Taking A Stand For Dharma And The Need For The Rise of Arjuna(s)

One of the best times of year for me as I’ve mentioned before is the month of Shravan. The entire month is filled with daily devotions entwined with deep significance. Then there’s Rakshabandhan and Janmashtami that fall during the month of Shravan as well.

This Janmashtami, like most years, we went to the local Hindu temple and joined the rest of the community in devotional chants as we awaited the birth of Krishna. There is so much beauty in chanting together with everyone. There are so many emotions as one loses oneself in the rhythm of the tabla and the words of the bhajan. The tempo keeps rising and the prayer hall is filled with a multitude of tones all unified in the chant – as the clock struck midnight – Nand Gher Aanand Bhayo, Jai Kanhaiya Lal Ki. My eyes teared up with emotion and suddenly, my mind began to recite the following verse:

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत । अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥४-७॥

Whenever a decrease of righteousness [Dharma] exists, Arjuna, And there is a rising up of unrighteousness [Adharma] , Then I manifest Myself.

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् । धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥४-८॥

For the protection of the good and the destruction of evildoers, For the sake of establishing righteousness [Dharma] , I am born in every age.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, Verses: 7-8

My mind fresh with the news of latest atrocities over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, I found myself saying out loud, “Yes, Krishna – this is the time to manifest. We need you now more than ever. There’s so much discrimination and hate right now – we need you now.” And just as I finished saying it, a response in my mind answered, “Then, Uttishtha, Arjuna. I am here. Rise now, and carry forward Dharma.” [For a fabulous explanation of what Dharma means, please refer to this video and listen to it in its entirety. Please!]

I was now seriously freaked out. What was happening? Why was my mind playing these games with me? WHO is talking inside my head? I thought I am really truly exhausted physically and this inner conversation was proof I needed to get some rest. But I could not shake off the feeling. I could not deny the truth, the fact I was being asked to face now – Stand up, Shama. Take a public stand against discrimination, racism, hatred and bigotry. Stand up, as Dharma would expect you to do.

Those near to me and the ones I engage with in real life already know my stand on hatred and bigotry. But I realize that I represent much more than myself. It is time to take a stand as being Dharmic, to take a stand for nonviolence, acceptance, compassion, pluralism and respect for everyone and everything. Always.

So why now? The answer came : Why not now?

Why me?  The answer came : Why not me?

Sri Krishna says in the Gita, as referenced above, that He manifests Himself. In the Mahabharata, Sri Krishna could have easily said, “Alright, everyone. Here, Arjuna, hold the reigns of the horses, manage the chariot. I got this!” But that is not what happens. Had Sri Krishna wanted to do so, could He not have easily managed to? If He did, how would we learn what it means to follow and uphold Dharma?

What does Sri Krishna do instead? He talks to Arjuna, shows him the path to follow Dharma, to uphold Dharma. Yes, Sri Krishna manifests, but not to fight the battles for you. Instead He is the underlying, constant, uplifting, guiding Presence that nudges you forward. Uttishtha, Arjuna – Go ahead, you’ve got this. Follow Dharma. You’ve got this.

So that night at the temple when I ‘heard’ Uttishtha, Arjuna – it was for me and all the Arjunas today. Rise. The World needs you to step up and rise. I am claiming this now once and for always. As a Hindu woman of Indian origin, I stand with all people of color, for all indigenous peoples, for all those who feel that they have no voice, for all species. I stand FOR nonviolence, acceptance, compassion, pluralism and respect for everyone and everything. Always.

Until next time,

Namaste

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. ~ Rev. Desmond Tutu

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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

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

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

The Roar of the Ganges…

The Roar of the Ganges… These words have been stuck in my head ever since I’ve heard them. It feels like a call to awaken my self. To take that next step. To get a break through.

I know I have taken forever to update this blog, but I think this time around I will keep myself motivated to post regularly.

There are a few things brewing to materialize soon in the life of yours truly. It would be too early to go public with it at this moment. But what I can actually give out is that these developments are nothing short of life-defining.

For the curious mind, it is a combination of Health Care + Hinduism + Spirituality; it is all beautiful to say the least.

There’s more to come…a lot more to come…

Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it. ~Buddha

To my four mothers…

Yes. To the four mothers.

First, the biological mother or the adoptive mother (The Mata, Maa): 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.

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.

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!!!

I am Nagar – II


As I had mentioned in my previous post, the principal deity of all Nagars is Lord Hatkeshwar.

Every year Hatkeshwar Patotsav, also known as Ochchav, is celebrated by all Nagars. The Hatkeshwar Jayanti falls on the Chaudus (fourteenth) of the Chaitra month in the Hindu calender. It is believed that Lord Shiva incarnated as Lord Hatkeshwar on this day.

The celebrations include puja, and a procession called Palakhi no Varghodo.

The day begins with decorating the deity and then begins the puja. There are recitations of Rudrabhishekh, recitals of the Shivmahimna Stotra and so on. In the evening, the Lord is taken around town in a varghodo (procession) symbolizing the arrival of the Lord in the lives of Nagars. After that, all of the people gathered go to the Hatkeshwar temple to perform puja.

The Patotsav is almost always a proper Nagar feast.

Memories: Personally, I attended the Ochchav every year whilst I was in India. I have fond memories surrounding this day. Even though it almost always happened that the Ochchav fell on a school day, so we were not able to attend the entire day’s puja but we made sure that we went to the temple as soon as school was done. All the Nagars in the city converged to meet at the old city Hatkeshwar temple.

Everyone took to the streets as the procession got ready to make a round of the old city. The Palkhi was preceded by kids dressed up in a variety of costumes ranging from Lord Shiva to fairies. Some were on horses while others opted to walk in procession. Following all of this, came the Palkhi carried on the shoulders of men who in no way showed a sign of pain from carrying the doli. The others walked chanting the name of Shiva, along with filling the air with gulal and giving out oblations to the believers. Something like this

After the Palkhi was taken back to the temple, we visited the temple and prayed before heading home. In the back of our minds, these words keep reverberating

Namami Natkeshwaram
I bow to you, Lord Natkeshwar
Bhajami Hatkeshwaram
I worship you, Lord Hatkeshwar

Jai Hatkesh

I am Nagar

I somehow tend to give out some kinda impression that I am south Indian. And when I clarify that I am Gujarati, I get “Oh so you’re a Patel, is it?”. So I have decided to explain who I am. This post is in no way meant to prove any kind of hierarchy of Caste-ism. It is just plain information about the way of life of Nagars.

Yes, that’s what I am. I am a Nagar. [pronounced as ‘Naa-gar’]

Origins: The earliest reference of the Nagar community is in the‘Nagar Khand’ of Skand Puran, believed to be written between 300 and 770 AD.

It is believed that Nagars came across the borders to Kashmir and then they spread out in the states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Utter Pradesh, Bengal, Malva, and Gujarat.

Another belief that some historians have is that the Nagars are descendants of the Greek soldiers that married girls of Kashmiri pundits when Alexander invaded India.

Irrespective of the place of origin, Nagars finally settled in Vadnagar in Gujarat and then slowly spread out to other places. This led to naming the Nagars from the cities that they settled in. There are six primary factions : Vadnagra (Nagars from Vadnagar), Visnagra (Nagars settled in Visnagar), Sathodra (settled in Sathod), Chittroda (settled in Chittrod), Prashnora (settled in Prashnipur) and Krushnora (settled in Krishna village).

Symbols of Nagars:

* Kalam (Pen) representing intellectual proficiency
* Kadchhi (Ladle) representing culinary talent
* Barchhi (Small Spear) denoting valour,courage and willingness to stand for justice and rights of the weak and poor.

Music runs in the Nagar family.

Principal Deity: Lord Hatkeshwar (Shiva) is the ishtadev of all Nagars. It specifically refers to a Shivlingam.

The temple of Lord Hatkeshwar in Vadnagar is one of the most important ones for the Nagars.

Apart from this, all festivities in the Sanatan Dharm is shared by the Nagars. But the worship of Shiva remains a priority.

Famous Nagars : Narsinh Mehta

To be continued…

Jai Hatkesh