I love playing the Devil’s Advocate. When you google the definition of that term, here’s what you get: 1- A person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments. 2- The popular title of the person appointed by the Roman Catholic Church to challenge a proposed beatification or canonization…
I could easily be either of those things, but usually just #1 applies to me. The intent of this post isn’t necessarily for the purpose of advocating devilishly, so much as just making my own point about something.
Not long ago I received an email that a blog I subscribe to had been updated. Naturally, when I had free time I went there to read the new news. What I read was manifold-ly bothersome. This blog is maintained by someone I know little about, but respect in a way that kind of surprises my own self. Tandava-ji is well-enough read, writes well, and almost always seems balanced in his approach to whatever is appearing on his blog. He does a great job at showcasing other Hindu bloggery and as such has proven to be a great resource for someone like myself. However, a recent post on his blog (click here to see it) has me scratching my noodle.
The post is about an abrasive young smartass who maintains her own blog and apparently is “wrong in so many ways.”
The drama concerning this smartass goes back a ways… to her own blog, actually, and a “shitstorm” (her own words) that she started there. If you visit the link to her place that I provided above you’ll see a little of what I’m talking about. Here’s a basic timeline for your own understanding: Karol posts something inflammatory on her own blog, she later comments on Tandava’s blog (generally in support of what he’s written, I might point out), and then Tandava takes her comment and her blog and makes an additional post to his own blog detailing how “in so many ways” she’s terribly wrong.
And now I’m pissed and sorely disappointed. Although, in all fairness I’m pissed at and disappointed with just about everyone, regarding this. What follows is my meager attempt at detailing how I feel about said suchery.
1) Karol is a grown human and should have known to take a better approach. I understand precisely where she’s coming from because some of my own experience as a non-ethnic Hindu seems to mirror her own. Still, that doesn’t warrant free license to offend as one wants. She should already recognize, as a white Hindu, that eyes are on her from both sides of the fence: ethnic Hindus will be skeptical (thus her frustration) and non-ethnic Hindus will think her every misstep reflects on them directly, or on the blessed Faith of their choosing. Otherwise, she’s simply misguided. The frustrations she’s expressing are unique to no one. As such, no one has any room to hate on her for them, and in fact it would be far more productive and beneficial to all, literally to ALL, if those who are a bit farther on the journey would guide her instead of judge her.
2) The online Hindu community would be better served if Tandava-ji would ignore the things he finds to be so immensely offensive and stick with posting what he appreciates. (I do realize that, in the context of the last sentence, the very nature of this post makes me a hypocrite. I’m okay with that.) For one, that’s why his blog is what it is. I go there because I know I’ll find useful material for my own betterment. And now that’s not as true. His first point seemed two-fold: we should be sympathetic to those who feel their religion/culture is being appropriated and be careful so as not to offend them. Umm… Anyone who feels something has been stolen from them is likely to feel insulted no matter the subsequent usage of what might have been stolen. For one, I don’t think we need to offer sympathy for ethnic Hindus who feel their religion/culture is being appropriated. That’s essentially apologizing for loving what they’ve brought to the table. I’ve never apologized for asking someone for the recipe to a dish after openly adoring his cooking. Sympathy to someone who is offended when outsiders adopt his/her way of life? That’s bullshit.
I agree with Tandava that we shouldn’t necessarily use someone else’s symbols and then insult them. But I don’t think Karol is insulting anyone but herself. She’s showing her ass, for sure, and if she wants to get in someone’s face I’d say she’s succeeded. Otherwise, all her words amount to, regardless of how crass they are, is that she’s a western Hindu and anyone who doesn’t believe her can go to hell. She’s abrasive, and she’s sloppy, but she’s not wrong.
Tandava’s next point dealt with ethnic Hindus who don’t agree that outsides can also become Hindu and how we shouldn’t insult them. Again, I agree that insults are unnecessary and wrong, but again I don’t see Karol’s words as an attack on anything except the ego of those who, for no good or valid reason, refuse to welcome her. It can’t be stated enough that she should have used a different and more responsible approach, but beyond that I’m with her. Maybe it’s because I’m a gay non-ethnic Hindu in religiously-barren old Indiana that I can relate to the effort required by one having to “prove” one’s own validity. I don’t know. Sometimes people say things and use the wrong words. Karol has certainly used the wrong words. I suspect, though, that all she’s saying is, “I don’t care what you think, I am one of you.”
Tandava’s last point really gets me. He first correctly distinguishes that a Hindu can be either cultural or spiritual and that, when it comes to ethnic Hindus, if one doesn’t act very spiritual then they’re assumed to be merely cultural. I don’t know why this can’t apply to everyone. I’ve known a number of ghetto thug idiots who go around representing what many consider the worst of my society, yet they may well be wearing a gold cross around their neck. Are they Christian, or just in a Christian culture? It could be either or both – it doesn’t matter. If culture and religion can be adopted by anyone, and truly they can, then it also doesn’t matter if Karol is a cultural Hindu or a spiritual one. She’s not ethnic, but she’s still Hindu either way. Asking why a westerner would wear Hindu symbols without strong faith is assumptive and stupid. Many people, in many cultures, in many religions – everywhere- do this very thing. The reasons vary widely and include every excuse from shallow fashion preference to sweet, sublime devotion. The only reason I care about, in this context, is why do I wear what I wear and do what I do. I would encourage the same for everyone.
3) Ethnic Hindus and non-ethnic Hindus alike need to step back and take a look at what Hinduism means. Aside from a sad little handful of basic tenets held in common by almost all Hindus, Sanatana Dharma is too big for anyone ever to say, “You gotta be like this or you’re a bad Hindu.” And, in fact, that aspect of the Faith is part of what makes it supreme among man’s religions. Modern Christianity is undergoing an immense struggle currently. It’s flailing as it tries to maintain what it thinks its image is, while grappling with modern issues – a struggle that, according to Depak Chopra, could push it into extinction. A result of the internal conflict within Christianity that I’ve experienced is that whenever one Christian group misbehaves, many of the others are quick to distance themselves saying, “Those people aren’t true Christians.” This is horrible and disgusting. A family that turns on itself will not survive. The sentiment expressed in Tandava’s post and in the comments that followed are dangerously Christian and it almost makes me sick.
This might sound mean and shallow, but something about her physical appearance tells me that, in person, I’d likely be annoyed by her. Although, in all honesty, if we get past the fact that she has boobs and no penis, she and I are likely far more alike than we’re not. She seems to like challenging where people think they stand. I couldn’t begin to speculate her reasons for this, but I know I do the very same for my own reasons. Let me be clear: the path she and I walk, however differently we walk that path, is not easy. Throughout most of humanity, throughout most of human history, people have loved the very chains that bind them. Anyone committed to using their own brief human existence for the cause of shaking folks out of their ignorant slumber should be commended, not ridiculed by others who not only have no room to ridicule, but also have more in common than not.
Ekam sat…, right? Truth is One. It seems like we’re all good with that part. The other half is “vipraha bahudha vadanti” The wise call It variously. Like no other religion in the world, Hinduism alone offers the richest pool of methods, margs, icons and ishtadevatas for the aspirant to draw from. In a faith where it’s acceptable to live a worldly life, to retreat to a mountain cave and let everything fall away, or to wander around nude and covered in ash foregoing all of society’s norms, I promise you -like it or not – one of God’s names is Karol.
P.S. My apologies for the lengthiness of this post. In all honesty, everything that contributed to it gave me quite a bag of mixed feelings. I did my best to convey those feelings and thoughts in as orderly a manner as I could, while under the influence of cold medicines. My intention wasn’t to attack any one person, but to attack the principles I perceived to be in action and which I perceive to be mostly adharmic in nature. Please, spare us all, and before commenting read the last bit of this for the rule I have about comments.