A Search of Self-Inquiry
How I came to understand what it means to be a Hindu
BY SHIVALI BHAMMER
I liken faith to a relationship: it takes investment, discipline, trust, discovery, questioning, and most importantly, devotion. When I first set out to write this short article about what it meant to me to be a Hindu, the words would not come; but weeks later, on a long flight from New York to Maui, they began to flow—interestingly enough, because of this magazine, HINDUISM TODAY. I was reading an article which told a story of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Two paragraphs in and I felt tears falling down my face. I thought to myself, “God I have missed you so much, sorry I abandoned you, I love you.” In that one moment I understood what it meant to be a Hindu.
In my experience being Hindu is not to utter the answer, but to ask the question. Our scriptures are based on scientific and metaphysical enquiry of the self. If you want to discover God, you need to discover yourself. If you wish to discover yourself, you will by default discover God. Through the scientific practices of yoga, meditation, ayurveda, and other applications, you can walk the path to enlightenment.
Having studied religion and philosophy extensively in my school and university years, I understood that many religions hold the idea that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. Hinduism, however, takes it further by stating that if these qualities are true, then nothing but God can exist.
The most basic analogy is that we are waves, which after collapsing back into the ocean can no longer be seen. Was there ever a wave in the first place? It is maya, this illusory world, which gives rise to diversity and duality, which enables you to believe you are separate from the ocean, though you never truly are. Some people ask, “Why does so much diversity and difference exist, and why are there so many religions?”According to the Yoga Vasistha, it is because consciousness is ever creative. Observe this world and you can see the magic of this diversity in every organism. Consciousness wishes to experience itself, and the only way to do so is to create separation so that it can then acknowledge itself, yourself, in a different form. Instead of seeing difference when we look at another, Hinduism teaches you to see yourself.
I have experienced rejection in my life because I was not the same religion as another. This made me return to my religion and ask myself: “What does it mean to be a Hindu?” It means to understand that there is only one Truth, and all of humanity is rooted in it. There is nothing else. If I am to be truly religious, I cannot reject another, I must learn to accept and understand all. In our differences lie the same ribbon of consciousness, and like a ballet slipper, as you wrap this ribbon around your ankle it firmly plants you on point. Within that single-pointedness the entirety of creation exists. As a Hindu, my job is to bow down to this Truth.
To me, being religious has become about breaking the layers of ego and conditioning that are tied around us. It means vanquishing our fears and embracing those we were least likely to embrace. If I wish to be a good Hindu, I need to be able to see this light in everyone. So long as I cannot see it in someone, I have missed the point.
The beauty of being Hindu is that it truly invites you to explore any path that you wish, be that introspection, outer worship, both, or anything in between. In my life, God has taken on a very personal form. As I have faced more challenges, I have been forced to spend more time really questioning the nature of “I,” the nature of the world and my relationship to it. Asking questions doesn’t mean you are faithless; it means you are expounding your faith.
As the Vedas clearly state, you can’t experience it through another’s words; you have to go in search of the experience itself, because “where words end, truth begins.”
SHIVALI BHAMMER is a devotional singer and a kathak and ballet dancer. Born and raised in London, UK, she currently resides in New York. See: shivali.co.uk