Shubh Guru Purnima!!

Guru Purnima – The full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashadh – is designated to honor one’s Guru, Spiritual Teacher. While I am not formally initiated into any Guru-Shishya tradition, Pujya Swami Dayanand Saraswatiji (Arsha Vidya Gurukulam), Swamini Svatmavidyanandaji (Asha Vijnana Gurukulam), Pujya Swami Chinmayanandaji (Chinmaya Mission) and their teachings continue to inform my spiritual formation.

I do think it makes a huge difference in having found a spiritual alignment. What is even more important, in my opinion, is allowing for that alignment to happen organically. We seek and seek, but the alignment happens when it is meant to and with a path that may or may not have been on the path we had initially been seeking. Personally, it all came together for me when I was introduced to the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi by my dad.  Bhagavan Maharshi did not have any initiated disciples.

In his article on Guru Purnima, Dr. David Frawley writes: “The true guru is a position of spiritual guidance, the illuminating presence of a higher awareness. The guru is not limited to any physical person, however exalted he or she may be.

The guru is an inner institution, an authority rooted in an experiential wisdom, not in any mere human convention. The guru works to awaken us to our own Divine potential beyond the limitations of time and space, fear or desire.

Great souls who hold the position of the guru have a special honour and immense responsibility that can only be served in a selfless manner. The true guru is not conscious of being a guru to others, but of simply sharing the light of truth to dispel the darkness of ignorance.

The guru is a powerful conduit to the universal flow of knowledge. As such, there is only one true guru in all gurus. The guru is the guiding intelligence of the universal and eternal dharma that assumes many names and forms.

The importance of having a guru resides in being able to connect with the transcendent realm through a human representative. We should emphasise the guru’s teachings, rather focusing on outer appearances.

It is the ability to surrender the human mind and its opinions that makes for a true guru. The true guru teaches a path of self-realisation, giving us back our own true nature, not making us weak or dependent.” 

All of this and more, I continue to encounter on this spiritual journey – the opportunity to visit Tiruvannamalai, to witness the Arunachala Hill, to feel the powerful presence of Divinity in Sri Ramanasramam – all coming a full circle back to the starting point of my spiritual journey in my current physical birth. How incredibly amazing is that?

I continue to be in awe of Sri Ramana Maharshi – a mere glance at his image has an immediate calming effect on my mental noise. On this Guru Purnima, I continue to seek his guidance and Divine Krupa in everything I am.

To Shiva, The Adi Guru ; To Sri Ramana Maharshi ; To Arunachala ; To every single person who has been a Guru to me (willingly or otherwise) ; To Life 

May the Grace of The Guru continue to bless your being…
|| Shubh Guru Purnima ||

Until next time,

Namaste

अज्ञानतिमिरान्धस्य ज्ञानाञ्जनशालाकया ।
चक्षुरुन्मीलितं येन तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नम:

Agyan timir-andhasya Gyananjan Shalakaya.
Chakshur-oonmeelitam yena tasmai Shri Gurave Namah.

My Salutations to that reverential teacher, who opened my eyes, by applying the divine collyrium of self-knowledge in my eyes, which had been blinded by the cataract of ignorance. 

Revisiting Gauri Vrat And A Renewed Appreciation For Rituals

Today, I’ve been reflecting on a phase of my life growing up in India. When I was much younger growing up in Gujarat, my sister and I used to observe the annual Gauri Vrat. The Gauri Vrat this year starts today July 4 till July 9, 2017. This particular vrat (fasting with intention) is predominantly observed in Gujarat by unmarried girls and is dedicated to Goddess Parvati (the female Divine – Shakti). The vrat lasts five days and is intentionally observed for one to be blessed with an ideal husband and to bring prosperity in the family.

It was really fun to observe the fast – the highlight of it being the early morning trips to the Shiva-Parvati mandir before school, puja rituals where we grew small crops [multiple mixed grain seeds such as wheat, barley] in a small mud basket that looked something like this:

DSC03336  [Photo Credit]

The end to the fast was indicated by all girl friends getting together and pulling an all-nighter, sharing stories, dreams and visions for our future. The vrat was to be observed annually for 5 years or 7 years which we were able to complete successfully. My sister and I just started talking about our memories of fasting earlier this evening and hysterically laughing at some of the antics. Back then, boys in our school had a blast teasing girls about wanting an ideal husband but more about all the food we could not eat. Definitely some good memories.

Well, the fact that I am unmarried and as single as can be, I am left to wonder about such rituals. But then, the fact is to do rituals with unwavering faith – Śraddhā. When we did the vrat rituals at the temple, we are constantly asked to have faith. And that is what keeps everything in perspective.

Some years ago I had moved away from rituals as I studied Advaita Vedanta and thought it was unnecessary to participate in rituals because all that is, is Brahman. But then the more I studied Vedanta, the more rituals began to make sense and most of all their importance in developing and maintaining a focus on Brahman. I now have a renewed appreciation for religious rituals.

As the month of Shravan is around the corner, I am hoping to be more intentional in my fasts and ritualistic worship of Shivji. In words of Shri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, everything will always be through Isvara Krupa [Divine Grace].

Until next time,

Namaste

“Know that the eradication of the identification with the body is charity, spiritual austerity and ritual sacrifice; it is virtue, divine union and devotion; it is heaven, wealth, peace and truth; it is grace; it is the state of divine silence; it is the deathless death; it is jnana, renunciation, final liberation and bliss.” – Shri Ramana Maharshi

You Are Here…Now

I love the universe – and everything in it. I truly just do. Those who know me are very well aware of my love for the starry night sky. 2017 has already been filled with a lunar eclipse, a solar eclipse, a comet sighting and the discovery of seven exoplanets only 40 light years away! Also, Indian Space Research Organization launched 104 satellites in one go. One hundred and four satellites!!

you_are_here

Perspective  (photo credit)

Though visibility was questionable in my geographical area, the possibility of being able to see a comet was too tempting to ignore. I did try to look for comet 45P but was unable to do see it. I am not disappointed because it reminded me again of my deep love for astronomy and astrophysics. It was timely too.

Being reminded that I am part of something much bigger and more intelligent than humans continues to be comforting. Time and again, star-gazing puts life in perspective for me. Be it a rough day at work or a personal disappointment, a glance at the moon reminds me of the Higher Intelligence continues to encourage me to Be. Here. Now.

Until next time,

Namaste

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.  – Rabindranath Tagore

 

I am a Board Certified Chaplain!!!

During the last week of September 2016 on a windy day in the windy city, I dressed up to go and meet my Board Certifying committee. I was nervous. Very nervous. A lot had gone into the journey leading up that day. A lot of tears, a lot of random bursts of laughter and lots and lots of writing.

Here I was walking up to this glass building giving out vibes of corporate environment through and through. I touched my parents’ feet before I entered the building. And towards the end of the interview, I was told:

“We would like to say – Congratulations, Shama. We are recommending you for Board Certification through the Association of Professional Chaplains.”

I’ve been wondering how to express my feelings over becoming a Board Certified Chaplain.

Should I talk about the rush of emotions I felt when the committee said that they will be recommending you for Board Certification or when I finally got THE letter informing me that recommendation has been ratified and that I can use the initials B.C.C. after my name?

Or should I recount the numerous obstacles I had to overcome to even be eligible to appear in front of the committee? The amount of times I broke down and cried my eyes out because a particular hurdle just appeared to be too big to clear? Or the times when I was completely disillusioned?

Should I talk about the times I practiced introducing myself? Board Certified Chaplain of the Hindu faith? Board Certified Hindu Chaplain?

I have been really excited. But repeatedly, my heart keeps circling around one emotion: gratitude. I am so very grateful for every single person who stood by me from the very start of the chaplaincy journey to Board Certification. My family. My friends. My educators – formal and informal.

To those that understood exactly what this is about. To those who were clueless but supported me anyway. To the ones I get to serve. The lessons I continue to learn. The amazing people I have met and continue to meet as I choose to walk this path more consciously. To learning to recognize the Divine handiwork.

To my Gurus.To Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi. To Shivji.  To learning that it is all Brahman.

The adventure has only just begun…

Until next time,

Namaste

Your right is to action alone; Never to its fruits at any time. Never should the fruits of action be your motive; Never let there be attachment to inaction in you. – The Bhagavad Gita 2:47

Raksha Bandhan and the Little Boy from Aleppo

Yesterday, we celebrated Raksha Bandhan (Literally meaning A bond of Protection). Our family traditionally ties ‘rakhdi’ (the thread symbolizing the bond) around not just our brothers but also each other. I’ve got very fond memories of celebrating in India surrounded by family.

It’s different here in the USA. We celebrated after coming from work. It’s not a holiday as it is in India. It was good. Rituals have now come to mean more to me than ever before. Also, made phone calls to India, skyped with family in India and watched my baby niece show her antics. It cheers me up. 

But this morning, I saw the video of the Little Boy Omran from Aleppo. It has left me feeling so overwhelmed and helpless. My heart is shattered. No one deserves this. No One. I normally keep my thoughts to myself but not today. I am in tears. Even thinking about him makes me cry. I am sure a lot of others are feeling the same. Today, the feeling of helplessness is crippling me.

I want him to feel just as safe and secure as my little baby niece feels. In the case of my niece, I can at least ensure my voice is heard. How do I make my voice heard by Omran? Will he kplanet-earth-green-bow-17089463now how much he is loved? Ever? 

I work as a chaplain and I have learned to be able to ‘handle’ trauma. But I am also taught how to work through it. What about him? He is one child. Countless others are suffering. They need more than prayers. I know that. I do not have an answer today and it saddens me. 

I wish I could just tie a ‘rakhdi’ to the Earth (just like the photo above) to ensure everyone is protected. Maybe that’ll be comforting. 

In my mind, I am tying a ‘rakhdi’ on your wrist, Omran. I hope you know you are loved and cared for – I truly do.

May the lord of all beings protect you,
May the one who creates, preserves and dissolves life protect thee,

May Govinda guard thy head; Kesava, thy neck; Vishnu, thy belly;
the eternal Narayana, thy face, thine arms, thy mind, and faculties of sense;

May all negativity and fears, spirits malignant and unfriendly, flee thee;
May Rishikesa keep you safe in the sky; and Mahidhara, upon earth. – Vishnu Purana 5.5.14-23

Birthday Reflections This Leap Day

20160229_211943-002Leap Day 2016. Monday, February 29, 2016. Happy Leap Year!

February is birthday month for yours truly. And this year, like every year since 2012, I have been trying to be more mindful of my feelings as my birthday nears. I am a bit amused that my blog post on Leap Day 2012 was short and focussed briefly on the concept of Time.

Leap Day 2012 – I was happy with where I was in life, both personally and professionally. I was convinced that I will be getting married soon, will be working for my favorite long term care organization, and will be pursuing my MBA.

Leap Day 2016 – None of the above has happened. I am single, working for a major hospital system, and pursuing a Master’s degree in a field I had never even considered before.

Leading up to my birthday this year, I was feeling a bit bummed. The struggle has been internal – not being where I thought I would be at this age personally. I think growing up in the culture from which I come, I already had a vision for myself of what my life would look like at this age – a good husband, a good job, good in-laws and the capacity to be able to take care of them and my parents as well. It is even harder at times to imagine what my parents have to put up with as they stand by me in my atypical life.

Professionally, my 2012 self could not, in the wildest of dreams, have dreamt that I would be working as a hospital chaplain. I feel so aligned with this work – it is almost as if my soul sought this out for me. The dimension it has opened for me especially in terms of understanding my own faith is second to none. The potential of this work and the opportunities to serve through it really excite me.

So back to my birthday – Every birthday, a ritual that I have developed for myself is to go through all of the birthday cards I’ve received so far since I was two. Yes, my aunt gave me a birthday card when I turned two. This annual ritual helps me appreciate all the love that those cards represent while also reminding me of people who no longer are an active part of my daily life. While that does sound sad, it is actually oddly comforting. It is as if all the loves in the birthday cards rejuvenate me and fill me up with gratitude.

While there are questions and personal doubts even, I feel a sense of peace within. The trajectory of life continues to amaze me. I intend to continue to remind myself of the awesomeness that surrounds me daily. I am convinced that I am not alone. I intend to be the best version of Shama I can be – every single day. Even on days, where I am super deprived of my masala chai 🙂

When the misfit pieces of life’s brokenness come together and Life sees itself through the Light within, It then becomes art – a mosaic. I am learning to put the broken pieces together – one at a time.

Until next time,

Namaste

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

 

My very first Hindu Memorial Service

In the field of hospital chaplaincy, one of the best aspects (among many) is that opportunities are presented continually that challenge the chaplain to go above and beyond the type of care he or she can provide to the patient, family and hospital staff.

Also, in hospital chaplaincy, you meet people with a whole spectrum of personalities and faith traditions. In all of this, there are certain encounters that leave an impeccable imprint in the chaplain’s life and the chaplain is no longer the same again.

I had the honor of meeting someone [let’s refer to the person as DEji] like that and get to know and serve DEji in the last few months. In the days leading up to DEji’s death, our conversations revolved more and more around Hindu philosophy. It was clear to me that DEji was convinced of the Soul’s Immortality – a core Hindu belief. DEji would be beaming with joy as we recited and meditated on the Shanti Mantra DEji had chosen at the beginning of the visit.

Little did I know that I will end up having the honor to conduct a Hindu Memorial Service to celebrate DEji’s life. I’ve always assisted with other memorial services at the hospital but had not put together a Hindu Memorial Service, let alone conduct it in a hospital setting. Saying that I was extremely nervous is an understatement.

I began reflecting upon my conversations with DEji and started jotting down notes as to how I envisioned a Hindu Memorial Service in the hospital sanctuary would look like. DEji had really made it easy for me to pick which scriptural verses I would use but I also had to design the service in a manner that would stay true to its Hindu-ness while serving the largely non-Hindu attendees.

I was able to design the service, design the service program and set up the sanctuary in time for the service this evening. I was nervous when I arrived this morning at the hospital  but continually reminded myself to refocus and meditate internally on the chants and verses I had picked for the service. This helped a lot. So did the support and confidence exhibited in me by my coworkers and family.

I did not want to let DEji down. There is an inexplicable shift that happens within when one is in the presence of an actively dying person. DEji taught me a lot in the last days of life.

Almost two years ago to this day, I was very close to quitting Clinical Pastoral Education as I underwent something personally traumatic. That same day, I had been assigned to participate and decorate a (relatively) joyous occasion at the same place in which today I held my first Hindu Memorial Service.

As I picked up the rose petals two years ago, I was fighting with God. Oh, I was so angry. Today, two years later, as I picked up the rose petals, I expressed deep gratitude for the honor to celebrate someone as amazing as DEji, to be able to stand in a place of worship at a hospital and recite Shanti Mantras.

If anyone had said to me two years ago that today I would be able to pull this off, I would have definitely laughed. – not at the idea of it but due to the size of self-doubt I harbored within.

The Divine works in most amazing, incredibly surprising ways. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve as a hospital chaplain, as a chaplain of the Hindu faith and as a Hindu chaplain. I am also deeply grateful for every single person who continue to support me in any way or form.

Until next time,

Namaste

पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णश्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते
शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

oṃ pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamidam pūrṇāt pūrṇamudacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ

That is Whole. This is Whole.Wholeness arises out of Wholeness. If Wholeness is taken away from Wholeness, Wholeness remains. OM Peace, Peace, Peace

Nine Nights of Shakti – Celebrating Navaratri

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Aarti Time Photo Credit: Anand Desai Photography

Navaratri is  one of my most favorite Hindu festival. This year, Navaratri will be celebrated from 13th October to 21st October.

So what is Navaratri really? It, arguably, is the longest religious worship through rhythmic movements. It is the festival of nine nights when, through dance, the Goddess (the Female aspect of Divinity)  is worshipped. Most people seem to have forgotten that it is not just a dance; it is a form of worship. In Gujarat,  it is also called ‘Garba’. Garba comes from the word Garbha which literally means the womb. This festival is the celebration of the Shakti (The Primordial Power), the female aspect of creation that gives birth to the entire universe and sustains it.

Garba is performed in circles. The reasoning behind this is that the circle is a representative of the on-going, continuous cycle of birth and death. Just like the participants in the garba enter and leave the circle, in the same way people come and go in the circle of life. Irrespective of this, the circle continues.

The more I try to understand why we (Hindus) do what we do – be it any form of worship ritual, chanting, meditation – the more I realize how much we seem to have distanced ourselves from the true essence of worship.  These days the value of garba during Navaratri appears to be reduced to wearing fancy folk attire and dancing to tunes that are not even devotional songs. It really pains me to hear the singer suddenly switch from singing a song in praise of Devi to singing ‘Pari hoon main.’ For real? Like really?

Now don’t get me wrong. I love Bollywood music. Just ask people who know me. But there’s a time and a place for it.

Here’s the thing, though. One of the best aspects of practicing Hindu worship rituals is its uniqueness. I struggle with trying to understand why do we have to ‘compromise’ our way of worship to essentially make it more appealing to others? Whoever these others are. The irony here is that most people who are not familiar with Navaratri are more than willing to learn about it. Everyone is welcome to join garba, provided they fully understand what they are really participating in. It’s only fair.

Year after year, I go for garba. I get frustrated. I come home and vent to all those who will listen. The following year, I go back again.  

With almost every step I take during garba, I remind myself of what it really is all about. The moments are filled with awe and sincere devotion to That which is, which always will be.

Wishing everyone that celebrates this festival season, a very Shubh and Auspicious Navaratri. May Maa Ambe surround you all in Her Unconditional Love.

Until next time,

Namaste

या देवी सर्वभूतेषु बुद्धिरूपेण संस्थिता ।

नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः ॥

yā devī sarva-bhūteṣu buddhi-rūpeṇa saṁsthitā |

namastasyai namastasyai namastasyai namo namah ||

To that Devi Who in All Beings is Abiding in the Form of Intelligence,

Salutations to Her, Salutations to Her, Salutations to Her, Salutations again and again.

Shivji, Are You Listening? – Signs From The Universe

There are times in life when things do not make sense. For a person of faith, it feels as if it’s a test of one’s faith. The horror of it might set in when one realizes that one just might not have enough faith in one’s Ishvara.

I used to have those ‘horror moments’ a lot. I used to get really anxious and pray for Ishvara to understand ‘my situation.’ The form of Ishvara that I continue to turn to most is that of Shivji. My prayers range from being thankful to being angry. Most of the time, my prayers are conversations with Shivji. Lately, I have been telling Him about my spiritual journey so far and the doubts that rise in my mind (as if He doesn’t know!).

Those who know me personally are well aware of my innate need to prove that my faith as a Hindu necessitates that I stand for social justice.  This is just how this works (for me). I am unsure why I am like that.  Even if He doesn’t respond as quickly as I would like, today I received signs from the Universe that Shivji is indeed listening.

For a variety of reasons, empowering women is very important to me. I recently had a conversation with a friend regarding this topic and ended up getting really frustrated towards society, including religious leaders, that treat women as second class citizens. I ended up venting this frustration out on my dad and said to him, “I am sure Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi would not discriminate.” Today, I reached the chapter titled ‘Liberation from Patriarchy’ in the book Hindu Theology of Liberation by Anantanand Rambachan.  Then as Shivji would have it – there is a quote from Bhagavan Maharshi in which He says:

“Since jnana (Knowledge) and mukti (Deliverance) do not differ with the difference of sex…[…] Her body is also the abode of God.” 

I was in tears. And to top it off, the local news radio station does a special section titled ‘Star Date’ which talks briefly about a particular topic in Astronomy. Now, again for those who know me, this is a big deal. Today’s section was on John Dobson – the amateur astronomer who developed his own patent telescope that came to be known as the Dobsonian telescope. The best part, for me,about this brief special (and something I didn’t know about Dobson) was that he was an ordained monk in the Vedanta Society!!! Vedanta!!!!  Saying I was elated is an understatement.

Getting confirmation to follow the path of faith-based social justice from the one whom I consider my Guru – Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi – and a confirmation to follow the path of scientifically-enriched Vedanta from the most popular amateur astronomer – John Dobson.  

I got you, Shivji. I know You are listening. 

Until next time,

Namaste

Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it.  What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside. – Sri Ramana Maharshi 

To Speak Or Not To Speak – Being a Minority – Generation 1.5

So, I was browsing through a news article online. One thing led to another and I ended up on YouTube, binge-watching A R Rahman songs. And of course, I ended up on Maa Tujhe Salaam. Now I cannot remember which particular link it was, but I ended up reading the comments section below the video [You know the part you sometimes regret reading].

The conversation revolved around immigrating to another country, feeling torn between wanting to belong to both and feeling left out from both countries. This is too real. As an Indian-born Canadian living the USA, I know what this feels like.

When I moved here as a teenager, I was old enough to have emotional attachment to people in India and the land itself. I was young enough to adapt to living in a new culture, a new society. I feel that I am not exactly first generation and definitely not second generation either. This is hard. I feel like I am Generation 1.5.

Some people on YouTube said that even though they try to get involved in their local communities and enjoy living here in USA, they feel that ‘others’ do not ‘completely accept’ them as ‘Americans.’ Many naturalized citizens tend to feel this way. Not to mention the highly negative reactions that exploded on social media when Nina Davuluri became Miss America 2014. 

One person went to the extent of saying : How can we expect to be accepted while the African-American community [whose presence in the USA precedes any other colored minority] are still struggling for acceptance? <– This really spoke to me. This is SO true.

As the country prepares for the presidential elections in 2016, will they show sensitivity towards the minorities who live in the American society as if it’s their own?

At the end of the day, every human is born with an innate need to belong. I know people don’t see me as Canadian and that I will always be the ‘Indian woman.’ I am perfectly okay with that. I do think that there is a lot of teaching and learning that needs to happen in the larger society so everyone can feel accepted, irrespective of which country they emigrated from.

I look forward to the day when people will not question the fact that India is indeed in Asia, whether I am Mexican or Indian or Pakistani and not doubt my English skills. And that one day, the answers to these questions won’t matter.

Until next time,

Namaste

Our hearts where they rocked our cradle, Our love where we spent our toil,
And our faith, and our hope, and our honor, We pledge to our native soil.
God gave all men all earth to love, But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove Beloved over all.
~Rudyard Kipling