as there aren’t any in my area! I would have liked some tips for left-handed people in the etiquette section, as we’re not supposed to use it to eat or shake or so on. I’m not sure what I would do!
There were a few places where I thought Ambaa’s experience and integration of her religion shined through, and this is the real strength of her book. In the section on altars there is a beautiful line describing them as the place where “The Gods come and live with us.” What a beautiful reminder to polytheists of all stripes that we need to make a place for gods join us. Ambaa says “Any cabinet or corner or table can do … The most important thing is to get started.” I love this attitude. When I gave up being a perfectionist about my practices, that is when I started to really reap the joy of my efforts and begin to forge relationships with spirits and deities.
Ambaa also has wise words regarding gurus. Her number one piece of advice, which I think is relevant no matter one’s tradition, is trust yourself. Enlightenment is not (usually) instantaneous. Think things over for yourself. Be skeptical of anyone who encourages you not to think for yourself.
This book is thoughtful and encouraging entry point for any one interested in exploring Hinduism and making it a part of one’s life.