Conversion vs Covenant: White Hinduism-a Religion of Its Own?

What does it mean to be a Hindu? Lately I have been confronted over and over again with the question if people who were not born into the Hindu Dharm can be true Hindus?

The fact of the matter is that Hinduism can hardly be called a “religion” is the first place. There is no central doctrine. No set of laws. No requirements of lifestyle or dress. It is a way of life, a broad philosophy, a wide cultural precept.

One can be an atheist and be a Hindu. One can worship multiple representations of God and be a Hindu. One can worship one God and be a Hindu. One can be a vegetarian or a hefty meat eater and be a Hindu. One can go to the temple regularly or not at all and be a Hindu. One can be a Vaishanvite, Arya Samaji, Swami Narayan follower, Shiv Bhakt, Hare Krishna or almost anything else…and still be considered a Hindu.

With this incredible diversity, is there any one string that holds the concept of Hinduism together? What makes someone a Hindu?


Hinduism is encapsulated in Sanatan Dharm. Many have defined Dharm as Duty, but this is a shallow definition.

I recently heard an enlightening presentation by a friend of mine, Tim Shultz,  who has been observing the South Asian community for decades. He suggested that we can look at Dharm as a COVENANT. And this covenant is something one is born into.

Is Sanatan Dharm a religion that one can convert to?

So why do we see bhakti yogis and celebrities like Julia Roberts claiming to be Hindus? Performing the rituals, chanting the Hanuman Chaalisa, reading the Bhagavad Gita or following a guru does not make someone a part of Sanatan Dharm. Its all about the covenant of dharm.

This “white Hinduism” is something else.

I am going to pick on the white people, since we are the people in the world that seem to want to adopt other people’s religions. When I see white people like Julia Roberts or Katy Perry who identify themselves as Hindu, I feel incredibly uncomfortable.

Julia Roberts and her Guru
White Hindu?

When I look at folks like the bhakti yogi movement.  Many of these people LEAVE their family and family traditions rather than draw closer to their family. The opposite of what Dharm truly is.

Some of the aspects embedded in Hinduism that I find that most white Hindus are attracted to are:

  • Non-violence
  • Vegetarianism
  • Worship of Mother figure (feminine aspects of God)
  • Anti-war/pacifism
  • Verbal and physical forms of worship

These people “follow” some principles of Hinduism, but the principles they choose to follow within Hindusim are the principles that differ MOST from white cultural Republican Christianity in America. What about family values? What about respect for elders? What about sacrifice? Essential parts of Dharm which are neglected in this brand of “Hinduism.”

Is “white Hinduism” merely a reaction to a decayed brand of cultural Christianity? An exotic escape? The newest religious fad?

Can we call someone a Hindu that does not embrace and embody dharm?




Additional note: due to high volume of response to this blog, I feel the need to set some qualifying ground rules.

Any personal attacks or bullying against others readers or myself will not be tolerated. If you are looking for a place to discuss and share your thoughts on this topic, please submit comments for review. If you’re looking for a place to debate or bully others please find another blog, because your comments will not be published. This is a blog for discussion, not judging others.

“Dusro ki jaya se pehle khud ko jaya kare.” – “Before winning over others, first win over your self.”


104 thoughts on “Conversion vs Covenant: White Hinduism-a Religion of Its Own?”

  1. Having spent decades in ashrams in India, religiously following the rich culture of HInduism, my gut reaction is to say NO! Hinduism is not like a nationality that one has to be born into! But then, strikingly, I recall the “Roots of Love” movie I recently saw, which stresses that Sikhs have several very binding rules they follow in order to be considered a Sikh. Same with so many other religions but Hinduism? Yes, actually, throughout history it has been as you describe, without set rules or requirements in order to be considered a Hindu (though some orgs want to perform ceremonies to make one a Hindu or to join one of the many ancient Swami orders). Yet, doesn’t that same lack of absolutes entitle everyone to be declared a Hindu, if they so wish, in their heart? For, I am not ready to declare Hinduism either like a nationality, or like a religion – it is more in-between, a shade of gray so to speak. (I was also confused with you mentioning being born into Sanathana Dharm, describing it as a covenant – what does that mean, exactly? Being physically born into a certain community and either embracing it or not, such as the Sikhs or Jews; or if not, then meaning being born again, through rituals or sacred oaths to follow Dharm?)

  2. Very thought-provoking article. Brings up a lot of questions in my mind, such as:

    – What about the children of white Hindus? Is their dharm, then, the faith their parents adopted or is it the one of their grandparents?

    – People who grew up without a religious background – what is their dharm? Atheism? Agnosticism? The majority religion of their cultural milieu?

    – If you find major logical flaws with the religion you are born with, is it adharmic to leave that religion and/or find a spiritual path that makes more logical sense? Also, what does that mean to be ‘adharmic’? Is it culturally-bound or does it reflect a sin against a greater reality which transcends culture? (Obviously this does not matter if Hinduism is not the religion being converted to or from since it is external to the system)

    – Depending on the answers to the previous question, is it permissible for a white person from, say, an Abrahamic faith to convert to any other religion as long as it isn’t Hinduism (or Buddhism)?

    – Is conversion to Islam equally as appropriative or is it okay because it’s a religion which accepts converts? What about Sikhism, whose tenets are equality of all humankind?

    If Hinduism is, as often is said, not a religion but a way of life, why is it not possible to do as Eileen has done, spend many years living in a Hindu way of life, and call herself Hindu? There are many ‘ways of life’ – devout Christian, fitness fanatic, etc. These are all based on things that you do, not things that you are. A devout Christian believes in Jesus, reads the Bible, goes to church, etc. A fitness fanatic wakes up at 5 am, goes to the gym six days a week, eats only foods that will help their workouts, etc. So how does it not follow, if Hinduism is also a way of life, that someone who chants Gayatri Mantra, observes Hindu customs and rituals, studies the Vedas or performs acts of devotion, is not a Hindu?

    I think it comes down to the difference between ‘doing’ and ‘being’ cultures. Western cultures are generally ‘doing’ cultures and it is reflected in the spirituality. You have to either ‘do’ or ‘believe’ something in order to be considered part of the spiritual group. In either case, the onus is on you, the individual. Indian culture is a ‘being’ culture, which is also reflected. You belong to the faith of your group, and generally that group is family. Regardless of what you do, regardless of what you believe. Doesn’t matter. You’re still That, and part of an unbroken line of people who were That.

    Which, of course, then brings us to the situation of love marriages, and in particular intercultural and interreligious marriages. All of a sudden, that unbroken line of people who were That is broken. Is this a bad thing? Does it speak to the downfall of a culture or the enrichment of it? How, then, to define the spiritual paths of the two people who enter into such a relationship, and of their children? Is it possible to take an Eastern view of things, where the outsider becomes absorbed into the Hindu culture and becomes himself or herself a Hindu? Or is it required then to take the individualized Western viewpoint and renounce the label Hindu? Or both? Or neither?

    I’m not sure if I’m allowed to have an opinion on this since I’m looking at it from an external perspective. I could say that the only people who have a right to determine who a Hindu is are Hindus, but again we have the question of who is a Hindu and we’re right back to where we started. Simply saying that if you think you’re Hindu because you believe it in your heart, then you’re Hindu, is a very Western perspective. And I think both sides of the argument ignore the fact that cultural flow happens constantly, goes both (multiple?) ways, and that the Hinduism of today has been influenced by external factors, just as every other religion in the world has.

    1. Andrea, well written and I like all your questions. I am particularly moved by this line:

      “These are all based on things that you do, not things that you are.”

      I think you do discuss this later in your response, but on the whole people around the word use labels, rituals, and rules to identify who they are, but it really is NOT who they ARE, it is what they are DOING. And, it’s easy to confuse and intertwine these. Part of what we do is who we ARE but not 100% (in my mind!). This is debatable of course!

      I am still in my mind living the best life I can regardless of any label of religion or culture or group I place on myself. I can change that label (as White Hindus have from Christian to Hindu or Jewish to Hindu, etc), but how much does that really change the core person beneath that?

      That is the core question.

      1. I am, as Andrea asked about, a white Hindu who was born a white Hindu. My parents raised me to be Hindu, while not knowing everything about it themselves. Where do you suppose that puts me?

      2. The thing is there is a fundamental difference between the two views. DesCarte would say ‘I think therefore I am’ while Vedanta says ‘I am therefore I think!!’. This is the soul of this argument that you just referred to above. A very profound point (at least to me). Your actions do represent who you are but represent it in a limited dimension ( ie doing work which can be seen heard etc). The important thing to understand is although doing good or bad does have consequences and does also give an idea of your understanding of yourself and your current thoughts and mind it doesn’t precede or cannot presuppose who you are. One can ask why then would one even do something when it would have no effect in who one ACTUALLY is. The answer is very subtle and probably a question asked by Arjuna to Krishna in Geeta. The answer is that lots of aspects of even thought and active mind also come under the purview of what you are doing. Now why this ‘appears’ as who you ARE rather than what you are DOING is because to actually have control over it and to see clearly of this being something you can actually change is where a lot of the meditation, hindu practices are aimed at ! I am not sure if I explained the idea very clearly :).

    2. Although it’s been 1.5 years since your comment, I feel compelled to make the following point:

      You can about as much convert to Hinduism and become a Hindu as you can convert to Germanism and become a German.

      The quality of Hindu-ness lies in blood and lineage, not in religious conviction.

      Still, you may convince yourself that you are a Hindu, and can even be accepted as such by Hindus, just as Eminem feels he’s Black… but that does not mean he’s Black, nor are you a Hindu if you weren’t born as one.

      I feel it’s the prevailing culture of “choice” in the U.S. that has lead many a “Hindus by choice” to believe that they can be Hindus if they choose be so. But, well, I hate to burst their balloons, but Hinduism is not a matter of choice but one inheritance.

      1. Hello Sambuddha! I would love to discuss this with you. I think you have very valid points and there are many who think similarly. At the risk of over-essentializing, Western cultures tend to emphasize what you ‘do’ and Eastern cultures tend to emphasize what you ‘are.’ Or maybe I should put it this way: In the west, what you do determines who you are. In the east, who you are determines what you do.

        But there is also a vast amount of philosophical thought within the Hindu tradition; the Vedas, the Gita, the teachings of various gurus throughout the ages – Sai Baba, Ramakrishna, etc. Are these things simply, then, restricted to Indians only and as such, inaccessible to Westerners – not by rule but by ability to understand?

        Also, how do you feel about groups such as Vedanta Society and Arya Samaj who do teach Hindu philosophy to Westerners? Are they simply trying to make a quick buck? Is Hindu philosophy not a universal explanation of the understanding of things, but is limited to the Indian context only?

      2. Those who say that Sanatan Dharma (some call it Hinduism) is only for Indians are the racist if the highest order.

        Sanatan Dharma is the Eternal path of the humanity – all human beings wherever they are born, wherever they may live, whatever language they may speak – all can walk this path.

        Our Vedas and Gita all clearly establishes and calls universal inclusion of all.

        Hari Om Tat Sat.


      3. The Sanatan Dharma is UNIVERSAL in all its aspects. Infact it is the ONLY tradition that ACCEPTS ALL and EMBRACES ALL.

        One need not be BORN in India to live and/or walk this path as this is a universal path for everyone.

        In none of our scriptures, teachings, philosophy there is any compulsion to be an Indian, to be born an Indian or be Indian by blood. There is no racism, no regionalism, no cast-ism, no class-ism – only universal oneness.

        Infact our Vedas and Gita are for all humanity and all are welcome to walk this universal path.

        One may join good groups on FB or other social media to understand this better. One of the group is this one:

        With regards,

      4. What if I was Hindu in my previous life and was reincarnated as a white woman so I could experience life from a different perspective? Perhaps I was on the spiritual path before-

        Why does the body I am born into exclude me from becoming close to god by following the practise that I feel is truthful? I have studied many religions and cultures and I find that the Sadhu practise speaks to me more than the practises of my own culture- which is devoid of substance and morality and family values. To tell me to accept Western culture because I am white and my parents are ignorant of themselves is to tell me that I can never raise my conciousness to become closer to the infinite truth. I cannot simply contain myself to grow inside of a container as small as “Western Culture” . Since all people of this world are one- then doesn’t all the knowledge of man belong to all of mankind?

        To exclude others because of their race and culture (things they did not choose for themselves) is to exclude your own family. We are all children of the same race.

    3. I should like to elaborate my opinions on Andrea’s comment a little bit more:

      “What about the children of white Hindus? Is their dharm, then, the faith their parents adopted or is it the one of their grandparents?”

      If by “white” you mean European, then the phrase “white Hindus” is a contradiction in terms. A Hindu is a person of Indian ancestry; consequently, whites cannot be, by definition, Hindus. The above question is therefore, ipso facto, absurd.

      Hinduism is not a religion, at least not in the same sense Christianity or even Buddhism are religions; it the collection of myths, legends, folklores, cultural habits, rites and rituals, traditional laws and Weltanschauung of Hindus.

      Hindus pre-date Hinduism. Just because you love Hindu rituals or philosophy doesn’t mean you are Hindu. Just because I speak English doesn’t mean I’m Anglo-Saxon.

      “People who grew up without a religious background – what is their dharm? Atheism? Agnosticism? The majority religion of their cultural milieu?”

      The word “dharm” or “dharma” has no exact English equivalent. I don’t know about Sanskrit, but in Bengali (which bears the same relation to Sanskrit as Italian does to Latin), dharma can have many different meanings.

      Consider the following phrases, all of which are correct, both syntactically and semantically:

      #1. It is a policeman’s dharma to protect and serve the citizens.
      #2. The potassium atom’s dharma is to donate the one electron in the outermost shell to attain stable configuration.
      #3. The mammalian dharma is to nurse the young ones with the mother’s milk.
      #4. You can’t run faster than light in vacuum; that’s the dharma of the cosmos.
      #5. If the 1% doesn’t share the greater share of the tax burden, who will? This should their dharma, for God’s sake!!!
      #6. The tigers’ dharma to hide from encroaching humans, but not the lions’. This is largely because of the fact that the tiger is a solitary creature.
      #7. Yousuf adheres to the Islamic dharma.

      That brings me to the question, what is my dharma? Obviously, my first and foremost dharma is to breathe air. My second dharma is to eat and drink water…. life demands it. Pay taxes; the sovereign demands it, get married, have babies… my parents demand it. Agitate for higher interest rates on my pension account… I demand it. 🙂

      “If you find major logical flaws with the religion you are born with, is it adharmic to leave that religion and/or find a spiritual path that makes more logical sense? Also, what does that mean to be ‘adharmic’? Is it culturally-bound or does it reflect a sin against a greater reality which transcends culture? (Obviously this does not matter if Hinduism is not the religion being converted to or from since it is external to the system)”

      I have found a lot of major flaws with my genotype. I am myopic and wear glasses 24×7. On my father’s side, there is preponderance of heart ailments and on my mother’s side, diabetes.

      Should I then deny the fact that I am my parents’ son?

      “Depending on the answers to the previous question, is it permissible for a white person from, say, an Abrahamic faith to convert to any other religion as long as it isn’t Hinduism (or Buddhism)?”

      You cannot change your ethnicity simply by a declaration of spiritual inclinations or by leading some kind of lifestyle. That is what I am trying to say.

      A long long time ago, there were no Russian people. Then a motley group of Slavic tribes, Vikings, Tatars, Mongols and then later Germans and the indigenous peoples of Siberia, all came forth together and merged into a single people – the Russian people.

      This is what happened in many places where tribal societies merged into national societies.

      Modern Russians don’t give two hoots about where their fellow Russians’ ancestors came from – but a thousand years the Vikings certainly gave two… no, make it three hoots, about the Slavs.

      Yet today the Russians are a distinct people, with a distinct past and a distinct destiny, a distinct ethnic identity and a distinct national character. They know INSTINCTIVELY who their fellow Russians are.

      Now that the Russian identity has been solidified, Russians aren’t going to merge with Spaniards and Norwegians to form another people, anytime soon.

      This is roughly the same with Hindus.

      Hindus come in all shapes and colours. The Hindu world once stretched from Afghanistan to Bali. But this expansive Hinduism was the result of assimilation, as ancient non-Hindus who came into contact with ancient Hindus tended to adopt the latter’s ways, and eventually they too became Hindus.

      So, you should ask yourself whether you can assimilate into Hinduism instead of whether you can “convert” to Hinduism.

      The answer is NO.

      You cannot even assimilate into Hinduism NOW. Your window of opportunity is gone.

      However, if you are married to a Hindu, raised your children Hindu, and those children identified with the Hindus, then one day may be, your grandchildren or great-grandchildren will be regarded unequivocally as Hindus by other Hindus.

      You may NOT become a Hindu, but you can pave the way for your descendants.

      I beg your forgiveness for my earlier sarcasm, but this is the point I’ve been trying to stress.

      “Is conversion to Islam equally as appropriative or is it okay because it’s a religion which accepts converts? What about Sikhism, whose tenets are equality of all humankind?”

      In Islam you belong to the community because you believe in the principles. In Hinduism, you believe in the principles, or at least in the rituals, BECAUSE you belong to the community.

    4. I understand that above there has been a confusion about who is to be referred to as a Hindu and who is not a Hindu. Let me first Clarify that Hinduism is not a religion its Vedic/Sanaatan Dharma. The term Hindu is an Arabic term used by the muslim invaders who advanced into the western frontier of India after Crossing the River “Sindhu(modern day Indus)” and hence the word “Hindu” You will never ever find this word in the ancient scriptures may it be Bhagwat Geeta or Raamayan or Mahabharata or Puranas or Upanishads or shastras. Also, your choice of faith is good because u don’t need to perform some ritual to get converted. Some people Argue that the Indian Vedic tradition believed in caste system which again isn’t true because casteism comes when some honourable people who dominate the society start bullying others and force them to carry on the family occupation which was wrong and has been condemned by the authors or both Ramayana and Mahabharata. Disrespecting some1 just because they are lower then you in term of physique beauty intelligence or because u consider them to be born in a presumably called lower caste is a Disrespect to the Supreme being himself. I can tell you more about this if you like in detail but then i would have to find out proper words because some of the sanskrit words could be really difficult to translate hope u understand..:) This reply is specifically for Andrea hope it answers her confusion.

  3. Jessica, I tend to believe the Hinduism that many non-Hindus adopt is much more ‘liberal’ than the Hinduism people are born into. What I mean, is if we look into Hindu families that have been Hindus forever, we see that they are generally very strict in rituals, traditions, auspicious dates and even what god/desses they worship or don’t! And, to veer from those set rules is actually rare. That’s why it’s hard for a Shivaite Tamil Brahmin to marry a Vishnavite Tamil Brahmin.

    Us ‘white’ Hindus tend to think Hinduism is all encompassing and more open minded than Christianity, but as any religion, including Christianity has it’s rules and regulations Hinduism has many more than we can ever even grasp in one lifetime! 🙂

  4. “I am going to pick on the white people, since we are the people in the world that seem to want to adopt other people’s religions.”

    I don’t believe that it is only white people who convert to other religions. For example, Islam attracts a lot of Latinos in the US, and of course African Americans who through conversion make up about 25% of the total US Muslim population, not to mention others. I have even known converts to Islam from Hinduism. And I have known former Hindu and Muslim converts to Christianity as well.

    Some thoughts: Some Hindus believe all non-Hindus to be outcastes, be these non-Hindus aboriginal people of India who are actually scheduled as outcastes through legal means in India—even though these outcastes may actually practice and worship in ways that are recognizably within of the folds of Hinduism—or foreigners who have nothing to do with Hinduism. Outcastes, foreign or otherwise, are inherently impure and can’t achieve caste even if they start to practice behaviors of ritual purity. They can’t become Hindu without rebirth as a Hindu. Or in some cases, a type purification ritual that would allow one to enter Hinduism or achieve a higher caste status (has happened historically). Ritual purity is essential to Hindus who believe this way and so you get into living as a Hindu; ritual bathing, touch and touchability, pure and impure foods, purifying prayers and acts, and so on, though of course these things are meaningless to many modern Hindus, especially those who are socially active against notions of caste and inherent purity or impurity, or are simply lax in practice or may even be atheists, but still consider themselves 100% Hindu in culture and outlook. So that is one view. Another view is that Hinduism is vast and that once you are living it in any one of its many faces, you are a Hindu. Period.

    For me, there is only a problem of white Hinduism when it exists as a form of misappropriation. Julia Roberts is a good example of that. Hinduism is commodified, its symbols are exotic, titillating products to those who want a touch of spice in their supposedly vapid white existence. So they look to Hinduism, Sufism divorced from Islam (another favorite among this type of white person, as if there is such a thing as Islam-free Sufism!), Native American religions, crystals, etc. They want to go to a sweat lodge and romanticize Native Americans, but don’t want to see Native Americans as modern people, they don’t want to invest themselves in the problems or issues of Native American communities or contribute to these communities. They only want to steal from other cultures and not contribute anything in return. They think they are honoring a culture by stealing from it. Same with Hinduism. They want incense and swamis, but they don’t want to learn anything about India, they probably hate India (and make movies about India that show India in a reductive and primitive way, like Julia), they don’t want to invest themselves in struggles for the rights of Hindus in the US, they have no idea about any politicized scene or activist discourse among the ‘exotic creatures’ they seek for spiritual guidance. To them, these figures only exist in smoke filled temples resounding with jingling prayer bells, but not as people on the street, the office, at the store, or doing anything else. They don’t care to fight for any struggles against social ills within Hindu communities that Hindus are challenging themselves (caste-ism, women’s rights, etc). It never even occurs to invest themselves or connect themselves like that. Because their connections are hollow. Bindi and sari. Take prasad and then go home and forget about everything. Learn only the most superficial things, even when these seem spiritually deep, they are just a scratch of the surface. Get bored, move on to the next exotic thrill.

    You are not like this in your approach to Hinduism. Neither is Eileen or Andrea. So if you are living as a Hindu in one of the many ways that one can do that, and if you are invested personally, culturally, socially, and otherwise in a Hindu lifestyle and a Hindu community, why not consider the possibility that you are a white Hindu, even if you don’t belong to a particular group or sect that accepts converts. On the other hand, if you are living this way, but have reservations about identifying as a Hindu for whatever reason, that is perfectly fine, too.

    One thing, Eileen, in case you read this: That man in the video said that only turbaned Sikhs can be Sikhs, but so many Sikhs would disagree with that. I think we should be wary of religious spokesmen and authorities trying to box people into orthodoxy. I don’t know if Sikhism has a concept of excommunication, but I know many mona/shorn-haired Sikhs who would vehemently disagree with what that Uncle said and who very much identify as Sikhs in every way even when their hair is cut.

  5. Eileen, Andrea and Jennifer,

    Thanks for the incredibly insightful comments! This is exactly the kind of dialogue I’m looking for… and the same questions I’m wrestling with.

    Preface: being a white person myself, I’m pondering these questions more than “making up rules” of what dharm is, how people should be perceived or excluding anyone.

    I’m thinking deeply about Dharma as a Covenant and how that impacts the way I see Hindu culture.

    I guess my main purpose in this blog was to draw a line between people who call themselves “Hindu” but are unaware of Dharmic ties AND those people who are fully aware of the Covenant they are entering into by calling themselves a Hindu. There is a big difference and the two types of people shouldn’t be lumped together as “white Hindus.”

    What I’m saying is that there is a big difference between someone like Katy Perry (who adopts superficial aspects of Hindu culture) and someone like Eileen who has lived for years within a Dharmic tradition and understands the covenant of relationship, duty and sacrifice that is called “the Hindu way of life.”

    If we accept the idea that Dharma is a Covenant, then think the first group should not be called “Hindu” but something else.

    1. I actually want to call into question the idea that a Covenant is something you are born into. In legal terminology, a covenant is an agreement between two parties. The way it is being used here has very Judeo-Christian connotations to me (more Judaic than Christian, actually.)

      The way I see it being used here is as in the Abrahamic covenant – in the book of Genesis, Abraham agreed to do what Yahweh wanted him to, and in return, Yahweh would make him the father of many nations. Both parties entered in; both parties agreed; both parties delivered. However, the covenant also includes all descendants of Abraham as well, and those who are born into Jewish homes today are ostensibly Jews because of that initial covenant entered into by an ancestor thousands of years ago. Is this the sort of covenant described here? Is it translatable to an Eastern context?

      To oversimplify matters – and I am fully aware this is a gross oversimplification – is this sort of covenant similar to the covenant of an arranged marriage where neither bride nor groom had any say in the choice of partner? Basically, your marriage partner is chosen for you by Fate, and now it’s you’re stuck with it. Either make the best of it or discover the joy in sacrifice. Similarly, this view seems to espouse that your religion is chosen for you by Fate and is determined by the parents you get born to, so your path in life is to follow that religion and not deviate from it.

      As a humanist, spiritual or otherwise, I vehemently disagree with this, as almost all social progress has been due to deviations 🙂

    2. Jesica Kumar , HInduism or Sanathana dharma is not based on a Covenant, Hindus are not people of the book. although hindus have many books or scriptures for guidance. there are no injunctions or commandments. there are no blasphemy laws. Hinduism is pluralistic . there are many spiritual paths one can chose to follow. you seems to be confusing culture with Dharma. Dharma is beyond culture , nationality , ethnicity etc.

      1. Hi Himanshu- thanks for your thoughts. I’d encourage you to look past the semantics of the actual word “covenant” and think about the implications of what a covenant means-“being bound to a way of life through relationship.” In the case of Hinduism- the covenant is with one’s family and larger people group or caste.

        If one “converts” to a religion they are choosing to follow a certain narrow path or defined way of life. Like you said–there isn’t one in Hinduism which is exactly my point- I’m not sure a person can ‘convert’ to Hinduism.
        What do you think?

  6. Thanks Fatima for your thoughts. I think you summed up my annoyance at cultural digesters like Julia Roberts:
    “They want incense and swamis, but they don’t want to learn anything about India.”

    There is a line between those who adopt Dharm as a lifestyle and commitment, and those who are cultural tourists.

    1. Jessica , if your definition of “covenant” means “being bound to a way of life through relationship.” that is again culture you are referring to. it is not Dharma. culture is specific to a region or to a specific clan. even rituals they follow & food they eat differ from place to place and clan to clan. where as Dharma has no such boundaries.
      the term “conversion” is an Abrahamic concept. it means rejecting one ideology and accepting another. Sanathna Dharmis of India were never exposed to such a concept until India was invaded by Abrahamic religions and started forceful conversions of locals. even today Sanathan Dharmis do not believe in proselytization because there is no Devine compulsion or mandate to convert other people. to follow Dharma one doesn’t have to denounce his/her previous faith. but if some on from monotheistic Abrahamic religion decides to follow Dharma, they would automatically braking their fundamental religious covenants like ” thou shalt not worship any other god before me” perhaps thats the reason people tend to believe that they need to convert in order to follow Sanathana Dharma. they may feel comfortable to follow Dharmic traditions once they convert because they would not be feeling guilty of being heretics or blasphemers to their religion. I think it is that Abrahamic upbringing that causes people to “convert”. in some cases it may be necessary to come out their religion to follow dharma. for instance Abrahamic religions does not allow Idol worship if some one wants to follow Bakthi marga & worship Krishna , they have to come out of their religion to do so. perhaps this coming out of religion is “conversion” rather than going in to Dharma. if some one is a raised as an atheist , he can follow dharma without converting because he has no restrictions to begin with.

  7. I can’t answer for anyone else but I know from my own personal upbringing, beliefs and conversion that I am Hindu. In my studies (through the Himalayan Academy) I learned how the Christian values I was raised with were more in line with Hinduism than current Christianity. I grew up with strict rules that are now blatantly disregarded by that same church. I value rules and rituals above dressing up on Sunday morning to show off. Of course, none of that is directly relevant to your post.

    I question whether or not someone has to be born into this. If that were the case then there would be a lot of lost souls out there, born out of religion/community who would never find their place in life. Unless of course some people are born Hindu but raised in other sects. There are countless examples of parents and families forcing their views and values, not all religious, onto children who don’t know any different. How would one find their true calling (birthright, etc.) if they never explored beyond what their family taught them? What about adopted children or those in orphanages who don’t know their real families? Where would they fit in? No one can ever know what they were born into, they only know what life has taught them or what they have taken the initiative to learn on their own.

    This is why I don’t agree that you must be born into in the method I feel you’re describing. I would be more inclined to say you can never truly understand it unless you were born and raised around it. That still leaves the diversity issue where each family and each person within the family has their own personal deity, tradition, etc. It would be impossible to sort out. Of course, you could narrow the definition down to ancient Hinduism as it was in it’s earliest beginnings before it became perverted by the addition of so many deities and individual preferences. That too would probably take a life time to sort out.

    I get what you’re saying though. It is very different for a westerner, not just white people, to convert to Hinduism than it would for someone born into a Hindu family to adopt the principles and traditions. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It could just be that people like Julia Roberts were misplaced souls, raised under the wrong faith who have found their way home.

    According to the cycles of rebirth, it would also stand to reason that all people in the world are Hindu. If souls are reborn as donkeys and cockroaches, why couldn’t they be reborn as white people? There’s simply no real way to sort this out and no way for anyone to know.

    1. American Punjaban- I like your last point quite a bit! That is a good point.

      Frankly, I don’t have any problem with foreigners to any religion/culture trying to make it part of their life, even if it appears to be a fad.

      If I have any right to criticize them as a foreigner wanting to adopt something ‘not in their birth culture’ than I should be criticizing myself and not allowing myself to accept/adopt/embrace/live anything outside what I was exposed to when I grew up.

    2. American Punjaban…. actually your comment made me think one more thing……and this is probably unpopular.

      It’s not as acceptable for outsiders to Asian cultures, and maybe especially Indian culture and more so with those to adopt Hinduism. And, more by insiders to those cultures than outsiders.

      But, let’s look at the USA… it’s acceptable, in fact, almost part and parcel of those who decide to settle in the US to “become” American. Why is this acceptable and a requirement among most settled Americans for newcomers to Americanize, almost like it’s ‘easy’ to understand American culture (as compared to other cultures).

      To assume American or any culture is ‘easy’ to learn and adopt is to trivialize it. It also minimizes it. And, then we can argue, if American ‘culture is easy’, does it make these other cultures ‘hard to understand and adopt’ (comparatively)?

      I (as a born and raised American) think it is difficult to adopt any culture- especially if we look at a WHOLE culture- the behaviors, mindset, rules, mores, daily behaviors, language, spiritual aspects and more. We may not be able to adopt/accept everything and why should we? A bit of understanding goes along way. I think we can piece things together that we find tolerable and acceptable to adopt, partially or wholly. And, to say a foreigner must accept EVERYTHING in another culture/religion to reduce the trivial adaptation is also not really the best solution either. THat would assume natives of any culture would have to accept/adopt everything in their birth culture. If we did that, there’d never be cultural change and social improvements.

      It’s always good for outsiders to come in and adopt and learn, we can learn from their perspectives, question our ways and motives and hopefully learn that to better ourselves.

      Maybe that’s what people are really afraid of when they see outsiders adopting and adapting to their ways- new questions to be raised, no answers, no good answers or reasons to pop up to change (and why do that because ‘it’s just our culture’ and it’s been like this for decades and generations and we were OK until you came along and started to poke and prod!).

      1. The truth of the matter is that diversity of culture, whether that be ethnic, religious, or even subcultural diversity, is constantly affecting “our culture” every second, acting upon it, molding it, changing it.

        Indian culture of 1982 is not the same as Indian culture of today. Evangelical Christianity is not the same culture it was even ten years ago. Values, worldviews have changed, despite the insistence from a vocal minority that “nothing has ever changed in this culture.” Oh, really? So the Internet has had no influence on the culture? 9/11 or 26/11 have had no influence? Women are not better off? (Or worse off?)

        The only thing that never changes is a pile of rocks and bones. And if you refuse to change, your ideas will also become just like those rocks and bones – dead, not useful, irrelevant.

      2. Exactly! We can never be more than our life shapes us to be or what we choose to make ourselves. You could never fully adopt something that you don’t live, practice, breathe, etc. And to adopt something, that is what you have to do. Take the time to learn it, practice it, experience it.

        You make a great point about Americans expecting other cultures to turn out to be just like us. It’s wrong. I’ve addressed this a few times in my blog as well. It always bothered me to hear people say that if someone didn’t like America or speak English they should leave but it wasn’t until I had similar things said to me about India that I really understood how wrong that attitude is.

        This has really been a good post. I don’t think I misunderstood you at all, I was only asking thought provoking questions that came to my mind while reading.

      3. Kristy, all your questions – and everyone else’s are good and thought provoking, even if they are all not addressed/answered.

        One thing that bothers me is when it’s said one must understand something deeply or fully before adopting it.

        I think that puts too much pressure on ourselves for wanting to try new things or change ourselves. No one can possibly know everything about anything as it’s fluid and always changing.

        What makes me better than say Julia Roberts? Is it because I lived in India and studied in a college there, earned a degree and lived in a ladies hostel and had to be in by 6 everyday? Am I better because I lived with various Hindu families for the span of two years and now am living in India married into a Hindu family (that owns their own temple)? And just because a family owns a temple does that make them “more Hindu” than other Hindus?

        I have been criticized by Indians, Americans and many others for adapting and changing as I have, but are my experiences ‘better’ than others or do my experiences make me ‘more inclined’ or ‘better adapted’ to become something than someone else? By saying any celebrity has no right to ‘Indianize’ or ‘Hindu-ize’ like the rest of us actually doesn’t that go against a value of thinking we are all equal and have the same opportunity to try something?

        Maybe it’s exotic for someone at the beginning- but as they learn and evolve they settle more into it? Who’s to say? Who’s to say a person lived in India among Hindus and who’s married into a Hindu family and ‘becomes Hindu’ doesn’t get ‘bored and just wish to be like they were when they were raised?

        I think it’s different for everyone. What makes one person look silly and another look ‘respectable’ is all a matter of perspective. Who are we to judge them? (After all we are trying to discuss this so that we ourselves are not being judged or we may be tired of others judging us for the labels/cultures/religions we have adopted.)

    3. Great thoughts Kristy, I don’t know if I’ve articulated this very well in my blog, but I agree that it is possible for someone to be considered a Hindu who was not born into that society.

      Again, I’m not trying to make up rules or exclude people. That is certainly not my place of all people. 🙂

      I am saying that certain individuals like Julia Roberts should do a deep analysis of themselves and understand that it is Dharm that really makes one a Hindu– not a set of rituals, practices, taking diksha of a guru, or self declaration.

      Once that framework is understood, then should make a decision if they want to call themselves that. Otherwise they look silly.

      THEN of course there is the concept: if others in the Hindu community consider that individual a Hindu. If no one in the mainstream Hindu world considers a person part of Sanatam Dharm, I would say that the individual is actually part of their own mini-religion. Not Sanatan Dharm.

      Of course the test of “community acceptance” is a whole other matter. 🙂

      1. You’re absolutely right. Before claiming to be something, you MUST know and accept what you are claiming to be – the good, the bad, the hard, the easy, etc. Going through the motions doesn’t mean anything. In cases like Julia Roberts, she needs to be even more careful because everything she does will be closely scrutinized and the slightest mistake damages her credibility and potentially the religion (or anything else she chooses to stick her name on). She is held to a higher standard.

      2. Any one who knows the tenets of Santan Dharma and believe in them is a Hindu…HInduism is so vast..It is practiced through out World…For e.g the Sat Guru BodiNatha is very well respected aamong Indian HIndus..many times awarded by Vishwa Hindu Parisahd..he is too famous in Bali,Malasiya etc…as A Hindu Spritual Saint..Leaving Western coutntry alone…and yes culturally you can be American but you should believe in Santan Dharma beliefs…No confusion about culture HInduism is followed in Many coutries with diff. culture..even In India There is great set of mix of cultures…Say Proudly we are Hindus..Namaskar..Aum Shanti Shanti Shanti..

      3. Great question. In writing this blog, I’ve found a lot of interesting points of view. More than trying to make rules, or draw lines in the sand, I’m observing what I’ve seen.

        I think the main thing (and I’m not sure I made this so clear in my main post), is that it is really about the family system. Adopting dharm, the duties that come along with it, is what most Indians/Nepalis/etc consider to be Hindu. Not actually “doing” Hindu things.

        What are your observations?

    4. Just to say, this conversation is really great! I’m glad all of you have been able to share your thoughts on this. This is helping me to think through some of the thoughts I’ve had percolating for a long time.

  8. Interesting conversation here. Not much to add. The designation of “Hinduism” as a “religion” has been an extraordinarily unhelpful occurrence for which we can thank the Orientalist scholars of a century ago. Seems a bit on par with a phrase like “Africanism” or “Americanism”. Likewise, conversion seems to be a concept that is rather foreign to the concept of Hindu life. Its a rather modern adaptation, I think.

    In the West, it seems our image of “religion” is something like a classroom. There is lecturer, text book, and students engaged in a fairly one-dimensional dissemination of information. The Hindu world is more like a dance. It is multidimensional, continuous, communal. It is less about knowing or believing the right things. It is more about hearing the music, moving in sync and step with the other dancers, the right step at the right time. Sin in this context is getting out-of-step. Something everyone does from time to time and something everyone must respond to in order to get the dance back on track.

    Something like that.

    1. I think the thing to gather from your comment in this circumstance is that those who “join” the dance without observing or understanding the dance are doing a disservice to themselves. The dance will go on with or without them.

      Its very important to observe the dance and to have others accept you as a person who belongs dancing with them. Because the dancers are afraid of accepting an outsider who risks embarrassing them at the performance! (ie Katy Perry).

      1. Umm, dance analogy makes sense, but it would make more sense to say “There was no dance, nobody danced, but assumed so, and some thought some were outsiders in that dance.”

        Any one can be Hindu, In fact you never become one, nor do you ever leave it, Only purpose of Dharma is for upliftment of oneself.

        How can whites, blacks or Latinoes be outsiders to dharma where Monkeys, Elephants, Snakes and peacocks and Humans are considered equal in God.

      2. Umm, dance analogy makes sense, but it would make more sense to say “There was no dance, nobody danced, but assumed so, and some thought some were outsiders in that dance.”

        Any one can be Hindu, In fact you never become one, nor do you ever leave it, Only purpose of Dharma is for upliftment of oneself.

        How can whites, blacks or Latinos be outsiders to dharma where Monkeys, Elephants, Snakes and peacocks and Humans are considered equal in God.

  9. Jessica…you have very good insight. I’m learning about Dharm ,Hindu , Celebrity. With experiences you have seen and encountered… many cultures and beliefs and adapted your own life to them . Why is it seen as something wrong or unsettling for an other individual to embrace what they want for themselves whether it is seen otherwise.

    1. Hi Linda,

      Good thoughts. Hinduism and Buddhism are unlike Abrahamic religions in which there is a central doctrine or set principles. Hinduism is defined by a principle of Dharm (or Dharma as we say in the West).

      What I’m saying here is that what people like Julia Roberts are practicing is not Dharmic Hinduism. I’d consider it some kind of new religion in which a lot of people who were not born into Hinduism are taking up practices and saying they are Hindus. I think some people like this are doing a disservice to themselves by saying they are Hindu.

      There was a big controversy lately about Katy Perry getting married in a Hindu ceremony and then half-hazardly gets a divorce. Classic example of picking up some “Hindu practices” but not embodying the lifestyle of Dharm (which exalts commitment and family relationships above all else).

      People have the right to do what makes them happy, but should be aware of the religion they are calling their own before stamping themselves with a label that doesn’t fit.

  10. Hi Jessica. Fantastic interchange of view. I totally agree that Hinduism is dharm and I conceive of dharm primarily as relationship within a Hindu family. These dharmic relationships are formalized by custom and ceremony which seem to me to be covenantal in an almost Abrahamic sense of the word, so I refer to them as covenant relationship. The ability and committment to follow this manner of relationship within a Hindu family is how I conceive of Hinduism, of being Hindu. This is obviously possible by birth and also, in my opinion, by marriage. There are many people who self identify as Hindu apart from joining a Hindu family of course. I agree that the word Hinduism is artificial and perhaps even misleading, although it is a part of the global lexicon now. I do not find the example set by Julia Roberts or Katy Perry and their supposed Hinduism in any way compelling or realistic. I do not think they are Hindu.

  11. i wud say its a great article questioning the rise of Hinduism fad among white people who would understand bits and pieces of the world’s Oldest religion!
    Since the religion in itself is vast and has a history of undergoing incredible/ innumerable transformations since it came into existence and still is diversifying and adapting to the modern day environment, i don’t think its possible to have a one-point explanation or meaning to whether Hinduism is a religion or a way of life…is it related to only the Philosophy of “Karma”/Vegetarianism/Non-Violence/Cow-Worship? or the total freedom of an individual to do and behave as the way he/she feels like (i personally believe that its the most FREE religion in the world where there is no compulsion to any set of values or offering prayers on a day/days or anything that binds an individual into doing something that he/she must do to be a practising Hindu ).

    What all of us need to understand is the fact that Religion is merely a guideline as how a person should live his/her life and there should be no imposition of any kind on their lifestyle/belief/feelings. “What you sow, so shall you reap”, what goes around comes around” Be ready for the repercussions of your actions is the simple philosophy that is followed for this religion!

    Traditionally and fundamentally, there is no such thing as conversion to Hinduism, either you are born Hindu or no Hindu. So even if someone gets impressed by Hindu philosophy and faith, they can follow the habits and rituals of Hinduism and can be regarded Hindu’s without giving up their own religion (Christianity/Islam/Jewism) as no religion is better than any other religion and Hinduism does not preach conversion (only if a couple is getting married by Hindu rituals they both need to get converted to Hinduism for the ceremony to be performed)and there is no such thing where u need to show your commitment to the religion.
    This religion has amazing classification as per the work that an individual does in the society and since people usually take up the jobs of their ancestors/father, the best classification came into being in the form of the occupation that people followed and hence the 4 basic caste/class of Hinduism with multiple sub-castes.

    Later as society was formed, the sad part of untouchability got introduced by people who had more power than the people at the bottom who were dependent on their set of services and got employed in the form of hard manual labourers and workers and also formed part of the family as family labourers/workers (my grandfather had about 2 such families under him,2-3 workers).

    Anyways, as i said the most striking part of this religion is the adaptability and the freedom that it imparts individuals to make their own choices and form their own set of rules as times change is the hallmark that has kept it alive and manifest into different forms – without any restrictions – (Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism were once different sects of Hinduism which have now grown into full-fledged religion, of course, without any conflict with the mother religion but more like improvements over Hinduism)!

    Now this subject which you have talked in your article is a new phenomenon coming into existence since the Hippie-culture in the 70’s (Known as New Age Religions – LOL :D, didn’t understand why Americans and everyone called rise of Hinduism in 70’s with Beatles and Swami Vivekanada and others as rise of New Age Religion although Hinduism is the oldest of all! ) and rise of India as a nation and economic power after 90’s and its cultural spread via Bollywood and all other things India! The problem is its really difficult to understand this religion in totality and people like u n me…we always understand it in parts..even Indian’s living in India face the same problem and its getting worse with every new generation. same goes for anyone who’s white and has developed a new found interest in this religion. They only know things in parts and will always know it this way…and somehow they have to gel their behaviour and habits in accordance with society,culture and the surroundings they live in…the Modern Day Dilemma! and hence u see so many version and so many lifestyles cropping up and relating to the fact that they are a Hindu or they follow a Hindu way of life which in fact make them a Hindu 🙂
    Take my own case, i am born in a priestly class,got my priesthood at the age of educated as an Engineer and am working as a marketing professional. I haven’t been to a temple in past 6-7 years although i am a priest and have the rights that go along with priesthood (conducting marriages, ceremonies,pooja). The only thing i follow truly is the fact that i remain a vegetarian and stay away from alcohol or any other stimulant (although i drink tea and coffee :D), but since my religion does not put me under any stress and i can live a normal life since my being a priest is not in any way in conflict with my current profession or lifestyle, i can lead a normal life and have a family. so this is my personal definition of my life and Hinduism and how i apply it in everyday life! I guess the same is true for all those White people who are getting interested in his religion and trying to find a balance between their lifestyle/culture and a new found religion that will help them fill a spiritual void/quotient in their lives and make them enlightened 🙂

    Just my two bits Jessica 😉

  12. I am white and i was born into a catholic family. I started learning about hinduism in highschool, and the more I learned, the more I liked. I did a lot research into the philosophy, the history, the ritual aspects, the social conduct aspects of it (Dharm), and cultural aspects (of india in general). I consider my self hindu because I believe in Brahman, I do puja every morning, I read sacred texts, and I practice emotional and mental restraint. I try my best to fulfill my duties. I try my best to be compassionate and helpful. I try to always be aware of the Reality. one of my good friends is from Nepal, he has told me that I know more about Hinduism than he does, even though he was born into it, which I think is very sad. It pains me to think that someone would look down at me, or dismiss me as new age, or culturally appropriating, because I really try so hard to understand all the intricacies of Hinduism and indian cultures, and to embody all the ideals I look up to. I think that most aspects of Indian Cultures are beautiful, and I think that caste discrimination and mistreatment of women are derived from misunderstanding/twisting the messages of the Upanishads or the Gita. Still, I must admit to be very self consciousness about what South Asian think of me.

    Namaste (seriously)

    1. Sam,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I think if makes sense that if a person truly embraces the lifestyle and mindset of dharm, they could be called a Hindu. Dharm is a mentality, a set of values, and a way of looking at life and family. I think that is the point I’m trying to make is that most Indians will consider that to be what a Hindu is. Someone could entirely irreligious, never go to the temple, not keep any fasts or festivals, eat everything under the sun, and still be a Hindu because they were born into that society.

      For those who weren’t born into Sanatan Dharm, I think it is adopting the mentality and family system that is what really counts rather than “doing” Hindu things.

      These are just my observations rather than me trying to draw a line or make rules. I’m a cultural observer too. 🙂

    2. Let me say something to you. Foremost, I quite agree that Dharma is vast and I am but a humble proponent. The debate here and views of people about The word “Hindu” and who is truthfully one or practices it or ways to clearly determine if a person is truly a Hindu is to me too much fixation on the WORD and not the concept. What I mean is that the concept or the idea is not dependent on the word rather the word is dependent on the concept. So suppose you do all the work and pray and rites. Those rites aren’t what should or shouldn’t make you Hindu. You practice those rights as a way of externalizing what you know for yourself to be ( ie a HIndu). Now this might appear too subtle a difference to even care about it is quite profound when you are up against it. The idea here is that whilst the pursuance of Artha, Dharma, Kama are all within the purview of correct action they do not by themselves MEAN correct action. You have to first understand the underlying idea and have firm belief in it. After that what you do is a reflection of the actual imbibing of the central ideas. Quite often you find that (in Hindu systems) great Saints, knowers of the truth and divine were ILLITERATE people. Scores of such examples. If knowing rites and rituals were INDIspensable ( NOTE I did not say unimportant) then such people wouldn’t have been revered !

      This is in many ways much deeper and CAN appear much easier.

      Let me try and explain how both can be true. It will be much deeper if you see that an a notion in its elemental form has to be embedded with you so deep that it becomes second nature to you ( you see how birth and a family plays an important role now ? ) so eg someone says to me that I am not Hindu won’t even register with me. I don’t go to temple regularly ( that is bad and I ask everyone not to do this) or don’t read scriptures on a regular basis ( but have been doing it a little more these days) and don’t know sanskrit Very well. Yet this doesn’t disturb me. Why ? Well you can say one reason is that everyone just accepts me because I was born Hindu and that might even be partially true but the more important thing is do I myself see this as ME ? I do and hence it doesn’t matter. In this sense this is much deeper.

      Now for a lot of people it can appear easier too. How ? Well if you start taking external practices as the sole dimension of representation of the Hindu it might APPEAR easy. you might think hey such and such has to do nothing particular ie no temples , no pooja no bindi etc and you are free to choose. You can just have a grand pooja and do it in whatever way possible and you become a hindu. So whatever goes becomes the norm!! This is so easy but so FAR removed from the essence !

  13. I’m sorry to add a different viewpoint here, but it’s based purely on my own experiences.

    20+ years ago I married an Indian Hindu. I am German American. I did not have close ties to my birth religion, (Protestant Christianity) so I went along with his Hinduism. Went to the local temple, felt welcomed.

    Everything changed when I went to India with him, and tried to visit temples with him and his family. They were allowed in, but I was refused entry, becasuse of my white skin. I was wearing a sari, a bindhi on my forehead, a marriage chain, toe rings, was not having my period, no camera slung around my neck, fasting before I went, eating vegetarian, what more can I do? No matter. Not enough, clearly. The priests at the temples told me in no uncertain terms that I AM NOT HINDU, so I AM FORBIDDEN.

    That hurt. And it wasn’t only one temple, either.

    Now I read that whites who used to go freely ot the big pilgrimage temple in Thriupati must now sign a declaration, in triplicate, that they swear they believe in the presiding deity, or they don’t get in. (An Indian Muslim or Indian Christian would have no such requirement, because, frankly, how would the temple authorities know? We, unfortunately, stick out.) And more and more temples are closing their doors to our kind, where we once could go, albeit if we went respectfully and not as blatant, fingerpointing, camera-snapping tourists. I was not kicked out at all temples, but I’m certain now that I would be kicked out of most.

    After two decades of really trying, I have given up. How many times can I hear that I am not welcome to convert? How many times can I hear about us Imperialistic mleccha barbarians who raped India and now want to take over their religion? I understand that colonialism was a horror for Indians. But I’m not trying to take over. I’m not trying to remake it, I’m just looking for a quiet opportunity to pray to God.

    And it does no good to tell me that I don’t need to enter a temple to be a Hindu. Sorry. If I’m not allowed to go into a house of worship with my husband and his family, or even alone, because my skin is the wrong color, then how much attachment can I have for this religion? Does a Hindu God not hear the prayers of westerners?

    I got tired. I gave up. This year, I finally went back to my own religion; it’s all I know. I have a deep appreciation for Hinduism, at arm’s length, but it is not mine, never will be mine, and I can only tell my story as a cautionary tale to those westerners who think about converting to Hinduism

    1. Sad that you experienced that kind of exclusivism.
      I think that if one embraces Dharm (as you have by living and breathing being part of an Indian Hindu family), adopting certain duties, and accepting the ways of life that dharm has to offer, no one should exclude them.

      I’m not sure I made it that clear in my blog, but what I was trying to say is that truly embracing Dharm is the key to this whole thing. (I guess the panditji couldn’t tell that by taking one glance at you).

    2. Hello! I’m wondering what temples barred you entry? I was living in India for over two decades (1984-2005), following Hinduism, and visited TONS of temples, and there was only one temple I was barred entry into: Jagannath Puri in Orissa. All the rest welcomed me and my blatantly white skin with no problem: from temples in many ashrams (which are anyway usually filled with similar Westerners in sari, kum kum, braided hair, etc.) to huge famous temples such as Tirupati and Annavaram in Andhra Pradesh, a temple tour/pilgrimage bus in Kerala including Madhur Temple (which had a sign in front, “Admission to temple is restricted to Hindus only”), Ayodya Mandirs and Mathura & Vrindavan temples in Uttara Pradesh, Waishnodevi in Kashmir, huge Kapaleeswarar Temple in Chennai, Kalighat Temple in Kolkata,; not to mention Amritsar’s Golden Temple’s inner sanctum on the top floor – and many more numerous temples in-between!!

    3. I think the reason for the declaration form is because many Abraham-ites who go into temples, go on an excursion, to explore the temple, see the sights and pack up. Now that would be fine. But many of them then demean the Hinduism, based on their pre-conceived notions on Hinduism, such as commenting crassly on the appearance of dieties, calling them weird (now weirdness is relative, for me Mr. John Smith of London/ New York and his narrow belief might sound weird, though I assure you that is not the case, for Mr. Smith, Mr. Swamy and his pantheon of Gods is weird), etc … Why would we wilfully allow someone with such nefarious intent to achieve his purpose. This is why a very few (and mind you, its a very, very few) that place such restrictions … and they don’t want a person to convert, but just say they have faith in the deity … As a Hindu who has religiously explored different places of worship in my childhood .. temples – Hindu,Buddhist, mosques, Churches – Catholic, various Protestant denominations, Anglican, synagogues .. and actually having participated in religious rites at all of these places with an inherent belief in the purpose of the worship/service, I feel a little disturbed but I believe the temple is acting in the right sense …

    4. It is unfortunate that you, a member of a Hindu family, had to experience such mistreatment.

      But since you allege racism on the part of Hindus, I should like to set some things straight:

      #1. When was the last time you heard a Hindu sneaking into a Christian church (not all missionaries in India are suited and booted, mind you), in order to make a “documentary”, where the Christian God is denounced as “false” and “demonic”, Christian rituals are denounced as “abominations to God, “Christian scriptures are denounced as “works of the Devil Himself” and then the priests and the congregants are condemned to “burn in Hell” ???

      #2. The British had a law in India that basically said that if you convert to Christianity, you will inherit all your patrimonial property, to the exclusion of your Hindu siblings, regardless of your father’s will. Should I then declare that the Western Man’s intent was the utter destruction of Hindu families? A kind of soft racism (never mind the hard one!)? A kind of religious Bolshevism? Not to mention a violation of property rights and freedom of association (remember? Individualism and “The Free World” 🙂 ).

      To a Christian, he might be saving some sinful souls in a great Christianizing and Civilizing Mission, but to us it’s just cultural genocide as our ancestral ways were being wiped out of existence.

      #3. Christian missionaries have shown themselves to be capable of sinking into the deepest depths of depravity, just to “save” a soul i.e. to gain a convert; even to the extent of feigning love. Ever heard of “missionary dating”?

      #4. Precisely what portion of Western history and Western demography are affiliated to Christianity? Given these figures, and the simple fact that Christian missionaries are known to feign love and camouflage themselves among their target, do you suppose, one would be too harsh in his prejudice to assume something that in your case was (not obviously, but still) wrong….

    5. Hi There, my reply might have come very late and it is very sad to read what you have had to face in India. I am married to a Ukrainian girl. Eight years after marriage only now my wife calls herself a Hindu. Not that I have forced upon her but she really understood what “I am” means. I am not in to temples myself nor my wife was in to church. We did go to temples with family when we were in India and yes in Tirupathi she was asked to sign declaration. To be honest we did not consider that as an inconvenience. As I said temples were never big in our mind. There is a story about Adi Shankara visiting Kashi, after visiting Kashi he repents and says oh lord Shiva where you do not exist that I traveled all the way to Kashi for your grace. I don’t think my wife would ever go back to Christianity even if I force her. Once you tasted the amrit/nectarine (knowing the truth) you will never be satisfied with normal food (falsities of Abrahamic religions). Anyway goodluck with your journey. AS you already, doors to the truth are always open.

    6. Let me start by saying your experience pains me but let me at the same time say I do not fault our system ( unless of course some harm was done to you). I am sorry if I am going to be a little harsh but please hear me out. You see Hinduism is not such a rose garden that once you convert you are in eternal bliss as far as external life or Vyavaharika is concerned ! Dharma is not something that always lands you in fairy land with cotton candy for breakfast and muffins for dinner! If this were so then our stalwarts, people we revere most, the epitomes themselves would not be RENOUNCERS like Sita , Savitri , Dhruva, Prahalada, Nachiketa ( gosh I cannot even go on as I feel quite paling when naming such Giants). I know those are exemplary examples and you might say why am I even comparing you case with them ! Well true you might not be someone in their league ( or me either) but take a moment and see those examples. Let me tell you about Dhruva for instance. The young Dhruva barely 5 yrs old ( yes 5) had a stepmother and his father paid more attention to his step brother and step mother. Once the elder queen (the mother of Dhruva) saw him crying and asked. He said he wanted to play in his father’s lap and was taken away forcefully by his stepmother saying only god can give you the right. She asked him to pray and he set forth at such a young age, to the forest, to pray and did that for (it is said decades or even longer) and lastly got the blessing of the Lord. Now if I look at it from the point of view of difficulties faced and problems then did he not have such huge ones. You are welcome to read more on prahalad too who was constantly tried to be killed by his father for praising the Lord. So why are these people ideals ? Because they overcame big obstacles ? Coz they were born great ? Coz these are nice stories ? Coz you got emotional reading them ?. No. They are great because against all odds they had “Shraddha” and believed in the divine and obstacles or not their aim was clear and they practised their Dharma.

      Let me also say a few more things. The volcano kills thousands. Is the volcano bad ? Is it good ? Well according to human sensibilities it would be called bad ! Also according to Abrahamnic systems. In our system it is its Dharma. Nothing to do with good or bad or rather good and evil. It is what it is. The question is what do YOU do when faced with a volcano. Depends on what you feel most important and identified with ! Scared -> run, healer and safe -> heal, physically sound -> help , mean -> throw someone in the fire. If you are established in Dharma it will NOT mean the volcano will suddenly turn into a warm swimming pool for a shower or that your tendency to throw someone in lava will AUTOMATICALLY disappear. The still remain but you will have a better grasp on performing the correct action based on your thinking.

      Coming back to your ideas. The white skinned people have been ( and still are) proselytizing and have done immeasurable harm. That was true. The repercussions faced by you because of your brother / sister or elders who did that might not be fair for you but it still is true. Also you are sharing the burden of harm that was done by your people. Even if this were not the case (e.g muslims) attack countries without any clear reason or harm done to them. That part is also true ( In the Hindu case atleast there is some reason behind people saying you are not a part). But you ARE born with a white skin and those things might exist in lots of places. You need to understand that Hindu system is NOT Dharma of convenience. Yes there it is unfair and you might be paying ( although I hope not much) for the atrocities commited for 200 yrs by British and German etc countrymen. So what. You will leave something just coz it is not easy. If that is so then it was something you ascribed to and you did NOT understand the fundamental idea itself.

      I will also say something in encouragement. You will find if you ernestly look FOR something but it might not be the optimum or the easiest. Everyone has a different life and Karma. What you choose to do with it is what is important. In your case a way out would be to leave and go back. Another way would be to practice the ideals as best as you can in the constraints the world forces and do more of Nishkaama Karma. Find like minded people. Cultivate close ties. Imbibe things. Do the best you can with what you have. That would be the reaction of a true insider ! I know it is tough to do and easy to say but who said everything would be easy and rosy. Just look at the examples we idolize in Hindu systems ( above I mentioned some names).

  14. Why is a bhakti yoga not an actual Hindu? I am confused, unless I am thinking of the wrong thing. I am learning about Bhakti yoga right now. It is given as a way to god in the Bhagavad Gita, so is there something I’m missing as to why it actually isn’t Hinduism…?

    1. Suzanne, I think she was referring to the white Western “bhakti yogi” movement, which has more to do with New Age spiritualism than actual bhakti yoga.

    2. Hi Suzanne,
      This reply might have come very late bu the problem with Bakti yoga is, it leads to dogmatism. A devout christian or a muslim is also a bakti yogi. Bakti yoga will only take you to a certain distance but realizing the truth is the only way for liberation (moksha/nirvana). Gita is a wonderful book no doubt. However there are other books that will lead to truth (nothing but truth) try reading upanishads. My spiritual guide however is “I am that” reality is discussed in clearest terms in that book by Nisargadatta maharaj. It’s available online Give it a try.

  15. 6 months ago I would not have added my comments to a blog such as this because the truth is, though I find the questions valid and the struggles real, I always believed that any answer that clears doubts is coloured with ones biases.

    To begin with I read the blog and some of the comments. Its a brilliant conversation. The biggest problem with Hinduism is the word itself. The word Hindu comes from the word Sindhu which is the present day Indus river and Persian traders coined the term that is freely used today.

    You have rightly called Hinduism Sanatana Dharma and way of life. The white Hindu folks (for lack of a better term) are exposed to limited Hindu schools of thought. This way of life or form of Hinduism is coloured by the biases of the person propagating it.

    The Indian Hindu culture is far more crazy than one understands. On one hand we have a nice colourful image of all good things and gods but that very same Hinduism is home to a concept of a goddess like Kali. This is confusing to a lot of Indians and I can only imagine what it does people who are exposed to more structured religions and decide to adopt the Hindu way of life.

    If you decide to follow the Hindu way of life, I have just one thing to say; welcome.

    If anyone derides you or decides that you are not as Hindu then please know this there is no conversion process. As far as I know there is a indoctrination process in most religions. I have never come across one in Hinduism. (I am a Shaivite Brahmin from India to be more precise but not a very strict practicing one).

    If anyone tries to sell you a process of turning more Hindu then I will challenge it. (The argumentative Indian who likes to win debates irrespective of how much it pisses off others).

    To answer the access to temples, there are quite a few temples that do not allow you access because many of the people who commented here are Caucasian. There are such temples in Kerala too but every school of thought has its idiots and Hinduism is no different.

    So if you felt slighted because of what a moron of a priest told you, my apologies but the loss is their own and many Hindus dont really see the point of it in this day. They don’t find fighting for it fruitful as such an exclusive behaviour is a frog in the well mentality.

  16. ” अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसां | उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकं || ”
    ayam bandhurayam neti ganana laghuchetasam | udaracharitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam ||
    Only small men discriminate saying: One is a relative; the other is a stranger. For those who live magnanimously, the entire world constitutes but a family.

    1. Kayla,

      Thank you for your thoughtful analysis of my article “White Hinduism.” I feel like I need to write a part II. I’ve written a bit about what Dharm isn’t, but I think I should write what I think Dharm IS first. I guess I’ve shied away from that since it is a huge topic which is merely a matter of opinion and perspective.

      This article was actually written mostly for people who know me personally, but I’m flattered that it has picked up some momentum online, and I’m thrilled to engage with others who are journeying through the same questions. I’m with you that we must be mindful and careful before labeling ourselves or others as part of any religious group. Thanks for understanding the heart behind my article.

  17. To all,

    I am really excited about the action this article has picked up. I initially wrote this for an audience of friends who know me personally, and have been surprised at the attention this topic has gotten in the online community.

    I definitely feel that this topic is something to be explored further, and next time I will write without assuming that those reading already know my personality and lifestyle. It seems to me that there is a much bigger audience out there than I anticipated, and I need to write more explicitly next time to include the larger community! 🙂

    PART II coming….One friend also pointed out that I talk in this article about what Dharm ISN’T rather than what it IS. I’ll take a crack at unpacking my thoughts— and look forward to an exploring that humongous and age-old topic with all of you.

    Thanks for the fantastic dialogue. Keep it coming.


  18. To tell you the truth I have started feeling jealous of western Hindus these days. We in India are getting more westernized while west is seeks eastern spiritualism. I have met many western Hindus who know so much more about Hinduism than I do enough to put me to shame by their great knowledge of Hinduism. So I guess just because I was born a Hindu can’t make me a Hindu unless I believe and act like a Hindu.

    Thanks and Cheers!

    1. “Your religion is like your mother just because someone else’s is more attractive doesn’t mean you can abandon her for theirs”
      -Mohandas K. Gandhi

      1. Your religion is like your mother: just because she gave birth to you doesn’t mean you have to spend your whole life cuddling your placenta.

  19. Before christianity was forced onto Europe, the people were pagans. The gods and goddesses of the pagans were equivalent to the gods of all polytheist religions. Their mother goddess rode a lion (durgaa) for instance. The greeks when they came to India, they called Krishna “Hercules” because the gods looked so similar. Their gods are the same for the days of the week (monday is moon, friday is venus, a goddess, thursday is jupiter and saturday is saturn, all the same as in Hinduism) They worshipped trees and animals and sky and mother earth and stars and made sacrifices to their gods too. These were all white people’s practices. These are really universal practices, as people in Africa and the native Americans have similar practices.

    When they leave Christianity, I do not feel they are leaving their ancestral religion. Christianity was imposed on Europe by the Roman emperor. They are escaping an imposed philosophy that their ancestors did not follow.

    I am a good example too: my grandmother was from a Hindu family, converted to Christianity. I left Christianity, but I do not feel when I go to Hindu temple that I am now a stranger. I felt like a stranger in the church.

  20. Dear Jessica kumar, there are few temples only, like in puri india. i dont know why they differentiate. but if a “white hindu” is told not to enter certain temple, so what, there are loads of other temples where entry is for all. the purpose is connection with god, …not connection with a temple. for eg. i love my krishna and my shiva. i have a wonderful temple at home. and even if someday some priest doesnt allow me, so what, i have my temple and god. iskcon temples are open for all 🙂
    write to me

    1. Dear Radhikaji,

      Yes definitely. I’m not sure how the whole “religion is connected to place of worship” idea got started on this blog. I think it might have gotten started when a few readers shared their personal experiences of being denied entrance into a temple as a non-Indian.

      Totally agree that one’s faith isn’t necessarily attached to their place of worship. There are one saying I heard recently “If you sit in a garage all day, you will not become a car. Just like sitting in a church won’t make you a Christian”— the same thing can be applied to other faith backgrounds as well.

      A person can be a deeply religious Hindu and have no connection to an outside temple—all depends on family relationships and personal beliefs.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  21. Jessiaca,
    I am a born Hindu in a Vaishnavite Family but I am a Shiv Bhakt. There were no rules as you are stating. My mother was married from a Shaivite family into a Vaishnaivaite Family

    A Minority of families are strict on these things but does not apply to all Hindus.

    Please do a thorough study or in other words Purva Paksha before publishing such articles.

    1. Hi Shashi, thanks for your comments. Your comment is a bit confusing to me. I didn’t mention any
      “rules” in my blog. In fact I am saying the opposite—
      “There is no central doctrine. No set of laws. No requirements of lifestyle or dress. It is a way of life, a broad philosophy, a wide cultural precept.”
      What is your opinion? Is Hinduism a religion for people who were not born Hindu? I’m interested in hearing different perspectives.

      1. I recently read some articles about ‘White-Hindus’ facing discrimination when visiting to Indian Temples.

        These are my remarks with respect to the same:

        We Hindus would welcome other Hindus from of different skin color.. but the problem is we ourselves do not have control of temples.. All Big Temples are government controlled. Any temple that becomes big(Public donation), government takes over for the money. This does not happen to churches, Mosques or Gurdwaras.

        Not only we get don’t get our own money, We are also unable to push reforms because of this very reason.
        We apologize for these kind of incidents whole heartedly.

        I sometimes also of the suspicion that the Nehruvian Govt has intentionally stifled the growth of our community..

        However This is all Bad Press for Sanathaana Dharma.. We know it, but only when we get control of our temples we shall be able to do move ahead. We are fighting a case in Supreme court…

  22. Jessica,
    This reply is more to do with your questions. It not only applies to people who are not born as Hindus, but to all people born as Hindus too..

    There are no laws but there is wisdom. Sanathanaa Dharma is seeks to educate rather than lay a strict code of conduct.

    Some Wisdom/Knowledge:

    Santhana Dharma Talks about three Gunas(in All Living beings). Sattva, Rajasa, Tamasa Gunas.

    Tamasa Guna stands for Ignorance, Tamasa is a force which promotes darkness, dissolution , death, destruction and ignorance, sloth, and resistance. Of all the 3 Gunas Tamasa ranks the lowest.

    Speaking of Rajoguna/Rajasa
    If a person or thing tends to be extremely active, excitable, or passionate, that person or thing could be called Rajasic. Rajasic people can be prone to making mistakes.

    Sattva Guna stands for Pure and Divine. People who work selflessly for societies have sattva guna. Similarly scientists who work the benifit of mankind can be of Sattva Guna. I would call Nikola Tesla Sattvice because he had envisioned free/cheap energy for all..

    A sattvic individual speaks compliments and avoids vulgar or insulting language, is never jealous, and is unaffected by greed and selfishness. Such an individual is confident and experiences abundance. It is not in the nature of a sattvic individual to cheat or mislead others.

    So after reading snippets like these it is the choice of the reader to take the initiative to move towards any path. It is entirely upon you to be a Tamasic, Rajasic or Sattvic person.

  23. All surviving societies/civlizations go through the cycle of De-generation and re-generation. BharatVarsha(India) too is no different. To be frank We(Sanathaana Dharma) are fighting to stay alive and be a thriving community.
    Even if People do not convert to Hinduism we shall welcome them as long as they come in peace.

    Santhana Dharma is essentially Pluralistic in nature, Jainism, Budhism, Sikhism and Hinduism are all Dharmic traditions and part of the the same tree of Dharma…

    to Uphold ‘Dharma'(Justice, Rightful action) is what is required, rest don’t

  24. Jessica,
    Santhanaa Dharma is very much like the Open Source Ecosystem.
    It is upon the participants/followers to take it to greater heights by keeping the benefit(Intellectual, Spiritual Evolution) of the both themselves and the well being of society in mind.

    We have to learn and share all the knowledge we have gained with others, that is how this model works. Upon these kind of collaboration greater good can be done.

    P.S: Knowledge does not mean Religious knowledge, Knowledge as in wisdom, Science.

    I am learner too, hope my information helped you. Namaste

    With Regards,
    Shashi Kiran G M

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Shashi and explaining more of your thoughts in detail.

      You wouldn’t believe the amount of comments I had received about this article which are a personal attack- many people comment without reading the whole article- or without understanding my background. Actually, this article has gotten more attention than I ever intended, so I’ve been surprised that some people have tried to turn this article into a debate. That wasn’t my intention.

      I am not a person trying to push my views on others, just someone asking questions and exploring as I observe the world. 🙂

      Thoughtful and helpful comments like yours are much appreciated as we all are on the journey together. It is helpful to learn together as we share our perspectives.


  25. Jessica,
    Hindus are coming from an Emotional place, we feel insecure in our own land by being demographically challenged by militant style christian evangelism and physically threatened by islamic terrorism.
    The Situation of Bharat Varsha seems very much similar to Italy/Rome when Constantine took over, we all know what happened afterwards.
    Out Constantine is Sonia Gandhi who co-incidentally happens to be from Italy and a Catholic.
    We also feel we are alone in this fight and trust becomes difficult sometimes, henceforth the strong tone of the response to your article.

    However I would urge you read more about Sanataana Dharma and the Indian situation as it would help you in doing ‘PurvaPaksha'(complete research on your subject of interest) since you are a public speaker on India/US relations.

    We also have deep distrust for Media especially the likes of TOI, NDTV, CNN-IB et all. So may be for the learning you might have to put your own time and efforts.

    P.S: I would also recommend you to read Breaking India by Rajiv Malhotra.

    Thanks and Regards,
    Shashi Kiran G M

  26. Dear Shashi-

    Thanks for sharing more on this topic. I’m a fan of Rajiv Malhotra- and actually his book “Being Different- a Challenge to Western Universalism” is one of the things that inspired me to write this blog about the need for carefully understanding the underlying themes of a religious paradigm before adopting it on a surface level– especially non-born Hindus “adopting” Hinduism.

    My blog isn’t meant to be a PhD level dissertation, but just observations of a practitioner of life. Agar ham sab log rishi ban ke is ke uppar sara dhyan karenge hum phir bhi pura samaj mei nahiye aayenge. Am I right? Such a complex topic with a variety of opinions. Shiad retirement ke baad purva paksha ke liye mujhe time milega. Actually this blog commentary section is a form of purva paksh- with back and forth discussion. But I agree– if one is going to produce academic research on this topic- purva paksh karna bahut zuroori hain.

  27. This is very interesting and I enjoyed reading many comments, but as a foreign woman living in India for 3 years I MUST mention this: Whenever I have seen a white person wearing full Indian ethnic attire (except in weddings) or religious clothes, I see a line of Indians laughing AT them… some behind their backs, some very upfront.
    I know some laugh because they are surprised and think its cool, but believe me, I have seen the faces and gestures of MANY who point and crack up.
    I know… its not how it should be and whatever, but you know what? its the truth and I have seen it with my own eyes…
    Maybe some people can handle that and they don’t care… but honestly I believe the common people’s actions say a lot more about what they truly think and everyone might want to consider that in a country so populated.

    1. Mara, agreed. It is important to notice how one is being perceived in a culture where “finding your place” or “fitting into your slot in life” matters more than anything else. We Westerners generally like to cling to our individualistic mentality and just “do what we want” or “do what is right for us” rather than thinking how we are affecting others around us or how we are being perceived.

      “Doing what you want” works in American and other Western cultures, but not necessarily in the subcontinent or other cultures which are held together by the fabric of communal society.

      Thanks for your observations and thoughts!

  28. Hi all,

    After reading few comments I felt the need to write. There is no need of so much argument. Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism is for all, whatever his skin colour maybe or wherever he maybe. You find inner peace and happiness. It’s a way of life where you respect others and follow the path of righteousness. Learn about Hinduism and lead a new life. All are welcome to the world of peace and happiness.

  29. I am unsure why the myth that ‘you have to be born a hindu’ became popular. Some have suggested to me that it was a propaganda by the British to confine hinduism to the subcontinent. Perhaps, it is so because the word ‘hindu’ is not our own.

    Irrespective of the origin, it is historically incorrect. The largest hindu temple (Ankor Wat) in the world happens to far away from India in Cambodia. This ancient temple, Ankor Wat, also appears in the flag of the Cambodia. Very old hindu temples have been unearthed in Indonesia. When our forefathers showed no such

    It is necessary to fight this misinformation and not fall prey to it.

  30. The belief that one cannot convert to Hinduism is false, when Vedic practices had been almost lost in India Adi Shankaracharya reignited those practices during this period many who had gone to embrace Jainism and Buddhism converted/reverted back to Hinduism it is quite possible then that all some had been born after their parents had left Hinduism,
    The question is does any one need a specific ritual to be converted to Hinduism answer is jury is still out, then why do these new converts go through a ritual the answer lies in psychology.
    If I told anyone from this moment he is a new person he will not accept it, I just pour a bit of Gangajal and chant mantras he would will feel it.As Hinduism is about practicing what makes you feel closer to divinity these rituals can be done to give one a feeling of closeness to divinity.

  31. If I offend anyone by this comment, I sincerely apologize. I’m just calling it as I see it.

    Often times, Americans or other westerners are seen as fast-food spiritualists. You all know the stereotype. But let me point out, no one has a copyright on God.

    My problem is this. From many, I here the argument that, using this example, “hinduism” is a path only for those who were born of a ethnic group from the Indian subcontinent. Now, let’s set aside all we know of anthropology, or the fact that ALL humans come from the same ancestors, or that whites came from the Indus Valley. Instead, just tell me where, in any Shruti or Smriti that this religion was regulated to only those born or descended from the Indian subcontinent?

    You can’t, because it doesn’t. Often westerners are accused of colonial guilt. Let me point out that the United States of America has never had a colony in India, and secondly (from my experience), this sort of racism and nationalism belongs almost exclusively to those who feel persecuted for traumas a previous generation suffered. Yet, they don’t mind taking advantage of the prosperous west. You know, talking the language, wearing the clothes, using the technological inventions. Let me say this. If someone finds their connection with God, whether it be Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, or Sikh, or whatever, no person born of a woman has the authority to invalidate it. Those “white hindus” out there looking for validation from man, stop. Seek your validation from God.

    1. You raise some interesting points and allow me to respond to some of those. The idea that you have to be born a Hindu isn’t so much of a dogma as a helpful practice. Since Hinduism is not dogmatic so you don’t see such a statement in the Scriptures. But if so you are well within reason to ask why such an idea even exists. Let me try to explain as far as I can understand it. If you are preparing for the Olympics and you know that such and such coach is there and then he tells you run 5 miles a day for 4 yrs ( read namaz 5 times a day) or perhaps go the Church regularly and sing carols then you have a well defined path. Now you do the running and you will probably become much better ( might or might not reach olympics). Now compare this with a system which tells you — you may or may not need a coach, may or may not need running, may or may not need OLYMPICS ! now one way to look at it is to say this is so easy !! I do whatever I please. The other deeper meaning is to SEE that you have to first find out the correct running distance the correct coach the correct way even BEFORE you can run 10 steps !! And YOU have to do it and no one else is to do it FOR you. Now see how tough this becomes. A person who comes in having such a doctrinated belief system (Abrahamanic) would have a very tough time understanding this intricacy. They might just conceptualize it a little but will be hard pressed when asked to assimilate it !! There hence is a big chance of a U-Turn (read Rajiv Malhotra’s u turn theory in his books or search online for it). Hence the necessity to have a CLEAR mind in this life to have a BETTEr chance of imbibing. Now you cannot have a clear mind unless you are very young and just learning !! Hence the being born concept ! ( though not by birth per-se) !

      United states has taken up the mantle of Describing our systems as flawed and our scriptures as derogatory and proving themselves superior by employing ‘political philology’ and ‘deep orientalism’. I guess you are not aware of such ideas and you are welcome to research those words and read more about them. Sheldon Pollock and Wendy Doniger have taken sacrilege and EVEN profanity to NEW heights. So America might not have colonized India directly but the remnants of the European Orientalist mindset is very much kicking and alive.

      Taking advantage would mean (semantics) that one party was given something extra over what was offered to the other ? Are you sure this definition suits your claim? Taking advantage of the prosperous west on a material plane with an exchange of material commodities is how trade is done in the world. Americans don’t pay Indians to sit at home but to work in companies and they have policies safeguarding american interests first. Are you saying that the barter system should be rejected by Indians because of proactive unprovoked proselytization doesn’t go well with a peaceful world view? Are you also saying that unless All of those activities are welcomed ( and we loose our self respect after having suffered 600yrs of mughal rule and 200 of European) we should stop all barter? Do reconsider the point

      As to finding your own connection with God it is only in Hindu systems that you find such ideas possible (33 crore gods and godesses) but at the same time, based on the Olympics example I mentioned above, it is quite easy to get lulled into a false sense of belonging. As insiders it is not just our job to portray the positive in HIndu system but ALSO to make it clear that THIS is not a system of convenience. Convenience and “apparent” freedom is what attracts abhrahamnics to us. These are very superficial reasons and should not be the point of focus for coming to the Dharma system is what I think.

  32. I understand that above there has been a confusion about who is to be referred to as a Hindu and who is not a Hindu. Let me first Clarify that Hinduism is not a religion its Vedic/Sanaatan Dharma. The term Hindu is an Arabic term used by the muslim invaders who advanced into the western frontier of India after Crossing the River “Sindhu(modern day Indus)” and hence the word “Hindu” You will never ever find this word in the ancient scriptures may it be Bhagwat Geeta or Raamayan or Mahabharata or Puranas or Upanishads or shastras. Also, your choice of faith is good because u don’t need to perform some ritual to get converted. Some people Argue that the Indian Vedic tradition believed in caste system which again isn’t true because casteism comes when some honourable people who dominate the society start bullying others and force them to carry on the family occupation which was wrong and has been condemned by the authors or both Ramayana and Mahabharata. Disrespecting some1 just because they are lower then you in term of physique beauty intelligence or because u consider them to be born in a presumably called lower caste is a Disrespect to the Supreme being himself. I can tell you more about this if you like in detail but then i would have to find out proper words because some of the sanskrit words could be really difficult to translate hope u understand..:) This reply is specifically for Andrea hope it answers her confusion.

    1. “Everyone according to his strength”, nothing wrong with the “fast food spiritualism”, we need to walk before we can run dont we?

  33. Jessica, This is a great blog. I have gone through the article and all the comments and it is already 2 pm in the night. That shows how interesting your page is. Personally I feel very good when someone born in to Christianity or Islam talks about Dharma. Well I haven’t seen many muslims talk about Dharma but definitely some Christians. My wife was born an orthodox Ukrainian christian and now calls herself a Hindu. When I read troubled stories of other white women marrying Hindu men, I find my wife to be very lucky. Lucky because she was welcomed by my family and relatives very well. She considers India her home and my parents and relatives her family not her family back in Ukraine. She may not really understand what Dharma is but she surely understands essence of her life. She understands who she actually is. She does not likes going to temples and Idol worshiping but she is a devout of Shiva/Shakti and has equal respect for Krishna. My wife practices vegetarianism, yoga, pranayama and deep meditation. I think when someone from Abrahamic faiths embraces Dharma path, it is good for them mentally/emotionally if in they feel welcomed by Hindu community they are familiar with. This will help them integrate in cycle of samsara as a hindu. However, if truth is what they are seeking, if they understand who they are and focus on that, they do not need any acceptance from anyone. For, they are closest to the truth.

  34. Okay, I know I’m commenting really late, but I see comments here from 2015,so…

    Background – I am a Hindu (one of those legendary half-blood Shaivite-Vaishnavite spawn, even 😉 ) born and raised in India, who’s spent some time studying Advaitic philosophy. I think your thesis is riddled with holes, for several reasons.

    1) As others have eloquently pointed out, there is no conversion restriction and no actual statement that non-Hindus cannot become Hindus (since Hindu, as a term, is younger than Hindu beliefs by a whole lot). Therefore, the argument is really quite silly.

    2) I am VERY UNCOMFORTABLE (sorry for capslock but I forget how to use italics in WP) with dubbing Hinduism a nationality or ethnicity, because it is flat-out racist in the most dictionary sense of the word. It leads to the creepy Hindutva people saying that even devout Muslims or Christians and even atheists are Hindus as long as their parents are Hindus, which is a denial of identity that is, in my opinion, extremely violent in a spiritual sense. It is equally violent to say that people who feel they are Hindu are not, because of their parents. (How is this not different from the racism of “Go back to Africa” that black people in India face, or the “Eww you’re Chinese not Indian” often directed at North-Eastern Indians? I don’t see it. I honestly don’t.)

    3) I do not understand this hyperfocus on dharm and following dharm as a condition to membership in the Hindu Country Club or whatever. How many Indian-born-and-raised Hindus rape women? How many murder their parents? How many stick their elderly in horrible old-age homes, or abuse their children, or violate sanatana dharma in a hundred other ways? I spent my teenage being molested on and off by a sannyasi who used to be a member of my family before he took vows. But these criminals and scum never have their Hinduism examined or invalidated! Even if Julia Roberts is a whiny, shallow racist (which she is) what right does one have to specially examine her particular right to be Hindu, just because she converted? If people are going to insist that following sanatana dharma is necessary to being Hindu, I suggest they devote equal efforts to telling their Hindu family and friends to forcibly deconvert anyone they think isn’t dharmic enough. Hail the Hindu Inquisition!

    4) Hospitality and acceptance and peace and tolerance are integral to Hindu principles of life. If we can’t even take a deep breath and accept a few silly-but-harmless converts, are WE following sanatana dharma? If we cannot look past someone’s skin colour and their parents’ nationality, are we any better than the Dronacharyas of the world? For all the gods’ sake, DURYODHANA managed to look past Karna’s birth. Are we all going to be more intolerant and snobbish than Duryodhana? I mean, really, is that our deal now, as a religion?

    I would argue not.

    1. (How is this not different from the racism of “Go back to Africa” that black people in India face, or the “Eww you’re Chinese not Indian” often directed at North-Eastern Indians? I don’t see it. I honestly don’t.) —> that should be “How is this different”. Sorry.

    2. Responding to some of your points and welcome further rejoinders.

      1) and 2) mostly agree

      3). Applying the same criteria for a person born in Hindu traditions vs a foreigner isn’t correct. Dharma might not be the be all end all of the metric but is an important part. Moreover the concept is ingrained into the system and has many subtleties and this should be clarified esp to newcomers. Now how is applying the same criteria incorrect. Two examples. a). In mahabharata Yudhisthira is asked about the punishment that should be given to 4 people ( a brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra) who made a team and killed a person. Duryodhana gave all of them the same punishment based on the crime but Yudhisthira gave them each separate one and the highest to the Brahmin ie based on crime AND context ! b). The U-turn theory of rajiv malhotra in his book Breaking India clearly defines how not clarifying subtleties for foreigners can make the system easily Digestible! We won’t be suffering from digestion from the fellow Indian ( agreed that his crime is grave) but that would easily happen when Yoga becomes power yoga and Astanga(eight limbed) Yoga becomes Vikalanga ( a derog figurative here meaning — without a limb) Yoga. To keep yoga true to self one has to keep all wings esp the last ones eg dhyana and samadhi also part of it and not just Asana. Hence the need to bring Dharma or righteous action as an integral part. The other parts namely Artha and Kama are easily digestible but dharma provides undeniable and indigestible differences.

      4) Silly and harmless is what you see them. It is very saintly or liberal of you but it ALSO might be very lazy or digestible of YOU! How can we differentiate one from the other. Well of course I cannot know your mind but look at what the majority of these silly harmless people have been doing for past 200 yrs. I am not even counting minor ones. Caste system introduced by the “Pandit” William Jones. He came for such conversion, was harmless enough to go to a pundit and learn stuff and then gave us a hierarchical system. Now see where it has gotten us. Aryan – dravidian Divide has a similar problem by Max mueller. See the work of Sheldon Pollock and Wendy doniger. Also see how many U-turn people come here learn things and in their ‘harmless’ way go and start mapping our things in their framework. Yoga becomes ‘mind science’ and yoga nidra ‘ lucid dreaming’ and on and on !! Lots more examples. Personally I have no issues accepting Harmless people into Hinduism. That harmlessness however should NOT be a latent Quality! It was because Ravana appeared Harmless that Sitaji crossed the Rekha and we know what happened then !

  35. hi my name is Sudesh and I am born into a south indian family, and religion has been a huge part of our lives. From the time I started school, there were like 5 Indians in my grade, one Christian, one Sikh, and the rest of us were Hindu. Being born into Hinduism I took advantage of the traditions and festivals as just our way of life, as I went to middle school I fell into many problems with family and myself… I also want to say that I was at first kind of annoyed that people looked at me differently and I remember one year in the 3rd grade, the principal asked me and my two hindu friends to do a whole presentation on Deepavali, and I was happy to tell about it…but forward to middle school, I wasn’t as religious as I was in elementary school. I began to actually do my research on specific things about Hinduism that I took advantage of, like festivals and the gods/ goddesses, and it lead me to develop myself as a hindu and I am happy about it..
    regarding the whole thing about converting to Hinduism, and how people are mainstreaming it…it bothers me a lot. I am ok with people liking indian culture and food, but when I see people having statues of the gods/ goddesses…that bugs me a lot! like I don’t want to seem rude…but when people do that…and are not Hindu, I feel quite insulted. Why should a person feel the need to have a statue if they don’t do any pujas, know the background of the depiction?
    Also from what I have been taught and read, there really is no way to officially convert to Hinduism. In Islam you have to claim that Allah is the only one you will worship and the Prophet, pbuh, is his messanger. But for Hinduism, simply following the traditions and teachings…doesn’t make you a Hindu. I mean if someone want to be Hindu, I wont stop them, but I feel that if you are brought up as a Hindu from a young age, then I would accept you as a full Hindu. But to be in your teens or early twenties and suddenly start wearing bindis, sarees, kundan jewelry, and start acting Hindu to the extreme…please stop.
    Also I kind of want to add something about bindis. Bindis are an important part of Hinduism, from a female wearing it to strengthen her Shakthi/ or for fashion, to a man wearing a kumkum bindi at a temple, but when people start to wear it because they like it and how it makes them feel more Hindu…its quite annoying. Also I know this one person, not personally but via others, who is gay and he wears the bindi like everyday and with every outfit…and this bothers me so much. He is a beliver in Shiva…but he takes it to an extreme and to a point where it is quite insulting, like his own mandir at home and the bindi thing. A bindi in my opinion, is only really acceptable to worn by women for fashion and Shakthi…but there is a huge difference between womens bindis and a kumkum one for men and women at temples. kumkum I feel is more for devotion and for releasing the third eye, but the fashion ones, not the traditional red round ones women wear, are more for fashion.

    I know I am writing a lot, but I just want to show my views on this

    When a woman and man get married in traditional Hindu ways I feel like atleast one of them has to be Hindu. When white girls and boys have a indian theme wedding, im ok with it…but if the ceremony is Hindu and nothing else…I feel very insulted. Why should a non-Hindu feel the need to copy our rituals because they seem “exotic” and “different then others”?
    Also I don’t understand why white people feel the need to only use white pujaris if they are doing any ritual? I always see white people doing a puja and the pujari is always white…why? Also I feel like when white people try to be Hindu, they take it to an extreme where even a born Hindu is like confused. Like ya Hindus have a lot of rituals and do ritual bathing for the gods/ goddesses, but why is it that white people take it to a whole extreme and feel the need to boast to the world that they are doing a puja? Or sometimes on youtube you see a puja or how to do one and it is so whitewashed…and then when you go to a white persona house for a puja it is really stereotypical and identical to the videos.

    anyways that is all I wanted for now,
    thank you

    1. * sorry I forgot to add that the gay guy is white…
      and like his mandir is decorated like it is Deepavali everyday and he keeps adding more and more statues to where the mandir looks like Shiva just multiplied 20x ,not to insult him or Shiva. But the mandir is really white washed

  36. Here is what I have to say based on how I have been brought up a hindu.

    I am an indian, born in to a hindu family whose members are not the most learned in hinduism, nevertheless practice the beliefs learned from their families. So guess that makes me an authentic ordinary hindu.

    To me what makes my family hindus are below. These are after all my interpretations of what has been said to me which makes me a hindu. Feel free to dump anything you feel is dumb or a cultural practice which doesn’t make sense.

    1. Our strict adherence to non violence and peaceful way of communication – fully knowing we can, if we want to, make a fuss and be aggressive and overpowering, we choose to go mellow and respect who ever is in front of you ( Personally for me keeping in my mind that ‘namaste’ means the goodness in me bows to the goodness in you).
    2. Light a lamp and do puja to your favorite god. I am taught the ideal way to pray is to first do your work with dedication and pray when you can. Ideally after taking bath before you start your day and in the evening before you go to sleep. (Though this is mandated during childhood – along with telling us stories from Bharatha and Ramayana and every religious books which has stories in the evenings- this is not mandated once kids grow up).

    Bit more on this if you feel like

    We are taught to pray just by chanting slokas while keeping god in mind (which god to keep in mind depends on you. While you are studying you might chant more slokas on goddess ‘Saraswati’ and lord ‘Ganesha’ say for eg. and in general you might have more Shivite beliefs or Vaishnavaite beliefs based on who is your favorite ) and try to not ask for anything while you pray- its believed that god knows what you want and you do not need to ask( This is easier said than done I catch myself asking most if not all the time). This is more based on the beliefs in Karmayoga when I think about it. But my family doesn’t know it consciously that they are following Karmayoga.

    I am also taught every idol or image I worship is a manifestation of Brahman and every living soul(atman) is a part of Brahman. And that regardless of the form you worship, as long as you believe in it fully, you are praying to the one Brahman ultimately ( which is foamless, omnipresent, all knowing and ever powerful )

    3. our preference of vegetarian food over non vegetarian food( We do eat non veg – but always, if we can help it we go veg. We takes non veg only if the whole family feels like having it – which is rare. This is based on the belief that all life is sacred and no one but god has the right to end a life. And if you kill anything its a sin no matter what, except may be pests – that too no cruelty.

    4. Respect elders, teachers. This is a huge part of being a hindu that I cannot stress it enough. I am taught to respect elders regardless of their knowledge/skill/occupation/Old age. A blessing from a person elder to you and his wishes are supposed to help you in life.(When you give a blessing, you basically are supposed to be grateful to god that he who seeks your blessing considered you important enough to seek your blessings(say touch your feet), tough his head and pray to god to help him out ).
    I feel this is one of the most important part of hinduism.
    5. Belief in karma. In short, As you sow so shall you reap, very quickly or later on.
    6. I am taught to be polite to people even to those who are impolite to me. I try to follow this to what extent I can. Again easier said than done in a very populated and competitive society. But I feel Hindus as a whole are a humble lot. Within family believes, directly being cruel/sarcastic to someone in your words is never ever ever tolerated. I know sarcasm is widely practiced in the west. In my family if I was ever beaten up for anything that was for being sarcastic to elders.

    I feel the last point I quoted was more of a family thing than being a hindu( I dont know really but I see very less sarcastic people around in hindus and whoever is found to be sarcastic he is royally ignored or made fun of privately ), but thats it. If you can identify with all this I think you are as much a hindu as I am. 🙂

    You don’t need to publish it( in fact please don’t. ) If you indeed read it, mail me on on what you think.

    Enjoy hinduism !

  37. I am an Indian-born Hindu man and I am very deeply disturbed by some of the comments stating that you have to be “born” a Hindu to be a Hindu. This is complete hogwash. Hinduism is a very democratic religion and is an orthopraxy, meaning that you may call yourself a Hindu if you practice Hinduism. Anyway, Vedas and the scriptures of Hinduism are for all mankind. ANYONE can become a Hindu. In fact the best Hindus I have met are non-Indian. The most inspirational spiritual gurus who have had the most profound influence on my life are White Hindus and most of them are women!

    My closest guru is a blonde-haired Scandinavian woman whom I love in the deepest most spiritual sense. She is one of the lights of my life. I would be very angered if any Indian dared to question her beliefs and faith.

    Any “Hindu” who states that non-Indians cannot be Hindu is a bigot and a racist much in the same way as a White nationalist bigot. Hindus are judged by their actions, not by their birth.

    Also please beware of the trolls out on the Internet pretending to be Hindus. You will find that many of these “Hindus” have first name of abdul or iqbal or they may be rabid christians who want to offend anyone with an interest in Hinduism.

  38. No one should be considered anyway inferior, superior, original etc Hindu. When he sincerely considers himself as a Hindu, he is a Hindu for all purposes. Have no doubt in your mind. Castes in Hindu religion is a later day addition, in our opinion an aberration. Don’t pay any attention to it. Every Hindu is equal, unequivocally.

  39. For me it simple.Everyone is born a Hindu and then raised as per their environment and as and when they understand yoga (not the physical aspect ),they are Hindu’s again.They are no conversions no ceremonies required,just a simple understanding of divinity within and all around .So in a sense I can be born to a Hindu family but I lack an insight then I am simply not a Hindu and if a Christian gains an insight then he or she is,and vice verca!

  40. Thanks for this article. I’m quite a bit late to comment, but glad to see this discussion. I’m a yoga teacher … I started teaching before yoga was so popular … and I’m a student of Advaita Vedanta … and I’m not Indian. I grew up with Theosophical teachings and have been drawn to Eastern teachings since I was a young boy. I have not been to India, but I have been to several Hindu temples in the U.S.. Two of the temples were very welcoming. One made me chairman of the children’s committee and the other welcomed me to all events, both at the temple in the homes of many families. I have experienced an occasional ‘cold shoulder’ by some Hindus and one temple seemed a bit less friendly. Still, with the hot topic appropriation these days I feel much more self conscious and a little awkward than I did many years ago. I’m not sure I have any answers to provide, except to say that my love for Vedanta, yoga and puja has kept me coming back in spite of any feelings of awkwardness. Pranams.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s