How I became a Hindu and Activist

How I became a Hindu and Activist
My name is Vincent Bruno, I am a Hindu convert and activist living in America.  It has been more than 5 years now since I adopted the eternal religion and began my activist work.  While many of my close Hindu friends know me as the president of the “Justice For Hindus” organization, they have requested that I begin writing on a more personal level so as to flush out bigger ideas and give insight into what makes a Westerner become a Hindu. As this is my first blog post it makes sense to write on how it is I became not only a Hindu but a Hindu activist, working to save my brothers and sisters from Abrahamic (Judeo-Christian-Islamic) extremism.

Like most Westerners today, I come from a Judeo-Christian background.  Through my family life I have a mild Catholic background, but the major influence on my childhood was primarily the many strains of Protestantism. I remember my very first introduction to Christianity, a family member had bought me a cross necklace.  I remember the cross being placed around my neck, and then I was lifted up to look at myself in a bathroom mirror.  It was a shallow ceremony with no real meaning for me, but I remember feeling a peculiar feeling I could not identify, it almost felt bad.  During my first year of school, I attended what is known as Catechism classes, after school sessions at the Catholic church where you learn about religion.  Again, like almost everything in Catholicism, it was all very superficial and ritualistic.  We sat in an oily wooden brown church room where an older grey woman talked a little bit about Jesus and the apostles.  We were all given rosary beads and brought to chapel where we prayed to statues of Mother Mary.  The experience was nothing more than a little boring, one little girl got in trouble for hiding in the bleachers, but I have to say I barely learned anything and felt even less.
Things began to change after my first year of school, for the next 2-3 years I moved around a bit and was introduced to the Protestant world.  During this time I attended “Sunday School”, religion classes  for young children hosted in the basements of Protestant churches.  For a reason that only the gods know, I was shifted from one church to another, I experienced Lutheranism, Methodism and Evangelicalism.  One thing I remember about Sunday School vs Catholic Catechism was that Protestant education was a little more lively and engaging.  While my Catholic experience had been very solemn, the Protestant churches seemed a little brighter, we colored pictures and talked about Jesus in a little more detail, people moved around much more and the whole atmosphere was much lighter and energetic than in the Catholic Church. However, the experience began to darken somewhat when I was introduced to some of the more fundamentalist evangelical strains. The large stone and wooden white Lutheran and Methodist churches gave way to the smaller boxy Churches of the charismatics.  All of a sudden I was watching grown men on stage screaming about how they physically wrestled with the devil every night, there were tons of theatrics and screaming, I remember feeling so disturbed. I also found it odd that after these almost violent sermons that everyone would return to normal and all the children would start playing in the church halls.
However there was another influence in my life at this time, fantastical children’s movies which carried pagan undertones.  I remember watching the movie “Legend” directed by Ridley Scott over and over again, it was my favorite.  The prologue to the story and the entire story line carried a message which immediately resonated with me, that there was a “balance” to the universe, that the forces of light and dark are best kept in equilibrium and harmony, and when one of these forces overpowers the other, legendary heroes are born in the quest to restore the balance. The filmography was image after image of extremes, white unicorns and dark demonic castles. At the end of the movie good seems to win, but darkness was shown to be ever present, in everyone, creating the tension needed to move the story along, the situation leading to the rise of heroes. Before his final demise, the major antagonist of the story, a devil-like lord, makes it clear that without his darkness the light becomes meaningless, he actually gives the good and the light context, he makes it valuable.

Another favorite movie of mine was the “Dark Crystal” directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. The message of the movie was very similar to that of Legend, the balance and union of dark and light.  The film follows the journey of a creature named Jen as he seeks to find his destiny as the one who would restore the crystal of power and restore order to a broken world.  The idea was that there was originally a whole crystal which represented the union of dark and light, good and evil, into a harmonious, perfect and beautiful whole.  The crystal was guarded by a race of superbeings who contained both good and evil within themselves, they were extremely wise and ruled over a beautiful natural world.  However, something seemed to have gone wrong and the crystal was shattered, breaking the union of dark and light.  With the breaking of the crystal also came the breaking of the superbeings, they divided into two separate races.  The Skeksis were an evil, power hungry, science minded race who ruled over the land with their cruelty, but they were so exploitative that they were killing off their planet and in the process themselves. Now the other race that came out of the breaking of the crystal were the Mystics, they were very gentle, wise and nature loving, but they were too passive to do anything to thwart the evil Skeksis, and so their goodness was impotent.  What I found most interesting was that at the end of the movie, the Mystics do not defeat the Skeksis, but when the main protagonist Jen restores the cyrstal, the Mystics and the Skeksis merge together and are restored as the previous superbeings that they had once been. Nature and science, power and wisdom recombine and the world is restored to a natural paradise. This message of the union of the opposites, the combination of the whole, this would carry through the rest of my life.
While the overarching themes of these movies and similar one stirred something inside me, they were eventually phased out as I was brought deeper and deeper into Christianity.  More and more I learned that it was not the union of dark and light, but the overcoming of one power over another which would save the world. After the charismatic evangelical churches with all the screaming came my final Christian home within the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW).  The JW sect is extremely fundamentalist, taking a literal interpretation of the bible, they also take great pains to erase all paganism from their culture so as to be pure Christians.  Because Christmas, Easter and birthday customs all come from pagan, non-Judean culture, they are forbidden. Around the age of 9 years old I began intense bible studies with a pair of German Jehovah’s Witnesses who taught me the bible form cover to cover, using JW approved learning materials.  I was forced over and over again to learn the histories of the Jews of Israel and how it led up to coming Christian messiah of Jesus.  I was taught in a very deep and systematic way the predictions and esoteric codes found in the prophetic books such as Daniel and Revelations.  Throughout the entire bible, old and new testament, I found a haughty, self-centered, thieving, deceptive, ungrateful, but above all else hateful people.  The Israelites and Christians had one set of main victims, the pagans and “idolators”.  In the bible stories, the Jews of Israel stole the land of Canaan from the pagan Canaanites by use of both force and deceptions, eventually enslaving and exploiting the conquered people.  Later Jesus, who was supposedly so full of love, along with his disciples continued to demonize the pagans, seeming to take pleasure in their abjection, equating them with murders and thieves, though it had been Israel who had done all the murdering and thieving. The God of Israel was always destined to overthrow the demonic false religions of the earth, there was nothing to learn from anyone else, there would be no synthesis, just the god of Israel conquering all others, destroying those humans who refused to follow him.

The hate and stupid cruelty I found in biblical history and morality appeared all around me in my personal life.  As a Jehovah’s Witness I was more or less socially isolated from the world, taught that nominal Christians were steeped in pagan practices (which they are), all other religions were demonized as well, including Hinduism.  I remember one lecture about Hinduism which immediately rubbed me the wrong way, we were taught that Hindus were unclean, that they worshiped rats and that their society was stricken with plagues due to their false religion and unclean ways.  I really could not formulate at the time why I was upset, but I was angry nonetheless. Jehovah’s Witnesses are obsessed with demons, demonology, witchcraft and the occult.  In a supposed attempt to keep their people away form paganism, Jehovah’s Witnesses constantly focus on identifying all practice and symbols which they feel come from non-Israelite sources, in their quest to purge themselves of paganism they focus on magic and esotercism constantly.  As a youth I was constantly bombarded with images of paganism and the occult, always told to avoid these practices as they were the teachings of demons… Hinduism was of course included in this.

I cannot explain what happened, but I know it arose from constant social and spiritual abuse, always being surrounded by hate and disdain, something inside me began to resonate with the pagans we were trying so hard not to be.  I don’t know why, but for some reason I have always been attracted to statues and idols, and when the JWs and the bible gleefully spoke of the Canaanite’s idols being destroyed, I became very angry.  I began to identify with the Canaanites, I hated the invading Israelites and their one hateful, slaving, bloodthirsty and deceptive god.  The astrology, magic and idolatry of the pagans struck me, I felt like I was one of them, even though they only lived inside the bible. Everything in the bible began to rub me the wrong way and I started my path to “rebellion”, which I now know was the beginning of my path to the happiness of Hinduism. I began secretly reading pagan books in local libraries, I found everything I could on the occult, numerology, astrology and pagan lore.  I became obsessed with omens and divination, something completely outlawed in biblical morality, I also indulged in my fascination with idols, buying statues of old Greek gods like Venus.  As my fascination with paganism and the occult grew, so did the suffocating pressure of my Christian upbringing.  Eventually I began snapping at my teachers when they discussed how everyone else, non-Christians, were following false teachings and would not be rewarded by god, I was sick of listening to ugly and hypocritical people carry on with such sanctimony.
Eventually I attached myself to the only organized paganism I could find, and that was “witchcraft”. At the age of 13 I announced myself as a “witch” to the JW’s, their response was swift and twisted.  I was proclaimed to be “possessed”, I was socially isolated and constantly filled with guilt and fear. Old JW women fed me terror stories of young people who dabbled in witchcraft who were now locked up in insane asylums, gnawing at their wrists.  Members in my congregation began saying that my presence disturbed them, and so I had to sit in the back of the service hall.  The depth and breadth of my abuse I will not go into here, however within some time I caved into pressure, I repented and returned to Christianity, I felt so broken.  However, it did not take long for my spirit to begin yearning for freedom again, and I could not tolerate how they constantly demonized others.  The straws began to break when I could no longer listen to these people speak of Hindus and Buddhists like they were people of the dark, I eventually escaped Christianity, a very difficult ordeal which I will write on later.
By the time I was a late teenager I had left Christianity and began embarking on differing ideas.  I felt lost, there was a hole in my life, I had lived and breathed biblical morality and prophecy for years, upon dropping it, life felt meaningless and empty.  I began to latch on to any and every philosophy I could find, hoping to find a new meaning in life.  Over the next several years I became a serious student of and ardent supporter of Communism, than Capitalism, than Atheism, Scientism and countless more.  The gulf that was left in my soul from the vacating of Christianity was so deep that no one philosophy could complete me.  I began trying to scrape together every ideology and religious practice on earth into a whole that would make me feel complete.  I tried calling myself a “pantheist” so I could practice any idea at anytime, depending on what seemed to work best.  I delved into every paganism on the earth, every political and economic system, but in the end nothing seemed to have it all, no group or idea had grasped the universe and human life in its entirety, and so I eventually fell into nihilism.  For many years I began to believe that life had no meaning at all, that there was no real best way to live, and that perhaps it would be best if there were no life at all. Old Christian doubts began to haunt me, at times I thought I had made a huge mistake. Yet I still maintained an interest in paganism, the occult, and other social philosophies, I was always involved in something new, I was always trying to bring everything together into an idea which covered everything.  I needed science and mysticism, the rational and irrational, capitalistic-communism, like the stories of “Legend” and the “Dark Cyrstal” I needed the union of the opposites.
Years went by, I was a vegetarian, into animal rights, looking for spirituality in biology, getting interested in transhumanism, reading about the “New World Order”, going to school in the sciences, darting from one book or group to the others, falling into despair and depression in between.  This continued for a long time, until one day I was in college and I saw a flier for a Hindu meetup.  It was odd… I had been interested in every single idea on this earth, but Hinduism was the last thing I had ever thought of looking into.  Almost everything I had ever seen about Hinduism made it look weak and dirty. To be honest when I thought of Hinduism I thought of sickly people seated in wreckage, worshiping cows and being ruled over by anyone and everyone, it was really not something I had been interested in.  However, it had just so happened that I had recently seen something about Hinduism which had gotten me curious.  In my ideological travels I had come across a video produced by a Christian evangelist named Caryl Matrisciana, the title of the work was “Gods of the New Age”.  Matrisciana had been raised a Christian in India and was now spreading word across the West of the “dangers” of Hinduism.  While I now know her portrayal of Hinduism is completely inaccurate, she made Hinduism seem like it had a “dangerous mind”, the very idea that it was even capable of being dangerous made me think that Hinduism must at least have some kind of substance.  I was interested in learning more about these “secretive” dangerous Hindus, I attended the meeting
The college Hindus had arranged for a pundit (Hindu priest) to come teach a few lessons on basic Hinduism.  The pundit from Trinidad broke down Hinduism very simply and scientifically.  From my first lesson in Hinduism I learned that the basic idea is that there is some power (Brahman) which cannot by completely defined by humans, this power animates the universe. Brahman is the electricity which lights up the bulbs, and everything humans can perceive is like a light bulb connected to the power source.  Hinduism is a quest to better understand the power that animates the cosmos, it tries to lead our minds to higher knowledge (veda) through rituals, philosophy and symbolism. The power that moves the universe is so great and complex, humans cannot completely know it, but we can better grasp its lower manifestations, we can learn the rules which govern our world, physically, socially, economically and ethically. Because the ultimate nature of the power source (Brahman) is unkown, Hinduism has developed a myriad of interrelated paths which allows the practitioner to search for truth in the universe freely, without becoming detached and lost from community.  Whether your path is theist, purely philosophical, ritualistic or practical (yoga/mediation), you remain connected to others on the same path, we can all observe each other, learn form one another, and grow together, without becoming overly competitive and insular.
While eternal knowledge could never be contained in a book, Hinduism is woven together by the Vedas, sets of hymns which personify different energy types and concepts like love, war, law and family into gods who can be understood literally or figuratively. These gods, manifestations of concepts and energies, are not “supernatural” in their essence, they are higher beings using the same “rta” (natural law of science) as we humans, they are simply more advanced and enlightened, they are closer to the knowledge of the godhead than we are.  Hinduism is always inviting us to become more like the gods, to become closer to the “veda”, the source of eternal universal knowledge.  Why couldn’t these concepts be simply stated, why do they need to be wrapped in mythology some might ask… well pure rationalism and science cannot explain a cause which is always one step ahead of our intellect, we need a system which is flexible enough to envelope science and rationalism without becoming overly constrained by the limits of the human mind. Hindu legends, rituals and practices allow us to explore the universe unbound by our rational minds, however when we return we are asked to go about the task of implementing the abstract into the real and concrete.
Throughout Vedic literature, again and again we see that we are asked to organize the physical world in such a way which allows our society to better access transcendent consciousness, only so that these new ideas can be physically implemented on earth to bring us to the next level.  For example, through experimentation, Vedic society has found that it is best not to focus all of your time and energy on liberating oneself form physical, mental, emotional and spiritual chains (Moksha).  Even though ultimate freedom and power comes when we are no longer slavishly dependent on anything, we must take our human nature into account, we all have wants and desires which control us to some extent, and to deny this reality would be to ignore a natural law, it would have a weakening effect.  And so Hindu society does not ask us to focus only on transcendent liberation (Moksha), we are also encouraged to seek wealth (Artha), pleasure (Kama) and perform duties to our society (Dharma). How is anyone supposed to focus on obtaining higher levels of consciousness when they are starving, uncomfortable and no one is doing anything to properly run the society?
So then Hinduism has us beg the question, what is the best way to go about gaining wealth (Artha), pleasure (Kama) and performing our social duties (Dharma) so that we may eventually obtain higher levels of physical, intellectual and spiritual freedom (Moksha)? Hinduism is a democracy where groups are encouraged to socially, religiously and spiritually experiment, yet remain bound together under a pantheon of personified deities so that we do not become too scattered or disconnected.  Because of this freedom, Hinduism has seen the rise and fall of countless philosophical, theological and practical movements.  Those strains of Vedic inspired thought which prove to be most stable over time are incorporated into Hinduism as a common theme, but if circumstances change, there are always new experiment which can be done to find the most appropriate path for the times.  For example, in the sphere of economics (Artha) and duty to society (Dharma), Hindu experimentation has found that societies are most stable where each occupation is owned and operated by communities of related individuals.  Ancient Europe once operated under the Guild system, extended families and community networks ran certain trades such as stone masonry or flour grinding (in Hinduism Guilds are called Jatis). Community based ownership of a profession creates a stable economic system which is by default dedicating to uplifting the community which operates it.  The Western world is now beginning to see the pitfalls of pure Capitalism and Communism, neither system is able to provide economic growth and at the same time communal solidarity.  However this is not to say that Hindu economic theory has nothing to learn from its competitors, Hinduism is not afraid to look for better ways to do things.

Just as Hinduism has developed a major yet flexible economic system through trial and error, it has done the same philosophically and religiously.  While the cosmology of the Vedas is highly condensed and there is no mention of any use of idols or dancing in worship, later Hindu saviors of Vedic civilization realized that during modern times people need more detailed explanations, they also need more stimulation to keep them engaged in deeper philosophical thought.  Vedic scholars looked around them, they used alluring tribal customs and practices to keep the common people focused on more lofty ideals, thus Hinduism saw the induction of Vedic infused idolatry and ritual music in order to keep the masses engaged.  Hindus were also not afraid to create atheistic interpretations of Vedic theology. When your society could disintegrate over disagreements between hyper-rationalists and theists, why not create separate atheist schools of philosophy to smooth over the divide? We don’t all have to be best friends but we don’t need to fight.  Now this is not to say that every new invention or adaptation will last forever, perhaps idolatry will become a burden, rituals too cumbersome, scientific discourse too boring, and thus what was useful for maintaining the civilization in one era becomes obsolete in the next, however the general system of differentiated polytheism (each god an aspect of the unknown power) remains a stalwart in the upholding of human civilization.  It is this mix of fluidity and consistency that has allowed Hinduism to become the oldest living society on earth.

After leaving Christianity, I mentally searched the entire earth, looking for a system that was comprehensive enough to fulfill every human desire, a system that was immutable but flexible, a system that was intelligent enough to be scientific but humble enough to not be confined to human rationalism alone, a system that could provide a defined but adaptive economic, social and moral ethos, and I finally found it in Hinduism. I can say that it really only took one lesson and some internet searching for me to realize I had finally found what I had been looking for.  It has been 5 years since I officially adopted the eternal religion and called myself a Hindu, and I have not been able to think my way out of Hinduism yet, and I am certain I never will.

Now before I get into my move into Hindu activism, I would like you to remember my early fascination with uniting the light and the dark, my love for the message behind movies like “Legend” and the “Dark Crystal, how heroes rise in the quest to balance these forces.  One of the most clever ways Hinduism has found to keep its message alive has been to adapt Vedic concepts into story forms known as epics.  These epics keep the civilization captivated by use of exciting narratives incorporating romance, danger and magic, all the while imbuing deeper philosophical concepts about life and the universe, forcing the reader to think deeper than they would naturally. One such epic is the Ramayana.  The Ramayana tells the story of a young prince named Rama who is banished from his kingdom through the jealousies of his stepmother.  Accompanied by his love interest Sita, and his loyal brother Lakshmana, Rama goes out into the forest, his destiny ominous and unknown.  What is necessary to turn this plot around?  What needs to happen to prevent Rama from returning to his kingdom after his exile an old beggar with no name, no youth and no reason to ever further mention his name? What will make Rama a hero?  Only the triumph over a darker force could raise Rama to the status of hero and make his return to his kingdom worthwhile.  Rama finds his necessity to become a hero when is love Sita is kidnapped by a demonic king named Ravana.  Sita is whisked away by Ravana in his flying chariot to his kingdom of Lanka.  Now Rama must rescue his love, but first he must travel to Lanka and in the process raise an army to defeat the powerful king Ravana.  Of course Rama goes through a series of trials where he meets several different races of people, often helping them, endearing them to him, and finally gaining their loyalty as his soldiers who are willing to follow him to recapture his love.  As everyone might expect, eventually Rama fulfills the mighty task of defeating the powerful demon king Ravana, rescuing his love Sita, and returning to his nation a mighty and renown warrior.  Yes, Ravana did play the part of the necessary evil, the catalyst which allowed Rama to rise as a hero, but what happened to Ravana?  In the traditional Judeo-Christian ethos, Ravana would be written off as pure evil, a satanic energy who was defeated, vanquished, caste into hell or death, with no real redeeming qualities.  However, Ravana’s role in Hinduism is much more nuanced than this.  In the Ramayana and accompanying lore, we find that despite his arrogance and domineering, Ravana was actually a strong devotee of the god Shiva (lord of necessary destruction), he was also extremely scholarly, an inventor and a good ruler loved by his people.  Now what did this intellectual, spiritual and military titan think when Rama was coming to defeat him?  Who is this, I will crush him!  However, as the battle continues and Rama’s true strength and godly power is revealed, Ravana begins to realize that Rama is no ordinary man but is an incarnation of the god Vishnu (social preservation), sent to earth on a divine mission to restore virtue in his society; remember Rama was exiled in the first place over jealousy and family squabbles. So what happens when Ravana realizes that Rama is really a god-man sent on a divine mission?  Does Ravana back down, does he retreat, does he surrender?  No, Ravana goes out to fight Rama one last time, knowing he will lose, but he does it to give Rama his victory, his triumph over “evil”. Ravana makes sure Rama becomes a hero while restoring the powers of good and evil.  For his final widsom and sacrifice, this demonic king is not sent to any fiery hell but obtains moksha, liberation, and is rewarded with heavenly bliss in another realm. After reading this epic and absorbing its message, I fell in love with Hinduism.  Later, in puranic legend I was to find demons who worshiped gods, gods who fell from grace, scholars who become thieves and thieves who become kings.  In Hinduism the light and the dark intermingle, creating a story where heroes are created and lessons are learned.  In Hinduism this is called Lila, the divine play, the story that the gods, heroes and mortals are all living together, where good and evil meet, creating the whirlwind which lifts us to higher levels of understanding. This was the message I always knew was true and had found in the pagan inspired children’s cinema of the West.

Now that I have gone through this long explanation I will quickly explain why I became a Hindu activist, working to expose the atrocities committed against my people by our enemies, Islamic radicals especially. You can imagine that after all these long lonely years, thinking that the greatness of ancient pagan civilization was not only lost, but was never great enough to have survived in the first place, that when I found the living breathing tradition of Hinduism, which far surpassed all the ideas of past and present combined, I was amazed and overjoyed. I immediately felt at home with the Hindu people I met and quickly made infinite friends and acquaintance.  I attended Hindu temples where I found gods with whom I resonated so deeply, their stories and backgrounds were as complex as myself and more so, yet still so relatable and easy to understand. As I have always done with everything I threw myself deeply into the Hindu community, including online forums where I met Hindus from all around the world, places like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

It was at this time that I began to be barraged by insanely horrible stories about the plight of Hindus and other minorities living in the Islamic States of Pakistan and Bangladesh which border India’s northern borders.  Islam, like Judeo-Christianity, is based upon the supremacy of a “one true god” who has all the pagan “idolators” of his region slaughtered and declares that eventually his religion will reign supreme.  The Koran is similar to the Bible in many ways.  While there are obvious differences between Christianity and Islam, I began to notice similarities between the two, albeit Islam seemed to be far more barbaric.  At first I could not believe the stories of kidnappings, rapes, murders, forced conversion and the legal oppression of Hindus and other non-Muslims under these Islamic regimes, it all seemed too heinous, but I eventually came to see through personal experience (LOOOONG STORY) that Islam was simply another cruel oppressor of human progress, and this version was attacking the precious gem of Hinduism I had just found after so many years of searching.  I quickly vowed to do everything in my power to lift Hindus and the rest of humanity from this horrendous burden. I could not bare to lose Hinduism to another darkness, there is nothing left and I have no where else to go.  Hinduism has become a lifeline, my fate is bound with its fate and the fate of our people.  Hinduism will certainly survive and resurge as a global empire, however the actions we take today will determine whether this glorious future is realized now or in a future beyond our time, as for me I need it now, I cannot wait.

Vincent Bruno

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