2016-07-27

A vegetarian who requested a Ravi Shankar raga (song) to be played duringher first shuttle flight, Dr. Chawla rarely spoke about her beliefs. Born into a family that respected both Sikh and Hindu traditions, she grew up in a home where, among other things, her father counted the number of references to a Hindu god in a famous Sikh scripture.

After she moved to America, Chawla could be seen at Hindu temples in California'sBay Area and in Houston. In a 1997 Hinduism Today interview, her statement--"Do something because you really want to do it. Ifyou're doing it just for the goal, and don't enjoy the path, then I thinkyou're cheating yourself"--echoes a guiding principle of the Bhagavad Gita, a beloved Hindu scripture--"Work, but work for the work's sake only. You have no right to the fruits of your labor."

This past weekend, Hindu and Sikh temples across the country commemoratedChawla's life and the lives of all the crew members. At Houston's Sri Meenakshi temple, Chawla's father silently lit the fourth of seven candles--one for eachastronaut. The service included prayers, songs, and brief statements byChawla's friends and colleagues. Hundreds of people attended an hour-long service at the Hindu Temple & Community Center in Sunnyvale, Ca.

,where they recited a mantra in praise of God that had been chanted by Mahatma Gandhi. At a brief ceremony at New York's Ganapathi Temple,participants said prayers for the peace of the astronauts' souls. "Our tradition and philosophy tell us ...that they are safe in a different home which is really our true abode," says Dr. Uma Mysorekar, who attended the New York ceremony and ispresident of the Hindu Temple Society of North America.

Though Hindu funeral rituals typically center around the cremation of thebody, Hindu theologian Arvind Sharma of McGill University says that the tragic case of the Columbia victims will not pose a religious dilemma."Whatever remains can be found [can be] cremated and ...deposited in asacred location or river," says Sharma.

Though the Hindu belief in reincarnation does not necessarily lessen agrieving family's pain, says Sharma, the belief that life continues in some form does provide some comfort. The second chapter of the BhagavadGita, often referred to at Hindu funerals, is particularly relevant in lightof Chawla's legacy: "No one can destroy the imperishable spirit."

Read more:

  • 1997 Hinduism Today Profile
  • Memorial Service Prayers: New York's Ganapathi Temple
  • "The Immortal Self Does Not Die": Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita
  • Laurel Salton Clark
    Unitarian

    Commander Laurel Salton Clark, 41, a Unitarian, was deeply connected to the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church in her hometown of Racine, Wisconsin. She was married there, and her younger brother, Daniel Salton, is an active member and Sunday School teacher. The Rev. Dr. Tony Larsen, minister of the church for 27 years, met her when she was a teenager and officiated at her wedding to Capt. Jonathan Clark in 1991. Dr. Larsen spoke with Beliefnet shortly before leaving for Houston to be with Clark's family.

    "On Sunday we held a remembrance for Laurel during the 'Joys and Concerns' portion of the service. We lit candles for Laurel. There was nothing written down, but I spoke spontaneously. Here's what I recall I said at that time:

    "'Although we grieve for Laurel's loss, we know she was doing what she really wanted to do. She really believed in the space program, and the scientific and medical work they were doing in outer space. And it's fitting that all those astronauts of different cultures and nationalities could get along and work together. It's a model for how we might do that on earth. We must be joyful for all of the things she represented.'"

    Dr. Larsen also read a portion of a remarkable e-mail that Clark had sent from the shuttle on Friday to family and friends.

    In many ways, Clark's mission embodied some of the core principles of the Unitarian Universalist faith, which welcomes all spiritual beliefs and emphasizes social justice and world peace. Respect for "the interdependent web of all existence" - a Unitarian principle - was acknowledged by Clark in an interview she conducted with a reporter from the shuttle. Clark spoke of a silkworm cocoon she had seen hatch onboard. "There was a moth in there," she said, "and it was just starting to pump its wings up. Life continues in lots of places, and life is a magical thing."

    Read more:

  • Finding Meaning in the Tragedy
    The Rev. Kit Ketcham scrapped her sermon on Feb. 2 and opened the service up to the congregation.

  • Remembering Well
    Unitarian minister Sarah York on how to create a meaningful memorial service