by Becca Buse
Unlike my other conversation partners, I already knew Neetij Krishnan; we had both grown up in Eden Prairie and we went to high school together. I remember seeing him in advanced placement courses. When I caught up with him earlier this fall, I was not surprised to learn that he is now working at the National Institutes of Health and is a writer for The American Hindu. I look forward to continuing the conversation I had with Neetij to learn more about his faith and the important work he is doing.
Neetij reflected on his Hindu upbringing in the United States. His parents taught him to be curious and ask questions and to use Hinduism as an anchor to answer those questions. As a child and young adult, he has been curious about other faith traditions and enjoys asking questions to learn about other religions.
His advice to the readers who want to learn more about Hinduism is, “If you know a Hindu, ask them to take you to a Hindu Temple. There is one in Maple Grove, [. . .] ask them how their faith and culture gives them a sense of meaning. Be willing to explore other faith traditions. ”
He went on to explain that Hinduism is a skeptic-friendly faith, because it encourages questions. Neetij himself admitted to having a lot of doubts throughout his life, and he is glad that his faith can give him answers. His faith allows him to ask intellectual questions and then actually receive a response back.
Additionally, Neetij described Hinduism as a personalized faith. You can choose from many paths, “yoga”s. The path of devotion: Bhakti Yoga. The path of Knowledge: Jnana Yoga. The path of Action: Karma Yoga. And finally, the path of Meditation: Raja Yoga. Neetij summarized this aspect of Hinduism as all paths eventually converging, allowing everyone to have a deeper connection with the divine.
Neetij also reminded me that Hinduism is adaptable. The rituals are practical, and they can be done in your home, or anywhere. To Hindus, you don’t always need to go to a temple, a synagogue, a church or a mosque to practice your faith. All you need is your mind and a desire to open it to something greater.
Neetij also shared the word puja with me, which means the act of worship and respect, usually as a focused activity that you can do even in your home. During a puja, you direct your attention toward a murti, or an image depicting the Divine. He emphasized calling it a murti rather than an “idol”, since a murti is just a stepping stone to connecting with a Divine presence that goes beyond forms and shapes. A simple practice when a puja begins is to place one hand on your heart and the other on the murti—inviting the Divinity from your own self into the murti so you can focus on it more easily.
A Hindu practices their faith by treating everyone they encounter with respect, as another expression of the Divine. Namaste, the now-ubiquitous word associated with modern yoga, translates to “the Divine in me salutes the Divine in you.” Once again, Neetij emphasized the simplicity, practicality, and personalization of Hinduism.
When asked to comment on something from Hindu scripture, Neetij shared a well-known verse from the Bhagavad Gita, a dialogue between Krishna, an incarnation of God, and Arjun, a prince having a crisis of faith. Chapter 2, Verse 47:
mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūh
mā te saṅgo’stvakarmaṇi
You only have authority over action, not ever the result. Don’t be motivated by the result, and don’t get attached to inaction.
Neetij explained: “Do what you have to do, do the best you can, but try to catch yourself when you start getting attached to the results. Keep an eye on that ego of yours.” He continued with his interpretation by sharing how results are ultimately not in our hands. Doing nothing in the face of these issues is not an option, but we should not dwell on the issues either. His interpretation is to keep being yourself, do what you need to do, and strive for mental peace about your career and relationships. He stated, “We don’t have ultimate control of what happens in our lives, so reducing our attachments to the fruit, or the outcome, of our actions can help us maintain our peace of mind.” This is especially true during the pandemic, when there are many possible outcomes to each day. If we get lost in a cycle of worry—will I get that promotion? Will I do well on this exam? Will this relationship work out?—, the potential outcomes will distract us from having inner peace, or even putting our best foot forward for those opportunities.
Like many lessons from the Gita, Neetij noted, it’s timeless—a verse written thousands of years ago in an ancient language can give us insight to live well today.
Neetij Krishnan is a recent graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. As a student there, he was a member of the Interfaith Council, and he also founded Jyoti, St. Olaf’s first Hindu student organization. He currently resides in Maryland with his cat, where he works at the National Institutes of Health and is a contributing writer to The American Hindu.
To read Neetij’s article about Kashmir in The American Hindu, click here.
For his take on “Holi and Hinduism” on the “Serving the Balance” blog, click here.