I think it no longer can be put off any further. Its time has come. I had wished to ask you at the outset. But I thought that let me discover it for myself and find the joy in discovery as a bonus. But how incorrect I was ? I didn’t know it would prove such a hard nut to crack. Now I surrender. I confess that I have failed to find the answer on my own. I really need your help, friends. I hope you won’t mind extending a helping hand. But unless I tell my problem, how would you help ?

After I joined Facebook, exactly two years ago, I began inviting all of you one by one, to be my friend, which all of you accepted and made me so obliged and proud of you. I had noticed at the outset a thing which has always surprised, puzzled but pleased me since. For the last forty years I have been reading mainly western literature and philosophy and almost neglected the literature of my own country, India , including its spiritual literature, saints and seers. When I joined Facebook I had expected it to be full of western contents. I had assumed western people talking of only about their life in the west, their religion Christianity and their saints Paul, John, Matthews, Francis, Joan, Theresa etc.

But here began my puzzlement. I saw most of my western friends, you could see they numbered upward of two thousand, whenever they posted anything, they shared mostly their interest, knowledge about and devotion to Hindu saints and spiritual and religious literature. I discovered to my amazement that many western men and women used Hindu Gods and Goddesses as their profile pictures. Some wrote down incantations of mantras of Hindu gods on their walls and the contents of their posts remained largely spiritual of the Hindu kind. Some even asked me to explain the meaning of some Hindu/Sanskrit names which I did for them. I was pleased to find that they had been correctly informed that every Hindu/Sanskrit name had a meaning of its own. But their so much interest and knowledge about Hindu religious and spiritual thoughts never ceased to surprise me. Their so much devotion to some Hindu saints bordering on devotion to God Himself,as it were, never failed to flabbergast me. I began to have a thought continuously running at the back of my mind that probably instead of joining Facebook, as I had planned, I had inadvertently joined Facebook (India) and that’s why its pages were splashed with Hindu contents. I had always wanted to ask Facebook to clarify this, but I didn’t know how to ask, what was its Email address etc. I thought of asking the western friends themselves. I particularly wanted to ask Russie as she was my first western friend who had responded most cordially and with the maximum of warmth. I wanted to ask her why being a German she was so spiritually Hindu, in all her posts, in all her effusions of devotions to Indian Gods and goddesses . One day I also took courage to ask her. I admit asking someone about his/her caste or religion or income and in case of a lady her age, demanded a courage which I normally found hard to muster up. I asked her if she was a Hindu. She replied no, she was a Christian. I was even more puzzled. Thereafter I asked no one else. I thought she might be representing all, meaning, they were all Christians but yet at home in worshiping or loving Hindu Gods. If that was so, what a great contrast they formed, in my mind, to Indian Christians. I was reminded of an incident in my childhood.

I was studying in standard six in a school deep in rural India. I had no knowledge that any other religion than Hinduism existed anywhere because I had never seen any one belonging to any other faith. That I was a Hindu, even that would have remained unknown to me if Govt didn’t want me to mention my religion at the time of taking admission to schools or at the time of filling up a form prior to the school Board examinations. Once you were born to a Hindu household you were a Hindu for your life. You didn’t have to do anything to remain a Hindu. You were required to read no scripture, attend no temple or worship no God or Goddess unless you yourself did on your own accord. So I never worshipped in or visited any temple except to satisfy for once or twice a curiosity to see what was there inside of a temple .
But two Pujas we did in schools annually because they were more like festivals and colorful carnivals than Pujas. In fact all Hindu Pujas were like that as I was to discover later. The incident I am going to share happened at the end of a Ganesh puja. As all the staff, students and the villagers around the school were Hindus all took part in it. At the end of the daylong festival the much awaited time for distribution of Prasad came. I was among the group of boys who volunteered to distribute them. First we distributed among the teachers. All of them ate Prasad sitting on a long mat spread on the floor of the school veranda. We found our craft teacher was not among them. So we went to his room in the school where he was reclining on a bed. Seeing us he sat up. We offered him Prasad in a large plate which he strangely and unaccountably refused politely. When we pressed for knowing the reason, he said he couldn’t take it as he was a Christian. Till that day we didn’t know he was a Christian. He had come on transfer a couple of months ago. In fact we didn’t know if anybody was a Christian in the world except from the books where they said everything, that there were people who ate cockroaches, snakes and even other people which we didn’t believe, any way. I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes when he refused Prasad, such a tasty, sumptuous meal actually. I had seen people waging mini wars if anyone got overlooked at the time of distribution of Prasad. But I had never seen anyone refusing Prasad. I have also never understood why adults always camouflaged their desire for tasty food with such high sounding name as Prasad. To me what was religious about some food items, for the life of me I would never know. And here an intelligent teacher was refusing Prasad which was nothing but vegetarian food, for some spacious and outlandish reason that he was a Christian. Suddenly as if a screen dropped off before my eyes. He was one of my favorite teachers. I used to watch mesmerized for hours at him making wooden articles and furniture of all kinds. So many beautiful forms from his imagination were taking shapes before my eyes with the help of his dexterous hands and so furiously fast that I was spellbound while watching him at work. I used to think what a marvelously gifted genius he was, considering that it was impossible on my part to draw a penciled picture of even a mango which all else were able to do with ease. My respect for him and his craft was so much that I had begun to underestimate all other teachers of the school in comparison to him. And suddenly he appeared to me to be a fool, nothing but a self-opinionated fool. Who else could refuse good food ? I thought Christians, if they really existed anywhere, were bigots.

But here in Facebook, I found Christians worshipping and venerating the Hindu gods themselves. What a surprise! This was beyond my expectations. I had only wished them not to be bigots. But how was I going to be actually sure that what I had found with Russie applied to all ? That all Christians venerated Hindu Gods and loved Hindu religious thoughts ? And I was not going to find out with anybody’s help. To complicate matters I found somewhere written on a page on ISCON that it was the largest single group of Facebook users, numbering more than one hundred thousand. So I had a hunch that all those western men and women venerating and loving Hindu Gods and Goddesses and spiritual thoughts belonged to ISCON. But a doubt also rankled. If they were all ISCON followers why should Russie say she was a Christian. ISCON followers normally identified themselves as Hindus.

One day I found my dear friend Carmen mention “My Guru Papaji encouraged me to be myself, to share from my own experience.” I thought why should she write Guru with reference to a Hindu spiritual teacher. I know she was a Christian. Was she a ISCON follower too ? I hoped not. But I also didn’t seek her help in clarifying my confusion. I was determined to find out myself. Days passed but I was getting nowhere nearer regarding the correct position of these western friends so far as their religious affiliations were concerned. Only yesterday evening something happened that I decided I could never be able to solve this conundrum on my own.

Last evening a new friend from Texas invited me for a chat. I mentioned Texas because I found him, during the course of our chat, extremely mindful of the place one came from. Normally if someone confused something with the other, I would correct for instance, “No,that was not Ram Dass who had said that, that was by Alan Watts”. But this friend, I noticed would always correct like this, “That was not by RamDass from California that was by Alan Watts from New York”. I found that very interesting. I would think he was the most scholarly of all my western male friends. The pity was I always forgot who came from where, though in all my interaction that was the first question I asked to all to make amend. But that never made any difference. In the end, sometimes by the end of the chat or the evening I would forget the name of the place the friend came from. As if my mind refused to register man-made borders one found on maps.

Nine times out of ten, chats bored me. So I desisted from inviting anyone to chat. But when someone invited from the other end I generally gave in, at least for the first couple of times. Hoping against hope that perhaps this time there might be God at the other end seriously thinking of sharing with me one of his secrets or revelations that would take me out of the confine and confusion of myself and drown me in the beauty, colour and glory of a sunrise in a clear mental sky. Last evening’s chat was nothing of the sort but it was not a let down either. It certainly would come among those one out of ten in which I had not been bored and that spoke enough about my new friend’s style and substance. I began from a point of no expectation, that may have contributed a lot towards its success.

In course of the chat, which ranged very wide and far and included politics of our respective countries, he expressed his fondness for and gratitude to India, especially its saints,mystics and spiritual teachers. He had genuine praises for them. I mentioned that it seemed to me that the majority of Christians have deserted their religion in favour of eastern religions, especially Hinduism. I said it seemed so from the Facebook pages in the praises and panegyrics of Shankara, Raman and Nisargadatt ; in the invocation and incantations of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. He corrected me with a report on the ground reality as he found it, for which I was grateful to him. He said he was the only man in his neighborhood who had both white and Indian friends. He said he wished the Christians who also believed in Hindu religious thoughts were in the majority but sadly that was not so. They formed a minuscule minority. Some priests have accommodated Hindu nondual thoughts in their services in churches but they formed a tiny minority. I asked him then why it seemed to me from my reading of Facebook that they formed the majority. He said some chilling, blood curdling things to me. I was really astonished. He said the hard core traditional Christians of America and the west won’t even hold talks with me. They hated my religion, its saints and seers and literature. And they were the majority. The ones I found so much in love with India and its saints and who loved to talk and share with me were currently a tiny minority. I said I didn’t know this. To me Eckhert Tolle,Wayne Dyer, Ram Dass, Alan Watts, Donald Jacobson, Adyashanti, Mooji etc only represent the best of the west, the intelligentsia of the west. They were all influenced by Hindu thoughts. I even predicted to him that the tiny minority that he and his likes formed at the moment, supported by the cream of the intelligentsia, would certainly see their rank swelling in future. The majority would one day find their churches deserted if they didn’t accommodate them in some way. And if a hardcore traditional Christian won’t hold talks with me I was not dying to talk with him either.
Then I thought this man seemed to be knowledgeable, why not I take his help to remove my confusion of 2 years. I asked him if he thought that most of those from the west who had a reverence for Hindu religion, thoughts and saints were followers of ISCON ? He waited, unusually, for a few seconds and asked what was that. I laughed and replied that I thought I got the answer. He said sure, but what was that. I said, that stood for “Society for International Srikrishna Consciousness movement” founded by Prabhupada. He said he had never heard of that. He was a follower of Yuktananda and Yogananda and their system of Kriyayoga. He said he had been holding workshops on present moment consciousness sine 1980s much before Eckhert popularized it so hugely. He said Ram Dass had written a book on Here and Now much earlier, in the 1960s. I said I didn’t know. I should certainly read it if I found it. Then he wanted to take leave. I concurred and bade him good bye. He said Namaste which never failed to surprise me pleasantly when it came from a foreigner. I said Namaste and thanked him for removing some of my confusions and false impressions.

I implore you all, my American and western friends, if my confusions have been correctly addressed with correct facts and if my learned friend and I were wrong anywhere in our assumptions or conclusions. Please feel free to write as you like. Any one reading this article even after months or years after its publication should feel welcomed to share his/her views,opinions on a subject which has never failed to fill me in wonder, amazement and awe.

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