A Hindu at Union Theological Seminary

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.

Charles Dickens

For the next two years (and perhaps beyond), I have the privilege of calling Union Theological Seminary my school and my home. Within these walls I will discover the deepening of my calling to God, in ways that will both strengthen and shake my very foundation, for Union is a institution where the very idea of the institution is called into question. This is not to tear down the walls and foundation, but to strengthen them, and to open the doors in those walls so that everyone in this unjust and unequal world can also find their sense of home, no matter who they are and where they may be.

Over the last 175 years, Union has placed itself at the forefront of progressive and radical Christian spirituality
, with courage and conviction confronting the exploitation of power and hubris that has marked the tides and swells of history. The story of Union, the journey of Union, is one that calls out to particular souls, who have a particular view of the world, who have a particular calling, and who feel particularly drawn to a profound integration and connection with God and with the world around them, a harmony of activism steeped in faith and prayer, realization and revelation.

During our orientation as new students, the call has been to us to consider the process of "Owning Your Story For The Journey," and, humbly speaking, my story is a unique one. I can say that I never really thought about entering into seminary, and to Union in particular, until about a year ago, but once I did, there was no clearer path for me going forward.

It's quite clear to me that my life now at Union is a clear gift from God, a lavish God who knows our most intimate yearnings and hopes, much more so than we ever might, and who is constantly arranging for us to have what we need and want. All we have to do is to become open to these arrangements, to become willing participants in God's plans, and we will come to understand who we are and what we must to do to love and serve in this world.

I come to Union from a different space than most, having spent the last five years living as a monk in the bhakti-yoga tradition of the Vedic/Hindu tradition of India. While my monastic life came to a voluntary end earlier this year, I still identify and practice as a bhakti-yogi, and transcending all contradiction that may appear to be on the surface, Union is the perfect place for me to understand the true definition of yoga and the true life of a yogi in the world today. I was raised as a Catholic, and still identify as a Christian as well, and this sense of "double belonging" is something that can be uniquely nourished and shaped here at Union.

There is a certain adjustment for me, now being "back in the world" for the first time after five years of monastic life. While life as a monk in the bhakti tradition is not a traditionally cloistered one (especially in our asrama at The Bhakti Center in the heart of the East Village here in NYC), still to be back in school, with all the different social and communal flavors that I once knew before, know again now, and will come to know in the weeks and months ahead, leave me feeling a distinct "otherness."

On top of a daily two-hour meditation practice and vows of my tradition which I try to keep, to be a vegetarian, to not drink alcohol, to refrain from the sacred gift of sex until I am married, I enter into my new home with a few hesitant steps, hoping that despite my unique personhood, I can fall into loving and meaningful relationships here at Union that will sustain and inspire me for the rest of my living days.

So far, in my first week here, I feel, despite my hard heart, a whole lot of gratitude. Gratitude to God for taking such constant and good care of me, giving me this chance, not defining me by my faults but by my potential. I am grateful to the faculty at Union for letting me be a part of the life here, which I realize again and again is a real dream come true. I am grateful to the wonderful and amazing people I am meeting, my fellow students, who are accepting me even though I may have a sense of being distinct and different, but who I resonate with as a Christian, as a yogi, and as a fellow seeker and servant of God and humanity.

I come to Union to rise above the disconnections I feel as a yogi with the world around me. In the bhakti tradition, as monks and family-folk and swamis and everything else in between, we are asked to communicate our dynamic and magnetic culture to the wider world around us. Indeed, we are a kind of evangelical brand of Hinduism, with all the positive and negative connotations that that word brings to mind. This communication, this connection to our fellow souls, is something that must always be questioned in the light of its effectiveness and relevance, and to be frank, I feel like my tradition has a lot to re-define in terms of its relevance to what is going on in the world today.

I cannot truly ignore or avoid or evade the injustice and suffering that surrounds me on this planet. As a seeker of God, a yogi seeking my loving relationship with God, I cannot shun aside my humanity and the sacred sense of life I share with all the beings in this world. Whether it is the endemic and epidemic poverty in the American fabric, or our increasingly frayed ecological balance, or the ways and means in which the common bonds of the food we eat are being rearranged and redistributed with seemingly little concern for the mouths and bodies that need that holistic sustenance, being a devotee of God means to fight for the presence of God, in active communion, in the world. I want to reconnect my spirituality, and the spirituality of my bhakti-yoga tradition, to the concerns of social justice, so that I and we may grow into our true responsibilities and obligations to those who have less and need more.

I want to also reconnect to my own practice and worship through the bold worship, inclusive of all colors, tastes, and preferences, that we do here at Union. Most of all, I want to reconnect to the natural sense of compassion I carry in my heart, the best gift God has ever given me, but one I rarely open and use. If I cannot learn, or begin to learn, how to truly care for others while I am here, if I cannot begin to truly overcome my hesitations and fears when it comes to those moments when compassion is truly needed, then I will have wasted my time here. Within these walls, in my new home, I pray to God, and I ask my fellow students, to help me open my heart, and I hope to help to do the same for everyone I may encounter as well.

In my time here at Union, from the comforts and challenges of my new home, I hope to share with the readers of The Huffington Post the signposts of my journeys, the agonies and ecstasies, the revelations and revolutions I will be experiencing. I ask for your prayers, blessings, and well-wishes for transformation here, and so that I may learn how to give and share and serve the mission here at Union which so deeply matches the deepest calling of my heart and spirit.