For several years now I have identified myself as a believer in Sanatan Dharma. Sometimes I feel comfortable referring to myself as a Hindu, and yet other times I feel quite uncomfortable. I'll explain why shortly. Embracing the Hindu philosophy has been quite simple for me really. The moment I began reading The Upanishads something awoke inside of me. I had this incredible moment, or moments I should say, of absolute clarity that what I was reading was truth, and it made complete sense. I was giddy with excitement about it for days. I read The Upanishads every night to my husband before bed. I'll always cherish those first moments of discovery with him.
As any convert to a new religion knows, I was quite overwhelmed in the beginning. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding Hinduism. My mind was flooded with the immense history and rich culture that comprises the oldest religion in the world. There were many times when I thought to myself, 'What are you doing? This is madness, you are not from India, you have nothing in common with this religion and these people!' I would put my books away for a while and go about my daily life pretending that I was not seeking anything, that I was content with my life the way it was. This would only last maybe a week or two at a time until I was once again drawn back to my spiritual seeking.
I grew up from childhood until I was the age of 40 as a Latter Day Saint, or Mormon. My religious upbringing has had a great deal of influence on the spiritually inclined woman I am today and I am very grateful for that. Leaving the Mormon religion was not easy for me. I had grown to be quite devout and unquestioning of my faith. But over the years I had become increasingly dissatisfied with it and the self-guilt was at times unbearable. My husband, who was himself a convert to Mormonism, had already lost faith in the church philosophy long before we left, he chose not to tell me his true feelings about it as he did not want to let me down. This is all I will say about our departure from the Mormon religion since I want to focus my thoughts here on my views as a Western convert to Hinduism.
The reason I have struggled with calling myself a Hindu is the mere fact of not quite knowing where I fit into the Hindu structure. I have never been through a formal conversion and embarrassingly enough have only attended one temple in all this time I have been studying. I live in Hawaii and the only temple that I know of on Oahu is an ISKCON temple. My husband and I had a lovely visit there, but I have not returned. Mainly, because I do not identify myself as Vaishnav. I know that there is a great deal of controversy around the ISKCON movement. Having looked into this particular sect of Hinduism, it just did not resonate with me.
Over the years I continued to read and study. I began a meditation practice that included japa mantra. I found I enjoyed chanting immensely. Oftentimes I would come away from my practice with intense feelings of bliss that would last for several days. Although I had fully accepted Hindu philosophy, I still was unsure of what sect I should follow and would never quite commit myself to any one sect in particular. I was very drawn toward the teachings of Spiritual Masters such as Paramahansa Yogananda and Vivekananda. I think mainly for the reason that both of these men had come to the West and were adept in teaching Westerners. I felt comfortable with them as a Westerner. I have studied the full works of both of these men and love them deeply.
Over the last year in particular, I have begun to finally narrow down my own spiritual path in Hinduism. I feel a great pull toward the Divine Feminine aspect of God. This may very well be because of having been raised in a deeply patriarchal spiritual community and culture. It has been so refreshing for me to see God as the mother aspect, such as Maa Durga and Maa Kali. Although it was strange at first, it now feels so right. Through some very unusual, rather synchronistic events over the last year I have been lead to study the teachings of Kashmiri Shaivism and it resonates with me deeply. I have decided to focus my worship on this particular sect of Hinduism.
I am a Hindu-by-choice. I like that term. If you think of the countless people born and raised in a given religion, many of them practice half-heartedly or not at all by the time they are adults. People who seek and embrace a spiritual path on their own tend to be very devout in their practice. When something is just given to you you tend to take it for granted, but when you earn it on your own with much effort it tends to be very precious to you. I am fully convinced that I was led to the dharma. It found me. The Universe willed it. I like to think that I procured some pretty good karma to have been led to this path. I could not turn my back on it now if I tried, it would haunt me forever. I now do not see Sanatan Dharma as a particular culture or birthright. It is for all humankind. For a while I thought it was necessary for me to embrace another culture to be called Hindu, but now I know that that is wrong. I can be who I am, love my own heritage and still be a Hindu in my heart.
I am still fine tuning my own ritual practice. I may not be following every ritual custom perfectly, but I am working on it. I study voraciously and plan to attend the Hindu Monastery Himalayan Academy on Kauai within the next year and hope to call this my home temple. I am also studying Ayurvedic medicine, while working to incorporate it into my lifestyle. I practice vegetarianism. The day I found Hinduism, was the day I opened a Pandora's Box. Life has never been the same for me. I feel in my heart that I am on a spiritual journey back home and it is only through the dharmic path of yoga that I will get there. I have had very little face to face contact with other Hindus and I greatly look forward to the day that I will have that opportunity. For the time being, I rely greatly on my online Hindu family. I have met some amazing Hindus from around the world. I hope one day to be able to travel to India, and experience that magical land. I owe so much to the great sages who have left a wealth of sacred writings for us in the modern age.
My heart belongs to Shiva,