Columbus, Ohio, Sept 24 – 27, 2011 – Ravindra Jaishankar, HSC General Secretary, spoke passionately to over 200 Hindu Temple leaders and executives on what he termed a “bleak but hopeful future” for Hindu Dharma in America.
Drawing from his experience working with various students as Rutgers University HSC chapter President, and current General Secretary, he described the state of Hindu youth as being “disconnected from Dharma, and disinterested in learning about it.” The inaugural session of the conference, which began with presentations from Hindu Temple executives about the growth and expansion of their Temples, was followed by Jaishankar’s account of the lack of interest in Hindu Dharma among the youth in general.
“The majority of Indian Hindus on campus dissociate from identifying as Hindus, and don’t participate in Hindu activities on campus. They are only interested in the fun and colorful cultural aspects of their tradition, and this is how they derive their identity. There are various Indian cultural organizations on campus that provide this without any of the underlying teaching, thus, the deeper meaning, symbolism, and Dharmic foundation is lost in this process,” said Jaishankar, painting a picture for the future of Hinduism and Hindu Temples. “Although you may see lots of youth and lots of devotees in your Mandir now, the participation drops once they go to college, and there are very little resources for them to learn and practice.”
His presentation included his experience working on field with students and being Hindu on a college campus. Specifically, Jaishankar spoke about the state of Hinduism in academia, various misconceptions presented in university religion courses, the lack of support for students from Hindu Temples and organizations and the general disunity of Hindu students on campus.
Jaishanker explained many practice strategies Temples can take in order for Temples to fit the needs of their future constituents. Jaishankar recommended that Temples support their local HSC chapter or help start chapters nearby in order to give Hindu students a spiritual home. He also suggested that Temples provide resources such as books, speakers, prasad, pandits, puja kits and seva opportunities. Temples can sponsor their local Balavihar youth to attend national HSC events for training and orientation on how to lead a HSC chapter and help existing chapters by hosting fundraisers and donating money to them. Jaishankar noted the general lack of and dire need for Hindu Chaplains in college settings.
In addition to supporting youth initiatives, Temples were asked to reform their functional structures from ritual centers to education centers – a psychological change towards openness and acceptance in the cultural attitude of avoidance towards questioning and doubt.
“Questions on abortion, gay marriage, suicide, euthanasia, stem cell research, pre-marital sex, dating, love marriages, caste, women’s issues, etc., need to be openly entertained and the youth should be able to ask without fear of rejection/punishment. Our Dharma is dynamic enough to provide very unique and effective answers to each of these issues, which would be logical and tremendously helpful to the youth,” said Jaishankar. Furthermore, fostering Pan-Hindu Unity and actively advocating to dispel the common misconceptions held by western society on Hinduism are essential for the future stability and progress of Hindu Dharma in America.
“There are many youth out there who are genuinely interested in what Dharma has to offer, but what is most important is that we need to do a better job at reaching out to them at their level, and developing them into leaders, so that they can do the outreach and advocacy work that is necessary. The three main areas are: 1) dispelling the misconceptions surrounding Hinduism and its misrepresentation in academia, 2) bringing Hindus together and destroy the disunity due to language, cultural, regional, and Samprayadic (sectarian) differences and 3) providing an open forum where youth can safely pose tough questions, and provide thoughtful, deep, dynamic answers based in Dharmic philosopy,” said Jaishankar, summing up strategies for planting the seed for the next generation. Temples to change the way the engage with the youth, he concluded.
HSC’s impact on the conference was felt throughout the weekend, as many speakers and Temple executives repeatedly brought up the topic of involving youth in their Temples and activities. Hindu community leaders have taken seriously the needs of their future torchbearers of Dharma. HSC will assist them in this work and has been invited to do a temple tour across America spreading this message and providing insight and training on how to better engage with Hindu American youth.