Joining the Hindu Community: Some Early Observations

It has been nearly two months, now, since I began trying to discover and interact with the local Hindu community. I live in the area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, so the Hindu community is fairly large and diverse. The Sri Venkaeswara Temple, the Hindu Jain Temple, and Chinmaya Mission Pittsburgh, among others, mostly in the suburban Monroeville and Penn Hills area, serve the community as religious and cultural centers in many capacities. For example, I recently took a seven-week workshop in spoken Sanskrit generously hosted by Chinmaya Mission Pittsburgh.My immediate impression is not that of an insular community trying hard to keep the tide of filthy Western influence out, as I had been taught in high school cultural geography class, but rather of an extended family who recognize earnest efforts to learn their ways when they see them and welcome, with open hearts and warm smiles, anybody who truly loves God and Gods regardless of ethnic, cultural, or religious background. Hinduism is neither closed to dedicated seekers, nor even to those just innocently curious. I’m not positive where the myth of Hinduism being “closed” came from, but I have read it in even the most scholarly of books on the topic from authors whom I respect deeply for their otherwise broad and deep religious knowledge. Great authorities within Hinduism itself, however, make clear that Hinduism is not only just now open to newcomers, but always has been throughout its history; otherwise, how could people as diverse as Sri Lankans, Nepalese, and Alexander’s Greeks have made their way into Sanātana Dharma long before me?

I don’t mean to make this sound like a dispassionate study in anthropology. My interest is direct and specific: to gain entry to the mysteries of Dharma. And, to do so, I must also learn to integrate this same multifarious dharma into all the many areas and aspects of life. And I have some truly wonderful individual human beings to thank for what little progress I have made in this process. I have been recognized, without any prompting on my part, as a Śiva-bhakta by  temple priests and teachers of Vedanta, welcomed to kirtans, and brought in to participate in the Diwali Lakshmi puja and stotara. No, this isn’t because I am special and they can see it; it is because they are special. In a world so often characterized by walls and “No Trespassing” signs, Hindus have been those to open doors, smile, and pass me a plate of hot food.

Aum Shantiḥ Shantiḥ Shantiḥ

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