I am not a Hindu. It's not a label I wear: I've never observed a puja or attended temple and engaged in whatever ritual takes place there. I don't know what it means to be a Hindu or to observe Hindu traditions. It's not a tradition that I can claim, I think. My yoga practice seems to require of me, though, more than just engaging a tradition without examining its roots. That is to say, I can't participate in yoga blithely and ignorantly without considering the subtle, esoteric and religious connections it shares with Hinduism and Buddhism. I have no illusions about the overlap--or maybe line of connection--between my practice of breath, movement stillness, and connection, and the yogis' search for God.
When I think the history, the religious history that I was raised in, this history I participate in complicitly or explicitly, I think of something I heard the Dali Lama say in a talk online. He was asked by a Buddhist student who was also Jewish if he, the student, should leave behind his tradition and convert to Buddhism. The Dali Lama said, if you are not a Buddhist, don't leave your tradition to join Buddhism. If you are a Jew, stay a Jew. If you're a Christian, stay a Christian. There are all kinds of Buddhists.
And so I am not a Hindu. My practice doesn't require me to convert. I was born into a vaguely Christian culture and raised in what became a sincerely and seriously Christian family. That's my tradition.
I was reminded of that, walking through Saint-Chappelle. I often forget my tradition. The vengeance, the hypocricy, the judgment that has become so much a part of Christianity, well, I don't like it. It doesn't resonate anymore. I needed my tradition to grow. Still, it was nice to look at these stories I've known for years dramatized in stone, and in colored glass. It reminded me how much beauty there is in the stories of Christianity.
I have an altar at home that has as icon of Ganesha and of Nataraja on it. I often wonder if this is negatively appropriative. But in the morning when I am praying, when I need a place to focus or I need my mantra to have extra power, I'm grateful for it. I don't feel like I'm borrowing a tradition or crossing a boundary; I'm just accessing the Divine in the best way I can.
There is someone who probably thinks I should be ashamed of myself, who would say I should stick to my own tradition: with its burning bush and child sacrifice, with its swallowing whales, water walking, cheek turning and death that only lasts three days. I suppose I should. I haven't forsaken that tradition. It feels rich and wonderful. But there must be enough space for a monkey who can leap over oceans and a whale who swallows reluctant prophets. There must be enough space for an archer to talk through self-doubt with his charioteer, as there is for a carpenter's son to wander the desert, wrestling with his demons.
I had a religion professor who said that maybe, in the time between Christ's 12th birthday and when he began his ministry at 30, he went off to India and studied with the Buddha.
Maybe these traditions are one.