So, it’s been awhile, and you’re probably wondering what we’ve been up to.
Let’s have an auspicious beginning: Diwali: the Hindu New Year, which usually falls in October or November. This popular Hindu holiday is often celebrated by people of diverse (or no) faiths; in 2009, Anju discussed Diwali with Talking Faith at America.gov and gave the lovely explanation that Diwali lights symbolize the search for knowledge and goodness. In January, the better-known New Year, we got our year started right with a White House conference call with Hindu community and by taking part in MLK Day Celebrations.
In addition to being the first Hindu-American to serve on this council, Anju stays engaged in her local community, becoming the first Hindu woman to lead the New Jersey State Assembly invocation prayer. It is important for Hindus to foster outreach to and understanding with the greater community. At over 2.2 million, Hindus in America now form the fifth largest religious group, after Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. However Hindus are often not well understood by the majority of their peers. And as new Americans, we often do not know how to fully engage with our communities and the government to have productive dialogue, address our needs and to harness our talents to serve America.
We’re working on it.
At the 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service, Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation: A New Faith-based Approach to Civic Engagement, Anju was part of an unlikely team drawn from diverse groups across civil society that gathered to explore a new approach to faith-based work. The focus was on interfaith action and service in the public, using social entrepreneurship and innovation as guiding principles. As Hindus, we have valuable contributions to make to our communities and country. We start by exploring, enlivening and strengthening our own communities.
We presented HASC report to Dalai Lama, Swami Chidananda and many Dharmic spiritual leaders at Hindu Encyclopedia preview, and traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to take part in the Bhutanese Empowerment Conference, which addressed challenges and solutions for this recent immigrant population in the USA. While we are called “Hindu” American Seva Charities, we support and partner with many diverse groups focused on dialogue, pluralism and social equity. We also want to engage in outreach with “mainstream” American.
Many aspects of Hindu/Indian Subcontinent culture are already familiar to American society, and these cultural bridges can help start deeper dialogue. In this spirit, and as part of President Obama’s United We Serve initiative and the President’s Active Lifestyle Challenge, Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC), along with many volunteers, led the first nationwide Yogathon on Sunday, August 29, 2010 at temples, ashrams, and spiritual centers. This mobilized Hindu faith-based organizations to respond to the President’s call-to-service. As part of United We Serve: Let's Read. Let's Move, we utilized yoga as a tool to promote physical activity, healthy living and peace of mind. HASC developed powerpoint presentation to help bring in-culture understanding of the Vedantic Hindu meaning of Yoga and of the multi-faceted Vedic Hinduism.
More than 100 sites – temples, ashrams, spiritual centers - in 23 states held free yoga classes; thousands of participants came to the classes held across the nation. You can read some of the Yogathon stories here.
Coming together as communities is also important when we have to face challenges. 9/11 is the anniversary of terrible attacks which changed our nation forever; it is also the anniversary of older events, which altered our world for the better. Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement started in South Africa on September 11, 1906, the launch of the modern Non-Violent Resistance Movement, which inspired America’s Civil Rights movement. It was also on September 11, in 1893, that Swami Vivekananda, the first Hindu saintly leader to come to America, addressed the first World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. This year, 9/11 also fell on the lunar festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival to honor the remover of all obstacles. Hindu-American communities observed the 9/11 National Day of Remembrance and Service by reaching out to their communities with prayer and seva:service.
In the last year of working on these outreach projects, we have realized that, as Hindu-Americans, we have a heritage of powerful, peaceable actions, a curiosity to innovate, and a drive to help others. This national civic engagement is new to us, and we often aren’t sure how to proceed. We explore what it means to be “Hindu,” what it means to be “American,” and what it means to do “seva.” We are continually learning, and we’re looking forward to where it will take us next.