HAF 2013

A Voice For My Faith

Young writers participating in the 2013 NextGen Essay Contest, sponsored by Hindu American Foundation (HAF), were asked how this quote inspired them to be Hindu American advocates. Contestants, in three categories based upon their age — 14-17, 18-22, and 23-27 years — were judged on their creativity, style, and focus by a six person panel consisting of HAF Executive Council members and staff. First and second prize winners were selected in each of the categories and awarded a prized gift check from HAF.

Desh-Videsh congratulates the winners on their thoughtful reflections. The next generation is our future, and these essays are a testament to their awareness and understanding. Over the next two months, we will publish the three first prize-winning essays.

This month, first prize winner in the 14-17 age category Preethi Bhat, a sophomore at Davis Senior High School in Davis, California, reflects on her upbringing. Sandhya Devaraj, winner of the 23-27 age category, was a 2011 HAF Congressional Intern.

A Voice For My Faith
by Preethi Bhat
I have often listened to my parents tell inspiring stories, and one that shed light on my culture happened at Chicago in September, 1893. The Congress at the Parliament of Religions had unceremoniously placed the Bhagavad Gita, the holy book of Hinduism, on a table, and spectators watched as many other religious texts, such as the Bible, Torah, and Quran competed against each other to be on top of the pile. Without giving much thought, everyone proceeded to share spiritual ideas amongst one another. As high noon came, it was Swami Vivekananda’s turn to educate others on civil rights and represent his faith, Hinduism. He had sat quietly watching the debate unfold rather than arguing with the rest. Then, in a simple action to retrieve the Bhagavad Gita from the bottom, he caused all the other books to topple, falling down to the ground. The bottom did not represent the worst, but symbolized the first to be created. Through this unexpected demonstration, Swami Vivekananda showed how Hinduism’s basics are present in all religions; being the crucial foundation on which all the others were brought upon. His ideas of peace and unity have clarified my belief and role that I play in as a Hindu-American.

Although religion inspires hope and brings love to all, it has been misused as an excuse for unnecessary force and brutality. Time and time again, the world has divided into peril due to non-unity. The Crusades for example, when the Christians from Europe came to Jerusalem to drive away Muslims from their holy land, led to a 200-year war which caused bloodshed and fighting among brothers of the same God. Were these killings justified? I don’t believe so, but think religion had been used to mask the true reason for any war, fear and greed. For centuries, we have been taught to share our possessions and greet everyone with open arms. After all, we emerged from Mother Earth and are on our way to fulfill missions. Every person is a small part of the cosmos, somehow interconnected; so dharma is to aid others in their journey and be as hospitable as possible. While other religions preach this good deed; Hindus put it into practice in every aspect of life. Furthermore, the Hindu religion has also helped the people of India withstand harsh rules imposed on them by the British.

On August 15, 1947, India gained its freedom from Britain. Because the Muslim population refused to be a part of a government dominated by Hindus, a partition, Pakistan, was created to satisfy its religious politics. This is a clear example depicting disunity among nations. I understand that all religions want a ‘voice’ in addressing their views using the media, which can lead to losing religion’s key fundamentals and purpose. I feel that under all the hype and debate, all religions at their core are actually guiding us towards the same goal. While advocating this for my belief, Hinduism, it helped me develop universal acceptance and religious democracy. In Hinduism, or in any other religion, there is no encouragement towards violence and warfare; so such extreme nature is a shame to see for many devotees. As Swami Vivekananda said, “Desire, ignorance, and inequality- these are the trinity of bondage.” One can conjecture that these are the real motive of every war, and without banishing these from within, as Hinduism dictates, the human race can never truly make progress accepting each other’s differences and finding harmony with one another. The war separating India and Pakistan acted as a fresh start for India, a new life to rejuvenate the relations and economy.

Swami Vivekananda’s devout love for his country and Hinduism has had a profound impact on me. Studying my faith with passion to understand my heritage; it is now more than ever that I have valued acquiring Hinduism’s morals through my unique opportunity by visiting India every other year. My parents’ commitment to their values has allowed me to experience India’s rich culture, and it is these life lessons that my elders have lovingly given me that I bring back home to the United States of America. Furthermore, Swami Vivekananda said, “It is the same India which has withstood the shocks of centuries, of hundreds of foreign invasions, of hundreds of upheavals of manners and customs. It is the same land, which stands firmer than any rock in the world, with its undying vigor and indestructible life. Its life is of the same nature as the soul, without beginning and without end, immortal; and we are the children of such a country.” The unity and strength of such a pure primordial religion in such a nation makes me truly appreciate being an Indian-descent youth in America. Questionable ideals surround us daily, which further reinforces my decision to remain mindful of the Hindu lessons throughout my life, from my parents, my relatives, and my Hindu community. I strive to remember that even though people throughout the world might have different beliefs, they lead to the same God that we all love, and we are all working towards the same enlightenment with our lives. I hope to share this idea with countless others while applying it to myself as I move forward in my life. In the bhajan “Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram”, there is this line: Ishwar Allah teronam, sabakosanmati de bhagavan. These lines melodiously utter how even though we use different names for God; the same holy one will receive our love and give us all affection.

Swami Vivekananda’s teachings, alongside Hinduism, have been practiced for ages and have continuously led followers toward righteous living and enlightenment. His teachings have stirred compassion in people and have stimulated the mind to discover new hidden values. He served as a leader and voyager into the spiritual world, and his words will continue to guide many towards non-violence and human dignity.

About Preethi
Preethisiri Bhat, 15 yearst old, is a sophomore at Davis Senior High School in Davis, California. She has primarily focused on academics and enjoys visiting India with her family. She is compassionate about animals and loves drawing, painting, and anything craft-related. Her goal is to work in a field where she can help make the world a better place.