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

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