One day, when surfing the Internet I came across a Nataraja, the image of Shiva as the cosmic dancer on eBay. Almost on impulse I purchased it. I found myself impelled to read up on the symbolism. The symbolism of the dance of creation, preservation and destruction struck a chord with me and immediately felt right.
I found that whenever I passed the Nataraja I could see that this image represented God, and I felt compelled to thank God for all that exists.
I live near to a Hindu temple, and I decided to visit. At first I was very nervous about just turning up, but I was made very welcome and the Pandit explained many things to me. I also bought and studied many books on Hinduism, as I knew that I had been called to this path. One of the books I bought was “How to become a Hindu”, which is published by the Himalayan Academy and available online. This book answered many of the questions: can a Westerner become a Hindu, What is Hinduism, and so on. A little later I decided to follow a more structured study.
Further Study, the Chinmaya Mission
The obvious choice might have been the Himalayan Academy Master Course. This was my first instinct, but instead I followed the Chinmaya Mission e-vedanta course. I think that the reasons I chose this were twofold.
Firstly because I was prejudiced against the Himalayan Academy being based in Hawaii. I did not feel that an American-based organisation could really be an authentic Hindu organisation. It seemed that an India-based one would have a better “badge of authenticity”.
Secondly, I knew that Chinmaya was a Smarta organisation. I understood this as meaning that they saw many images of God as valid, and I think I still had not understood the problems with universalism.
The course was excellent, and I have no regrets about taking it. I learned a lot about Hindu concepts and established a regular practice of puja. I have written more about this in a previous post. In the end I decided that I would not continue this course past foundation level. I had discovered that their philosophy is impersonalist, believing that God is ultimately impersonal and that the manifestations as Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha, etc. are just higher levels of illusion. Whereas there are some people for whom this is a genuine path, I feel that the ultimate reality is not the impersonal Brahman but Lord Shiva as a personal God. Also, I was getting greater feelings of spirituality from my bhakti (devotion) than from the study and contemplation.
After the year’s study I found that I was still thumbing through the Himalayan Academy’s “How to Become a Hindu”, and getting more from it on each re-reading. I now count myself as a Hindu, but I acknowledge that past a certain point it is necessary to proceed within a certain lineage or school. I decided to go back to what I first instinctively felt to be right, now confirmed by more informed knowledge, and study the Himalayan Academy Master Course.
The Himalayan Academy
The Himalayan Academy Master Course is available free online, but I decided to follow it formally and purchase the books. As I mentioned in my post about the first impressions of the course, I was impressed by the physical quality of the books, as well as the content.
I have also discovered that my prejudice against a Hawaiian-based sampradaya was unfounded. The Saiva Siddhanta Church is part of a genuine lineage, and many of the students and members are of Indian origin. The master course certainly does not teach a Westernised version of Hinduism, but traditional teachings on the Nandinatha Sampradaya, a true Saiva lineage of Sanatana Dharma (the eternal way, Hinduism).
As I continue the course I get more and more spiritually from the clear and inspiring writing of Gurudeva than I had got from my previous course. The direct and simple style, full of devotion suits me better than the rather academic style of the Chinmeya course. Also, there is an online group for people who are officially taking the master course. This makes me feel as though I am part of the organisation, and it is very helpful to discuss lessons with fellow students. There is a real feeling of shared devotion to Lord Shiva, that we are on a spiritual path together.
Part of Hindu practice involves regular trips to the mandir. Having attended for some time, my wife and I applied to become official members and were accepted. Since first attending, the old Mandir has been replaced with a new one, and I feel that we are now fully accepted.
I find that I am beginning to get more spiritually from visiting the Mandir. I think that my regular spiritual practice tunes me in to the presence of the Devas in the mandir, and the general holiness of the place. I also intend to make visiting other Mandirs a part of my spiritual practice.
Who knows what my future path will be? I think that it is extremely likely that I will continue with the Saiva Siddhanta church and when ready become a full member. I do know that I am guided by Shiva, helped by Ganesha and Murugan. I feel that I may also be guided by gurus beyond the physical word, as I describe in my “books, leaves and Gurus” post.
I am reading Loving Ganesha, by Gurudeva Subramuniyaswami. This excellent book has helped me realise that Lord Ganesha can help with day to day problems. Sometimes the asking for help is all that you need to realise that what appeared to be a problem is no problem at all.
Whatever the future path has in store I am certain that I will increase my understanding, spiritual awareness and become closer to Lord Shiva and his great Devas, Ganesha and Murugan.