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 

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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

The Power of Personal Story-telling

One of the most amazing aspect of being a chaplain is the opportunity to hear people share their stories. It does not cease to amaze me every time someone shares something so personal, so emotional and so moving. There are lessons in these stories – for both the story-teller as well as the listener.

People share stories for a variety of reasons. Some share truly personal experiences where as some choose to share a third-party version of a story. When I say story, I do not mean something fictional. By saying ‘story’, I mean a personal experience that a person can recall and share in as much or as little detail. The details that we as chaplains listen for are expressed through feelings and emotions or even lack thereof.

I have learned over time that every time we share an incident or experience with another, we pick and choose how we phrase things. This can be an indicator of where a person is emotionally in dealing with that particular event.

There are so many powerful stories I have heard are the ones where the story-teller is the person thriving after experiencing a horrific loss or been a victim of an atrociously abusive relationship or experienced racism, religious prejudice, human trafficking and so on. These are major social justice issues – issues that should not have a spot in the 21st Century. Nevertheless, these are the times we live in.

When individuals share their story of surviving and eventually thriving after going through a terrible event/incident in their personal life, they create a brilliant space to inspire others to rise against atrocities, just as they did. All that is truly needed to start a movement is for one person to stand up and say – It cannot go on like this anymore. That moment, that clarity brings with it immense courage. And that courage is what inspires a positive change.

Until next time,

Namaste.

You are never alone or helpless. The force that guides the stars, guides you too. ~Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar

The Man who became the Mahatma…

I have a set of principles and beliefs. And I live by them. I like to believe that I am very strong when it comes to following through with my principles and that I always stand by them no matter what the situation. That is not to say that I am adamant. I like to think that I am flexible enough to let go of something I believe which can be proved otherwise. Such personal behaviour has been at times interpreted as me being stubborn. Well, maybe I am a little stubborn at times. I will not deny that. I also like to think that I don’t really judge people. I can’t. I shouldn’t. I have no right to judge people because it takes a great flawless character to be able to pass judgement on others. And I am far from flawless.

The thing is how many people actually do have principles and beliefs that they publicly preach and actually follow themselves? Not a lot, probably. Well, I am a huge admirer of people who preach certain things and actually live on the same principles. But such humans are a rarity. They truly are.

So what’s the point here? Well, the point is that today is the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. One man who shook an empire. One man who controlled millions of minds during the quest for the freedom of India. To my utter shock and horror, there are people (Indians, of course. Who else?) who show no respect to this man. To me that has to be one of the most awful things to come across. I agree there are/were lots of people who did not agree with his way of fighting the British and even more number of people who were extremely upset with the partition. I agree that probably was one of the worse things that India had to go through in her entire history.

Putting all that aside…the apparent flaws of M.K.Gandhi that a lot of people take great pride in pointing out…How many people realise what went into M.K.Gandhi turning into Mahatma??
Why is he called Mahatma – The Great Soul?

  • He went to South Africa as a young lawyer to serve. He was thrown out of the train. To this treatment, he responded calmly. Using pen and paper as his way to retaliate. No abusive words, no assaulting actions.
  • In South Africa, he realised that problems ran deeper than just being thrown off the train. Taking the side of the minority, he fought for the rights of Africans taken over by the colonial rule.
  • Then began a series of little protests that eventually led him to forsake western dressing style.
  • When he returned to India after spending twenty-something years in SAfrica, he was clad in traditional Indian dhoti-kurta and a turban.
  • What awaited in India is not unknown to the public.
  • Another round of protests began. From not using foreign-made fabric to taking the path of complete non-violence to fasting as means of sheer protest against the atrocities of the colonial rule.
  • He was not afraid and nothing stopped him from being himself. He wore a dhoti even when he was in England (that place is darned cold!)

I am not saying that he was born a great man. He was not. Read the first ten chapters of ‘My experiments with Truth’ and one realises that he was just an ordinary man at a certain point. But then, he made an enormous effort to follow what he believed and preached. Most people would say, it was just the period that he lived in. And that it was easy at that point in time to have such an approach. I think not. It is never easy to follow what you preach. He may not have been a complete saint. He may have his faults and yes, he may have made lots of mistakes through out his life. But I don’t think any of us has a right to judge him, let alone dislike him.

Anyone who wants to dislike Mahatma Gandhi and feel fine about it needs to answer these questions.

  • Would you be willing to give up wearing all your Tommy Hilfiger and other arguably racist designer clothes just because they are owned by racist people?
  • Would you walk away without saying a single word or without being even a little violent at being thrown out from a place for no fault of yours?
  • Would you dare to walk around in a cotton kurta everywhere you went because that’s the Indian traditional code?
  • Would you take up complete fasting for a cause you truly believed in until the authorities took a major step to help with the cause? For example, stand up for poverty?

Most people would say such things are not practical anymore. I say, they are. These things need a strong character. A strong willpower and an even enormous heart to follow through. So anyone who does not like the Mahatma needs to answer these questions. If you think you can show and maintain the strength of character that he showed…I shall take my words back. Otherwise, don’t ever dare judge him.

There is a reason his thoughts are still alive today. There is a major reason why the philosophies he preached and practised are still so very effective. The reason is one : They are RIGHT.

In Mahatma Gandhi’s own words : I have nothing new to teach the world….truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.

I wish I can say Rest in Peace M.K Gandhi, but I can’t really. ‘Cos knowing how he felt towards India, I don’t think he’ll be at peace knowing what India is like right now. All I can say is that: Mr. M K Gandhi, you are missed.

Here are some lines from the beautiful bhajan penned down by Narsinh Mehta

Gujarati :

વૈષ્ણવ જન તો તેને કહિયે, જે પીડ પરાયી જાણે રે
પર દુખ્ખે ઉપકાર કરે તોયે, મન અભિમાન ના આણે રે

સકળ લોક માન સહુને વંદે, નિંદા ન કરે કેની રે
વાચ કાછ મન નિશ્ચળ રાખે ધન-ધન જનની તેની રે

Hindi:

वैष्णव जन तो तेने कहिये, जे पीड परायी जाणे रे
पर दुख्खे उपकार करे तोये, मन अभिमान ना आणे रे

सकळ लोक मान सहुने वंदे, निंदा न करे केनी रे
वाच काछ मन निश्चळ राखे, धन-धन जननी तेनी रे

English:

He is the true Vaishnav who knows and feels another’s woes as his own

Ever ready to serve, he never lets vanity get into his head…

Bowing to everyone humbly and criticising none

He keeps his speech, deeds and thoughts pure; blessed is the mother who begets such a one…