Julia Roberts went to India and all she got was a little ‘Pray’ action for her starring role in a soon to be summer blockbuster and a conversion to Hinduism! What? In the same interview for the September Elle magazine where America’s sweetheart eschews botox because she wants her kids to recognize her happy vs mad face, Ms. Roberts reveals that her entire family has embraced the Hindu religion and “chant and pray and celebrate” together at the temple, adding that she is “definitely a practicing Hindu.” News to us! Or is it? We got a clue last year when The Times of India reported that before shooting for Eat, Pray, Love in Delhi, Swami Daram Dev of Ashram Hari Mandir gave Julia’s three kidlets new names after Hindu Gods: twins Hazel and Phinnaeus as Laxmi and Ganesh, Henry as Krishna Balram. He also gave his blessing for the flick.
Oh no! Did Julia Roberts just launch the next biggest trend in Hollywood since Scientology and Kabbalah? Are we all destined to be Hindu converts? Let’s discuss.
EPL author Liz Gilbert (Julia’s role) goes to India and spends time meditating in an Ashram (in the Siddha Yoga tradition). Does this mean if you go to India as a person on a spiritual journey, or playing one in a movie, you’ll automatically go Hindu? No. Does this mean you have to buy into the Hindu religion to practice yoga? No. Will this throw a cloud of confusion over the already convoluted ‘yoga and Hinduism’ debate? You betcha! Somebody call Ganesh.
Surely, Hindu devas and devis tend to pop up in yoga class, especially in big poppa John’s Anusara style. Kali, Shiva, Durga, Vishnu, etc, are leading characters on the yoga stage, and also happen to be Hindu deities. Confusing? You tell us.
PS. We’re tickled by how USA Today presents this story with an uh oh WHo’s NExt?? angle, like it’s an epidemic…dun dun dunnn…and proceeds to point directly to Sarah Palin and her yoga dabbling, hilariously. Even better is how they link to YD’s post on SP’s offending use of sneaker-on-knee tree pose!
UPDATE 8/11/10: Suhag Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation, responds with an editorial in the Washington Post/Newsweek the same venue where Deepak and Aseem duked out their beef. According to Mr. Shukla, this celeb religion swapping should be old hat by now: Richard Gere is Buddhist, Tom Cruise turned scientologist! So Shukla responds to the Julia Roberts-Hindu news with a shrug and a “been there, done that”, because hey, isn’t America a salad bowl of religious flip-floppers who’ve already been swimming in Hindu-flavored dressing? Huh? Strange imagery aside, he points out some valid recipes for Hindu-American infusion:
Whether Americans know it or not, we’ve been embracing Hinduism for longer than most would guess. Remember that revolt against the “establishment” called the American transcendentalist movement? Yes, the one sparked by the American philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau? What inspired them? You guessed it: Hinduism. One of the earliest Hindu centers of worship in the U.S. — the Vedanta Society — was established in 1894 by Caucasian American disciples of Indian Hindu, Swami Vivekananda, after he took the first-ever World Parliament of Religions by storm. The Vedanta Society continues to have a strong “convert” and “born” Hindu following with centers across the 50 states. Let’s not forget Martin Luther King Junior and his non-violent civil disobedience movement, a movement which affords each and every one of us dignity and equal rights regardless of the color of our skin — a movement which I am also proud to know was strongly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, a practicing Hindu, and his interpretation of the Hindu concept of ahimsa or non-violence. And how about the example of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi? He may be better known as the Indian guru of the Beatles, but in the late 60s and early 70s, he boasted some one million meditation followers.
Umm…we’re not 100% with you, but we’re picking up what you’re putting down. And now the YOGA bit:
Fast forward to 2010. Is there a city left in the United States that does not have at least one yoga class or a spa that doesn’t have ayurvedic offerings? And one would be remiss to leave out Oprah — streaming into some 7.4 million households daily and using her monthly magazine as well social networks to promote the teachings of Eckhart Tolle — teachings he has said are influenced, in part, by Hindu saints Ramana Maharshi and Krishnamurthy. From the practical — yoga, meditation, vegetarianism and ayurveda to the more esoteric — belief in karma and reincarnation as well as an adherence to the trademark Hindu world view that multiple paths to the Truth can exist, core concepts of Hinduism are not only being embraced by Americans but are slowly being assimilated into the American collective conscience just as Judeo-Christian values were generations before.
Crap, here we go again. Granted this man has a total Hindu bias, he founded the foundation! We can probably all agree that there is influence, sure, but religion is individual prerogative, so you can have your yoga with or without the croutons, right?
(we’re on a roll with that salad analogy. sorry.)