How the Internet Changed My Faith

How the Internet Changed My Faith September 16, 2015

Ever since I was a little girl I longed for community. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere and I was envious of people who were born into tight-knit communities. My best friend Sarah is Jewish and when we were kids I went to her temple and learned about Judaism from her, seriously considering converting because of the community I saw in her culture. I was fascinated with the Amish who draw together into a tight community against outsiders.

The strange thing is I was part of a cultural subset. My family belonged to an organization that was heavily based in Indian philosophy. I didn’t think at the time that it was anything special. Maybe as kids we all think that what’s happening in our home is ordinary, the norm. And maybe I would have felt a sense of belonging if things had been a little different. As it was we were pretty spread out and I didn’t see other members of our group day to day. Even when we were with other members, there was only one other girl my age.

It wasn’t until I left home that it really sank in for me that most people didn’t have parents who meditated or had the Sanskrit alphabet on the dining room wall. I didn’t think of these things as Indian, they were just things that we did.

During this time the Internet wasn’t really a thing. I was a girl in the 80s and by the early 90s I had heard the word but it was just a place to do research. It might help with my school papers, my father suggested. I couldn’t have known that a decade later it was going to change my life.

It was 2009 when I decided to write a blog. Julie Powel’s book Julie & Julia had just come out and the idea of blogging a year long project was huge right then. I didn’t have a good year-long hook for my blog but I decided to just try talking about my life and see what happened.

I needed something more than my private journal. Much as I hate to admit it, I craved validation. I didn’t feel like a “real” Hindu. I was practicing Hinduism, all my beliefs were Hindu, I was living a Hindu life, but I still didn’t feel like I belonged. I still craved community and belonging and at 27 years old I had still never found it.

And then I said hello to the Internet in an anonymous Blogger post. I didn’t tell my family or my friends that I was writing it. I didn’t know if a single person would ever read it. But I had to write down and express my thoughts, feelings, and fears. There were a lot of fears. 

I had no idea that the community and acceptance I was searching for was about to find me.

Without the web, without blogging, I don’t know if I ever would have felt connected or ever come to see myself as really Hindu. 

It was slow at first, but I began to meet people who listened to my story and offered me advice, suggestions, and encouragement. Real native born-Hindus were listening to me and coming to understand what the experience of coming to Hinduism from a western background is like. 

It grew and grew and grew. Eventually I did tell my friends and family and they began to read it too. Having an audience did change how I approached my faith. It made me braver. It gave me the confidence to put myself out there and try new things, to find Hindu communities and events to connect with. It gave me the confidence to hold my own in philosophical debates, knowing that my perspective is a valid Hindu one. 

My readers and the community that has built around my blog has also given me someone to share with and celebrate with when amazing things happen. I had people to share with and give me advice when I went to India for the first time. I had people to squee with when I was able to be in Sringeri for the Shishya Shweekara, a once in a lifetime event. I’ve had sounding boards to offer me persepctive as I’ve struggled with infertility.

The biggest thing I learned was that there are as many experiences of Hinduism as there are Hindus. I had been searching for a right answer and afraid to voice my opinion becuase it wouldn’t be as valid. But I discovered that there’s room for a lot of variety and a lot of difference of opinion. At the same time, if I have a question or an issue I can put it out there and have hundreds of Hindu perspectives come back to me.

I was afraid to tell my parents about the blog for a long time. They are much more private people and I don’t think they understand at all my compulsion to share everything I’m thinking with the whole world. But when they saw the positive experiences I was having and the welcome that so many readers were giving me, I think it gave them confidence too to more deeply explore the Hindu aspects of their own lives. 

When I started sending my thoughts and fears and experiences out into cyberspace all those years ago I had no idea that it would lead to someone with a Patheos connection recommending my blog for this site, speaking to someone from Hinduism Today, meeting members of the Hindu American Foundation, tweeting with Rajiv Malhotra, having my wedding featured on Hindu wedding blogs and A Practical Wedding. Because of the Internet I have been able to meet and connect with amazing Hindus, leaders in Hindu thinking, and they know who I am! My Gods, what an amazing experience!

The Internet gave me the validation I craved. To know that for every one person who says “You’re a white girl, you can’t be Hindu” there are a hundred people saying, “Welcome to the faith.” That is the greatest gift the Internet has given me. 

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  • Namaskāra Ambaa.

    I understand what you mean. I’m the only Sanātana Dharmi for miles around. There is no community except at temple, and there is also no community or “enclave” close by, except in a part of Houston, and that it too far for me to drive to on a regular basis.

    Around here, the vast majority of people are Christians. I see the community they have around here, and I see that Sanātanis don’t have that because we are so spread thin in the US.

    Be careful, though that the Internet doesn’t become a complete substitute for community. Granted, I agree with you that the Internet has empowered you to develop as far as you have and see things presently as you do, BUT it is never the same thing as going to work and working for Sanātanis, alongside other Sanātanis, and dealing with largely Sanātani customers/clients, going to social events where Sanātanis are the majority, and LIFE is based on Dharmic civilization.

    Right now, where you live in the US is plain and simple based upon the Western way of life coupled with an unstable and uncomfortable connection with Christianity. It is NO WONDER you don’t feel you belong. America is wrong for you and I as an existential entity. However, it is the best incubating environment for SD to take root and grow. I sure would like to live in India, now that there is the potential to be sent there by my Temple, but I have to realize the problems there as compared to the problems in the US. The problems in both countries are entirely different, and I’m guessing that it’s a matter of which sets of problems are you more willing to take on.

    I find the Internet to be woefully inadequate as far as a substitute for an actual Dharmic civilization goes.

    • Ambaa

      I’m super jealous that my best friend’s two year old is able to attend a Jewish daycare. It makes me a little sad that there is no Hindu daycare I could send my children to.

      • Have you asked Indian-Americans why there isn’t a daycare for such children? It might not be numbers or income driven, but simply be the manifestation of how the Indian community is structured. Could it be that many of these families either make enough for the wife to stay home and school the children, or they have extended family present to raise the child until school age? Maybe they have the money to have a nanny instead of daycare?

        To me, daycare is a grotesque distortion of the Western clothe of family structuring, such that the income earnings is now so poor that both spouses HAVE to work, and the family structure has become fragmented through the social structure of Western civilization. It is like this. In Anglo societies like America, it is expected that 1) young couples starting a family have their own home and 2) when these young couples start having children, their parents are still in their 40s and 50s, meaning they are near or at the prime of their career lives. Because of the stressing on independent living and the want to have everything of their own, it doesn’t make sense to share a house between generations if it is possible to have your own house while your parents have their own. This means that it is not often that the grandparents take care of the children during these years, unless they live close enough together to make this work. This is completely different from the family structure in Dharmic society.

        It may not make sense at all to have daycare for Indian children in most situations.

    • Neocommunist

      Very aptly put.Since Hinduism is inward looking when it concerns with spirituality,it doesnt need a community or temple.In fact,the ancient practice of “Vanprastha” were specifically created for a man to find a place which is far from materialistic charms of world.
      Having said that,there is no doubt that ancient temples with continuous Yagna and rituals,have there own divine energy and nothing can substitute that.Especially,temples in Himalayas like Badrinath/Kedarnath are perfect for Spiritual enlightenment.

  • M Raghavan

    I am so glad to know this. Being raised Hindu myself, much of my own sense of community has come through the internet, also. I find it disheartening, though, that unlike the Jews, outside of India our community can only remain, at best, a virtual one.

    • Ambaa

      I’m continuing to try to build a stronger in-person community for myself as well! It is a struggle.

  • Emily.E.N

    Your blog has been incredibly validating for me as well, so thank you 🙂 It also led to me becoming an active reader of several other blogs on the site, which even led to me recently joining a committee for an interfaith non-profit in my area!

    • Ambaa

      That’s so awesome!

    • dr.viraj pradhan

      You have been looking for a book of prayers.Did you find one?If you haven’t,may I take the liberty of telling you that a prayer is an attempt to reach within.That is all.Don’t waste time in those booklets.You have read Upanishads.You know what and who you are already.The problem with us is ,we need something material /external to keep ourselves busy/artificially happy or to convince us that that will lead us within.It can only lead us outwards.All the outward attempts,including prayers,keep us outside of ourselves.That’s where or problems are.The vicious circle continues.It’s difficult to go within but that’s what we need to achieve.I hope I have not offended you.Regards,

  • Lokesh

    “My Gods” 🙂

  • Seeker

    Ambaa, this BLOG is my lifeline to other Hindu believers and learners. It helped me to understand why I cannot (or, OK, have not) completely left the Baptist Church. Your mention of Amish and Jewish people with their close knit communities is exactly what I share with other blacks in the Bapt. Church. That church and those people are my culture. We share a common belief on how life should be lived and a common thread on other matters that stem from therein. Many actually hold what are some aspect of Hindu beliefs.

    Of course, since I have become Hindu, I still attend the church and volunteer at the food bank and other communal endeavors. In addition, I get invited to their homes and am included socially with them. Some disagree with my Hindu beliefs but we just (thankfully) don’t discuss it.

    I am told that in order to get an ethical conversion, I must write a letter and get a formal severance from that church. I am wrestling with that because it is my culture lifeline too and it is a very difficult decision for me.

    Thanks for the blog and for all who contribute. Even those with whom I sometimes disagree give added value to spiritual journey.

  • Amar

    of course internet has opened the sky for many introverts (like me). It has given many person a new life.