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

Clinical Pastoral Education and Self-Awareness

As part of the training to become a professional chaplain, one of the most important aspect is Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Honestly, in my opinion, CPE is THE most important training necessary for people who wish to serve as a chaplain.

The website for Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center writes the following description for Clinical Pastoral Education :

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is graduate-level theological and professional education for ministry that takes place in a clinical setting. 

In addition to learning skills and expanding knowledge related to ministry in a healthcare setting, students are invited to learn about themselves and how their personal histories, faith perspectives and individual gifts influence their pastoral and professional functioning. 

The clinical method of learning used is a dynamic and creative process that combines action (the actual practice of ministry to persons) and reflection (using resources such as written reports of visits, discussion and feedback from peers and the CPE Supervisor, and application and integration of didactic material). An ongoing learning cycle develops that enables students to develop and expand their ministry skills and knowledge while also deepening their self-awareness and self-knowledge. Out of this expanded self-awareness and ministry experience, new ministry and relational choices and responses are available to the student.

Each “unit” of CPE, whether Level I or Level II, consists of a minimum of 400 hours combining no less than 100 hours of structured group and individual education with supervised clinical practice in ministry. 

– See more at: http://wexnermedical.osu.edu/patient-care/patient-and-visitor-guide/clinical-pastoral-education#sthash.OMS79jPP.dpuf

I successfully completed 4 units of this training in roughly 2 years time. Being mindful of one’s unintentional prejudices, one’s emotional response to situations and people, being aware of one’s self is critical when it comes to spiritual caregiving.

Now, about that self-awareness and self-knowledge piece : Where have we, those of the dharmic faith traditions, heard this before?

When I started my first unit of CPE and began to really understand what it all meant, the first set of teachings that I turned to write my papers were those of Ramana Maharshi. His teachings on self-enquiry especially as highlighted in Who am I? was a huge help as I began to put words to my feelings and personal experiences. It tackles big questions such as the nature of the mind, path of inquiry to understand the nature of the mind etc.

Self-awareness and self-knowledge are not ‘new-age’ concepts as many believe. They are very ancient teachings encapsulated in the teachings of the Upanishads. The constant inquiry – Who I Really Am. Through Nachiketa from Katha Upanishad, we learn about who/what dies, what is the nature of death and what happens to one after death. Through the Brihadarayanka Upanishad, we learn about the nature of Self and also how to go from being ‘self’ to realizing the Self.

Undergoing the Clinical Pastoral Education training has helped really define this self-inquiry process for me as it has thrust me in to the direct study of the Vedas, the Upanishads and help look at how my study and practice of Vedanta helps me in my work as a chaplain.

I highly recommend this training process to all who are interested in becoming a chaplain – employed or volunteer; especially to practicing Hindus. It’s a win-win situation.

Until next time,

Namaste

Those who depart from this world without knowing who they are or what they truly desire have no freedom here or hereafter. But those who leave here knowing who they are and what they truly desire have freedom everywhere, both in this world and in the next. Chandogaya Upanishad VIII.1.6

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

The Need For A Chaplain Who Is Hindu

There are many articles written by many distinguished people highlighting the need for a Hindu chaplain. Some of the most popular articles I’ve come across are

Both articles do a great job of highlighting what chaplaincy would look like within the Hindu community. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at length to authors of both articles. I also work closely with Swami Sarvaanandaji as I work towards my board certification.

I wish to offer a slightly different approach to the need for a chaplain who is Hindu.

As I visit patients in the hospital, I walk into a wide variety of situations. There are so many occasions when I have an opportunity to work closely with family members of patients who are going through some major illness and there are times when there is a patient who has absolutely no one else in his or her life to even visit them at the hospital.

One visit comes to mind right now. I was visiting a really elderly woman (let’s call her Ushaji) who had been at the hospital for over ten days. When I visited her, she asked me in broken english – Are you Indian? I smiled at her and answered – Yes, I am. Her face lit up and she asked me whether I could speak and understand Hindi. I said – Yes, I can.

Those three words opened up a whole different personality of this woman who, until that point according to her medical staff, was quiet, reserved in her behavior. The freedom of being able to communicate in one’s language is such a huge freedom for people in a hospital setting. While chaplains are not medical interpreters, just being able to converse in one’s native language can be a major ice-breaker. This is why there is a need for an Indian chaplain.

As I continued to speak with her, Ushaji shared some wonderful stories about her upbringing and her family. Then we struck the real issue – her faith. She did have visits from other chaplains before but she was hesitant to ask them what she asked me. She asked me whether I knew of a particular Guruji who gives spiritual discourse (pravachan). I instantly knew who she was referring to and asked her more about it. Over the conversation, I was able to dig out more information about how important it had been for Ushaji to watch this Guruji every morning and evening – something she had not been able to do for over ten days now.

I told her that I will ensure she gets to listen, if not watch, the pravachan at least once a day when I visited her. I ran a request through my director and was able to bring in my personal laptop to Ushaji’s room so she could watch 15 minutes of this Guruji on Youtube.

Ushaji was elated about this and over the next 4 days, she was responding better than ever to the treatments and was home by the end of 6 days. This is why there is a need for a chaplain who is a Hindu. 

Another example is that in a university setting. There are many Hindus who work in the college/university setting as a Hindu Life Advisor (or Coach or another title of the sort). Their presence allows Hindu teenagers to voice their opinion, share their concern without feeling judged and to have their cultural needs met. An example comes to mind. A sophomore (let’s call him Jeet) at a very good university (hundreds of miles away from his hometown)  was stressed out and through some channel found out that he could talk to a Hindu life advisor who works for the university. Jeet went to the advisor and was able to vent his frustrations about his parents, their expectations of him and so on. Someone had told Jeet that he was an adult (18 years of age or older) and that he could do what he wants. Well, Jeet knew better. He knew that he could not just do what he wants because the opinion of his parents mattered to him. He needed someone who understood that cultural need. This is where the Hindu life advisor on campus was a great resource and support to him. This is why there is a need for a Chaplain who is a Hindu. 

Having shared these stories, it is important to remember that a professional chaplain of any faith will be able to assist a patient of any faith. Actually, it is a critical training component for professional chaplaincy. The challenge, though, is how little others know about the Hindu dharma and the myriad of practices that fall under dharma. This is why there is a need a chaplain who is a Hindu.

To be continued…

Until next time,

Namaste

Life is a school where you learn how to remember what your soul already knows. ~Author Unknown