Cultural vs. Spiritual

I’ve been wrestling with some fairly tough thinking lately (well, throughout this entire process), mainly what is cultural and what is spiritual tradition.

It’s been a huge challenge. My family, historically, has been very religious, in a Christian sense. My great-grandfather founded an Episcopal church in south Florida. My uncle is an archpriest in the American Orthodox tradition. My mother was briefly a novice in the Maryknoll order.

So I’ve got a lot of ingrained tradition. Christmas. Easter. Lent. Communion. The whole experience of church. Only problem? There is a lot of the core philosophy that I don’t believe. Like Jesus is the only way to salvation. Or that we’re only born once on this planet and after we die, we go to heaven or hell, depending on how we’ve lived our lives. Or that God is separate from all of us, forever. That’s pretty basic, fundamental stuff.

So finding sanatana dharma and following it as a philosophy should be a no-brainer, right?

Well, no. It’s very difficult. On one hand, I am excited every morning when I get up, wash my face, get dressed and go to my prayer room to start my day. I get excited thinking about temple. I like listening to devotional music. Meditating on God helps me get through my day with less anxiety. It feels right.

On the other hand, I find my mind wandering back to what’s familiar. I think about today, Fat Tuesday, and all those people indulging before 40 days of fasting. And while I never really felt deeply about Lent, I am feeling a little nostalgic for Easter and the hymns, and the core message behind the whole thing.

Then I become very confused, because I don’t know what to do next. Do I keep following a tradition that speaks to me culturally, but philosophically isn’t me anymore? Or do I persevere with what speaks to me philosophically but is culturally unfamiliar? How much of what I’m missing about the Episcopal church is spiritual? Or am I just nostalgic for the cultural parts – Christmas traditions, Easter traditions, the music and the atmosphere? At the core, each religion teaches the same message – do good things and be a nice person, don’t be selfish and greedy, and you will be happy.

I know this is part of what everybody who changes philosophies wrestles with.  I’m also an impatient perfectionist, and I want to know, for certain, right now (which, I realize, is foolish and something I shouldn’t be terribly concerned about at this point; I have a lot of growing and learning left to do). Would it be easier if I had a guru? How would I even know if a guru was right for me? I look to Sri Rama when I pray to God, but is that right? Should it be Siva? Venkateswara? Other people have talked about profound spiritual experiences that border on out-of-body, but what if I don’t ever feel that? Does that mean I’ve been fooling myself all along?

The answer to all those questions will come to me eventually. Periodically I get reassurances that I am in fact doing things correctly. I’m calmer and much better at handling stressful situations with grace and poise. I do get a sort of warm, peaceful feeling when I think about the Gods and Goddesses I pray to on a regular basis. And I know that I’m so new to this. I’ll learn more about myself and figure things out as they go.

First task, though, is to master patience.

About HappyGoth

By day, I'm a graphic designer. By night, I'm a knitter. I'm doing my part to keep Hotlanta stylish. I imagine that if you don't already understand the title of the blog, you're probably confused and perhaps slightly annoyed, but never fear - I do have a reason (and it's a good one). Having gone to hear Stephanie Pearl McPhee, and then having been inspired to blog about knitting, I found myself wondering what to call the blog. I recalled a conversation I had with Mouse and the Chicken Goddess about why it is a Bad Idea to anger knitters - this conversation was following SPM, aka the Yarn Harlot telling the assembled throng about Those Who Do Not Understand Knitting and Therefore Belittle It Much to the Chagrin of Others, or TWDNUKTBMCO, which is not the acronym she used but is the one I'm using because I forgot hers - that is, we are numerous and we all have very pointy sticks, easily transforming into an angry mob. Therefore, knitters = angry mob.
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12 Responses to Cultural vs. Spiritual

  1. Aamba says:

    I’ve never had a profound out-of-body type experience. My faith has always been quiet and steady and an undercurrent in my life.

    I don’t have strong cultural experiences to cling to, but what you wrote made me think of the Jews for Jesus group. It seems that they are looking for a way to save both, to hold onto their Jewish culture while believing a Christian philosophy.

    Doing one thing culturally and something else philosophically may work for some people! I know my family finds the parts of Christianity that are similar to Hinduism and put a lot of emphasis on those parts.

    • HappyGoth says:

      I was re-reading a post you made about a similar subject, and you said a lot of things that make a lot of sense. The one that stuck with me was when you said that you’re happy being an American, which isn’t contrary to your being Hindu (I’m paraphrasing heavily here, but the sentiment is the same). I think what I’m working through at the moment is to figure out which bits are part of being American and which bits are Hindu, and reconciling the two.

      It’s nice to hear that your experience has been a quiet, steady undercurrent. I felt a little panic when I heard about other people and these explosive experiences they’ve had, thinking “what if I never feel that? Does it mean I’m wrong?” Then I sort of got over it and decided that my relationship with God is fairly personal, philosophy aside, and that it can be deep and profound even without a single, life-changing moment.

      I am a little like a Messianic Jew at the moment, though (but less every day).

  2. Tāṇḍava says:

    Aum Shivaya,
    I think that part of ritual is treading a well worn, tried and tested path. This could be your “path” to get ready in the morning or the path of a major religion. Ritual helps us to get in the frame of mind needed for a task. When I enter the temple, smell the incense, and ring the bell I can feel the sacred atmosphere and leave my daily thoughts outside.

    I will add your blog to my list of Westerners following Hinduism. May blessings go with you on your path.

    • HappyGoth says:

      Thanks for the encouragement and the list add, Tandava. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and your comments give me a lot of comfort. I think you’ve totally nailed the core of the matter – to “leave my daily thoughts outside.” I will try harder to do that in the future, no matter where I’m choosing to spend time with God.

  3. Kamal says:

    Have you read the Mahabharatha and Bhagvad Gita, I think it would help you a lot

    • HappyGoth says:

      I’m working through the Gita at the moment, and have read some of the Upanishads. I’ll have to add the Mahabaratha to my reading list. Thanks, Kamal!

      • Aamba says:

        This is totally cheating, but there’s an awesome movie of the Mahabharata that I love. Don’t substitute for reading it, but it can give you a great sense of the overview of the story without investing as much time (and no, I don’t mean the 24 hour Indian mini-series, I haven’t seen that one yet)

        Peter Brooks’s Mahabharata is easy to get hold of and it’s really good!

      • HappyGoth says:


        I have no problem watching a movie in advance in order to get the gist of things before diving into the text. I read the Amar Chitra Katha Ramayana waaaay before I ever read a full text translation! Thanks for the recommendation. It sounds like a visit to my local Indian movie store is in order! (And I’ll be sure to read the Mahabharata, too.)

      • kamal says:

        People get confused with regards to philosophy in Gita because most of them donot know that Gita is a part of Mahabharatha and it was preached in a Battlefield, basically krishna trying to convince Arjuna to fight the battle, and he fails in convincing Arjuna even after preaching Gita. Finally Krishna says he is the Supreme Lord and tell Arjuna that he(krishna) will fight the battle and Arjuna be his weapon. I would suggest you watch the Indian Teleseries Mahabharatha with subtitles on youtube

      • HappyGoth says:

        I think maybe I missed that, too. Thanks for the reminder, Kamal!

        I will have to do a hunt for the Mahabharata on YouTube. I didn’t know I could find it there!

  4. Suryoday says:

    I stumbled across your blog somehow and really have just read this post. As a Hindu-born and raised and as someone who lives in america, I have observed tangentially the scriptural guidance and hand holding that a christian receives in a church here. Since Hinduism or sanatan dharma is not an evangelical religion, there isn’t much well thought out process to guide those interested in Hinduism to guide them and hold their hand as they explore the intricacies of this highly complex faith. It is hard, even for someone like me who is born and raised in India as to which path to follow and how to go about finding your comfort zone within the spectrum. So I can totally get your frustration and confusion as to your path,e specially when you are literally left to fend for yourself. Luckily, I have a mother who has enough interest in our religion and who did not hesitate to share her knowledge with us without getting dogmatic about anything.

    One thing that every Hindu knows is that one does need a “Guru” to help you navigate this life. Also not just anyone can be your Guru. Like a soulmate, you have to find that guru meant for you. Others are just teachers. Complicated…I know. We all hope to find that guru in our life.In the meanwhile, we have to make do with teachers.

    Also, few years ago, there was this holy person in our town who was a guru to many. One insight he shared when asked by someone-who should I pray to? He replied – get up before the crack of dawn, bathe and go into your meditation room. Light a diya and meditate – who do you see in your mind’s eye when you meditate? Is is Shankar or Vishnu or Ganesh or some other avatar? If you see a particular god in your mind’s eye, you probably have some connection to that particular form…maybe you spent your previous life praying before that god and that is your “ishta devata”.

    • HappyGoth says:

      Thanks so much for your comment. I am happy to hear that it’s a little difficult for everyone, and that I’m not imagining that! I do wish sometimes, having come from a hand-holdy background, that there was a little more of that, but I do realize that there are so many varied traditions that even really dedicated hand-holding would not even begin to scratch the surface.

      In the meantime, I am finding some excellent teachers, and am hoping that there’s a guru for me in this lifetime (but if there isn’t, I’ll at least have learned a whole lot). I’m pretty stubborn, so I’ll stick with it!

      Thanks for reading (and for the meditation advice; I will try that very soon)!

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