All Good Things…

Hi friends. I got some pretty big news for you all.

I have recently stepped down from the leadership of LGBT Hindu Satsang, and left the Hindu community. I have a lot of reasons for this, primary among them being that I have some serious, irreconcilable doubts. I sat with these and ultimately realized, after 8 years, that Hinduism, while I deeply respect it and honor it, is not for me.

I have returned recently to my Christian roots, in a process that I’ve elaborated on in a new blog, in these two posts: Unraveled and Homecoming.

Friends and followers, thank you so much for sharing in this journey with me, and for your support of this blog. May God bless you always.

Goals for 2016

A belated happy new year to everyone! I hope the new year has started off on a great note for all. I was just in Puerto Rico for a couple of days during the holiday visiting family. I haven’t been back to PR in 7 years, so it was incredibly wonderful to be back. I think now that I’m older, I have a deeper appreciation for the island than I did when I was young- I loved being immersed in my culture, reconnecting with relatives, and taking in the immensely beautiful scenery (with ~80 degree temperatures daily).

Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico

Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico

Now that I’m back in chilly Philly (with ~40 degree temps), I feel refreshed and centered and ready to tackle the next big thing: my last semester of my undergraduate career! I’m really excited about my course load this semester as well as an internship with my local LGBT center.  I know that I’m going to be learning a lot and really pushing myself to do better.

It’s that time of year, folks! New Year’s resolutions and goals are being made and worked towards (and probably broken, too). When I was originally brainstorming what my goals would be, I half-contemplated making “Returning to a regular blogging schedule” a goal. With school demanding a considerable amount of my attention, I haven’t been able to post twice weekly as I originally planned, and I felt bad about that. (Actually, since it’s a Friday, I was going to cheat and title this, “Ask Yagna: What are your 2016 goals?” but ultimately decided not to.) In  practicing self-care, however, I realized that beating myself up over not being able to write two posts a week wasn’t productive or healthy. So for the time being, I’m going to post when I can, and when my schedule allows it, start a regular posting schedule. This also means I’m going to push back the Jñana-dipena Podcast a bit as well, but I will explain that in detail below.

So then, what are my goals for this year? Not a whole lot to be quite honest, 5 main ones- but they are quite big, so they’re going to require time and investment. Here they are…

  1. Finish college with a bang –  this upcoming semester will be the last of my undergraduate career and with the Lord’s grace, I will graduate in May. I plan on finishing the semester with high grades.
  2. Increase my Spanish proficiency – My ability to communicate in Spanish has always been a sticking point for me. Spanish was my first language. I was able to speak it in my early childhood, but today I can barely have a conversation in it. I had to learn English in order to go to school, and I didn’t keep up with my Spanish afterward. I have been teaching myself and trying to speak with my parents in Spanish more and more, and I want to keep up with this in the new year. I want to be able to have full-fledged conversations with my grandmother, who understands very little English. She is the world to me and there are so many stories I want to hear from her.
  3. Launch the JD podcast – as alluded to previously, I am developing a podcast that will compliment the content of this blog. The podcast will feature discussions on Hinduism in the world today, lectures on scripture, as well as interviews with important voices in our community.  Along with the audio episodes, I plan on also producing related videos on a YouTube channel. This is going to require a good deal of work, so I plan to launch the podcast in the summer once school has ended, so that I have time to really invest in it.
  4. Write the first chapter of my book – I have, for a while, been brainstorming and wrestling with the concept of a book that I’d like to write on spirituality for LGBTQ Hindus. I’m writing something that does more than highlight queer stories from scriptures or providing quotes from śastra on LGBTQ identity. This has been done, and done well, already (see the work of Ruth Vanita, Amara Das Wilhelm, Devdutt Pattanaik, and others). Rather, I’m writing something that “queers” Hindu theology for LGBTQ folk and allows them to actively apply their faith to their daily lived experiences as queer people in the world. I have been outlining this book for a while and this year I want to begin writing the book in earnest. I know that this kind of undertaking will require a good deal of research and reflection, which is why I want to focus on just writing the first chapter, and letting the rest flow from there.
  5. Travel to California – In 2014, I traveled the furthest west I’ve ever been in the US- to Austin, TX. This coming year, I want to push that boundary all the way west and finally visit California – or, as I affectionately call it, “Kalifornia”. I have a number of dear friends and colleagues in SoCal that I am desperate to visit, and I also plan on visiting a university and looking at a graduate studies program while I’m there. That will happen over Spring break this year.

I have one other target to reach this year, and that is to read 35 books. I aimed to read 40 last year, but fell short. I’m confident that this time around I will reach my goal, and I know that I won’t have a shortage of things to read, as there are currently 82 titles on my “to read” list…

I hope 2016 is an immensely happy, successful, and blessed year for you all, and by the grace of God, may you achieve your goals and more.

What are your goals and dreams for this year? Share them with me in a comment below, or tweet them to me at @YRD108.

Ask Yagna #3: “What Does ‘Jñana-dipena’ Mean?”

Today (Dec 18) is Jñana-dipena’s birthday! I started this blog in 2013, which means the blog is 2 years old today. Aww! I feel so sentimental.

My oldest post actually dates back to January of 2014, as I archived a couple of older posts earlier this year. My first post was an explanation of what my vision of this blog would be. So in honor of JD’s second birthday, I decided to answer a question that will give some insight as to why I created this blog and what I hope to achieve with it.
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The Magic of Margazhi Month

Jai Sriman Narayana! I would like to wish everyone a blessed and happy Margazhi month! I also ask that you forgive the cheesy title for this post…

In the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya, this is the time of the year when we honor the devotion of Sri Andal, one of the 12 Alwars (and the only female among them), by reciting pasurams (verses) from her magnum opus, Thiruppavai.

Her birth and life were incredibly auspicious. It is said that her father, Sri Vishnucitta (who is also known as Periyalwar, another of the 12 Alwars) found her as an infant beneath a Tulasi plant in his garden. She is considered an incarnation of Bhu Devi (Earth). Her devotion to the Lord began very early in life.  When she was young, Andal would wear the garlands her father would prepare to offer to the Lord at the temple. One day he caught Andal doing this and chided her for this behavior, because this rendered the garlands unable to be offered. Later in a dream, the Lord asked Sri Vishnucitta why he had not offered garlands, and he explained to his Lordship why. The Lord told him that the scent of His devotee Andal had made the garlands all the more sweeter.

The love Andal had for her Lord crystallized into verses. Her poetic work Thiruppavai narrates her process of awakening the maidens of her village, identified with the Gopis of Vrindavan, to come and perform the vratam that will allow them to gain Lord Krishna as their husband. Her poetry, like the works of the other Alwars, carries deep mystic import. Adiyen Ranganathan writes in an essay called ‘The Glory of Sri Andal’, “In Thiruppaavai,  Andal  wakes  everyone  up  including the Lord.  She shows  that  the  Lord  is  our  “means” (“upaya”) and assures  us  of  His  grace  and  shows  us  all  how  to  surrender  to  the  Lord”, with sincere devotion and faith.

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“It is the good full Moon day of the month of Marghazhi. Oh the well ornamented maidens! Those desirous of taking the bath (in the Yamuna) may please come on…” -from pasuram 1 of Thiruppavai, translation by Dr. V.K.S.N. Raghavan. Image courtesy Sri Andal Trust.

It should be noted that verses from Thiruppavai are actually recited every day at the conclusion of worship in Sri Vaishnava temples and homes, but because this time of year (Dec-Jan) is the time frame in which Andal would have performed this vratam, the recitation takes on special prominence in this month. There are 30 verses in Thiruppavai, and so 1 verse is recited each day during worship.

During this auspicious month, may Sri Andal grant us her association and mercy. May we attain love for the Lord as she did, that we may surrender to Him and be carried out of the seas of darkness and suffering.

andal-full

“I will look on no face but His”. Image courtesy Google Image Search.

 

Calendar note: for the US, Margazhi month is from Dec 17 to Jan 15. Please check with your local temple or consult the panchangam for your region for accurate timing.

The Theology of Spirit Day

Note: An edited version of this piece now appears on the HuffPost Religion blog.

It’s Spirit Day today. I look at myself in the mirror as I tie my purple necktie daintily. It’s the only piece of purple clothing I own. I remember when I was in high school and used to conduct this same tie-tying ritual every morning, albeit more sloppily. I wore a purple tie back then too, but it was part of my uniform, not a personal statement.

Back when I was in high school, I was bullied and harassed for practically every aspect of my identity. I was, and still am, skinny, so I was referred to as a “stick”. My high voice, cracking with anxiety, was a constant source of amusement for my classmates. I dreaded having to answer a question or give presentations, because every sound I made resulted in laughter from everyone around me. As one of few Latinos in my school, I was called “illegal”, “wetback”, and told to “go back to Mexico”. What I remember most vividly, though, is how much pain I went through because of my sexual orientation.

I went to an all-boys, Catholic high school. Every day, every class even, began with prayer and we were ushered to Mass every month. Our principal reminded us daily that we were all family, all ‘brothers in Christ’. Yet, that fraternity seemed to only apply to certain people. I distinctly remember during class one day in my freshman year, someone asked my theology teacher about the Church’s position on gay people. Red in the face and practically shaking with anger, he questioned why those people were “even allowed to exist”. I sank into my seat and wanted desperately to disappear, because my very existence had just been deemed unworthy of God’s love.

When I was later outed in my junior year, things only got worse. I was once openly referred to as a faggot in the classroom while  my teacher looked on, not bothering to say a word. I was called fag, fairy, homo— every name in the book. I was pushed into lockers. I had vile things written about me in the school bathrooms. I was once followed out the library and punched in the face because I dared to wear a rainbow wristband. I wanted to drop out.

I contemplated suicide a lot during this time. I am certain that if it weren’t for the small band of friends and  supportive teachers that I had, I would not be sharing this story with you right now. I am thankful for their love and courage every day. It truly saved me during the darkest times of my life.

As I put my tie on this morning, I remembered all of this pain, and I thought of all the LGBTQ youth out there that suffer in silence in their schools, just as I did. Many of them are still being taught, explicitly or otherwise, that their relationships are inferior or that their lifestyles are “sinful”. I think particularly of the trans* and GNC students that are constantly misgendered by their teachers or are policed every time they need to use the bathroom, changing room, and so on. My heart breaks every time I read another story of an LGBTQ teen who is thrown out from their home, or has to fight school administrators just to receive an education free from harassment, or worse, ends their life. I wish I could hug each one of them and tell them how beautiful and special they are.

For me, there is a theology of Spirit Day. It isn’t  ‘turn the other cheek’ as my Christian neighbors say. For me, the spirituality of Spirit Day is resting in the truth that, as LGBTQ people, we are all loved by a Power higher than ourselves. Human beings may try to impose limits on that love but they ultimately fail—how can something infinite like the love of God have conditions?  God loves us, period. No one can take that away from us, no matter how much they try. This love provides for us in every respect, protecting us and sheltering us at all times. Although this world is full of hatred and violence, we should, as Swami Vivekananda once put it, “Be a hero. Always say, ‘I have no fear’,” because God’s love is looking after us at every moment.

It is by remembering that divine love that I feel empowered to continue fighting for LGBTQ youth everywhere. On this Spirit Day, my prayer is that all of those kids know that God loves you—and I love you—just as you are. When you see someone wearing purple today, may you remember that love.

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Ask Yagna #2: What is tilak?

Q: I’ve always wondered, what are those marks you wear on your forehead?

A: These marks are called tilak. They are primarily worn on the forehead, but are also worn on various parts of the body, like on the chest, above the navel, on either shoulder, and so on. The design of the tilak and where it is applied will change according to the sampradaya (one can understand this as a “denomination” or “sect” of Hinduism, though these are not completely accurate comparisons) that one belongs to. Continue reading

Go Big or Go Home? I’d Rather Go Home.

Today on my walk from the train station, I saw a graffiti tag reading, “Go big or go home.”

I immediately thought to myself, “I’d rather go home.”

I started to think about the implications of that phrase in our society today. When one speaks of “going big”, one of the ideas expressed there is to do things with passion, substance; doing something with one’s full commitment and energy. Continue reading

Ask Yagna #1: “What are the sacred texts of Sri Vaishnavism?”

NOTE: The “Ask a Hindu” section of this blog has been reformatted and renamed “Ask Yagna”. When a question is submitted, they will be answered in a long form format, and a link to the answered question will appear in the “Ask Yagna” section. New questions will be answered every Friday.

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This week’s question was submitted through my secondary blog, Arpana, and comes to us from my friend Rama Kesava das. He writes:

Q: We are heavily influenced in the West by the Gaudiya Vaishnava preaching of Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Swami and his disciples, so the other Vaishnava sampradayas are less well known in the U.S.A. and Europe.  Continue reading

Transitions and New Beginnings

It’s been a little bit since my last post on the blog. In the time that I was away…

  • I went on a very lovely, week-long retreat at Sri Narayanagiri Devasthanam, where I was working as an assistant pujari during the Brahmotsavam festivities.
  • During Bramhotsav, I got to bear witness to the engagement of two of my closest friends. I am incredibly excited to see them transition into married life!
  • I took a very short vacation to Florida to see my sister and her two lovely children. I was able to take in the sights of historic St. Augustine, the oldest city (though really, permanent colonial settlement) in America, as well as take in a number of lovely sunrises and sunsets on the beach.
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“My Two Closets” – a piece for Interfaith Ramadan

This year, I was invited to contribute a piece to Interfaith Ramadan, “a 30-day blog project bringing together writers from different faith / non-faith backgrounds and from around the world, sharing perspectives on Interfaith, community, inclusion, and key social issues.”

I chose to write a piece about coming out of two closets – as a queer person and as a Hindu – to my parents. I engage with some of the pain and alienation this process has caused on both sides, as well as how these conversations have allowed for a deeper relationship with my parents.
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