Project Conversion

Project Conversion


Month One: Day 27/Hinduism in Review

posted by abowen

When I was a kid I hated to try new things. I was a creature of habit. My parents had to make me try new things. “You’ll love soccer, if you tried it out.”  

No thanks. I’ll stick to being anti-social and building forts in the woods.  

But Mom and Dad had a mission: to expose me to everything they could so that I might develop into a well-rounded young man. Well, I don’t know if I turned cultivated but I did end up liking soccer.  

So what’s my point? Project Conversion is an effort to take the lessons my parents taught me about trying new things and looking through the perspectives of others and apply that to the religious violence and bickering that has our world up in flames today. But instead of preaching about it, I decided to show the world how it’s done by putting my money where my mouth is and living it.  

One man. Eleven faiths. One year to practice them all. That’s the mission. To live life in the shoes of another. And it started January 1st, 2011 with Hinduism. As promised, here is my review of the month I’ve lived.  

What I’ve Learned/What Misconceptions Were Overcome?  

“Truth is one, though the wise call it by many names” –the Rig Veda  

When I began planning for Project Conversion, my future Jain Mentor told me that “Hinduism is the United States of philosophy.” I didn’t get it at the time but now I understand. Hinduism, like the US of A, is an amalgam of philosophies and theologies joined by a common religious “genetic” ancestor or goal. That’s what is meant by the above quote from the Rig Veda and arguably the whole meaning of Sanatana Dharma.  

As I prepared for my month with Hinduism I felt overwhelmed. “So many gods,” I thought. “So many rituals, traditions, and history. Where do I begin?!” Because I grew up as Christian and was accustomed to only one form of God (Jesus) and one scripture (the Bible), the notion that within one religion I had a choice between different deities and holy scriptures was mind-blowing. Truth, it turned out, wasn’t relative, but a singular goal reached by many, many roads. But time was running out and I had to pick a road fast. I selected Shiva as my deity and thus narrowed down how my month would play out.  

  

Shiva is the third aspect of the Supreme Reality (God), Brahman. As Shiva, we understand the creative and destructive cycles of nature. Shiva also represents the detached ascetic, persistent in meditation on the pervasive reality (the divine Self within and outside of us all), and covered in the ashes of burned sin (ignorance). He is represented by the lingam.  

  

The lingam represents the formless, abstract reality of the divine. In Sanatana Dharma, there is freedom to use representations of the divine (murti) in order to meditate and focus on God, however the aspirant is encourage to develop his devotion to the point where such tools and methods are obsolete, as he reaches moksha, the realized state in which all is Brahman–including ourselves.  

There are literally thousands of representations of the divine, each for one or more of its aspects. This is why figures like Jesus, the Buddha, and Krishna are all acceptable as projections of the divine within Hinduism. Each are a way to Truth. When I began this month, I clearly thought that Hinduism was a polytheistic faith due to these various representations. Now I know that, depending on which school of thought a Hindu belongs to, they are either monotheists (God exists as a part of and/or outside of creation and selects manifestations) or monist (the divine is manifest in all of creation).  

Freedom of devotion also lends to the highly developed artistic acumen of Hindus in general. Their culture is replete with visual, literary, and musical styles that convey every colorful aspect of the divine. One revelation I experienced with this concept is that while Hinduism has its holy texts (i.e., the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, etc.), spiritual discourse is an ongoing development and the treatises that cover these lessons are held in the same esteem as the rishis (holy men or seers) of time immemorial.  

What Would I Do Differently?  

For the sake of efficiency, I decided to split each month into four categories: Rituals and practices, arts and culture, social issues, monthly reflection. While this gives a nice introduction into these different aspects of faith, they tend to limit the content I can share about what’s happening with me personally. Let’s face it, if you wanted a scholarly info dump, you could Google the subject and get it anywhere. What makes Project Conversion interesting is that I’m displacing myself for a whole year and living a “day in the life.” Sure, I posted some personal content toward the end and I’ve also kept a hand-written journal of my daily experiences. Going forward, however, I think it would be fair and more beneficial to you if I offered you a more in depth view into my time living as a Hindu, Muslim, Baha’i, etc. So that’s that.  

What Am I Taking From This Into The Future?  

One of the most amazing results of Project Conversion was how quickly I was able to adapt. If you would have told me two months ago that I would embrace a vegetarian lifestyle I would have asked you what you were smoking and if I could have some. But now…Understand that Hinduism sees the presence of the divine in all life and all creation. This is why the concept of non-injury is so crucial. Sure, it was tough whenever someone at a restaurant ordered a perfectly seasoned and seared New York strip, the scent of which flooded my nose and thrust me into potential blood-lust. But I resisted. I held fast. And now that I know in vivid detail how meat is transformed from terrified animal to slaughtered flesh on a plate…yeah, I’m a vegetarian now and probably for the long haul. But I won’t judge someone who eats meat. To each their own, right?  

Meditation/Yoga. I’m a naturally stressed out guy. As a college student, a father, a husband, a writer, editor, and now in the midst of Project Conversion, it’s easy to see that my head could spin off at any moment. Meditation/yoga–a practice that transcends religious tradition–has become a powerful ally. I am calmer, far more patient, my passion is controlled/guided, and I see the positive in a situation far more readily than in the past. In fact, the results have been so dramatic that I haven’t used profanity(even in thought!) this whole month and even my libido is tamed. Yes, I have a lot further to go, but I like my new disposition and I credit the trained focus of meditation/yoga for that result.  

Saying Goodbye  

Adopting Hinduism for the month has been like jumping naked into freezing water. However, now that I’ve lived this way for almost a month, I can honestly say I’m going to miss everything. I don’t want to hang up my rudraksha mala. I want to chant the mantras in the limited Sanskrit I worked so hard to learn. I don’t want to stop visiting the temple and taking part in the classes, aarti, and prasad. I’ll miss the cool sensation of bhasma ash drying on my forehead in the tripundra stripes. The wisdom of the Upanishads has seeped into my heart and mind and though I must now move on, those poetic verses uttered so many millenia ago will echo long beyond my first month of Project Conversion. No, I haven’t presented everything there is to know about Sanatan Dharma here, but then again, that was never the goal. My hope is that you learned enough to want to learn more, to no longer get nervous around a co-worker wearing a bindi or tilak, to ask questions and let one speak for themselves before you judge them.  

So here’s to everyone who helped me along the way: Hindu Bhavan Temple, Prof. Bharat Gajjar, Meeta Gajjar Parker, The Naik family, Dr. Gupta and her Sunday School students, Dr. Baktri, everyone who emailed me about the faith and the saints old and new who spoke to me through their written words…  

Namaste



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abowen

posted August 15, 2011 at 10:56 am


I agree 100% Paula. Thanks for reading!



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Paula

posted August 15, 2011 at 2:23 am


Andrew,

Someone posted this blog on another website and I’m amazed. I consider myself an agnostic. I don’t know either way, nor do I really question either way-having said that though I love to learn about other people and what/why they belief what they belief and follow what they follow.

I believe everyone, whether they admit it or not, takes something from everyone that they cross paths with. Well I know I do.

I will be interested in when this year is done-what you take from each religion and bring it to your every day life after 365 days. I’m sure you’ll take a little bit of something (ie vegetarian).

I truly believe humanity comes from trying to understand others. That doesn’t mean you have to convert or even “a day in the life of…”. Just a general understanding without the need to judge, resent, hate, etc.

Thanks for sharing your journey.



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Anonymous

posted March 2, 2011 at 2:04 am


What an awesome practice you have here. All of us would do well to follow your example.



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Penny Green

posted March 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm


Wow Andrew! You have done an amazing job of sorting through this ancient and complex religion. I think that many people, myself included, could easily have gotten overwhelmed and bogged down with the immense variations within Hinduism, but you have been able to zero in on some really key issues and understanding. Many people think of Hinduism as polytheistic when it is, as you point out, monotheist and/or monist (I don’t see these two viewpoints as necessarily contradictory). Arjuna’s vision of God as described in the Bhagavad-Gita helped me figure this one out; your explanation was very helpful and confirming of the same conclusion.

As part of my daily spiritual practice, I read a short verse each morning from one of the sacred texts of the world. I knew nothing of Hinduism when I first started this practice, but was fortunate to have a copy of the Bhagavad Gita that contained a wonderful introduction which gave valuable background information on the whole body of Hindu scripture and beliefs.

I was astonished to find how much Hindu verses and concepts resembled similar verses and concepts in the Bible. For example, the concept of TAT TVAM ASI in the Upanishads blew me away as being so similar to the Jewish concept of JAHWEH (I AM THAT I AM). Another verse from the Gita – “Only by love can men see Me, and know Me, and come unto Me” – could have been spoken by Jesus.

I have found many other “favorites” in Hindu scripture, and will share a couple with you:

“He who experiences the unity of life, sees his own self in all beings, and all beings in his own self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye.” (Bhagavad Gita 6.29)

“What best men do, the multitude will follow.. . .If I acted not – earnest and watchful – those that look to me for guidance, sinking back to sloth again because I slumbered, would decline from good,
And I should break earth’s order and commit her offspring unto ruin . . .!
Even as the unknowing toil, wedded to sense, so let the enlightened toil, sense freed, but set
to bring the world deliverance, and its bliss.”

Thank you again Andrew for undertaking and sharing your wonderful journey of discovery.



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Anonymous

posted January 30, 2011 at 8:51 am


Thank you for this illustration!



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Shaktibud

posted January 30, 2011 at 2:31 am


Hinduism can be a rather difficult path to comprehend. I lecture about my faith and when it comes to the Gods and Goddesses I use a crystal paperweight to demonstrate the following concept. The diamond paperweight represents God. For me God is Siva. When I then point out to the audience all of the “facets” on the paperweight I ask how many paperweights I am still holding and the answer is one. Most Hindus have one Supreme Deity they worship. The other aspects or facets are still part of the Supreme. I know this is complex but it is the best way to try and understand the concept of how many Hindus understand the various aspects of God.



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Anonymous

posted January 30, 2011 at 1:30 am


Namaskar,

Thank you for writing me. You may certainly link to Project Conversion if
you’d like. From what faith did you convert to Hinduism from?

Best,

Andrew



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Dewanand

posted January 29, 2011 at 11:15 am


Namaskar Andrew,

I converted to Hinduism fifteen years ago and it changed my life. NOw I am a hindu writer and my life is better. In fact Hinduism is some sort of huge science of religion, ever since ancient times. Hinduism is also one of the first female religions and it is peaceful and tolerant. If the whole world would convert to Hinduism than worldpeace will immediately become a fact. Hindus never killed or raped other people of different faiths.

Put me on your maillist. I want to publish all your stories on my site, so mail me if you find it good.

succes,

dewanand
hindu writer and researcher
Delft, Holland
waldo@ziggo.nl
site: Critical Podium Dewanand
http://www.dewanand.com



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