Tatiane & Veronice: We are All Spiritual Souls

I was born in a Catholic family. My parents were very strict about following all church rules but they respected other religions. When I was young, we used to visit Nova Gokula Farm (Brazil), the biggest ISKCON Temple in South America. It’s a beautiful place with waterfalls, animals, and nature and they liked it a lot. When I came out, my parents was told me that it wasn’t right, that it wasn’t what God wanted for me. As a result of my family and society’s condemnation, I walked away from everything that had God’s name. 

The All Attractive

In 2014, when I was a college student, I bought a book by Srila Prabhupadha on the street. A devotee was doing sankirtana and offered me one. I bought it out of curiosity. The book was called Beyond Birth and Death and it was about Krishna's opening instruction in the Bhagavad Gita: “the self is never born and never dies.” As Krishna is the all attractive, I became attracted to that instruction and started to learn more about the Hare Krishna movement. 

I started going to Nova Gokula Farm more often. I was too shy to talk to anyone, so I used to go to the waterfall or walk around the farm. I often sat in the temple watching the altar during the arati, not knowing what it meant, who those deities were, etc. In 2017, I lived in Guarulhos City with my girlfriend at the time. I was away from my parents and away from my friends. Something came over me then: I needed something in my life, a purpose. So I started to learn more about the Hare Krishna movement again. I discovered that there was a kind of a center in that city. In fact, it was a devotee’s house and he opened it up for meetings, lectures, kirtans, etc. So finally I went there.

It was a simple and tiny room, with little deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra in a little altar. I remember that Jaya Govinda Dasa was leading kirtan and the devotees were sitting around with some other visitors. So I sat there too, listened the lecture, ate prasadam and just watched without saying anything. But at the end, Abhicheta Dasa, the devotee owner of the space came to us (my ex and I) and asked: are you girlfriends? We were shocked. We didn’t know what to say because we didn’t know how they would react. But seeing our confusion, he said: It’s ok. You are fine here. We are not this material body, we are a spiritual soul. 


Our Relationship

From that moment on, I started going to Hare Krishna meetings all the time. I started to read, to learn, and to chant my japamala rounds. When I started to date Tatiane, she went there with me. She doesn’t consider herself a devotee but she was sympathetic. She always supported me and my devotional life. In 2018 we decide to get married. Gay marriage has been legal in Brazil since 2013, but something was missing. What was it? God!

At that time I didn’t have a guru, a spiritual master. So I started to send messages to all the advanced devotees that I knew, including Maharaj Chandramukha Swami, who was the first one to answer me. He was really kind and patient. He told me that some devotees were against homosexual weddings because they believed it was “ilicit sex.” One of our vows, if we enter the Hare Krishna tradition, is to avoid illicit sex. 


But Maharaj said: who am I to say that your sexual life, with someone you love, respect, and are loyal to is ilicit? There are heterosexual devotees with truly illicit sexual lives. He told me that ISKCON wasn’t ready to host homosexual weddings in temples. But that shouldn’t stop us from talking to a priest and getting a blessing somewhere else if we were convinced of our feelings. So that was exactly what we did. As a recommendation, we spoke with Rama Putra Das and he agreed to celebrate our wedding. 

The Blessing

In our city, Taubaté, we don’t have a temple, but a a devotee has a house that he uses as an office and all Sunday he let us do the meetings. The devotees named It Bhakti Yoga House.

I’m a freelance journalist and Tatiane is cashier in a supermarket, so we didn’t have much money to work with for our wedding. We spoke with our parents and devotees and all of them were happy to help. Yes, including our parents!

Prashanta Das said that we could use Bhakti Yoga House and if it was too small, he would rent a larger space for the ceremony. Krishna Kripa Devi Dasi sowed my skirt and dupatta, took care of all the decorations, and photographed the wedding. Her husband, Narada Muni Das, cooked with the help of Bhakta Caique and led kirtan with other devotee.  Our parents bought the cloth, the flowers, bhoga, etc. It was a family union, Prabhupada’s family. 

And it happened. It really happened. Now Tatiane and I are married with the blessings of Krishna, our parents, friends, community of devotees,  Hridayananda Dasa Goswami (Rama Putra Das’ spiritual master) and now my beloved Gurudev, Maharaj Chandramukha Swami. 

We really believe that we are not this body, that we are all spiritual souls. 

Hare Krishna and God bless!

Remembering the Goddess during Navarātri

By Shashank Rao, active Sadhana member. Originally published on Medium

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Starting September 29, the Hindu festival of Navarātri will begin and last till October 8. It is a time of celebration as well as of reflection for Hindus across the world. The story of Navarātri (“nine nights”) is commonly told as the story of Durgā, a fierce incarnation of Pārvati (the wife of Śiva), and how She defeated the buffalo demon Mahiśāsura.

Yet the story of Durgā is in fact only one episode in the greater saga of Śakti, the divine feminine in Hindu traditions. The story begins not with Durgā or Pārvati, but Sati, the daughter of Dakṣa.

The Story of Sati

Sati is the incarnation of Śakti, or specifically Ādi Paraśakti (“the primeval, supreme force”), who takes birth as the daughter of Dakṣa in order to coax Śiva into marrying.

Sati falls in love with Śiva, and after a number of austerities and developing her meditative prowess, Śiva is impressed by her dedication and recognizes her as an equal. However, Dakṣa refuses to approve of the marriage because Śiva sleeps at a cremation ground, wears a garland of skulls, is covered in ash and keeps the company of ghosts and spirits. He openly chastises Sati for choosing such a man as her husband, yet she pleads with him that she be allowed to find a husband of her own choosing, whoever he may be.

Dakṣa still does not give in, and says that he will never see Śiva as his son-in-law. Sati is deeply wounded, but decides to leave her father’s palace to live with Śiva on Mount Kailāśa. When a yearly yajña (sacrificial ritual) comes around, Śiva tells her that he will not attend because he is not welcome. Sati goes alone to get her father to recognize Śiva, but instead is humiliated by her father in front of all the participants of the yajña and Dakṣa proceeds to disown her. Overcome with grief and anger at her situation, Sati proceeds to immolate herself in the fire of the sacrifice to rid herself of all mortal attachments. In act of protest, Sati declares that when she is born again, she will be born to a father whom she can respect, invoking the Goddess Ādi Paraśakti.

The Navadurgā as Sacred Process

When Sati died, she invoked the Supreme Goddess to realize her wish to be with Śiva on her own terms and to be free from an oppressive patriarchy. In doing so, it is believed that she realized her oneness with Śakti, and so was able to freely take nine different incarnations, each of which symbolize different aspects of the divine.

For the lay devotee, Sati’s abandoning of social norms and freely pursuing her own relationships without regard for the approval of others is significant (quite literally, लोग क्या कहेंगे - “what will people say?”). The path to mokṣa (liberation), especially as envisioned in the Tantric tradition, requires a willingness to subvert and to abandon social conventions to acquire true insight into the ātman (self) and embracing of the divine as supreme self. There is naught but Devi and all creation emanates from Her.

Yet this is all a process; it is difficult to simply abandon the societies which we know and sometimes the families and friends whom we hold dear. Insight requires growth, and growth requires patience to go through many stages of life. The nine manifestations of Durgā or Śakti serve to illustrate the process, and help us understand the connection between ourselves, our communities, and our world. Each stage in the process is one that we continually refine, return to and pass through on the journey to liberation.

The first incarnation of Śakti is Śailaputri (“daughter of the mountain”), and another name for Pārvati. Śailaputri is the first time Sati is reborn as Devi and the stage where Devi asserts herself as the source of all creation as Ādi Paraśakti. Self-awareness is the first step to liberation.

As Brahmacārini, Devi undertakes austerities and learns from a guru to develop her awareness of intrinsic worthiness and equality. As a result, Devi marries Śiva freely, symbolizing the need for an environment with meaningful choices and ability to negotiate life on one’s own terms. It is especially significant that Devi as a goddess undertakes the vow of brahmacārya, or vow of chastity and austerity, which is often restricted to men today.

The third form of Devi is Caṃdraghaṃṭa, in which Devi’s newly gained insight allows her to more clearly identify suffering in the world and around Her. Emerging from the ascetic vows of brahmacārya, Devi realizes that she must encourage her husband to initiate a process of transformation. Even as she cares about Śiva, his ghastly appearance as a lord of ghosts frightens the world, and entreats him to take on a more pleasing form. This process represents the way in which the seeker engages others in their liberating efforts in thoughtful ways.

Kuṣṃāṃḍa is Devi’s creative aspect, in which she creates the entire universe from herself anew. In doing so, she is never depleted or exhausted because she is the infinite origin of all creation. Kuṣṃāṃḍa’s act of self-initiated creation can also be viewed as transforming one’s world view in light of new insight, and thereby working to share in the truth with others at the same time.

As Skaṃdamāta, Devi’s first child, Skaṃda (or Kārtikeya) is seated on her lap. As the Divine Mother, Devi’s ferocity and power is not superseded by compassion, but rather they coexist in a balance. The pursuit of the Self is selfless, not self-centered; the seeker knows that all life and creation is linked to them in the embrace of Devi.

As Kātyāyani, or her most common name: Durgā, she slays the demon Mahiśāsura. This form of the goddess prevails over injustice and inspires the devotee to use their wisdom and their journey for the greater benefit, for the enlightened see themselves in all things. By defeating Mahiśāsura, a shape shifter, we are able to see how the unchanging Parashakti is never defeated and is merely obscured by transient appearances. This teaches us the ability to surpass any and all obstacles, and even when things are bleak, there is always hope and redemption through wisdom and action to do good.

As Kālārātri, or Kāli Mā, Devi embodies righteous self-sacrifice and responsibility to the greater good, to recognize ignorance and drive it out. She swallows the blood of Raktabīja, knowing that it is harmful to herself, in order to eventually defeat him. Driven into a craze by the blood, she unleashes her terrifying dance that shakes the cosmos, but does not lose herself in the process. From the story of Kāli Mā, we also learn that the process of self-exploration can be destructive and fearsome, yet it does not destroy the ātman. The spiritually intense process of liberation requires us to abandon selfish motives and to peer into our deepest anguish in order to emerge victorious.

The eighth incarnation of Devi, Mahāgauri is a teacher and guru, spreading her wisdom to her devotees. She embodies forgiveness to those who have committed crimes and are willing to repent through honest work and a commitment to the pursuit of true knowledge. The Goddess, once a student and seeker, is now the teacher. Devi has shared in our suffering and offers guidance to her devotees through her own experience. Here, she teaches us the value of being of value to our community through giving back, teaching others to be better versions of themselves and overcome all forms of suffering.

In her final and ninth form, Devi is Siddhidātri, the “bestower of miracles”. Devi knows Herself as identical with the One, equal to Shiva and untethered by earthly suffering. She does not rule over us or teach us, but lives among us and pervades our lives. As a person, Siddhidatri is one who lives in the community as a positive influence on our lives and is able to fill all the roles that she has done before. The difference now is that she is truly at peace and is unafraid of worldly suffering, and leads us who are yet unlearned to liberation. Thus she grants our wishes and leads us from suffering and untruth to the Ultimate Reality that is Devi Herself.

Learning from the Navadurgā

The nine forms of Devi are correlated not only to the nine nights of fighting Mahiśāsura, but also the nine Tantric cakras. In the Tantric tradition, each incarnation is linked to a cakra, which are important nodes along the body that are part of an interconnected system of energy and spiritual experience. The conceptualization of the nine Devis as each cakra culminates in the revelation of a tenth form, Ādi Paraśakti, who is in reality all nine forms in one. The process theology presented here is both a meaningful spiritual framework for one’s personal growth, as well as linking social justice with Hindu faith concepts.

The fact that Devi is female can be interpreted as a radical expression of agency in a patriarchal society, and may be a useful tool to articulate a Hindu feminist ethic. Though Śiva is an important character in the beginning of the story, Devi’s journey through the nine cakras and her various identities is deeply personal and her relationship with Śiva does not preclude this process. Seeing Hindu goddesses is not enough to inspire a Hindu feminism, but an active reflection on Devi’s importance in our lives is a first step.

Too often, male deities are presented as the default, yet the scripture is unequivocal in declaring that divinity is ungendered. Parabrahman is all-encompassing and cannot be bounded up in a simple binary that is notional at best and extremely restrictive at worst.

Devi shows us that we must break the chains of social norms and be critically reflective on the way societal roles are constructed. Devi Herself has plural identities, yet we recognize her as the One, Changeless Divinity. The ways in which our society restricts people’s identities, actions, and beliefs on the basis of gender and other socially constructed categories are rejected by Devi who herself is immanent in all creation and also the transcendent cause of creation.

Emerging from insight of non-duality, interconnectedness, and an infinitely plural divinity latent in all creation is the means to liberation. It is by these principles we are moved to have faith in Devi in her many forms, and so remember her during Navarātri and at all times.

During this Navarātri, wish all your friends and family the best in the pursuit of knowledge and fulfillment. Let us encourage each other to live beyond the limits set by parochial norms and ignorance, that fog which shrouds the self-luminous ātman. Let us remember that the seeking of liberation is a process of continuous learning and insight, and let us be kind to ourselves and to others in untying the knots of grief.

How to Honor the Earth on This Diwali

By Purbita Saha. Originally published on Popular Science

Suvan Chowdhury

Suvan Chowdhury

If you think 25 days of Christmas is a marathon, you have to try Diwali. This festival of lights, celebrated by millions of people across Southeast Asia, the West Indies, and other parts of the world, spans the month of October this year (the timing depends on the Hindu lunar calendar).

For some observers, the holiday starts with the nine days of Navaratri, which marks the rise of the goddess Durga as she battles demons and protects the planet from carnage. But the main Diwali dates fall between October 25 and 29, with clay lamps, firecrackers, and fairy bulbs gleaming from temples, markets, and homes. Revelers don their finest clothes, cook up giant feasts, swap gifts, visit temples, and scope out extravagant displays with friends and family. Basically, it's a more colorful version of Christmas.

But with all that celebration comes plenty of consumption. Fast fashion, single-use dinnerware, fossil fuel-based air and car travel—like most holidays, Diwali has become more about the spirit of spending. The negative environmental impacts, however, run counter to Hinduism, which encourages humans to thrive with nature, not despite it.

Of course, the best way to enjoy traditions and still be eco-conscious is to adopt a few green practices. Start with feasible changes in your own life, then bring your loved ones and community on board. The steps can be as small as swapping out a plastic spoon or as big as curbing fossil fuel use at your place of worship. Take a look.

Consider eco-friendly travel

If connecting with family is the most important part of Diwali for you, try to make sustainable travel your top priority. Planes, cars, and other modes of transportation make up more than a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions here in the U.S. Unfortunately, carbon-neutral options are next-to-nonexistent for those shuttling between relatives on multiple continents (unless you're looking to sail the open seas for weeks)—so the next best alternative is to choose an environmental-minded airline.

For domestic flights in the states, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have received high marks for their carbon offset, waste-reduction, and clean-energy programs on the ground. For international flights that cover Southeast Asia and the Middle East, those honors go to Emirates and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. In-country travelers in India should scope out SpiceJet or the national railway system, which connects 29 states and offers more sightseeing perks than any plane.

You might also consider buying credits to mitigate carbon emissions elsewhere to cover those released during your trip. There are plenty of options, and you can make your purchase through your airline or a nonprofit that manages multiple green initiatives. Doing so should only set you back a few dollars.

Handle your lights wisely

Ian Brown

Ian Brown

It wouldn't be a festival of lights without the golden glow that lasts all holiday season. In fact, Diwali gets its name from the decorative lamps, or "diyas," used to attract the goddess Lakshmi and the good will she brings. Traditionally, the beacons are made of clay and butter, but many modern versions run on coin batteries.

The lamps themselves don't have a big environmental footprint—unless they're disposed of incorrectly. Hindu rituals often end with offerings along rivers and water bodies, which may, in turn, pollute drinking sources and wildlife habitats. Aminta Kilawan-Narine, co-founder of the Hindu-activism group Sadhana, has seen this first-hand during cleanups around New York's Jamaica Bay. "People think because diyas are made of clay, it's okay to leave them outdoors," she says. "But they take longer to decompose than we think. And as they break into sharp pieces, they can hurt the animals in the refuge."

When hosting an outdoor ceremony or celebration, Kilawan-Narine suggests using more natural materials like flowers. Or, "just make an offering in your heart," she says. LED fairy lights, meanwhile, are an efficient, reusable choice for gatherings at home. For extra oomph, hosts can hand out sparklers instead of noisy, chemical-laden firecrackers.

Think about food (or the stuff it comes on)

Marco Verch

Marco Verch

If you’re cooking for a dozen-plus people, chances are you won’t want to be doing the dishes after. Single-use utensils make life easier, but they also create tons of landfill waste. “Serving food to the community is an Earth-honoring tradition,” Kilawan-Narine says, “but it irks me when I see it being given out on [plastic foam].”

She's got a point. Plastic foam is one of the least biodegradable materials, with a lifespan of up to 500 years. Clear plastic plates and cups are slightly better, but still bad, followed by paper, which takes a few decades to decay. Compostable products can break down in two months or less, but only when placed in an actual compost pile.

One old-school method to try is naturally sourced banana leaves. They're sturdy enough to hold wet dishes like fish and vegetable curries, and big enough to serve multiple courses on. Some Asian countries are even subbing them in for plastic packaging at supermarkets and restaurants. You can pick them up by the pound online or at international groceries.

And, although it sounds messy, you can ask guests to eat with their hands. It’s the norm in most Diwali-celebrating nations—just be sure to have a few sets of silverware to accommodate individuals with disabilities (and germaphobes).

Don't stop when Diwali ends

In the end, the point of making mindful lifestyle changes is to make sure they have an effect that lasts. If you're willing to carry your sustainability campaign beyond the Diwali season, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation has a hefty green guide that you can take to your temple or local cultural center. It includes case studies and tips on how to build a rainwater-collection system, donate surplus food, plant an organic garden, work with an energy auditor, and make the leap to solar or wind power. As more institutions in the U.S. and overseas make these upgrades, it's easier to ensure the wellbeing of the planet we're celebrating through this festival of lights.

Shared Dreams and Bright Futures: Statement on “Howdy Modi” Houston Rally

On Sunday, September 22nd, thousands of people from across the country gathered in Houston, Texas to welcome the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, at the "Howdy, Modi!" rally. Billed as a celebration of "Shared Dreams and Bright Futures," the event was attended by US President Donald Trump and sought to emphasize "the strong ties between the people of the United States and India." Modi ended his speech with the following statement:

"In the coming days, [President Trump and I] are going to talk and I am certain that some positive developments will come out of it. President Trump calls me the top negotiator but he himself is great at the ‘art of the deal’ and I am learning a lot from him … Our friendship will give new heights to our shared dreams and vibrant future."

 

We, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, would like to address the content of these shared dreams and vibrant futures. Thus far, we have seen President Trump's policies generate a humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border while his ongoing violent rhetoric has provoked an increase in hate crimes against minorities. Prime Minister Modi, in turn, has overseen the abrogation not only of key parts of the Indian Constitution relating to Kashmir, but of international norms of democracy and human rights. Modi's right-wing Hindu nationalist government has initiated the construction of mass detention camps to house nearly 2 million people in Assam, mostly Muslims but also Hindus, who have been stripped of their citizenship.

Under the administrations of President Trump and Prime Minister Modi, Sadhana is deeply concerned that India and America's shared dreams currently function along the lines of xenophobia, ethno-supremacy, and violence. However, we also believe the two countries' futures can, and should, look different. Two sources, both Indian and American, from which we might begin to envision this future come from the Srimad Bhagavatam and American poet Gwendolyn Brooks:

 

Srimad Bhagavatam (11.2.41)

khaṁ vāyum agniṁ salilaṁ mahīṁ ca

jyotīṁṣi sattvāni diśo drumādīn

sarit-samudrāṁś ca hareḥ śarīraṁ

yat kiṁ ca bhūtaṁ praṇamed ananyaḥ

 

Nothing is separate from the Divine.

Space, fire, air, water, earth,

The sun, moon, and planets,

All living beings,

The four directions,

Trees, plants, and flowers,

Rivers and oceans,

Revere all these as the body of God.


"Paul Robeson" by Gwendolyn Brooks

That time

we all heard it,

cool and clear,

cutting across the hot grit of the day.

The major Voice.

The adult Voice

forgoing Rolling River,

forgoing tearful tale of bale and barge

and other symptoms of an old despond.

Warning, in music-words

devout and large,

that we are each other’s

harvest:

we are each other’s

business:

we are each other’s

magnitude and bond.

Sadhana's guiding principles are ekatva (unity), seva (service), and ahimsa (non-violence). The lines from the Srimad Bhagavatam and Gwendolyn Brooks, when taken together, might offer a culminating vision of these principles. As the lines from the Srimad Bhagavatam emphasize our divine unity (ekatva), the lines from Gwendolyn Brooks emphasize that our primary commitment is to each other (seva). The implication of both of these texts, then, is that we practice a deep-rooted empathy and non-violence (ahimsa) towards one another. Although Sadhana believes that the principles of ekatva, seva, and ahimsa are being actively violated under the Trump and Modi administrations, we believe that a different future is possible. 

We are inspired by the leadership of progressive Hindu Americans such as California Congressman Ro Khanna, Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Illinois state senator Ram Villivalam, and former Chicago alderman Ameya Pawar, who have spoken out as Hindus against injustice at home and abroad. We commend those who peacefully demonstrated for human rights and justice in Houston yesterday. Sadhana co-founder Sunita Viswanath brought a Hindu voice to the protests by representing a newly-formed advocacy organization, Hindus for Human Rights.

We would like to invite all people to join us in affirming our shared dharma to strive for a just and peaceful world.

oṃ asato mā sadgamaya

tamaso mā jyotirgamaya

mṛtyormā'mṛtaṃ gamaya

oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ

 

Om, Lead us from the unreal to the real

Lead us from darkness to light

Lead us from death to immortality

Om, peace, peace, peace!

A Tribute to Rohan Sooklall

—by Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Cofounder, Sadhana

Rohan Sooklall, a leader in the Indo-Caribbean community of LGBTQ rights, has passed away. He will fondly be remembered as one of Sadhana’s first vocal supporters and a compassionate human being looking to make a difference in a world where we are unnecessarily divided. 

Sooklall was an attendee at Sadhana’s first-ever public gathering, a town hall held at the Shri Trimurti Bhavan in Ozone Park, New York back in January 2013. At the time, Sooklall was also the leader of a new organization called SANGAM. 

On the day I found out about Sooklall’s death, my father-in-law, who is a lead organizer of Queens’ biggest street festival, the annual Phagwah Parade, mentioned that Sooklall was the first to request that an LGBT group march in the parade with their banner. Phagwah is synonymous Hindu festival of Spring, Holi, and the word is commonly used by Indo-Caribbean Hindus.

Sooklall was a pioneer in his own right. He was a lover of yoga and of his faith, which he envisioned as an inclusive, all-embracing religion that society misconstrued to ostracize marginalized groups. Almost every time I met Sooklall, he was wearing the color saffon (orange), which connotes the holiest color in Hinduism. 

At the aforementioned 2013 town hall, panelist Vijay Balakrishnan said that progressive Hinduism was the “freedom to create an open space, inclusive of people of different orientations, lifestyles, sexual preferences, and marital statuses.” Sooklall, a devout Hindu who himself had been searching for a faith space that welcomed him as a member of the LGBT community, was inspired by this and by Sadhana’s existence. He stated, “It’s very good to hear this in the temple because it does exist in our society and our community. Many people say this is not Hindu or Indian culture and this is something alien. But it is good to hear this is something you are talking about openly.” Sooklall stood up and mentioned that it was the very first time he had heard the words LGBT mentioned in a mandir. At a such a formative time in Sadhana's organizational history, Sooklall's words validated our entire existence.

We commit to continue talking about justice and moving from dialogue into action every chance we can.

Since 2013, Sadhana has held many satsanghs (sacred worship gatherings) which specifically lift up the rights of the LGBTQ community. We have not forgotten Sooklall’s words, and we never will. 

We are in the midst of the observance of Pitri Paksh, a period of 16 solemn days in the Hindu calendar when we we honor and express thanks through offerings to those who have come before and laid a path for us.  As we pay homage to the activists who paved the way, we remember and celebrate Sooklall’s life. We will continue to keep Rohan’s legacy alive by promoting the principle of ekatva (oneness of all).

oṃ tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭi-vardhanam
urvārukam iva bandhanān mṛtyor mukṣīya mā 'mṛtāt

We worship Lord Shiva, the Three-eyed Lord, who is fragrant and who nourishes and nurtures all beings. As is the ripened cucumber (with the intervention of the gardener) freed from its bondage (to the creeper), may He liberate us from death for the sake of immortality.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. 
Om Peace, Peace, Peace

Kerala's Onam: Mahabali, Vamana, and the Hope of Regeneration

—by Urmila Kutikkad, Sadhana Communications Fellow

Onam, Kerala's annual ten-day harvest festival, has always felt like a time suffused with something beautiful. In my mind I see a reel of flower wheels, of holy basil, chrysanthemum, and rice powder; sadhya leaves holding mango pickle and liquid ginger; a jasmine flower bobby-pinned into dark hair. I also hear the Onam origin story I've heard so many times that I can close my eyes and hear my aunt chanting the fable into my ear--

The story goes like this:

There was once an Asura king, Mahabali, who ruled over Kerala. Although Mahabali was a kind and devout ruler, he was also ambitious and wanted to rule all three realms: the earth, the underworld, and the heavens. He waged war against the Devas, and he won.

The Devas appealed to Lord Vishnu to help them defeat Mahabali, and Vishnu decided to test Mahabali's devotion during Mahabali's celebratory yajna (ritual oblation/sacrifice). During the yajna, Mahabali promised to grant anyone anything they requested, so Vishnu descended to Earth disguised in the form of his fifth avatar, a modest Brahmin dwarf named Vamana, and he requested nothing but three footsteps of land from Mahabali. 

As soon as Mahabali agreed, Vamana began to grow exponentially. With his first footstep, he covered the heavens. With his second footstep, he covered the underworld. Vishnu then asked Mahabali where his third footstep should land, and Mahabali lowered his head and offered it to Vishnu. When Vishnu pressed his final footstep onto Mahabali's head, he pushed Mahabali into the underworld. Mahabali's final request was that he be allowed to return to Kerala once a year, so it is during Onam each year that Mahabali's return is celebrated.

The End

It is strange to be older, now, and to be aware that Onam is more than just a passing montage of bushels of marigold and the smell of burning camphor, that there is more to consider about the ways that myths affect our lives. Culturally, for me and many others, touching another human with your own foot is disrespectful enough that after all these years, I still instinctively touch my hands to my forehead three times if I accidentally graze another person with my foot. I am uneasy, then, that Lord Vishnu, the sustainer and preserver of us all, would put his foot on another being's head and push him into the underworld. I am still more uneasy to know that many Dalit activists in Kerala believe Mahabali to be a Dalit Asura figure and have organized hunger strikes and protests in Kerala on Onam days, which prompts the question of who, exactly, Vamana/Lord Vishnu was trying to push out of Kerala with his foot on that day, and which narratives we choose to validate at the expense of others. As members of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) make increasingly controversial bids to redub Onam as a celebration of Vamana's victory over Mahabali instead of a celebration of Mahabali's annual return, it is a crucial reminder that myths are powerful, contested, and political, and that as we dwell on these myths during this harvest season, it is also our job to constantly reconsider them so that everyone in our communities feels held and seen. 

With the story of Mahabali, Vamana, and the festival of Onam, a possible opening in the text that allows for us to hold and see each other better is the fact that Vishnu's fifth avatar, Vamana, is primarily characterized through two defining qualities: that he is a Brahmin, and that he is a dwarf. While the narrative that is strategically deployed by Hindutva groups like the RSS and the BJP focuses on centering Vamana's Brahmin identity, a possibility for rearticulating the Onam mythology is to instead center Vamana's identity as a dwarf. This was done by the Tamil Alvar poet-saint Nammalvar, who was not a Brahmin. In a translation done by A.K. Ramanajun, Nammalvar writes of Vamana's transformation back into Vishnu:

making great his little body
till it overwhelms
all three worlds,
when my masters,
his great servants
who have taken on small
human lives,
are content to roam this world?

8.10.3

In centering Vamana's dwarf identity over his Brahmin one, Nammalvar draws our focus to Vishnu's act of choosing to make his earthly incarnation not only small, but smaller, even, than what might have been the societal human norm. We are not expected to rejoice over the defeat of Mahabali or read into casteist allegorical implications. Now that hierarchical overtones have been gently disentangled from the theology through poetry, we might instead draw our attention to the more beautiful qualities that the smallness of Vishnu's chosen avatar brings to mind: grace, humility, groundedness.

I think it is beautiful that Onam is a celebration of harvest, bounty, and regeneration, and works of compassionate theological rearticulation—like that of Nammalvar's bhakti poetry—feel very much like acts of abundance and regeneration: as if times like Onam when we choose to meditate on the meanings of our festivals and rites will have profoundly proliferative implications for the love and devotion we can show to those within and beyond our communities.

REIMAGINING RAKSHA BANDHAN

by Vagisha Agrawal, Sadhana active member

Raksha Bandhan is a popular, traditionally Hindu festival that takes place in August. “Raksha” translates into protection and “bandhan” translates into bond. Raksha bandhan or “the bond of protection” is symbolized by wristbands (rakhis) that traditionally, sisters tie on their brothers’ wrists in order to pray for their prosperity, health and well-being. Brothers in return offers a gift and promises to protect their sisters.

Raksha bandhan is a beautiful celebration of sibling-love but I have always felt it could be so much more. If the world is one family, then we hold the promise of raksha bandhan beyond our siblings, to our brothers and sisters around the world. In recent years, my brother and I have practiced a transformed version of Raksha bandhan. We both commit to protecting each other and standing for justice.

The rakhi I tied on my brother’s wrist a few days ago symbolizes his promise to me: that he will never act in ways that can make a woman feel uncomfortable and that he will never be a bystander in situations where a woman, or anyone for that matter, is degraded. In return, my brother tied a rakhi on my wrist expecting from me the same sort of commitment to humanity and justice. His rakhi on my wrist symbolizes our commitment to egalitarian relationships where women and sisters are considered of equal value to their male counterparts. The bond of protection that my brother and I share strengthens our relationship by anchoring both of us in our core values. Raksha bandhan is a meditative tradition for my brother and I as we discuss the practice of compassion and equity in our daily lives. The rakhi we tie on each other’s wrists reminds us of our dharma towards our brothers and sisters around the world. Today, among the many rakhis I have on my arm, I have one on behalf of my sisters around the world. This rakhi is my vow to never forget the women who came before me and to live a life of service to my sisters around the world.

This raksha bandhan, I call on my sisters and brothers to join me in reimagining tradition. Instead of expecting our men to protect, it is about time we start expecting them to participate in creating a more dignified world for all women. Let us expect nothing less from our brothers than respect for all women. Let us expect nothing less than equality from our relationships. I ask of you all the same promise I have asked of my brother. In return, I promise you all the same commitment that I promised my brother.

Wishing all my brothers and sisters a happy raksha bandhan.

NOW HIRING: Fall 2019 Operations & Communications Fellowships

Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus is seeking two motivated and responsible individuals to serve as Operations and Communications Fellows for the Fall 2019 semester. This is a great paid opportunity for those interested in working at the intersection of non-profit management and faith-based social justice work. Ideal applicants will be excited by the opportunity to help successfully develop and implement the operations and communications systems and structures for a growing and dynamic mission-driven organization. 

Prospective applicants should be passionate about our mission of empowering Hindu American communities to live out the values of their faith through service, community transformation, and targeted advocacy work. 

YOUR OPPORTUNITY

  • Learn about the internal workings of nonprofit management, logistics, fundraising, communications, and more! 

  • Help the members of our Executive Board through every stage of our programming and communications strategy, moving from conceptualization and goal-setting, to implementation and achievement. 

  • Create a process for planning, implementing, measuring, and evaluating our short-term and long-term progress.

  • Conduct in-depth product and process research to ensure we are choosing the most cost-efficient options for our organization.

QUALIFICATIONS

  • Ideal candidates will have at least an undergraduate degree, and be pursuing an advanced degree in either Public Policy, Non-Profit Management, Social Work, or another related field. Exceptionally driven and organized candidates with alternative backgrounds and experience are also encouraged to apply. 

  • Exemplify a strong commitment to Sadhana's mission and theory of change, which emphasizes service, community transformation, and advocacy. 

  • Highly organized and detail-oriented with the ability to handle time-sensitive administrative tasks. Must be self-directed and able to plan and coordinate multiple projects simultaneously.

  • Ability to write and speak clearly and effectively, and to interact with staff in a positive and professional manner.

  • Highly proficient in contemporary office software applications, including Google Docs, Asana, Slack, Mailchimp, Canva, etc.

*Applicants must be currently authorized to work in the United States on a full-time basis and must not now or in the future require sponsorship for employment-based visa status.

OPERATIONS FELLOWSHIP DUTIES

  • Maintain and organize database of supporters/funders, distribution lists, and update contact information. As directed, Fellows will help add to existing lists and help generate new lists in order to advance organizational goals.

  • Support day-to-day operations: drafting/sending emails, maintaining existing channels on Slack and Asana platforms, and providing additional suggestions for systems to help organize and streamline our work as an organization.

  • Researching funding and grant opportunities from philanthropic entities, government agencies, and other relevant sources.

  • Collaborate with Communications Fellow in developing an operational strategy and targeted prospective donor list for Sadhana’s 2019 Diwali fundraising campaign

COMMUNICATIONS FELLOW DUTIES

  • Compile daily press clips, monitor and collect press hits, outreach campaigns, and other examples of our work to be shared on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

  • Compile weekly e-newsletters to Sadhana’s members and press lists via Mailchimp

  • Assist with redesign of Sadhana’s website and marketing materials

  • Create posters and graphics for upcoming Sadhana events

  • Collaborate with Operations Fellow in developing a marketing plan for Sadhana’s 2019 Diwali fundraising campaign

  • Aid in long-term research projects relating to communication and marketing strategies for non-profits and faith-based organizations.

OTHER DETAILS

  • Location: Remote

  • This fellowship requires a time commitment of 20 hours per week.

  • Sadhana is willing to work with your university to secure school credit. This fellowship includes a stipend with a base pay of $15/hour.

  • We unfortunately cannot provide health benefits at this time. 

  • Fellowships are project-based, 3-month programs, starting in September 2019.

HOW TO APPLY

Please send a resume, one-page cover letter, and contact information for three references to info@sadhana.org. Applications will be due Friday, August 16th.

They Were Never Strangers to Us

by Sadhana’s LA coordinator and active member Tahil Sharma

Immigrant parents.
The refugee friend.
The asylum-seeking loved one.
The undocumented mentor.

I find it quite strange how the divisiveness of our language changes the context of each phrase. In our political discourse today, it’s the adjective in these phrases that cause discomfort — based on a variety of different circumstances — and leads to a domino effect of misplaced anger and frustration.

Centuries of this behavior — manifested by patterns of bigotry and violence, towards people seeking the same liberties and opportunities in life — can be rooted in words as simple as “go back to where you came from.” Why? Merely because there are dissenting opinions about the status quo we call injustice. Many who find themselves on our doorstep for safety are the very same ones we’ve caused to go through this ordeal. And yet our conveniences are threatened when history reminds us of the debts we owe to our “civilization” at the expense of others.

Now, look at the other side of these phrases. Parents, friends, loved ones, mentors. People who bring out the best in us and remind us that we aren’t alone in our journeys through this reality. They’re the shoulders for our sorrows, the smiles that bring joy, and often the causes of conflict that build our resilience. They are not perfect, and neither are you, but you’ve developed you’re perfection in this process. But we know that often when we hurt our own we feel flustered, we feel disappointed, and we feel like we must redeem ourselves and do more to correct what we’ve done wrong.

Now, what if I told you that you’ve read those first four phrases wrong? What if, instead of understanding those phrases as the English vernacular, we look at both the nouns and adjectives as synonyms?

In an abstract way, all those words can mean the same thing. My parents happen to be immigrants. I have friends that happen to be refugees. I have a loved one who I know to be an asylum seeker. And I have mentors who happen to be undocumented. Their experiences and journeys to find a better tomorrow do not exclude them from being the loving people that I call my own. This can be said about the thousands of people who come to the United States with the same dreams and opportunities, shattered by the very narrative that never allowed them a chance for survival here or at home.

People may argue what I’m saying is simply an opinion. Some may argue that it doesn’t speak for the propensity of chaos that might ensue. But when we affirm divisive language in a time where our lives are so intertwined with, and require the support of, the same people we choose to disavow for the sake of convenience, we deny our collective ability to thrive and prosper.

This is more than me speaking from a soapbox. This is my religious mandate as a Hindu and Sikh.

Practice truth, contentment and kindness; this is the most excellent way of life.
One who is so blessed by the Formless Lord God renounces selfishness, and becomes the dust of all.
— Guru Granth Sahib, Ang 51

One is a relative, the other stranger,
say the small-minded.
The entire world is a family,
live it beneficently.

Be detached,
be generous,
lift up your mind, enjoy
the fruit of Brahmanic freedom.
— Maha Upanishad 6.71–75

I am reminded daily by my own interfaith identity, and the scriptures from the array of religious and spiritual traditions that promote a legacy of service, that no one is or can be strange. I should strive to not just “get along” with everyone, — dismissing their woes out of the assumption that “getting along” is equivalent to “leaving alone” — but rather work to serve them as my own and strive for their justice.

I would even dare to go deeper. I would argue that the Divine Light present in all things makes me one with everything; I am the universe and the universe is Me. If that same Divine Light exists in all of creation, it means that those I see as strangers, even my enemies, are a reflection and a manifestation of my own light. What I may do to them will reflect on me and on the society that I belong to.

I cannot be a shining light myself if I dim the light of others. And I cannot keep my own light bright if I can’t help others. Instead of being the light at the end of the tunnel, I want to be the light that illuminates others and make this world better than what we were born into.

So let’s not play ignorant here. Thousands of people, men, women, children, the elderly, LGBTQ folks, and people of various worldviews are currently detained in privatized and government-run centers around the United States for pursuing freedom. It would be remiss to reflect on this and not think about what is says about me, a man of many privileges, if I were to not stand for what is right and do what I can to help those being systematically oppressed. This matter is of great moral and faithful urgency because it resounds the echos of travesties past and reminds me of what side of history I should be standing on. But, even then, it should also remind me of the deeds and actions I must show to God at the end of my life. I cannot do good merely to be rewarded; I must do good because it is right and just.

Air is the Guru, Water is the Father, and Earth is the Great Mother of all.
Day and night are the two nurses, in whose lap all the world is at play.
Good deeds and bad deeds; the record is read out in the Presence of the Lord of Dharma.
According to their own actions, some are drawn near, and some are sent far.
Those who have meditated on the Nām and departed after working by the sweat of their brows.
O Nanak, their faces are radiant in the Court of the Lord, and many are saved along with them!
— Closing Salok, Japji Sahib (SGGS 8)

This article was first published in Religica.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sadhana Calls On NYPD to Investigate Attack of Swami Harish Chander Puri as a Hate Crime

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 21, 2019

Contact: Aminta Kilawan-Narine

718-300-4888

ackilawan@gmail.com

Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus

Sadhana Calls On NYPD to Investigate Attack of Swami Harish Chander Puri as a Hate Crime

Bigotry and xenophobia does not distinguish between Hindus and Muslims, or black or brown skin. When the US President targets immigrants and refugees and encourages chants of "send her back" at rallies, this results in real harm inflicted on our communities.

We are deeply heartbroken by reports of a brutal attack on Swami Harish Chander Puri Ji, priest of the Shiv Shakti Peeth temple in Glen Oaks, Queens, NY. Swami Puri Ji was attacked on Thursday at 11am by a man who reportedly screamed "this is my neighborhood." Just a few weeks ago, Queens was declared the nation’s most diverse large county according to a new study of 2017 census data. It is deplorable that in a place as diverse as Queens, such an atrocity can occur. 

Thankfully, Swami Puri Ji is recovering, and is praying for the man who attacked him. We stand with this compassionate warm-hearted leader and the Shiv Shakti Peeth community, and invite all of our interfaith and community allies in the Queens / New York City area to do so as well.

We, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, and the undersigned community partners and faith leaders, call upon the New York Police Department to conduct a swift investigation of this brutal attack against such a loving leader. The remarks uttered by Swami Puri Ji’s attacker are a blatant example of hate speech. Thus, we urge the NYPD to investigate this matter as a hate crime. 

May justice be served, and may love prevail over this hate we are seeing here and all over the country. We all belong here! 

oṃ dyauḥ shāntir-antarikṣaṃ shāntiḥ
pṛthivī shāntir-āpaḥ shāntir-oṣadhayaḥ shāntiḥ
vanaspatayaḥ shāntir-vishvedevāḥ shāntir-brahma shāntiḥ
sarvaṃ shāntiḥ shāntir-eva shāntiḥ sā mā shāntiredhi
Oṃ shāntiḥ shāntiḥ shāntiḥ
-- Yajur Veda

Unto The Heavens Be Peace,
Unto The Sky And The Earth Be Peace.
Peace Be Unto The Water,
Unto The Herbs And Trees Be Peace.
Unto All The Gods Be Peace,
Unto Brahma And Unto All Be Peace.
And May We Realize That Peace.
Om. Peace, Peace, Peace.

Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Sunita Viswanath, Davanie Singhroy, Samir Durvasula, Nikhil Mandalaparthy, Udit Thakur and Gautham Reddy
Executive Board of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus

Community and Faith-Based Signatories (So far):

Pandit Manoj Jadubans, Spiritual Leader, Shaanti Bhavan Mandir

Ravina Vibart, Sadhana advisory board member and leader of Shaanti Bhavan Mandir

Pandit Mahendranauth Doobay, Bhavaanee Maa Mandir INC, Brooklyn 

Pratima Doobay, Sadhana resident pandita and community activist 

Pandit Tillackdharry Seerattan, Shri Devi Mandir, Jamaica NY

Ma Mokshapriya Shakti Saraswati, Ma Yogashakti International Mission

Hemant Wadhwani, Hindu American Seva Communities 

Pandit Ganeshwar Ramsahai, Hindu spiritual leader 

Himanshu "Heems" Suri, Artist/Activist

Shrestha Singh, Sadhana advisory board member and Hindu community leader

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, Sadhana advisory board member and Professor of Religion, Philosophy and Asian Studies at Saint Olaf College

Shana Sippy, Assistant Professor of Religion at Centre College, and Research Associate and Co-Director of The Religious Diversity in MN Initiative, Carleton College

Dr. Jeffery D. Long, Professor of Religion and Asian Studies, Elizabethtown College

Pandita Varuna Padma Sahabir, Hindu community leader

Dr. Satish Prakash, Maharshi Dayananda Gurukul

Vijah Ramjattan, Sadhana advisory board member and Founder and President, United Madrassi Association

Pandit Satish Deo, Hindu priest 

Swami Shiveshwarananda, Administrator, American Sevashram Sangha

Shekar Krishnan, Jackson Heights Hindu community activist

Dave Kutayiah, Chairman, The Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple & The Shakti Mission; Adjunct Professor, School of Business at Mercy College

Chandra Ramsammy, Secretary, The Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple & President of The Shakti Mission

Perley Kutayiah, President, The Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple

Zaheer Gobindpersaud, Co-Treasurer, The Shakti Mission

Parbatti Kalu, Board Member, The Shakti Mission

Anita Kutayiah – Founder & Board Member - The Shakti Mission

Inram Kalu, Board Member, The Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple

Hilda Thamman, Board Member, The Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple & The Shakti Mission

Rob Kutayiah, Board Member, The Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple & The Shakti Mission

Ron Rashid, Member, The Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple & The Shakti Mission

Uvika Kutayiah, Board Member, The Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple & The Shakti Mission

Vikas Menon, Advisory Board Member Kundiman and Sadhana member

Amit Lucia Mehta, Member, Board of Directors, First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY, and Sadhana member

John Thatamanil, Sadhana advisory board member and Associate Professor of Theology and World Religions at Union Theological Seminary

Swami Vedanand Saraswati, Spiritual Head Arya Samaj South Africa

Lori Narine, President, SHEA Charity, Floral Park, NY

Pandit Dipak A. Rambharose, Hindu Spiritual Leader

Kathie Noga, Hindu Blogger, Shri Gaayatri Mandir Musician & Board Member of Minneapolis Theosophical Society 

Roli Khare, Hindu community activist, attorney, and board member at SABANY

Sri Raja Gopal Bhattar, Sri Vaishnava Pandit

Neelima Shukla-Bhatt, Associate Professor in South Asia Studies, Wellesley College, Wellesley MA

The Rev. Kaji S. Dousa, Senior Pastor, Park Avenue Christian Church

The Rev. Dr. Jacqueline J. Lewis, Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church

The Rev. Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft, Executive Minister, Middle Collegiate Church

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah

Marc Greenberg, Executive Director, Interfaith assembly on homelessness and housing

Simran Jeet Singh, Sikh Community Leader

The Rev. Dr. Clyde Kuemmerle, Executive Director, Ecclesia Ministries of New York

Rev. Dr. Karyn Carlo, American Baptist Churches

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director, Greater New York Labor -Religion Coalition

Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, President, Auburn Seminary

Rev. Dr. Samuel Cruz Trinity Lutheran Church

Dr. Mohamed Hack, Muslim Community Leader

Rev. Dr. Damaris Whittaker, Senior Minister, Fort Washington Collegiate Church

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun magazine

Rabbi Hara Person, Central Conference of American Rabbis 

Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons, Senior Minister, First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY

Debbie Almontaser, Muslim Community Network

Aniqa Nawabi, Muslim Community Network

Jonathan Soto, Associate Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Union Theological Society

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

Naheed Samadi Bahram, Program Director, Women for Afghan Women

David Aviles, United Clergy Task Force

Daisy Khan, Executive Director, Women's Islamic Initiative for Spirituality and Equality (WISE)

Rev. Rafael Reyes, Ph.D, Assistant Professor in Theology and Religious Studies, Director of Information Literacy and Library Services; Co-editor, Journal of World Christianity, New York Theological Seminary

Afaf Nashar, Executive Director, Council on American Islamic Relations-NY

Rabbi Dr. Barat Ellman

S.Q.Masood, Centre for Peace Studies, India

Ahmed Mohamed, Council on American Islamic Relations-NY

Rabbi Justus Baird, Shalom Hartman Institute

Masuda Sultan, Founding board member, Women for Afghan Women 

Dr. Naeem Baig, Moderator, Religions for Peace - USA

Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Trustee, Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations

Garnett R. Losak, Director of Congregational Life, First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY

Sunny Jain, Artist/Activist

Ahsan Khan, National President, Indian American Muslim Council

The Rev. Bishop Dr. Raymond H. Rufen-Blanchette, Chairman, The Clergy Campaign for Social and Economic Justice

Barza Diaz, Director of NY Chapter, Muslims for Progressive Values

The Rev. Marie A. Tatro, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island

Annetta Seecharan, Executive Director, Chhaya CDC

Russ Jennings, host of Love in a Dangerous Time podcast

Martha Eddy, Advisory Council, Micah Institute

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis , Director, Kairos Center; Co-Chair, Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

Rabbi Alissa Wise, Deputy Director, Jewish Voice for Peace

Amina Mohamed Darwish, Muslim Community Leader

Jahajee Sisters: Empowering Indo-Caribbean Women

Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, Associate Dean, Jewish Theological Seminary

The Rev. Elizabeth G. Maxwell, Rector, Church of the Ascension, NYC

Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Senior Vice President, Auburn Seminary

Ani Zonneveld, Founder and President, Muslims for Progresive Values

Dr. Diane Steinman, Director, NYS Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform

Rev. Thia Reggio, Pastor, Astoria First Presbyterian Church

Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, Associate General Minister, Justice & Local Church Ministries, The United Church of Christ

Stosh Cotler, Chief Executive Officer, BEND THE ARC: A Jewish Partnership for Justice & BEND THE ARC Jewish Action

Rabbi Sharon Brous, Senior/ Founding Rabbi, IKAR

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, CA

Rev. Dr. Raymond Rivera, President/Senior Pastor, Latino Pastoral Action Center

Eugena Simpson, Co-Chair Community Coalition on Mental Health

Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director, Interfaith Center of New York

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice President, New York Board of Rabbis

Rabbi Lester Bronstein, President, New York Board of Rabbis

Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Union Temple of Brooklyn

Mohamed Q. Amin, LGBTQ & Immigrant Rights Activist and Founder of Caribbean Equality Project

John Choe, Flushing Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Secretary, Flushing Interfaith Council

Asian American Federation

Rev. Joel A. Gibson, Director of the Micah Institute 

Dr. Gwendolyn Hadley-Hall, Associate Pastor Christ Temple United Baptist Church

Rabbi Bob Kaplan, Director, The Center for Community Leadership, Jewish Community Relations Council of New York

The South Asian Bar Association of New York

Lisa Sharon Harper, President and Founder, FreedomRoad.us

Rev. Dr. LaKeesha Walrond, President, New York Theological Seminary

Dr. Pankaj Jain, Associate Professor, Dept of Philosophy and Religion

Co-chair, India Initiative Group, University of North Texas

Andrea Pinkney, Associate Professor, McGill University

Dr. Jennifer B. Saunders, author, Imagining Religious Communities: Transnational Hindus and Their Narrative Performances (OUP, 2019)

Nathaniel Roberts, Research Fellow, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen

Loriliai Biernacki, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder

Dr. Brian A. Hatcher, Packard Chair of Theology, Tufts University, Medford, MA

Dr. T. Ramachandran, Director, Religion and Public Engagement
Associate Teaching Professor, Department for the Study of Religions, Wake Forest University

Linda Hess, Senior Lecturer Emerita, Stanford University

Joel Lee, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Williams College

Professor Rita D. Sherma, PhD | Director & Professor, The Shingal Center for Dharma Studies, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA

Rev. Jon Paul Sydnor, PhD, Emmanuel College, Boston

Rev. Micah Bucey, Minister, Judson Memorial Church

Dr. Chad Bauman, Professor of Religion, Butler University

Joel Bordeaux, Visiting Scholar, Mattoo Center for India Studies, Stony Brook University

Antoinette (Anita) Denapoli, Associate Professor of Religion, TCU

Andrew J. Nicholson, Associate Professor of Hinduism and Indian Intellectual History, Stony Brook University

Guru Purnima: Finding the Teachers Around Us and Within Us

by Sadhana member Hari Venkatachalam 

Guru: Dispelling Darkness through Action

The syllable Gu indicates darkness, the syllable Ru means its dispeller,

Because of the quality of dispelling darkness, the Guru is thus termed.

- Advayataraka Upanishad

                  The word Guru has become a universally recognized term. In English, it has become a passive term, referring to an individual who carries with them a great deal of knowledge. This is illustrated by its common use in many expressions, such as “business guru.” Even Forbes Magazine releases lists of influential “business and management gurus” across the world.

                  I can appreciate words entering foreign languages and molding themselves to take on unique meanings in their new social and cultural context. However, I do feel that there has been an aspect of the original Sanskrit term that has been lost in translation. Not just in translation from Sanskrit to the various Indian and non-Indian languages, but in translation over years of time from its original meaning to its modern usage.

A Guru is not just a passive personality; They are a “doer.” The word Guru was described in ancient texts as one who removes (“-ru”) the defect of ignorance (“Gu-“). The active definition of this word carries with it rich meaning: A Guru is a warrior of the human conscience and a champion of our principles.

In many ways, we all already know this is what a Guru is. As we dig into our past and we consider the names of the teachers who stand out from the crowd, rarely do we think of passive figures. We think of those who seized our minds with their words, who lived their truths through their actions, and who shared their worldview in such a convincing manner that it became our worldview.

On this Guru Purnima, I want you to consider the characteristics that make use see certain individuals as our “Gurus.” Can we describe characters from our scriptures as our Gurus? What about our parents, our friends, and our actual teachers? What about ourselves?     

Eklavya: The Self as a Guru

Who is better able to know God than I myself, since He resides in my heart and is the very essence of my being? Such should be the attitude of one who is seeking.

- Katha Upanishad

                  One of the most well-known teachers in the rich tapestry of Hindu literature is Drona. He is so highly regarded that his name is molded with Sandhi to form his widely recognized name: “Dronacharya,” meaning “the teacher Drona.” While Dronacharya’s wisdom and might are highly regarded in Hindu culture, he also faces a great deal of criticism, especially when it came to his treatment of the character Eklavya.

                  In the Mahabharatha, Eklavya is a young archer who is rejected as a student by Dronacharya due to what Drona perceived as his inferior lineage. Not deterred by this rejection, Eklavya built a statue of Dronacharya from mud and taught himself archery. At one point, Dronacharya comes across the skills of Eklavya and realizes that Eklavya’s skills surpass those of any other archer. Dronacharya, worried of the repercussions of such a skilled archer, demanded Guru Dakshina, or a fee. For his fee, he requested Eklavya’s right thumb. Eklavya, humble and dutiful, offered his thumb to Dronacharya and therefore disabled his archery skills for the rest of his life.

                  When I first read the story of Eklavya, I was filled with indignation. Hindu epics are filled with many individuals whose virtues and faults left them as gray-shaded characters, distinct from the dichotomies of “hero” and “villain.” At that moment, all of Drona’s teachings of Dharma, or righteousness, of responsibility, were reduced to dust by his pettiness and cruelty. Drona’s actions themselves find condemnation in the scriptures. Folklore abounds with tales of Goddess Saraswati cursing Drona with a shameful death for failing to perform his duty as a Guru.  

                  What also bothered me was that Dronacharya had no right to even claim “Guru Dakshina” from Eklavya. Dronacharya, as a passive figure who possesses knowledge but refuses to share it, is a Guru in many ways like the modern usage of the term Guru. In terms of Eklavya’s training in becoming a great archer, he is just a statue. He does not perform his actions as a teacher; he dispels neither darkness nor ignorance.

                  But in Eklavya’s story, there is a figure that performs the role of Guru. This figure performs the role with such prowess that Eklavya’s skills outstrip Arjuna, the most famous archer in Hindu literature. The Guru is Eklavya himself.

                  Coming from a rich heritage of Guru-Sisya, or teacher-student relationships, it is often easy to forget that sometimes we have much to learn from ourselves. There are lessons we can learn from our mistakes, from our conscience, from our sense of humanity, from our core beliefs. Some of the greatest activists of the past 100 years did not necessarily act under the instructions of others.  Rosa Parks, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, and Malala Yousafzai all may have been inspired by the works of others, but in many ways, they acted as their own Gurus, shaping their own destinies.

Seeking Gurus Outside One’s Self

The mark of wisdom is to discern the truth
From whatever source it is heard.

– Kural 423, Thirukkural

                  From the countless adults who supported me, taught me, and shaped me when I was growing up, there is one man that specifically stands out in my mind. He was a Hindu religious teacher who used to run a local community group called “Story Hour” in my small central Pennsylvanian community. He was our beloved Storyteller.

Every other week, we would all gather in the basements of various homes throughout my community. I still remember how the sounds of socialization and children playing would fade as he closed eyes and began chanting Sanskrit mantras, indicating that it was time for him to begin his stories. Over the years, he would share countless stories from the Hindu scriptures with my family and other families in my hometown. His knowledge was immense, and he performed his role as a storyteller with grace. He weaved jokes into his tales leaving the children in giggles, but also incorporated stories from his life and his experiences; including the horrors of Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujurat, and the heroism of rare common folk who stood up against the violence.

                  His role as a “Guru” stuck with me over the years. I turned to lessons that he had shared from my childhood when I faced obstacles in my life. Not surprisingly, years later when I came out of the closet to my family and my community, he was one of the first people that I reached out to. It was a difficult time in my life, and I often felt weighed down by the heaviness of cruel words and cutting accusations.

                  During that time, I didn’t need the passive figure of a Guru; I needed a Doer. In that way, his support during that time was invaluable. It built my confidence to face adversity. It removed the darkness of loneliness. 

Honor the Gurus Who Teach Through Action

Let a man learn thoroughly whatever he may learn,

and let his conduct be worthy of his learning.

– Kural 391, Thirukkural

These Gurus, whether they be Eklavya or my storyteller in my home town all share one important characteristic. They live the definition of the word "Guru." Today Hindus all across the world will honor their teachers with gifts. I hope you celebrate this holiday, not with hollow gestures, but with introspection into your past and into your holy books.

Remember those people who were not just conveyors of knowledge, but who inspired through their actions, and acted with that knowledge. Don’t forget to consider how the most important Guru may rest not outside us, but in our hearts.

To all those Gurus, my Pranaam. For all those Gurus who have shaped the lives of others, even if it is just one life, I’ll leave with one last quote. It is from the Saint Tyagaraja in one of his famous Pancharatna Telugu Krithis “Endaro mahaanubhavulu, Andariki Vandanamulu.” “To all the many great men of the world, my salutations.”

 

Jai Shri Ram, Jai Hanuman: Chants of Love and Peace in Taos, NM

by Sadhana cofounder Sunita Viswanath

Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos, NM, is an idyllic ashram and Hanuman mandir in the quiet town of Taos, in the foothills of the Sangre de Christo mountain range.  Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately called Maharaji or Babaji by his devotees, lived in India from 1900 to 1973, and was a Hanuman bhakt. He started a number of ashrams in India. This ashram in Taos is the only one outside India.  His philosophy can be summarized in the quotes, “Sab ek,” (all are one) and “Love everyone, serve everyone, feed everyone, remember God.”


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I first came here to this ashram and mandir 24 years ago, and during the past 11 years, I have come every summer. On a weekend morning, you will find a sizeable group of devotees gathered in the mandir before the beautiful marble Hanuman who looks as if he is about to take flight. The devotees, very few of them of Indian origin, chant the Hanuman chalisa from memory.  The singing is spirited, and full of bhakti and love. After 108 Chalisas, there is a vegetarian lunch for everyone.  

This ashram manifests the values and mission of Sadhana. Everyone is welcome, regardless of race, caste, gender and sexuality. Everyone is welcome to lead the chalisas and prayers; we can all go right up to the murthi and take our blessings from Hanumanji. There are no disposable plates and cutlery. Meals are served on steel plates which everyone helps to wash. And most of the vegetables are grown in the ashram's organic garden.  A popular item sold at the mandir dukan (store) is an apron that says, “Feed Everyone.” Indeed, the weekends often bring more than 150-200 devotees from as far as Texas and Colorado, and everyone has lunch together. During the financial crisis of 2007-9, the ashram provided meals regularly for 100s of people in Taos.

I was at the ashram last Sunday, when Lord Hanumanji moved into the new temple space. It was a huge celebration. There was a havan for Hanumanji, and chanting of Hanuman Chalisa for many hours.  The chants of Jai Shri Ram and Jai Hanuman filled my heart with peace and happiness tinged with the deep sadness of the knowledge of the pain all around. 

I remembered Tabrez Ansari, one of several Muslims in India who were recently beaten to death while being forced to chant Jai Shri Ram and Jai Hanuman.

I took the opportunity of this special day to ask a few of the devotees what the salutations Jai Shri Ram and Jai Hanuman means to them.

Here is what they shared with me: 

Punya

The center of our ashram is Jai Guru Dev.

I actually wasn’t crazy about Ram. Particularly because of the way he treated Sita. But then over the years I realized that Baba loved him. Baba wrote his name over and over, and chanted it. Here at our ashram, Jai Shri Ram is not a war cry. Rather, it is a cry of wholesomeness and forgiveness. We claim Ram this way: we can be good, no matter what.  We can make the choice to be good rather than give pain to others. That’s the Ram I love.

There is suffering, but Ram made the choice to take the pain away from others and take it on himself. That’s what I love. 

Rama really is for everyone. The story goes like this.

Valmiki was originally thief and a killer named Ratnakar. Some sages that he tried to rob reasoned with him, and he wanted to change his ways. The sages advised him to chant Rama’s name, but he refused to say Rama. He believed saying Rama’s name was a sin, because he had lived a life of wrongdoings. The sages said, don’t worry, just say mara mara mara mara (killed, killed killed, killed). And so Ratnakar sat in penance chanting mara mara mara, which of course became Rama Rama Rama. After many years, ants built their anthill all around him.

Some sages were passing by, and they heard the chanting of Rama Rama coming from an anthill. They pulled apart the anthill and found Ratnakar inside, deep in meditation. They named him Valmiki (which means anthill), and he went on to become a great sage and poet.

Hanuman Ji helped me sleep when I was scared at night as a child. My mother asked us to chant Bajrang Bali’s name. That always stayed in my heart. Hanuman unfolds in so many stories in the vernacular. He is available to us. There is no limit to Hanumanji’s love. 

Mukesh

Ram is the name of God, and uttering is makes us happy and peaceful. I live in Texas but I come here whenever I can because I find great peace here in this ashram. What does Jai Shri Ram mean? It means: Give us good thoughts, positive thoughts. Give us peace of mind.

Dhara

Ram Ram. Jai Shri Ram. Jai Siya Ram.

It feels so good to say, The feel of the tongue on the back of the teeth, and the beautiful sound of these words – it all gives me an ecstatic feeling.

This is how we greet each other at the ashram: Ram Ram. Sita Ram. Jai Shri Ram.

When I say it, I pull it out from my heart. It is an internal practice as well as an external offering of gratitude.

Jai Hanuman – for me, this is a celebration. The reason why we all get together here. An expression of joy.

Alistair

Jai Shri Ram. Or Ram Ram.

This is pure intent, full commitment, a wholesomeness and light.

It is calming and centering.

It is always there in our heart and mind. Not separate from us.

Jai Shri Ram is the heart’s intent projected and manifested.

Hanuman for me is giving. Abundance. Unconditional generosity.

Meem

Chanting Jai Shri Ram and Jai Hanuman is a higher way to honor the Guru. My heart gets filled with the love I have experienced in this Hindu and Hindu-inspired community in the middle of Taos.

Sarah

Rama means Rama and Sita. I heard this at one of Ammaji’s (Mata Amritanandamayi) programs: If you say Ram Ram Ram Ram, you will find yourself saying Ma Ma Ma Ma.  Ram is also called Sitaram. The Hanuman Chalisa invokes him as Siya Vara Ramchandra, the husband of Sita. When Hanuman opened his chest, there were both Rama and Sita within.

Anandi

Ram ji is the vibration of love in the heart.

Ram ji is unconditional love and acceptance.

Neem Karoli Baba gave us a way to see the divine fully – through all our paap (sin) and punya (good acts), everything.  Babaji and Ram ji, they can see transparently through everything, right to our soul, and they love us after all that.

Hanumanji represents service. He serves Ramji and inspires us to love everyone, serve everyone. That’s all I know.

It is bittersweet to hear these beautiful reflections on Rama, Sita and Hanuman, knowing that these same deities are being invoked during abominable acts of violence.  I fill my heart with the hope that comes through from the reflections of these devotees.  

Open Letter to Mr. Niraj Shah, Co-founder and CEO, Wayfair

 

Dear Niraj bhai,

In his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It is clear that you and your wife Jill resonate with these profound words. You have given generously of your money, time, and effort to build a private foundation which addresses poverty, children’s education, and social needs in the Boston area. 

We are members of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus. For the past eight years, we have worked to inspire and mobilize Hindu communities in the United States to connect their faith to humanitarian seva (service) in the world. We salute you for your noble philanthropic efforts.

We are writing regarding media reports that your company Wayfair has procured a $200,000 contract with BCFS, a firm that works with the US government to house detained migrant adults and children along the US-Mexico border.  

As Hindus and scholars and practitioners of Hindu traditions who share your concern about poverty and human suffering, and your demonstrated commitment to addressing it, we hope you will reconsider Wayfair’s involvement in the humanitarian crisis at our US-Mexico border.

By immigrating to the United States from India, your parents were able to carve out a path for you to succeed in life. That path is being closed to increasing numbers of immigrants searching for that same opportunity.  Please try and imagine the extreme trauma and crises -- war and conflict, gang violence and terrorism, religious persecution, and the dire consequences of climate change -- that must be driving so many families to flee their home countries in Africa, Middle East, Asia (with increasing numbers of migrants fleeing India), and Central and South America to arrive at the Southern border. 

Selling furniture to the government for detention centers and other border facilities is tantamount to being an accomplice to the inhumane policies of the United States government towards the migrant families. We have seen the separation of children, even babies, from their parents. We have seen parents detained for many months, without any knowledge of where their children have been sent. We have seen images of children in cages—children who do not know where their parents are. We have seen parents deported back to their home countries while their children remain in the US, languishing in foster care.

Most recently, we have seen unspeakable tragedies: the death from dehydration of a 6-year old Indian girl in the Arizona desert, while her mother went to find water; and the deaths by drowning of a Salvadoran father and his toddler daughter.

Rather than participate in the United States government’s cruel border policies, we implore you to cancel your business dealings with them.  

Your foundation website shares that if you could wave a magic wand, you “would wipe out inefficiency in government and society,” and “erase poverty.” And Mrs. Shah would want everyone to feel “truly, confidently loved.”

Mr. Shah, the migrants who arrive at our shores are fleeing terrifying situations which are not of their making. We Sadhana members, your brothers and sisters, invite you to be in dialogue and community with us. Together, we can draw on the wisdom and teachings of our traditions, and build a world in which all children are, “truly, confidently loved.” We call upon you to remember:

  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of the “beloved community,” which is none other than the Hindu vision of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family)

  • The Hindu teaching, “Atithi Devo Bhava,” which calls on us to see God in every guest, every foreigner, every person who is different from ourselves

  • The principle of ahimsa (non-violence and non-harming) that is central to Hinduism.

Your brave workers are mirroring the very same values that you and Mrs. Shah represent through your philanthropy: they are sacrificing their job security to urge you to think of the wellbeing of migrant children and families. 

Ending Wayfair’s contracts with BCFS will be an act of moral courage and self-sacrifice on your part, and a much-needed example to the world. 

In addition, we ask that you listen to the demands of your employees, who risked their jobs to voice their concerns, and donate any profits that you have already made from these contracts to RAICES, an organization that supports migrants and works to fight the human rights violations at the ICE-operated detention centers.

By refusing to benefit materially from the suffering of these poor people, and by bringing global awareness to their plight, you will be acting as an empathetic parent, a true humanitarian, and a true Hindu.

Namaste and dhanyavaad,

Sadhana executive board members: Sunita Viswanath, Aminta Kilawan, Davanie Singhroy, Samir Durvasula, Nikhil Mandalaparthy, Udit Thakur, Gautham Reddy

Sadhana advisors and colleagues (institutional affiliations listed are for reference only):

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion, Philosophy and Asian Studies at Saint Olaf College

Dr. Jeffery D. Long, Professor of Religion & Asian Studies, Elizabethtown College

Vineet Chander, Coordinator for Hindu Life and Hindu Chaplain at Princeton University 

Dr. Shana Sippy, Assistant Professor of Religion at Centre College, and Research Associate and Co-Director of The Religious Diversity in MN Initiative, Carleton College

Sri Raja Gopal Bhattar, Sri Vaishnava Pandit

Swami Agnivesh, Indian human rights activist and spiritual leader

Dr. John Thatamanil, Associate Professor of Theology and World Religions at Union Theological Seminary 

Shrestha Singh, Hindu scholar and spiritual guide

Sanjukta Paul, Assistant Professor of Law at Wayne State University

Dave Kutayiah, Chairman, Shri Shakti Mariamman Temple

Sapthagiri Iyengar, Sadhana active member and community organizer

Vijah Ramjattan, Founder and President, United Madrassi Association

Tahil Sharma, Sadhana active member and interfaith activist

Punya Upadhyaya, Ph.D, Gurubhakt and Ashram Trustee, Taos, NM

Hindus of Conscience: Our Time is Now!

Over five hundred years ago, the Gujarati poet-saint Narsi Mehta penned these immortal words: Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je peed paraayi jaane re. "Call that person a Vaishnava, who understands the pain of others."

Today, more than ever, we as Hindus must heed this reminder. Please consider making a donation to Sadhana to build a Hindu voice for justice.

The results of the recent Indian elections may be a great disappointment for Hindus who believe in an India that celebrates diversity and that is welcoming to all. But it is important for us to consider our non-Hindu sisters and brothers first, many of whom may be terrified by the outcome of this election.

Be they Muslims or Christians, Dalits or Adivasis, atheists or believers, it is the duty of every Hindu to stand up for the rights of their fellow human beings. For too long, we have allowed the voices of intolerance to carry the mantle of our faith. But this election should send a message that is loud and clear to every Hindu of conscience.

This is our struggle.

It’s time we summon the courage and imagination necessary to provide a vision of Hindu identity and faith that honors the values of truth, nonviolence, oneness, and that embraces and celebrates the diversity and dignity of democratic life for all.

Sadhana is one of the only Hindu organizations in the world to publicly stand against Hindu nationalism: in the United States and in India. As Hindus who firmly believe in the values of ekatva (oneness), ahimsa (nonviolence), and seva (service), it is our dharma to oppose bigotry and injustice, especially if it comes from our own communities. We must try our best, as Narsi Mehta reminds us, to "understand the pain of others."

However, we can't do this work without you.

  • Please consider making a donation to Sadhana today.

  • Join Sadhana today as a member by emailing info@sadhana.org. We have chapters all over the United States and the world.

  • Additionally, please share the following images on social media, with the hashtag #HindusAgainstHindutva

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

Sadhana Board

Sadhana's Statement On 2019 Indian Election

This result is a great disappointment for Hindus that believe in an India that celebrates diversity, and that is welcoming to all. But it is important for us to consider our non-Hindu sisters and brothers first, many of whom are likely terrified by the outcome of this election. Be they Muslim or Christian, Dalit or Adivasi, atheist or believer, it is the duty of every Hindu to stand up for the rights of their fellow man and woman. For too long we have allowed the voices of intolerance to carry the mantle of our faith, and pettiness and false pride have come to replace true piety and service. But this election should send a message that is loud and clear to every Hindu of conscience. This is our struggle, and it’s time we summon the courage and imagination necessary to provide a vision of Hindu identity and faith that honors the values of truth, nonviolence, oneness, and that embraces and celebrates the diversity and dignity of democratic life for all.

Om Shakti, Om Satya, Om Shanti

Statement on Alabama's Abortion Ban

On Tuesday night, Alabama’s state legislature passed a bill which bans abortion in almost all cases--including rape and incest. This cruel bill is the most restrictive in the country, with abortion being banned in all cases except for those in which the mother’s life is in danger. Supporters of this move claim that this aligns with their belief that “all life is sacred.”

However, this law would disregard the safety and quality of life of all women and men who can get pregnant. It shows no concern for the lives of rape victims, those in abusive relationships, those with mental illness, those living in poverty, those on medications, those without access to proper healthcare...the list goes on and on. This bill seems to only care about the wellbeing of fetuses and not sentient human beings. History shows that abortion will happen, regardless of what the law dictates. Bans like this will only eliminate safe abortions done by medical professionals and will lead to an increase in backstreet abortions which are dangerous and often prove to be fatal.

In light of these recent attacks on Americans’ reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, Sadhana would like to reiterate that we are staunchly pro-choice and believe that abortion is a decision that should only involve pregnant persons and their medical providers. Lawmakers with no medical or scientific background have no right to enforce laws that interfere with these decisions. And seeing as the United States is not a theocracy, it is unconstitutional to enact laws solely because they reflect the religious beliefs of a particular group. The 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade guaranteed Americans the right to abortion without undue burden, and therefore this bill is stripping the people of their constitutional rights. 

As progressive Hindus, laws that attempt to interfere in extremely personal issues such as abortion go against our spiritual values. Hinduism is a varied religion with many scriptures and different schools of thought. There are differing beliefs on which point during pregnancy life enters the embryo, as well as what circumstances justify abortion. While many groups are personally against abortion, they do not attempt to bring their beliefs into the political arena. They believe the decision to follow or deviate from the path of dharma, and to incur good or bad karma, is up to the individual.

Additionally, they acknowledge that abortion is a reality that will continue to occur regardless of the laws that are in place. They advise that the option that causes the least amount of harm to both the parent and the child should be chosen. However, this is highly subjective and varies from case to case. A blanket ban on abortion ignores the reality that every individual seeking abortion has different circumstances than the next. 

For these reasons, Sadhana stands with organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU who plan to challenge this bill in court, and we plan to fight to protect the people’s rights over their own bodies.

Picture credit: Arunabho via Pinterest

2019 Mother's Day Reflection

By Sadhana advisory board Dr. Anantanand Rambachan (Professor of Religion, St. Olaf College, MN)

The sentence, “Matr devo bhava”, occurs as part of a graduation address given by a Vedic teacher to his students in the Taittiriya Upanishad. These words are commonly translated as “Honor your mother as God,” or even “Mother is God.” Although the intent underlying these translations is noble, let us look at the sentence closely beginning with the word, ‘deva.’

“Deva” comes from the Sanskrit root, “div” which means “to shine” and it is used to describe a being deserving of honor, reverence and respect. Although “deva” is used in some contexts to refer to the Supreme Being, this is not so in all cases. When used for the Supreme, it is usually qualified by Maha-deva, Parama-deva or even Deva-Deva.

The verb-"bhava"- occurring at the end of the sentence means "to be" or "to become." We may therefore, translate ‘Matr devo bhava’ as “May you be/or may you become one for whom mother is a deva (a being treated with reverence and honor).” In fact, the Sanskrit word for mother (mātā) comes from the verb-root mān meaning to honor. Mātā therefore, means a respected or honored person. 

Mother signifies a relation; such a relation may have a biological basis but this is not its primary quality. Yashoda’s relation with Krishna, we should not forget, was not biological and she is honored and revered as his mother. 

The three words of the teacher are unqualified by time, place or circumstances. Mothers are not to be honored publicly and disrespected privately. They are not to be honored once a year and ignored every other day. They are not to honored in life and forgotten in death or vice-versa. The teacher does not ask us to honor our mothers only if we think that they are perfect beings. In fact, he does not qualify mother with the pronoun. ‘your.” All mothers deserve to be treated with honor. 

Personally, I prefer to translate ‘bhava,’ as ‘become’ (May you become one for whom mother is a deva). Becoming is a process involving learning, effort and growth. Similarly, the teacher exhorts his students to cultivate the attitudes and behavior appropriate to treating mothers as devas. If the practices of honor, reverence and respect for mothers came naturally with birth, there will be no need for the teacher to ask his students to become human beings for whom the mother is a deva.

These three words embody an ideal, but not one that is already accomplished. These words represent the hope of a teacher for his students continuing growth and one towards which, across cultures, religions and nationalities, we can all learn from and aspire to embody in our relationships.

Painting of Mother and Daughter by S. Elayaraja

Easter Prayers for Christians in Sri Lanka and the World

This Easter Sunday, our hearts are with our Christian brothers and sisters all over the world, and especially the people of Sri Lanka. We are shocked and heartbroken to read news of coordinated Easter attacks on three churches and three hotels in the cities of Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa, which took the lives of over 200 innocent people. 

Mahatma Gandhi once reflected on the meaning of Easter thus: 

"A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act."

Lord Krishna echoes a similar message when he tells Arjuna in the Gita (6.30):

“Who sees Me everywhere, and sees all in Me, him I lose not, nor will he lose Me.”

May we find the strength and wisdom to see ourselves and to see God reflected in the faces of all around us. Once enveloped in such a radical love and empathy, may we pray for lasting peace on our planet.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

The photo depicts an Easter celebration in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, in 2016. Source

A Hindu Reflects on Passover

by Sadhana Cofounder, Sunita Viswanath

I am the Hindu wife and daughter-in-law in a very secular Jewish family. My father-in-law fasts on Yom Kippur, and my mother-in-law gathers her flock around her on Passover and Rosh Hashanah, but that is the extent of their religiosity. My youngest son Satya (I have two older sons from my first marriage) is half-Hindu and half-Jewish, and has more exposure to Hinduism than Judaism.

The first time I attended Passover Seder with the family, my older sons Akash and Gautama were 7 and 10 respectively, and Satya was still a few years from being born.  After carefully listening to the story told of the Israelites being enslaved by the Pharaoh and their being chosen for God’s protection and emancipation, Akash asked out loud, “What would the Egyptians have to say about this story?”  I held my breath to see if my new family would be offended, and was relieved when the whole family erupted in laughter. Of course, this story has become family legend.

For many years our family used the ubiquitous Maxwell House Haggadah, but over the years Stephan and his brother David have created more progressive and thoughtful Haggadahs which are written in light of our mixed-race and mixed-faith family (I am Indian Hindu and my sister-in-law is Italian Catholic).  Their Haggadahs also address the conflict between Israel and Palestine and include prayers for peace and self-determination of the Palestinian people. Like many progressive Jewish families, our family adds an olive and an orange to the Passover seder plate – the olive for the Palestinian people and the orange for the rights and inclusion of women and LGBTQ+ people in all aspects of society.

As Passover approaches this year, I have been thinking about the significance of this tradition in my life. I cannot separate my thoughts about Passover from the loving welcome I have received from my Jewish American family.  I was a divorced Indian Hindu woman with two young children, and yet from that year 15 years ago till now, there has never a moment of hesitation in the family’s support and love. My in-laws have traveled to India with us twice, and are incredibly curious about my world.  I in turn have taught my children that the heart of our Hindu faith and tradition is inclusive and pluralistic. In fact, the most central teaching of Hinduism is that we are all one. Vasudaiva Kutumbakam: the whole world is one family.

It therefore feels very natural that over the years I have lovingly overlaid the Passover story with my own stories with the result Passover feels more personal; more mine.

For instance, the story goes that the Pharaoh is afraid that the Israelites are becoming too powerful and decides to kill all the first-born sons in the land.  Moses is the first-born son in an Israelite family, and the family saves his life by sending him down the River Nile in a basket. Moses is raised by an Egyptian princess who loves him as her own.

In the Mahabharata, Karna, is born out of wedlock to a princess (Kunti) who sends him down the River Ganga in a basket, and is raised by a mixed caste family that loves him as if he were their own son.

Moses and Karna are both raised with love in families and communities not their own.  And in both examples, we see that family is not defined by birth and blood, and that love doesn’t recognize boundaries of socially constructed systems like race, religion and caste.

I would go so far as to say that for me, hope lies in those moments when we have truly connected with someone different from ourselves.   Perhaps the only way to eradicate hatred for the other is to: 1) connect across difference, embrace each other’s traditions, eat together, love each other and make mixed families together; and 2) reimagine our traditions to be more inclusive and egalitarian.

My organization, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, is doing this by reimagining Hindu scripture, rituals and teachings to align with the central Hindu tenet: We Are One. And my mixed race, mixed faith family is doing this just by existing!

This article was first published in Tikkun.

New Years Greetings for Vishu and Puthaandu

By Hari Venkatachalam, Sadhana member

Between April 13th and 15th, many South Asian and South-East Asian communities celebrated their New Year. In Thailand, people celebrated Songkran with water fights, while Bengali and Bangladeshi communities celebrated Pohela Boishakh with gift exchanges and colorful decorations. Other communities, including Nepali, Sinhalese, Burmese, and many others honor this new year with their own unique and beautiful traditions.

In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the celebrations of Vishu and Puthaandu were celebrated through the decoration of shrines with fruits, books, candles, and flowers. But most importantly, a mirror was placed there as well. On the morning of the celebration, household members looked upon the shrine with hopes that the sight of blessed and beautiful objects would herald a year of fortune and joy.

The mirror plays a special role as well. It forces us to look at ourselves and reflect on our actions, and how we treat ourselves, our families, our communities, and the whole world. Sadhana hopes that each of us can use this time to reflect on how we can get in touch with the divine within us all, to make the world a better place. A world that is free from hatred, religious intolerance, misogyny, casteism, homophobia, and all the other flaws (Pāvam) that plague our society and keep us from recognizing our identity as one family.

We wish all of you a Happy New Year and hope that your celebrations empower you to make our vision of a unified mankind a reality. Vanakkam and Nalvazhthugal!