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

1934891_1057083646932_334028_n
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.

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