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I have heard many questions about why we even need temples. God is said to be omnipresent, he is everywhere. Let me answer by saying this, air is everywhere, but we still need a fan to feel that air. God is everywhere, but we need a mandir to feel God’s presence.
As a result of this Hindu diaspora, 10,000 miles away from its motherland, these temples have become a sanctuary for prayer. Beyond that, mandirs provide a haven for celebrations, festivals, customs, and the continuation of our heritage. These temples help fill the void of a united Hindu community for Indian immigrants.
And today, while the temples continue to fill this void, they also address the phenomena of Hindus born away from their ancestral home. The need to perpetuate the Hindu philosophy to the new generation was felt throughout the nation and classes to impart Vedic knowledge sprung up everywhere. Thus, mandirs became a center of learning.
And yet, while these great strides were made mostly by first generation Hindu-Americans, the wheel of time continues to turn, and it will soon come time for a new generation to take over the reins of leadership of Hindu mandirs and organizations and expand them to adequately fulfill the needs of an ever growing population. It is for this reason that that the Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference (HMEC) was convened. This was not to reminisce upon the past, but to envision the future. The purpose of the conference is to build a better future, a future that continues to be protected by the umbrella of Sanatana Dharma.
But as we approach this future, over the next few years, we must ensure that temples do not become simply architectural marvels for society to gawk at while passing from the road. Temples must retain their sanctity. Returning to my analogy of the fan, no matter how expensive a fan might be, if it is not plugged in, it will do no good. Similarly, temples must remain connected to their source of energy, Bhagwan, through the continuity of religious practices and social service. Manav seva is Madhav seva. Service to man, is service to God.
The purpose of the HMECis to understand these concerns and the rapidly changing needs that our community faces. As our numbers continue to grow and our age spectrum continues to broaden, it will be necessary to make changes in the way the mandir is a part of our lives. For the torchbearers of Hindu tradition and current leaders of Hindu temples, it is now time to search for the protectors of this legacy in the future. And for college and high school students, such as myself, it is now time to understand the rich and vast culture that we are charged with sustaining. It is time for an active effort to enfranchise and empower the next generation of leaders.
And the conference has done just that. We, the youth of this community, we, the future of this community now stand united, with a clear understanding of what we must do. Throughout this conference we have voiced our opinions about these mandirs, throughout this conference we have learned the value of these mandirs, and throughout this conference we have made these mandirs our own. Now it is up to us to take the torch passed to us by our role models, the first generation Hindu-Americans, and ensure its flame of Hindu unity and spiritual prosperity is everlasting.
Let me end with the theme of the conference which comes from the Rig Veda:
Greetings from Kauai's Hindu Monastery in Hawaii, where we publish Hinduism Today. As we sit at the Houston Intercontinental Airport waiting for our flight home, we are reflecting on the 5th HMEC we just attended in Houston. CHY did a wonderful job of participating and putting yourselves forward there.
A Letter to Parents by CHY posted May 26, 2010
Dear Mom and Dad,
I certainly don’t have to tell you that it is a challenge raising a well-balanced Hindu-American child. And I know it sounds a bit strange that your childless child is talking about challenges in parenting, but this time, in this one instance, I can confidently say I know what I am talking about…because as difficult as it was for you to raise a Hindu-American child, it was just as challenging being a Hindu-American child.
And now, as you look to continue nurturing our family, please, listen to what my experiences have taught the collective “us.” Raising us right starts young. If you want to see us blossom into successful, confident Hindu American people, you have to instill those values and teachings in us from a tender age. Take us to shloka classes, enroll us in bal vihars, send us to camps. Don’t take no for an answer! Remember, you’re our parents, not our friends—you can’t always give us our way. If you inculcate good values in us at a tender age, those values can then be nurtured andtended until they blossom into something spectacular. Impart in us a love for art. Teach us music, teach us dance, teach us to thirst for knowledge, to love and desire knowledge.
And along with all those values, teach us about where we’re from. Teach us about our heritage, about the richness of our culture, about the heroes of yesteryear, about the elegance of our customs, about the immeasurable sums of knowledge amassed by our sages—teach us about us. But don’t just tell us to learn. You have to make the effort too. So yes, teach us about our roots, but at the same time, learn about our roots yourself! Lead by example. If you are involved, immersed, engrossed in your heritage, in being the best person, the best Hindu you can be…that, THAT, will speak volumes in its own right. Teaching us by your own example is the single most powerful thing you can impart.
But through all of this, don’t forget that we are living in America, and American is something that we cannot stop being, no matter what. So it’s okay to give us American lunches. It’s okay that sometimes we are embarrassed to bring Indian food to school, or wear a kurta in public. It’s okay that we listen to American songs. It’s okay that we want to go over to our friends’ houses. Let us! Keeping us isolated from the culture and society we live in will only serve to create hostility and resentment towards you and your culture. That’s not what we want.
So don’t forget—yes we are Hindu. But we are also American. We are incomplete and at a disadvantage, a loss, without either of these facets. Help us take the best from both of these worlds. Help us meld them into the most powerful, the most effervescent, the most regal and commanding identity we could create. Help us realize that our tradition, our heritage, and our spirit is something to be proud of, and you will assuredly raise a confident, well adjusted person.
~your loving child~
--a letter produced by youth in CHY
by Keya Bhatt
posted May 21, 2010
In Temple as a Child and Youth
Growing up, going to the Mandir was not an option for me. My parents regarded going to the Mandir just as important as going to school. I knew that if it was Sunday morning, we had to be at the Mandir. My sister and I would take part in singing the shlokas and bhajan. Initially, I went due to the request of my parents. It was a way of life for us that I just didn’t question. After some time, I actually started enjoying these activities. Slowly, I realized that these programs knowingly and unknowingly left Hindu Samskars on my consciousness.
Youth in Social Environment
At home, I was raised in a completely traditional environment. We were as “Indian” as it got with eating Gujarati food everyday, doing Aarti/Puja on a daily basis, celebrating the festivals, and conversing in our language. The importance of the efforts of my parents for creating such an environment at home became evident during high school when I was surrounded by the western culture and especially the concept of “dating.” I had American friends asking me if I was allowed to date (and especially date outside the Hindu community). The thought of dating had not even crossed my mind, primarily due to my upbringing.
As I entered college, I started realizing my identity. I discovered myself and solidified my thoughts and beliefs, all of which tied back to how I was raised. I participated more in the Mandir, completely at my personal desire (without the request or influence of my parents). I became involved in Balagokulam and then became the Youth Coordinator for our Chetana Group (Youth Group). I felt that only after I was comfortable and confident with my true Hindu identity that could I pass that on to other children. When working with the Youth Group, I found it quite interesting yet rather challenging to foster the desire to become a strong Hindu within these Youth. I looked back at when I was in their age and quite possibly coming to the Mandir only at the request of the parents. However, I also looked at my experience and realized that without these programs and persistent efforts, I would not be who I am today. Therefore, I find it most beneficial to attract Youth to the Mandir and involve them in Mandir programs. Similar to my experience, these efforts will knowingly and unknowingly leave Hindu Samskars with these children.
Mine and Arpit's Understanding and Decision
After graduating from college and working in the professional world for some time, I felt it was time to settle down. It was when some of my Hindu friends that I grew up with were getting engaged and married to non-Hindus that I realized how far that was from what I believed in. My family never said anything bad about marrying a non-Hindu, instead they always helped me understand why should I marry a Hindu. In order to fully continue to practice and sustain my ancestors heritage and teachings and what I had learned up to this point, choosing the right life partner became increasingly important. Choosing a life partner who was Hindu was completely obvious to me. Perhaps the ease of making this decision was due to my upbringing. I was certain that choosing a Hindu life partner with similar values and beliefs was the right thing for me. Therefore, I was quite open to having my parents introduce me to potential individuals that they knew of that may be right for me. The mutual understanding between my parents and me allowed them the comfort of knowing that I would make the right decision. I found Arpit. His beliefs and upbringing was similar to mine. It did not take long to realize that we
matched well together. After meeting of the families, it was decided to set a wedding date of October 11th, 2008.
Role of Temple for Future Generations
As I enter a new stage in life, I reflect back to how I got here today. My childhood, adolescence, parents, surroundings, and Mandir all played a vital role in creating my identity. As I think about someday raising my own children, I can’t help but think of similarities between the ways I was raised to my concept of parenting. Mandir plays an essential part in the development of young Hindu searching for his/her identity. Youth have a desire to be Hindu but sometimes they do not know the right ways and might not have an outlet to express their inner spiritual potential. It is important for temples to come up with simple texts and discussion material for future generations, which explains the importance of marrying in the Hindu fold. Temples can come up with vrat and upavas that can be practiced by youth groups collectively in the temples, for example collective Gauri vrat or Shiva-Parvati puja for young girls. Mandirs should be able to provide a place of learning and for worship. They also need to be a place where youth are able to seek comfort and answers when they are on their spiritual quest. The young Hindu who has that established place in his/her life will grow up to be a strong and vibrant Hindu, an example for others.
Post Your Own Entry:
Another difficulty I see in Dave ji’s reflections is in accepting ‘all other religions’, while ‘seeking our own’. There are at least two logical errors in such assertion. First, it assumes that Hinduism is a religion like any other religion in the USA or the West. However, Hinduism is not limited to religious living in the Western sense. Hinduism permeates every activity of life and society. There is a reason for this – it ‘knows’ and insists on the practices that connect the living creatures, the material universe, and the unseen Almighty (jeeva-jagat-Ishwara). Moreover, even the religion part of Hinduism is at odds with almost all other, particularly Semitic, religions. The Vedas’ key thread is that the Almighty, beyond anyone’s mental grasp, exists in completeness in every tiniest thing anywhere and everywhere in the universe and beyond. Each creature, including the human, has this Divinity within. To see That in oneself and in any other is the saga of Hindu life. Almost all other ‘religions’ reject this very basis of Hindu thought. Worse, this very basis of Hindu thought is blasphemy in the Semitic faiths. Then, why and how must a Hindu accept ‘all other religions’, except by seeing them as childish aberrations or by altering the very basis of the Hindu thought, i.e., by become a non-Hindu?
The second logical error in Dave ji’s assertion is blurring the difference between light and darkness. Since both are part of nature, both must be accepted, so goes the argument. The religions of the darkness claim that the Divinity does not exist here – It exists yonder beyond the universe, way out there in the Heaven, whatever it means. The Vedic Rishis would term such claim as stemming from the plain ignorance of the arrogant mind; the Hindu smritikaaras would have labeled it as naasthikavaad. All the Semitic faiths and some strands of Buddhism are indeed naasthika faiths. Why should such naasthika faiths be accepted as valid spiritual paths? We may parrot such falsehood only if we are afraid to utter the truth or we are in politics seeking votes and approvals. If real spiritual pursuit is the over-riding aim of any life (I think it is), such a creature must recognize all the religions and prophets of darkness as unfit for real spiritual growth. If 3-4 billion humans adhere to such religions, a Hindu sees in them only their karma at play – their numbers and loud assertions in no way prove them to be true and valid spiritual paths. If one accepts such religions as true or final and denies the existence of the Almighty in the fellow creatures and thereby fashions a life based on such denial, a Hindu must recognize that such a religion is unfit for ushering in vasidhava kutumbakam. Man exploiting nature and fellow man (and woman), several hundreds of million murders through colonization, wars and man-made famines, slavery of the most abject kind from the ancient Greek times to modern white-collar jobs in capitalistic MNCs, and the new exploitative world order championed by the USA – all these are the gifts of the religions of the darkness. I refuse to equate them and elevate them to the divine Hindu thought and Hindu way of life. Those who insist on such illogical logic are either ignorant of the science of logic, truth, and Hindu foundations, or are in the business of seeking some material gain that will be necessarily short-lived.
I would like to point out two corrections.
(1) In "Beyond that, mandirs provide a haven for celebrations, festivals,.." I assume the author meant "Heaven".
(2) A very common mistake is to say "Vasudeva Kutumbhakam"; the correct Sanskrit phrase is "Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam". Vasudeva is the name of Bhagwan Krishna's father so Vasudeva Kutumbkam would literarily mean, Krishna's father is the family. Vasudhaiva is a combination of two words- Vasudha (earth) and Eva (indeed) thus the translation Universe is indeed a family.
Gaurang G. Vaishnav
Executive Vice President
VHP of America