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.
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?