This Diwali, with a grateful heart, I am rejoicing and celebrating a paradigm shift. I am jubilant that the word Seva, starting from the first conference we co-hosted, now is a prominent part of the president's vocabulary.
President Obama's 2013 Diwali message conveyed, "....Contemplation and prayer remind us that that people of all faiths have an obligation to perform seva, or service to others. And the flame of the diya, or lamp, reminds us that light will ultimately triumph over darkness..."
Together we've come a long way, sevaks! In April 2009, when I joined the President's Inaugural Advisory Council, the words Dharma and Seva were new terms for the White House officials.
Today we can proudly state that in a very short time, we have brought the Dharmic Seva voice of the community to the highest levels in the country -- the White House. Collectively, we have succeeded in creating a national seva and social justice voice where there was none. We have demonstrated how we, Dharmic and Hindu Americans and our traditions, strengthen America domestically and globally. The commitment to serve the people in need, as exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda, especially during festive times, comes across as UtsavSeva.
This year the message of seva was amplified at the Capitol Hill where Diwali was celebrated for the first time and our SevaVotes.org ambassador Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Congressman Ami Bera lit the lamp. Our collective Seva Voices prove we are effective Dharmic problem solvers, ready to tackle difficult tasks facing our country every step of the way.
"Service which is given without consideration of anything in return, at the right place and time to one that is qualified, with the feeling that it is one's duty, is regarded as the nature of goodness." (Bhagavad Gita 17.20)
The four White House Conferences have become a Springboard to Action to solve problems facing America. We have seen the Dharmic and Hindu community in America join other religious communities on the national stage, not only as an equal participant, but a veritable host to them.
The community's 2009 seva response to the president's "Call to Serve," resulted in the first ever community assessment report (2010) leading to obtaining the service of the first Hindu AmeriCorps VISTAs. The collective seva efforts lead to four historic Dharmic American Seva conferences at the White House.
Alluding to the first conference, in 2011, President Obama said,
"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."
We focused on Energizing Dharmic Seva by Impacting Change in America and Abroad, explored Dharmic and Hindu American Future through Seva, Innovation, Tradition, we identified ways to Strengthen Dharmic Place of Worship and this year, we honored the seva message of Swami Vivekananda and highlighted Dharmic Seva is Transforming Ourselves, Our Communities and Our Country. Today, collectively we are spurring a New Generation Of Seva Volunteers and seeing Diwali Lights Community Building in America and around the World.
UtsavSeva promoted by our Dharmic American communities across the country, invokes the spiritual values of the festivals through Community Service throughout the year. During Deepavali we celebrate Dhan Seva in November. Click here for seva details.
The very foundation of Indian civilization is based on the pluralistic acceptance embodied in the ancient perennial Vedic saying: "Ekam Sat Vipra, Bahudha Vadanti," meaning, "The Truth is One. The Realized Ones describe the One Truth in several ways". Diwali shares a special connection with American values as it exemplifies the ideals of "E Pluribus Unum," or, "out of many, one."
While the story behind Diwali varies from region to region, the essence is the same: to rejoice in the Inner Light and understand the underlying reality of all things. The spiritual meaning of Diwali is "the awareness of the inner light." At the heart, Hindu philosophy emphasizes the presence of that which is pure, infinite and eternal, which is something beyond the physical and the mind. Diwali is the celebration of the awakening and awareness of the Inner Light.
The strength of the Dharmic culture is the multitude of ways in which the Puranic (ancient traditional) stories and epics are brought to life through colorful festivals and selfless service (seva). These stories and epics bring to surface the deep philosophical truths of the ancient Hindu scriptures, known as the Vedas. The Festivals often express the common Vedic tenets of Hinduism, and of other Dharmic cultures, making them accessible to people from all walks of life.
A festival is a joyful synthesis and expression of spirituality, religion, philosophy, culture, service and social values. The spiritual aspect is founded on the human instincts of joy and happiness. The philosophical aspect is grounded in the struggle between the forces of good and evil with the ultimate triumph of the former. This struggle and ensuing victory of good is to be celebrated and used as a reminder to us, and future generations, that selfless service and giving are an interwoven part of the traditions.
Festivals form a lifeline that binds the Hindu and Dharmic cultures to family, the community and to the country where they reside. Festivals connect and bring people together in camaraderie and service. Hindu festivals also reflect and sustain the underlying pluralistic values for diverse people to coexist harmoniously.
Festivals are also a time to donate and help those in need. Seva during Diwali means bringing in light, especially in the life of those less fortunate than us. Diwali unifies every religion, every home and every heart, and India transcends into a land of myriad lamps. Here in America, we are continuing this celebration marking it as a unifying pluralistic festival advancing community service and sharing of common values of pluralism and collaboration.
We hope as you celebrate and share the message of Diwali, the victory of light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance, with your friends, family and neighbors, you will be inspired to help those who need. You will bring UtsavSeva to action!
We wish you a very Happy Diwali and a New Year filled with health, happiness, peace, prosperity and seva this festive utsav. With grateful hearts we thank you for your support and blessings.
Namaste and Shubh Kamnaye