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

Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference

I know I was supposed to update this blog yesterday, but I’m so ill. If anyone has been following my twitter to the right of this post, you would know that I was away to attend Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference.

This was my first chance to pitch for Hindu Chaplaincy to the Hindu Mandir (temple) leadership in all of North America. There were about 250+ people in attendance, while others tuned in to the live stream of the conference.

It was a great place for networking as well meeting some very cool and influential people. I had the opportunity to briefly meet with the Pujya Swamiji from Parmarth Niketan Ashram as well got to have great conversations with the Swamijis from Kauai Hindu Monastery.  Talking to them reiterated the fact as to how these Swamijis are adapting to the changing times of the world we live in. They are all eco-friendly, scientific as well as avid tech users.

When I took the stage to speak about my work as a volunteer Hindu Chaplain, I had the opportunity to explain how the mandirs can help educate and finance the position of a Hindu Chaplain in their respective local communities – in their hospitals, universities etc.

The response I received was really good. People did reach out to me to know more about chaplaincy. To me, this is a good start. The key would be to keep this momentum going and spread the word, raise finances from the Hindu community itself.

Another highlight was the meeting with the Spiritual Care Department of The Scarborough Hospital. It was an insight into how the department serves the multi-faith, multi-ethnic community of Scarborough. This could very well be a model that hospitals in the United States could follow.

I would have liked more time to interact with the youth, people my age but there was so much going on in parallel sessions that it was just difficult.

This past weekend was important for me personally as it allowed the Hindu temple leadership to see that I was doing chaplaincy work and am committed to making everyone see that Hindu Chaplaincy is important and there is a dire need for Hindu Chaplains.

The seeds have been sown.

Until next time,

Namaste

For the love of the world…

This past week has been filled with a lot of emotions related to the Delhi Rape Case and as of today, Shooting at Navy Yard. The presence of just senseless violence really does affect thoughts about every day ‘normal’ life.

My thoughts and emotions on these maybe in a different post on different day.

For now, here’s a poem that I had saved for personal reference : For Love of the World by Charlotte Tall Mountain. (No copyright infringement intended. More info on the author and source here)

This poem speaks to me about the power of a woman – something that society appears to ignore.  Revisiting this poem brings me some measure of empowerment. Hope it does the same for other readers.

For Love of the World
by Charlotte Tall Mountain

For the love of a tree,
she went out on a limb.

For the love of the sea,
she rocked the boat.

For the love of the earth,
she dug deeper.

For the love of community,
she mended fences.

For the love of the stars,
she let her light shine.

For the love of spirit,
she nurtured her soul.

For the love of a good time,
she sowed seeds of happiness.

For the love of the Goddess,
she drew down the moon.

For the love of nature,
she made compost.

For the love of a good meal,
she gave thanks.

For the love of family,
she reconciled differences.

For the love of creativity,
she entertained new possibilities.

For the love of her enemies,
she suspended judgment.

For the love of herself,
she acknowledged her worth.

And the world was richer for her.

Until next time,

Namaste

Merry Christmas!

With so many atrocities going on around the world, it’s difficult to remain unaffected. There’s only so much one can avoid listening to the news or reading something on the internet that will not refer somehow to the ongoing events around the world.

The challenge then becomes to not become angry or upset or worse, hopeless.

It’s so hard to not get upset when a 20-year old man kills 27 people out of which 20 are 6 or 7 year old children. Details here. How can I not be upset?

It’s so hard to not be angry when a young medical student is gang-raped ruthlessly, in the most monstrous manner and thrown out of a moving bus in the capital city of the world’s largest democracy. Details here. How can I not be angry?

I realize a single person cannot change the whole world. The only world I can change is the one I create for myself and everyone around me. It took a lot of talking, and arguing whenever any of these topics came up. It’s personal. How can it not be personal? Am I not human? Are these people not human?

What did I do to remain hopeful and to not lose faith? Something absolutely ridiculously obvious. I went out to the mall on the last Sunday before Christmas. Yes, there was absolutely no place to park and the mall was uber packed with people. People rushing last minute to get their shopping done, kids playing in the small play area carelessly, and some more kids and adults waited in line to take pictures with mall Santa Claus.

As I stood there observing, I felt joy within myself. The smiles that the mall Santa Claus brought on the children’s faces was overwhelming. I let myself get drenched in the excitement that resonated throughout the mall. It was necessary for my own sake.

I walked out from the mall (yes, I did cave in and shopped a bit) with a much lighter heart.

It’s Christmas time. One of the best times of the year in North America.

I will pray. I will hope for a miracle. I will keep the faith. And I urge you to do the same.

Merry Christmas!

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. ~ Luke 17:21

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

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