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

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Being Hindu – The Journey To Finding A Place To Study Hinduism

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I work as a chaplain in a healthcare setting. Just as many other professions that fall under the healthcare category, there is a process of becoming Board Certified for a Chaplain.

Depending on your faith, there are a few professional organizations through which one can become certified. If you’re Catholic, then you may be choose to go through National Association of Catholic Chaplains. If you’re Jewish, you may go through National Association of Jewish Chaplains. Most other Christian denominations and other faiths may choose to go through the Association of Professional Chaplains.

Here’s the thing : There is probably only one Board Certified Chaplain (that we know of) who identifies as a Hindu in all of the United States of America! Think about it!

So, my goal is to become Board Certified through APC.

There are 4 major requirements to be eligible to write papers and qualify to even appear in front a certifying committee for APC:

  1. Successfully complete 4 units of Clinical Pastoral Education with an accredited program. – I have successfully finished my 4 units of CPE
  2. Be endorsed and provide an endorsement letter from the faith to which one belongs.– I received a letter of endorsement letter from Hindu Religious Endorsing Body (HREB) as part of the Hindu American Chaplaincy initiative by Hindu Mandirs’ Executive Conference and Hindu American Foundation.
  3. To complete 2000 hours of actual chaplaincy work after finishing 4 units of CPE. – In progress
  4. To have a Master’s of Divinity or a Doctorate in Ministry. – This degree has to be within your own faith tradition.  <– This is the biggest obstacle I’ve been facing.

I mean, ever since I started my CPE training, I have been looking for a place to study Hinduism at a Master’s level. I have not been able to find a particular place where I could just sign up and finish my master’s level education in Hindu studies. I have been stunned about the lack of postgraduate level of Hindu Studies in the USA.

The challenge is not to learn about one’s faith intelligently, but to really study and apply to the field of chaplaincy and of course to one’s own life. In the Hindu tradition, throughout the ages, we have been taught in ashrams and gurukulams. The down side of this – It is not considered ‘accredited’ in the academic world. It has been so frustrating at times that I’ve literally broken down in tears.

Being Hindu all your life does not count academically. As my search continued, I knew I could not just sit around and not study the Hindu Dharma.I have been taking Hindu education wherever I can find it. I started to ensure I studied deliberately from organizations such as the Chinmaya Mission and Arsha Vidya Gurukulam. While I was not able to physically be at these organizations, I was able to do a lot of Vedanta study through recorded lectures and of course, YouTube. I did reach out to the teachers to ensure they are aware of my path and I found them to be extremely helpful and supportive. I also took all the online courses in Hinduism offered at Oxford Center for Hindu Studies – University of Oxford.

I had not worked for pay in the last 3 years. It was not that I was not applying for chaplaincy positions in the area but the lack of a Master’s degree and in most cases just the sheer lack of knowledge about someone of a Hindu faith has been a major hurdle in getting employed.

Currently, I am in talks with a local seminary where I can transfer all these credits and wrap up a Master’s degree through them.

To me, it’s extremely unfortunate and sad that there are not many academic organizations that one could study Hindu Scriptures in a way that teaches you to apply these dharmic principles to daily life.Most recently, I’ve been told that starting Fall 2015 the Graduate Theological Union will be offering an MA in Hindu Studies. That’s a step forward.  Even then, there is SO much that needs to be done to make the study of Hindu Dharma a solid presence in the world of theological education.

As for me, the journey continues.

Until next time,

Namaste.

The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence. – Rabindranath Tagore

What Does It Mean To Be A Chaplain? — II

What does it mean to be a Chaplain? Read the first part here. My goal in writing these posts is to expose the field of chaplaincy to communities that have little or no idea about this profession. This is especially true for the larger Hindu community where the concept of chaplaincy has not really existed until now.

What more to expect from a professional chaplain:

  • Help find your own answers: In my opinion, one of the most important things that we do, as chaplains, is to help someone find their own answers instead of telling someone what their answer should be. It is part of listening where a chaplain rephrases what is being said by the patient. This helps the patient/client understand their own emotions better.
  • Being Present : This literally just means being present with someone. It is the act of being a physical presence where no words may be exchanged, only silent presence. Another layer of this presence is also mental presence. This means that one is present with another mentally where there are no thoughts that are not related to the current situation at hand. For example, when a chaplain is paged to be with someone who has been given a new or tough diagnosis, there is not much to be said. This is where presence comes in. Just really truly being with someone as they share their tears, stories or just being part of their silence.
  • Help find strength within one’s own religious and/or spiritual center : When a person is going through a rough time, it is possible that one questions his or her own faith and look for God’s hand in their situation. This is conditional to one’s own religious or spiritual preference. There are people for whom this is not true. Even people who do not identify with a particular religion tend to question the meaning and purpose in their personal situation. A chaplain’s role here is to assess and help identify what helps a particular person deal with obstacles and tough times. There is no space for proselytizing or converting others in the realm of chaplaincy. To me, this is of utmost importance.
  • Education and Continuing Professional Training : To become a Board Certified Chaplain, a candidate is required to have a minimum of a Master’s degree. A lot of chaplains have a Master’s in Divinity, most likely from a seminary. There are also a lot of chaplains who have a doctorate, a D.Min (Doctor of Ministry) and some also have a PhD. Also, as required in any professional licensure/certification, there is a requirement of getting Continued Education credits.

I still remember the day in my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education where I was being given a tour of the hospital by my supervisor and as we waited for the elevator, one of the doctors asked my supervisor whether there was a particular training needed to become a professional chaplain. When my supervisor explained, the doctor was so surprised to know of all the work that went into becoming a trained chaplain and he said : Oh and here I am thinking, chaplains just prayed with people.

While praying is a part of chaplaincy, being a chaplain is far more than that. Far far more than that. A good chaplain is committed to constantly growing in his or her own faith and professionalism to continue to serve better. 

There are also roles that some chaplains tend to take up with respect to being a public advocate in interfaith and professional settings as well as networking and outreach within the chaplaincy community and outside of it.

With this concludes a (really) brief overview about the work of a chaplain. If there is anything I may have missed, do let me know in the comments below and I will add that to this overview.

Until next time,

Namaste.

Your own self-realization is the greatest service you can render the world – Sri Ramana Maharishi

What Does It Mean To Be A Chaplain?

Historically speaking, the term ‘Chaplain’ has its root in the Christian faith tradition. When one googles the term ‘Chaplain,‘ this is the first definition that pops up:

Middle English: from Old French chapelain, from medieval Latin cappellanus, originally denoting a custodian of the cloak of St. Martin, from cappella, originally ‘little cloak’.

Rev. Dr. Naomi Paget, the author of ‘The Work of the Chaplain,’ defines chaplains as “being clergy members from any one of various religious faiths who are employed by an institution or agency and serve the clients, employees, and families of the institution.” I had the opportunity to attend one of her presentations on Disaster Intervention and it was a very good day of learning.

Chaplains also serve those who do not follow a particular religion or are not religious. The job of a chaplain is to provide effective spiritual care.

There are many different fields of work for a chaplain but some of the most known areas are : Military Chaplaincy, Health-Care Chaplaincy (which is where I currently work), Workplace Chaplaincy (includes corporations), Prison Chaplaincy, First-Responder Chaplaincy (Disaster response). There are also chaplains for fire departments as well as police departments.

Now on to what to expect from a chaplain:

  • Confidentiality : This is probably one of the most important requirements of a good chaplain. Whatever is said between the patient/client and the chaplain stays between the two, unless explicitly permitted by the patient/client to be shared with others. In a healthcare setting, the federal law of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is also applicable to staff chaplains. In other words, the same law that applies to doctors/nurses and other medical staff which protects patient information and privacy applies to hospital chaplains.
  •  Good Listening Skills : Non-judgmental, active listening which is different from hearing. A chaplain invites you to share your burden. Irrespective of the reason for grief/loss or stress, a good chaplain invites you to express your feelings and concerns. It is said to be helpful to verbalize your feelings and emotions – this act results in a certain type of objectivity/distance from identification with those emotions and thus, help your own self.
  • Provide information and guidance regarding medical ethics, living wills, organ donation, life support decisions and more : This is especially applicable in a health-care setting where a patient or family is faced with situation that brings up all these questions that one has not had a chance to confront or even think about before this event. Chaplains can also be a link and a liaison between patient, family and staff.
  • Grief and bereavement counseling in dealing with loss or death : This is applicable across the board, irrespective of the setting in which a chaplain is encountered. Chaplains can provide information on support groups and other resources to meet various needs of individuals and families.
  • Religious services, sacraments and prayer : This is provided as religiously appropriate and accepted by the patient and/or family.

To be continued…

Until next time,

Namaste.

Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.  ~Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I Am My Parents’ Daughter

If you’re of South Asian community, then I am sure you’ve heard the following phrase said to you by some one at some point in your life in at least one South Asian regional language. The classic one that some parents of daughters tend to use. It goes : Yeh to mere bete jaisi hai [She is like a son to me] or Mere liye to bete se bhi badh kar hai [She is more than a son to me]

I understand the sentiment behind saying this. I get it. But what I don’t understand is the inherent hierarchy that these phrases seem to highlight. To me, these phrases tend to imply that if a daughter can do all the jobs/tasks/chores that a son is supposed to do then she is “like a son.” I object!

Clearly, that’s why I am writing this post. My parents, thankfully, have never used this phrase for me or my sister. They’ve raised us in a manner they think is the way in which daughters should be raised.

They’ve raised as family-oriented, culturally-aware, women who can think independently and sometimes tend to argue with the parents. Cliché much? I don’t think so.

My parents have not said to us : You cannot do this task/chore/job. Be it picking our college degree or shoveling snow. Be it assembling the oh-so-interesting Ikea furniture or driving solo through North America. Be it making concrete plans for the future or lack thereof. And most importantly (to me anyway) : Be it studying scriptures of the Hindu Dharma or questioning some traditions and practices of the culture.

I will never forget the day when I was offered the opportunity sign up for Clinical Pastoral Education and train as a Chaplain. My parents, who were just as clueless as I was at the time about this whole chaplaincy deal, did not say :We don’t know anything about this, so don’t do it.  Their actual response was : We don’t know anything about this but from what we are reading it sounds like a great way to be a Hindu. Go for it!

These are my parents. They’ve brought us up to believe in ourselves and supported us in ways I never thought possible. Their advice to us is clear – If you’re going to take up any type of commitment, make sure you give it your all and leave the rest to God.

My parents raised their daughters as daughters. They do not need to compare my life events, my achievements (or lack thereof) to anyone else. They realize, being strong people of faith themselves, that they give it all they knew in how to raise daughters and really, left the rest up to God.

We’ve had our share of friction. I think friction between parents and their children is probably inherent to the relationship. We do not always agree on issues or ways to do things. But we communicate clearly. If they’re not happy about something, they make it clear.

So why am I sharing this? I want to be seen as who I am. A woman. A woman is amazing not because she can do/act/achieve just like a man. A man’s achievement is not a standard or a bench mark for a woman. I do not want to have to be compared to a man. ‘Cos frankly, ain’t nobody got time for that!

I am my parents’ daughter. And proud to be one.

Until next time,

Namaste

Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak. ~William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference

I know I was supposed to update this blog yesterday, but I’m so ill. If anyone has been following my twitter to the right of this post, you would know that I was away to attend Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference.

This was my first chance to pitch for Hindu Chaplaincy to the Hindu Mandir (temple) leadership in all of North America. There were about 250+ people in attendance, while others tuned in to the live stream of the conference.

It was a great place for networking as well meeting some very cool and influential people. I had the opportunity to briefly meet with the Pujya Swamiji from Parmarth Niketan Ashram as well got to have great conversations with the Swamijis from Kauai Hindu Monastery.  Talking to them reiterated the fact as to how these Swamijis are adapting to the changing times of the world we live in. They are all eco-friendly, scientific as well as avid tech users.

When I took the stage to speak about my work as a volunteer Hindu Chaplain, I had the opportunity to explain how the mandirs can help educate and finance the position of a Hindu Chaplain in their respective local communities – in their hospitals, universities etc.

The response I received was really good. People did reach out to me to know more about chaplaincy. To me, this is a good start. The key would be to keep this momentum going and spread the word, raise finances from the Hindu community itself.

Another highlight was the meeting with the Spiritual Care Department of The Scarborough Hospital. It was an insight into how the department serves the multi-faith, multi-ethnic community of Scarborough. This could very well be a model that hospitals in the United States could follow.

I would have liked more time to interact with the youth, people my age but there was so much going on in parallel sessions that it was just difficult.

This past weekend was important for me personally as it allowed the Hindu temple leadership to see that I was doing chaplaincy work and am committed to making everyone see that Hindu Chaplaincy is important and there is a dire need for Hindu Chaplains.

The seeds have been sown.

Until next time,

Namaste

Miracles Happen!

These were the words that crossed my mind when I walked out from my very first Clinical Pastoral Education training class.

Cliched much? I know. But still a fact. Chaplaincy is a miracle in my life. Background story time. And this is one story I love telling over n’ over again.

Okay here’s what happened.

It was last summer – Summer of 2012. I was going through a really rough time personally and professionally. I had lost my job in May 2012 and I had been unable to find another one. I figured apart from applying for any possible positions, I started looking at volunteer positions within major hospitals in the area.

One of the first people to get back to me was the Director of Spiritual Support and offered to train me as a volunteer Executive Secretary. Finishing up the requirements for being eligible to work in a hospital, I showed up on my first day. After a couple of days of background work, I was asked whether I would be willing to visit patients on the floors as we were short of volunteers. I immediately took the chance even though I knew I had no previous experience of visiting patients in hospital rooms. That day was an eye-opener. More on that in a different post.

So after the day was over, my director approached me and asked me if I would be willing to take up a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and train to be a chaplain. She must have quickly read the confusion on my face because she quickly added, “Trust me, Shama. You have the heart of a chaplain.” I was honored to hear her say that. Silly me, my response to that was: I don’t mean to be rude, but what’s a chaplain? She explained to me in detail and emailed me the application forms. The only thing I could say at that point was to get back to her later.

I came home that evening and spoke to my dad in detail regarding what had happened. He said, “Apply. What better way to be a Hindu?” I did not think too much of that but went ahead and submitted the application. By the way, the application to CPE requires a few short essays regarding your personal life story and personal faith. That was a Friday.

My training started the following Monday. When I walked into the class, I felt like a child on the first day of kindergarten. What transpired in the room during that class has enlivened my days from that time on.

A whole year has passed since then. I am now at a stage in Hindu chaplaincy that we are driving an initiative in North America to educate the community, especially the Hindus, about the rising need for Hindu Chaplains as well as reserving a spot for Hindus in the inter-faith community.

This is just the beginning of the miracle that continues to unfold in my life.

I intend to post every Monday. If there are some events happening that I would want to share, I shall update the blog more than once a week.

Until next time,

Namaste.