- Topics & Settings
Move to New York City
After some time, Satya immigrated to a Guyanese neighborhood in Queens, New York City, where she began attending various Hindu temples to find a community. Before her emigration, she got married to her current husband, Bharat Balroop, who, at MHMM, assists in the kitchen and behind-the-scenes activity. Initially, she recalls being unsatisfied with temples in New York City because she was not able to form a personal connection with a guru-less temple. After some time she found the mostly Guyanese America Sevashram Sanga, headed by her eventual mentor Swami Mernatananda. While predominantly Indo-Caribbean, the members were mostly Sanatanists and were accepting of all religious styles. Scholar Michelle Verma in her sociological study of this temple describes it as an ecumenical temple or one that seeks to coexist with other brands of worship. Verma goes on to say that this egalitarian, congregational mode of worship was not a new invention but rather an importation of a widely held characteristic of Guyanese Hinduism.1 Thus, even while the New York Mandir preached universal acceptance, it still had a strong leaning towards Guyanese traditions.
It was with guru Sangha that Satya began her spiritual transformation. While Guru Maharaj is her spiritual guide, she explained that divine gurus are not able to give the amount of personal attention needed for beginning devotees because of their celebrity status and emphasis on personal meditation. Satya, while she did have access to the divine teachings through Hindu literature, she still needed someone to help start her along the journey to self-worship. As noted earlier, Satya grew up with the impression that Hindu texts and practices were not to be questioned. But at the insistence of Swami Mernatananda (who she calls Swami-ji, for short) she began to do just that. Swami-gi started a small Bhagavat Gita discussion class the year she arrived as a way to spread this doctrine of critical worship. These sessions are conducted in a Socratic discussion style, where various interpretations of the Gita are read aloud and then compared to each other to illuminate truths within each one. Progress was slow, and Satya said that after a year of classes she had only gotten through the first three chapters. However, in closely analyzing the text like this, she was able to gain the skills for continuing the study of the Gita on her own. She compares this class to being thrown straight from kindergarten into a college seminar in terms of difficulty and sophistication of religious analysis. And just as in college, she recalls that much of her free time was spent doing independent research of religious texts, marking the start of her lifelong quest for personal spiritual understanding.
She returned triumphant and full of a feeling she described as a “sweet nectar”. There was nothing more satisfying to her than helping those who really needed it, so she began to come down to the kitchen every week instead of attending service.
While Satya’s own spiritual awakening and transformation was surely a gradual process of self-realization, she related one narrative that was perhaps symbolic of her spiritual transformation on a macro level. Her husband would never attend service but instead helped the overworked cooks in the kitchen. Satya was resistant, but after hearing a sermon about the merits of karma-yoga she decided to give it a try. She left the service and went to the kitchen, but when she entered and asked what to do, the cook replied that the only chore was to wash a large black pot. She first stated that there was no way she could lift the pot into the sink. After struggling for a time to lift it, her husband came in and showed her that he was taught to wash the pot on the ground, without lifting it. Although one could not wash the bottom, all that really needed to be clean was the inside, the part that touched the food. After this the task became simple—she returned triumphant and full of a feeling she described as a “sweet nectar”. There was nothing more satisfying to her than helping those who really needed it, so she began to come down to the kitchen every week instead of attending service. She quickly started to help out as much as her schedule would allow, decorating the altars and selling pastries on Sundays. Up until that time Satya had been a passive worshipper, and she sought to gain understanding through listening and studying. She found greater satisfaction in helping others than in acquiring personal knowledge, and her prayers began to turn from simple worship to charitable acts. In short, it was in the kitchen of this temple that Satya began to truly understand the intimate teachings of Guru Maharaj.