Support Sadhana on #GivingTuesday

तदेतत्त्रयँ शिक्षेद् दमं दानं दयामिति

tadevattrayam shikshed damam dānam dayāmiti

“Learn these three [virtues] - self restraint, charity and compassion for all life.”

- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 5.2.3 (c. 700 BC)

Dāna, or selfless giving, is an integral part of our dharma (duty) as Hindus. Our sacred texts repeatedly extol the value of dāna as a guiding value for human life. 2018 was a year of growth for Sadhana, across our three areas of seva (service), advocacy, and community-building. From being the only Hindu organization in the Poor People’s Campaign, to presenting at the Parliament of World’s Religions in Toronto, to celebrating Diwali in Brooklyn Borough Hall for the first time, 2018 brought many new opportunities and relationships. Since 2011, Sadhana has been one of the only organizations working both in Hindu communities and social justice spaces to bring our faith into conversation with the pressing social, political, environmental, and economic issues of our time.

We have ambitious goals for 2019 — but we can’t achieve them without your help!

This #GivingTuesday, consider donating any amount you can to Sadhana. 

$20 will fund materials for a Sadhana Salon.
$50 will fund puja offerings for a Sadhana Satsangh.
$100 will fund one road trip to a college to speak to Hindu students about connecting their faith to community service.
$150 will fund one of our Project Prithvi beach clean-ups at Jamaica Bay, NY.
$500 or more will help us achieve our goal of hiring a staff person to build Sadhana in 2019.

Please make a donation of any amount possible to Sadhana, a much needed platform for Hindus of conscience to unite in the service of justice for all.

Dhanyavad. Thank you!

A Day Before Diwali, Head to the Voting Booth!

A Day Before Diwali, Head to the Voting Booth!
Why It's Important for Hindu Americans to Vote

by Nikhil Mandalaparthy, Sadhana board member

On Tuesday, November 6th, millions of Americans across the United States will turn out to vote in what is sure to be a historic election. With a population of nearly 3 million, Hindu Americans are one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the nation. Yet, our community is also one of the least likely to vote. These midterm elections, I especially encourage Hindu Americans to make their voice heard.

Ours is a fairly recent community. We are mostly immigrants, or come from immigrant homes. We come from South Asia, the Caribbean, east Africa, southeast Asia, and indeed all over the world. Racism and xenophobia are not new to the immigrant experience, but the wave of hate and bigotry directed against our families, communities, and places of worship in recent years is truly dangerous. I remember last year’s shooting of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the young Hindu man from Kansas. From last week’s attempted shooting at the African American First Baptist Church in Kentucky to the recent tragedy at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, we must stand together. Our Muslim and Sikh brothers and sisters have been particularly affected by increasing racism and xenophobia. In a popular Gujarati bhajan, 15th-century poet Narsi Mehta reminds us that the mark of a truly religious person is empathizing with the suffering of others: vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je peed paraayi jaane re. “Call that person a Vaishnava, who understands the pain of others.” There is no safety without solidarity, and one way to make our voices heard is through voting.

I urge all eligible Hindu Americans to cast their vote next week. This year, voting takes place just a day before Diwali. As we prepare to light our firecrackers and diyas with friends and family this year, let us also remember our commitments to a just and peaceful world. Hinduism is marked by profound traditions of tolerance and pluralism. Our tradition tells us “atithi devo bhava”, meaning “be one for whom a guest is God”. At a time when immigrants and refugees are targeted and demonized in political rhetoric, let us remember that we too are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, and let that feeling of empathy guide our actions. Our holy scriptures proclaim “vasudhaiva kutumbakam,” meaning “the world is one family.” On November 6th, let us vote to make that world a reality—to make the America we live in an inclusive, welcoming, and prosperous nation.

For Immediate Release: Despite Threats, Sadhana Hosts Panel at Parliament of World Religions with Swami Agnivesh

Monday Nov 5, 2018

For Immediate Release:

Despite Threats, Sadhana Hosts Panel at Parliament of World Religions with Swami Agnivesh

Press contacts:
Sunita Viswanath, sunita@sunitav.net; 917-518-2441
(Swami Agnivesh is available for interview through Sunita.)
Nikhil Mandalaparthy, nikhilm97@gmail.com 
Gautham Reddy, gautham.m.reddy@gmail.com 

Yesterday evening, Sadhana hosted its first ever panel at the Parliament of World Religions (PWR) in Toronto. The panel, entitled, "The Co-Creative Dance of Dharma and Justice: Building a Progressive Hinduism," was moderated by Sadhana cofounder Sunita Viswanath and the panelists were lifelong human rights activist and Arya Samaj leader Swami Agnivesh and Sadhana board members Gautham Reddy and Nikhil Mandalaparthy. Swami Agnivesh is particularly well-known for his tireless work to end bonded labor, and for his vocal advocacy against Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). Swami Agnivesh has been arrested at least 11 times for his human rights activism and has been beaten up twice in recent months by Hindutva mobs.

Sadhana was informed by PWR leadership that they had received many emails from Hindu conference attendees who see Swami Agnivesh as an anti-Hindu who should not be participating in the conference. The most recent emails received threatened to disrupt any attempt by Swami Agnivesh to speak at the conference.

Sadhana's panel was the first opportunity for Swami Agnivesh to speak at the conference. Sadhana is grateful to PWR for providing special security at our session, and doing everything possible to ensure Swamiji's safety and defend his right to speak.  

In spite of the threats, Sadhana's panel was very well-attended and took place with no disturbance.  Sunita Viswanath opened the panel by discussing Sadhana's work in the Hindu community to encourage Hindus to connect their faith to social justice, and to add a Hindu voice and presence to interfaith initiatives for social justice. Sunita spoke about the urgency for all faiths, including Hinduism, to stand up to the extremists of their faith. 

Gautham Reddy spoke about Sadhana's political advocacy against social injustice broadly, and against Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) in particular. He stated, "We believe it is the responsibility of every Hindu to speak out against the corrupting presence of Hindutva in our temples, schools, and community organizations. We cannot let the RSS, VHP, and BJP hijack our religious symbols and sacred teachings. We must resist the politics of fear." 

Nikhil Mandalaparthy spoke about Sadhana's work as a reform Hindu organization, for instance, pujas (worship rituals) and ceremonies which have no place for caste, and are earth-honoring and egalitarian.  He said, "Sadhana's reform work is directed at the way we as Hindus think about and practice our faith.... Our reform work is in many ways new, creative, constructive, almost experimental work; but it is not without precedent. We see ourselves as part of a tradition of Hindu reform movements and individual voices--of which there have been many in the past--calling out against injustice from within our traditions. We derive a lot of strength from the past as we move forward in our reform and advocacy."

Swami Agnivesh identified as a proud Hindu and gave an impassioned call to action to all Hindus, saying, "It is high time that those who are really proud to be a Hindu should find out what it really means because Hinduism today is under threat. Like most other religions, there are hijackers from within the religion, and these hijackers are bringing about all sorts of violence, sectarianism, parochialism, corruption in the name of religion."

The audience included many Sikhs because the Sikh community considers Swami Agnivesh a strong ally and brother. In fact, Swamiji spoke at the end of the one hour panel about the horrific massacre of about 30,000 Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. After the panel, Swamiji was the guest of honor at a prayer vigil for all the Sikhs who lost their lives in 1984.

Swami Agnivesh will speak at the opening plenary of the conference on the morning of Tuesday, November 6th, 9 am - 12 am. PWR has promised Swamiji extra security for that morning. And what is more, the Sikh conference attendees have also promised to stand by Swamiji's side throughout the conference to ensure his safety.

  • Video of the entire panel

  • Photographs from the panel

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  • Photographs at the Sikh Prayer Vigil

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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.

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

 

 

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.

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)

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?

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.

 

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.

 

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.

Sadhana Adds Our Voice to “Don’t Erase Caste” Petition

Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus has, to date, refrained from weighing in on the debate surrounding the representation of Hinduism in California textbooks. We have not had enough information to make substantial recommendations. However, as a progressive Hindu organization active in the United States, we feel it is important to comment on this matter in light of the "Don't Erase Caste" petition produced by the South Asian Histories for All Coalition. Sadhana rejects attempts to erase or minimize caste in accounts of Hinduism. Caste is an ongoing controversy in Hindu and South Asian religious and social life today.

Part of our work as progressive Hindus is to dismantle caste discrimination within Hindu and South Asian communities. A first step toward this is publicly acknowledging the historical realities and social legacies of caste today. We have taken a firm stand on this issue with our caste statement and apology. As with many other faith-based organizations, Sadhana supports textbook narratives of religious traditions that are historically grounded in empirical research but remain sensitive to practitioner perspectives. This is especially important for followers of minority religions in the US context of emboldened white and Christian supremacy. We will comment more thoroughly once we have acquired and studied copies of the actual textbooks and can make comparisons on how Hinduism is represented in comparison to other faith traditions. We call for parity in addressing patriarchal practices and other social injustices and conditions of inequality in all the religions included in the California school curriculum.

Hindu fundamentalist histories do not represent Hindu histories. Sadhana is signing the "Don't Erase Caste" petition because we fully reject revisionist histories that seek to produce a sanitized vision of Hinduism’s past. The brutality of caste and its historical relationship to Hinduism cannot be avoided in honest discussions of South Asian history and religion. We recommend the inclusion of egalitarian Hindu movements that historically struggled against caste, such as Bhakti and woman-centered forms of Hinduism.

As progressive Hindus, we believe students should be trained to critically reflect on the complexities that have shaped religious and social life in South Asia, the US, and the world at large. Sadhana endorses this petition and dreams of a caste-free egalitarian future.

A Progressive Hindu Statement on National Coming Out Day

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October 11 is celebrated as National Coming Out Day; an annual commemoration and celebration of all those in our communities who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or intersex. Sadhana Coalition of Progressive Hindus stands firmly against homophobia, transphobia, and bigotry of all kinds, and today we want to reiterate our commitment to fighting for LGBTQI Hindus, LGBTQI people of faith, and all the diverse individuals who are part of LGBTQI communities worldwide.

Broad, capacious, and ever-changing, the wide-ranging beliefs and practices we call Hinduism have long honored various perspectives on gender and sexuality. Although homophobia was never completely absent from South Asia, Hindu traditions have acknowledged and celebrated gender and sexual diversity through sacred narratives, iconography, and theology. However, Dr. Ruth Vanita writes that “under colonial rule, what was a minor strain of homophobia in Indian traditions became the dominant ideology,” and today, many conservative Hindu and Hindu nationalist groups portray gender diversity and sexual diversity as foreign and un-Hindu.

Sadhana advisory board member Dr. Anantanand Rambachan writes that the Hindu idea of tritiya-prakriti, the “third nature” or “third sex,” “helps us to … accept such sexual diversity as a natural part of the diversity of the tree of life.” Hindu traditions teach us that irrespective of our gender identity and sexual orientation, the supreme divine reality brahman exists equally in all beings. The Shvetashvatara Upanishad (5:11) tells us that our soul (atman), which is identical to brahman, is beyond distinctions of “woman, man, and third-sex person.” Dr. Rambachan writes that “Homophobia, characterized as it is by fear, hate, and denigration of third sex persons, finds no justification in Hinduism and betrays its most fundamental vision and values.”

Advocacy for LGBTQI rights has been a significant aspect of Sadhana’s own work. Through our Healthy Relationships workshops in partnership with the Caribbean Equality Project and the NYC Commission on Human Rights, we have tackled issues of LGBTQI acceptance and healthy relationships. In recent years, we have come together with a number of other Hindu groups and individuals in Princeton and Washington DC to brainstorm how to build LGBTQI inclusion in Hindu communities.

Our LGBTQI Committee has been brainstorming how Sadhana can be a resource and support to LGBTQI Hindus in the United States. We have begun building a database of Hindu mythic stories, sacred scriptures, traditional practices, and academic texts that portray same sex desire as natural and joyful, and that foreground the lives of tritiya prakriti individuals. We are also working on expanding our service to LGBTQI communities by creating a database of queer-friendly Hindu temples and spaces, priests eager to perform same-sex marriages, and queer community centers for people of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean descent.

Many LGBTQI voices, especially those of people of color, have critiqued the emphasis on “coming out” as a prerequisite to being part of the LGBTQI community. We want to highlight a few Hindu voices who offer a more nuanced perspective on coming out, aimed specifically at LGBTQI Hindu youth:

Raja Gopal Bhattar is the director of the LGBT Campus Resource Center at UCLA, and a PhD candidate in Higher Education. Raja is genderqueer, and they say, “There’s this white American notion that if you’re not out to everyone, you’re not queer enough. You don’t have to come out to your family ‘till you feel safe—your safety is most important. Part of our authenticity is living in that complexity.”

Dr. Pemmaraju Rao, a Texas-based physician and psychiatrist, urges parents of LGBTQI children to let go of their fears and traditional paradigms, and listen to their own children above anyone else. To LGBTQI Hindu youth, Dr. Rao says, “Look to Hinduism. See how it embraces both the masculine and the feminine. Your karma and your past lives have led you to this point. It is a proactive choice by your soul. Your uniqueness gives you an extraordinary power to offer to the world, as a gift.”

To any young LGBTQI Hindu who feels confused, anxious, questioning, frustrated, in need of a community: we at Sadhana are here for you, today and every other day. You are valid, and you are loved. You are always welcome to reach out to us through Facebook or at info@sadhana.org.

Om Shanti.

Additional resources:

  • Comprehensive article co-authored by Sadhana member Hari Venkatachalam, “Same-Sex Marriage and Hinduism
  • The Desi LGBTQ Hotline, offering 100% confidential support for South Asian LGBTQ and questioning individuals, families, and friends
  • Sadhana advisory board member Dr. Anantanand Rambachan’s book A Hindu Theology of Liberation, particularly the chapter “Liberation from Homophobia”
  • Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai
  • Love’s Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West by Ruth Vanita
  • Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, by Devdutt Pattanaik
  • Interview with Sapna Pandya, a Washington DC-based queer activist and Hindu pandit

Sadhana Condemns the White Supremacist March in Charlottesville, VA

Sadhana condemns the atrocious behavior and stance of the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville (For context, see here). Sadhana's solidarity is with the clergy and community members who have dedicated their time and demonstrated courage to show that the light of diversity and plurality in our nation will never be extinguished. And we offer our deepest condolences to the family of Heather Heyer, the anti-fascist protester that was killed by a white supremacist during the conflagration.

Whenever adharma, or injustice, works to marginalize and oppress all those who seek justice and peace in the world, the Almighty appears in various forms to save us.

Bhagavad Gita, chapter 4, verses 7-8:

Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata Abhythanam-adharmasya tad-atmanam srijamyaham

Paritranaya sadhunam vinashaya cha dushkritam Dharma-samsthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge

Whenever there is decay of dharma (righteousness), O Bharata, And there is exaltation of adharma (injustice), then I Myself come forth.

For the protection of the good, for the destruction of evil-doers, For the sake of firmly establishing dharma, I am born from age to age.

We recognize the various forms that God manifests to enter the world and slay the demons, literal or figurative, whose aim is the destruction of all creation. But this time, the avatar (incarnation) of the Divine is found in our individual and collective dharma. As the Light of the Supreme shines in all of us, let us connect with it and be a force of love and goodness in the world.

We do not claim a supremacy of any race, culture, or worldview in our fight for equity. We fight for the safety, sustainability, and progress of our world.

If we see the Divine Spark present even in those who stand against us, our courage will push us to engage those we disagree with, and perhaps find compassion and understanding. This is the only hope for our nation and the world -- that we come together in love, and stand up to hate.

Om Shanti Shanti Shantih. Peace, Peace, Peace.

 

Sadhana Prays for Peace in Bangladesh and Remembers the Genocide of 1971

On March 25, the day before Bangladesh’s 46th Independence Day, the country commemorated Genocide Day, to remember the genocide that occurred during the 1971 Liberation War. While the figures remain uncertain, what is known is that massive brutalities were committed by the West Pakistani military against the Bengali population in East Pakistan. There were an estimated 3,000,000 deaths and 200,000 women raped, and Bengali Hindus were disproportionately targeted; in some cases, military officers were given explicit instructions to "eliminate Hindus". Reports indicate that 10 million Hindus fled to India as refugees after the genocide. 

Over the past four decades, the atrocities committed during the 1971 Liberation War have been downplayed and sometimes even outrightly denied. For the first time, on March 11, 2017, the Jatiyo Sangsad, Bangladesh’s Parliament, unanimously adopted a resolution that would observe March 25 as Genocide Day, formally bringing to light the atrocity and honoring those lives impacted.

Today, Bangladeshi Hindus continue to face persecution and harassment. Last year, a Hindu priest was stabbed to death during an attack on a Bangladeshi Hindu temple. ISIS claimed responsibility. Bangladesh has seen other attacks in recent years, including those on houses of worship, namely, Hindu temples and Shiite mosques as well as upon other religious leaders including a Christian pastor and a Catholic priest. According to Amnesty International, in 2013, Bangladesh’s Hindu minority was subjected to a wave of attacks including the vandalization of 40 temples as well as the burning down of scores of businesses and homes. 

In the past several years there have been numerous attacks perpetrated by violent groups claiming to act in the name of Islam. In 2016, among those killed were LGBT rights advocate Xulhaz Mannan, university professor AFM Rezaul Karim Siddique accused of promoting atheism, Hindu tailor Nikhil Joarder who was accused of insulting Islam, and Sufi Muslim leader Farhad Hossain Chowdhury. Outspokenly secular bloggers and social media activists were also targeted - many were brutally murdered.

As a justice-oriented and peace-loving organization founded on the principles of ekatva (oneness of all) and ahimsa (non-violence), we at Sadhana condemn the persecution of all minority groups in Bangladesh including our fellow Hindus. We also stand in solidarity with the government of Bangladesh honoring those whose lives were impacted by the genocide of 1971. 

We underscore that, just as Hindutva fundamentalists do not represent and speak for all Hindus or the Hindu religion, those perpetrating violence and persecution in Bangladesh and around the world do not represent and speak for all Muslims or Islam. We cannot allow the vilification of entire faith groups. Doing so plants seeds of intolerance and violence rather than fostering the solidarity and love this world so desperately needs.

We must recognize the humanity within each other. In the United States that means rallying and speaking out when President Trump introduces a ban that specifically targets members of the Muslim faith. In India, that means speaking out when members of the Muslim minority and Dalits are targeted. In Bangladesh, it means speaking out when our own Hindu brothers and sisters come under attack. Being true leaders means continually speaking out courageously for the most vulnerable and continually calling for justice.

For as many religious leaders promoting hatred, division and violence, it is our prayer at Sadhana that many more religious leaders will step up and speak for peace, unity and love:

Shanti Mantra

Om Saha Naavavatu

Saha Nau Bhunaktu

Saha Veeryam Karavaavahai

Tejasvi Aavadheetamastu Maa Vidvishaavahai

 

English Translation:

May the Lord protect and bless us. May he nourish us, giving us strength to work together for the good of humanity. May our learning be brilliant and purposeful. May we never turn against one another.

Sadhana Condemns the Attacks by an Islamist in London and a White Supremacist in NYC: Invoking Shiva's Prayer to End the Hatred and Ward Off the Untimely Deaths

We members of Sadhana are yet again, heartbroken about the hatred and violence that  continues to sweep through our world. 

ISIS has taken responsibility for the attack yesterday on the Westminster Bridge and Houses of Parliament in London in which five people lost their lives including the perpetrator and a policeman.   And right here in NYC, a white supremacist man traveled from Maryland to NYC with the explicit goal of killing black men -- and he did indeed shoot and kill 66 year old Timothy Caughman. Of course, we condemn both heinous acts and we grieve.

In recent weeks we have grieved for the hate crimes and killings in which 4 Hindu and Sikh men were shot and two killed -- Srinivas Kuchibotla and Harnish Patel.  
 
And even as we express our pain at all of this violence, some of which targets us, we remember that in India a Yogi who has said that “If one Hindu girl marries a Muslim man, then we will take 100 Muslim girls in return” and, “if they [Muslims] kill one Hindu man, then we will kill 100 Muslim men,” was recently appointed to lead Uttar Pradesh, India's biggest state. This same Yogi has publicly praised Donald Trump for his travel ban.

Just as Yogi Adityanath does not represent all Hindus or the Hindu religion, and just as the shooters of Srinivas Kuchibotla, Harnish Patel and Timothy Caughman, do not represent all white Americans, we must remember that the perpetrator of the London attack, identified as Khalid Masood, does not represent all Muslims or Islam itself.

We stand with the British Muslims who have created a fund for all the London attack victims and their families, and invite you all to donate. We stand with all the New Yorkers who will gather tomorrow at Union Square to honor Timothy Caughman at the NYC Resists Hate Crimes" rally, and invite you all to join us. And we stand as Hindus who will say again and again and again that the Hinduism we belong to, that we embrace, that we adore has no room for hatred, only love of one and all. 

The only way to fight hatred is to unite with all who stand against hate.  Let us all -- justice-oriented people of every religion, race, caste, gender -- unite in a love so powerful and revolutionary that it will conquer the hatred that is tearing apart our communities.

At this time of so much hatred, death and carnage all around, we invoke the powerful Shiva prayer that Hindus chant to ward off untimely death:

The Mahamrityunjaya Mantra

tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭivardhanam
urvārukamiva bandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya mā'mṛtāt

Om. We worship and adore you, O three-eyed one, O Shiva. You are sweet gladness, the fragrance of life, who nourishes us, restores our health, and causes us to thrive. As, in due time, the stem of the cucumber weakens, and the gourd is freed from the vine, so free us from attachment and death, and do not withhold immortality.