When I was 17, I turned my back on the Xian faith I was raised with. It wasn’t because my family required me to attend church—I had my own car, and attended by my own pursuit. I finally came out as gay, and my mentor and most of the congregation was conservative and wouldn’t account for my new-found self-acceptance.
I flirted around for the remaining part of the ’00s with various other ideas—Buddhism, Hinduism, irreligion. Then I was forced by another (not my family) to attend a fundamentalist church, undergoing two bouts of conversion therapy, to make me attracted to men while forcing me to feminize my appearance and tendencies. Those 2-3 years at that church has left me permanently scarred to the point that anyone who first mentions their Xian faith, even if they are fully accepting of the LGBTQ community, leaves me guarded on edge till they say they’re an ally.
At the same time I was undergoing conversion therapy, I was forced into hiding my personal faith. At the time, I followed a general belief in dharma, with devotions to Vishnu and his various avatars, with special fondness for Rama (as the human ideal)—thought formal puja was something I didn’t really do. (Except for this one time I did so at a local temple where I resided at the time because of the Mumbai bombings.) A flash of Rama, with his devoted Sita and Hamuman and Laxman by his side, showed before me during my difficult delivery—once I saw their vision, I was able to focus, my panic downgrading to controlled anxiety, and safely give birth. But I was constantly degraded, isolated, abused for following Dharma.
I believed in Dharma because she accepted our community. You could argue all you want how the Bible also does, but I did not have access to this knowledge at the time. Affirmative churches were not something I knew of at the time. (The benefits of hindsight.)
Almost 13 years have passed since those times. I have eaten omnivorously. I have done my own thing as I didn’t think there was a preordained meaning to life. I have said I believed in nothing to not sure to “it depends”. Yet, on that back burner, whenever my mind would wander, there was always that lingering hold to the concept of dharma. I still perform the namaste gesture as both a greeting and thank-you gesture.
Still, the desire to fulfill dharma has never left my thoughts.
On Instagram, occasionally I would see posts that would mention Judaism … then Islam … and then Hindu / Buddhist and other dharmic posts started popping up.
One day, I don’t know why, I just took the plunge. I returned to Dharma:
At times I am more a follower of Shaiva devotion, and other times I return to the Vaishnav school. I do not attend an ashram—dude, I live in the middle of small-town USA, not really much beyond your small Catholic or picturesque Protestant churches—and I have yet to “formally convert”, which I don’t plan to. Nor do I plan to take on a “religious name” and go through legalizing it—it took me a long time to finally become «Charles», and as dharma is universal, I don’t need to change my name to prove anything—my belief in the One, and the actions that stem from that, are alone good enough to show if I’m honest or not with my accordance with dharma.
Just like how I never learned Aramaic, Greek, or Hebrew to read the Bible, right now I am not currently learning Hindi or Sanskrit to read various the various Hindu texts. Just like how the Bible has been translated into vernacular languages for the laity to read, I am of the opinion that reading these texts in the local vernacular doesn’t erode the core meanings of sacred texts. Yes, some concepts or culture-specific, but many of the better translations include introductions or notes explaining concepts if there isn’t a similar concept in the English language. Thanks to the Internet, too, anything I still can’t comprehend I can easily look up online, even use Google Translate if something is still written in Devanagari.
Yes, someday I will seek a guru to seek deeper and better understanding. Yes, someday I will take Hindi to become tri-lingual. I will visit local ashrams before I even think of going overseas to visit India and her majesty. (I don’t see why I have to travel overseas and spending large amounts of money to “discover myself”, when you can find faith in your own backyard; I can understand a pilgrimage to somewhere within a few hours’ drive, as a change in scenery and routine can revive you, but going somewhere exotic is beyond the reach of most people!)
Till then, I am able to perform puja in my room a few times per week; I practice a (mostly) vegetarian diet. I keep ebook copies of the Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, and others on both my iPad and iPhone; as well, pictures of Rama, Shiva, and Ganesha on my phone to perform puja while at work during meals.