Becoming a Hindu
A manual for self-conversion
By Bob Ledwidge, Australia,editor of "Living Traditions"
It is amazing to see the influence of Hinduism in the so-called "Western world." We may attend a yoga class, see a TV program on reincarnation, talk about "karma" or even try and meditate, but we don't see these things as any more than individual techniques. So many of our spiritual ideas come from the East, such concepts as the oneness of life, reincarnation, karma and so forth, but we generally don't think about their origins.
When we are exposed to the power of Eastern techniques, practices or traditions, we seem to experience them in isolation and do not consider the next logical step conversion. In the West we see Christianity, Islam and related Abrahamic religions as offering conversion and yet do not contemplate this option in relation to Hinduism.
This may be because Hinduism is not evangelical. It does not hawk its faith on street corners or wish to manipulate for converts. It makes conversion hard work and puts demands on the individual before he can enter the faith. It wants informed and reasoned conversions, not quick switches at the high of an emotional presentation. This system of "ethical conversion" is central to How to Become a Hindu. While the author, Hinduism Today publisher Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, explains how Hinduism welcomes converts and offers a range of heartfelt and persuasive conversion stories, he emphasizes the need for intelligent, informed and fully consensual conversion. This process involves confronting one's prior religious (or secular) ideological attachments, dealing with them and making an informed separation from them. In the case of previous religious commitments, this can include formal dialog with one's prior religious mentors or community, and formal release from it. Further to this is the importance of formal entry into a sect of Hinduism, including taking a Hindu name, entering a Hindu community and the naming ritual.
At the same time, Subramuniyaswami works to present a realistic view of the world's religions. Rather than promoting the sugar-coated illusion that all religions are the same, he offers an informed and erudite, but brief, summary of the characteristics of the major religious traditions and their similarities and differences. This way, the potential convert can truly evaluate his or her prejudices, ideological focuses and baggage, so to speak. It can sometimes be astounding, even a bit frightening, when we confront the beliefs that we have locked away in our own unconsciousminds and realize their power.
How to Become a Hindu is a unique and important work. It is the only book on conversion to Hinduism readily available and which communicates directly to the Western mind. It is clear, precise and self-assured. It offers a vision of Hinduism as a living faith that has something of great beauty, depth and power to offer those who are seeking. It is a controversial work in that it is proudly Hindu and makes no apologies; and in a Western world saturated with consumerism, relativism and materialism this vision can be confronting. At the same time, it can also be a wake-up call to those who have studied, thought and contemplated but not realized that the next step is available.
How to Become a Hindu is pre-eminently practical, with advice, a selection of Hindu names and step-by-step outlines of the process of "ethical conversion."
A Woman's Book of Healing
By Tara Katir, Kapaa, Hawaii
Acording to vedic tradition each person is born to a purpose. My story is an example of how someone can become alienated from her truest self, but rediscover her identity, strengths and gifts by becoming attuned to the rhythms of her family and cultural heritage." So begins The Path of Practice, A Woman's Book of Healing with Food, Breath and Sound by Bri. Maya Tiwari (420 pages, Random House, us$24.95), a profoundly inspiring personal journey of a return to health and spiritual unfoldment.
Bri. Tiwari's odyssey began in 1975 with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer at age 23. Through a winter of intense inner searching and facing the truth of herself, Bri. Tiwari perceived a profound truth, the "body is the temple of your spirit. Our joy and well-being do not depend on our physical body, but on learning more about the spirit within us and the greater life force of the universe. This knowledge of spirit will actually help you take better care of your body and yourself as a whole."
This gentle book is a marvelous guide of daily sadhanas outlined by Bri. Tiwari detailing how you can live life "consciously in the present moment" and "recover your natural rhythms and align yourself and your inner cycles with the universe." She shares how a "dis-eased" body can be made whole through prayanama, meditation, cultivating inner silence, recognizing our karma as a precious teacher, understanding sound as a healer, and more. Tiwari clearly presents how anyone can practice the many sadhanas.
Bri. Tiwari has crafted a beautifully written and inspiring book, filled with practicable things one can do for a more healthful and spiritually uplifted life.
The Path of Practice, A Woman's Book of Healing with Food, Breath and Sound by Bri. Maya Tiwari, Ballantine Publishing Group, 201 East 50th Street, New York, NY, 10022 USA
By Jesse Abbot, Connecticut
Asmodern people increasingly recognize and want to explore the rich relationships between different facets of our lives, such as diet, lifestyle and physical, emotional and spiritual health, people are becoming more and more interested in ayurveda, the 5,000+ year-old Indian science of life. Ayurveda for Women: A Guide to Vitality and Health by Dr. Robert E. Svoboda (183 pages, Healing Arts Press, us$14.95) is a thorough and satisfying explanation of India's signature approach to women's health.
With its intimate grasp of the powers, qualities and issues particular to females, ayurveda could be argued to be more "feminist" than much modern thinking claiming that affiliation. The first Westerner to graduate from a traditional ayurvedic college and certified to practice in India, Svoboda holds true to the woman-empowering possibilities of this tradition. He organizes the book according to the three traditional doshasÑhuman constitutional tendencies that must be kept in balance for health to exist. These are vata, kinetic energy, kapha, potential energy, and pitta, the metabolic force regulating all transformations in the body. Svoboda then applies these principles to childhood, womanhood and "the wise woman" (old age) as the three stages of a woman's life.
Moving through these stages creates the context for a conversational yet detail-packed discussion branching into many practical medical topics, from the various roles of breastfeeding, massage, nourishing foods vs. sweets and puberty in the healthy development of growing girls; to hormones, exercise, meditation, diet and sexuality in womanhood; to topics for the woman elder: grandparenting, menopause, osteoporosis and hormone replacement, rejuvenation, a purposeful life, the place of prayer and the meaningful acceptance of death. All of these subjects are discussed straightforwardly and engagingly.
Svoboda closes the body of the book with a pithy meditation on "Nature: the ageless one," proposing the power of relying on Nature as a guide through life. For Svoboda, healing is in fact rooted in the primordial feminine, Mother Nature, the Goddess, etc. The book concludes with two highly useful appendices: the first on food guidelines for basic doshas, or constitutional types, and the second covering herbal remedies.
This is a book, really, for all women and men who want to clarify how to nourish and advocate for healthy and whole women and girls.
Ayurveda for Women by Dr. Robert Svoboda, Healing Arts Press, P.O. Box 388, Rochester, Vermont 05767 USA. Ph: 800.246.8648
By Tara Katir, Kapaa, Hawaii
Domestic violence, once a dark,heinous secret concealed behind closed doors, is now a repugnant truth brought to light. Margaret Abraham's sociological study, Speaking the Unspeakable, Marital Violence among South Asian Immigrants in the United States (234 pages, Rutgers University Press, us$22), documents the cultural and ethnic complexities of marital violence within the South Asian immigrant community. Marital violence as defined by Abraham is physical, sexual, verbal, mental or economic coercion, power or control perpetrated on a woman by her spouse or extended kin. She explains how immigration issues, cultural assumptions, and unfamiliarity with American social, legal, economic and other institutional systems, coupled with stereotyping, make these women especially vulnerable to domestic violence.
Abraham interviewed twenty-five women from a number of South Asian countries who represented diverse religious, educational and occupational backgrounds. Their voices are the heart of the book, describing in their own words, the variety of abuses they experienced. While the women's own cultural patterns made it difficult for them to seek help from outside, more perfidious are those whom Abraham calls "partners in crime" those individuals who are indifferent or may keep a "strategic silence" to the victim's plight, and at worst are active participants in the abuse.
She concludes by outlining the strategies these women used to resist their abusive spouses. "Their stories contradict the traditional image of South Asian women as docile and submissive, willing to accept the abuse perpetrated against them. We see the way in which the women play an active role in challenging their abusive husbands." Additionally, Abraham spotlights the many organizations that assist South Asian women who are victims of abuse. The once acceptable belief that marital abuse is a private concern is shifting to the belief that it is a public issue, an issue requiring everyone's concern and readiness to speak out against. Real-life accounts of marital abuse are not what I would suggest for an uplifting evening read, but this book has an urgent, compelling message. Abraham brings to light a problem afflicting every community and in the end shows how someone can find help.
Speaking the Unspeakable, Marital Violence Among South Asian Immigrants in the United States, Margaret Abraham, Rutgers University Press,100 Joyce Kilmer Avenue, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854-8099 USA
Not many teens are wildly enthusiastic about school. For inspiration, check out The Teenagers' Guide to School Outside the Box by Rebecca Greene (260 pages, Free Spirit Press, us$15.95). Greene charts an amazing array of alternative educational possibilities designed to rouse just about any jaded student's interest. This nifty book is a superb reference for any family looking for exciting educational tools and courses for their kids.
The Ultimate Spiritual Path by Swami Rajarshi Muni's Yoga (184 pages, Llewellyn Publications,us$14.95) covers the topics of karma, reincarnation, consciousness, purification and more. Swami says, "Yoga is neither a religion by itself nor part of any other religious system." This opinion, common among yoga teachers, ignores the obvious fact that yoga is a part of Hinduism. Swami concludes with a nice description and application of the yamas and niyamas, pranayama, simple meditation practices and a glossary.
The Teenagers' Guide to School Outside the Box, Rebecca Greene, Free Spirit Publishing Inc., 217 Fifth Ave. N., Suite 200, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401 USA.
Yoga, the Ultimate Spiritual Path by Swami Rajarshi Muni, Llewellyn Publications, P.O. box 64383, Dept. 1-56718-441-3, St. Paul, Minnesota 55164-0383 USA.