August 2023 marked the arrival of Hindu Chaplaincy onto the global stage, as the first two Hindu interreligious chaplains graduated from a first-of-its-kind chaplaincy pathway. This accredited pathway is a cooperative effort between the Hindu Spiritual Care Institute (HSCI), a global institution started in the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley, and the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) at Berkeley, California. HSCI also celebrated the graduation of 44 Hindu counselors from its 5th cohort at the same event.
Hindu interreligious chaplaincy pathway’s first two graduates are India-born Californian women with strong professional backgrounds and a deep commitment to serving the community – Neeti Soota, a high-tech executive, and Usha Narasimhan, a former CFO. They completed the new HSCI and GTU programs in record time and are strong role models for all other professionals seeking to serve the community.
(L-R) Neeti Soota, Usha Narasimhan
Why are Hindu chaplains essential?
Chaplains offer spiritual care to people who seek guidance in times of emotional and spiritual turmoil. Childbirth, hospital stay, an unfortunate diagnosis, loneliness, life transitions, and death are difficult times when one needs help. Support from a caring chaplain could lead to a faster bounceback and recovery. Chaplaincy services are offered at hospitals, corporations, colleges, senior homes, military, and prisons. Unlike the Christian faith, the Hindu tradition has not had a formal spiritual care and chaplaincy process. Therefore, innovation was needed to better serve the needs of the global Hindu diaspora.
HSCI is the brainchild of a group of Silicon Valley professionals and entrepreneurs. They perceived the need for practical, spiritually-centered, and individualized care in the Hindu diaspora. They started a nonprofit named Hindu Community Institute (HCI) in 2018. HCI was renamed HSCI in August 2023 to reflect its focus on spiritual care, counseling, and chaplaincy.
Path-breaking route to chaplaincy
Historically, chaplaincy training has had its roots in the Christian tradition. People interested in serving as chaplains have had to invest many years in a Christian pathway. With changes in population demographics, chaplaincy needed to be reimagined for interreligious settings and be readily adaptable to non-Christian traditions. More than a school of theology, the GTU is a union of schools and programs, which, together, represent the world’s major religions in collaboration. GTU launched its Interreligious Chaplaincy Program (ICP) to bring together adherents of every major tradition into interreligious chaplaincy. The partnership between GTU and HSCI has created an efficient pathway to train, accredit, and field Hindu chaplains. The pathway had a momentous start with generous fellowship grants to over a dozen scholars from the Motwani-Jadeja Foundation.
Celebrating HSCI’s Fifth Graduation:GTU president Uriah Kim, PhD, GTU ICP director Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, PhD, HSCI president Kailash Joshi, PhD, and HSCI dean Gaurav Rastogi
The value of Hindu chaplaincy is amplified by a universal acceptance of Hindu spiritual practices – such as yoga, pranayama, Advaita philosophy, bhakti, Ayurveda, and purusharthas (dharma, artha, kama, and moksha) – in improving the quality of life. HSCI’s curriculum includes a holistic teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, core Hindu tenets, and the role of samskaras in one’s life. The programs are taught by practitioner faculty in an exciting and engaging manner.
A program with a global appeal
Over the last five years, HSCI has graduated over 150 Counselors of Hindu Tradition (CHTs). By this academic year, it will have over 25 candidates on the path to chaplaincy. The global Hindu diaspora has quickly embraced HSCI’s offerings, with 40 percent of the graduates coming from Australia, Canada, India, and South Africa. Of those enrolled in the chaplaincy pathway, 25 percent are from countries other than the US. In some countries, such as South Africa, HSCI draws candidates from a Hindu diaspora that is seven generations deep. HSCI aims to field 108 accredited Hindu chaplains and 1008 trained Hindu counselors.
HSCI Global Graduation 2023
Other unique offerings set HSCI apart
HSCI has been built with $3.2 million worth of “practical seva” or volunteer contributions in professional services rendered for free! This year, HSCI launched an Om $ Project (ODP) app with which anyone can convert their community seva to Om Dollars. The exponential growth of the Om Dollars shows how well HSCI’s mission for practical, timely, and compassionate seva has resonated with the community.
Tele-chaplaincy is the next big step
Given the dearth of accredited Hindu chaplains and the diverse needs of the Hindu community across continents and time zones, HSCI offers a virtual way to connect with a well-trained chaplain/counselor through tele-chaplaincy. HSCI also hosts an online knowledge and resource center to support these services.
Through these innovations and the practice of interreligious chaplaincy, the Hindu tradition becomes more mainstream while also enriching the community. HSCI’s vision for community-based spiritual care will also go a long way in transmitting an ancient lived tradition to future generations.
HSCI is a unique service-learning institution for karma yoga. It is applying Silicon Valley innovation to bring Hindu chaplaincy to the world.