I attended Sathyanarayana puja a few nights back, which was held at our temple as a sort of “opening ceremonies” for Holi. For most of the puja, there was no one in the temple aside from the priest, his daughter, me and then about 45 minutes in this older Indian man who bore a remarkable resemblance to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada from the side at which I sat.
Just an observation.
Then during puja there was a bit of a delay and the priest and this man got to making some small talk in one of the languages of India which I do not understand. I am not sure how they got from the verses before the delay, to what happened next, but after a few minutes, the not-priest was saying something like “Love your own culture, accept other cultures.”
He and the priest shot back and forth different versions of that same sentiment and finally came to “Love your own culture first, and then others.”I like this because it eliminated the idea of accepting which to me is very close to “tolerating” which is really just putting up with something, which doesn’t really do anyone any good.
By this time the priest was trying to engage me in the debate. I said something like “Makes sense to me.” but what I was really thinking was that no matter how you slice that aphorism it seems like a bit of “us and them” at play. What I wish I’d said was that while I did in fact accept my “own” culture (or in this case religion) first, it did not give me what I was looking for. Or I wouldn’t have been there at that moment.
Of course I tried not to be paranoid and think that it stemmed from “What is this European-American bloke doing here?” To be honest I don’t know the content of the verses that the priest had been reciting just before. It could have somehow sparked such a conversation, but I think it would probably be a stretch. But that is my hangup. Ultimately what I get out of the experience is my responsibility.
Whatever the context, there is a good lesson in the aphorism. Though any culture might take a look at what is going on within that culture in terms of accepting their “own” at the expense of accepting others, there is more. We are all born into a world, a culture, a religion, a locality and a family that is appropriate to our karmic situation “coming in.” I don’t know if we have much choice but to love it first. You can’t find what works for you until you know what doesn’t work for you, right? And you have to at least embrace whatever that first stop is in order to find out that it doesn’t work. What I want people to take away from this is that if you are going to “accept” anything, you have to accept and embrace what feels right to you. No matter what the culture barriers are.
Aum Namo Narayanaya Namaha!