I recently took a five-week trip to India, a pilgrimage to experience the country that for many years I have heard and read about. It was an incredible journey encompassing the full gamut of experiences and emotions. It was wonderful and terrible, beautiful and ugly, easeful and hard. I'm already planning my next trip back.
Prior to this I had been peripherally exposed to Hinduism, India's most prominent religion, through studies of yoga. Although yoga is commonly associated with Hinduism, it is independent from any particular religion. A yoga practice supports whatever spiritual or religious tendencies an individual might have. However, it's roots are in India, and a good deal of the mythology and practice of yoga has ties to the Hindu religion. You will often see images of Ganesh, Hanuman, Shiva, and other Hindu deities decorating yoga studios all over the world.
Before the trip it was difficult for me to relate to the pantheon of Hindu deities. I had read about Vishnu, Shiva, and Hanuman, but they were an abstract and distant concept. I was not able to express reverence to these images because I did not consider myself a Hindu, and I did not believe in the existence of the deities outside of mythology.
During my travels I spent a lot of time at different Hindu temples. I realized that even if I did not believe in the deities themselves, it was easy for me to relate to the energies they represent. Hanuman, for example, represents a profound and deep devotion through his unfaltering love for Rama. I might not believe in the monkey God Hanuman, but I can appreciate and show gratitude towards the qualities of love and devotion. By connecting with these attributes we can show reverence to these aspects of divinity within our hearts and realize the potential it has to unfold within our lives. In this way I learned to bow, to show reverence, and to connect with these deities in a way that I was previously not able.
You don't have to be a Hindu to show your gratitude for the devotion of Hanuman. You don't have to be a Christian to appreciate the transcendent love of Jesus. You don't have to be a Buddhist to bow down to the energy of peace and contentment. If we want more of these characteristics to manifest in our lives, the mythical beings, religious stories, and sacred places provide the mirror to reflect these tendencies in our own being.