Is It Necessary To Belittle Others To Preach Your Own Religion?
It’s not often that I have such a bad experience at a place of worship that I feel compelled to write about it. But this morning, I went to the Bhakti Center in New York City’s East Village and caught about an hour of the Sunday morning program, which consists of readings from the Bhagavatam, a talk based on the readings, kirtan (devotional singing and chanting) and prasadam (a blessed meal). I’ve been to the Bhakti Center several times, and while I’m not a core member, I consider it to be one among my many spiritual homes in the city.
This morning the guest teacher was Jayadvaita Swami, a senior disciple of Shrila Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON. I did not catch the beginning of the lecture, but was there for about 30 minutes towards the end, and a few things that I heard really bothered me:
1) The countless attacks on advaita and other schools of Hinduism that emphasize liberation from the material world as the primary goal.
2) A few attacks on what he understands Christianity to be about, that it is a religion about comforting people, that Christians go to church with prayers for their son to perform well in exams, etc.
3) Finally, what bothered me most was that most of the congregation laughed when he spoke disparagingly about other religions.
Given that this comes from a senior disciple of Shrila Prabhupada and someone widely respected in ISKCON circles, I have to ask — is this the sorry state of preaching in ISKCON? I understand that there are major disagreements between Gaudiya Vaishnava theology and other Hindu schools of thought, what to speak about other religions. But is it necessary to degrade the sanctity of a sacred space by making jokes at the expense of other people? It is not funny and certainly not inspiring in any way. This is not the first time that I’ve heard swamis at the Bhakti Center belittle other religions, but definitely the first time it has disturbed me so much.
This is not to say that my experiences at the Bhakti Center have mostly been negative. I’ve been blessed with friendship and enlightening conversations with many of the wonderful monks there. I love the beautiful singing and dancing that is always a part of services at the temple. In fact, it is because I love going to the temple that I feel compelled to write this.
I hope that in the future, I’ll see less attacks on other religions when I visit the Bhakti Center.
Surprised by Oxford
I finished reading Carolyn Weber’s “Surprised by Oxford” nearly two weeks on the plane ride back to New York from Chicago. “Surprised by Oxford” is an autobiographical book that tells the story of a not-particularly-Christian young Canadian woman who enrolls at Oxford to obtain a master’s degree. In that journey she “finds” God, becomes a Christian. She finds her true loves, her Valentine Jesus Christ, and her other love, and current husband, TDH (Tall, Dark and Handsome).
As a young woman who has wrestled with faith and doubt for several years, I could relate to many aspects of Carolyn’s journey. I admire Carolyn for her courage in not being afraid to seek answers to her questions, her sincerity and dedication in her journey of faith, her honesty in not being interested in partying or other activities that young people are assumed to be interested in, and yet not maintaining a holier-than-thou attitude about it. Being religious in academia is not easy, and I appreciated Carolyn’s struggle with this issue.
All in all, a great memoir, and a real page turner despite the length of the novel. I’d recommend it to anyone, but particularly those who’re on a spiritual quest.
About 10 days ago, I visited Chicago to see Sitraka, one my dearest friends from Princeton, before he returns to his home country, Madagascar, for a year or two. The weekend trip was more exciting than I anticipated it to be, and not necessarily for the best reasons.
The plane landed at O’Hare late on Friday night, and I made my way to downtown Chicago shortly thereafter on the “L” (elevated) train. My friend believes it’s something that Chicagoans and visitors to Chicago have to experience, but I found nothing remarkable about it. It was way cleaner compared to New York MTA’s subway system, but also slower and seemingly less efficient. In any case, I had a yummy home-cooked dinner with Sitraka and a close friend of his, YL, at her apartment. After finishing dinner, Sitraka and I took the train back to his part of town, Roger’s Park. By the time we arrived at this apartment, it was close to 2 a.m., I believe — and by the time I went off to sleep close to 5 a.m.! I woke up early in the afternoon to find that my cheeks had swollen and that my eyes appeared to have shrunk. Horror of horrors! I could barely recognize myself in the mirror, and not knowing what to do to, decided to sleep some more hoping that would improve things a little bit. Well, to no avail! Not wanting to just lie in bed and waste a weekend in Chicago and because we were hungry, Sitraka and I decided to go to M. Henrietta, a local restaurant, for brunch (his word for this was “dunch”). Never in my life had I felt more self-conscious. And to make things worse, my eyes started hurting and would tear up occasionally. I don’t know how things got better, but it did, and by the end of the day, although my cheeks were still a little swollen, I felt a lot better. So other than this unfortunate incident, the rest of the day went rather well. We spent a lot of time on Michigan Ave., the shopping district. Later in the evening, we met up with a fellow Princeton alumnus in Chicago, and had a sweet picnic by the lake. To top it off, we went to a touristy dessert place, but the food wasn’t very special there.
The next day Sitraka and I attended services at the Broadway United Methodist church in Boystown, Chicago’s “gayborhood.” It’s a radically inclusive church that Sitraka normally attends, and on that Sunday, they had a special healing service. Many members of the congregation spoke about traumatic experiences, incidents of rejection and bullying. The vulnerability, feeling of community, and their welcome, all touched my heart.
Following that, we had brunch with a group of about eight current Princeton students and alums at Big Jones, another of Sitraka’s precious restaurant finds. The food was delicious, and it was great to catch up with old friends, and make some new acquaintances. Shortly thereafter, I had to head to the airport to make the plane back to New York.
Despite the unfortunate swelling of my cheeks, I had a great time in Chicago, and hope to return soon.
Thanks for all the memories, Chicago.
3 years of the night sky in 3 minutes. This video with stunningly beautiful photography just made my night. You won’t regret watching this.
H/t to Craig Kanalley
Faith Inspires: Hindu American Seva Charities
This week’s Faith Inspires highlights the work of Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC), an organization whose mission is to engage in “seva, interfaith collaboration, pluralism, social justice and sustainable civic engagement to ignite grassroots social change and build healthy communities.” Seva, which means “service” in Sanskrit, is an important aspect of the Dharmic traditions, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama issued a “call to serve,” Anju Bhargava, a Hindu American resident of Livingston, NJ, was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. HASC is a result of that collaboration, and was designed to strengthen and put a spotlight on civic engagement and community service efforts in the Dharmic community.
Despite the White House’s support and guidance, HASC did not have the easiest start, and their success over the past two years can be attributed as much to creative theological thinking, as to the Dharmic community’s desire to be fully accepted in the American community.
To continue reading, click here.
Source: The Huffington Post
My Experience Worshipping at Calvary — St. George’s
Earlier this afternoon, while walking from Murray Hill to Union Square, I passed by the Parish of Calvary — St. George’s in Gramercy Park. I had walked this church multiple times without ever going in, so I decided to step in for a few minutes of meditation. It was 5:50 p.m. and since their evening service starts at 6 p.m., I decided to stay for the service. And I’m glad I did because the service was quite unusual for an Episcopal church (or at least, the Episcopal churches I’ve been to).
The interior looked like most Episcopal churches I’ve been to — stained glasses, pews with cushions to kneel on, a high pulpit, the works. But I also noticed a big white screen projecting the liturgy, the reading for the service, lyrics of the songs, etc. There was no choir will richly-robed men and women holding hymnals and singing their hearts out to God. Instead, there was a band that sang devotionals closer to Christian rock than traditional hymns. The sermon was about predestination, with a strong apologetic tone where the pastor made a poor comparison between Islam and Christianity, saying that Allah, or the God of Islam, is one who sits up there waiting for people to come to him, whereas the God of Christianity is in our midst waiting for us to meet him. Regardless, I am glad I stayed for the service, though I was slightly disappointed to see that there were less than 25 people there. My first reaction after leaving the church — wow, that’s an interesting Episcopal Evangelical church.
Later, when I read up the history of the church — I found out that three churches that comprise Calvary - St. George’s: St. George’s Church, Calvary Church and Church of the Holy Communion (which was sold to a drug rehabilitation program because of dwindling finances, and is now an upscale marketplace). The Church of Holy Communion has a fascinating evangelical Catholic history, and St. George’s Church has an equally interesting evangelical Episcopal history. I’d be interesting in learning about other churches with distinct theologies that have merged, what prompted them to do so, and what challenges they might face (theological, and otherwise) as a result of merging.
Say Jesus and people either get happy, or they get mad. They either smile, or a cloud comes over their faces. They are either elated or irritated. Embarrassed, they try to pursue deeper conversation and connection. No other name has such potency. Not Clinton, not Gandhi, not Thatcher, not Lennon.
I finished reading Anand Giridharadas’ “India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking" this morning and I have to say that it is one of the best books that I’ve read about the revolutionary changes sweeping through India in the past few decades. "India Calling" is narrated from the perspective of an Indian-American (Giridharadas) who moves to India to work in consulting after graduating from college. Upon moving to India, he realizes that the India he is experiencing now is very different (modern, rebellious, bold) from the India he visited as a child, and the romantic notions of India he had growing up as an Indian-American. "India Calling" is an effort to explain the difference between the two Indias and the developments that made this possible.
I will leave you to read this gem of a book yourself, but here is what I enjoyed / agreed with the most:
- Giridharadas’ points that while the current generation of Indians is rebelling against societal pressure, they don’t want to go so far as to create a rupture in society.
- Giridharadas’ analysis of how pride in cultural heritage correlates with economic power / influence. Dhirubhai Ambani’s rise transferred power from the Indian-culture-rejecting-Anglophile-Indian to the Indian-who-is-proud-of-Indian-culture, and how that made Indian culture “cooler.”
- Finally, Giridharadas’ grasp over Indian notions of marriage, mother-daughter phone conversations, and family (among many other topics) is simply outstanding. Each time, he nailed it perfectly!
I was born and raised in India until I came to the U.S. five years ago to attend college, and thus,”India Calling” was an especially interesting read. Curiously enough, I found myself being able to relate more to Giridharadas than any of the Indians he profiled. I will wait in line. I do hesitate to bribe. By Giridharadas’ test of morality, my principles are more rooted in the individualistic Judeo-Christian tradition than in the more communitarian Hindu tradition. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m surprised to say, the least. Is civility not a part of the Indian mentality, or at least, can it not gradually become one? But I digress, and that might be another blog post.
All in all, it’s an outstanding book and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in India, and wants to understand how India has changed over the past few decades.
On the Fourth of July, I went to see Kumare with two of my friends. Kumare is the story of Vikram Gandhi, an Indian-American who travels to India to study yoga, returns to the United States and pretends to be a guru. He gets a real following in Phoenix, AZ while teaching made-up mantras and yoga poses, but giving sound spiritual advice all the same. At the end of the film, he comes out as Vikram, confusing many of his “students” but hurting / angering others too. The message he tried to get across that we are the font of spiritual wisdom and we don’t need teachers to tell us how to grow spiritually.
While the message of the documentary resonated with me, I would have appreciated the documentary a great deal more had he explored gurus who were genuine teachers, not just the ones who were fake or were there for the money or sex. In spite of this, I appreciated the sincerity of Vikram’s narration. You go into the cinema hall thinking — no way, this is not possible. No way a FAKE GURU is going to build a REAL FOLLOWING. But you leave challenged. And that’s the best kind of documentary: something that challenges you to think a little differently.
All in all, a great documentary and I recommend it to anyone.
P.S. - On a related note, my friend, Chris Fici, recently wrote a blog for The Huffington Post on why one NEEDS a guru to growth spiritually. Read this here.
Now what do YOU think? Do we need gurus for spiritual growth? Share with me in the comments section (click to comment).
Faith Inspires: Muslim Heroes Highlights Leaders In The Muslim Community
Saud Inam, founder and executive director started Muslim Heroes as a blog on the heels of the Park51 controversy in New York City. Inam was frustrated by rising Islamophobia in the United States, victimized mentality among Muslims in the post-9/11 world and the Muslim-American community’s response to attacks on Islam and Muslims. Unsatisfied by defensive responses and explanations of who Muslims were not, Inam sought to define who Muslims were. However, he found there was no clear answer.
Muslim Heroes started as a response to the question, “If Muslims are not terrorists, who are they?” Saud Inam told The Huffington Post. Inam started by putting a spotlight on the inspirational work and contributions of ordinary Muslims from diverse backgrounds.
To continue reading, click here.
Source: The Huffington Post
Haha, what? That’s so awkward. I can’t imagine The Daily Princetonian publishing articles like this. — Jahnabi
We have four years in college. Well, most of us at least. Only four short years to attain the thing that is most essential in securing our futures.
That’s right ladies, four years to find a husband. Every true woman knows how vital it is to find the right brilliant babe to father their children and replenish their bank accounts. A Southern belle is nothing but a pretty face and pearls without a man to eat her cooking and appreciate her cleaning.
So ladies, the clock is ticking and the hunnies are being taken at an alarmingly fast pace. Our expiration dates are fast approaching. To help you find that special someone, I’ve laid out step-by-step directions for how to secure your husband and consequentially, your future.
Tumblr, please confirm this is satire?!
The call was never to chat or to say ‘I love you’ but to audit. Mothers eternally feared a daughter’s veering astray, and their questions resembled those of the jealous wife whose husband recently started buying her flowers. Where are you? Who are you with? Why did you go there? Who dropped you? How much did you spend? How come you stayed there? Why didn’t you have lunch? The conversation would continue like this for a time, with the daughter giving irritated monosyllabic replies and the mother boring ever deeper with questions. The call ended every time with the same frustrated adjournment: ‘OK, OK, OK, bye, bye, bye.’
There was never substance, humour, or emotion in the calls. There was only fact-checking and the psychic urge to tighten a weave ever in danger of unravelling. Even the way the phone was picked up — ‘haan,’ yes — evoked a discussion with no beginning and no end. A greeting would be too ceremonial: you only greet someone when you see them as their own person. But the Indian child was just an extension of the parent, and the conversation was not actually a conversation.
"India Calling" by Anand Giridhardas
This made me laugh so hard.