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

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