The White House celebrated Diwali invoking the spiritual significance for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists, and recognized the contributions of the Dharmic community. The White House also highlighted its efforts to reach out and include the community in the government process and in service.
President Obama remarked:
"This summer the White House hosted its first ever convening to promote community partnerships around seva and we have a service supporter here. Diwali, it is a time for reflection and remembrance of those in need. With so many Americans facing challenge it is important for us to remember our obligation to humanity and to one another. ...It is on behalf of the American people and with the hope that each of us will renew our commitment to serve our neighbors, I invite the priest Narayanachar Digalakote to lead us into prayer and light the Diwali diya."
President Obama brought together faith and multicultural acceptance to the faith based council and to our nation. Hinduism exemplifies the American ideal of "E Pluribus Unum," -- "out of many, one." The foundation of the Indian civilization is based on the ancient Vedic scripture: "Ekam Sat, Vipraha bahuda vadanti," meaning, "The Truth is One. The Realized Ones describe the One Truth in several ways." Celebrating the most auspicious day for Hindus is truly a celebration of the common ideals that we as a nation cherish.
Hindu American Seva Charities is honored at the recognition it received for developing the seva (service) capacity in the Hindu American community. Personally, it was humbling to have the President of the United States take note of our effort. As I mentioned at the White House, I do believe, now, we have succeeded in creating a national voice where there was none when we celebrated Diwali at the White House for the first time in 2009 with President Obama. A paradigm shift of inclusion has occurred! And we have demonstrated how we Hindu Americans can strengthen America globally. Our seva voice has proved that we are ready to tackle difficult tasks facing our country, every step of the way. We are now spurring a new generation of Hindu volunteers, our future leaders. The celebration of service during festivals or UtsavSeva, is one way we are accomplishing this.
Paul Monterio, Associate Director, Office of Public Engagement recognized HASC's effort to be a catalyst for change though seva and to energize community service. He said the seva conference was one of the longest ones held at the White House, and one of the most productive days, covering a broad scope as it was the Dharmic community's first such engagement. The White House confirmed they will host the next annual seva conference in 2012. And, again, the primary emphasis will be on youth participation and leadership development.
Joshua DuBois, Director, Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships has reached out to many Dharmic organizations. He recognized our services and his support for the creation of Hindu American Seva Charities. He concurred with the need to develop seva capacity such as through seva centers. He explained that his office is charged with working with not-for profits, secular or faith-based, who deliver service to people in need. He invited the community to seek ways to partner with the government. In 2012, HASC will work with his office to organize an educational workshop for the community.
In just two years President Obama, Joshua DuBois and Paul Monterio have helped us energize Dharmic seva and impact change in America and broad. In the first Hindu seva conference held at the White House this summer, they helped recognize us as Hindu-Americans, an identity created in the spirit of the American tradition. This historic event highlighted the needs of the community, and offered the potential for vast service opportunities for Hindus to engage all across America. By developing seva centers in temples, ashrams and college campuses, Hindu Americans can serve our needs and that of the community at large. It also highlighted the importance of interfaith cooperation in today's America.
Asim Mishra, Deputy Chief of Staff, Corporation for National and Community Service explained CNCS is an agency which creates service opportunities. He said his Hindu upbringing gave him the moral direction -- duty to oneself and to the community and of taking action in ways that light and truth prevailed, which in essence is Diwali. He said the country needs everyone to serve. "The Dharmic community is leading great work that will -- in the words of President Obama -- win the future by out-educating, out-building and out-innovating on a universal scale." HASC's AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers (CNCS program) have augmented seva effort nationally.
HASC applauds friends Raj Shah, USAID Administrator; Neera Tandon, President, Center for American Progress and Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and Commissioners Amardeep Singh and Sunil Puri, for the tremendous outreach and bringing the communities' concerns and voice to the government. HASC congratulates Chaplain Captain Pratima Dharm for her leadership as the first Hindu chaplain and supports her vision that Diwali and the greetings be ubiquitous in our nation. HASC commends SSVT's continued leadership in organizing the sacred Diwali ceremony at the White House.
On behalf of the community, HASC gave President Obama a Diwali gift of a Ganesh statue as a symbol of removal of obstacles in governing the country.
I am grateful this has turned out to be a momentous Seva focused Diwali celebration at the White House.
We have just begun our journey. In these endeavors, we hope all our stakeholders and the community will help us keep our lamp of seva, of service, lit forever.
Follow Anju Bhargava on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hindusevausa