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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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.

Native Languages and Communication – The Spiritual Need to Belong

During my very first unit of clinical training, we were taught about the spiritual needs that are part of being human. One of them is the need to belong – Of belonging to something, to someone, to a community, to a nation, to the Universe. And of course, the sense of belonging and what it looks or feels like is different for each individual.

As the clinical training is geared towards exposing oneself to one’s own self, I went through (at times voluntarily, most times involuntarily) the journey to explore my sense of belonging. What makes me feel that I belong?

I began to walk this path and began to pay attention to what made me feel comfortable. To do this, I had to think of what made me feel uncomfortable. How did I express myself? This led me to really realize for myself that I enjoy talking. A lot. Even though I talk to a lot of people on an everyday basis, I felt something amiss. 

When I brought this to the attention of my supervisor, he insisted that I explore this more. While this is in no way a comprehensive list of my feelings, here’s what I discovered for myself: 

The last two years have highlighted major personal losses for me. It’s been very hard to realize that two people I was very close will no longer be a part of my everyday life. It’s been very hard to realize that I can no longer pick up the phone and talk and share my love for the latest Hindi song or a beautiful piece of writing in Hindi or Gujarati or the most random thing that happened at work today. Of course, I continue to miss their presence in my life but, thanks to CPE (sigh!), I’ve had to explore this further.

I miss talking in my native languages (Gujarati and Hindi). I miss having friends my age with whom I could converse any time of the day about anything in my language. I miss sharing my emotions through Hindi songs and knowing that the person will understand. I still do this with my family but I do not have anyone outside my home that I can share my time with.

I realized how much I love my native languages. Someone shared this video by Patricia Ryan (a long time English teacher) titled ‘Don’t insist on English’ on Facebook. I was in tears as I watched this video because I realize the importance of being able to communicate in my own language. I also realize that everything that Patricia Ryan states in this video is very true. A quick example was when I talked about puya in my theological reflection paper. I realized that there is no English word for it. Puṇya is a concept that does not really have an exact word in English. The explanation turned into a paragraph. 

This is just one word. The thought about how many world languages currently exist and how many concepts cannot be translated in to English really boggles my mind.

Yes, I am very aware that I live in North America. Yes, I have friends who are not Indian and do not speak Indian languages and I do love them. But, as my supervisor insisted me to explore, I am finding out that this is a huge piece of my sense of being that I miss in my daily life. At times, I think it feels like limited living. How can I even translate the Hindi lyrics of a Gulzar song or a poem in Gujarati by Narsinh Mehta to English and still expect that its soul remains intact?

This realization helped me see that there are so many instances in my daily life that innately feel as if I do not belong. A reason why I just cannot relate to certain type of music or writing or conversation.

So, how does this translate to caregiving as a chaplain? 

  • A person’s native language is important. The language brings with it a sense of our-ness, a familiarity, and yes, a sense of belonging. This helps me understand the limited conversations with a patient whose first language is not English and the unlimited talks with a patient who speaks a mutual language.
  • It makes me aware that I need to find more language appropriate resources as I am able to ensure that my caregiving can be as rounded as possible.
  • It brings me to realization that I may not always come close to helping a person feel that they belong but at least I can relate to the person in knowing how it feels to not belong. 
  • It shows how much a language impacts perception. For example – the anger and rude behavior from some English speakers towards people conversing in their native language amongst themselves. The angry response is probably due to a heightened sense of not belonging, not knowing. And we know, not knowing is scary. Right?
  • It reminds me how important and vast the need is for native languages speakers, especially as it relates to the larger South Asian community who predominantly speak Hindu/Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Bengali and other major languages as spoken in the Indian subcontinent.
  • Another reminder that grieving is complex. Grief is complex.

Losing someone (in any way or form) has many layers of feelings and emotions attached to it. It is very painful. It is very hard. And most of all, it is very lonely. Being able to truly communicate all of those things is definitely the first step towards accepting this loss. 

My question to you : What does belonging look like for you? Let me know.

Until next time,

Namaste

One can translate an editorial but not a poem. For one can go across the border naked but not without one’s skin; for, unlike clothes, one cannot get a new skin. ~Karl Kraus, translated from German by Harry Zohn

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

Being Broken-Hearted

Being heartbroken. Sounds familiar, right?

A life situation : She loves him, with every essence of her being. She believes he loves her the same.

“I’d never leave you.” He promised her. “I’d rather die.” He said.

He left – but did not die. 

Since then, she died a different death. 

A different life situation:

He had kept his promise to wait for her when she moves to his country. She said yes and married him. 65 years later, he died before her. 

She looked me in the eyes and said, “You know, I loved him with everything I am. Do you mind if I cry? I am so heart-broken right now.” 

My personal grief story : A heart-break that threw me into the deepest end of darkness I have ever known in my life. Being dumped, especially in a way that I was, has had major repercussions for me.

There was now suffering. A suffering that reflects a loss of meaning, a loss of purpose, a loss of hope and a loss of love.

A suffering that is so profound that it inhibits one’s ability to think clearly and to care for oneself. A suffering which questions why are you even alive without your loved one.

Thus, begins the journey through grief.

Until next time,

Namaste

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.  ~William Shakespeare

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

Join us – A R Rahman Invitation

So anyone who knows me at all will know that I am a huge A R Rahman fan. It began with his music and the more he grew with music, the more I realized how certain things come together to guide us on our path. More on that later.

For now, I want to share my thoughts on his latest initiative: An invitation from A R Rahman. It’s amazing to me how much I can relate to this man. Going through this video, I kept saying: exactly! exactly! exactly! so many times in my mind.

And then the second part to this video here: Join hands with me.

I watched this video in awe as A R Rahman goes on to pose such big questions. Each one I feel so strongly about. I think everyone should feel strongly about it. These are the basic questions of survival, of defining humanity as a whole.

I will attempt to answer these questions. I may even end up posting a video response to one of the questions. Who knows? I definitely will be blogging my answers to each questions.

In the process of answering these questions, I hope to bring together my work, my personal life experiences, my voluntary initiative to grow and become a better person with every passing day. As a dear friend always tells me: One day at a time, my friend. One day at a time!

The journey has begun…

Sometimes I want to ask God why He allows poverty, famine and injustice in the world when He could do something about it, but I am afraid He might just ask me the same question ~ Author Unknown but Appreciated

Worshipping the Female Divinity in these days of horror

Navratras are going on right now. One of my most favorite festivities of the Hindu culture. Growing up, Navratri and Garba and Raas meant 4-5 hours of fun with family and friends. The more interested I became in getting to the essence of Hinduism, the more clearer it is becoming how awe-some everything we practice is. The first time I truly understood the meaning of Navratri, of Garba, of Raas, it transformed from fun to sheer devotion.  In my mind, every circle I make around Maataji’s picture or sculpture, I pray. It is worship and I try my level best to remind myself every single step I take and with every single clap.

Given the work I am doing lately, knowing my roots and my religion has become of paramount importance. So as I was giving a talk recently on a certain aspect of Hinduism, I paused. Suddenly, I felt like such a hypocrite and honestly, very ashamed.

Why do you ask? WHY?!?!

Because we are not deserving enough to worship something that’s as awesome as the Female aspect of Divinity.

There’s not a day that goes by that it doesn’t show up in the news that a female was raped in so-n-so city. Every Single Day. News of Rape Some Where. Every Single Day.

Rampant female foeticide, sheer disgust for just being born a girl is an every day thing in India. A girl in India is abused in SO many ways. Eve-teasing, Rape, Dowry, the pressure to be [and I quote a matrimonial ad] Slim and Fair.

Ugh!!!!! Need I go on?! These atrocities are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s evidence everywhere for these on the internet. As much proof as you want. Feel free to look it up.

So yeah, let’s just not kid ourselves. We are not fit as a culture right now to be worshiping the Female aspect of Divinity. Let’s just not do it until we clean up our acts and not be judgmental towards a girl. Until we can accept a girl for who she really is,until we can accept a girl for her abilities, her intelligence,  I am VERY SURE that the Goddesses are not pleased.

Ekam Sat…The Truth Is One

“Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahudha Vadanti” : The Truth is One; the wise call It by various names. ~ Rig Veda

This sets the theme of the journey that life has brought my way. Or maybe in some way, I am destined to be walking this path. It’s official. It’s happening.

I have just started taking the first steps on the path to combining my faith (Hinduism – Sanatana Dharma) with my career (Health Care) and serve.

So why am I going public with this? Because I realize I need a lot of references, need to do a lot of research and of course, understand and apply it to myself first.

Does that mean I will not have my occasional outbursts? I doubt it. I am sure I will have a post or two every now and then where I am just venting.

I am going to need a lot of pointers and it’s going to be interesting. I am hoping anyone who reads this blog and has pointers will speak up and direct me to a source where I can get more information and expand my understanding.

Here’s the thing: I finally realize what it means to “love” God. I am now beginning to have an idea as to how Meerabai and Chaitanya Mahaprabhuji felt towards Shri Krishna. I am beginning to realize how madly you must “love” God to have that unwavering faith in God’s work like Narsinh Mehta did.

I also realize, it’s a long long way for me to where I can even come close to claiming to feeling the same.

Join me on this journey…

Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark. ~Rabindranath Tagore

Of food ‘n hope…

I don’t understand one thing: When a person eats at someone else’s place (be it dinner or lunch), they tend to think guests have a major appetite for food. I mean I totally understand the whole etiquette of, you know, persuading guests to have some more food. What I don’t understand is the comments I get to hear. For instance, after I finished my lunch at this family’s place, the aunty there said, “Oh are you done already? How come?! Are you dieting??!” and I sheepishly answered, “Oh no, aunty, I’ve had enough food for one day.” But in reality, I’m thinking I am done because I’m full. Where on earth does the ‘dieting’ thing come from?

Its not just this once that it has happened to me. Happens all the time. I mean, okay I understand that I’m not exactly what’s called ‘slim’ but I guess when girls don’t eat more, the only thing people think is that maybe she’s figure-conscious. As if that’s the only thing girls think about. I guess that’s the way society is. Girls have to be picture perfect.

From what my friend told me about her experiences with this whole deal with a guy and his family coming to ‘see’ a potential bride and what not, it really is annoying. When a guy is looking for a girl to get married, the first thing you hear ‘Slim, beautiful, fair, so-n-so tall’ as if they’re looking for some product on sale. And THE MOST annoying thing of it all, the guy never seems to think how he looks. I mean he’s got standards that, most of the time, he himself doesn’t meet.

I wonder how things will be with me. I really do and sometimes it makes me anxious and scared. There are so many what-ifs, especially when I know I can talk…a lot. I hear things are changing now. It’s not as it was before. I hope so.

There’s hope. There always is.

Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you? ~Fanny Brice