Who am I? What am I? What will I be?

Many paths to one destination

In the previous post I answered the main points in a comment by littleindian, about freedom to chose and following a guru. This post  addresses the two questions at the end of the comment. Answering these questions has proved to be quite difficult, each question has subtle meanings which have made me think very hard about the nature of Hinduism, religions, conversion, and culture. The first question intrigued me because of the wording:

Why did you choose to learn to live like a Hindu?

Usually people just ask “why did you chose to become a Hindu?”, which I answered in my three “How I became a Hindu” posts. Littleindian’s question is subtly different, showing an understanding of Hinduism as a way of life as well as a belief. So to what does it mean to live like a Hindu? To what extent do I live like a Hindu?

Pictire of With 619 wickets, Anil Kumble is the world's third highest wicket taker in Tests and India's highest Test and ODI wicket taker .

Anil Kumble, India's highest Test and ODI wicket taker .

When someone talks about Hindu culture or living like a Hindu they can mean two different things. Firstly they can mean the culture and way of life of the majority of Hindus. A lot of this  Indian culture is shared by a lot of non-Hindu Indians. A trivial example is that most male Indians have a great love of cricket, which they follow avidly. Other examples are Indian secular art-forms, Indian cinema, etc. These cultural elements are popularly referred to as “Desi culture” by many emigrants from the Indian subcontinent.  I make no attempt to “live like a Hindu” in this way. There are some things I like (Indian food, music, and artwork) and some things I have no interest in – I am less interested in cricket than even the average English person for example.

The second meaning of “living like a Hindu” involves ways of living that follow directly from the teachings of Hinduism. Examples of this are going the temple, performing daily puja, and chanting japa. There are also more subtle things which follow from Hindu beliefs, like living a truthful life, seeing God in everyone, and feeling spiritual purpose behind all. This is a necessary part of the Hindu religion. Following the Hindu way of life in this sense naturally follows from Hindu. beliefs. I chose to live dharma in this way because it is a way of living the teachings. The attitudes and observances naturally follow the beliefs. I am far from a perfect follower dharma, but my faith, Sanattana Dharma makes me want to follow it better.

The day you decide Hinduism is not for you, what will you be when you give it all up?

First of all I have a very strong feeling that I have found my spiritual home. I am very unlikely to stop following the Nandinatha Sampradaya and even less likely to decide that Hinduism is not for me. I cannot imagine that I would ever follow one of the dogmatic religions, each of which says “we are right, we are the only ones God will save”. I think it unlikely that I would follow one  of the ultra liberal religions without any creed. I have already seen how this leads to a “polite indifference” to belief. I have seen these paths before, as I describe in my three “How I became a Hindu” posts. However, even though I think I have found my spiritual home, this does make an in interesting hypothetical question.

One thing that thinking about this question has shown me is a distinction between born Hindus and coverts to Hinduism. A born Hindu who ceases to practise Hinduism or is agnostic is generally thought to still be a Hindu. A Born Hindu is a Hindu as long as they don’t explicitly convert to another religion. I don’t think that converts to Hinduism would be thought of as non-practicing Hindus in the same way. They are more likely to be seen as never really becoming a Hindu or as a dabbler.

So what would a convert to Hinduism be if they no longer followed Hinduism? Obviously if they adopted another path then this is what they would be. If they didn’t then I think they would be seen as seekers.

Sometimes the way is not straightforward

Some paths are not straight

I suppose really labels are not important – Anyone who did leave Hinduism, whether a convert or not would still be themselves. They would still be a soul on the path to God. It may not be the straightest path, but I believe that we will all reach God in the end.

Anyone who left Hinduism would certainly bring things they learned  with them. Hinduism accepts a wide range of beliefs, some seeing Shiva as the supreme God, some Vishnu, there are many more ways of seeing God within Hinduism. I can’t believe that anyone who has experienced the community of people worshiping God in different ways coming together with mutual respect, all fully passionate about their belief would not feel that this is important whatever path they follow.

The fact that there are so many  paths within Hinduism is one reason why it is inconceivable to me that I would ever need to look outside. Even so I found considering these questions very insightful. Perhaps unless we contemplate even the possibility of leaving a path and what it would mean, we cannot fully appreciate and understand why we are on it.

Picture “Many Paths to one Destination” from photobucket, which included invitation to copy and share. Picture of Kumble from Wikimedia, available under creative commons license. Picture of road sign from re-ality, licensed under the Creative Commons attribution license.


9 responses to “Who am I? What am I? What will I be?

  1. Interesting post, I have only been looking into Hinduism as of the recent few months and it has already taken a huge impact on my life and how I want to live it. I live in an area where the closest temple is about 2 hours away, so finding a way to learn the rituals such as puja have proved to be quite difficult. However, hopefully more travel on my part will eventually benifit my spiritual path. The more I learn the more I want to learn and practice on a regualr basis. Thanks for your insight as a western Hindu!

  2. No problem. You might want to look at the blogs by other Western Hindus, as there are many paths within Hinduism.

  3. Very thoughtful post.You chose tough questions and answered excellently.

  4. Interesting post…My own thoughts are that labels are faulty and ill-defined.

    Who is a Muslim? We have a security person at our home who is named Jaffer. We asked him, “Will you be around during Ramzan time or will you be taking off as per the custom?”. His response was, “Sir, I do not fast. So, I will be here working during Ramzan.” Now, is he Muslim?

    Who is a Christian? There were multiple news articles/youtube videos over the past few days wherein pastors exhort their flock to give up Yoga because it is demonic and Hindu.

    Are Westeners doing Yoga more Hindu than Indians who engage in smoking/drinking and do not practise Yoga?

  5. Hi Tandava,
    this is unexpected, didn’t realise you would look at my questions in depth.
    I would like to add my thoughts, if I may.

    From the way I see, we are human beings.
    Whatever be our purpose on earth, we are destined to live our lives through. And in doing so there is one primary requirement; to be a good human being. We can decide for ourselves how to be a good person or we need to follow rules set by others telling us how to do so.

    Religion is simply a set of beliefs, that also suggests/dictates a way of living for one to follows. Beliefs that has been imposed on us or we have accepted voluntarily; and in following we completely trust the person(s) who set out the rules, even if we know they are not based on proof. In good faith.

    Sadly, each religion has its own interpretation of what makes an individual a ‘good person’.

    As you have chosen to ‘live in the ways’ of a hindu, I would like to think that you do so in your belief that it will help you to be a good person. It is for you to decide what, amongst the very many ways, makes you a good person.

    But we are all born equal. We are all born ‘religionless’.
    Religion is not in our genetic makeup. There is no hindu gene or a christian gene. We dress ourselves with a religion through our lifetime, some of us change our religious attire, while some can simply discard the wardrobe.

    In quest of becoming a good individual, if you ever find a better way than the hindu way of living, or even your own way, then I would like to think you will take the better path.

    Then what will you be when you give this up? Whatever you choose to be.
    But you will always be a human being. Your strength will always be in your humanity.

  6. little indian,
    ” if you ever find a better way than the hindu way of living, or even your own way”
    just curious, what way is that there is that is bad in hindu way? And give some examples that canbe bettered ‘in hindu way’..

  7. @ surya,
    I amnot certain of what you are asking.

    But I would be blind and arrogant to say the Hindu way is the only way or there cannot be a better way. I believe we all have to find better ways.

    How can the Hindu way be bettered? Getting rid of the caste system would be a good start.

  8. @ littleindian
    ” Getting rid of the caste system would be a good start.”
    show me one hindu who doesnt agree with that. Some live in the past and some take more time, thats all. Iam from a shudra sect myself and am very glad to be a hindu. i studied other faiths and also lived in muslim and christian lands.
    The huge number of intercaste marriages happening all over is a clear indication of a revolution of starts happening, as we speak.. I go a step further by stating that when a hindu finds another compatible hindu, then nationality or race should not be an issue for their marriage. In Malaysia, Fiji, Trinidad, Bali,Europe, USA etc caste is not an issue among hindus.
    Reform is a part of hinduism from the very beginning. Cheers.

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