1. FESTIVALS: Ashadh Amavasya or the 'No Moon Day' of month Ashadh (June 19 as per Uttar Bharat and July 19 as per Dakshin Bharat calendar) is a very auspicious day when Deepa Puja is performed. On this day, people clean and decorate their houses and sanctify a 'Chourang' i.e. a table with decoration and rangoli (kolam) designs around it. All the deepas are placed on the table and lit to perform pooja. In Andhra Pradesh, it is known as Chukkal Amavasya (Gauri Puja is performed) and in Karnataka it is called Bhima Amavasya.
Deepa Puja is dedicated to the deity of one's choice i.e. Ishta Devata and to Pancha Maha Bhootas (five primordial elements – Air, Water, Fire, Sky and the Earth). In some cases, devotees dedicate Deepa Puja to the Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Parvati or Goddess Saraswati.
On this day, all the diyas are lit once again in the evening and placed around the house just like Diwali Puja. It is believed that the radiations of the light of the diyas drive out all the evil and bad powers and welcome new brightness into their life.
sangha/samiti news: bharat
2. HUGE INCREASE IN THE ORGANIZATIONAL BASE OF RSS - KARNATAKA SOUTH: The overall organizational base of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, South Unit, Karnataka has been witnessing a steady addition in its numbers. The annual report released recently by RSS says that the figures of January 2011 showed a total number of 2597 Shakhas in 1698 places under the RSS Karnaaka Dakshin Prant ( 13 southern districts of Karnataka state); however, the estimate taken in 2012 shows a remarkable increase in the Shakha number, taking it to 2715, at 1788 places.
Taking into account the Sangha Shiksha Vargs, the 20 day long training camps of RSS Cadres, the statistics reveal participation by a total of 1248 new Swayamsevaks in the current year, who have acquired sangh training. In 13 districts a total number of 29 Prathamik Shiksha Varg (7 day training camp) were held, where training has been imparted to as many as 3709 new Swayamsevaks.
The Seva Vibhag of RSS Dakshin Pranth has organized 6898 different Seva activities at 2434 places. Jalabharatati, a project dedicated towards the creation of awareness on water conservation has published 2 major books on ‘Rain Water Harvesting’ and ‘100 ways of Water Conservation’. In connection with this, special workshop on water conservation was conducted at 36 places, where 1950 students, 305 teachers and 907 farmers participated.
3. Rashtra Sevika Samiti organised 35 camps: “There are so many women at top posts today but it has not benefited the women. The country should be in the hands of the sensitive people whether they are men or women,” Pramilatai Medhe, Pramukha Sanchalika, Rashtra Sevika Samiti said addressing 225 participants seviksa in taining camp of four prants (Kashi, Awadh, Goraksh and Kanpur) in Kanpur from May 27 to June 14. Rashtra Sevika Samiti has organised 35 training camps this year across the country. About 5,000 activists have been trained in these camps.
4. Rashtrotthana Blood Bank tops: As far as total number of blood collected and transfused is concerned, Rashtrotthana Rakta Nidhi (Blood Bank) at Chamarajpet - Bangalore is the number one blood bank of the state of Karnataka. Rashtrotthana Parishat is a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh initiative for social reforms in Karnataka.
Established 18 years ago, Rashtrotthana Rakta Nidhi (Blood Bank) has collected blood from a total of 1, 75,073 blood donors. The collected blood has been given to 1, 31,593 patients. Rest of the blood was processed for PCV collections, serum separations etc. The total units of blood collected till March 2012 is 2, 89,321.
5. Sant Uchchadhikar Samiti: Senior saints of the country have demanded a concrete action plan for ensuring free and minimum flow in the Ganga. They told the Central government to enact a law in the Monsoon Session of the Parliament to this effect, failing which, they warned, they would be compelled to launch a decisive battle for the Ganga. The saints issued this warning at the Sant Uchchadhikar Samiti meeting of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad held in Haridwar from June 19 to 20. About a hundred senior saints from different parts of the country including Shankaracharya Swami Vasudevananda Saraswati, Pejawar Swami Vishvesh Teertha, Swami Rambhadracharya, Swami Ramdharacharya, attended the meeting. Shri Ashok Singhal, VHP working President Dr Pravin Togadia, general secretary Champat Rai, general secretary Shri Dinesh Chandra and others also attended the meeting.
sangha news: overseas
6. Sydney Ved Pathshala: More than 650 people experienced pleasance when Vedic chanting and Sanskrit poems resonated their minds as the Sydney Ved Pathshala celebrated its fourth anniversary on 17 June. The anniversary celebrations culminated with brilliant cultural performances in Vedic chanting, Sanskrit skits and poems, and depictions of the Hindu epics, Ramayana & Mahabharata. More than 150 children, 90 Youth, and Adult showcased their talents on the occasion.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad National General Secretary Akila Ramarathinam and her team of 55 voluntary teacher conduct Sanskrit classes in over 55 schools and more than 6,000 children in Australia, are getting benefit out of this project. Akila Ramarathinam said that VHP is satisfying community demand for Vedic chanting, Hindu scripture and Sanskrit classes, and is uniting Hindus and the Australian community. VHP has 150 volunteers working every week and 40 youth volunteers as one of the biggest volunteer organization in Australia. Sydney Veda Patasala was started in 2008 under the guidance of Swami Vigyananand. This is the first Veda Pathasala outside Bharat.
CULTURAL NEWS: bharat
7. RATH YATRA: Annual Rath Yatra Utsav began at Jagannathpuri on June 21 with the pulling of the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra repectively known as Nandighosh, Taladhwaja and Padmadhwaja, by lakhs of devotees, including many from abroad. The chariots reached their destination, Gundicha temple on June 22. The festival ends nine days later when the deities make their way back home to the Jagannath temple.
The Rathyatra was also held in other cities of Bharat like Kanpur, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Ranchi, etc. and also in many parts of the world.
8. Amarnath Yatra begins: Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vohra was among the first batch of pilgrims and participated in the “pratham darshan and pooja” to the holy cave shrine of Shri Amarnath in the Kashmir which commenced on June 25. The yatra commenced simultaneously from traditional and longer Pahalgam and shorter but treacherous Baltal routes. The pilgrims began their journey from both the Baltal and Nunwan base camps. The yatra will conclude on Raksha Bandhan on August 2, 2012.
9. MUSLIM RASHTRIYA MANCH CAMP: “Muslims in Bharat have not come from outside but belong to this country and are an inseparable part of the national life of this country like the Hindus”, observed K S Sudarshan, former Sarsanghchalak of RSS in Pushkar, Ajmer on June 26, at the 11th National Training Camp of Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM). Delving into the historical beginning of Muslim Rashtriya Manch a decade ago the former RSS Chief said that he had asked former President of All India Imam Council Maulana Jameel Iliyasi as to why the Muslims considered themselves as ‘minority’ when they belonged to this society and country as much as the Hindus. MRM National Convener Mohd Afzal, co-convener and incharge of the camp Abbas Ali Bohra, Chhattisgarh Waqf Board Chairman Salim Ashrafi and former national convener of MRM Salavat Khan were present on the dais. The thre-day event was attended by over 200 activists from 25 states.
CULTURAL NEWS: OVERSEAS
10. CHARIOT FESTIVAL IN ALABAMA: Rath Yatra was celebrated in Harvest city of US on 24th June in which former ambassador Pramathesh Rath, along with Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks and Ravi Nath Sharma, a philosopher from Bharat were guests of honor. To the clamour of gongs, conch shell, trumpets, cymbals, tambourines and ghanti, devotees and visitors helped carry the wooden images of Lord Jagannath along with his brother and sister deities from the main temple of the Hindu Cultural Centre of North Alabama to the annexe building.
11. Swat Buddha gets facelift: Thanks to the efforts of Luca Olivieri and his partner Italian archaeologists, the 6-meter-tall image near the town of Jahanabad is getting a facelift, and many other archaeological treasures in the scenic Swat Valley are being excavated and preserved.
Hard-line Muslims have a history of targeting Buddhist, Hindu and other religious sites they consider heretical to Islam. Six months before the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, the Taliban shocked the world by dynamiting a pair of 1,500-year-old Buddhist statues in central Afghanistan.
The Jahanabad Buddha, etched high on a huge rock face in the 6th or 7th century, is one of the largest such carvings in South Asia. It was attacked in the fall of 2007 when the Pakistani Taliban swarmed across the scenic Swat Valley.
12. in Naxal heartland: In a first, as many as 149 students from Naxal-hit areas of Chhattisgarh have cleared the AIEEE while two have cleared the IIT entrance exam this year. Most of them hail from tribal BPL families. They are all a part of the first batch of students of Prayas, a residential school-cum-coaching institute for boys set up by the state tribal welfare department in Raipur in 2010.
“At least 50 will be selected for NITs, while the remaining will find seats in IIITs. If we keep producing similar results, the face of Naxal areas will change in five years,” said hostel superintendent Sripati Azgar. “They will go back with stories of academic success, pushing others to take the same route.”
13. BHARATIYA-American named US varsity VC: Mitra Dutta, a distinguished Bharatiya-American engineer-physicist, who has studied at Guwahati and Delhi universities, has been named vice chancellor for research at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dutta, a former senior executive with the US Army Research Office, has served as interim vice chancellor at one of America's leading research universities since January, overseeing a research enterprise with annual expenditures of more than $340 million.
Announcing her appointment, Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares said: "Her distinguished record as a researcher, administrator and teacher make her the ideal choice to take on this vital role."
14. Handicrafts in Kutch: “Sewa International and Sewa Bharati are among the few who have continued serving the affected after the devastating earthquake of 2001 and this is the indication of their commitment and perseverance”, exclaimed Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi while inaugurating the Sewa International Design & Development Centre, in Jiapar Village, Kutch, Gujarat on June 21. The centre is already serving more than 400 women drawn from 16 villages, from a nearby rented location. More than 7000 people gathered for the inaugural function with women in dominant number.
Narendra Modi said in his typical style in Gujarati “mane yad chne das varas pahelan meyn Narayanpur nu lokarpan karyun hatu” (I very well remember that I had inaugurated this village Narayanpur a decade earlier). He did not miss to pay homage to the founder of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Dr. Hedgewar by offering flowers and reminding people of his contribution to nation building activity. Chairman Sewa International Jai Prakash welcomed the guests while Ramesh Bhai Mehta elaborated the Sewa International activity in Kutch post rehabilitation.
15. ASSAM GIRL TO CARRY OLYMPIC TORCH: A class X student from Assam will represent Bharat at the Olympic Torch Relay in London. Pinky Karmakar from Barbaruah in Assam's Dibrugarh district will be among the torchbearers from 20 countries at the relay in Nottinghamshire on June 28.
"I'm very excited. Only exceptionally talented people get such opportunities. I am honoured that I was chosen to represent my country," said 17-year-old Pinky.
Pinky's mother works as a tea-plucker and father is a painter in a Dibrugarh tea estate. In the evenings, Pinky teaches about 40 women, including her mother, in the tea garden. She also talks to elders at village meetings on social issues, including child marriage, alcoholism and adult literacy.
OTHER NEWS STORIES: BHARAT
16. Odisha kids rescued: A total of 18 children from Odisha, below 10 years of age, who were illegally confined at a church near Kulasekharam in Kanyakumari District were rescued on June 22. Fifteen of them were boys. Clarat (47), a Pastor from Puthenthurai, was tracked down by the Social Welfare Department (DSW) officials and handed over to the police.
The officials said the children were brought by Clarat on June 20 from Blessing Trust, an NGO run by his friend, Rajkumar, near Coimbatore, and lodged at the church.
17. Delhi, Mumbai are chosen ones: Delhi and Mumbai, the two most vital metros of Bharat, have been chosen for DRDO’s Ballistic Missile Defence system that can be put in place at a short notice. The strategic planning has already begun to install the BMD system in the two cities. To ensure maximum protection against air-borne threats, DRDO will put a mix of counter-attack missiles which will be able to shoot down enemy missiles both within earth’s atmosphere (endo-atmospheric) and outside it (exo-atmospheric).
The shield, developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation, has undergone a series of successful tests. It can destroy an incoming ballistic missile with the range of up to 2,000 km.
18. AHMEDABAD BUS SYSTEM A HIT WITH SEVERAL COUNTRIES: Despite a four-wheeler and a couple of two-wheelers parked at his residence, Manubhai Dhruva prefers to take the public transport. On being asked the reason, the 78-year-old retired English lecturer answered with a smile, "It takes me a good 10-15 minutes less to travel by bus than my own vehicle."
Ahmedabad BRTS project has caught the fancy of not just the local commuters but of several nations. Representatives of countries, including Tanzania, Lagos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Dar es Salaam, have visited the city to study and adopt the system. Today, Ahmedabad BRTS, officially known as 'Janmarg', offers commuters an average speed of 27 km per hour -- one of the highest among public road transport in the country. "Not just did we win some global awards like the Best Sustainable Transport Award and Best Mass Rapid Transit System but also caught the attention of other countries who now want to study and adopt the success of Janmarg." said Shivanand Swamy, associate professor, CEPT University and team leader of the BRTS project. (Source: http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/ahmedabad-rapid-bus-system-catches-fancyseveral-countries/405368/)
OTHER NEWS STORIES: OVERSEAS
19. THOUSANDS PERFORM YOGA AT TIMES SQUARE TO WELCOME SUMMER:
Thousands of New Yorkers converged at the popular and crowded Times Square in sweltering heat to celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, by rolling out their yoga mats and performing the ancient Bharatiya art for over 12 hours.
The Times Square Alliance hosted the 10th edition of the 'Solstice in Times Square' on June 21 , holding free 'Mind Over Madness' yoga classes and transforming one of the world's most popular tourist and commercial destinations into a yoga village to celebrate the arrival of summer.
Four free yoga classes from 7:30 am to 8:30 pm (local time) were organised for New Yorkers who braved record temperature levels of about 33 degree Celsius to find their "inner peace and tranquillity." The event also included one-on-one yoga instructions and free giveaways for participants. The event was broadcast on some of the giant LED screens that are a characteristic feature at Times Square.
20. BHARATIYA Americans fund Hindu studies chair in US University: Bharatiya American organisation has made a contribution of US$ 3.24 million to establish Swami Vivekananda Visiting Faculty and Dharma Civilisation Foundation Chair in Hindu Studies at a prestigious US university in California. This is the first chair of Hindu studies in the US funded by the Bharatiya American community and will be established at the University of South California (USC) School Of Religion with funds from the Dharma Civilisation Foundation. The Los Angeles based Dharma Civilisation Foundation aims to fund studies of the Bharatiya civilisation, focusing on Hinduism, Buddhism, Jain and Sikh religions. The objective is to promote Dharma education through research scholarship, degree courses and endowed chairs.
21. Christianity down, Hinduism up in Australia: Christianity remained the most commonly reported religion in Australia, with 61.1 per cent of the population in 2011 - a decline from 63.9 per cent in 2006. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that the most common non-Christian religions in 2011 were Buddhism (2.5 per cent of the population), Islam (2.2 per cent) and Hinduism (1.3 per cent). "Of these, Hinduism had experienced the fastest growth since 2006, increasing from 148,130 to 275,534, followed by Islam from 340,394 to 476,291 and Buddhism from 418,749 to 528,977," the census reported.
22. Punjabi second only to English in Britain: Punjabi is the most commonly spoken language among one million children who do not speak English as a first language in the UK. According to figures released, which were part of an official census of schools taken in January, other widely spoken languages are Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Somali, Polish, Arabic, Portuguese, Turkish and Tamil. A separate analysis released earlier this year showed how children who speak English as their first language are now a minority in more than 1,600 English schools.
23. SHRI VISHWA NIKETAN: Pravas: Shri Saumitra Gokhale – samyojak Vishwa Vibhag finished his tour to Suriname and Guyana to reach Trinidad. Shri Ravikumar – sahsamyojak is on a tour to USA and Trinidad. Dr.Ram Vaidya-sahsamyojak would also tour Trinidad. Shri Shyam Parande, secretary Sewa International will be in HongKong in 1st week of July. Visitors: Anshul Agrawal & family - USA, Praveen Dhir – USA, Kitty Nawani – Thailand.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: 'Do not believe in a thing because you have read about it in a book. Do not believe in a thing because another man has said it was true. Do not believe in words because they are hallowed by tradition. Find out the truth for yourself. Reason it out. That is realization.' - Swami Vivekanand
JAI SHREE RAM
Impression of a USA Shiksharthi: Tritya Varsh 2012
Imagine going into a varg not knowing anyone, where everyone is speaking in sentences that range from Hindi to Oriya to Malayalam, where the average temperature during the daytime is around 115 degrees farenheit, and where there is a huge open ground where the Smriti Mandir—a memorial to Doctorji and Guruji—are there before you. Thus began tritiya varsh.
Tritiya Varsh was different than all other camps I attended. It was inspirational, and in some ways also very challenging. With 1007 people in the varg, ranging from farmers to bus conductors to lawyers to students to teachers as well as doctors, it was indeed a unique setting. In my gana itself there were people from Punjab, Delhi, Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat, Orissa, and Rajasthan. Ganas were divided based on your aicchik Vishay (you had to choose one of Danda Yudha, Niyudha, and Ashtanga yoga—all other vishays such as danda, samata, yogasan were common), and there were 45 ganas in total. My gana had 24 people, and interestingly one of them was a fisherman who had never gone to school in his life. His name was Chitti Babu—he only spoke telugu and little bit of tamil, so he barely talked most of the time even though as a gana our nivaas was in the same room. He would simply smile when people in our gana would shout his name in a friendly way to attempt to communicate with him.
One thing I found with him, as well as the farmers and people from agricultural background was that they are extremely simple.
Their motivation in Sangh is not based primarily on an intellectual understanding of Hindutva or Sangh ideology, but simply on a deep feeling of desh bhakti towards Bharat mata. It was very refreshing to see such simplicity and devotion in them.
As part of the varg we visited Doctorji’s home as well. We saw the swing (jhula) where he used to sit, the balcony where he would walk back and forth thinking about Sangh, as well as the rooms where the baithaks were held (and where they decided to actually start Sangh). The home had an atmosphere of peace and silence, and one could feel that Sangh simply was a natural expression of Doctorji’s being.
One challenge for me was simply being able to explain how shakha is in the USA is and how it is different from shakha in India (many were also quite shocked to know how much it costs to travel from US to India !). Talking that much isn’t my specialty, but one gets used to it J. Even the food was very simple with daal, rice, roti, buttermilk and some subji. Interestingly the bhojan vibhag used to have to make approximately 7000 rotis every day to feed the swayamsevaks at varg! And not only that, most of the work in vyavastha was done by kishore swayamsevaks (middle/high school students)! The energy that they put in each and every day was absolutely amazing to see.
On a different note, with regards to charcha/baudhik there were some topics that were difficult to relate to coming from a vishwa vibhag perspective. In addition, being from USA was both a blessing and a challenge. There were some who had preconceived notions of what life is like in the USA, although through time and some long conversations those misconceptions did clear up.
Overall the experience was truly special and life changing. One interesting thing I noted that swayamsevaks in Bharat are used to dealing with conflict virtually all the time. I heard stories of events in Kerala from some of the malayalee swayamsevaks in my gana (interestingly I became the translator for the malayalee swayamsevaks and the Hindi-speaking swayamsevaks) and how they dealt with conflicts with communists. Many face various challenges socially due to caste and other social problems in society. In some of the charcha sessions some of them also shared how they successfully dealt with these problems using the strength of shakha. In that way the ability of swayamsevaks to LITERALLY dive into action to handle such issues is extraordinary.
Although there were many many more experiences I could share, suffice it to say that tritiya varsh is like living a whole life in Sangh Shiksha Varg. For 30 days I honestly had no idea what was happening in the outside world. You will see Sangh then truly from a global perspective, both from Bharat as well as from a Vishwa Vibhag point of view. And of course on a lighter note, the 30 days will surely make you lighter as well!
How Fatherhood Has Made Me a Better Hindu
A popular narrative in the Bhagavata Purana, one of Hinduism's most beloved and venerated wisdom texts, involves a king who meets a forest-dwelling sage. The sage's peaceful demeanor and obvious contentment, even amidst apparent poverty, astound the king. "Who is your guru?" the king asks, eager to know where the sage learned in such a way. In response, the sage enumerates a list of 24 gurus -- a list of unlikely sources of wisdom that even includes natural phenomenon, and animals -- each of whom demonstrated to the sage a valuable lesson that he incorporated into his spiritual practice. Of course, the numerical list is merely illustrative; for one who is eager to learn, the sage explains, the world is filled with countless teachers. Though most of us tend to think of gurus in a strictly singular sense, and while many Hindus do accept one particular guru as their primary spiritual guide or mentor, they are also encouraged to learn from others. Indeed, Hinduism holds that anyone -- and ultimately, everyone -- can be a part of our spiritual growth if we can develop the ability to see them in that way.
I have had to remind myself of that principle, and of the story of the sage and his 24 gurus, as I've played the role of a father to my daughter, Shruti Sara, for the past three years. At certain times, bogged down by the seemingly mundane aspects of child rearing, it has been hard to discern the spiritual dimension. At others, though, the presence of the Divine has been palpable and awesome.
Has being a father helped me to be a better Hindu?
In a certain superficial sense, the answer is no. As much of a joy as Shruti has been, and continues to be, she has also dramatically uprooted our lives. My wife and I have had to severely reduce our involvement at our local temples, and cut back on seva (service) that we can perform there. Attending festivals and holiday observances have become less about honoring the deities being celebrated, and more about juggling diaper bags and car seats or managing temper tantrums and picky eating. Meanwhile, at home the situation has scarcely been better. Regimented practice and worship have taken a backseat to keeping up with a toddler's largely spontaneous and unpredictable needs. Being woken up in the middle of the night by a crying child has rendered early morning meditation a near impossibility. Our home altar, once diligently maintained as our family's dedicated sacred space, now suffers from bouts of neglect or only sporadic tending to -- an abandoned shrine amid the ruins, a temple besieged by Mickey Mouse plush toys and Dora the Explorer dolls. And Ami and I have sometimes felt like relics as well -- ridiculously exhausted versions of our pre-parental selves, clutching our wooden japa beads and trying to focus on our prayers, but fighting a losing battle against sleep and distraction instead.
And yet, on a deeper level -- on a level, perhaps, that invokes the spirit of the sage and his 24 gurus -- my first three years of fatherhood have taught me a great deal about what it means to be a person of faith, and have forced to evaluate and re-evaluate how I wish to live out my spiritual path, my Dharma. Being a father has been a blessing in my life, yes, but it has also been a catalyst for my spiritual development in a way that I've never experienced before. In this sense, Shruti has not only helped me to be a better Hindu; she has helped me to re-define what being a Hindu is all about.
She challenges me to separate the essential from the ritual.
I remember being struck by this idea one day when I was attempting to perform sandhya vandanam, a form of worship that many Hindus perform at set times every day. I sat with closed eyes, trying to concentrate on the prayers, when I felt a slight tugging on my janoi, three sacred threads Hindu priests wear looped over the torso, meant to symbolize purity in thought, word and deed. I looked down to see Shruti -- only a few months old at the time -- crawling into my lap and gripping the three consecrated cords in her tiny hands; suddenly, she bit down on the threads and began chewing on them! Whether a plea for attention or simply a consequence of teething, the incident seemed a fitting metaphor for Shruti's attitude toward ritual and principle. While orthodox Hindus might be horrified by the thought of a baby teething on items that must be kept ritually clean, it may help to remind us what those items are supposed to symbolize for us in the first place. If we become so focused on the ritual that we cannot recognize purity and innocence in the form of a child, might we not be missing the forest for the trees?
As she has grown older, Shruti's own blossoming devotion has brought this idea of essence and ritual home for me. She insists on offering her own stick of incense at the altar each day. She dutifully and devotionally twirls the unlit stick of incense before the sacred images while reciting her own simple prayers; afterward, Ami or I light the incense and allow it to burn out in a holder a safe distance away. To some, the whole thing might seem like nothing more than a game of make-believe. From my vantage point, though, I see a profound spiritual exchange take place. For those few moments, Shruti's eyes are keenly focused on the altar, her attention seems fixed, her heart is open and her mind is captivated. That she is not deterred by the fact that the incense is unlit when she offers it just underscores this; it is almost as if she intuitively understands that the scent is meant exclusively for the benefit of the Divine -- and he certainly accepts it, and the love with which it is offered, with or without the act of striking a match.
In her own way, she has tapped into the simple essence of this practice in a way that I still struggle to. For all my technical proficiency and adherence to complex ritual, I am humbled and inspired by her simple devotion. She teaches me how to see with wonder, and hear with my heart.
It is amazing to see Shruti discover something or hear something new. Her eyes grow wide, her cheeks become flush, her speech quickens and her voice gets higher. There is not a trace of cynicism or a hint of taking anything for granted. The underlying fears and doubts that often plague us, even as we are being blessed with wonderful or profound experiences, are conspicuous by their absence.
This is obvious in the way Shruti approaches the stories we tell her from sacred texts and Hindu folk traditions. She has an insatiable appetite for these stories -- "Tell me Ramayana stories," she often demands of me as I'm trying to change her into her pajamas -- that seems to only grow with each re-telling. This amazes us. For her, these aren't mere fairy tales to entertain her as she drifts off to sleep. They are living statements of truth, as real and meaningful to her as my literal descriptions of what I did at work earlier that day. When we describe Hanuman leaping across an ocean or Lord Krishna lifting a mountain, she accepts it with a simple and grateful heart and allows herself to be fully delighted by it.
I know that realists will likely dismiss this, and critics may even fault us for filling our daughter's head with "superstition." Frankly, the cynical side of me is also tempted to write it off as childish innocence that will fade away when the real world comes crashing in. But Shruti has taught me that I don't have to give in to the cynicism. If Shruti can be delighted by Krishna lifting a mountain, then why can't I? And if I truly believe that he is the cause of all causes, the one who created the mountains in the first place, shouldn't I see life itself as just as much of a miracle and source of wonder?
In teaching me to hear more with my heart, Shruti has radically transformed the way I approach my own faith. I am beginning to realize that, ultimately it is less important whether my intellect can prove that the stories in the texts are literally true or not. What is critically important is that there is Truth there, and that it has the potential to deeply touch my soul if I can approach it with a sense of child-like wonder and gratitude.
She inspires me to be better.
"True victory is not being better than another," a Hindu aphorism advises us, "but in being better than your previous self." As a father, I've come to realize that the joy of parenthood is inextricably tied to the loving burden of responsibility. My words, actions, and even consciousness are no longer my own -- they are now part of the subtle and explicit reality I am creating for Shruti. She is a constant observer and student, and the words I speak and things I do are creating impressions in her world. Hindu philosophy calls these impressions samskaras and considers them the building blocks of spiritual development.
I was given a wake-up call on this front when Shruti began speaking. I found myself slightly embarrassed to hear my own words coming out of her mouth. I started to notice her picking up on other things -- my inflections, or speech patterns, or phrases I just uttered by habit. Soon she was also imitating the way I sat, the way I slammed doors, even the way I lazily scrolled through my iPhone at the dinner table.
One day she picked up my meditation beads, adopted the exact posture that I had been sitting in, and began to mimic my chanting. It was as sobering as it was endearing. She is watching. She is learning. I have been blessed with a beautiful and precious gift, but I have also been entrusted with a serious responsibility. The Bhagavata Purana, the same text that described the sage and his 24 teachers that I referenced earlier, has strong words of caution for parents. "One should not become a mother or father," the text says, "if one is not prepared to help their children achieve liberation." If I want to be a Hindu father, or a father who lives his life based on Dharma, I have to take that advice seriously. I have to constantly strive to be better than my previous self.
Shruti Sara helps to remind me to strive, even -- especially -- when it is hard and seems hopeless. She gives me the most elegant reason to try. I am certainly far from perfect, but in sincerely trying to share my love and guidance with her, perhaps I can give her a tiny glimpse into the love and protection of the Divine, the perfect parent of us all. (Writer is Coordinator for Hindu Hindu Life, Princeton University.) Huff Post 17 June 2012.