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Growing Up in America and Embracing Hindu Spirituality

 

1. Introduction

On 5th November 2010, a novel educational program, ‘Spotlight on Hinduism’ concluded successfully at the Drake Tech Centre in Fort Collins. On the occasion of the widely celebrated Hindu ‘festival of lights’, Diwali, many from Fort Collins and surrounding areas thronged to attend the ‘Spotlight on Hinduism’, a public event held to create awareness about Hinduism. The program received honorable attendance by the Fort Collins Mayor, Doug Hutchinson, who inaugurated the program in the tradition of Hinduism, with the lighting of the auspicious oil lamp. Hutchinson shared the importance of not just tolerance, but of ‘proactive inclusion’ of the myriad cultures like Hinduism in Fort Collins, to enrich the City’s diversity.

 

The Spotlight on Hinduism, compered by Ms. Kate Anderson, a World Literature Professor at Colorado State University, included a presentation by a local Hindu, Ms. Maya Jairam on ‘Growing up in America and embracing Hindu Spirituality’ and a presentation by Forum for Hindu Awakening’s Mrs. Bhavna Shinde Hurley on ‘Understanding, living and preserving Hinduism’. The presentations, in a light and engaging manner, highlighted the challenges faced by Hindus growing up in America, what it means to be a Hindu, the unique spiritual science underlying Hinduism concepts and the answers Hinduism holds out for problems at individual and society level. 

 

Ms. Maya Jairam was born and brought up in Fort Collins. She has a strong commitment to the community and currently serves as the chair of the Human Relations Commission. She has taken up philanthropic projects the world over, from orphanages in India, to building homes with Habitat for Humanity in South Africa. In this presentation, Maya walks us through her journey to embracing Hindu Spirituality, growing up in America.
 

 

2. 'Growing up in America and embracing Hindu Spirituality'

|| PRAYER||

Bhagwan Sree Krushna, I have no idea how to proceed. Only by Your divine grace will the speech for the CO DS go on without obstacles, only by Your grace will the obstacles in its delivery be removed. You only speak to Them, You only say what will awaken and lift the flag of dharma within them. Let this speech be full of Your chaitanyamay speech, as it was for Sree Arjun on the Battlefield at Kurukshetra. Let this speech be as a shankha, and destroy any and all black covering from all our minds and intellects, let us be united under the flag of Dharma by Your speech and divine grace.

Please help me, divine Brother, in surrendering this, and myself, entirely at Your Holy Feet, just as Ekalavya surrendered his thumb to Dronacharya.

Krutadnyata Sree Krushna

 

 

 

 

Namaste, Good evening, and thank you for coming tonight. It is my profound honor to be here tonight, to share my experiences on such a momentous night as Diwali.

 

 

You may not know this by looking at me, though my speech and accent might betray me, but I am as native to Fort Collins as anyone can be. In fact, I was born at PVH to immigrant parents. At the time, Fort Collins was a vastly different place than it is now, and I, too, a different person. It was a very homogenous population, to say the least. Fortunately, I never felt different. In fact, I wasn’t raised distinctly Hindu, Indian or distinctly anything. I watched Rams football, ate pepperoni pizza and drank Coca-Cola like it was going out of style.

 

I was not raised with any specific ideas about God or spirituality. Sure, I’d hear stories, but the crux of my upbringing was mainly rooted in how I should and could be a model citizen and person.

A lot of times, I would get asked what the red dot was for. And I would hear some truly horrible explanations. Something in me didn’t quite cotton on to many of the explanations given by various and sundry people. And while I would occasionally hear about the various deities, I didn’t quite get what it was all about. More often than not, those brave enough to ask a question of me, would be met with a shrug.

As I grew older and moved out of Fort Collins, to some of the more metropolitan parts of the country, I learned more and more about Hinduism. It was all very nice, and the deity stories truly captivating, but none of it especially made sense. My adolescence and early adulthood was met with more ambivalence, ‘but why’s and shoulder shrugs.

This cursory look at my early life, if in some way representative of Hindus across America, may explain the existence of so many misconceptions about Hinduism, or, more correctly, Hindu Dharma, not only within the local and global community, but even amongst Hindus themselves.

In my more recent past, specifically the last decade of my life, my interest has since deepened greatly and it has led me to study Hindu belief and practice, as well as the fundamental spiritual principles that make it as beautiful as it is.

As we mentioned at the beginning of the program, today is a most momentous day, namely Diwali, or the Festival of Lights. On this day, Hindus light lamps to celebrate the victory of the divine inherent within all of us, over evil, or our weaknesses. As children, Hindus are regaled with the story of Krushna defeating the evil demon Narkasur. However, the principle goes far deeper, as we just noted. Why then, do we light lamps? And also, in the ritualistic worship specifically, is there a reason why we light lamps using ghee, or clarified butter, instead of some oil?

Many of us may not know why. Many of us may not know what exactly being a Hindu is, either. In the past decade, my study and research, as well as own practice, has led me to some interesting findings, which I would like to touch upon, in brief. I would like to acknowledge and thank the Spiritual Science Research Foundation, or SSRF, for providing me with the slides I will be using today. Their research into the spiritual dimension have provided great insight for me, and clarified for me the fundamental spiritual principles and science underlying Hindu concepts and practices.

The most fundamental principle underlying any and all practices within Hinduism hinges upon the concept that all of creation is comprised of 3 subtle particles—just as we have protons, neutrons and electrons, even more subtle, and beyond the scope of modern science, there are sattva, raja and tama.

As we can see here, they emit vibrations of varying types.


Now, what are sattva, raja and tama?  As everything is made up of these subtle elements, something that is high in the sattva component, is high in spiritual purity. It gives off a pleasant feeling, usually has a very calming effect on us, etc. Something that is high in Raja, or that is rajasik, denotes a lot of action and passion. And something that is high in tama, or is tamasik in nature, denotes inertia, and negativity.


 

As mentioned, everything can be broadly categorized according to which is the predominant subtle basic component, as can be seen in this slide. (briefly touch on this; can also mention people and their personalities)

                                                                                             

  1. As we can see, there is much scope for a person to increase the spiritual purity in themselves and their lifestyle. One very popular question people ask, is about Hindus eating meat. Today, lots of Hindus do consume meat and meat products. However, like with other things, the principle behind vegetarianism, is to lead a sattvik lifestyle.

As we can see here, we have a steak and a banana. Looks pretty normal, nothing unusual, right?

 

 

Now, when we take a look at what is going on at a subtle level, as far as the breakdown of subtle elements, we see this is what a steak is like.

 


 

Not the most appetizing. What about a banana?

As we can see, the banana emits much more positive frequencies and is higher in the sattva component. With this in mind, we can see why a vegetarian lifestyle is more in accordance with the principle of increasing one’s spiritual purity.


 

Now, returning back to the topic of Diwali. Why do we light a lamp made of ghee, or clarified butter? Children and people are told it is to herald victory of the divine over evil. And while this is true, there is spiritual science underlying it.

Again, courtesy of SSRF, here is a slide of what happens when one lights a lamp using ghee as fuel (next slide)

 

 

It not only heralds and signifies triumph of all that is good and divine over all that is base and evil, it actually has the capacity to increase the spiritual purity in our surroundings, and attract the particles of that very energy, and provides a favorable atmosphere for deep contemplation on the divine, and focus on that divine energy.

 

By contrast, at the beginning of this event, the mayor and panelists lit a sesame oil lamp. Why not ghee?

 

 

In this particular case, as mentioned at the beginning of this event, the energy of action is more needed for the event that is going on. And the ‘raja’, or action-passion particles emitted from the sesame oil, provide that.

 

So, as we can see, we have only begun to scratch the surface of Hinduism. The depth and vastness of it would indeed take many lifetimes to understand.

 

However, I am nonetheless grateful that I am able to get an inkling of this and apply it to my own life, to continue in the vein set by my parents from childhood, on how to make myself and my community better.

 

Namaste

 

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