Spiritual travelers as intruders in India?

Fellow traveler Cryptic Fragments is living in Dharamsala when I’m still in my comfortable Dutch home. She wrote a post that sounded somewhat homesick on her blog and got the following as a response from a Tibetan or Indian reader:

PLEASE do my country a favor of not returning back! Leave those monks alone because they are not there to appease your desires or turn your world around! We do not want another German case happening in Mcleod Ganj. People like yourself are the ones who stay over polluting the place with your hippy like lives and ideas and corrupt the simpleton minds of the locals in India. So just go back, find a cozy coffee shop in your country and worship the Dalai Lama or the monks from there. The peace we’ve known here in Mcleod Ganj is being gravely disturbed by long staying foreigners like you who run away from their otherwise chaotic lives and hide in India-‘teaching English’! It’s high time that my government realizes and starts cleaning out.Why don’t you do the ‘teaching’ work in your own country or is everyone well taught there? If so then go to the African continent and help out. They need a lot of help there but PLEASE SPARE INDIA.I really hope that you DO NOT COME BACK HERE!

I responded to that rather concerned and Cryptic Fragments wrote:

Unfortunately there are a lot of angry young Tibetans who do not understand when westerners are on a true spiritual journey. I feel compassion for “Spirit”. This is obviously someone who is really hurting. I will pray for them to feel peace and compassion towards all sentient beings. Yes, there are many foreigners here who fit the description he/she gives but anyone who knows me knows I am far from hippy-like, and knows that I want peace and simplicity more than anything. Om shanti

Both are sides of a story one will not hear often in the West as one prepares for a trip to India. I’m still figuring out what to think about it. I certainly don’t feel like a hippie, but of course it’s true that when one goes from one country to another, one is traveling away from something as much as one is traveling towards something. Cryptic Fragments illustrates that well when she writes:

This life is so strange. I have called so many places HOME and yet I have never been at home…not since I was about 12 years old. I have lost everything…but mostly I have lost myself. I have no idea who I am. I keep looking for me in weird places. I have looked in England, Scotland, Ireland, France…I have looked in India and in this Tibetan refugee community. I have found pieces of myself everywhere, but the whole is still missing…Who am I? I am still lost and confused. It’s a very funny thing. I always talk about how much I am going to miss people, even places. But the truth is, what I really miss is myself. I lost myself when I was so young. I moved so often, surrounded by so many new people and experiences, that I never really developed an identity. I think I am a poet, a writer, a gardener, a cat lover who loves to color. I think I am a home maker who enjoys cooking and decorating and doing the laundry. But I live so far away from myself…running here, running there, like the world might end, like there is never enough time. I always “have to” see another set of ruins or learn another language before it is too late. I will run around in circles until I come back to my center and can breathe, again.

Which shows her unbelievably honest and conscious of her own inner processes I think. The spiritual trip, the pilgrimage, is an old religious institution with deep roots in both Western and Indian civilization. The trip to Mecca that Muslims are supposed to do once in their lives is only the most famous of current day examples. Europe is full of pilgrimage trails and destinations too. Within India the most famous spots are probably Varanasi (for the Hindu) and Bodhgaya (for the Buddhist). The point of such a trip isn’t just tourism, it’s to go inward by going out of one’s normal setting. It’s to become transformed through trial and perseverance. I don’t know whether that fits the hippie idea, it certainly isn’t merely about ‘teaching English’. A more worldly perspective is that India may be a super power and upcoming economy, but it still hosts a large amount of poor uneducated people. It’s no wonder the Indian government makes it easy for Westerners to give a bit of relief to that need. It’s also no bad PR for India itself, of course. Well – that’s just me gathering some thoughts in this first blogpost on my new blog 🙂

12 thoughts on “Spiritual travelers as intruders in India?”

  1. Hi Katrina
    I can understand the young Indian’s feelings, though I pray she have more tolerance. Reading some biography of Annie Besant, I found that these sentiments were expressed even back in her time.Many native Indians were opposed to the TS setting up shop in Adyar due to the elitist and disrespectful attitudes of the the Theosophists that went there to live.I don’t know what particular incident set this person off, but it is quite true, that Westerners travel to these places, and then act like they are descending into lower worlds. It is important for the Westerner to adopt the ways of the country they are staying in, and to respect the people and their traditions and customs, and definitely not try to impose our own on them. I think this happens a lot.I hope their sentiments change in India. India is a place I dream of going to, and one day I will make it there, I would like to be received with friendliness.

    1. Unfortunately it takes only a few annoying people to start prejudices against a whole group. I’m afraid no group of newcomers ever manages to avoid such stigmas altogether. Whatever the country they come to.

      In general the theosophists were welcomed in India for their open attitude towards the ‘locals’ – as compared to the British colonizers at least. Besant herself is mostly remembered positively as one of those who fought for the rights of the Indian people.

      1. Yes, Annie must be remembered for her battle for Indian independence. You know, I live in the American Southwest, and people come here from the east coast (where I originally came from for the express purpose of being assimilated into this culture) and still treat those who were born here, the Indians, the Mexicans, as if they are some below average, indigenous culture not worthy of their respect. Many tourists go through the Indian museums and such, and through the Indian markets with a “how quaint” attitude. If only they knew what I know, the richness that these cultures have brought to my life, and how these people embraced me in their (figurative and literal) arms when I came here. So it happens everywhere when there are people who think that they are better than everyone else, because of their skin color, their heritage, or just where they live. Thank you for engaging.

  2. thank you for your mention of my blog, for your support ragarding the malicious comments by “spirit” etc…

    I will be back in India sometime between late August and October and yes I will return to my heart’s home in McleodGanj!
    Maybe we will pass each other on the road!


    1. I just read this article, and the comments, and was worried that it may have put you off until I saw your reply:)

      No reason why anyone has more right to a place than anyone else!

  3. i felt mudita feeling on your pursuit in life and feeling the joy for u. i support yr pursuit in life wholeheartly.glad to see u in india if u visit

  4. I am an INDIAN.
    India is a culture more than a country. It has very vast diverse culture, languages, climate, crop, people, religion etc also very diverse opinion.
    I respect all your views but;

    being an indian, i wound really like your sites to have a real map of india. how would u like if your country’s map is posted with parts of it depicted as other country’s part ??

    1. Personally I’m no so good at geography that I’d notice if the border of a map on The Netherlands is off a few kilometers or not. But obviously in India’s case – few pixels off represents a LOT of kilometers.
      The one map I have on here is not meant as a very good representation, merely an indication.

      I’m sure it has way too few details for anybody to use it to find their way in India, or any of it’s neighboring countries. I’m sorry to hear that offends you.

  5. You are very right when you say …

    “when one goes from one country to another, one is traveling away from something as much as one is traveling towards something”

    There are all kinds of individuals and opinions in a society. I spent 3 years in S Korea and was really disappointed at the lack of social development there. I expected it to be a much more cosmopolitan country.

    However living in another society does broaden one’s horizon’s of thinking. There are positives and negatives everywhere.

    In the end I think the sum total of human life is a big 0.

  6. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/blavatsky/06brahmanic.html
    The weblink pasted above leads to an account of an encounter between Mme. Blavatsky and one of my ancestors (quite possibly or at least a close relative), It may be of interest to you in the context of your proposed spiritual journey to India.

    “Why, in this case,” exclaimed he, suddenly changing his colloquial tone for an aggressive one, “why am I, I who have studied the most modern ideas of Western science, I who believe in its representatives — why am I suspected, pray, by Miss X—, of belonging to the tribe of the ignorant and superstitious Hindus? Why does she think that our perfected scientific theories are superstitions, and we ourselves a fallen inferior race?”
    Sham Rao stood before us with tears in his eyes. We were at a loss what to answer him, being confused to the last degree by this outburst”.

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