When writing about temples in Vrindavan yesterday, I mentioned the ISKCON temple and remembered that there are really lots of foreigners who go there, pray there, perform ceremonies there and see this temple as a holy place of worship. So while it is for most Indians simply a tourist attraction, there are foreigners who think very different about this. Today I don’t however want to write about this interesting detail but rather about the question how the religion of Hinduism actually refers to people who are not originally Hindus but want to believe in Hinduism and go to Hindu temples.
To be very straight and clear with my words, it is actually not possible to convert to Hinduism. There is no scripture that describes any procedure, method or ritual how you could convert. It is not like in other religions in which you have to get baptized or in which you have to proof that you know a certain part of the scriptures of that religion. There is simply no way to convert. Instead you can find verses that tell you that a Hindu is only a person who is born a Hindu.
People who say ‘I converted to Hinduism’ thus may have not understood that part of the scriptures or they really want to be Hindus so much that they ignored it. I think that is a bad start into your new religion! Look, if you really want to believe in this religion, you should follow it properly and first of all find out whether you can be a member of that club. If that religion tells you that you cannot, shouldn’t you follow its rules and leave it?
So from the beginning the whole question of conversion seems like a joke! I have heard lots of people from the west wonder about this when they come to Vrindavan and see ISKCON devotees dressed like the most religious Hindus. It is strange!
It gets even stranger when they realize how strict – or narrow-minded, however you want to call it – ISKCON devotees are when it comes to religious rules. There are a lot of examples for this. You have to wear the religious ‘make-up’ on your forehead. You need to finish your certain amount of mantra repetitions – even if you do that while shopping. Men need to shave their heads except one strand of hair at the back of the head. All men have to be called ‘Prabhuji’ while all women get the title ‘Mataji’ regardless their age or relation to you. You even need to change your name – even if you cannot pronounce that Sanskrit word correctly because your language is just so different. This all results in situations that people who actually grew up as Hindus find ridiculous.
It is just funny that people who consider themselves converted Hindus and actually belong to this sect try to be Hindu so much that they do more than any normal, modern Hindu would do. Ironically it does not matter how much they try, in reality they can never be Hindus because it is simply impossible to convert.
What we can learn from this is that you can enjoy any belief or any aspect of another person’s belief from far, that you can adapt it to your life in any way you want but that you don’t have to make an official ‘conversion’. You don’t need to imitate anybody or anybody’s religious behavior. Don’t become a copy of anyone! Just appreciate it from far and stay original, just as you are. Being someone else than you really are will definitely have an effect on your psychological situation. If you stay too long in this identity conflict, it will harm your mind, your feelings and your personal life. I have seen this kind of examples many times on my journeys and with my counseling work. You really don’t need to convert to any religion – and especially not to one which does not allow you to convert!