Hinduism is great in that for the most part one is able to walk/roll one’s own path without taking too much criticism from others. There have been many exceptions to that rule in my experience. But coming from Western culture, I have made my own rules and followed my own heart in many ways and haven’t felt it to be an issue. I won’t flout sacred tradition just for the sake of doing so. But I also know myself and approach my Ishta-devata accordingly. And you should too, and nobody can take that away from you.
For example, Chaturmasya begins in a week. It is a four-month period akin to the Catholic lenten season at least in one way. It begins with a one-month period wherein Vaisnavs traditionally will abstain from leafy vegetables. I myself happen to be one of the worst vegetarians you’ll ever meet. I tend to get lazy and eat a lot of pasta because it is easier than chopping vegetables. My point is that during the first part of Chaturmasya, I have chosen to undergo other, more personal “austerities” than avoiding leafy vegetables. Because I need my greens. And also because it wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice to begin with seeing as I already don’t eat enough of them. I owe it to the body that carries me to eat them. I’ve never observed Chaturmasya too much anyway or any other vrats. They remind me too much of Lenten season on the Catholic Calendar.
Secondly, I have many tattoos, two of which are a representation of the Vaisnav an the Shaivite tilaks. They are on my right arm. I have never seen anyone else with such tattoos even upon extensive internet research. And I understand why. Tilaks are supposed to be something one would apply daily as a spiritual practice. But I do actually use the tattoos in a similar way. Now that I have both, I do “ritually” apply certain substances to my skin over the tattoos while repeating the mantra “Aum Hara Aum Hara Sadashiva/Aum Hari Aum Hari Narayana” in obeisance to Sri Shankaranarayana.
But, you’ll notice I said these tattoos are on my right arm. Which means in order to apply anything to them, I have to use my left hand.
And so, thirdly, and more applicable to the title of this post, when I am at the temple, I of course adhere to the usage of the right hand only during puja and while receiving prasad (with a couple of slip-ups). But when I am away from temple, I do not make it a habit. Because other than writing, there is not anything that I use only my left hand for. As far as I know the left hand being impure is simply the result of the Indian cultural practice of using it and it only for cleansing/grooming. I am in a wheelchair and all kinds of filth collect on both of my hands from pushing myself around. I wash them before temple and before worship at home, and they are equally clean. Therefore my left hand is no less or no more clean than the right.
So I guess that makes me a bit of a rebel. But one needs to follow one’s own rules to an extent in order to fully understand oneself. And while there are certain practices that are a must at the temple, I have also noticed with a smile that there is not a strict dress code. Many a times, guys have come to puja wearing a tee-shirt or a pair of shorts. I think that “Come As You Are” spirit is important. You never would have seen that at a Catholic Mass. There were “standards”, you know. I understand paying proper respect to the deities, but I hardly think that Jesus or Krishna would stand at the front door of the respective house of worship and pass judgement on the sincerity of the devotees based on their clothing.
Aum Hara Aum Hara Sadashiva
Aum Hari Aum Hari Narayana
Aum Shanti Shanti Shantihi