By Manu Shah
Chicago: The Hindu way of life and thinking has had a profound influence on the West, leading to successes on American soil, not in terms of material wealth but in individual satisfaction with immense self-contentment.
Four keynote speakers bore testimony to realizing this principle in their lives and showcased their stories during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the World Hindu Council of America (Vishwa Hindu Parishad America – VHPA). The ‘virtual’ event “[email protected]: Walking in Dharma” on Sept. 19-20 set the stage for a congregation and grand celebration next year to commemorate VHPA’s 50 years of fostering the Hindu socio-cultural-spiritual movement.
The four speakers, Vyomesh Joshi, CEO, 3D Systems; Vandana Tilak, CEO & Director, Akshaya Patra USA; Dr. Raj Vedam, scholar in Indian history, and Benny Tillman, President, Vedic Friends Association, narrated their pioneering efforts and accomplishments based on the ancient Hindu philosophy and how it paved the way for their fruitful journey.
Interweaving references from the Bhagavad Gita, Vyomesh Joshi spoke on “Authentic Leadership” and how Hindu scriptures guided him in leading global companies as well as dealing with triumphs and setbacks.
In her keynote address “Seva – the First and Last Frontier,” Vandana Tilak dwelt on her philosophy of looking beyond oneself and her service through Akshaya Patra that serves 1.8 million vegetarian meals in 19,500 government schools in India every single day. It has also served 8.2 million meals to date to stranded migrant workers since the lockdown on March 26.
Dr. Raj Vedam, co-founder of a think tank, Indian History Awareness & Research based in Houston, highlighted how Hindu identity has steadily come to be defined not by Hindus but by others, subverting Hindu identity.
Vedam traced the roots of modern sciences, mathematics and technology and his findings contradicted western narratives that the Indian civilization’s knowledge of mathematics and science came from outside India.
One of the consequences of the “identity crisis” is growing attacks on Hindu identity by organized groups with huge funding from abroad and within the country. The media and universities have also turned into “hotbeds of Hinduphobia.” Hindu student groups face enormous backlash and anti-Hindu pressure by hate based organizations, Vedam said.
One way to reclaim the Hindu identity, he said, is by becoming ambassadors to exemplify Dharma as a logical, rational, responsible system with solutions for global problems, living a dharmic lifestyle, learning about Hinduism, celebrating festivals, visiting temples, supporting scholars, institutions and organizing outreach talks and conferences.
Benny Tillman. aka Balabhadra Bhattacarya Dasa is a direct disciple of ISKCON founder Swami Prabhupada. He serves as the first African American President of the Vedic Friends Association dedicated to the preservation, promotion and application of Vedic culture and philosophy.
Society, he pointed out, is confused about the real purpose of life, which according to Vedic teachings should focus on self-realization as well as material development. While living in this world, we must learn to connect these two and that’s yoga. Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not just a form of exercise, it is much deeper than that, he said.
Benny said the uncertain situation in the world today presents an opportunity for Hindu leaders to offer practical solutions derived from the Vedas. The need of the hour is to create a more accessible process to introduce Hindu culture and philosophy to the general public and reaching out to communities.
Among the highlights of the two day-webinar were eight enlightening panel discussions with well-known speakers – entrepreneurs, heads of organizations, religious leaders, academicians, dignitaries, and youth leaders.
Engaging youth in community service has been a cornerstone of the VHPA’s mission. Two panels: “Hindu Youth – Being the Change Today for Better Tomorrow” and “Evolving Nature of Seva (service) in North America” were dedicated to youth and volunteerism to focusing on their current relevance.
About 3,200 people registered and participated in the virtual conference.
“2020 is a landmark year for Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America. Established in 1970, we have completed 50 years of leading and serving the Hindu community,” Dr. Abhaya Asthana, President, VHPA said.
Dr. Siddhesh Shevade, National Executive Director of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, and Dr. Jai Bansal, Conference convener, also spoke.