A Youth’s Reflection on the Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference

A Youth’s Reflection on the Hindu Mandir Executives‚Äô Conference

by Tejas Dave

posted November 16, 2010

I have heard many questions about why we even need temples. God is said to be omnipresent, he is everywhere. Let me answer by saying this, air is everywhere, but we still need a fan to feel that air. God is everywhere, but we need a mandir to feel God’s presence.

And before I continue any further, let me make it clear that while we seek to continue our Hindu faith throughout the future, we must also accept all other religions. In his 1893 address to the World Parliament of Religions, Swami Vivekananda stated that all paths eventually lead to the same goal, and that is God. We must embrace the philosophy of Vasudeva Kutumbhakam, all mankind is one family.

That being said, our Hindu Dharma has made tremendous contributions and progress within American society since the introduction of our Sanatana, eternal religion by Swami Vivekananda in 1893. Fewer than 20 years later, the United States gained its first mandir, the Vedanta Center in Boston, by the work of Swami Paramananda. In the 100 years since then, more than 500 mandirs have been built across the United States and Canada, serving the religious needs of over 1 million Hindu Americans as shraddha kendras, centers of devotion.

As a result of this Hindu diaspora, 10,000 miles away from its motherland, these temples have become a sanctuary for prayer. Beyond that, mandirs provide a haven for celebrations, festivals, customs, and the continuation of our heritage. These temples help fill the void of a united Hindu community for Indian immigrants.

And today, while the temples continue to fill this void, they also address the phenomena of Hindus born away from their ancestral home. The need to perpetuate the Hindu philosophy to the new generation was felt throughout the nation and classes to impart Vedic knowledge sprung up everywhere. Thus, mandirs became a center of learning.

And yet, while these great strides were made mostly by first generation Hindu-Americans, the wheel of time continues to turn, and it will soon come time for a new generation to take over the reins of leadership of Hindu mandirs and organizations and expand them to adequately fulfill the needs of an ever growing population. It is for this reason that that the Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference (HMEC) was convened. This was not to reminisce upon the past, but to envision the future. The purpose of the conference is to build a better future, a future that continues to be protected by the umbrella of Sanatana Dharma.

But as we approach this future, over the next few years, we must ensure that temples do not become simply architectural marvels for society to gawk at while passing from the road. Temples must retain their sanctity. Returning to my analogy of the fan, no matter how expensive a fan might be, if it is not plugged in, it will do no good. Similarly, temples must remain connected to their source of energy, Bhagwan, through the continuity of religious practices and social service. Manav seva is Madhav seva. Service to man, is service to God.

The purpose of the HMECis to understand these concerns and the rapidly changing needs that our community faces. As our numbers continue to grow and our age spectrum continues to broaden, it will be necessary to make changes in the way the mandir is a part of our lives. For the torchbearers of Hindu tradition and current leaders of Hindu temples, it is now time to search for the protectors of this legacy in the future. And for college and high school students, such as myself, it is now time to understand the rich and vast culture that we are charged with sustaining. It is time for an active effort to enfranchise and empower the next generation of leaders.

And the conference has done just that. We, the youth of this community, we, the future of this community now stand united, with a clear understanding of what we must do. Throughout this conference we have voiced our opinions about these mandirs, throughout this conference we have learned the value of these mandirs, and throughout this conference we have made these mandirs our own. Now it is up to us to take the torch passed to us by our role models, the first generation Hindu-Americans, and ensure its flame of Hindu unity and spiritual prosperity is everlasting.

Let me end with the theme of the conference which comes from the Rig Veda:

Sam gacchadvam, sam vadhadvam
sam vo manAnsi jAnatAm
devA bhAgam yatha purve, sajanAnA upAsate
samano mantraha, samiti samani
samanum manah saha cittameshAm
samanam mantramabhi mantraye vaha
samanena vo havishA juhomi
samani va akutih samanA hridayAni vahA
samanamastu vo mano yatha vahA su sahAsati.

Let us be united. Let us speak in harmony.
Let our minds apprehend alike.
Common be our prayer;
Common be the end of our assembly;
Common be our resolution;
Common be our deliberations.
Alike be our feelings;
United be our hearts;
Common be our intentions;
Perfect be our unity.