Generally, when people refer to “western Hindus” they mean white or European Americans. Are there non-whites who have embraced the path of Sanata Dharma?? Of course there are.
When I told my wife that I wanted to write a Blog on my spiritual experiences she wanted to know how I came up with the name. “Do you feel ignored in temples?” she asked. “No,” I said, “quite the contrary”. I feel like I really belong there, so much so that I don’t even always get counted as a “western Hindu”. A male friend with whom I shared it also asked “why that name?” I pondered the question by reflecting back on a few encounters.
Several years ago I went to a seminar on Hinduism for Westerners. There were a few already there. When I selected a seat, a friendly white man asked me how long I had lived in the US. “All my life”, I responded. His expression immediately changed. Seemingly embarrassed, he began to apologize. He had mistaken me for an Eastern Hindu. However it was clear from my dialect that I was a cultural American.
“It’s OK”, I assured him. “Jon”, I said, extending my hand.
“Greg”, he sheepishly replied.
It happens quite a bit. I am an American who happens to be Black. In context, which is to say that when socially inter mixed with European/African Americans, and animated, (talking, speech patterns etc, especially talking), one has no difficulty discerning my heritage. However when the setting is more diverse, I am at times perceived as having South Asian or North African roots.
Generally, when people refer to “western Hindus” they mean white or European Americans. Those of us who are darker skinned are sometimes considered to be Indian Hindus by those from the east and the west. Once at a temple that I had attended regularly for several months we had a guest presenter. Many attended who were not ethnic Hindus but had interest in the subject matter. After the event one of the other devotees said to me that he was glad to see westerners in the temple. “That doesn’t happen”, he said.
“Well here is one westerner who comes several times a week,” I offered. He looked at me with mild revelation and said, “wow, I guess you are”. After his comment and the previous encounter at the aforementioned seminar, I began to wonder exactly what is meant by the expression “Western Hindu”.
I have accepted that the label is a euphemism. Not all mentions of race or hue are meant to antagonize, or alienate. Sometimes, a rose is just a rose. I am simply not noticed as a westerner as such in all situations, and am thereby to a degree, in those situations, invisible.
Invisible means unable to be seen; not visible to the eye. Socially, in this sense it refers to one who blends in with the physical descriptions of the group but does not have all of the historical and cultural knowledge and experiences.
Many times in all Hindu settings I am asked from what country am I. On more than one occasion I have been asked if I am Muslim or Ethiopian. I explain that I am an American by birth. Sometimes that is the end but when it isn’t I further explain that I am a Hindu not ethnically but philosophically and spiritually and that I have wholeheartedly embraced the path of Sanata Dharma. It has been my experience that Hindus are welcoming and friendly. A common belief bond transcends superficial categories.
Yet when I read articles about Western Hindus, they are normally about whites. A quick Google of the term shows that seemingly, most western Hindus are white. Here again a rose…… This is not to analyze or critique the racial demographics of my spiritual path. It is merely a way to state my reasoning regarding the “invisibility” factor which influenced the name.
Are there nonwhites who have embraced the path of Sanata Dharma?? Of course there are. One well known Black American is former football player Rickey Williams. There are ISKON devotees of different races I have met who are non-ethnic Hindus and nonwhite. From the sparse few to whom I have spoken, they too have had positive experiences and are sometimes asked about their ethnic origins.
The “invisibility” is nothing personal and has more to do with the prevalent skin hues than any intentional overlook. We all feel spiritually and socially quite at home as we pursue our eternal path.
So that is how the BLOG was named. Perhaps it might more aptly be called The Invisible Western Hindu, but, this works as well.