Sunday, December 20, 2009


That some non-Indian people believe that they have "converted" to Hinduism by virtue of practicing yoga of some sort and then, for the more serious adherents, undergoing initiation by a guru, shows just how successful the usually Indian-born marketers of these misconceptions have been in selling them to the West. In truth, Hinduism has the distinction out of all of the world's great religions of not proselytizing nor accepting "converts." This has to be news to those Americans and Europeans who have familiarized themselves with some central Hindu tenets by practicing the transcendental meditation popularized in the 60's by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and mainstreamed today by such television personalities like Deepak Chopra. In general, most people who practice yoga in health clubs don't know that they are engaging in an aspect of Hindu worship, but they are. Simply put, to twist your body in a yogic posture and chant "OM" might seem to be fairly innocuous from a religious standpoint, but in reality, it isn't: to ape another religion's practices for health reasons or to feel exhilarated in some way insults the faith these outsiders claim to admire. As I have argued elsewhere in this blog, a religion that is so clearly an outgrowth of the distinctive cultural, botanical, and social structure of the Indian sub-continent is almost by definition not transcendental at all.

My own experience during my 13 years as an adherent of the Hare Krishna sect illustrates these facts: our guru, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, stated repeatedly that he was not preaching any kind of Hinduism, preferring instead to refer to our religious practice as "Sanatan Dharma" (literally, the "Eternal Path") or simply Bhakti Yoga. However, with the exception of our not observing the more popularized Hindu religious festivals such as Holi and limiting our worship to the avatar of Vishnu Lord Krishna, there is no question that in practice we were most certainly indistinguishable from any other group of Vaishnava Hindus. My next post will discuss the effects of these practices on non-Indian Muslims and Muslims in other countries where the idea of would-be "Hindus" preaching in their communities is both dangerous and counter-productive.

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