Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Poem for Raddha


I understand you

I am you


Forgotten responsibilities

Broken Vows

His long legs

The curve of his hip

Kissing on tip toes

I love you

I don’t love you

I love you

I don’t know you

I love you not


Black, White, Other

I got this email the other day: 

Hi Nya,

It was so great to hear from you, and I appreciate your following up on this out-of-the-blue request. Here's what's going on and what I'm asking:

As I probably mentioned, on (roughly) the 20th anniversary of its publication, I decided to put out an ebook version of Black, White, Other. People of all ages still come upon it and find it relevant and affirming. Other new readers write to say it speaks to issues beyond the black/white binary, a view I agree with. I published it on October 1.

So much time had passed, though, that I wanted there to be a way for the 46 original interviewees to add in their current perspectives, to either hold to or evolve from what they said back then. You were fresh out of college when we spoke, for example, so that was a significant part of what we talked about and what I chose to use in the book.

I've made a (free) website page dedicated to these 20-year updates, and people who read the ebook find a link to it at the book's end. Some comments have already gone up (I started posting them last month), and whenever possible, I like to include a current photo alongside the comments. If you want to take a look at what I've uploaded so far, you'll find those updates here:

My hope is that you will look at your original comments (which I've pasted into the body of this email, below) and then share reflections on what you said then and what's happened since. If that's too general or vague, I've set up some basic prompt questions. Feel free to respond to none or one or all. If you decide it would be eser to tell me your comments over the phone, I'm happy to arrange that. And if you are willing to send a photo, please attach it to the email response.
Here are the questions.
Current Age:
Current Residence:
Current Occupation:

What is it like to look back on the comments you made 20 years ago?
What has changed or stayed the same since then, in terms of your personal connections to race and identity, and then in terms of race and identity in our country?
What was it like to participate in this book project, to be in this book?



Parents and Family

My mother's sister, she's black, and she used to say to me, "You're going to have to decide what you are, if you're going to be black or white." I remember all these Christmas things with her, like if I wanted to get a black Baby That Away, or a white Baby That Away. She would call up to ask, and I would say, "Okay, I want the black one." And then I would call up, "No, no, I want the white one." My parents were just too intelligent that way. They got me this Sasha doll from London that you couldn't tell if it's black or white. They really picked everything, so she has kind of my color skin and brownish hair and she could be Italian or Greek or black, who knows?—Nya Patrinos


Nya Patrinos

Age: 22

Residence: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Occupation: Theater wardrobe supervisor

Nya Patrinos grew up in an integrated section of Philadelphia called Mount Airy. Her parents—her father is white, half-Greek and half-Jewish; her mother is black, has a Cherokee great-grandfather, and is from South Carolina—met "around the Left in Philadelphia," Patrinos says. They married when they were thirty; both had been married before, she to a black man, he to a white woman.

Patrinos's mother, a psychiatric nurse, hoped for her daughter to identify as a multiracial person. In the last few years, Patrinos has started identifying as an African-American, and she says that makes her mother mad. "She said, 'You shouldn't let society define who you are,' " Patrinos remembers. "And I feel like, How can I not? I have to live in society. But she says, 'You're letting a racist world define you,' and she hates that and we fight over that issue if we ever talk about it, when we talk about it, but I don't know any other way to walk through the world. I identify as I do mainly because the outside world says I have no choice. And I think my mother's sort of upset by that. She doesn't think you need to identify like that, and that I should have gone through the whole world, my whole life, saying, 'No, I'm mixed, I'm mixed.' But I don't scream about it that much anymore, or bring it up before somebody else does.

"There was never a time when I would go into a room and say, 'I'm mixed,' but if there was any kind of discussion about it and people were saying what they were, I didn't want to deny anything. And I don't deny it now, but I don't know if I want to talk about it to everybody. I think I have more private zones than I did then."

Even as she settles into identifying more with African-American, Patrinos refuses to relinquish her personal connection to being mixed, based on her relationships with her father and his side of the family.

It's different when you have two very active parents who are claiming you, as opposed to maybe a woman who's been raped—like in slavery where a lot of women were raped by their masters—who has an interracial child that way. Or you have my father, who went to all the home and school association meetings. At certain points in elementary school I would have liked to have hid that I had a white father, but he was so active in everything! He would always be at this and that and everything. A lot of people always asked if I was adopted. I would never hide my father now, but I think: You're eleven, you're a shithead.

My elementary school was very white. It's a Quaker school, so you learn a lot and the teachers are pretty dedicated, and I remember feeling really odd there, just not really a part of what was going on. I remember sort of being an outcast until fourth grade. I remember people stepping on my coat and not having anybody to play with. I don't know if that has anything to do with being interracial or just maybe I was kind of a weird kid, but I do remember not really feeling very good there.

As I got older, I felt like I fit in a little bit more, but I remember when I left at the end of fourth grade, I didn't feel any kind of loss, like, "Oh, my goodness, I'm leaving all my friends." I was really fine about going somewhere else.

I really never found a community of people in college. I lived in a group house off-campus for a while, with eight people. I guess I knew all the fringe elements, the people who were writing, the painters, the acting people, the people in the philosophy department—all the people sort of falling off the edge of the mainstream. But I still don't know what frat house was which, which you're supposed to know at Penn [University of Pennsylvania]. I failed. I failed.

The African-American community at Penn is pretty militant, and they don't want you to hang out with white people. There was a W.E.B. Du Bois House where you lived if you were a "progressive" African-American. I could never find out when black student union meetings there were because I lived in High Rise North and they didn't want to put signs there because they were afraid that white people were going to come. I know because I asked the guy who was the president of the African-American student union, and he said, "We can't get anything done with those people crashing the meeting. You know how those people are."

I feel like I can never be a very militant African-American person who hates white people because I'd hate fifty percent of myself. So I couldn't really participate in that world at Penn because I'm not going to hate white people; it's just not what's going to happen. I can't accept that, being mixed.

I think the black students just wrote me off. I'm sure people knew who I was, because African-American men on the campus kind of know who the African-American women are. I'm not overweight, I'm okay-looking, so sometimes I would walk home from the library and some guy would come and talk to me and say, "Are you a graduate student?" And maybe I'm making this up, but I think they saw me a lot of times with white people and I got blacklisted. Maybe it wasn't as intentional as that, but nobody talked to me besides the one guy I asked about the meetings.


Friends and Strangers

I cooked one summer in a place in Connecticut, and a woman said, "How do you know how to make kugel?" My grandmother taught me how to make kugel, and I told her that my grandmother's Jewish. I've known this woman for years, and she could never remember that about me. That door opens and it just closes again; she could not process the information.—Nya Patrinos

Here are my answers:

Name: Nya Patrinos

Current Age: 43

Current Residence: Los Angeles

Current Occupation:Set Decorator and Yoga Teacher

What is it like to look back on the comments you made 20 years ago? 

They seem accurate.  I don't regret any of them.  I think I was in pain then about my racial identity and I am still in pain.  The world has changed a lot though, I am sure if it, but, sometimes I realize I haven't changed as fast as the world has. I carry my scars and my hurts still even though it would be much more beneficial to let them all that go, to clean house.  I often wonder why am I holding on so tight to the hurt.  What am I afraid of letting go.  I took a class a couple months ago called "Who Am I: The Basic Goodness of Being Human" and in one exercise we wrote ten phrases/nouns about how we define our identity and at the end of the exercise we crumpled them up one by one.  Two of my self definitions had race in them.  One was "exotic black chick" and another one was "inter-racial child of communists."  When I destroyed those pieces of paper I felt so good,  I can't explain, there was a weight lifted off of me.  So I know that if I could release the racial pain of my childhood out of my mind-heart I would feel so much better.  I just haven't gotten there yet.  But there's still time.  I have faith in myself that I can move forward and just be Nya one day. I want experience the lightness of letting go of race.

What has changed or stayed the same since then, in terms of your personal connections to race and identity, and then in terms of race and identity in our country?

I married a white man so in some ways I have remade my parents interracial relationship with me playing the role of my black mother and my husband playing the role of my white father.  We don't have any children so no-one is playing me.  As I get older the world around me which is mainly my workplace has gotten whiter and whiter.  I miss my childhood in Mt. Airy and my schools that were so mixed.  The neighborhood in Los Angeles I live in is very mixed so I enjoy that.  I still think of myself as sometimes black, sometimes interracial.  I never caught a hold of the word bi-racial.  Maybe it got popular after I had already formed my self-description, my story I tell people about me.  Or maybe I have never felt bi-racial because I feel like I have never gotten to know what it is like to be white even if I am half white.  I can't pass for white so I have never really experienced that half of my racial identity.  I would love to be white for a day and experience what that really means.  But, sadly, it's not going to happen. 

When Obama got elected I was really happy.  I am happy to see so many successful mixed people: Obama, Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, Mariah Carey, Halle Barry. It helps a lot to see really visible people who look like me and must have experienced some of what I experience. Those people weren't around when I was growing up.

I went to Cuba in the late 90s and it seemed like the whole country has interracial.  I felt like I saw myself and my brother everywhere.  It was s great feeling.  I have never felt so at home, so relaxed.

I went to a People of Color Meditation Workshop last Saturday and it felt really good to be in a room of like minded people of color (asians, latinos, african-americans, the group was diverse).  I didn't realize how starved I was for it.  They all expressed what I had been feeling that it feels really good and safe to be in an environment that is not almost totally white and even more so when you are trying to do your spiritual practice.  I am going to explore doing more spiritual work in the "people of color" environment.  I realize that I like to be with my fellow people of color. It is where I feel the most at ease.

What was it like to participate in this book project, to be in this book?

It was flattering to be in a book.  I still have it somewhere in my bookshelf along with the other book I am in "Mothers and Daughters."  I will always keep the book although I might not know exactly where on the shelf it is.  It is something I am very proud of.

I hope that helps.  Let me know if you want to ask me anything else or have me clarify anything.

Friday, December 13, 2013



When I went to Kerala this winter I wanted to visit her Ashram but my mother wasn’t interested.  Since I already had my mother doing many things she wasn’t interested in doing in India

I decided to let this one go.  Months later in summer, when driving past LACMA I saw banners all down Wilshire Boulevard announcing her visit to Los Angeles.  Amma was going to be here, at the very least, I could go see her and get a hug.  I wasn’t working. My days were free. No excuses.  It had to be done.  She was coming here.

Flanked by two of my closest friends, I went to see Amma at a hotel near the airport.  An all-day affair of getting in line after line filled with beautiful people with equally beautiful flowing outfits eventually having my group called and inching up chair by chair to her Deus.  Now, on the stage, being told don’t touch her, (that threw me, don’t touch her).  She held me like mother earth and said something to me in both ears which I couldn’t understand.  I was limp trying not to touch her.  It was awkward being hugged but not hugging back.  But I thought, they told me not to hug back, I must do what they say.

 One long hug, some words, second long hug.  Someone had asked me before I sat for my hug what language I spoke and I replied English.  But I wasn’t savvy enough to listen for the translation or even consider there was a translator up there.  I just felt the hug and the heard gibberish in my ears not really thinking this was supposed to be a message to be understood and translated into my own language. 

Everything seemed so visceral and outside of language.  Maybe I just considered she was talking in tongues like the black Baptists I grew up with and saw getting happy and fainting in church on Sunday.  But later when someone asked what she said to me I thought, oops,  was she saying something to me, I hadn’t accounted for that, I was just there to get a hug and I had read somewhere you should concentrate on something you really want while she hugs you.

I keep saying in my mind “please heal my body and heart… please heal my body and heart.”  I was saying it so fiercely and intently hoping unwanted thoughts wouldn’t come in and steal the power like all the stories of people blowing their wishes when the meet a genie.  But since I was thinking so intensely I didn’t leave any room for her. Next time I’ve got to leave her some space.

She was brown like me. I don’t know if the brown women of India feel the connection to me that I feel to them?  But I think they do because they gave me so much time and affection in Kerala.

I loved how brown she was/is. 

Is that not right to say?  I loved the brown skin women in Kerala and Amma was the mother of them all. 

The queen of the Southern fisherwomen that Salmon Rushdie insulted so in Midnight’s Children through his character Reverend mother who talks of Mumtaz, as the “blackie” daughter she could never love because of her “skin of a Southern Indian fisherwoman” these same women that I loved and I thought of as my sisters. But I am a “blackie” even if am not so dark as black and more brown like a coffee with lots of cream.

So, how do I sum up Amma?  She was powerful.  The visit was a confusing.  I wasn’t sure of all the instructions.  But, when she comes this way or if I go back to Kerala I want to hug her again.  I want to try again and be more open.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Metta Meditation

I have been taking the Basics of Mindfulness Class at Insight LA.  I have a lot of notes from different weeks but this is the first time I've really had time to start posting. This was the third time in the last couple of months I've done I guided Metta Meditation.  Beth Sternlieb led one when she came to Yoga and the Healing Sciences teacher training.  Then Kelsey lead one as part of her yoga class when she was practice teaching and then on Tuesday night Celeste Young led one. I really love the Metta Meditation.

Here is a review of the first basic phrases:

May I be safe

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I be at ease (or May I be free)

And here is one variation:

May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm

May I be truly happy and deeply peaceful

May I be healthy both in body and mind (or if this is not possible, may I accept my limitations with grace)

May I live with ease and be free from suffering (or May I care for myself joyfully and be free from suffering)

After you do yourself you move on.  The Traditional Categories (in the traditional order for sending Metta) are:

Self, Benefactor, Friend, Neutral Person, Difficult Person, All Beings. You pick a person for each category into you get to all beings. 

On Tuesday night I chose Murty, Carol, the security officer at gate 7,  we didn't get to a difficult person.

 METTA is the pali word for Loving Kindness.  The mind heart are connected.  When we sit we get in touch with our difficulties.  Then compassion begins to arise.  The we realize that other beings have the same stress and the same sorrow.  The brain was a negativity bias.  The brain is wired to scan for threats.  We have a capacity to rewire the brain.  A good book to read is "Buddha's Brain."  Mindfulness helps rewire the brain.  Metta meditation can open the heart and rewire the brain.

Below are a few quotes:

“If we practice mindful living we will know how to water the seeds of joy and transform the seeds of sorrow and suffering so that understanding, compassion, and loving-kindness will flower in us.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

"Lovingkindess is a form of love that is truly an ability, and as research scientists have shown, it can be learned. It is the ability to take some risks with our awareness--to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of reflexive criticism; to include in our concern those to whom we normally pay no attention; to care for ourselves unconditionally instead of thinking, "I will love myself as long as I never make a mistake." It is the ability to gather our attention and really listen to others, even those we've written off as not worth our time. It is the ability to see the humanity in people we don't know and the pain in people we find difficult." -Sharon Salzberg

Taking Refuge in Your Life with Larry Yang

Taking Refuge in Your Life: A Half Day Retreat with Larry Yang


Larry Yang

Larry Yang leads meditation retreats nationally and has an interest in making the wisdom teachings of the Dharma accessible for LGBTQ communities and Communities of Color. Larry is a Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leader and is mentored as a teacher by Jack Kornfield. He has spent 6 months in Southeast Asia as an ordained Buddhist monk under meditation master Ajaan Tong, with travels in Thailand, Nepal and India. Larry is a leader and teacher at the new East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, CA. His website is:
Date(s):December 7 (Saturday)
Time:9:00am - 12:30pm
 meditations in the Vipassana Buddhist tradition. There will be a dharma talk and opportunities for group sharing. Open to all levels of meditation—new, beginner, or experienced. Please join us, get on a cushion or chair, settle your mind, keep your heart open, and see what you discover! You do not have to call yourself a Buddhist to benefit from meditation.

Description:InsightLA is proud to present Larry Yang, a pioneer in his work of bringing meditation and Buddhist practice to multicultural communities in the West. He brings his vast experience to InsightLA for this very special daylong event.

Taking Refuge is one of the most beautiful aspects of the Buddhist meditation practice. We take Refuge in the deep potential of Freedom in each of our lives, in a path which has been journeyed by generations of our ancestors, and in communities of like-hearted and like-minded spiritual friends. We offer this sacred space to all communities of color with the intention to access a sense of safety and ease for the spiritual journey of seeing clearly our true nature.

Invitations into meditation will focus on cultivating an open awareness spacious enough to hold all that arises moment to moment, including guidance in sitting and walking

I did this retreat yesterday with Larry Yang.  Here are my notes:

It was very powerful to be with so many like minded people of color.  Larry had a real gentleness about him.  His voice was loving his words were kind.  I really enjoyed him and the other people in the group.

It was raining a lot when I entered in the building on Olympic in Santa Monica for Insight LA.  On the street as I parked I saw a few black women and some Asians.  I knew they like me most be going to the People of Color retreat.

I checked in, got some tea, and entered into a conversation about Spirit Rock (a place I really want to go this year after I finish working on Hart of Dixie).

Larry sat on the wooden platform in the main room with a semi circle of cushions backed by a semi circle of chairs and began to talk about the gentleness and cleansing of the rain.  I wish I could write down exactly what he said.  It was very beautiful.  I sat on cushions with a blanket rolled beneath each knee.  That's how I am meditating lately.  I want to be on the ground but I want to protect my bad knees.  I think I am a getting a little better at sitting on the floor.

Larry said:

No spiritual tradition has a monopoly on Enlightenment.  We all have a yearning for satisfaction or content to be at peace.  There is no single teaching the teachings are interwoven.  Enlightenment is small moments many times.  There are 84,000 doors to go through (and 84,000 is just a number meaning infinity) so find the teaching that you can feel truly relaxed in but don't attach to the door itself.  Figure out where you feel at home.

He quoted from Maya Angelou

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

You have to internalize luminosity so you can be that luminosity. 

First you have a thought then you have an intention and then an action.

It's important for people of color to sit together because it brings attention to what has not paid attention to.  Sometimes it is hard to get to a deep place in meditation when you don't feel safe in the room because there are no other people of color."

Many people talked about being the only one or one of a few people of color in a class and feeling uncomfortable.  I feel that way just like they did.  I talked in my group how much world when I was a girl was very diverse with people of many colors and the older I get the whiter my world gets.

Larry said we often don't feel safe in these all white environments on a visceral level.  We can't language it but we know it's there.

Larry said:

"Mindfulness is simply meeting the moment for what it is and in that gentleness things start to settle.  Within it (and Buddhism) there is an invitation to believe your own experience and not be imposed upon.  Being aware of what works for you."

One woman asked about pain and if she is supposed to sit with the pain or how to handle it when it comes up when meditation.  Larry said the body is a teacher but we don't pay attention in the body.  Pain is a teacher telling us what are limits are. We have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of the world.

Our first meditation centered on the breath and then we did a walking meditation.
I had never really done a walking meditation before in this way.  I had tried a little from reading Sharon Salzburg's book but I don' t think I got it until yesterday,  yesterday I think I really was doing it.  I concentrated on my foot planting and lifting taking small careful slow steps.  It was raining but I held an umbrella and was mindful of it.  Sometimes I felt like a geisha.  Sometimes my mind completely wandered but I just was mindful of it and came back to me steps. Because
Larry had talked about the gentleness and the purification of the rain, I walked slowly and gently with my umbrella off of Olympic Boulevard.  Other people walked to.  I got lost in the walking and everyone else had gone back in when I realized I needed to go back in too.  I had missed some of the next lecture.

When a women talked about trying to reconcile being African-American raised catholic and interest in Buddhism. She said African-Americans are always talking about praying.  Larry mentioned Thomas Merton who merged Catholicism and Buddhism (I have to look into him).  He said prayer is asking a question and meditation is receiving the answer.  I, myself,  am very interested in Buddhism but I don't want to give us Jesus and I don't believe I have to.  Jesus for me is a door, Buddha is a door,  I am not going to attach to the door.

One woman mentioned Against the stream and they have a people of color sit and also ecstatic dance.  I think someone else was telling me about that.  I am going to check into Against the Stream.

Anyways,  It was a wonderful morning.  When we went around the circle and Larry asked as to give a few word intention my intention was to "expand and grow" and I really did.

Thank you Larry.

Thank you all the beautiful people at the People of Color Sit.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


I wrote this last year for my graphic novel class.

Four Batmans, One Cape

Nya Patrinos

Over the last week and a half I have read four different Batman Comics: Batman 32, Batman 241 (The Rainbow Batman), Batman 395 (The Case of the Waiting Graves), and A Tale of Batman – Gotham by Gaslight. I enjoyed reading all of them and I believe it has helped my understanding of the character Batman, as well as, the history of Comics. I have never read a Batman comic before last week but I have already met many Batmans from watching TV and movies. Each Batman comic I read possessed an individual story, environmental design, character design and movement style.

In Batman 32, Batman is the most simply drawn of the four comic books. He is all cape and ears rendered in his traditional blue black costume.  He is more shape than form driven in his depiction. In the panels he seems to move from one iconic pose to another. The world he inhabits isn’t one of rigid perspective but of a fairy tale landscape perhaps imagined in a dream or a children’s book. In Batman 241, Batman has become more muscular and less ethereal.  Sculpted and heroic is the Batman in 395, the muscles in his calves, thighs and chest are clearly defined as if drawn by Michelangelo.

In Gotham by Gaslight we see much more of Bruce Wayne than Batman.  Bruce is a big muscular guy.  When he sits in prison I am struck at how beefy he looks even in his striped suit. I am sure nothing bad will happen to him. In Batman 32, we never see or hear about Bruce Wayne and only inhabit the world of the Batman.

A Tale of Batman – Gotham by Gaslight begins in world of dreams with the comic opening in a monochrome palette with Batman recounting his parents’ murder to Freud. Like Batman 32, nature is more important than architecture is this first scene. But in contrast to Batman 32, we leave the dream world and move into a world of wide shots filled with complex color, architecture and traditional perspective drawing.

In Batman 395, Batman 32 and the beginning of Tale of Batman, Batman finds himself outside of Gotham City.  395 takes place in Mexico, 32 in Hungary and Tale of Batman in Vienna and London. The worlds of these three Batman comics are filled with horror or horrible creatures. In contrast, Rainbow Batman is much lighter fare reminiscent of the wisecracking live action TV Batman and Robin.

Rainbow Batman is text heavy and filled with perspective following architecture.  Rainbow Batman’s world is not a moody world of fairy tale. His Gotham is crowded and chaotic with most scenes happening in the daytime (or night lit as if it were day).  Rainbow Batman like his world is not as dark and mysterious as the Batman in we meet in Batman 32.

Only Rainbow Batman works with his sidekick Robin. Batman 395 has Robin in the issue but his story is separate from Batman’s.  So far in my reading Batman with a sidekick is less serious than Batman, the loner.

A Tale of Batman has the most sophisticated paneling using different color stories, camera angles and innovative use of text. Batman 32, 241 and 395 make use mainly of two and three panels across. In general, the later the Batman the more interesting the paneling is.

My favorite of the Batman comics so far are Batman by Gaslight because of its exquisite artwork and interesting Freudian/Jack the Ripper story and Rainbow Batman for its downright campiness. I understand these two stories are at the most extreme ends of the Batman arc.  One celebrating a Batman who takes himself oh so seriously conversing with Freud later accused of being Jack the Ripper and the other changing his costume more than Madonna in an 80s concert including a black and white target and a multi-color cape and tight ensemble. But that is the fun of Batman just like in the films he ranges from Clooney to Keaton, Kilmer to West, and of course Christian Bale in the heavy handed 3D Dark Knight. Because no matter how serious or silly, as David Cronenberg said, 'It's still Batman running around in a stupid cape.'



Reflections Paper - The Strength of Sita

I got interested in Sita after I saw the movie "Sita Sings the Blues".  Here are some stills for the film.

I wrote this paper on Sita for the online class I am taking on the Southeast Asian Goddess class at LMU with Laura Amazzone.  I didn't like how she presented Sita although I love this class.  This paper is my attempt at a rebuttal on the class lecture.

Reflection Paper -  The Strength of Sita

There is more to Sita than the docile servile wife presented in many books, articles and our class lecture.  This winter while travelling in India, I met many Sitas.  Women who worked, raised children, and strived to be the perfect wives. Many making their food by hand to put unprocessed nutritious meals on dinner tables every night regardless of their exhaustion from a hard day’s work. Home in California, my cousin Mary is a model of Sita. A single mother, she raised a highly intelligent, loving and compassionate son by herself.  When everyone in the family told her at nineteen she was too young to be a mother and begged her to have an abortion, she didn’t listen and took on the challenge of motherhood and succeeded. Her forest was Southern California.  Her ashram was Inglewood. Her Valmikis were her mother, her best friend Ann, and I.
"As I reflect, I see Sita, more than any other character, is an integral part of the Indian woman's psyche. At every stage of an Indian woman's life, her name is invoked. I find it amazing that one great epic written by a poet thousands of years ago has shaped and continues to shape and reshape the thinking of an entire culture. And, how certain aspects of a character have been emphasized more than others to suit the political and societal norms of the day. They have been understood or misunderstood to manage relationships through control and power." [1]Anju Bhargava,

Sita has a number of admirable traits. Sita stood up to her husband Rama’s accusations of infidelity by volunteering to go through a test of fire. This trial by fire was not an act of sati but one of strength and subversion. Rama didn’t believe Sita was faithful, and Sita proved her innocence in a truly shocking and powerful way.  Sita raised her sons as a single mother in the forest and they turned out to be wonderful, smart boys.  Sita loved Rama so much and didn’t care that she was the one in the relationship who loved more steadfastly.  Lastly, when Rama asked too much and proved truly unworthy, Sita went back to the earth and away from him and his toxicity. Sita could have gone back in the earth during any of her ordeals in the Ramayana, but she chose not to. She lived life and exited it on her own terms.  That’s praiseworthy.  That’s how I want to live my life.
"It is clear in the Ramayana that Sita is no mere human being.  Her birth is supernatural, and her abilities and appearance are exalted throughout the text." [2]David R. Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986),  68.

Because I am unable to read the Ramayana in the original Sanskrit, in this reflections paper I have used three translations of the Ramayana – Buck, Subramaniam and Menon in an attempt not to be biased by one translator.  I also have used some quotes and interpretations I have found on the internet and in the suggested reading on the course’s syllabus to back up my interpretation of Sita, which is different than what was presented in the lecture.

Sita – Test by Fire
In the Ramayana, after Rama defeats the demon Ravana who had kidnapped Sita, Ram explains to Sita that her reputation is now stained and tells her their marriage is over. Ram elucidates that he is of noble birth and cannot be married to a tainted woman. He expands that he is indifferent to her and it even pains him to look at her. He has fought and defeated Ravana only for the sake of dharma and did not come to Lanka to be reunited with her.

Sita rebukes Rama in the following speech, and as you will see, this in no speech of a docile woman. “My lord, ordinary men will talk thus to ordinary women.  But you are no ordinary being and yet it has pleased you too use such harsh words to me … Because of the behavior of some low-minded women you have made up your mind to condemn entire womanhood . . . .You are in no way different from an ordinary man who lets anger gain the upper hand in his mind.  In your eyes my womanhood appears to be at fault.  In your anger you seem to have forgotten that I come of a noble House too, that of Janaka.  I was born of the earth and you, well-versed as you are in Dharma, do not seem to pay any heed to my ancestry though you seem to remember your own very well.  You once took my hand in yours and made me your wife.  You have forgotten that I have been a good wife to you and I have been devoted to you. You seem to have forgotten that too . . . Rama considers that I am tainted. May Agni announce to the world that purity that is Sita.  If it is true that I am conversant with all Dharmas and have been true to Rama in thought, word and indeed, if the sun, the moon, the god of wind, the four quarters, the day and the night, and the earth, my mother, know the fact that I am sinless, then may Agni protect me.” [3]Kamala Subramanian, Ramayana (Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2012), 640-64.

Sita’s speech shows her strength and self-assuredness. Because she does not fear fire,  she will go through fire to prove herself to Rama.  This is not the act of a submissive woman but of a powerful goddess, an avatar of Lakshmi to Rama’s avatar of Vishnu. I love how she calls on the sun, the moon, the wind, the day and the night and the end her mother the earth.  She is fierce, she is self-confident and rooted in all of nature and the elements.

Sita Abandoned

After the ordeal by fire, Rama accepts Sita again as his wife.  Unfortunately, after ruling some time, he again reproaches her. “Back in Ayodhya, however, when everyone was living happily ever after and the glorious era of Ramrajya is under way Rama hears that his citizens are gossiping about Sita and are unhappy that he accepted her back after she was under Ravana’s control. To stop this gossip and to set a stainless example for his subjects, Rama decides to banish Sita from his kingdom, even though he has learned of her pregnancy.  He commands his brother Lakshmana to take Sita to a deserted place and abandon her.” 4  David R. Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986),  74.

This in one Rama’s most shameful acts and he does not even have the guts to do it himself but leaves it to his ever obedient younger brother.  Even Lakshmana does not respect Rama’s decision.  “Lakshmana replied (to Sita), ‘In fear of scandal, like a coward Rama now uses this journey as the pretext to abandon you here in the woods.”  5 William Buck, Ramayana, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 394.

But Sita, ever resilient says to Lakshmana, “I know you must leave me here, as your brother has commanded.  But tell him from me that I will pray for him every day, as I have always done. For who else can save him from the curse that must fall on him, for what he has done to me today?” 6 Ramesh Menon, The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic (New York: North Point Press, 2001),  601.

Sita’s response to Lakshmana shows again her amazing fortitude. She knows she is in the right and that Rama is going to be cursed for her reprehensible abandonment, but, she follows her dharma and goes into the forest never complaining but with her eyes wide open.

Sita raises her sons in Valmiki’s ashram.  When she arrives, Valmiki says, “This is Rama’s wife. Sita is sinless, but her husband has abandoned her in the forest for what his people say about her. Look after her; she is more than what any of us realize.” 7. Ramesh Menon, The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic (New York: North Point Press, 2001), 603.

It is up to us to imagine what Sita did for fourteen years in the Ashram. Certainly, a great story.  I discovered on the internet that at least one person has written an account.  What we do know from the Ramayana is that as a single mother Sita raises two brilliant sons;   a testament to her fortitude.  Sita’s time in the ashram is a period of personal growth.  This is the first time in her adult life that she is separated from Rama and she forms her singular Sita identity.  

Sita returns to the Earth

Valmiki composes the Ramayana and teaches it to Sita’s sons Lava and Kusha. Later, Rama holds a festival, where the boys recite the Ramayana for king Rama.  When Rama hears the story he realizes the boys are his son and laments. “For twenty-five days, Lava and Kusa sang the Ramayana for Rama and all the others who had come to his aswamedha yagna, When the singing was over, Rama called for some messengers and said to them, ‘Go to the Muni Valmiki’s asrama, and if Sita is found to be pure, let her come here to our yagna.  Let her take an oath in this yagnashala that she is untainted and that Lava and Kusa are my sons.’” 8 Ramesh Menon, The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic (New York: North Point Press, 2001), 648.

Valmiki is angry that Rama needs to again test Sita. Valmiki addressed Rama and the crowd and says, “Rama, you abandoned this Sita, who is purity itself, near my asrama.  You were afraid of what the world thought of her and said of her.  Why, it seems to me you doubt her yourself, that you ask her to come here and swear an oath.” 9 Ramesh Menon, The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic (New York: North Point Press, 2001), 649.  Valmiki is expressing the opinion of the reader who is truly feed up with Rama’s treatment of Sita.

After being called out by Valmiki, Rama replies somewhat disingenuously, “Muni, I never doubted Sita’s purity.  I beg you, do not accuse me of a sin I never committed, to add to the one that I did.  Indeed, I did banish my queen for fear of what the people were saying about her, but then, my lord, I am king, and my first and final dharma is toward my people. It would never have done for them to have doubted their king, for even a moment: that he was weak and took back a tainted woman…I have no doubt Lava and Kusa are my sons. Let all those gathered here for the aswamedha have no doubt about my love not only for my sons, but for my wife Sita.  I beg her to forgive me for the anguish I have caused her, and now, for the sake of our son’s future, to swear her oath before this sabha of rishis and kings and also the people who doubted her.” 10 Ramesh Menon, The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic (New York: North Point Press, 2001), 649.

Sita comes to the palace without anger and accepts another test to prove her innocence.  But this new Sita has been changed by motherhood and her time in the ashram.  “Then Sita stepped a little away from him and said, “Mother Earth, if I have been faithful to Rama take me home, hide me! Earth rolled and moved beneath our feet. With a great rumbling noise, the ground broke apart near Sita and a deep chasm opened…On that throne sat Mother Earth. . . She was patient with seasons and with kings and farmers; she endured all things and bore no line of care from it.  But this was the end of her long patience with Rama… Then she stretched out her arms and took her only child Sita on her lap. She folded her beautiful arms around her daughter and laid Sita’s head softly against her shoulder as a mother would. Earth stroked her hair with her fair hands, and Sita closed her eyes like a little girl.  The throne sank back underground and they were all gone…The gods spoke, “Well done, Oh Sita. Praise to you.” 11 William Buck, Ramayana, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976),  415.

Sita does not come back to Rama’s to be his wife. Her mother, Mother Earth, gives her the love and comfort that Rama has not been able to provide. The other gods praise her for her defiant answer to his last test of purity. She proves her pureness but in her proof, she rejects him by disappearing into the earth away from the ever questioning Rama and leaves him to finish the rearing of their children by himself, and in addition, leaves him to have a statue as a queen not a real woman.  The paradox of Rama: is in his quest to be the perfect king he does wrong by the people who love him most, first Sita and later with the death of Lakshmana by his own impetuous words.

Sita-Ram aka Shiva-Shakti

The Ramayana is a tragic love story. Sita loves Rama and Rama loves Sita.  They together form a whole Sita-Ram.  When we dwell on Sita’s devotion to Ram and forget Ram’s devotion to Sita it becomes a half story and a half truth. Sita’s love is the purest while Rama’s love waivers, but they both love intensely.

This is just one quote of many to show how upset Rama is when Sita is kidnapped. “Doubly traumatic is the situation later in the forest when Sita is kidnapped and separated from Rama. At one point Rama is reduced to a blubbering, half-maddened wreck and must be returned to sobriety by the appeals of his brother Lakshmana, who tells him it is unmanly and improper to lament so.” 12 David R. Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 70.

When Sita and Rama return to the palace before his love is turned by the gossip of his citizens.  Sita and Rama enjoy a beautiful married life where they perform their separate duties but always come back to each other and spend a lot of time together. “Thus their time passed. Rama would spend half his day attending to the affairs of the kingdom; then would come to Sita in their garden. She, for her part, would spend her mornings seeing to her domestic chores, and especially looking after the needs of her three mothers-in-law, without favor or distinction.  Then she would keep her daily assignation with Rama in the charmed grove.” 13 Ramesh Menon, The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic (New York: North Point Press, 2001), 597

Sita needs Rama and Rama needs Sita. “In the Ramayana, however, it is not only Rama who acts, as the hero, to restore and maintain the powers of fertility, but it is Sita, as a goddess, in the mode of sakti, “energy” who actually instigates the action herself, forcing the hero again and again to acts of heroism.  Without Sita there would be no story, not simply because she is a passive victim requiring rescue, but rather because she is instrumental throughout the epic in making the critical events of the story occur.” 14 John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India (Boston: Beacon Press, 1982), 219.

In conclusion, I have heard many times in my life as a yogini the mantra Sita-Ram.  The mantra is not Ram alone but Sita-Ram.  The mantra is not Hanuman-Ram but Sita-Ram.  Again the mantra is not Lakshmana-Ram but Sita-Ram because the two of them are the story of the Ramayana, not one alone. “…Ram and Sita are to be regarded as one being, her virtue the source of his power…Thus, Sita, who in one dimension is the dutiful and obedient wife of Rama, may also be viewed as a goddess whose power is the source of earth’s fertility and as the sakti of the hero Rama whose energy motivates him to perform feats of heroism and whose fidelity underlies the strength and enduring qualities of his reign as king. United with the hero/god, Sita is the source and support of the continuing prosperity of the world, as symbolized in the extraordinary qualities of the rule of Rama, his divine ten-thousand year reign” 15 John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India (Boston: Beacon Press, 1982). 221-223.
"Those who see in Sita a willing slave under Rama do not realize the loftiness of either her independence or Rama’s consideration for her in everything. Sita was no helpless, weak woman incapable of protecting herself or her honour." 16 Mahatma Gandhi, Harijan, 2-5-1936, p. 93

Let’s not underappreciate Sita or believe that all the women worshipping her do so because they want to be docile wives.  Maybe they see the strength in Sita, like I do, like Gandhi did and they are looking for that attribute too, as well as many others, when they invoke her name.