An Action Plan for the Survival of Vedic Culture
by Stephen Knapp
This plan is not intended to be all inclusive. Other ideas and refinements can be suggested, added and implemented. Nonetheless, it is a start toward a cohesive strategy to preserve what is left of the Vedic culture in which all Hindus and devotees can participate in some way. If we do not take this seriously, others certainly will because that is their goal, to take over or convert all of India to something else. They are not so relaxed about it as Hindus seem to be. They are much more aggressive. It is natural that Hindus may feel that all religions are paths to God, and thus deserve their freedom to exist. The problem is that not all other religions feel the same way, and have numerous members who view Hinduism as something that should be eliminated.
It has become clear to me that we can spend so much time presenting information about the glories of Vedic culture, and how there was no "Aryan invasion," but that Vedic India and its Aryan civilization has always been its own, not anyone else's. However, this is not all that will assure that India remains the home of Vedic culture. If we look around, there are constant attempts to promote the freedoms of minorities in India at the expense of the Hindus. People may argue against this point, but there is overwhelming evidence that this is the case.
In other words, it is obvious that in many areas Vedic culture, and other cultures, too, such as Tibetan Buddhism, are under attack. Every genuine religion should have the right to exist to assist its followers in developing and improving themselves spiritually. And Vedic culture is one of the foremost and oldest of all spiritual paths. Furthermore, from the evidence we have provided in this book, we can see that it has been one of the most expansive of any religion and civilization in history. It is and always has been a great and noble path. Unfortunately, when viewed by those who have closed minds because of their prejudice and bias, it can be misunderstood. And often when those who belong to other religions want to help Hindus who may be in need of support materially, they quite often do so when they see an opportunity to make converts. Thus, we find more than a few missionaries who go among those who live in poverty do so with offers of free clothes, food, medicine, education, etc., in exchange for conversion or in an attempt to try and show some kind of superiority in their religion. In this way, their assistance is not offered as real help, but merely as an covert bribe to convert.
However, we should ask, "What is the Hindu being converted from?" They are expected to convert from one of the greatest traditions in the world, and one of the most profound and lofty philosophies found anywhere. Thus, Vedic tradition must be allowed to have expression and has much to offer if people can be receptive.
So how can there be changes in the Hindu communities to assure the future of Vedic culture? The point is that we have to work with the people. We have to get all the people involved, as in a grass roots effort. Internally, Hindu communities often suffer from being fragmented by language and regional distinctions and loyalties, as well as by being under-developed materially, financially, and organizationally. To counter this:
(1) Community and temple leaders must become more trained both in Vedic knowledge and organizational skills. They must provide programs that go beyond regional distinctions, and bring people together in a way that focuses on their unity in their Vedic heritage. They need to become culturally united as Hindus, and see themselves as a large Hindu family. (2) Hindus and devotees must also have programs that will provide them with exposure to the depths of Vedic philosophy and connect them with what is actually God-centered. This will also counter the western religions and missionaries who are trying to make converts by emphasizing material comforts and the glitter of the more modern way of life, while putting the focus on God as secondary. Such God-centered activities will actually attract anyone who is really searching for the means to perceive their spiritual identity. (3) Another point is that Hindus need to make sure they participate in the Vedic "samskara" ceremonies. These provide the purificatory rituals that mark the various stages of life in connection with the Vedic purpose of making spiritual progress. When one's life is focused on these events, it will be much more difficult for a person to give up the Vedic customs for another.
(4) Parents also must be educated in the importance of Vedic knowledge in order to be able to pass this along to their children, especially in the home in the West, or wherever regular schools provide no such emphasis. Parents must make sure their children are properly trained in Indian history and culture, and Vedic traditions and principles. And parents can only be properly educated with the assistance of the temple pandits and genuine spiritual leaders. Doing this in conjunction with the programs or functions at the local temple will benefit the children, and create lasting memories of the joy in associating with other children while learning the great Vedic epics, legends, and principles of life, as well as participating in the worship of the Supreme.
(5) Not only local pandits, but also the wealthy and all educated and knowledgeable Hindus and devotees should take responsibility to protect their culture, as is often seen in other religions. (6) They all need to become Vedic ambassadors, which means they need to be ready to show anyone and everyone the importance of past and present contributions and achievements of Vedic culture.
(7) Also, by providing spiritual festivals, pandal tent celebrations and feasts, people will continue to be entertained, and socially and spiritually rejuvenated and enlivened. The Vedic culture has to be taken outside the temples to the people and congregation. The Acharyas and Swamis should go out of their way to support such programs and bring them to people everywhere, from big cities to the small villages. As people participate in these joyous activities of the Vedic path, and also contribute to each otherís spiritual and material well-being, everyone will naturally feel a higher sense of self-esteem. They will feel proud of their Vedic heritage. In this way, the community will assure itself of its future by attending to the needs of its members. Otherwise, someone else will likely come along to do it, and many times such people are not followers of Sanatana-Dharma, but are members of other faiths working to make converts to their own religion.
Furthermore, non-Hindus or foreign guests should also feel welcome to attend such functions in order to taste the wonderful spiritual culture of India and its ancient traditions. This works wonders for public relations with neighbors and friends, as well as introducing Vedic culture to others who may also become attracted, or at least gain a better understanding of the Vedic traditions. An exclusive attitude amongst Hindus toward others or toward low castes will only work against it. It is a sure prescription for a slow extinction.
(8) In this regard, when there is only focus on the temple activities to define one's relation to Vedic culture, many other needs of the Hindu community may be left out and ignored. This is what is picked up by outside religions and missionaries. These needs include visiting the sick, attending to others' medical problems, family problems, assisting those in poverty, providing food and clothing, education, and much more. These needs have to be attended. Temples should have or develop outreach programs to facilitate the people of the community who have such needs. Thus, they will not need to go to outsiders, but will be able to stay within their own community for assistance.
(9) Modern facilities must be used to unite and advance the Hindu community, to assist with its needs, and to push forward the Vedic way of life. Hindus must become more well organized, more well funded. Money is crucial to the success of the spiritual programs which are necessary to bring Vedic Dharma back to its rightful place, and in the center of the devotee's life. Strong finances are one of the cornerstones of any successful religion. Hindus who are able must provide a fixed percentage of their income as a tithe to their favorite temple, preaching project, or outreach program. This not only helps maintain what is there, but also helps defend and spread the culture.
(10) They must also consistently use information by making and distributing literature and plans for activities in which people can participate. Hindus and Vedic followers must also use the various means of communication to unite their community, such as radio, television, newspapers, as well as have conferences and community meetings, etc. These are all effective means to spread the spiritual understanding as found in the Vedic culture. Without modern means of communications, they simply become more fragmented from each other and cut off from their own culture. Hindus must be culturally united to have any impact, and be willing to work more closely together to do this.
Vedic or Hindu organizations: These must work to provide the means for Vedic education among all people, and help establish the necessary means to ensure this. This would include, (1) the formation and development of more private Hindu schools for children which must be staffed with proper teachers. (2) They should also begin writing and manufacturing their own school books that maintain Vedic values. (3) Financing preaching programs, "satsanghs," to take the Vedic message to all people is also necessary. (4) There is also a need to produce more pamphlets, books, tapes, videos, etc., that help show the significance of the Vedic way of life. Distributing such literature, and establishing more traveling preaching programs and festivals, is practically more important than establishing more temples. Some people live too far away to regularly attend temple programs. But books, pamphlets, tapes, and photographs of Deities and spiritual saints they can keep with them always, wherever they are. However, for those temples that are established, providing the programs which will bring all people, young and old, to participate and be involved in their cultural heritage is of vital importance.
(5) All educated Hindus and devotees on the Vedic path should be encouraged to do their part to help in their local temples or organizations, such as with management, teaching congregational members, distribution of Vedic literature, food (prasadam) distribution, and looking after others in the community in various ways. Thus, they set an example that others can follow. Institutions must organize projects that can focus on and take care of the needs of the people, such as solving the problems of family violence, alcoholism, the poor, the sick, the aged, etc., which will also help and is necessary. (6) Also, organizations should form committees to monitor and defend against local attacks on Hinduism in the media. (7) We should also promote the accomplishments of various Vedic groups and the advantages of the Vedic way of life, and what achievements local Vedic communities and individuals have attained. Newsletters can be a great and positive way to do this, which can create pride in the community for being affiliated with the Vedic lifestyle.
On an individual basis: (1) One should realize that he or she should first seek the proper knowledge and means of enlightenment to try and attain liberation from material existence after death and return to the spiritual realm through devotion to God. One should understand that everything in material life is temporary, and that the basis of the Vedic path is to reach that realm which is eternal, beyond the illusory nature in which we so often must focus in our daily lives. Such knowledge should be attained from authorized Vedic books, spiritual authorities, associating with like-minded devotees, and other means. (2) A person should also live a life defined by Vedic values in all situations, whether at home, at work, or while traveling. This would include avoiding the consumption of meat and intoxicants, and beware of gambling and illicit sex. (3) Such a life should also include regular daily reading of scripture, such as Bhagavad-gita, as well as performing spiritual activities, worship, and chanting prayers such as the Hare Krishna mantra. Otherwise, one gradually loses sight of the purpose of life and the reasons for the Vedic standards. One should also participate and assist in the programs at the local temple whenever possible, as mentioned above. (4) One should also respect other religions, but should not feel you must compromise your own values or traditions to do so. And do not argue with those of other faiths who lack respect for your own. Better to keep your own values and reasoning without giving them over to the contradiction of foolish men. After all, everyone knows that a fool talks all nonsense. There is no need in wasting one's valuable time with such a person.
(5) Furthermore, if one has been blessed with wealth, talents, or a position of influence, you must realize it is a blessing from God. Therefore, you should also show your gratefulness for such blessings by taking time to contribute to the well-being of others and local temples and causes to help preserve your Vedic heritage. You must set an example, knowing that whatever a great man or woman does, others will follow.
(6) Finally, any individual can help monitor and petition the media to increase positive coverage of Hindu occurrences, and protest biased reporting. Simply acquire the address or phone numbers of the local paper, radio or television station to write a letter of concern or protest when something is published that is prejudicial in its view of something that is Hindu. Don't be afraid of speaking out. And connect with those who have similar concerns. The media listens the more people speak out. We cannot afford to shy away from political disputes. They have appeared from time immemorial. The point to understand is that freedom does not come without its challenges, and we must work together to protect the freedom that we now have, and adjust whatever misrepresentation that exists that works to demean Vedic culture.
These are all points that can help promote the continuation of Vedic culture and arrange for its survival under the attacks that are likely to increase in the future. Such attacks are not only from those of other religions who would like to see the demise of the Vedic way of life, but also from the lack of sincerity and the complacency of those who consider themselves followers of the Vedic path but are not serious about it, or who do little to defend it.
One last thing that the global Vedic community should consider is to be more flexible and accommodating to those who are from outside the Vedic tradition who wish to join and participate in its ways. I personally have traveled all over India and have visited more holy places than most Indians. And it is not uncommon for temples to post signs stating, "No non-Hindus allowed." This exclusiveness is usually based on racism or the color of one's skin more than one's faith, and I have often been excluded from such temples. However, being dressed in traditional clothes, such as a dhoti, and being a devotee of Krishna has helped me enter temples that may otherwise exclude me. Of course, I can understand the idea that cynical people who visit temples can simply cause problems or contaminate the atmosphere. However, there are many people from outside India, or who were born of non-Indian parents, who sincerely want to be a part of, or who already practice, the Vedic path. And some of them are following higher spiritual standards than many Indians by being completely vegetarian, abstaining from illicit sex, intoxicants, and so on.
So I suggest that if temples want to exclude non-Hindus yet still let white-skinned devotees inside, they can use the procedures as found at the Dwarakadish Temple in Dwaraka, or the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum. They have the person go to the administrative office to sign a paper stating that they are indeed Hindu. Then the person presents that paper at the temple doorway, where they are then allowed in the temple.
In my travels through India, for example, I have personally met and seen Indian Brahmins who ate eggs, smoked cigarettes, or drank alcohol, which are completely non-brahminical habits. While just in front of the famous Jagannatha temple in Puri, I have talked with those who are proud to wear the sacred Brahmin's thread, even though I could smell alcohol on their breath. Nonetheless, in spite of this they can easily go into the temple, which forbids non-Hindus or white-skinned devotees no matter how sincere they may be. So why not let the Westerners in the temples? Why not allow them full participation? Fortunately, there are also many temples and ashramas in India who do allow Westerners in, and they are not the worse off for it. And, of course, Vedic temples in America do not exclude anyone. The same goes for Indians who may have converted to Christianity or something and again want to return to Hinduism. They should be given full facility to renew their faith and participation in the Vedic path.
The point I am getting at is that Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and other paths have an open door policy that allow anyone to enter the churches and temples and most mosques, and participate and join. These religions receive much support from their new members. Just as so many Indians have joined Christianity or converted to Islam and are now supporting their new religion in terms of giving donations of money, time, energy, and ideas, many Westerners would also like to participate in Vedic culture in the same way. And the Vedic communities could certainly use more of that support. The larger a group is, the more influence and support it has to offer, if used appropriately. Even though Hinduism has opened many of its doors that were once closed to outsiders, Hinduism has to be more willing to give and share its knowledge with others, and to open itself in allowing others to participate and be part of it. There has to be more Vedic communities than ISKCON which have an open door policy to accommodate all people who wish to participate in the Vedic path. Many people have been and are inspired by the Vedic culture of India. After all, there have already been Western people who were very influential supporters of the Vedic path and its wisdom, as we can see in people like Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and many others. This could only expand if more Hindus, especially in India, gave up their attitude of exclusivity. This attitude will only limit the potential of Hinduism in general.
The Vedic Aryan spiritual path is "Sanatana-Dharma," which is the eternal nature of the soul, which is universal and includes everybody. So this Vedic knowledge belongs to everybody, and everyone can use it to better understand themselves and the purpose of life. It does not simply belong to one class of people. Therefore, the Hindu or Vedic community has to be willing to open itself up and give and share its knowledge and culture with others. In this way, everyone can better understand it and benefit from it. Otherwise, as other religions and institutions continue to expand, if the Hindu or Vedic community does not adopt the proposals as outlined above, then they will witness or cause its own instability, or even its own slow demise, which is already happening.
In this way, by helping protect and restore Vedic culture, we are saving what is left of the original seed from which all social advancements, scientific observations, religious customs, and spiritual philosophy can be traced. Indeed, it still offers the loftiest and most complete spiritual understanding found anywhere, and is the oldest living culture, rich in tradition, without which the world would lose its connection to its earliest roots.
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