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

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

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 

Clinical Pastoral Education and Self-Awareness

As part of the training to become a professional chaplain, one of the most important aspect is Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Honestly, in my opinion, CPE is THE most important training necessary for people who wish to serve as a chaplain.

The website for Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center writes the following description for Clinical Pastoral Education :

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is graduate-level theological and professional education for ministry that takes place in a clinical setting. 

In addition to learning skills and expanding knowledge related to ministry in a healthcare setting, students are invited to learn about themselves and how their personal histories, faith perspectives and individual gifts influence their pastoral and professional functioning. 

The clinical method of learning used is a dynamic and creative process that combines action (the actual practice of ministry to persons) and reflection (using resources such as written reports of visits, discussion and feedback from peers and the CPE Supervisor, and application and integration of didactic material). An ongoing learning cycle develops that enables students to develop and expand their ministry skills and knowledge while also deepening their self-awareness and self-knowledge. Out of this expanded self-awareness and ministry experience, new ministry and relational choices and responses are available to the student.

Each “unit” of CPE, whether Level I or Level II, consists of a minimum of 400 hours combining no less than 100 hours of structured group and individual education with supervised clinical practice in ministry. 

– See more at: http://wexnermedical.osu.edu/patient-care/patient-and-visitor-guide/clinical-pastoral-education#sthash.OMS79jPP.dpuf

I successfully completed 4 units of this training in roughly 2 years time. Being mindful of one’s unintentional prejudices, one’s emotional response to situations and people, being aware of one’s self is critical when it comes to spiritual caregiving.

Now, about that self-awareness and self-knowledge piece : Where have we, those of the dharmic faith traditions, heard this before?

When I started my first unit of CPE and began to really understand what it all meant, the first set of teachings that I turned to write my papers were those of Ramana Maharshi. His teachings on self-enquiry especially as highlighted in Who am I? was a huge help as I began to put words to my feelings and personal experiences. It tackles big questions such as the nature of the mind, path of inquiry to understand the nature of the mind etc.

Self-awareness and self-knowledge are not ‘new-age’ concepts as many believe. They are very ancient teachings encapsulated in the teachings of the Upanishads. The constant inquiry – Who I Really Am. Through Nachiketa from Katha Upanishad, we learn about who/what dies, what is the nature of death and what happens to one after death. Through the Brihadarayanka Upanishad, we learn about the nature of Self and also how to go from being ‘self’ to realizing the Self.

Undergoing the Clinical Pastoral Education training has helped really define this self-inquiry process for me as it has thrust me in to the direct study of the Vedas, the Upanishads and help look at how my study and practice of Vedanta helps me in my work as a chaplain.

I highly recommend this training process to all who are interested in becoming a chaplain – employed or volunteer; especially to practicing Hindus. It’s a win-win situation.

Until next time,

Namaste

Those who depart from this world without knowing who they are or what they truly desire have no freedom here or hereafter. But those who leave here knowing who they are and what they truly desire have freedom everywhere, both in this world and in the next. Chandogaya Upanishad VIII.1.6