It is amazing to see the influence of Hinduism in the so-called "western world." We may attend a yoga class, see a TV program on reincarnation, talk about karma or even try and meditate but we don't see these things as anymore than individual techniques. So many of our spiritual ideas come from the east--such concepts as the oneness of life, reincarnation, karma and so forth but we generally don't think about their origins. Further, such practises as mantra, meditation and even more obvious, the fire ritual (agni hotra) are taught as individual techniques for wellbeing, yet we still don't seem to get the bigger picture. Strangely, we do not think about this often, we see these practices in isolation and do not consider them as part of a living discrete religious tradition. We even hear of such strange amalgams as Christian Yoga, the use of meditation for business or the value of mantra in a self help seminar and yet do not see any anomaly. In the West we see Christianity, Islam and related Abrahamic religions as offering conversion and yet do not contemplate this option in relation to Hinduism. When we are exposed to the power of its techniques, practises or traditions we seem to experience them in isolation but do not consider the next logical step: conversion.
This may be because Hinduism is not evangelical. It does not hawk its faith on street corners or wish to manipulate for converts. It makes conversion hard work and puts demands on the individual before they can enter the faith. It wants informed and reasoned conversions, not quick switches at the high of an emotional presentation. This system of "ethical conversion" is central to "How to become a Hindu." While Subramuniyaswami explains how Hinduism welcomes converts and offers a range of heartfelt and persuasive conversion stories, he emphasizes the need for intelligent, informed and fully consensual conversion. This process involves confronting ones prior religious (or secular) ideological attachments, dealing with them and making an informed separation from them. In the case of previous religious commitments this can include formal dialog with one's prior religious mentors or community and formal release from it. Further to this is the importance of formal entry into a sect of Hinduism including taking a Hindu name, entering a Hindu community and the naming rite.
At the same time Subramuniyaswami works to present a realistic view of the worlds religions. Rather than promoting the sugar-coated illusion that all religions are the same, he offers an informed and erudite, but brief, summary of the characteristics of each major religious tradition (and some minor) and their similarities and differences. This way, the potential convert can truly evaluate his or her prejudices, ideological focuses and "baggage," so to speak. Certainly it is powerful to understand before we take a step into a new faith, what we carry with us. It can sometimes be astounding, even a bit frightening, when we confront the beliefs that we have locked away in our own unconscious minds and realize their power.
Hinduism is presented in its widest spectrum. Subramuniyaswami outlines its four major traditions Saivism, Saktism, Vaishnaivism and Smarta and discusses each one's characteristics and practises. The power of this text is its broadness. While certainly written by a Saivite, it offers an overview of Hinduism and discusses a conversion method which is valid for entry into any of the traditions. Subramuniyaswami emphasizes the importance of sustaining rather than diminishing divisions on the basis of sect. Not because of intolerance or a desire for division, but because of his deep and profound understanding of tradition. The uniqueness of the various schools of Hinduism is in their separateness, their own discrete ways of approaching the divine and fulfilling human need. Since all humans are unique then so too there must be many traditions to answer these needs. Accordingly, Subramuniyaswami emphasizes the importance of respecting and sustaining traditions and making formal entry into a specific Hindu sect. This respect for difference, this deep understanding of the role of tradition, sect and religion is at the heart of "How to Become a Hindu" and is powerful and profound. Indeed, the power of this vision coupled with the model of "ethical conversion" is so strong in its honesty and integrity that it could be rightfully applied to any world religion to the benefit to its members.
"How to Become a Hindu" is a unique and important work. It is the only book on conversion to Hinduism readily available and which communicates directly to the Western mind. It is clear, precise and self-assured. It offers a vision of Hinduism as a living faith, which has something of great beauty, depth and power to offer those who are seeking. It is a controversial work in that it is proudly Hindu and makes no apologies, and in a Western world saturated with consumerism, relativism and materialism this vision can be confronting. At the same time it can also be a wake up call to those who have studied, thought and contemplated but not realized that the next step is available. "How to Become a Hindu" is also pre-eminently practical with advice, a selection of Hindu names and step by step outlines of the process of "ethical conversion."
The book is recommended to all born as well as aspiring Hindus and benefit by reading the detailed information." - Pathway to God
"How to Become a Hindu is indeed a history making manual presenting an inter religious study,with stories by westerners who entered Hinduism and Hindus,who deepened their faith." -Dilip, Jul/Sep. 2002
"Shows sincere seekers a clear and practical path to enter into humanity's oldest and broadest spiritual and religious tradition." - David Frawley, author of Ayurvedic Healing:
"It is the only book on conversion to Hinduism readily available and which communicates directly to the Western mind."- Living Traditions, Spring 2001