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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
Hindu Chaplaincy Launch
The Hindu Community Institute (HCI), recently launched a Hindu Chaplaincy campaign to train and deploy Chaplains of the Hindu faith to serve alongside Jewish, Christian and Buddhist Chaplains providing spiritual care in hospitals, universities and other organizations.
HCI introduced its first 7 scholars (4 in the US and 3 in Australia) in an online celebration on Wednesday Nov 9.
HCI teamed up with the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley and the Motwani-Jadeja Foundation (MJF), with the goal of deploying 108 Chaplains over the next few years, in the US, Canada, Australia, South Africa, India, and other countries.
Currently very few Hindu chaplains serve anywhere in the world. HCI scholars will train at HCI and GTU in Berkeley. After graduation, they will serve at universities, hospitals, and other inter-religious environments, to share the spiritual care practices of the Hindu tradition.
Hindu Chaplaincy Fellowships
The Hindu Chaplaincy program received a major boost from the MJF which provided Motwani Jadeja Fellowships to support its scholars.
HCI President Dr. Kailash Joshi, described the ‘pathway to Hindu chaplaincy’ as a ‘first-of-its-kind’ program that combines the Counselor of Hindu Tradition (CHT) course by HCI with the GTU’s Inter-religious Chaplaincy Program (ICP).
Incoming scholars will join GTU’s Inter-religious Chaplaincy Program which is designed to equip leaders in the practice of spiritual care and serve persons from diverse religious backgrounds.
GTU President Dr. Uriah Kim acknowledged that the fellows would join the program’s other international scholars, furthering GTU’s vision to develop a broad global presence. “This new, merit-based fellowship program, generously supported by the Motwani Jadeja Foundation, will enable us to attract even more top talent to the groundbreaking Inter-religious Chaplaincy Program.”
Hindu Chaplaincy Scholars
Fellows selected for the Chaplaincy program are knowledgeable about teachings in the Hindu scriptures.
HCI Fellow Sudha Ramakrishnan says she has always been spiritually inclined. A yearning for a sense of community after moving to the U.S., drew her to the Chinmaya Mission which she credits with giving her a foundation in Sanatana Dharma.
Sudha is a Carnatic music buff who had her music arangetram at the ‘young, ripe age of 38!’
“I have derived great joy and experienced and shared the healing power of music, which I want to further explore within the spiritual care giving context.”
Sudha describes the program as “unlike anything I have done in my life. The interaction with the handful of Hindu Chaplains today in the field and the experiential sessions on empathic listening, non-judgment and compassionate presence, made me realize that this is important work that is very much needed today. The tryst with Covid might be over but we are still dealing with the global epidemic of loneliness.”
Sudha works as a medical librarian for a hospital system and accompanies the medical team on rounds in the ICU units. She says, “I have witnessed first-hand the suffering and grief that a lot of the patients go through.” Her goal is to serve in a hospital or university setting. “This is a calling, a leap is of faith, and I am eager to see where this takes me.”
Pathway to a Karam Yogi
Usha Narasimhan, who teaches the Veena, a Carnatic classical instrument, says she was inspired by her paternal grandfather, a freedom fighter. Even though he was a practicing Vaishnavite, he performed widow remarriage and upanayanam services in his own home and passed his notion of community service onto his children and grandchildren.
As part of the leadership team at HCI, Usha says the CHT course gave her a firm grounding in the Hindu tradition. It offers rich resources to improve the contemporary quality of life in the Indian diaspora and the diverse communities in which we live.
“What if we could learn to listen and to give love to a care-seeker, non-judgmentally?” asks Usha. “What would the world be like, if more people learnt the art of compassion?”
“In the Hindu tradition, when the disciple is ready, the Guru automatically appears. Similarly, when you are ready for it, the opportunity to serve arises.”
“Oh, it is all very exciting!” says Varsha Kaushal, a retired cancer researcher and biology professor about supporting the Indian diaspora. She and her family are active members of their local Vedanta Society, where Varsha taught children the basic tenets of Hinduism through cultural performances, and participation in pujas.
Varsha hopes to create an audio collection of English-translated versions of chants and bhajans for the kids, and looks forward to the ways in which one can become a Karam Yogi.
A High Spiritual Practice
HCI Fellow Neeti Soota explains she joined the program because, “In our Vedic scriptures seva or selfless service is considered as the highest form of spiritual practice. You don’t need any knowledge, just the intent to serve people and contribute to the improvement of the community which in turn equates to serving the Divine.”
Neeti says she practices meditation and pranayama regularly because it allows her clarity of thought and intuition. An avid hiker, she says hiking in the mountains is a form of self-care. “Being in nature allows me to reboot and reconnect with myself so I can be of help to others.”
An Urgent Need
Dr. Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, Director of the Inter-religious Chaplaincy Program at the GTU explained that it was created to address an urgent need to to train spiritual caregivers from underrepresented communities, and to increase their competency to serve diverse communities.
“This exciting new fellowship aligns beautifully with our ongoing work and will help us to ensure the training of Hindu chaplains and other spiritual caregivers to become well-equipped to serve Hindu populations when working in inter-religious contexts,” he added.
A Pioneering Decision
Speakers at the event included Mr. Gaurav Rastogi, Hindu Community Institute Board Member and Dean, and HCI Faculty & Board Member, Dr. Mukund Acharya.
MJF Chair and Founder, Ms. Asha Jadeja, congratulated the fellows. “We admire the pioneering decision of the Fellows to enter chaplaincy education and congratulate them for being the first in the long line of chaplains who will follow in their footsteps.”
HCI is a service-learning institution which aims to train and deploy community service volunteers who are knowledgeable in the teachings of the Bhagawad Gita and Karma Yoga, and committed to serving anyone, regardless of race, religion, and gender.
Circle a Place on a Map
Sudha says that the quote “this place where you are right now God circled on a map for you,” describes how she feels about her journey.
“I also look at this opportunity as an invitation, a commitment to dive deeper into the richness of the Hindu scriptures and practices for myself to grow and evolve as I help someone in their journey, during their hour of need. I believe that the answers and solutions are within us, the healing too.”
“We just need someone to listen and support while we find it.”