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Interfaith Seva: A Call to Serve in Kentucky

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Kentucky's Gubernatorial candidate's deplorable anti-Hindu remarks reflect an education and understanding gap. Many Hindus, including those at Hindu American Seva Charities, believe the answer is a call to action to serve. We need to build bridges of understanding in Kentucky and around the world.

The history of our country is E Pluribus Unum -- out of many one. These times call for Hindus and people of all faiths to come together and turn the narrative around. We can make this moment, an opportunity for generating better understanding of our culture and heritage through seva -- interfaith seva. We can show Kentucky and the world what Hindu values are and bring the divine, godly qualities to the forefront. (The root word for divine is the Sanskrit word divya).

On Nov. 6 in New York we did just that with a Diwali commemoration of 9/11 with 3,000 lights highlighting victory of goodness over evil and light of knowledge.

We can honor all the teachers and educators with tilaka -- GuruSeva. On Veterans Day, we can honor the veterans/military and invite our neighbors to come to our homes and temples and learn about our faith, yoga, traditions, food, our very way of life. It is imperative we keep the Diwali light of knowledge and goodness burning brightly. Let us shower the world with Hindu acts of kindness, at every occasion, every festival with UtsavSeva.

Phil Goldberg, in his "American Veda," has rightly documented the contribution of the Vedic Hindu thought to America's spirituality and well-being. We Hindus are the people of illustrious heritage of yoga, meditation, of highest concepts of spirituality, of Mahatma Gandhi's non-violence, of Ayurveda (golistic health concepts) and so much more. Today yoga is ubiquitous and accepted everywhere and it is as much a Hindu spiritual practice as putting a tilak for the ground breaking ceremony. Its roots are undeniably in Vedic Hindu tradition. Let us take control of our own narrative and bring the positives to the forefront. We are proud to be Hindus and these sort of comments cannot take away the great contribution of our culture to the global societies. Let us work collaboratively with people of all faiths to serve all and solve the problems of the country.

Like most righteous people, Hindus and those of other faiths, Hindu America Seva Charities is appalled at the lack of acceptance and tolerance displayed by the Republican candidate, David Williams, when he criticized Governor Beshear for taking part in a Hindu groundbreaking ceremony of an India based company that is undertaking the construction of a $180 million manufacturing plant and promises 250 jobs in Kentucky. Williams, a state senator, criticized the governor's involvement in the ceremony as an act of "idol worshiping" which is against his faith.

We do find it deplorable that Hindus are seen by some fundamentalist leaders as "idol" worshipers, with a strong negative connotation. Therefore, it becomes important for us to explain what is Murti, a core element of Hinduism. Hindus believe that God is transcendent (beyond everything) as well as immanent (in everything), i.e., omni-present, everywhere, in everyone and everything, including all humans, animals, birds, trees, the oceans and so forth. Murtis were envisioned and created, by our rishis (ancient ones) in deep meditation, to help humans focus their minds on something tangible. A murti becomes a symbol of divine quality or qualities. The ultimate purpose of murti puja is to facilitate meditation and to promote harmony and brotherhood. It is impossible for humans to conceive of the transcendent God. Whatever human mind could imagine about God, would be deficient and flawed. Therefore, Hindu sages approved of images, expecting that it will help the common person to connect to God. Our scriptures say that Murti worship would be meaningless if the worshiper does not think of the transcendent God (Srimad Bhagavatam 3.29).

Perhaps it is good that the xenophobia that many Hindus have faced, and still face, is coming to the surface in political forums. In many ways, the silence is being broken and it needs to be dealt with in a way that helps our country and our diverse communities. Yes, Hindus must deal with it publicly. And it is important for us to mitigate the colonization impact and strengthen the Hindu American identity on many fronts -- through education, through interfaith collaboration and through seva (volunteer community service).

As we see it, Seva is our community social responsibility which enables (and ennobles) our youth and adults to put their faith in action and be better understood -- people to people. Hindu American Seva Charities is trying to do just that and help our youth not only feel comfortable in their faith skins, but be proud of their heritage. As one example: In Wichita, Kan., after 9/11 some Hindu kids were abused and called Osama's kids. The Hindu temple is afraid to put a sign outside. Lately, on HASC's initiative, Rema Venkatsubban, working as AmeriCorps VISTA, engaged many youth and adults to build interfaith bridges on many fronts, feed the homeless and bring the issues to the political decision makers to help diffuse the "otherness." This Seva was aptly highlighted by Asim Mishra, Deputy Chief of Staff, Corporation for National and Community Service

In Minneapolis, the Hindu Temple was vandalized by youths. The temple authorities, led by Drs. Shashikant and Kumud Sane (who later became HASC's AmeriCorp VISTA), were instrumental in bringing healing:

"The Hindu community rallied together, made certain that the vandals were apprehended and tried in the court of law. After the two young men pleaded guilty to their heinous acts of "Stupidity" as they described, the leadership of the Hindu Society appeared on behalf of these two young men and pleaded for the punishment which included a suspended sentences where the youngsters can pursue the life of productive citizen, rather than becoming hardened criminals through a long jail sentence. Of course for that the youngsters had to choose the right path of performing community service in the very temple that they had damaged. The entire American Society was privileged to see the Hindu Values of truth, Non-violence, Love & Compassion expressed in real life through these actions of the Hindu Community."

Let our call to action be for building communities, for becoming the problem solvers of critical problems facing our country and create more jobs like those in Elizabethtown. Hindu American Seva Charities urges all to turn the narrative to show the world the true Hindu spirit of ahimsa and seva!

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