Reflections on Guru-Disciple Relationship and #MeToo

The concept of the guru-shishya parampara is an ancient and venerable aspect of the Hindu tradition. From a young age, we are taught that the relationship between a teacher and a student is a sacred bond--guru sakshat parabrahma, meaning "the teacher is none other than the divine." It is believed that students will not be able to achieve success in their education without the blessings and guidance of a guru. In the Hindu calendar, the festival of Guru Purnima is dedicated to honoring the numerous teachers that shape our lives.

Yet even as we regard the guru-shishya tradition as a profound spiritual connection, we cannot forget that it is also a social relationship. And as with any social relationship, this connection is deeply conditioned by dynamics of power and questions of inequality. For as long as it has existed, the guru-shishya parampara has been embedded in the realities of gender and caste.

In the recent context of #MeToo, the world of South Indian classical music (Carnatic music) has heard many disturbing stories of gurus who have exploited their positions of respect and authority to take advantage of their disciples. These immoral abuses are intolerable for any spiritually-minded person. Recently, over 500 people signed onto a statement condemning sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in the music community. The Chennai Music Academy, the premier institution of Carnatic music, has made the bold decision to stand with survivors and take allegations of sexual harassment seriously. The Academy has been investigating complaints and has dropped 7 respected musicians and gurus from the December concert season.

How do we look for safety and accountability in the sacred bond between guru and shishya, between teacher and student? Is it possible for Hindus to honor the ideal aspects of this relationship while remaining alert to the realities of abuse and inequality? How do we support and stand with survivors in our own communities? Sadhana asked gurus and students in our community to grapple with some of these difficult questions and share their reflections on this matter.


Sameer Gupta:

Co-founder of Brooklyn Raga Massive (a 501(c)(3) artist collective dedicated to Indian Classical and Raga-Inspired music).

The #MeToo movement in Indian Classical Music is long overdue and I am glad for the multitude of voices rising up to help stop this horrible age old trend of abuse and harassment. We accept Indian Classical music as a profound musical tradition capable of elevating our consciousness towards sacred heights. But the historic and systematic way in which the leaders of our music, our Gurus, are perceived to be closer to 'Divinity' is a problem. When we place any person above another, it opens a door towards injustices like assault and abuse of power and all too often those actions are defended, ignored and sometimes even accepted.

We as a community of teaching artists need to take a critical look at how our music has historically and systematically contributed to patriarchy and misogyny within Indian Classical music. Most importantly we should consider the flaws in how we have built the 'Pillar of Guru-Shishya Parampara." We need to consider if our music is better served without one person ever being seen as closer to the 'Divine.' Do we give our gurus freedom to possibly act in morally questionable ways? Any group that puts a person or group of people in a position of access to the 'Divine' in a way that others are not sadly allows for those individual's gross misconduct and abuse of power among the group at large. Now it is clear that the abuse of power has run unchecked among our communities of Indian Classical music supporters for far too long. It must stop and we are the ones to stop it.

Ma Mokshapriya Shakti, PhD:

Spiritual advisor and certified yoga teacher, Ma Yogashakti International Mission

The relationship between guru and disciple is very special. When a guru takes on a disciple or sishya it is her duty to empower the disciple to learn and grow.  The ancient tradition of guru-sishya as it is practiced in modern times, is not healthy for either guru or disciple. I am positive that the sages of old did not wish this beautiful tradition to be interpreted and practiced in the way it currently is.

Yes, Guru is Brahma. God resides in all!  It is every soul’s desire to return to the source from which we came. This is why religions, cults, and gurus have such powerful influence over humanity. However, each soul came to this incarnation with a purpose or a goal. It is the duty of the Guru to empower the disciple to seek that goal in order to fulfill the desire of the soul. Through meditation and psychic abilities attained through study, practice, and discipline, the guru has insight about what that disciple needs and the path that is the most beneficial.

Now comes the difficulty. The disciple’s intense desire to fulfill the soul’s journey causes her to be willing to hand her power over to the guru. Many times people are insistent upon this because through guru’s grace it seems that they would not need to do all the hard work. The tradition of ishvarapranidhana—bowing down to god or guru—is not done to honor either of these beings. Its purpose is to conquer the ego, which prevents us from attaining our goals. Unless we can bow down to a higher force, spiritual learning cannot take place.

The guru is in a very difficult position. On one hand, she has to empower the student to seek her own path; on the other, she has to discourage the stubborn ego that keeps her from the path. As the students get closer to their soul’s desires, they begin to attribute more power to the guru. This often makes them think that surrender to their guru is needed.

Everyone in human form will have weaknesses. When this relationship begins to get out-of-balance, it begins to feed the ego weaknesses of both the student and the guru. The guru feels powerful, and the student feels she must give up her power in order to keep growing. Abuse may, and does, happen frequently. Most gurus did not take on this role to abuse others, it is this imbalanced power dynamic that causes the ego to arise. We must understand the cause, so that we can be aware and correct it.

The guru-sishya relationship is very important and should not be abandoned, but changes need to be made.  A guru is a guide—a human guide that has strengths and weaknesses, but practices and lives the path. The relationship between disciple and guru should be one of respect, and also open to interaction. The disciple needs to understand that knowledge and power is channeled through the guru from a divine source and does not originate within the person. Divine power comes in the forms of love, understanding and acceptance, not through control.

Many times, abused disciples make elaborate excuses for the guru’s inappropriate actions. Both guru and sishya have equal responsibility. My guru, Mataji, once told to me that if God came down and told her to do something that she did not feel was appropriate, she would not do it. We are each responsible for our own evolution.

Students must always have respectful love for the teacher. Through respect, you raise your own consciousness which allows you to receive wisdom both subconsciously and unconsciously. In turn, the teacher must practice what they teach, because teaching comes more through example than words.

In the ultimate reality, each person we meet is our guru, because we learn from every interaction. The sishya who has a guru is very blessed, and a guru who sees disciples growing and blossoming is also very blessed. It is a mutual love that is very special and profound.

The disciple has more power than than she realizes, because she has the ability to carefully choose her own guru. However, the guru has to agree to take each disciple who comes to her. We are all on the journey to self-actualization and self-realization, some of us are further along the path only.

“Oh, if you only knew yourselves! You are souls; you are Gods. If ever I feel like blaspheming, it is when I call you man.” —Swami Vivekananda

Aditi Dhruv:

Dancer, Yoga teacher, MA candidate in Ethics and Society at Fordham University

As a student of dance and yoga, and a teacher of yoga, I'm very distressed to hear about the multiple abuse allegations that have been happening for years. I first need to say that I have the "lucky" privilege of never being assaulted or abused by any teacher/guru so I cannot speak from personal experience as a survivor. I do not presume to speak for them. I support, believe and stand by all survivors of assault and abuse, wherever they may be and in whatever field.

I abhor any person who assumes a certitude of knowledge. As our scriptures tell us, eternal knowledge has always existed and will continue after us. Gurus teach this knowledge to their students and for that we are all fortunate. But a guru’s knowledge does not make her the Supreme Knower. My role as a yoga teacher is not one of knowing the Truth, but rather, a guide to show others the path toward knowledge. I am not so humble as to say I don't know anything about yoga, but I also can admit I don't know everything. I can guide and suggest but it is also my job to stop when the student is no longer receiving knowledge or has surpassed my own knowledge.

When the guru is mistaken for a “Divine Supreme Knower,” hierarchies of power are created and the risk of abuse becomes possible. Hierarchy cannot exist without both players involved - the one with power and the one without. The burden of change is not on the one without power - the responsibility is on the one with power. Power, like any other human construct, can be used for good or bad. The one who holds power has the responsibility to ethically discern how and when to exert this power.

In my opinion, placing our faith in scriptures and texts alone is problematic because we run the risk of taking every word literally. This allows no room for growth in human knowledge and experience. As teachers, people with power, we must be vigilant of how our interpretations of the text are understood. We must not unwittingly perpetrate and perpetuate structures of abuse.

Approaching a teacher as a student, admitting that you do not know something is an expression of vulnerability. Teachers cannot take advantage of this. A teacher making sexual comments, implying sexual activity or brazenly touching in a sexual manner is abuse of power and must be held accountable by law and by social mores. There is no way around that, there is no way to qualify that, and there ought not to be a whispering away of it. Every survivor who has courageously spoken their truth and told their experiences has brought 'dirty' and ‘secret’ interactions to light. Once uncovered and seen, it cannot be unseen. For every survivor who has spoken, I know there are many more who haven't, afraid of backlash and social stigma.  Teachers, those of us in power, must also stand up and speak out in support of survivors. I am grateful for people like TM Krishna and Anita Ratnam but more of us need to stand with survivors. Enough! Time's up!

Ananya Vajpeyi:

Ananya Vajpeyi is an Indian scholar, academic, columnist, and advocate for social justice. In recent years, she has become involved with a campaign to democratize and diversify the classical arts in Chennai; she has been writing about Carnatic music since 2016.

I am an early signatory — a first responder if you like — to the statement mentioned above (even though I am not a practitioner of Carnatic Music).

In the ancient world, in Sanskrit, words for teaching-learning, pedagogy-discipline, nurture-mastery, education-submission, all spring from the same roots. While the bond between teacher and student is indeed special and close, I think the recognition of power being embedded in and structuring of this relationship is quite clear in the etymology itself. Also, while occasionally you find narratives of teacher-student dyads that break caste rules, it’s not easy to find narratives about women who are either teachers or students in the patriarchal and brahminical universe of Sanskrit literature (female intellectuals are sometimes mentioned, but very rarely).

Nonetheless women today are very much a part of the entire educational system of modern India as well as of the practice and pedagogy of the so-called classical arts. While they like men are trained with the guru-sishya ideal in mind, how exactly that is to work across gender difference is not specified either by traditional protocols (which have little or no reference to women anyway), or by the rules of the modern academy (where, as we are discovering, gender discrimination, patriarchal domination and sexual harassment are rampant). The shocking revelations from the Carnatic Me Too discourse of the past few weeks / months surely show up the complicity, silence and sexism that hide in the light of the guru-sishya parampara. Girls and women — across caste and class — are exposed and vulnerable to coercion, abuse and violence in the name of obedience to the guru.

Ranajit Guha long ago identified Hindu cultural values like Bhakti and Seva as responsible in some measure for creating the conditions for colonialism: it’s a disposition, if you like, marked by devotion and servitude that then has grave economic and political consequences. Autonomy, swaraj, is hard won in such a scenario and this extends all the way from politics to the arts. The Self-Respect movements in the South throughout the 20th century were about flattening out hierarchies in the social sphere but somehow the status of women got left out or marginalized even in these powerful transformations that have ushered in political modernity.

Arguably the path to liberation in the metaphysical sense is open to all in Hindu thought, women can be seekers and can find spiritual and existential emancipation and enlightenment. But it is living here and now in this world, embedded and enmeshed in the realities of social relations and institutional power structures, that we need to find greater room, greater participation and greater justice for the female half of humanity. A quest of this kind will only strengthen our arts and sciences, not undermine them.

It’s crucial to recognize that while there is naturally a flow of knowledge from the teacher (who knows more) to the student (who knows less); while this flow is directional and based on a the fact that the teacher and the taught DO NOT stand on the same plane, they ARE at different — unequal — levels of aptitude, competence, expertise and so on — this practical disciplinary inequality (usually underscored by a generational difference) does not obviate other kinds of equality that must be assumed and observed in a modern democracy which guarantees equal citizenship, gender parity and universal human rights. Being a teacher is no license to take advantage of students and young people who come to you to learn. Learning cannot happen where violence exists between teacher and taught.

I could not be who I am or do what I do without my teachers: men and women. But I have been fortunate to relate to my teachers as falling somewhere between beloved parents and close friends. All around me women have not been so lucky (and this is true even of the West, not just India). Sexual exploitation in ALL spheres of activity has to be called out and halted, reparations and reconciliation must occur, equality and respect must be negotiated, and we have to move forward into a new set of norms and values regulating our pedagogical spaces.

Anonymous, Carnatic musician and sociology scholar:

I feel uncomfortable answering the question as it is framed and believe we should take a more intersectional approach. Many castes have been historically denied the ability to even claim discipleship through the guru-sishya tradition. Today we see how many communities are systematically excluded from studying Carnatic music and the classical arts. So I believe these questions around the guru and sishya relationship limit our ability to think about who the real victims of this system are. I think we should use this opportunity to talk about how our glib assumptions about who is a sexual predator might be loaded with class and caste biases. The middle class and upper-caste woman is always depicted by our society as being in danger of being assaulted by rural, lower-caste, and lower-class men. The recent allegations at the Chennai Music Academy challenges us to seriously question these assumptions. We need to examine why sexual assault gets more visibility when it happens to an upper-caste middle-class woman. When we consider questions of power in relation to the guru-sishya parampara, we can’t avoid thinking about the ways it has enabled exclusion and caste hierarchy in our communities.

V.V. Raman:

Emeritus Professor of Physics and Humanities at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a member of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science

I have never been a guru to anyone, nor am I writing this as a guru. Invoking ancient frameworks which gave us solace and feelings of cultural superiority may not be the best way to confront this sad situation. What we are witnessing is not an aberration but a revelation of thus far cleverly hidden truths about male (mis)behavior over the ages in all cultures. We need to move forward with fresh enlightened resolutions and visions never more to engage in such deplorable behavior, not try to hang on to old paradigms which have been infected over the centuries. We need to recall and revere the wisdom teachings of our ancestors, and act upon them, not just experience cultural pride while whitewashing some of the horrors that have emerged in our history. This is the task of people of all cultures and creeds. Humanity is in dire need of an enlightened resurgence.

Hari Nott:

Hindustani Classical singer, teacher and student based in Brooklyn, NY

Abuse of power is unacceptable in any walk of life.  I am glad that Music Academy has taken a bold action to do right. I am glad that as humanity we have finally(!)) come to point where we can speak up and hold people to account.   I find Indian philosophy, beliefs and actions advanced in some areas and regressive in others.  There have been people who have been preaching love, understanding and universality for many millennia.  But this is also a society that carries out, tolerates, defends, explains away egregious acts of violence, intimidation and suppression.  There are bad actors everywhere, but in India in the name of tradition they have gotten away with murder.

Indian classical music has not escaped this phenomenon. It is rooted in a highly refined foundation of aesthetics and tradition, like the guru-shishya parampara - I mean what a way to experience learning.  A good Guru not only teaches music, but fills your heart with love, awareness and oneness with nature.  He / she holds your hands and leads you down a path of self discovery and glimpses of divine.  When true, there is no bond stronger between that of a guru & sishya.  I am not surprised that even this tradition has its share of bad actors.  I am not sure what force of nature and reasoning would allow a person to act in ways that interminably hurts another soul, and that too of a person who has placed trust on them.  That person cannot be a artist.  Art without a soul is no art.

Bertie Kibreah:

Tabla drummer, Bengali folk musician, PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago

Of the most momentous aspects of #MeToo is its ability to draw critical attention to longstanding issues regarding sexual harassment and assault, allowing not only for exceptional candor and camaraderie in the process, but across a pervasive range of fields including media, fashion, finance, government, sports, the military, the church, and the entertainment industry. With regard to time-honored forms of South Asian pedagogy, #MeToo also reminds us that the venerable tradition of guru-shishya-parampara not only continues to be sabotaged by disturbing breaches of authority with regard to issues of gender and caste, but also that these issues are not limited to particularly Hindu or particularly classical worldviews of music. Indeed, the most vital aspects of guru-shishya-parampara—its dimensions of intimacy, deference, commitment, and austerity—are found through the Indian Subcontinent, or wherever the traditional arts of South Asia are disseminated and flourish. As such, the sexual transgressions which defile guru-shishya-parampara are not limited to the negotiations of Hindu gurus and their disciples, but those of any religious persuasion involved in the tradition, which also include other virtuosic musical forms in South Asia, such as a range of vernacular arts, where this didactic custom similarly thrives.

My own research on folk and devotional music performance in Bangladesh has been both a rewarding and challenging experience and, while I have certainly faced many personal obstacles, I recognize my ability to traverse deep rural pockets of the country for all-night song programs has been partially accorded to me by my position as a male observer-performer in a Muslim-dominated region. This privilege, however, has also led me to realize that professionalized artists-practitioners of devotional music in Bangladesh, such as the baul and boyati communities, while themselves members of beautifully egalitarian traditions, are no less affected by the betrayal of authority which guru-shishya-parampara can propagate.

The larger network of baul musicians in Bengal advocate a particularly humanistic form of regional devotionality and mixed-gender ritual worship that has long enamored littérateurs and the bourgeoise alike, ultimately helping to define Bengali-ness in pivotal moments of modern history. The boyati community, tied to the institutions of Sufism, have developed a penchant for open-ended, dialectical performance which has instigated, amongst other things, the inclusion of female Muslim performers on traditional regional outdoors stages, which had hitherto been unheard of. With irony, both communities have developed art forms which are critical and self-aware of the very acts of impropriety which fester in their own learning environments.

To be sure, while each community has advocated their own idiosyncratic language and style, both are very much tied to guru-shishya-parampara through tactics of musical preservation, and this highlights an even more complicated and dangerous power-gender dynamic which #MeToo cautions. The baul, while embracing deeply Hindu constructions of metaphysics and theology, is not a member of a Hindu devotional tradition at all. The female Muslim boyati may discuss Muslim or Hindu arguments on the performative debate dais, but may not be subjected to issues of caste themselves. While this positionality may seem freeing, both can experience other kinds of personal violations which many performers surely must, as they prepare for long and fruitful stage careers.

Beyond both the Indian classical music domain, or intrinsically Hindu notions of knowledge access, guru-shishya-parampara is a double-edged sword because it signifies a bond that dispassionately fosters the kind of rigorous immersion required for mastery of South Asian aesthetics, yet can unfortunately tolerate grave wrongdoings through its formidable dynamics, which espouse confidential and exhaustive training. Regardless of how one might perceive the guru with regard to divinity, guru-shishya-parampara in any tradition has to reinforce the agency given to both guru and disciple in the process, which ought to maintain respect while demarcating lines of behavioral acceptability from the beginning of the journey together.

(Cover image source: Times of India)

Opportunities to Meet Swami Agnivesh

Swami Agnivesh is a radical monk and a leader in the Arya Samaj who has devoted his life to human rights of the most oppressed and advocacy against bonded labour. He has been vocal in his advocacy against Hindu nationalism (Hindutva). This is a video he made for Sadhana recently, detailing the way he was beaten up twice recently by Hindu mobs.

Swamiji is traveling for the Parliament of World Religions, and Sadhana has helped organize these events with him. We hope many of you will attend.

NOVEMBER 4
Swami Agnivesh will be a panelist on Sadhana’s panel at the Parliament of World Religions, “The Co-Creative Dance of Dharma and Justice: The Movement of Progressive Hinduism” on Sunday November 4, 6 -7 pm, Room 605.

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NOVEMBER 9
Swami Agnivesh will be in conversation with Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, director of the Kairos Center and co-chair of Poor People’s Campaign.

November 9, 11:30 am - 1 pm
The People’s Forum, 320 W 37th Street

This conversation is cosponsored by Sadhana, and will be filmed.

NOVEMBER 9  Swami Agnivesh will participate in:  An Interfaith Discussion on   Religious Activism   Organized by NYU’s South Asia Society and cosponsored by Sadhana.  November 9, 5:30 - 7 pm 14a Washington Mews, NYC   RSVP  Here

NOVEMBER 9
Swami Agnivesh will participate in:
An Interfaith Discussion on Religious Activism
Organized by NYU’s South Asia Society and cosponsored by Sadhana.
November 9, 5:30 - 7 pm
14a Washington Mews, NYC

RSVP Here

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NOVEMBER 12
Dr. John Thatamanil, professor at Union Theological Seminary and advisory board member of Sadhana will be in conversation with both Swami Agnivesh and human rights activist Ruchira Gupta. The event is cosponsored by Sadhana.

Monday November 12, 6:30 - 8:30 pm
James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary
3041 Broadway at 121st Street, NYC
Please RSVP here.

Flood Relief for Trinidad

Over the past week, parts of Trinidad experienced catastrophic flooding as a result of relentless rain. The government has declared a national disaster, and over 150,000 people have been affected so far, and that number is expected to increase. Shaanti Bhavan Mandir is an Indo-Caribbean Hindu temple in Queens, NY that Sadhana works closely with. This temple’s motto is “Manav Seva Madhav Seva” which means service to humanity is service to God. Shaanti Bhavan Mandir sent this appeal to all their congregants today:

There is severe flooding in the North East and Central parts of the Trinidad. Over one hundred and fifty thousand people were affected by the massive volume of water that entered their homes. In one particular housing development in La Horquetta, the water was up to the windows, while in Caroni Village the river bank broke, causing more devastation. The residents lost everything since the water rose very quickly and they had to fight for survival. As the clean up starts in those areas where the flood water is starting to recede, many other areas still continues to be flooded by the persistent rainfall.

Some of Shaanti Bhavan Mandir’s community members hail from Trinidad and have family members suffering in Caroni Village. Shaanti Bhavan Mandir has launched an appeal, and will make sure that all money raised goes directly to those most in need in Caroni Village in Trinidad. These photographs taken by a devotee’s relatives were shared with the appeal:

Contribute IMMEDIATELY to Shaanti Bhavan Mandir’s Appeal for Trinidad Relief

Here are three ways to donate:

  • If you are familiar with Chase Quikpay, make a donation via Quikpay directly to Shaanti Bhavan Mandir’s Chase Bank account by emailing shaantibhavan@gmail.com with the subject Trinidad Seva. Please be sure to include your name and mailing address so that the Mandir can send you a receipt.

  • Donate on Sadhana’s website here, and we will ensure that 100% your donation reaches Shaanti Bhavan Mandir. Please mention Trinidad Seva in the notes.

  • Mail a check to Shaanti Bhavan Mandir at 112-06 Jamaica Ave, Jamaica, NY 11418.

If you have any questions, please contact temple volunteer Reeta at 917-468-6007.

We hope that Sadhana friends and supporters generously support Shaanti Bhavan Mandir’s relief efforts for Trinidad. Thank you!

Sadhana Brothers Reflect on Kavanaugh Nomination

Earlier this month Brett Kavanaugh, a man accused by multiple women of sexual assault, was confirmed as a judge in the U.S. Supreme court. Several sisters in Sadhana shared their opinions in a statement at the beginning of Navaratri. They talked about the pervasiveness of violence against women and invoked the power of Durga Devi to stay strong in the fight for justice. They also requested their progressive Hindu brothers to speak out and share their own perspectives on this urgent issue. Below are a few of contributions from Sadhana men around the country:

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The festival of Navaratri, currently celebrated by Hindus throughout the world, is a special opportunity for honoring the divine with the symbols and images of femininity. In a beautiful sequence of verses in the Devimahatmya, a text recited on the occasion of this beautiful festival, the Goddess (Devi) is praised repeatedly as the One residing in all beings (ya devi sarvabhteshu). She is present within us all as strength, forgiveness, peace, faith, beauty, compassion and tenderness.

Our festivals are unique opportunities for us to examine and critique our social practices in the light of religious ideals and teaching. Without this work, the religious life becomes compartmentalized and irrelevant to the task of transforming society.

Navaratri is a powerful reminder that that we cannot honor the Goddess in elaborate and costly ritual and dishonor women in daily life.  We must turn the searchlight of Navaratri on the many ways in which gender inequality and injustice are prevalent in our world.

Navaratri is a fitting occasion to highlight the problem of domestic violence that is estimated to affect 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide. Approximately 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners (WHO). Ahimsa (non-harming), the cardinal principle of Hindu ethics, is violated in violence and injustice against women.

The victims and perpetrators of domestic violence are members of our congregations and we have a religious obligation to educate about recognizing the symptoms of domestic violence, to empower women and to foster dialogue about gender inequality. Our obligation to work for the overcoming of violence against women does not stop at the boundaries of our own communities, but must be extended to women everywhere. Hindus must be at the forefront of national conversations and the work of overcoming violence against women. The fact that the Hindu tradition does not hesitate to represent the divine as feminine makes this a sacred responsibility.

We cannot honor the Goddess (Devi) on the occasion of Navaratri, the One who dwells in all (ya devi sarvabhuteshu), and remain silent on the many ways that She is dishonored in gender violence and injustice. Let us praise her also with our actions in the world. 

- Anantananand Rambachan, Minneapolis
Anantji is an Advisory Board Member of Sadhana.

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I am a straight Hindu man. And maybe due to that and many other reasons, I was quite ignorant about a few 'truths' until quite late in my life: about how widespread sexual assault and abuse is in Hindu communities, how the patriarchal society is complicit in it, and just how much it is accepted as a part of normal life.

I was born and brought up in India. My mother runs a non-profit and several shelters for women in a very poor and rural part of Maharashtra. The first time I personally heard about sexual assault was in my mid-30s when I began to speak with some of the women my mother helped. My conversations with these women felt like slaps in the face of my ignorance. They were very humbling for me.  

To be honest, part of me simply didn't believe them in the beginning. Their stories simply defied my past experiences and my blind faith in the Hinduism I thought I knew - both as a religion and as a culture. I always believed Hinduism was the most peaceful religion, the most open-minded faith, and so on. I thought my religion was different.

However, I started to realize that the problem of sexual violence wasn't limited to other religions. It wasn’t limited to rural areas. It wasn’t limited to any specific caste or class. I started asking the women in my life—my wife, my sister, my women friends I thought I knew well—about their experiences. Their answers shamed and truly changed me.

Every single one of these women had their own story of sexual harassment—they told me about being regularly groped, receiving dirty comments, more violent stories of sexual abuse... they told me they had accepted this as the way life simply is. I heard about the little pins they would carry in their hands to stab invisible groping hands in the buses or trains. How they pretended to be deaf and not hear the comments. How they had to carefully plan every move they made in a crowded area. I realized how unaware I had been. It took me a few times of listening to all of them to realize how ugly their reality was. What was most shocking was how 'accepted' and widespread it is.

Earlier, I always felt women were safer in the USA. I am the father of a daughter who was born and raised in the United States. Even she has gone on to recount so many of the similar things I thought I left behind in India. The cat calls, the fake smile she learned to make early on to keep men happy, the reality that a men can't be trusted.

This isn't just about Kavanaugh. It isn't just about his behavior being 'unacceptable.' It isn’t just about him being confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. It is about the simple question of human decency. And what happens when a human forgets to be that: a decent human being.

Maybe that's too simplistic, but for me this has been the biggest disappointment about both the countries I love dearly. In a nation where one of the Goddesses is Kali Ma, it is a *common* practice to treat women so inhumanly! In a nation where the modern women’s liberation movement was started (and Title IX came about), it is still common to ignore women who seek justice. The FBI did not even talk to all of Kavanaugh’s accusers and instead we were given a public spectacle of 'questioning' Dr. Ford. After what Anita Hill went through, didn't we think we learned to be better human beings?

Maybe I still haven't grasped the full truth - that as a privileged straight man, I will probably never understand the damage which has been done and still continues to be done. We, men, must do more listening and actively stand behind when they need us!

- Anonymous, Chicago
Anonymous is a new member of Sadhana.

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As I watched the Kavanaugh hearings unfolded, I could not help but find strong parallels between Dr. Ford and Draupadi. In my opinion, Draupadi is among the strongest and bravest characters in the Mahabharata. Perhaps the most striking image of Draupadi is of her being disrobed and insulted by Dushasana, as Draupadi prays to Krishna for protection. However, the details of this story make the story more poignant.  

This scene takes place right after Yudhishthira’s infamous dice game, where Yudhishthira gambled away not only all his property, but also his brothers, himself and Draupadi. While all the Pandavas begrudgingly accepted, only Draupadi pleaded her case to the court: how could she be given away as property, if Yudhisthira had already given himself away? Much like in Dr. Ford’s case, such pleas, as well as the following insults and harassment, fell on the deaf ears and blind eyes of the men, Kauravas and Pandavas, in the court. In fact, in the entire court, only two men, out of hundreds, even spoke up. Even after the assault had ended, it took Gandhari, another strong female character, to ensure that there were repercussions. Throughout the ordeal, as isolated and alone as Draupadi must have felt, she maintained the strength and the courage to fight the injustice.

During the Mahabharata, Draupadi had to endure such an attack not once, but twice. When the Pandavas were in exile in the Kingdom of Virata, Draupadi was harassed by the military commander Kichaka. When Draupadi refused his advances, Kichaka dragged her to Virata’s court and insulted her in front of the entire court, including the Pandavas. Once again, there was no outcry. Kichaka was in a position of power, and no one wanted to come in his way (much like many of the men accused from the #MeToo movement). It required the courage and the cleverness of Draupadi to finally vanquish her attacker.

In Hindu mythology, there are many such figures like Draupadi. Often, the strongest role models we have from scripture are the women and the Goddesses. However, even Draupadi had to endure her pain while all men and people in power turned a blind eye. Dr. Ford was repeatedly questioned on why she didn’t come out with her story earlier. The simple answer is that her story, just like Draupadi, would not have been listened to.

In the United States, 1 in 5 women will be raped and 1 in 3 women will face sexual violence at some point in their lives. Throughout the hearing, senators said that they made space for Dr. Ford to be “heard”. To these senators, that is simply below the minimum standard of respect. To my brothers, please do not just “hear” women. At a bare minimum, we must listen to their entire story, from the pain felt during the actual attack to the lasting emotional impact. We must show empathy and understand their struggles. We must truly believe them. Then, we must provide the support that they ask for.

To my sisters, I applaud your strength and your courage. As hard as it may be, please do not let events such as Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation discourage you. As a society, we need you to share your story and be strong where men are not. However, that burden should not continue to fall solely upon you. 

I pray that men will have the strength to understand the individual struggles than women face, hold ourselves to higher standard of respect, and work together with women to ensure a safer society in the future. We all need to be more like Draupadi.

- Samir Durvasula, Washington D.C.
Samir is an active member of Sadhana.

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In 2016, I went to India with some friends and we decided to visit some members of my extended family. One of those relatives had a conversation with my father and while my bhua (his older sister) was also in the room. While I was in another room catching up with my cousins, my “uncle” told my father that the only energy that women have is lost when they give birth; in essence, once women have procreated, they lack any “useful” purpose in the world. I did not have the courage to say anything that day.

If only I could have reminded that uncle the Shakti (energy) that women have. The same Shakti that brought the cosmos into being and exists within every quark of our reality at this very moment in its balance with the Purusha (consciousness). The same Shakti that is celebrated by Hindus as the source of wealth (Lakshmi), knowledge (Saraswati), and power (Parvati) who have found a place in my uncle’s home on an altar. The same Shakti that gave my uncle a space in his mother’s womb and a space in our life. The same Shakti that made him a father and a grandfather. And the very same Shakti with which he shares no jurisdiction, because it is that same Shakti that allows room for his audacity. 

कुकर्मी कुसङ्गी कुबुद्धिः कुदासः 
कुलाचारहीनः कदाचारलीनः ।
कुदृष्टिः कुवाक्यप्रबन्धः सदाहं 
गतिस्त्वं गतिस्त्वं त्वमेका भवानि ॥५॥


I performed Bad Deeds, associated with Bad Company, cherished Bad Thoughts, and have been a Bad Servant. I did not perform my Traditional Duties [and, instead] deeply engaged in Bad Conducts. My eyes Saw with Bad Intentions [and my] tongue always Spoke Bad Words. You are my Refuge, You Alone are my Refuge, Oh Mother Bhavani.

- Sri Adi Shankaracharya’s Bhavani AshtakamStanza 5

- Tahil Sharma, Los Angeles
Tahil is Sadhana’s Los Angeles Area Coordinator

 

 

Navratri: Honoring the Devi Within

by Rajya Karipineni, active Sadhana member

Navratri begins October 9th, and comes at an opportune time for reflection and healing this year. This festival of nine nights that honors the triumph of goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura is at its heart a celebration of the power of the divine feminine, or Shakti/Devi. We celebrate the devi in all forms, from blissful brahmachari to ferocious warrior. Garba dancers may joyously circle around the image of a goddess. Families adorn steps full of Golu dolls representing the goddess. We can also take this time to take our worship from the symbolic to the worship of Shakti within ourselves and in our communities.

We must make space for this reflection as the tumult of recent days has reminded us of persistent violence towards marginalized genders. The US Supreme Court nomination hearings were a glaring, painful example of the blame placed on survivors of sexual assault and of the constant undermining of survivors stories and dignity. The hearings uncovered the deeply entrenched power of men, particularly wealthy, white men. At the same time, the Supreme Court of India has ruled that women aged 10-50, who were previously banned due to the potential of “unclean” menstruations, now have the right to enter Sabarimala temple. Protests abounded in the face of the verdict, citing a threat to tradition.

Consistent in these stories is the message that the bodies of women are shameful and belong to men. We’re told that our bodies invite rape and assault and that we should be humiliated at the violation of our bodies. The means of creating life is considered dirty. Through all this, we’re told to be silent, subordinate, and less than.

This Navratri is a welcome moment to continue healing from the gender oppression magnified the last weeks. Navratri is a reminder that, though this is the current reality, things haven’t always been this way and gender hierarchy isn’t an objective truth. While we narrowly define tradition now, tradition also includes the exaltation of women goddesses. Each day of Navratri reveres another aspect of the female divine, embracing women for their whole selves. While we mourn the scars that have been re-opened and deepened, let us also celebrate the bravery of Christine Blasey Ford and the many survivors who have come forward - either publicly or to loved ones or even to themselves - to change the narrative. Let’s also celebrate the work and persistence of the people that fought for access to the Sabarimala temple.

Find the time to honor your inner devi as well. To those who identify as women and/or embrace their feminine selves, I offer this meditation. I honor the goddess within you. I honor the multitudes that you hold within you, the beauty of your grace and your rage. I honor the labor you offer through creation, creativity, and expression. I honor your courage when speaking truth, and your wisdom when choosing to be silent. I honor the space you make for struggle and rest, for visibility and inward reflection. The devi is expansive as are you.


Durga Bija Mantra  (Bija means seed. A Bija mantra is the shortest and most powerful form of prayer. Bija mantras are made up of are one-syllable seed sounds that, when said aloud, cause us to resonate with the energy of our own  bhakti  or devotion.)

Durga Bija Mantra

(Bija means seed. A Bija mantra is the shortest and most powerful form of prayer. Bija mantras are made up of are one-syllable seed sounds that, when said aloud, cause us to resonate with the energy of our own bhakti or devotion.)


Sadhana Sisters Speak Out on Kavanaugh Confirmation

On Saturday October 6th, the US Senate voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, a man accused of sexual assault by several women, to the US Supreme Court. A few Sadhana sisters share their views on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh:

TRIGGER WARNING:These testimonies contains information about child abuse, sexual assault, and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors. The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached by calling 800.656.HOPE (4673). You will be routed to a local sexual assault service provider in your area.

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The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh is a devastating and heartbreaking moment for me and any woman who has ever experienced or is experiencing sexual assault. This nation is not only telling victims of abuse that we do not believe them; we are also telling their attackers that they can commit these heinous crimes and suffer no consequences. Forget consequences, they can become a justice of the Supreme Court, or even President of the United States!

With Navratri, a festival glorifying the Divine Feminine, around the corner, it is unbelievable that a man accused of violence against women has just been placed in such a position of power. In the Devi Mahatmyam, the Mother Goddess takes the form of Durga to destroy the demons plaguing humanity. The demon brothers, Shumbh and Nishumbh, lust after the Goddess. After She rejects their advances, they try to forcefully take Her due to arrogance and pride. The Goddess defeated them and saved the innocents they were terrorizing. The actions of these evil beings are eerily similar to those of Kavanaugh, who is accused of forcing himself on women who clearly did not consent to his actions. Dr. Ford said she was 100% sure it was Kavanaugh who assaulted her, and while this isn’t proof, shouldn't we have enough doubt to refrain from adding him the the Supreme Court of this land? We hope that the Goddess will bring offenders like him to justice once again, and bring salvation to their victims.

All Americans should be outraged that Brett Kavanaugh was appointed by a President who is an accused repeat sexual offender, and a man who has voted that we restrict and rollback protections and accessibility to abortion. Our government is poised to repeal the rights granted to us in Roe v. Wade. We must follow the footsteps of women activists before us who ensured our bodily autonomy and gave us control of our reproductive health. We must honor their fight by fighting to keep those freedoms. We must take the streets in protest! We must call our representatives! We must show up at the voting booths! We must take action!

—Davanie Singhroy, Queens, NY
Davanie is a board member of Sadhana.

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Dr. Ford described the laughs of her attackers to be her most vivid memory of the attack because it dehumanized her and made her feel powerless. My grandfather’s calm and gentle smile as he walked me to a bathroom in our home in India, stripped naked and described what he wanted me to do to him as though it was a normal and justified demand is my most vivid childhood memory because it made me numb with confusion.

As a 6-year-old Indian girl, the first thing I had learned in my life was to obey my elders. But thankfully I did not give in to his demands and managed to run away without being touched. I vividly remember feeling deeply distressed, powerless and confused as I ran out of the bathroom that day.

Ten years later, at 16, I felt the same distress, powerlessness and confusion when I decided to speak out against my molester, for the sake of my sisters.

Today, I feel the same kind of distress, powerlessness and confusion as I watch a sexual predator be put in charge of justice for millions despite their desperate cries and efforts.

As Dr. Ford was being shamefully questioned by a ‘prosecutor,’ I was taken back to when I was 13 and my mother asked me if I was sure that these assaults had taken place; if I could have dreamt it all up. (To be absolutely clear, there were multiple instances of sexual assault of various degrees from the age of 6 to 13.)

As survivors came forward, one after another, in Dr. Ford’s support, I was reminded of when I was 16 and I had found out that I was my grandfather’s fourth victim. That there had been a whole generation of women in my family that had been assaulted before me. I was reminded of my pledge to end this tradition with me, to not let it reach my young sisters and brothers. Today, this is the pledge of millions of survivors and of decent people of all genders across America and the world.

As I watched Republicans disgracefully discredit Dr. Ford to protect a white male chauvinism that Kavanaugh would reinforce, I was brought back to the dozens of times members of my family tried to silence me in order to protect the eldest male in the family: my molester.

“Hinduism is the only religion with Goddesses,” my father used to tell me. As a little girl, I was empowered by the possibility of a female ‘God.’

At 16, when I found myself all alone against my molester and his family, I called my father. I called him because I thought he would support me in my fight. Instead he said that my grandfather had turned into a molester because he had not prayed to the Goddesses. He suggested that I let it go and hope that my molester starts praying more. Let down by my father and terrified as I stood alone, I fought my fight by myself. My fight for girls and women across the world is itself a prayer to the Goddesses. Yes, my fight is my prayer.

Vagisha Agrawal, Calgary, Canada
Vagisha is an active member of Sadhana.

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It’s hard to even put into words the devastating consequence of confirming Brett Kavanagh as Supreme Court Justice. All the work our foremothers and sisters have fought for is placed at risk by this decision. To have a man who not only hold extreme conservative views, but who himself has a history of perpetrating gender-based violence is almost too much to bear.

In spite of the feelings of devastation and fear, I’m reminded of the fact that we’ll begin celebrating Navaratri on Tuesday. It feels significant that we’ll be praying and meditating on the divine feminine during this time.

Durga may you give us the power to fight injustice. Lakshmi may you give us an abundance of strength. Saraswati may you give us wisdom and creativity. With this we will start anew and fight for those who have no voice.

Helen Erwin, NY
Helen is an active member of Sadhana.

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All day Saturday, while the Senate was voting to appoint Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, my Sadhana sister Pratima Doobay and I were facilitating a workshop on Hinduism and social justice at One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in NYC. We told the story of Sadhana, and our efforts to inspire and mobilize Hindus to connect their faith to the social justice crises of our times.


Pratima, being a priestess in training and a trained singer, led the group in powerful puja (Hindu worship ritual in which we prayed to Prithvi Maa (Mother Earth), Lord Ganesh, and the Goddess Durga), havan (fire ritual: we each offered into the fire our affirmations and also the negative feelings and thoughts that encumber us), and kirtan (chanting and singing together).  Participants were moved to tears. Some said they were speaking up in the group for the first time. A few spoke about the sexual assault they had suffered. One man said that during kirtan he felt so grounded in the notion of mother that he felt cradled in her arms.

Pratima shared a story from our scriptures: Mahishasura, a tyrannical asura (demon), had done great penance. Lord Brahma granted him the boon that he could never be killed by man or God.  Considering himself immortal, Mahishasura began to destroy the earth and all living forms. Maa Durga, being neither man nor God, being the Goddess who embodies the cosmic energy of this universe--being a woman--was the one who killed Mahishasura and brought peace the to the earth.

When the workshop was over and I left the building, I looked at my phone and sure enough, there were the inevitable news alerts. I walked on knowing that the workshop with Pratima and the One Spirit community was the best thing I could have been doing on this particular day.

We are about to enter a favorite festival for Hindus the world over: Navratri, nine days and nights when we celebrate Maa Durga in her nine powerful forms. I know that we will sing and dance and feast, but I will focus my own prayers on the terror of sexual assault and abuse that pervades our families and communities. I invite my brothers and sisters to join me in invoking Maa Durga to fight this evil just as she saved the earth from Mahishasura. We must ignite this shakti (power) within each of us.

Swagatham (Welcome) Maa Durga
Jaago (Awaken) Maa Durga
Aao (Come) Maa Durga

Jai Mata Di (Victory to the Mother Goddess)

Sunita Viswanath, Brooklyn, NY
Sunita is a cofounder and board member of Sadhana.

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I was raised on stories of Draupadi and Shikhandi - a deliberate choice by a mom who was determined to show me that Hinduism isn’t just one set of stories which demand that women, above all, be quiet. Sita, therefore, was often a second choice on the bedtime story circuit. Among other things, she wasn’t wild about the women who supported the status quo - the Kaikeyis and the Mantharas and the Soorphanakas and the unnamed laundresses, without whom the gossip and the narrative does not continue to support the kings and their ways.

But right now, I can’t help thinking we’re all spectators at Sita’s second agnipariksha. It’s the one that people tend to conveniently forget because it happens well after the happily-ever-after that we celebrate every Diwali. It's the somewhat inconvenient part of the happy reunion of Rama with his twin sons, Luva and Kusha. The one where Sita decides she’s done.

Years after already being cast out — because apparently a god king isn’t grown-up enough to simply ignore idle gossip after the first trial — and raising twins as a single parent out in the sticks, Rama asks Sita to prove her chastity. Uh-gain. Furious, Sita refuses to oblige. She shames Rama and decides she is going home. Her Mother Earth absorbs her back into the ground and safety, leaving behind a miserable forever after King Rama.

It’s the one part of Sita’s story that my mom told me, a lot. When the world is constantly telling you to be nice and behave, it is a deeply satisfying story.

Because all the Sitas are also fresh out of fucks, and we want a lot more than a safe space away from sorry kings. We want an end to the slut-shaming. We want the justice system, in its required adherence to evidence to stop policing and punishing women more than it ever upbraids or holds men accountable. We are half the earth and we are NOT writing an end to our part in the narrative. No, we Sitas are past done being quiet, and nice. And for those of you who haven’t paid attention, we have the ballot. If you thought we were mad before, you’re in for some hell of a shock.

Anonymous, VA
Anonymous is a new member of Sadhana.

Populist Nationalism and the Kena Upanishad

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

The Kena Upanishad, which belongs to the Sama Veda, cautions us in a series of verses (1:4-8) about the dangers of mistaking the finite for the infinite and of worshiping the finite. In a series of five verses, the teacher differentiates the finite from the infinite. In each verse, he instructs that the infinite is not a worldly object, even one that is worshiped by people (nedaṁ yad idam upāsate — “not this that people worship”). It is a classic criticism of idolatry, understood here as the error of substituting that which is finite for the infinite. The Kena Upanishad regards such idolatry as having it roots in ignorance (avidyā).

That which speech does not illumine, but which illumines speech: know that alone to be the Brahman (the infinite), not this which people worship here.

That which cannot be thought by the mind, but by which, they say, the mind is able to think: know that alone to be the Brahman, not this which people worship here.

That which is not seen by the eye, but by which the eye is able to see: know that alone to be the Brahman, not this which people worship here.

That which cannot be heard by the ear, but by which the ear is able to hear: know that alone to be Brahman, not this which people worship here.

That which none breathes with the breath, but by which breath is in-breathed: know that alone to be the Brahman, not this which people worship here.

Translation by Swami Paramananda (source)

These remarkable verses of the Kena Upanishad challenge and invite us to reflect on our own choices with regard to the finite over infinite. The teacher is not denouncing or inviting hate and revulsion towards those things that are finite. Life in this world would not be possible without such objects. The problem here is regarding the finite as having ultimate value and making it an object of our worship (upāsate); it is giving over our hearts and minds to those things that, by nature, have limited value. When this happens, pursuits such as wealth, power, fame, and success become all-consuming. These become de facto objects of worship in the sense that we instrumentalize everything and everyone for their gain. Even traditional religious worship and practice may be directed solely for the attainment of these ends. The contemporary prosperity gospel movement exemplifies many elements of the worship of the finite that the Kena Upanishad teacher cautions against.

In thinking, however, about old and new finite substitutes for the infinite, we must not limit ourselves to those that are well-known such as wealth, power, or fame. We must think also, for example, of leaders, political or religious, who demand and to whom we may give loyalty above and beyond all other values. Such loyalty reinforces the corruption of the leader and is detrimental to the spiritual wellbeing of the follower. We must extend the Kena Upanishad’s description of the finite to include human beings who want to be treated as objects of ultimate value.

The finite object, however that I want to highlight and which is too often exempt from the Kena Upanishad’s critique is the nation. When the finite nation becomes an object of ultimate value and worship (upāsate), the dangers of ignorance (avidyā) and idolatry multiply, whether we are speaking of the United States, India or any other national entity. Invoking the nation as an object of ultimate value too often means that actions undertaken in the name of the nation are exempt from criticism and that criticism is regarded as a treacherous act of disloyalty.

Glorification of the Nation: The Example of Hindutva

The glorification of the nation is in actuality often the exaltation of a particular ethnic or religious community within constructed national boundaries or beyond it. The spiritual obstacles of egocentrism do not disappear when these are projected and transferred onto the nation and when we exalt ourselves in the name of our nations. Deśa ahaṁkara (national egocentrism) and deśa mamākara (national self-centeredness) are not less spiritually debilitating than their individual expressions. In fact, these become more dangerous when professed in the name of the nation since there is a self-deception that conceals the betrayal of religious values. Religious teachers find it much easier to condemn individual egocentrism; they are hesitant to denounce national egocentrism from fear of the accusation of disloyalty. Even those who claim to have transcended narrow identities become complicit in this matter of nation-worship.

The problems of attributing ultimate value to a finite nation take a sinister turn, with violent consequences, when definitions of the nation and national identity are championed to exclude some communities and to privilege others. In his well-known work Hindutva, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966), articulates criteria for Indian identity based on citizenship, common ancestry, common culture and regard for India as fatherland (pitrbhu) and sacred land (puṇyabhu). According to Savarkar, Jain, Sikhs and Indian Buddhists satisfy his criteria of “Hinduness,” but not Indian Muslims and Christians despite their centuries of life on the Indian subcontinent. They are, according to Savarkar, divided in their loyalties since, for them, “fatherland” and “sacred land” are not identical. He regards them as essentially alien communities in India. Savarkar’s definition of “Hinduness,” and its adoption by Hindu nationalists, and especially by those who use it to differentiate sharply between “we” and “they,” is associated with attitudes of hostility, mistrust, and increasing violence towards those minority communities that do not satisfy his criteria. Savarkar’s “Hindutva” is an example of holding the nation and a version of national identity as an ultimate value. His definition is constructed to ensure that certain communities will never satisfy his conditions for inclusion. Savarkar himself was not religious, but other versions of Hindutva ideology confer a quasi-divine status to the nation and proposes the highest aim of life to be the service and defense of the fatherland. There is no transcendent source of meaning from which one may interrogate the idea of the nation and constructions of national identity.

Thinking Beyond the Nation

Source:  Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

Although the idea of the nation is a construct that has evolved historically, and a multiplicity of nations are part of the fabric of our existence, creation accounts in Hindu sacred sources do not speak of nations, but of the undivided universe. The great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, even while celebrating the independence of India, prayed that his country would awake to a “heaven of freedom,” “where the world has not been broken into up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.”

It is not realistic to expect the dissolution of national walls, but the Hindu tradition requires that we profess our national identities lightly, never losing sight of the more fundamental truth of a universe and living beings united by having their origin in a single divine source described in the Taittiriya Upanishad as “That from which all beings originate, by which they are sustained and to which they return.” Any version of nationalism and national identity that undermines the dignity of others or that justifies and instigates violence is contrary to the fundamental teachings of the Hindu tradition. Even as we embrace and celebrate our rich and diverse traditions, we must do so cognizant of our shared humanity and our common home in the universe.

In fact, the most ancient Hindu teachings do not call us to the service of a nation, but we are certainly called to the devote ourselves and to rejoice in the flourishing of all beings (sarva bhuta hite ratah). Our highest calling is not identity with a nation, but identity with fellow beings in joy and suffering. Our prayer is for the happiness of all (loka samasta sukhino bhavantu). The Bhagavadgita commends a concern for the universal common good (lokasamgraha) in all actions. The implication is that a nationalism that advances the interests of a nation by the exploitation of other nations or which ignores the suffering of other nations violates the Bhagavadgītā’s call for commitment to a universal common good.

The rise of populist nationalism, and especially those versions that clothe themselves in religious colors, requires a critique from the same religious traditions. The Kena Upanishad’s caution about worshipfully substituting the finite for the infinite provides solid grounds against the lifting up of a nation as an object of ultimate value.

Sadhana's 2018 Ganesh Chaturthi Message

eka-dantāya vidmahe vakra-tuṇḍāya dhīmahi

tanno dantiḥ pracodayāt

"Let us contemplate the one with a single tusk, and meditate on the one with a curved trunk.

May He awaken our consciousness and guide us on the right path."

Artist: Poonam Mistry

Artist: Poonam Mistry

On the auspicious occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi  (also called Vinayaka Chaturthi, Vinayaka Chavithi, Pillaiyar Chaturthi, and Chavath), we at Sadhana offer our best wishes for a joyous and reflective celebration. Ganesh Chaturthi is the festival dedicated to Sri Ganesha, our Hindu god of beginnings and remover of obstacles. On this occasion, we pray to Him to remove all obstacles to justice and peace, in our own work and in the world.

Ganesha is often depicted alongside Lakshmi (goddess of prosperity) and Saraswati (goddess of knowledge). We pray to Ganesha that all people around the world, irrespective of religion, gender, caste, or nationality, are able to enjoy the blessings of artha (material comfort) along with vidya (wisdom). We pray for an end to poverty, bigotry, religious fundamentalism, and the exploitation of our Prithvi Maa (Mother Earth). We pray to Sri Vighneshwara (Lord of Obstacles) for the strength to tackle these challenges, motivated by love and compassion.

On Ganesh Chaturthi, many Hindu families perform a puja to a murti of Ganesha which is later immersed into a body of water; often a river, lake, or the ocean. We urge all Hindus who celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in this way to use an eco-friendly Ganesha murti -- one that does not contain toxic paints or other chemicals that may harm the environment. Here's an easy way you can make an eco-friendly Ganesha murti at home using clay:

Additionally, consider following these steps in Sadhana's "Performing Eco-Friendly Pujas" guide. You can download this guide here; please share it with your family, friends, and temple community!

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Best wishes for a joyful Ganesh Chaturthi and an obstacle-free year ahead.

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


namo vrāta-pataye namo gaṇa-pataye namaḥ pramatha-pataye

namaste-astu lambodarā-yaikadantāya vighnanāśine śivasutāya varadamūrtaye namaḥ 

"Salutations to the lord of all human beings, ganas and pramathas (celestial beings).

Salutations to You, Lord Ganesha, with a large belly and single tusk, You who are the remover of all obstacles, the son of Shiva, and the embodiment of generosity."

-- from the Ganapati Atharvashirsha (1500-1600 CE)

Anubhavam: A Call to Hindus to Support Environmentalism and Combat Global Warming

by Hari Venkatachalam

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Although Hindus differ in their practices, beliefs, and philosophies, one statement I hear from Hindus across the world is: “Hinduism isn’t a religion; it is a way of life.” It is not just something that is believed, but something that is lived. It is an “anubhavam” my family said in Tamil, implying a deeply personal experience.

Within the vast collection of anubhavam, one of my earliest is watching my grandmother decorating the threshold of her white-washed rowhouse in the early hours of the morning with rice flour patterns called kolams. I would sit on the steps, my jetlagged brain reeling from the dark sky that hinted with shades of pink at the approaching dawn. Along the street, in the flickering lights escaping from front doors, I saw other thresholds being decorated with kolams. “To welcome Lakshmi into our homes,” my grandmother whispered, soft enough to not disturb the slumbering household, but loud enough to be heard over the cawing of birds and braying of calves awakening around the sleepy town of Tirupur.

I glanced suspiciously down the bumpy road at the dozens of households that must have been on the goddess Lakshmi’s “Stop-In” list. “She can’t stop at everyone’s home?” I asked. My grandmother lifted her sari and stepped gingerly to the side to avoid the ants that had already begun to crawl around her toes to carry away the rice flour grains. She gestured with her flour-dusted wrist. “Lakshmi comes with the jeevan, the life-force, or all these creatures.” An image of the goddess surrounded by a procession of creatures crystallized in my mind…a prototype of Disney’s Snow White. It was one of my first glimpses at Hinduism’s interdependent relationship with nature.

This childhood anubhavam has since been eclipsed by other sights, smells, and sounds. The sight of Ganesh Chathurthi murtis caked with toxic chemicals immersed into already poisoned rivers. The smells of noxious fumes released by factories that have the audacity to include the holy name of “Shree” in their company name. The sounds of scattered plastic bags and trash whirling in the wind in alleys next to sacred shrines.

It is true that Hinduism is an anubhavam. It is a faith composed of sacred actions, spiritual journeys, and personal investigation. That path, though, is supported by a harmonious relationship with nature. Without that relationship, our religion is incomplete and our prayers unfulfilled. If the rice flour my grandmother scattered had welcomed the goddess Lakshmi by quieting the hunger of the small insects and ants, then our environmentally detrimental actions, as a species, have resulted in a directly opposite effect on our planet and the divinity that underlies nature. Through our carbon emissions, and the resulting anthropogenic global warming, we have left our beloved planet, in the form of the goddess Bhumi, feverish, sickly, and broken.

The Earth Science Communications Team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has returned with their lab results and diagnosis: At 408 parts per million, CO2 levels in our atmosphere are the highest they have been in 650,000 years. At least 280 billion tons of ice were lost in Greenland and 119 billion tons were lost in Antarctica per year over the past 23 years. Global temperatures are 1.8 degrees F higher than they were in 1880. Fever, indeed, for Bhumi-Mata. Anthropogenic global warming is fueled by pollution, heavy carbon emissions, and a disregard for nature.

The call for Hindus to experience faith through combating global warming may be one that arose in the mid-twentieth century, but it is an echo of the duties of our faith that have been passed down over millennia. It is in the revered trees we circumambulate (pradakshinam), in the sacred rivers in which we bathe (snaanam), and in the very air we breathe (pranaayam).

It is a way of life.

The time has come for us to combat global warming with the same sense of dharma that led Arjuna to the battlefield, with the same moral responsibility that led Lord Rama to the woods, and with the same conviction that convinced Lord Shiva to consume poison to save the world.

We must support clean and renewable energy initiatives. We must lower the carbon impact of both individuals and industries. We must advocate for the poor who will be disproportionately affected by global warming and ensure they remain safe from rising ocean levels and heat waves. We are Hindus, and in the face of global warming, this is our way of life.

This article first appeared at Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

Sadhana’s Statement on Hindutva (Hindu nationalism)

On July 26, 2018, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) organized an event in Washington, DC to commemorate the release of its new report, “India: Democracy in Diversity.” HAF's alleged goal for this event was to provide the "full story" about India's religious freedom. The event consisted of a panel featuring representatives of various Indian religious minorities who shared their perspectives on religious pluralism. Sadhana initially published a statement on the evening of July 25. However, because the report was not yet available to the public, Sadhana decided to remove the statement to give HAF the benefit of the doubt. Some DC-based Sadhana members attended the panel, and shared Sadhana's perspective during the question-and-answer session. Unfortunately, the event and accompanying report confirmed our fears that they would not directly confront the problem of religious violence, particularly in today's India.

A notable exception was Harminder Kaur, the Sikh representative at the event and founder of a nonprofit organization called Sikh Kid to Kid (SK2K) . Harminder ji stated that she was speaking from a place of love for her homeland, but spoke fearlessly and honestly about the issues Sikhs have historically faced, and continue to combat, in India. Harminder ji insisted that we must not normalize the violence that is currently taking place in India, and that dialogue, not denial, is the only way to address religious violence. We are inspired by voices like Harminder ji's, and pledge to continue speaking out against the rising threat of Hindu nationalism to Indian democracy and religious freedom.

Below is our initial statement, edited to accurately reflect the content of the July 26 event.

Since the formation of a Hindu nationalist government in India in 2014, the condition of religious and social minorities has substantially deteriorated. Stories of Muslims and Dalits being lynched on the suspicion of eating beef and Christian churches being burned have regularly made international headlines. Today, right-wing Hindu politicians garland anti-Muslim vigilantes and actively obstruct the legal prosecution of religious fanatics. Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of India’s most populous state and head of a Hindu monastery, shares public stages with men who advocate digging up the graves of Muslim women and raping their corpses. Therefore, it is no surprise that India has been listed as the fourth most religiously intolerant country in the world by the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life.

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) decided to address the issue of religious freedom in India at an event it is hosted on July 26 in Washington D.C, where the organization released its latest publication, “India: Democracy in Diversity.” HAF aimed to introduce US lawmakers, government officials, NGOs, and the general public to what it describes as the "most religiously diverse democracy" in the world. The event celebrated the Indian subcontinent’s long history of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers from around the globe and promoted India’s "civilizational perspective" on pluralism. 

Sadhana agrees with HAF that a conversation about democracy, diversity, and religious freedom in India is urgent. However, this conversation cannot happen without representatives of those communities that have been the most targeted by religious violence and persecution.

The event featured speakers from communities that HAF described as "key religious minorities": a Tibetan Buddhist, Zoroastrian (Parsi), Indian Jew, Sikh, Christian-Muslim, and Kashmiri Pandit. However, there were no representatives of Muslim or Christian community organizations at the event, despite Muslims and Christians being the largest religious minorities in India. Additionally, there was no listed representative for Dalits or other caste-oppressed communities, who comprise at least 200 million people.

What kind of a message did HAF hope to send by holding a conference on democracy and religious freedom in India that does not prioritize India's largest marginalized communities? Discussing religious freedom in India without acknowledging the fact that members of India's ruling party want to turn India into a Hindu rashtra (Hindu nation) is nothing but disingenuous.

HAF’s event was timed to coincide with a conference organized by the U.S. State Department on religious freedom worldwide. HAF has been acutely critical of U.S. governmental reports on religious freedom in India. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has placed India on its Watch List since 2009, and listed Hindu nationalist organizations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal as "extremist" groups in past reports. What does HAF have to say to these groups that are actively destroying the democracy and religious pluralism that it celebrates? 

Hindu nationalism is destructive to Indian democracy and society. Not only does it endanger the lives of India's minorities, it also targets Hindus who resist the hijacking of their religion by a violent minority, and often results in violence committed against Hindus living in other South Asian countries. Sadhana means "faith in action", and we at Sadhana will not stand by while we watch our holy symbols, religious beliefs, and sacred spaces converted into tools of oppression. Sadhana is a coalition of progressive Hindus who strongly believe in the values that lie at the core of our faith: ekatva (oneness), ahimsa (nonviolence), and seva (selfless service).

As Hindus who are horrified at the brutal violence being perpetrated in the name of Hinduism we believe a discussion of democracy, diversity, and religious freedom in India does not make sense without discussing the challenges faced by the most vulnerable communities today. HAF represents itself as a nonpartisan organization that is committed to combating bigotry and seeking greater inclusion of Hindus in mainstream American society. This September, the American affiliate of the VHP is organizing a "World Hindu Congress" in Chicago, featuring Hindu nationalist leaders including Yogi Adityanath and Mohan Bhagwat (head of the RSS). If HAF is serious about combating bigotry and celebrating India's religious pluralism, will they take a public stand against Hindu nationalist organizations such as the VHP that are directly responsible for creating a hostile climate for Indian Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other minorities?

As Hindus, it is our dharma (duty) to speak up and oppose fundamentalism and violence committed in the name of our religion. Hindus must not be resistant to self-criticism; instead, we are called to embody para-dukha-dukhi -- feeling the pain of fellow living beings as our own. Will HAF find the courage to unequivocally denounce rising Hindu nationalism in India as well as the United States? How many more Indians will be lynched by Hindu fundamentalist mobs before HAF finds it important to discuss the threats to religious freedom in India?

A prayer on Guru Purnima

By Sadhana cofounder Sunita Viswanath

It is daybreak on Guru Purnima. I am humbled by the beauty of this hour, a beauty that persists in spite of the severe drought that this place, Taos, NM, is experiencing.

Guru Purnima is a special day for Hindus, and also Buddhists and Jains. Purnima means full moon day, and Guru Purnima is the full moon day dedicated to our teachers. It’s a day to reflect on what we have learned, and how we will apply our knowledge in our lives.

On this Guru Purnima, I honor these magnificent mountains.

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Samudra vasane devi, parvatha sthana mandite — Oh Mother Goddess, the oceans are your robes and the mountains your jewels.

And I honor the teachers in my life:

  • My respected parents Saraswathi and Viswanath, who gave me life and taught me how to live it -- fully, with all my heart.
  • My Amma – Kameswari, my aunt who raised me – who taught me the most important lessons, that I am no less powerful because I am a woman, and that I can and must prevail in spite of great adversities.
  • My husband Stephan, who teaches me daily what a loving, selfless and egalitarian partnership looks like.
  • My children Gautama, Akash and Satya, who teach me how to stay alert and open-minded, always questioning, never following blindly.
  • My teacher and friend Dr. Ruth Vanita, who reads Hindu texts with me, gently guiding me towards my own spiritual core; and who also patiently debates with me so that I am on firmer ground in my positions and beliefs.
  • Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, who through his life and through his scholarship, reveals to me the loving and fearless heart of Hinduism.

Ramakrishna Parahamsa, 19th century Hindu mystic and Guru of Swami Vivekananda, once said, “When one’s mind becomes pure, then that mind itself becomes the guru.”

Just as the Divine is within us all, the Guru is within us. Perhaps our most profound teacher is our own discerning mind.

My Guru Purnima prayer is for rain in Taos, NM, and an end to religious violence the world over.

My Guru Purnima pledge is to apply all I have learned from my Gurus, and from my own discerning mind, and devote myself anew to my work to build a Hindu movement that stands against Hindutva (Hindu supremacy), and stands for love, nonviolence and the oneness of us all.

Sadhana Condemns Atrocities Against Hindus in Myanmar

Recent reporting by Amnesty International in Myanmar has drawn attention to the massacre of nearly a hundred Hindu villagers; men, women, and children. Several other villagers have reportedly been abducted, and some women were forcibly converted to Islam. The attacks have been attributed to a Rohingya Muslim armed group, the so called "Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)." Sadhana is horrified at these reports and demand that the perpetrators be brought to justice. The government of Myanmar has in turn used attacks such as these to justify its continued crackdown on members of the Muslim Rohingya community and over 700,000 have been catastrophically displaced.

We condemn the sickness of violence in all its forms, we affirm our commitment to the rights and welfare of our Hindu sisters and brothers, and we also affirm our equal commitment to the rights and welfare of our Muslim sisters and brothers -- in Myanmar and across the world. 

Some might use this atrocity to stoke our hearts with resentment. At Sadhana, we opt in favor of a renewed commitment to righteousness instead. We firmly condemn these wanton acts of cruelty, just as we unequivocally condemn the idea that standing up for Hindus means condemning all Muslims. Nothing could be farther from the truth of our faith. 

The Sadhaka (progressive Hindu) is para-dukha-dukhi; she feels the pain and pleasure of her fellow jivas (living beings) as her very own. Her dharma is justice. Her Sadhana is fierce resistance against all adharma (evil), manifesting in personal relations and in systems and structures.

Building Hindu-Muslim Unity During Ramadan

by Sunita Viswanath

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I have been privileged to work for the last 17 years for Women for Afghan Women (WAW). When Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus was being birthed in 2011, I remember expressing my admiration for the staff of WAW -- some more observant and devout, some more secular, but all of whom considered their work for human rights a part of their religious obligation as Muslims.

Yesterday was the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims. Sadhana has worked tirelessly these seven years to advocate against all forms of bigotry and violence in the name of religion, and against any religion. In particular, we have spoken out forcefully against Islamophobia. For me personally, it was seeing a Hindu saffron-clad man share a prayer at an anti-Muslim rally that made me take a pledge that I would never remain silent and allow my Hindu faith be a platform for bigotry and hate.

This Ramadan, my WAW colleagues are heartsick because of the endless terrorist attacks by Taliban and ISIS across Afghanistan. WAW's 800 staff members operate lifesaving shelters and programs in 14 provinces. Our staff and the families we serve are all embarking on a month of deep prayer for peace and justice in the world. 

This past Monday saw the launch of the New Poor People's Campaign's 40 Days of Direct Action. This work is the continuation of the legacy of the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.  If Dr. King had not been killed, the Poor People's Campaign would have been the next priority of his life. This week, I was able to represent Sadhana at a rally outside the State Capitol in Albany. Speaker after speaker spoke about the 140 million Americans living in poverty in the United States today, and how that number has grown by 60 percent since Dr. King's death. Sadhana will work alongside faith leaders in this movement to make sure that Dr. King's legacy will not be extinguished along with his life. 

On the drive home from Albany, I heard news of violence in the Middle East. At the beginning of the holiest time of the year for Muslims, the United States was moving its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a highly controversial decision which is certain to make the possibility of peace more difficult. As the Embassy was opened, 40 miles away thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in peaceful protest, and over 60 protesters were gunned down by Israeli police. These killings were barely mentioned during the ceremonies to open the new Embassy, and Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defense minister said “there are no innocent people in Gaza,” using this as a pretext to shoot, not only unarmed protesters, but also journalists.

And just a month ago, Sadhana organized a rally in response to the rapes of three little girls in India, one of whom was eight-year-old Asifa. Asifa was a girl from a nomadic Muslim tribe in Kashmir. A group of Hindu men targeted her because of the community she was from, held her captive for ten days within a Hindu temple, repeatedly gang-raped her there, and ultimately strangled her. The Hindu Ekta Manch (Hindu Unity Platform) that formed after this rape and murder was a march of thousands of Hindus defending not Asifa, but the Hindu rapists. As a Hindu woman, I hang my head in shame and horror.

It is difficult to understand how our Muslim brethren can find peace in their hearts as they pray and meditate during this holy month, knowing the extent of violent atrocities and injustices taking place against Muslims by both bigots who hate Muslims and Muslim extremists who hate progressive values.

And yet, the Muslims I am lucky to know and work with are fasting and praying. My sister Najia, country director of WAW and one of the most courageous woman I know, tells me, "Ramadan is a blessing in my life."

Naheed, who empowers the Afghan community in New York, and took 55 Afghan women to D.C. for the Women's March after the presidential election, told me, "Ramadan is a time to reflect to yourself and acknowledge your blessings and think of those in need. It is a time that I feel closer to the almighty."

And longtime WAW board member Masuda said, "Ramadan is a time of restraint from food and water in order to learn self control and focus on spiritual reflection. It is useful in understanding the challenges of those in need, particularly the hungry and a reminder to help them."

Sadhana will keep these women in our hearts and add our prayers to theirs. We will observe Ramadan by devoting ourselves to the Poor People's Campaign. 

This Sunday, to commemorate the occasion of Ramadan, Sadhana's Chicago chapter will explore the verses of Kabir, the iconoclastic bhakti poet of 15th-century north India who blurred the lines between "Hindu" and "Muslim", and spoke out against hypocrisy and injustice. And on June 12th, our Sadhana Satsangh in New York City will be devoted to Hindu-Muslim unity. Some of us will fast in solidarity and have Iftar at the same time as our Muslim friends; some of us will cover our heads; we will learn about the shared history of Hindus and Muslims and invite Muslim friends who are not attending mosque that night; we will chant Sufi songs and prayers; and we will conduct our prayers around a flame and to the God within our heart. All are welcome to our Satsangh.

With love and a deep desire for peace and unity, Sadhana wishes Ramadan Mubarak to our Muslim brothers and sisters. We Are One.

This piece also appeared on Auburn Seminary's blog, Voices.

 

The Mysterious Reappearance of Ranger Tim

By Rohan Narine

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As a British-Guyanese-American of Indian and South Asian interfaith ancestry from Queens, I sometimes unknowingly become the center of attention at posh parties. Now aware, I relish time and don comfortable cloth to tell a story or two at these parties. On Saturday, April 7th, 2018, Sadhana, the most trolled Progressive Hindu organization in the world, held its very first beach cleanup of the year. Surprisingly, to the detriment of haters, they actually did real and tangible work. They volunteered from the heart which led to magic and mystery. This story, told at a wedding reception one posh evening at some fancy country club castle estate chateau in New Jersey, is a recollection of that magic and mystery.

So, if you may not have known, my wife is not your average human. She’s quite the star. Combining beauty sprinkled with a dash of lawyer, Aminta has the gift of turning convoluted theory into earthly pragmatism. Being able to distill deep diving and often-divisive Vedic philosophies into simple words and actions is a gift that must be witnessed to be believed. On this day, Project Prithvi’s first beach cleanup of the year, Aminta carefully pieced together a devotional ceremony to Mother Earth, and led through her kindness a beach cleanup dedicated to a living planet that loves all faiths. From one volunteer came two, then four, then eight, then sixteen, and then it sort of didn’t double to thirty two okay, but about twenty five people in all bore the freezing wind chill, without a budget for marketing or promotional material. The magic had begun.

A little before 10:00am, one of the first to arrive on the scene at the world-famous gazebo in Jamaica Bay’s parking lot was Timothy Farrell, a National Parks Service Ranger so quiet that he disappears in to the background of the cleanups better than Waldo in a Where’s Waldo puzzle. With him was his sidekick model-faced socialite Rick Jenkins. Together they represent the best that the National Parks Service has to offer. Their personalities also jive at exactly the right times, gifting them the nuance of keen listening. Luck, for some reason or another, always seems to be on their side.

On this inaugural Saturday morning, the cleanup started on time, gave way to a naturally growing group of volunteers, and garnered a strong turnout from Parks Service advocacy. But, it was cold, like when your butt hits a wintry toilet seat in a public bathroom. There was just no warmth that day. One mother and daughter duo, Shaneeza and Feona, went back in to their vehicle to warm their hands, and that was at 11:00am, just one hour in. Only about 20 garbage bags had been filled, and over a handful of Murthi’s collected. Sensing an energy, I suggested to Aminta that perhaps the cleanup should end a bit early. Aminta hoisted the idea up to a vote by the volunteers, and even Rangers Tim and Rick agreed. So, instead of ending at 1:00pm, at 11:15am Aminta decided to throw in the sari and call Sadhana’s first inaugural beach cleanup over. She then expertly delegated staff who in turn led volunteers to regroup at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, about one mile away, for lunch. It was 37 degrees.

Once everyone who was hungry corralled, car-pooled, and parked in the Refuge’s lot, they were given a glimpse into another world. Inside was a receptionist who at times rotated front desk duty with a Park Ranger, restrooms with open doors for visitors who needed a rinse from the rough outdoors, and glass enclosed fossils of crustaceans often found alongside broken Murthi’s at the Bay. There were even sightings of white people. Once assembled in the de facto art gallery, tables and chairs were causally pulled out to accommodate. Placed on the table were two aluminum trays of Guyanese-style chickpeas and one partially filled plastic container of authentic wiri wiri pepper sauce from, you guessed it, Guyana. As the line formed, Ranger’s Tim and Rick heard that Guyanese-style chickpeas were on the menu and unhesitatingly flew in like Iron Man and War Machine trying to rescue an infinity stone.

All thanks go to Sadhana’s self-appointed Sous Chef Babita Rampersaud who graciously served her chickpea creation to warm volunteers in small Styrofoam bowls (next cleanup they were biodegradable). Lunch never tasted better. Volunteers are always given the opportunity to network at the cleanups, and lunch is mostly when it happens. This post-cleanup luncheon I had pleasure of meeting Ms. Mala Tiwari’s two sons Yogesh and Mohanesh (also known as Andrew and Ryan here in America). I didn’t get the chance to speak to Yogesh that much, but Mohanesh, a smart handsome future scientist about half my age, had a phone that was twice as powerful as mine. I made it my purpose to inform him that my birthday is in November, twice.

As lunch gradually concluded, and thinking no one paid any mind to that small plastic container of wiri wiri, Ranger Tim, who waited for everyone else to finish eating, picked up a bowl of chickpeas, mysteriously focused his gaze on the pepper sauce and liberally poured two spoonful’s all over his lunch. I think I saw the Styrofoam in his bowl begin to melt. Everyone’s energy shifted to him in slow motion, their eyes opened wide, their mouths opening wider, all simultaneously gasping in horror over what had happened: a bowl full of chickpeas just went to waste.

One volunteer said, “You can’t eat that, you know that, right?” Another said, “You’ll have to throw that away. That’s too much pepper. Just grab another bowl.” I told him, “It’s cool bro, you didn’t know. It’s not your fault.” Tim looked at me and without blinking said, “No, I know. It’s alright. I like the spice. I love hot foods.” Everyone in the gallery looked at Tim, confused. Was he trying to save face knowing he ruined his meal? But to the amazement of us all, he did the unthinkable. He took a bunch of chickpeas oozing with pepper and ate it without flinching. He just kept on chewing, swallowing, and chewing some more. Tim kept that cycle of what everyone thought was taste bud birth and death going until he finished it…all of it.

Tim is a quiet guy at Sadhana’s beach cleanups. He mostly smiles, greets everyone with kindness, and packs up at the end right on time, every time. He subtly disappears into the background, functioning like a computer’s random access memory, always performing anew each time it’s rebooted. However this time around, seeing him take down the wiri wiri peppered chickpeas without searching for a sip of water, I thought two things: he’s either faking it or he’s the real deal. But my wife, my sister-in-law Hemma, and everyone else who embraced their chairs upon seeing the sight could only confirm the impossible: Ranger Tim reappeared to us all with a tongue shielded from the wiri wiri. Maybe while cleaning the Bay Mother Durga or Mother Kali granted him a boon? Who’s to know? To me, it’s all still quite mysterious.

Sadhana Stands in Solidarity with Nepali TPS Holders and Their Families

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We at Sadhana: a Coalition of Progressive Hindus are dismayed by news that the Department of Homeland Security is preparing to discontinue Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for over 9,000 migrants from Nepal. They are integral members of the they are integral members of Hindu and South Asian American communities and the US economy.

Three years ago, on this date, Nepal was devastated by a terrible earthquake. Many thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands more were displaced and made homeless. Nepal continues to recover from the devastating effects of this natural disaster. Thousands of people continue live in temporary shelters and lack access to vital necessities.

Sadhana believes the termination of TPS status for Nepali victims of the earthquake is a short-sighted, immoral, and unconscionable decision. Nepali TPS recipients provide vital economic support for friends and family back home. The resources they send provide stable and reliable income and have tremendously helped to rebuild Nepali communities. We urge the Department of Homeland Security to consider the conditions in Nepal and extend TPS status to the Nepali recipients.

Sadhana condemns the racist climate of fear and hate that has driven immigration policy in recent times. In our ancient scriptures, it is written—Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. The world is one family.  We advocate for the passage of inclusive legislation that benefits the broader immigrant community. We insist that the Trump administration restore TPS status to the Salvadoran and Haitian communities who were targeted earlier this year. Sadhana condemns the repeal of DACA and attempts to pass a “Muslim Ban.” We urge the immediate introduction of more humanitarian pathways to permanent residency and citizenship.

 

 

Hindus and the Poor People’s Campaign: A Religious and Moral Obligation

On April 19, 2018, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive is proud to officially endorse the  Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival . We pledge to mobilize Hindu Americans to be a part of this movement which continue the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr, and which "challenges systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality."

On April 19, 2018, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive is proud to officially endorse the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. We pledge to mobilize Hindu Americans to be a part of this movement which continue the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr, and which "challenges systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality."

by Anantanand Rambachan, Advisory Committee Member, Sadhana

Hinduism has never given its blessings to involuntary poverty. It recognizes poverty to be a great cause of suffering. By including wealth (artha) as one of life’s four goals – along with pleasure, virtue and liberation – Hinduism recognizes the need of every human being for access to those material necessities, such as food, healthcare, shelter and clothing, that make life possible and that enable human beings to flourish and live with dignity.

It is important, therefore, that, as Hindus, we be concerned about those structures, social, political and economic, that impede and deny persons the opportunities to attain life’s necessities. These structures need to be identified and measures implemented to make these goals accessible and attainable by all.

We live in a world in which there are great disparities between the rich nations of the north and the poor of the south and between the rich and poor within nations, and in which too many children die each week from malnutrition and infection. We have a moral responsibility to call attention to these disparities and to the culture of greed that contributes to the perpetuation of such disparities. When considering greed, it is very important that we do not see it only as an individual human issue. Greed finds expression also in political, institutional and corporate structures that contribute to poverty and human suffering.

Any religious tradition which is today concerned about justice, peace, prosperity and freedom from poverty, violence, exploitation and fear is challenged to reach across boundaries and find common ground and values with people of other religions, and those without religious commitment. Together we must strive to confront and overcome the causes of human suffering. Our hopes for just and peaceful communities will only be realized together or not at all. The Bhagavad Gītā urges us work for the universal common good in everything we do. Today, the overcoming of poverty and the pursuit of the common good common cannot be addressed effectively without partnerships with people of other religions, secular organizations and state agencies.

The Hindu tradition calls us to see the joy and suffering of others as our own. Our identification with others in suffering requires that we properly inquire into the causes of their suffering with the aim of overcoming these. We cannot ignore the suffering of human beings when they lack opportunities to attain the necessities for dignified and decent living or when suffering is inflicted through oppression and injustice based on gender, birth or race. It is not acceptable to affirm the ideal of prosperity for all (artha) and life’s unity while being indifferent to inequality and oppression. Working to overcome suffering means identifying those political, social and economic structures that cause and perpetuate suffering. The unmistakable call to be one with the suffering other demands nothing less.

We affirm the fundamental principles of the Poor Peoples Campaign and especially its call for moral revival, non-violence and its commitment “to lifting up and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation and to building unity across lines of division.”

We believe that the fundamental theological teachings of our Hindu tradition demand that we support and join this Campaign.

A well-known Hindu prayer, often used to conclude temple and home worship, expresses the desirability and hope of freedom from suffering for all beings.

Sarve bhavantu sukhinah. Sarve santu nirāmayah.
Sarve bhadrāni paśyantu Mā kaścit duhkha bhāgbhavet

May all be happy. May all be free from disease.
May all know that which is good. May no-one suffer.

Let us commit to making the hope of this beautiful prayer a reality in our nation and world.

 

The Eco-Dharmic Balancing Act

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Soon-to-be doctor Chris Fici ideated the Sadhana Salon as a pathway to delve deep beyond just the debate of what being a ‘progressive’ Hindu is, but to actually insert new narratives of thought into already progressively held beliefs. The discussion for the evening – Progressive Hindu Earth Seva - sought to define exactly how Hindus, specifically the progressive ones, see their daily worship in a global ecological context. How do Hindus connect themselves to Mother Earth? What is the dharma of a Hindu ecologist? Why are Hindus discouraged from using the term “environmental justice”?  

United for Justice: In Solidarity With the Rape Victims in Kathua and Unnao, India

by Sakshi Shrivastava, Member, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus

Sadhana is raising funds for the victims of the gruesome rapes in Kathua and Unnao in India. We have partnered with CrowdNewsing, the community that is officially fundraising in India. The money will go towards the legal fees for the court cases and to the families of the victims. We can not undo the horror, but we can help ease their pain. Please consider donating here.

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We are devastated. We are ashamed. We are outraged.

Last week, two news stories of gruesome rapes broke over the media and shook us to our core. The first one came to light on April 8th, when a minor girl tried to commit suicide in front of the home of the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India. On June 4th, 2017, she was raped in Unnao, UP, by Kuldeep Sengar, a lawmaker belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and his brothers. The second case was reported by the mainstream media on April 12th. An eight year-old girl, Asifa, was raped in Kathua, Kashmir, by six men. They kept her in captivity in a Hindu temple, sedated her, tied her up, and raped her repeatedly for five days. Then they bludgeoned the little child to death.

Violence against women is a global problem, but the perpetrators in both these cases were agents of Hindutva--divisive, patriarchal, extreme right-wing Hindu nationalism. In the first instance, the accused, Kuldeep Singh, belonged to the BJP, the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hindutva chief minister "Yogi" Adityanath. After the minor girl was raped, the local police repeatedly refused to file the complaint. When her family filed a case in the court, the authorities worked in league with the ministers and erased all medical reports and evidence. The family’s pleas for justice were ignored. These rapists had the entire government and law enforcement working to protect them. The victim’s father was arrested under false pretenses and beaten mercilessly, leading to his death. Imagine how far one has to be driven to be willing to set fire to oneself in order to be heard. Is this what it takes for a woman to be heard in India?

The incident in Kathua was a vulgar and blatant conspiracy led by a retired revenue official, Sanji Ram, and seven other men to instill fear in the hearts of the Muslim Bakherwal community living in the village. The rape was not just about their disgusting lust, it was about asserting power over a minority community by turning the body a Muslim girl child into a war-zone. They invited a friend over from another city to come and “satisfy” himself, and they postponed that poor child’s death so that one of the rapists could rape her one last time. As soon as the accused were identified, a local BJP leader formed an organization called Hindu Ekta Manch: "Hindu Unity Platform." Around 4,000 people marched under their banner -- in defense of the rapists. As Hindus, it is a matter of utter shame and disgust to us that rather than jumping to the defense of these victims, they marched in solidarity with the rapists.

Prime Minister Modi only spoke after pressure started building from the opposition and the media, both national and international. Ever so conscious of this image, Modi gave a noncommittal assurance that the accused will be punished and unintelligently addressed India’s rape crisis by asking parents to be aware of their son’s whereabouts.

When the Hindu nationalist government of India uses the word ekta (oneness or unity) to create a platform to defend rapists, it becomes imperative to assert the progressiveness, beauty, and humanity of true ekta and Hinduism. What is currently happening in India in the name of Hinduism is inhumane and shameful. Sadhana, our coalition of progressive (religious, cultural, secular, atheist and various other kinds of) Hindus is coming together to take action against injustice and serve our fellow beings. We at Sadhana celebrate a Hinduism that transcends and celebrates differences as a force of love and justice. We consider ourselves responsible citizens of the world, and so we must call attention to the saffronization of India, forced upon by the ruling party. We must come forward and reject this terror that is Hindutva. We must demolish patriarchy in all the ways it manifests in our societies. Enough has been done in our name, and enough violence has been done to our girls.

Join us in our rally, “United for Justice” on Monday, April 16 at 6 P.M at the Gandhi Statue in Union Square. We’re taking concrete action in support of the victims of these two horrific rape cases by raising funds for their cause and building a united movement towards justice. Let’s use our grief and anger and channel it towards actionable solutions. Fundraising is just the beginning.

Hinduism and Ecology Conference at Govardhan Eco-Village, India

By Sadhana Board Member Christopher Fici

May this Earth, replete with seas, rivers and water sources, excellent foodgrains from agriculture, prolific vegetation and abundant living creatures, bestow upon us munificent nutrition!

May this Earth, replete with seas, rivers and water sources, excellent foodgrains from agriculture, prolific vegetation and abundant living creatures, bestow upon us munificent nutrition!

May the Earth who is in the nature of a mother, hold us, her children, close to her life-endowing self, protect us, and may Parjanya (the rain-bearing clouds) in the nature of a father, tend our upbringing. 

May the Earth who is in the nature of a mother, hold us, her children, close to her life-endowing self, protect us, and may Parjanya (the rain-bearing clouds) in the nature of a father, tend our upbringing. 

May this Earth so charged with positive force, neutralise that element which impels ill-will, aggressive intention, subjugation of human beings and their elimination. 

May the Earth give us, her progeny, the capacity to speak pleasantly with each other, may our languages enable harmonious interaction between ourselves.

In daily life, on Earth, whether we are sitting, standing, or in motion, may our activity be such as would never cause injury or grief! 

I evoke the Earth which gives shelter to all the searchers of truth, to those who are tolerant and have understanding, to all things strength-giving, nutritious; the source of creative spirit, we depend on you, O Earth!

O Earth, in the villages, forest, assemblies, committees and other places on Earth, may what we express always be in accord with you.

 

Prthvi-Sukta-Hymn to the Earth-from the Atharva Veda

Nature is also our neighbor, she is alive with rights like everyone else, but too many people don’t see nature that way. The Vedic scriptures tell that the most simple and powerful method of cleansing the ecology of the heart and awakening this dormant love within us is to chant God’s names. In my tradition we chant the names of Krishna.

God has empowered all of us in different ways and if we agree on what the real problem is, then we can all contribute our part of the solution. The well being of Mother Earth is everyone’s problem. It is crucial for leaders in all fields to serve cooperatively.

--Radhanath Swami

 

What does it mean to be a true, honest, and loving sevaka of Bhumi-Devi, of our Mother Earth. A wise friend of mine once said, in her dialogue with Native American elders, that we make a mistake when we say “the” Earth, as if we are making her an object. Instead we must always say, in the language and service of our lips and our hearts, simply that she is Earth, that she is a personal, living, breathing, loving being, just like you and I. She is our Mother, who gives us all elements of flourishing life.

We do not risk oversimplification of the matter nor do we risk anthropomorphizing our planet by claiming she is personal and living. The very cutting-edges of climate science tell us, with increasing urgency, that Earth is a living system who reacts and responds to care, and to abuse, exactly as we do. The cutting-edges of eco-theology tell us that Earth is not just a personal living being, but as we see in the great sastras, the sacred texts of Hinduism, that she is also a beloved, especial devotee of God.

Sacred sastric texts such as the Bhagavat Purana direct us to theological narratives which personify Earth as Bhumi-Devi. The Tenth Canto of the Bhagavat Purana opens with Bhumi-Devi, “overburdened by hundreds of thousands of military phalanxes of various conceited demons dressed like kings.” She then assumes “the form of a cow” to beseech, with great emotion, Brahma and his fellow demigods to implore Vishnu to incarnate upon her very soil to protect her and her fellow devotees. Krishna's subsequent descent and full revelation of his Earthly lila in the cherished Tenth Canto of the Bhagavat Purana thus emerges from the devotion of Bhumi-Devi. Her bhakti compels Krishna to incarnate, in part, as an act of resistance and justice-making against the forces of systemic evil overrunning the flourishing of the planetary creation and community.

This past December, a wonderful community of religious scholar/practitioners gathered at the Govardhan Eco-Village project in Maharastra, India, for a conference on Hinduism and Ecology convened by The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha Research Center, and The Bhumi Project. This conference was a long-awaited follow-up to The Yale Forum’s initial series of conferences in the late 1990’s, done in conjunction with the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, on the eco-theologies of the world’s diverse religious traditions and communities. This initial series of conference led to a series of publications, and the volume on Hinduism and Ecology continues to remain the gold standard for Hindu eco-theology.

In his opening plenary talk, Radhanath Swami, the founder of the Govardhan Eco-Village project, welcomed us into the experience of the Eco-Village as a community which attempts to combine cutting-edge climate science with the timeless wisdom of the Vedic spiritual sciences. The Eco-Village is a community which attempts to embody the consciousness of Krishna’s grace, of God’s grace, in every element of Earthly creation. Swami told us that if “we understand God as the source of all nature, then naturally we develop the mood and practice of Earth seva (service). This seva is the most holy principle of life, for life.” The teaching of para-dukha-dukhi, to understand and experience the suffering, and also the bliss, of all living beings, as our very own suffering and bliss, is essential for this practice of Earth seva, We must understand Earth, and all of her planetary children, as our “cherished neighbor. This leads to a deep, profound, and lasting change in the ecological quality of our lives.”

In the Eco-Village, an experiment of immersion in the radical substance of bhakti-yoga, the yoga of selfless and loving devotion, is ongoing, rooted in devotion to Earth and Krishna in concert, to create a sanctuary for re-developing and re-creating relationships. Swami’s words deepened my own conviction, as a scholar studying the Eco-Village (which is to be the subject of my upcoming Ph.D dissertation at Union Theological Seminary) and as a disciple of Swami inspired to serve and help develop this community to its utmost.

The Govardhan Eco-Village is truly, as the Christian eco-theologian Larry Rasmussen describes, an anticipatory community. Rasmussen, in his excellent book Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key, defines anticipatory community:

Anticipatory communities are home places where it is possible to reimagine worlds and reorder possibilities, places where new or renewed practices give focus to an ecological and postindustrial way of life. Such communities have the qualities of a haven, a set-apart and safe place yet a place open to creative risk. Here basic moral formation happens by conscious choice and not by default (simply conforming to the ethos and unwritten ethic of the surrounding culture). Here eco-social virtues are consciously cultivated and           embodied in community practices. Here the fault lines of modernity are exposed.

The Govardhan Eco-Village is indeed (and please check out the visual essay which follows this written essay) a community which is actively, with full creativity, and immense theological depth, helping to anticipate, in the fabric of Earth-honoring dharma, justice, and compassion, the way forward into the Age of Climate Crisis. As Swami concluded, the practice of bhakti helps us to “return to dependence on our interdependence with all living beings, and with God, Bhakti helps us to become an instrument of Divine love on Earth and for Earth, which is the essential harmonic principle of yoga.” Bhakti is the renewable, sustainable energetic principle which heals the corruption of our own internal consciousness, and allows us to harmonize our inner and outer ecology.

If bhakti can be understood to one of the most exquisite ecological arts, then the most exquisite practitioner of these arts, Sri Krishna, can be understood as “the greatest environmentalist.” Shrivatsa Goswami, one of the head priests of the Radha-ramana Temple in Vrindavana, and one of the leading environmental activists of the Hindu community explains that “Krishna’s love is not to subjugate or exploit nature, but to celebrate it. With what technique do we protect our environment? This technology is relationship through love, through devotion, through giving and serving.”,  Earth seva, our eco-dharma, service in the mood of love, care, and devotion, can lead us to find and restore what has been lost to us, such as a freely flowing, pure, crisp, and clean Yamuna River.

Vaishnava scholar/practitioner David Haberman, one of the key architects of the conference, has spent years studying and working for the restoration of the Yamuna. His powerful and evocative book River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India explores the deep tensions between devotion of Yamuna as a goddess and as a river. All too often, even the most sophisticated of bhakti theologies of river goddess worship are not enough to prevent and heal the devastation of Yamuna and other sacred rivers of India. How can devotees of Yamuna fully recover their understanding that one must worship Yamuna as both living goddess and living water? To do so, Haberman writes

The environmental activist as karma yogi must in effect learn to see everything in the world concurrently with two very different eyes: one trained on the finite and one trained on the infinite...the Yamuna is in trouble; she is polluted and unhealthy and is pleading for our help. The response she deserves is a tender one. Here seva means loving acts of kindness that aim to alleviate her pain. In this perspective, time is of the essence; we need to act now.

Goswami told us that “natural ecology is only a fraction, only a portion, of what we need to understand about the reality of ecology. We must restore the foundations of our social ecology, beginning with the ecology of our own individual being.” Goswami, like so many in the field of Hinduism and Ecology, takes cues from Gandhi, “especially the understanding that there is enough of Mother Earth’s care for our need, but never enough for our greed.”

The ecology of our own field of consciousness, our own ground of being, is ever a place where we find the contradictions of our awareness wrapped up together, like different vines competing and clashing in their ascent up the trunk of the tree of our spirit. In Vaishnava theology, as Goswami highlighted, there is the message of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the great Vaishnava acarya (teacher), who says that our sense of unity and our sense of difference with one another, and with God, is harmonized in the tattva (truth) of acintya-bhedabheda (simultaneous inconceivable oneness and difference). Rather that letting these two truths of oneness and difference devolve into polemics, or destructive dualities, Chaitanya teaches us that, beyond even the bounds of our ample but limited reason, we are both always one and always different with each other, with Earth, and with God. Without this dance of unity and difference, real love and devotion will never manifest. This understanding of the fabric of reality, at the core of our hearts, extends out, says Goswami, to the different elements of human meaning-making. He told us that “technology and politics has to dance with religion the way our genders dance together, the way the Lover and the Beloved dance together.”

To dance with Krishna, to play with Krishna, is to understand that Krishna is always revealing the heart of seva with love, and this heart must be the core of our environmental awareness and activism. We must understand that bhakti is truly bursting from every atom and element of creation, as proclaimed by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, the heads of the Yale Forum for Religion and Ecology, the co-creators of the Journey of the Universe project, and two of the leading and founding eco-theologians in the world. Their work has been in service of providing “a dance of spirituality to the equation.” Echoing Goswami’s call that our traditions and communities of knowledge must dance together, Tucker and Grim see the journey of creation through the “exquisite emergence of the processes and presence of life, as life expresses its constructive, destructive, re-constructive, and creative elements. Indeed there does seem to an element of relationship, an element of devotion, of bhakti, which is inherent to the ecosystems of Earth.”

Indeed, “as ninjas in the institution” of the academy, Tucker and Grim, alongside the Hindu scholar/practitioners present, are daring to insist there is a meaning and purpose behind the expressions of Earthly creation. In the cell itself is “the sense of self, and a sense of consciousness, and the process of consciousness is the search for the self.” Understanding that every living being, from macro to micro, is a conscious, searching, creative self, and that the universe is, as explained by Tucker and Grim’s dear mentor Thomas Berry, a communion of subjects rather than a collection of objects, leads us to the consider the potential of radical theological and cosmological shifts in how we understand the very fabric of reality.

The universal communion of subjects is a fundamental idea at the core of Hinduism and Hindu eco-theology. If we can understand that every being and every element of creation is alive with sacred energy and presence, then we can, as Krishna teaches Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita, to see with sama-darsinah, with loving vision of equality and justice, with a vision which turns our bodies, minds, and souls in directions of Earth-honoring care and faith

Before we conclude and you can take a look at some of the wonderful images from the conference and the Eco-Village, I also want to share a few thoughts from my own presentation on “Bhakti for Bhumi-Devi: The Yoga of Devotion for the Age of Climate Crisis”, as well as a few thoughts from our dear friend/colleague Kenneth Valpey on his presentation of “Tending for Krishna’s Cows.” In my presentation I made a wide-reaching case that the values and practices of bhakti-yoga are vital resources as we turn intensely into the Age of Climate Crisis. Enhancing our consciousness of devotion, even and especially as the ravages and tragedies of climate change intensify in kind, in one of our deepest pools of hope to respond to Climate Crisis with justice, care, and compassion for the most vulnerable planetary beings. However, as we have seen with the immense pollution which inhabits even the most sacred rivers of India, the Ganga and the Yamuna, we also need to confront and explore how even our common, traditional understandings of bhakti not only might not be enough for the wicked times we are in, but may also consciously and unconsciously contribute to the pollution we contribute to the flesh of Earth. I ask:                       

If even our conceptions and practices of bhakti as many of them now stand cannot properly address, and perhaps even contribute to the wickedness of our climate crisis, what Earth-honoring rasas do we need to cultivate, recover, and create anew? What deepens the affective and emotional experience of our bhakti so that it enflames our devotion for Earth? How do we call upon bhakti-devi, perhaps in ways we have never done before in any particular context, to assist us in the massive climate-justice making work at hand ,to resist and reverse the tides of the structural evil which creates our Climate Crisis?

Valpey, who is one of the leading Vaishnava scholars in the world and the author of the excellent book on devotional deity arati (worship) Attending Krsna’s Image: Chaitanya Vaishnava Murti-Seva as Devotional Truth, led us into an intriguing presentation on the connection between Bovinity and Divinity, and the worship/care of cows and bulls as an indispensable aspect of practicing dharma. Calling upon venerable sastras (sacred texts) such as the Bhagavat Purana, in which Cow as Earth and Dharma as Bull lay profound moral concerns upon the formation of planetary community, Valpey argues for an “ethics of divine preference of Cow Care as comprehensive ecological care.” Valpey’s numerous fruitful encounters with goshala (cow care shelter) communities in India convinces him that the care of cow and bull leads us to re-discover our own capacity as “agricultural co-creators in the matrix of dharma and bhakti rooted in divinity.”

When I questioned him about the complex knots which tie cow protection practices in India (and advocating for such practices worldwide) to the politics of Hindu nationalism and the mob violence and murder which attends such politics in India, Valpey admitted that these politics are certainly unavoidable and must be engaged with as much care and sanity as one can muster, but he insists we must not lose sight of the deep ecological, economic, and spiritual value of cow care and protection. This is a particular challenge for Sadhana and all progressively minded Hindus, and a challenge we should not shy away from. We should be able to write about, participate in, and advocate the powerful movements of cow care and protection without either overlooking the politics, without addressing the genuine concerns of our Muslim, Dalit, and non-vegetarian brothers/sisters who feel oppressed by the co-opting of Bovinity and Divinity for the purposes of Hindutva. Neither should we get lost in the politics, and find ourselves unable to pro-actively participate and advocate for our Mother Cow and Brother Bull, and how their intrinsic well-being is profoundly tied to the intrinsic well-being of Mother Earth.

I want to share some images from the Hinduism and Ecology conference and the Govardhan Eco-Village, so you can better experience this remarkable community and the incredible Earth seva they are creating.

A living model of Keshi Ghat and the Yamuna River, originally in Vrindavan, India. Keshi Ghat is where devotees of Yamuna-ji, the sacred river goddess, go to bathe and worship in her spirit-giving waters.

A living model of Keshi Ghat and the Yamuna River, originally in Vrindavan, India. Keshi Ghat is where devotees of Yamuna-ji, the sacred river goddess, go to bathe and worship in her spirit-giving waters.

The members of the community have re-created the original village atmosphere of Vrindavan, the eternal spiritual home of Krishna and his most beloved devotees. While walking mindfully and devotionally through Vrindavana within the Eco-Village, one is reminded at every step of Krishna and his exceedingly wonderful pastimes.

The members of the community have re-created the original village atmosphere of Vrindavan, the eternal spiritual home of Krishna and his most beloved devotees. While walking mindfully and devotionally through Vrindavana within the Eco-Village, one is reminded at every step of Krishna and his exceedingly wonderful pastimes.

Nimai-Lila Dasa, one of the directors of the Govardhan Eco-Village project, and a practicing brahmacari (monk) spends some time in the goshala with the resident cows. Radhanath Swami asks each resident monk to spend at least two hours a week in cow care.

Nimai-Lila Dasa, one of the directors of the Govardhan Eco-Village project, and a practicing brahmacari (monk) spends some time in the goshala with the resident cows. Radhanath Swami asks each resident monk to spend at least two hours a week in cow care.

This is the community’s ingenious composting/waste treatment garden/system. All the community’s wastewater is pumped into the garden atop the structure, where an array of particularly plants filter out and compost the waste through their minerals and roots. The filtered water is then reused for the community’s organic agriculture.

This is the community’s ingenious composting/waste treatment garden/system. All the community’s wastewater is pumped into the garden atop the structure, where an array of particularly plants filter out and compost the waste through their minerals and roots. The filtered water is then reused for the community’s organic agriculture.

The composting garden atop the waste-treatment facility.

The composting garden atop the waste-treatment facility.

Nimai-Lila lovingly takes in the aroma of a fresh flower grown from the compost of the community.

Nimai-Lila lovingly takes in the aroma of a fresh flower grown from the compost of the community.

The community’s rural development/empowerment program helps local villagers recover their economic and ecological base for right and just living. The different components of the program include such elements as seed conservation, water resource development, women’s empowerment, and a number of diverse skill development and education programs.

The community’s rural development/empowerment program helps local villagers recover their economic and ecological base for right and just living. The different components of the program include such elements as seed conservation, water resource development, women’s empowerment, and a number of diverse skill development and education programs.

Each evening a local pujari (priests) offers arati (worship) to the Yamuna River, while devotees assemble and sing the Yamunastakam, a musical prayer of devotion for the Yamuna River written by the Vaishnava acarya Srila Rupa Goswami.

Each evening a local pujari (priests) offers arati (worship) to the Yamuna River, while devotees assemble and sing the Yamunastakam, a musical prayer of devotion for the Yamuna River written by the Vaishnava acarya Srila Rupa Goswami.

Your author subjects the cows to hipster doofus selfies...

Your author subjects the cows to hipster doofus selfies...

...and then gets the bovine divine side-eye.

...and then gets the bovine divine side-eye.

The resident deities of the Eco-Village, Sri-Sri Radha-Vrindavan-Bihari, along with a deity of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the avatar of Krishna at the root of the community’s Caitanya Vaishnava theology, practice, and culture.

The resident deities of the Eco-Village, Sri-Sri Radha-Vrindavan-Bihari, along with a deity of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the avatar of Krishna at the root of the community’s Caitanya Vaishnava theology, practice, and culture.

His Holiness Radhanath Swami launches the Hinduism and Ecology conference with deep prayer and profound words of wisdom and encouragement.

His Holiness Radhanath Swami launches the Hinduism and Ecology conference with deep prayer and profound words of wisdom and encouragement.

The conference attendees had a chance to visit the goshala and engage in some cow care.

The conference attendees had a chance to visit the goshala and engage in some cow care.

Radhanath Swami and Vaishnava scholar/practitioner David Haberman in a few loving moments with Prema-ji, one of the community’s newest calves.

Radhanath Swami and Vaishnava scholar/practitioner David Haberman in a few loving moments with Prema-ji, one of the community’s newest calves.

Your humble author gives his presentation of “Bhakti for Bhumi-Devi: The Yoga of Devotion for the Age of Climate Crisis”       

Your humble author gives his presentation of “Bhakti for Bhumi-Devi: The Yoga of Devotion for the Age of Climate Crisis”