A group of twenty seven Latin American Hindus flew into Chicago to attend the Second World Hindu Congress 2018 in September. They came from countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Peru with their spiritual leader Swami B.A. Paramadvaiti, founder of the Vrinda Mission and Coordinator of the Vishva Hindu Parishad South America.
A panelist in the Hindu Organizational Conference, Swami B.A. Paramadvaiti, whose eyes crinkle with a perennial smile, offered a rare and fascinating account of Hindu Dharma’s appeal in South America and the increasing number of people who identified with yoga, Ayurveda and “simple living.”
Swami B.A. Paramadvaiti was 18 years old when he chanced upon a German translation of the Bhagvad Gita in the Sri Aurobindo ashram in Germany. He had heard of the Himalayas and the mystics who practiced renunciation there and had even attempted reading the Rig Veda but found it arduous. However, when he read the Bhagvad Gita, the book, he says, “had a magnetic effect on him and answered all the questions his parents and teachers could not.”
Initiated in 1976, he accompanied his spiritual guru ISKCON Founder A.C Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada to Bharat and “lost his heart in Vrindavan.” His spiritual master sent him to South America to spread the teachings of the Gita and his efforts led to the establishment of the Vrinda Mission which has over 150 Vedic Awareness centers and sustainable farm communities called Eco Yoga Villages in over thirty-five countries. The Mission, a branch of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu founded in 1984, has been propagating an eco-friendly simple lifestyle which gives “bahut ananda” (great happiness). People in South America, he reiterates, are hugely drawn to Bharat’s rich spiritual culture and Hindu Dharma. He quips that were he to ask someone to join him in traveling to Bharat, they’d say: “Give me a minute, I’ll get my bag.”
Through his community outreach work, Swami B.A Paramadvaiti, has been inspiring both city dwellers and native Latin American communities to understand Hindu dharma. His extensive travels to the remotest corners of South America for the past 40 years has led him to indigenous Adivasi communities whose lifestyles bear a striking resemblance to traditional yogic renunciation. Some native communities, he explains, train spiritual leaders through a period of renunciation and follow strict vegetarian diets. These communities also believe in reincarnation, the law of karma, the soul and worship the feminine and masculine aspects of divinity – so close to the philosophy of Hindu Dharma. He also revealed that many chiefs of the Adivasi communities would be accompanying him to the Kumbh Mela in February 2019 to “pray for world peace, the environment and the holy rivers.”
This vibrant community of Latin American Hindus, who live in the Vrinda Kunja ashram in Vrindavan, have taken it upon themselves to clean up the Yamuna river which has become a dump-yard for garbage and plastic.
“We’re actually going to Vrindavan and picking up trash with our own hands, it’s our heritage and main seva” says Ambika Devi Dasi from Colombia, who has been residing in Vrindavan for the past 7 years and coordinates the “Braj Vrindavan Act Now” program. Explaining the significance of cleaning up Vrindavan, Swami Paramadvaiti says the region around Mathura “has tremendous power for the revival of spiritual consciousness, not only for Bharat but the whole world.”The group has been restoring old shrines and maintaining two schools for the poor villages in the area. Vrinda Mission has also opened several vegetarian restaurants around the world to promote cruelty free eating.
Founder of the World Hindu Foundation, Swami Vigyanananda, who helped bring the members of this Mission into the mainstream Hindu movement, lauded the work of this group whose “committed, dedicated volunteers clean up the banks of the Yamuna daily and in the last few years have transformed the pilgrimage place.”
“It’s an honor to be a representative of Hindu culture in South America, our family grows everyday and the values and visions of Bharat enrich our countries while also complementing our ancient cultures and our relationship with Sri Krishna and Mother Earth,” says Satyaki Das, a delegate from Peru at the World Hindu Congress. Maha Laksmi Devi Dasi from Mexico adds, “The World Hindu Congress left me with a strong feeling of community and solidarity. I could appreciate how united the Hindu community is and how it has become established in different parts of the world without losing its roots or wisdom.”
Hindu dharma, the world’s oldest living religion, has over a billion followers worldwide.
(With inputs from RadheShyam Devi Dasi)
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