A Note to Erika Menendez
To Erika Menendez,
The names of the 9/11 hijackers are: Mohamed Atta, Waleed al-Shehri, Wail al-Shehri, Abdulaziz al-Omari, Satam al-Suqami, Marwan al-Shehhi, Fayez Banihammad, Mohand al-Shehri, Hamza al-Ghamdi, Ahmed al-Ghamdi, Hani Hanjour, Khalid al-Mihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf al-Hazmi, Salem al-Hazmi, Ziad Jarrah, Ahmed al-Haznawi, Ahmed al-Nami and Saeed al-Ghamdi. They are no more. The mastermind Osama bin Laden is not alive either.
The average Hindu or Muslim had nothing to do with 9/11. So enough of “beating up” Hindus and Muslims. Sunando Sen (may he rest in peace) should never have died the way he did.
However, the real mastermind of the 9/11 attacks was not even Osama bin Laden. It was hatred — a vile hatred of people who are different. Unfortunately, that is alive and well in our community. I see that in you. I see that in people who bomb our places of worship. I see that in people who denigrate others for being who they are — a particular religion, ethnic group, nationality or sexual orientation.
I have devoted my life to inter-religious reconciliation. I think we can do better than hatred. Are you with me?
A Visit to Broome Street Temple
Yesterday, I visited the Broome Street Temple in New York City with an American-born South Indian friend I met in college. The last time I visited the temple, which describes itself as a “traditional South Indian Hindu temple” on their website, was about six months ago, (as Foursquare conveniently informed me) and so I was excited to return there for the Shiva Abhishekha (a ritual worship of Shiva, the Hindu god of cosmic destruction).
For 90 minutes, I sat there listening to the priest chanting ancient shlokas, some familiar and some unfamiliar, watching as he poured milk, yogurt, honey and later offered flowers, incense and camphor (light) to the deity manifest in the Shivalingam.
I left the temple with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I was honored to participate in a ritual that goes back thousands of years and connects me to so many people. I was reminded of my time at Princeton University where I was an active member of the Hindu community. (Remarkably, I co-led a Ganesh puja there a few years ago.) Albert Raboteau, a Religion professor at Princeton University who had a big impact on my academic and spiritual growth once told me about the importance of belonging to a spiritual tradition that goes both backwards and forwards in time. That stuck with me, and since then, every time I participate in a religious ritual I am more cognizant of being part of a community and that elevates the meaning of the ritual.
On the other hand, I left frustrated not being able to understand all the verses in Sanskrit that the pujari (person who conducted the puja) chanted. I took a semester of Sanskrit in college and while I can read and write in the language, I still don’t know enough to understand ancient shlokas. This is not the first time I have been frustrated about not being able to completely understand Sanskrit verses. Given that most people don’t understand Sanskrit anymore, I wonder if we will see a move towards conducting prayers in languages understood by the common man? But then I worry. Will ancient <em>shlokas</em> said in English or Hindi or Assamese resonate the same way with me? I’m not sure. Probably not.
Curiously enough, I also lamented the lack of a sermon. In the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time in churches and at the Bhakti Center (an ISKCON temple), and more recently I’ve regularly attended prayers at the Islamic Center at New York University (ICNYU). Given that worship at each of these places features a sermon, or at least a lecture based on readings from scripture, I’ve begun to feel that one of the main elements of worship is a sermon. That’s mainly because if the prayers are recited in languages I don’t understand, I can still take away something valuable and meaningful if the main teachings are summarized in English. Should I attribute this desire to take away a message from a religious ceremony to my years attending chapel at Princeton University?
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
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).
Dasaswamedh Ghat, Varanasi: Boats calmly row up to the ghat as it nears seven o’ clock, time for the evening aarti - a wonderfully synchronized ceremony for the gods.
Take time to think- it is the source of power.
Take time to play- it is the source of perpetual youth.
Take time to read- it is the fountain of wisdom.
Take time to pray- it is the greatest power on Earth.
Take time to love and be loved- it is a God-given privilege.
Take time to be friendly- it is the road to happiness.
Take time to laugh- it is the music of the soul.
Take time to give- it is too short a day to be selfish.
Take time to work- it is the price of success.
-The Hindu Prayer Book
Om Namah Shivaya
All glories to the most powerful and merciful Shiva, Lord of the Universe.
The Gayatri Mantra
I love chanting and listening to the Gayatri mantra. As a child growing up in India and later as a young adult in Princeton, this mantra kept me alive and well through some difficult times. It is so strongly ingrained in my conscience that I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know the words of the mantra, even if I didn’t always know what the words meant.
Mantras are no ordinary string of sounds however. Hindus believe that mantras are structured in such a way that they are capable of creating transformation in the listener’s mind and conscience. It is for this reason that it is considered auspicious to listen to mantras, even if one doesn’t understand the meaning of the words. The mantra “Om,” for instance is considered to be the manifestation of the ultimate reality.
Below are lyrics and an English translation of the Gayatri mantra.
Om Bhur Bhuvah Svaha
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi
Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat
“We meditate upon the spiritual effulgence of that adorable supreme divine reality who is the source of the physical, the astral and the heavenly spheres of existence. May that supreme divine being enlighten our intellect, so that we may realize the supreme truth.”
Now Why Would a Hindu Like Me Go to Church Every Week?
In recent weeks, I’ve been wondering about why I’ve been going to church pretty regularly over the last few years. After all, I was raised Hindu, and while having gone to Catholic school and being really interested in Christianity, I haven’t thought about becoming a Christian. Or at least, I don’t consciously go to church with a desire to grow in Christian faith, discipline or practice.
I started going to nondenominational church / chapel pretty regularly as a junior in Princeton University. With time I became interested in the different forms of Christian worship — Orthodox, Catholic, African American and even Evangelical. I loved worshipping in various Christian settings and while I felt slightly uncomfortable occasionally, my experience was positive overall. After graduating from Princeton, I explored different churches in New York City, and spend a lot of time in liberal Protestant churches. But not having found a sense of community and missing a sense of ritual in these churches (granted that I went to a different church each week), I started going to the Bhakti Center, a Hare Krishna temple in the East Village. I loved the sense of community, and devotion in the Bhakti Center (even though not the theology always) and wondered if I would perhaps stop going to church on Sunday, instead spending time at the Bhakti Center.
A few weeks passed by, and I knew that I couldn’t stop going to church. Something draws me to church every Sunday morning, though I can’t quite say what it is. I started exploring Catholic churches in New York City. I’m drawn to Catholic worship for many reasons, from architectural splendor to aesthetics to sublime chanting. Despite that, I have some major disagreements with the Catholic church in its stance on social issues, and thus, I’m not entirely comfortable going to Catholic church. These days I find myself very much at home in Episcopal churches, which for me, combine the beauty of the Catholic church with the progressiveness of the Protestant tradition.
Last Sunday, I was incredibly blessed to go to mass at St. Thomas Church, NYC. The Rev. Andrew Mead, addressing a largely Episcopal gathering, asked why people come to church regularly. Sitting in the pews I wondered the same thing. I imagine that it is because God has touched my life in many ways, and because church / chapel was such an integral part of my Princeton experience.
I still haven’t found a church I would like to go to every week, but hopefully I will find a home church in the city in the next few months. Till then, I will just rely on my instincts and follow what seems to be a calling.