Taking A Stand For Dharma And The Need For The Rise of Arjuna(s)

One of the best times of year for me as I’ve mentioned before is the month of Shravan. The entire month is filled with daily devotions entwined with deep significance. Then there’s Rakshabandhan and Janmashtami that fall during the month of Shravan as well.

This Janmashtami, like most years, we went to the local Hindu temple and joined the rest of the community in devotional chants as we awaited the birth of Krishna. There is so much beauty in chanting together with everyone. There are so many emotions as one loses oneself in the rhythm of the tabla and the words of the bhajan. The tempo keeps rising and the prayer hall is filled with a multitude of tones all unified in the chant – as the clock struck midnight – Nand Gher Aanand Bhayo, Jai Kanhaiya Lal Ki. My eyes teared up with emotion and suddenly, my mind began to recite the following verse:

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत । अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥४-७॥

Whenever a decrease of righteousness [Dharma] exists, Arjuna, And there is a rising up of unrighteousness [Adharma] , Then I manifest Myself.

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् । धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥४-८॥

For the protection of the good and the destruction of evildoers, For the sake of establishing righteousness [Dharma] , I am born in every age.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, Verses: 7-8

My mind fresh with the news of latest atrocities over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, I found myself saying out loud, “Yes, Krishna – this is the time to manifest. We need you now more than ever. There’s so much discrimination and hate right now – we need you now.” And just as I finished saying it, a response in my mind answered, “Then, Uttishtha, Arjuna. I am here. Rise now, and carry forward Dharma.” [For a fabulous explanation of what Dharma means, please refer to this video and listen to it in its entirety. Please!]

I was now seriously freaked out. What was happening? Why was my mind playing these games with me? WHO is talking inside my head? I thought I am really truly exhausted physically and this inner conversation was proof I needed to get some rest. But I could not shake off the feeling. I could not deny the truth, the fact I was being asked to face now – Stand up, Shama. Take a public stand against discrimination, racism, hatred and bigotry. Stand up, as Dharma would expect you to do.

Those near to me and the ones I engage with in real life already know my stand on hatred and bigotry. But I realize that I represent much more than myself. It is time to take a stand as being Dharmic, to take a stand for nonviolence, acceptance, compassion, pluralism and respect for everyone and everything. Always.

So why now? The answer came : Why not now?

Why me?  The answer came : Why not me?

Sri Krishna says in the Gita, as referenced above, that He manifests Himself. In the Mahabharata, Sri Krishna could have easily said, “Alright, everyone. Here, Arjuna, hold the reigns of the horses, manage the chariot. I got this!” But that is not what happens. Had Sri Krishna wanted to do so, could He not have easily managed to? If He did, how would we learn what it means to follow and uphold Dharma?

What does Sri Krishna do instead? He talks to Arjuna, shows him the path to follow Dharma, to uphold Dharma. Yes, Sri Krishna manifests, but not to fight the battles for you. Instead He is the underlying, constant, uplifting, guiding Presence that nudges you forward. Uttishtha, Arjuna – Go ahead, you’ve got this. Follow Dharma. You’ve got this.

So that night at the temple when I ‘heard’ Uttishtha, Arjuna – it was for me and all the Arjunas today. Rise. The World needs you to step up and rise. I am claiming this now once and for always. As a Hindu woman of Indian origin, I stand with all people of color, for all indigenous peoples, for all those who feel that they have no voice, for all species. I stand FOR nonviolence, acceptance, compassion, pluralism and respect for everyone and everything. Always.

Until next time,

Namaste

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. ~ Rev. Desmond Tutu

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Therapeutic Music – A Gentle Reminder

Those who know me personally are very well aware of my love for music. I inherited this love from my parents. Growing up, I had the honor to spend a few years learning Hindustani Classical music – the tabla, the shehnai, the santoor and the sitar – all these instruments and more hold a very special place in my heart.

To me, music has always been therapeutic. I have turned to music in personal moments of deepest despair as well as overflowing joy. My favorite genres continue to be folk music, Hindustani classical music, Hindi music and so on. Ever since I started working at the hospital, I got to experience a new dimension of music that is played in the background for those, but not limited to,  near end of life with the intention of having a calming effect. This explanation is very basic.

There are many sites that go into a lot of detail about music therapy and therapeutic music.The following definition is from the site MusicTherapy.org, 

“Therapeutic music is music that helps the process of healing and supports movement towards health. The World Health Organization defines health as: “…a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Therapeutic music supports health and the process of healing primarily through the principles of resonance and entrainment, in which the individual is supported by the elements of music: rhythm, harmony, melody and tonal color.”

I’ve experienced the wonders music creates in multiple patients and family encounters. It got extremely personal when my grandfather was in critical care recently. I was sitting in the patient room with my grandmother who was completely stressed out with granddad’s hospitalization. We sat in silence for most of the time except for the constant beeping of machines – something that I’ve gotten used to through working at the hospital. Suddenly, my grandma remarked, “Shama, where is that music coming from?” I turned around to notice the TV was on in the room and was playing calming therapeutic music. After I explained the source and the purpose, she smiled and said, “That’s such a wonderful thing to do.”

I was amazed at how, despite of the stress on her mind, my grandma noticed the soft music in the background and how it brought a smile to her face. In that moment, I felt that something beyond what I could see or hear was manifesting. I will never forget that moment. Maybe that is why I am writing about it –  I do not want to forget that moment.

Music has an ethereal quality about it. I feel bad that I am not able to play any instrument well enough. Maybe I’ll add that to my bucket list.

Until next time,

Namaste

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!” ~J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 1997

Celebrating The Month of Shravan

It is that time of the year – the auspicious month of Shravan when Lord Shiva is worshipped in all His glory. Those who have been following my blog for a while, especially those who know me personally, are well aware of the significance of Shiva in my life.

I have been fasting during the month of Shravan for 20 years now. This is my 20th year!! Many Hindus fast during this month and for multiple reasons. I have never really paid attention to why I fast. I guess I feel more grounded when I fast weekly on Mondays and especially so during the month of Shravan. It brings personal and mental comfort to me. It enhances my sense of belonging to the Divine.

As Monday dawned, I woke up in the morning with multiple topics on my mind and some intentions. I am hoping to be more disciplined in the study of Hindu scriptures. That is my goal for this month. I am hoping to make lifestyle changes to be more fit, to be more disciplined and to be more goal-oriented – both personal and professional.  I am also looking to volunteer more. BCC

Having said that, Shivji definitely had an awesome plan for me on Day 1 of Shravan 2017. After 10 months of clearing my interview I finally finally finally received my Certificate attesting to me being a Board Certified Chaplain through the Association of Professional Chaplains. I am aware that I talk about becoming Board Certified a lot but that is because I am still so much in awe of how life unfolds.

What an incredible sign from The Universe – once again reiterating that the ultimate purpose of my life continues to be through walking the path of Clinical Chaplaincy.

I am not completely sure what the future holds, but for now – at this very moment – it feels fantastic.

May you and yours have a fabulous month of Shravan! May you all always be surrounded in Ishwara Kripa!!

Until next time,

Namaste

The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens. – Rainer Maria Rilke

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

 

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

 

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

On this day…to the mothers

To the mothers.

First, the biological mother or the adoptive mother (The Mata, Maa, Mommy): the one who gives birth to you. She is the one who bring you in this world and looks after you until you no longer need her (or that’s what you think!)

Second, the Mother Land (The Matrubhoomi): the country, the land that you are born in; The one who gives you an identity beyond your family.

Next, the Adopted Land (The Karma bhoomi ): the one that you move to; the country where you live, earn and settle.

Finally, Mother Nature (The Shakti, The Creative Power of the Universe): the power, the energy that allows all of the above to exist in herself.

It’s such a big deal to be a mother: To be the one to conceive, to give birth, to create another life form. Inexplicable.

Appreciating parents is a major part of the Indian culture. How honestly are we doing so is something that is a debatable topic. Either way, hailing from this culture, I know what the status of biological parents is in a person’s life.

The idea of Matrubhoomi was introduced to me when I was a lot younger whilst watching Mahabharat on Doordarshan. A person owes loyalties, has a duty towards the land that he or she is born in. To me, this is India – Bharata, Hindustan.

The same is true for Karmabhoomi. One also has a duty towards the adopted land. Moving to another country has its perks. So if you intend to enjoy the perks, you should also make sure that a sense of duty is also involved. It is part of ethical living. To me, this is North America – I have deep ties with both Canada and United States of America.

And of course, there is Mother Nature. Most people think of Mother Nature when there are storms brewing or something out of human control occurs. When everything is running ‘normally’, no one seems to think about Her. It is not news how majorly humans have messed up this beautiful blue planet. I think it’s high time, we show some appreciation in this aspect as well.

Having said all of this, I don’t think just one day is enough to show a mother how appreciated she is. So make sure, the next time you see or think about any one of these mothers…say a little prayer of gratitude. She deserves it.

Happy Mother’s Day!!!

Original Post here