With a backdrop of a life-size statue of Swami Vivekananda, to the traditional clarion sound of the conch, the second World Hindu Conference attended by 2,500 Hindus from 60 countries had a resounding start on Friday at the Westin Lombard York Town Center in Chicago.
With luminaries from spiritual, educational, business, and political walks of life among the invited speakers, the message of Hindus coming together for the common good, with a sense of unity, reverberated the grand hall even as Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech to the World Parliament of Religions did 125 years ago at the nearby Art Institute of Chicago.
Dr. Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh from India, addressed the congress on the theme drawn from the Mahabharat, “Think collectively, Act Valiantly.”
Bhagwat highlighted the need for such an action now and how Hindus should work together.
“It is an opportune moment. We have stopped our descent. We are contemplating how to ascend. We are not an enslaved, downtrodden nation. People are in dire need of our ancient wisdom,” Bhagwat said.
In Hindu Dharma even a pest is not killed, but controlled. “Hindus don’t live to oppose anybody. We even allow the pests to live. There are people who may oppose us. You have to tackle them without harming them,” Bhagwat said.
“Our universal values now called Hindu values lead to the welfare of the individual, the society, the nature and the environment. It is the duty of Hindus to remind the world, these universal values from time to time. This duty of Dharma to human beings should be performed till the world exists and thus, Hindu dharma will also exist till the world exists.”
Hindus know the basic values, but have forgotten to practice them
Stressing the need for unity, Bhagwat said if a lion is alone, wild dogs can invade and destroy the lion. We must not forget that.”
“We want to make the world better. We have no aspiration of dominance. Our influence is not a result of conquest or colonization.”
Bhagwat said a sense of idealism is good and described himself not as “anti-modern,” but as “pro-future.” He sought to describe Hindu dharma as “ancient and post-modern.”
Hindu society will prosper only when it works as a society, he said.
One of the key values to bring the whole world in to a team is to have controlled ego and learn to accept the consensus. For example, Sri Krishna and Yudhishtra never contradicted each other, Bhagwat said.
In this context, he alluded to the war and politics in the Hindu epic Mahabharat, and said politics cannot be conducted like a meditation session, and it should be politics.
“To work together, we have to accept the consensus. We are in a position to work together,” Bhagwat said. He urged the conference attendees to discuss and evolve a methodology to implement the idea of working collectively, “Think Collectively, Act Valiantly.”
The congress recognized four organizations for their outstanding contributions to spreading Hindu philosophy.
The Bochasanwasi Aksharpurshottam Swaminrayan Sanstha (BAPS) was honored for its extreme visual idealism around the world as it built architecturally beautiful mandirs. Chinmaya Mission for explaining the essence of the Gita, Geeta Press, Gorakhpur for making sacred Hindu literature easily accessible, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness for spreading the message of Gita were also honored.
SP Kothari, chair of WHC, said he and many speakers attending the conference received calls and petitions from organizations and individuals to withdraw from the Congress on the ground WHC or some of its organizers are “socially and religiously divisive.” “I categorically reject this supposition,” Kothari said.
“I urge them to listen to my talk and reflect on whether it is tainted with hate. I have chosen to disregard those petitions as originating from a lack of complete understanding of the World Hindu Congress.”
Kothari said he welcomed diversity and evolution of thought and believed that two areas will benefit from reform. Women have not fared well and this is a universal problem. There is a large chasm and women’s talents haven’t been harnessed. Focus on education is the other area requiring reform.
The three goals of WHC are “enlighten, reform and advance.” WHC brings enlightenment throughout the world about the Hindu community through spirituality, harmony and inclusiveness, he said.
Hindus must reform and be in the forefront in eliminating social and economic inequality, foster cooperation among those with ideas and resources, and view commerce as a means to furthering Hindu dharma for a better tomorrow.
Vice-president of Republic of Suriname Ashwin Adhin in his address said “We, as Hindus, never forsake our mission. Hindus have always been the missionaries of renunciation and service.”
Words like peace, harmony and spirituality do not appeal to ordinary people easily and they have to be framed in right perspective terms so that they get established in people’s mind, Adhin said.
“Much change is needed and we need action,” Adhin said and recalled Swami Vivekananda’s stirring call, “Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached.”
Addressing the “confluence of Hindu leadership who have come to connect, share ideas, inspire one another and impact the common good” WHC coordinator Dr. Abhaya Asthana stated that “we have gathered to reaffirm the same message of diversity, cooperation and universal acceptance” uttered by Swami Vivekananda 125 years ago.
WHC, he stated is not an event, it is a community movement. It seeks to encourage Hindus around the world to ascend to the highest levels of excellence. This Congress, he stated, was important so we “may graduate from individual success to collective success.”
As a people, we must once again create wealth creation, affordable quality education, promote a robust Hindu presence in media, cultivate future Hindu leaders, tap the unique strengths of Hindu women and encourage Hindu organizations to work together. It is also the only way to increase our sphere of influence and have a positive societal impact globally.
This land mark event, he said, will help Hindus around the globe to introspect and deliberate the challenges and issues facing Hindus globally and to seek tangible solutions for the progress and prosperity of Hindus.
Stating that it was a big achievement for a poor Kashmiri Hindu boy to be speaking at the event, award winning actor Anupam Kher saluted “our country India…a place that has been home to all cultures, religions and faiths.”
He stated that despite being refugees in their own country, Kashmiri Pandits have practiced tolerance for 28 years like nobody ever has.
“My roots are steeped in Hinduism. I refuse to be defined by other people’s fears. My Hindu teachings and life’s experiences have taught me that there is time for peace and there is time for war. I use war as a metaphor; platforms like this from which I can speak to the world, remind me of my karmic duty. I draw inspiration from Swami Vivekananda to shine a light on all of us gathered here and beyond. As a Hindu, it pains me deeply to see how ignorance and half knowledge are trying to destroy one of the oldest, world’s most peaceful religion.”
Vice Chair Raju Reddy described the congress as an extraordinary opportunity to shape the dialogue about Hindus going forward and change the perceptions of Hindus as very positive change makers wherever they may be in the world.
Reddy, a technology entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, said, Hindu Americans or more broadly Indo Americans today are known as great doctors, academicians, engineers and entrepreneurs, generally successful in different walks of life and their per capital income is twice the national average here in America. It’s a point of pride but it also means we have the capacity to make a positive difference around the world.
Conference host Dr. Shamkant Sheth spoke of the two years of hard work that went into bringing together the WHC and of the opportunity to connect, inspire and learn to strengthen the global Hindu community in these productive 3 days of discussion.
This land mark event, he said, will help Hindus around the globe to introspect and deliberate the challenges and issues facing Hindus globally and to seek tangible solutions for progress and prosperity of Hindus.
Source: Press release provided by WHC 2018 media/PR team
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