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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