Whenever I go out reading lately on the internet, posts about Hinduism seem to find me, or maybe it’s the same as the traffic light phenomenon – if you’re looking for it, you’ll probably find it. You know what I mean, like when you’re driving at night and you pass under a traffic light as it goes out, and then you notice that you pass under a lot of traffic lights as they go out, so you start to imagine that it happens to you way more than is normal, except that it’s not happening more so much as you’re paying attention more.
I have been reading the White Indian Housewife’s blog for a while now. She’s an Australian who married and Indian man and resides in Mumbai, and is also an excellent (professional) writer. Her blog posts are fascinating. Lately she’s been posting about a trip she’s taking with her husband to some holy sites, a sort of mini-yatra. She’s got an interesting perspective. This latest post, though, was about a temple she went to where the pandits were very forceful in asking for money from her and from the other devotees.
This sort of goes back to that thought I was having about skeptics and religion, and how sometimes a healthy dose of skepticism is useful. In Sharell’s case (I would say she’s pretty good at being a skeptic when appropriate), she stood her ground. Unfortunately, it sort of tarnished her experience of the temple, because it was difficult to just focus on being there, but I think I would probably have done the same thing in her place. I don’t know, though. I haven’t lived in India, so maybe I’d have caved and paid the pandit, even if I knew I wasn’t buying blessings so much as buying an escape.
I don’t think Hinduism is the only religion to fall prey to this sort of thing. Many major holy sites have gift shops and donation plates. I’m not saying that those are always the same sort of thing as Sharell’s temple experience. Sometimes the money you pay goes to upkeep or funds for the poor or other sorts of community outreach. I know that the temples I’ve been to here in the U.S. use the donation money for those sorts of things, as does the church I attended before choosing to follow Sanatana Dharma. But what I think we need to realize as modern people (and yes, I include all of us in the world in that, because I think we all have the capability to be modern people, even if we don’t know how yet) that a trinket or an amulet or a souvenir isn’t going to solve your problems. It may give you comfort for a while, but ultimately it’s not any surer channel to the divine than exists in your own person. And it’s up to you to do what’s necessary to achieve good things in your life.
And if you start looking for good things? You’ll probably find them.