Adding Innovation, Wisdom and Holistic Human Development to Our Universities, by Stephen Knapp

(Written for my presentation at the World Parliament of Science, Religion and Philosophies in Pune, India, October, 2018)

A long time ago, back when I was about 20 years old, and when I had already been studying such books as the Bhagavad-gita, the Upanishads, and other Vedic texts of India, I saw an article in my local paper by the principle of my local high school in which he said that when students come to school, they should already have an understanding of what they want to accomplish and what they want to get out of their education. When I saw this, I thought it was rather odd, because is not that what education is supposed to give you, the understanding of who and what you are, and how to reach your highest potential? But if the principle says that he expects the student should already have such insight before he or she arrives at school, this would seem to mean that there must be some kind of supplemental education that the student should have before he goes to school.

So I wrote a long letter to the editor of our local newspaper pointing this out, that there must be some kind of preliminary education that would provide the student with such insight. Otherwise, if he does not get that from school, from where is he expected to acquire such understanding? So, I mentioned that books like the Bhagavad-gita in the Vedic tradition could provide some of these insights, if people would take advantage of it.

However, some would say that this is spiritual knowledge, or even religious information, and how is that supposed to be provided in schools that are meant to be completely secular? The point is, as mentioned in the Sri Ishopanishad (Mantra Eleven), that to reach perfection in life, one must learn material knowledge side by side with spiritual knowledge. It is not enough to learn some craft or trade skills to make a living, but a person must also know the purpose of life and why we are here and who we are.

When we forget or do not know who we are, we also lose sight of the moral standards we need to accumulate to develop ourselves into decent and law abiding citizens, human beings who can make a substantial and uplifting contribution to the community and the world at large. Instead, we may fall to the platform of only trying to live at whatever cost, even if it is by trying to take advantage of others, rather than trying to better ourselves along with everyone else.

In this light, when I’m traveling and lecturing about the traditions of India, it is not uncommon that some people will ask me why there is often so much corruption, cheating and bribery in India. I often tell them that the fact is that people are forgetting their own culture, their own traditions of moral standards that the Dharmic principles are meant to teach them. In fact, it is often said that the problems you find in India are caused by India’s religion. But actually, wherever I go I find that it is not the case at all, but it is the result of forgetting, the distancing from, and the misinterpretation of the Vedic tradition that leaves the gaps in society and in the character of humanity that cause the problems of which we see so much.

The fact is that if we really understood and followed the culture that is the legacy and inheritance of this country, many of the social problems we see would simply disappear. Therefore, we need to continue to teach our children the basic principles of moral standards and character building that India’s Vedic tradition promotes. So, my advice was that we need to continue to spread the understanding of the Vedic Dharma traditions in order to show the proper example of truly noble character, not only in the teachings in such traditions, but by the example of the great character of the personalities and heroes that are described in the great epics of India.

Actually, I also put this question about the corruption of India to M. Rama Jois, the retired Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court when I had met him on one of my tours while visiting Bengaluru several years ago. He had written a book called “Dharma: The Global Ethic.” In this book, he shows the many ways in which Vedic Dharma is not a religious teaching, but a moralistic code that can provide advice for people of all standings, and in all kinds of situations, and especially for the children which can use a standard of insight that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. He also showed, as I also say, that present-day problems are due to the neglect of Dharma. And that with Vedic Dharma, there would be a reduction of evil, confusion in society, the propensity for selfish motives and cruelty to others, and how an orderly society is an incarnation and manifestation of Dharma, and how Dharma does not mean religion, which is the means of worshiping God. But Dharma is a code of living by good conduct, respect for the law and our traditions, and the means to sustain society and the world, and propel them to a higher grade of living and refined consciousness. Without that, we can see what is happening.

Dharma is conformity with the truth of things, while adharma or vice is the opposition to it. On a national, ethnic, or racial level, Dharma is an instrument of unity, not divisiveness. That which helps unite everyone and develop love and universal brotherhood is Dharma. That which causes discord or disharmony or provokes hatred is adharma.

Dharma is also said to be the force which maintains the universe. Where there is Dharma there is harmony and balance individually, socially, and inter‑galactically. So the path of Dharma brings about the harmony and contentment that is also another aspect of what we are seeking. In this way, we want harmony inwardly, in our own consciousness, but we also cannot have individual peace unless there is harmony or cooperation socially, among the masses. So, where there is no Dharma, there is disharmony and a state of being that is out of balance. And socially it means that without Dharma, there is a lack of cooperation, along with escalating quarrel, fighting, corruption, and dishonesty.

When we act against the law of Dharma, we disrupt the very harmony and cooperation that we want. In other words, we create a life for ourselves in which there is stress, confusion, discontent, and frustration. And when we feel that way, that becomes our contribution to the general social condition. It is the exact opposite of what we wish to attain. Thus, to live a life outside of Dharma means to work against ourselves.

Rama Jois explained to me that years ago, before India’s independence, it was common that children would be taught before they went to school about the moral standards and character of the heroes of Vedic culture. Sometimes the schools also would include the Dharmic teachings to imbibe in children the character and principles of being a good and decent human being, and, thus, also a good student, which the children would then take with them for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, once India became independent it also became a secular nation, which meant that all such early teaching about human development, and moral standards based on the heroes and characters within the Vedic epics of India, could no longer be taught in schools or any government affiliated institution. It was considered religious teachings, and therefore was not allowed. With this, as M. Rama Jois explained, came the distancing of the youth from the Vedic culture and the high moral standards that went with it. And from this came the ever-increasing corruption that has infected much of the country.

These days, only through private schools, or in families that teach the Vedic culture, or I have also seen families who hold weekend classes in such topics for the neighborhood children, do the youth still learn of this type of knowledge that helps instill in them pride in their heritage and the principles of high moral standards, and the means to acquire insights into character-building for their own development, either before they go to school or even after they have already started their education. On the other hand, if secularism means a state without Dharma, then we will see a lawless state, a lawless country. Surely, the Indian constitution did not mean that we become a State of Adharma. Dharma regulated the mutual obligations and what is beneficial for individuals and society. Therefore, it was stressed that the protection of Dharma was in the interest of both the individual and the society. And the best way to protect it is to train youngsters in Dharma from the beginning of their lives.

Therefore, the concluding point I am making is that the basis of knowledge, wisdom and holistic human development is to not only offer the necessary classes in material studies, sciences and skills, but to include the basis of human refinement that has been a part of India’s traditions since time immemorial, which includes that of Dharmic studies. Such could and should be part of the curriculum, or extra-curricular classes that students could take. This would transform India’s universities into true centers of innovation, wisdom, ethics, holistic human development, knowledge, and balance for the student’s life. This would add to the beneficial contributions such a student would offer to their family, society and the country. This would change the direction of India, and provide an example that the rest of the world should follow.

Stephen Knapp (Author/Writer of over 40 books on various aspects of India and its Vedic culture. http://www.stephen-knapp.com)

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How to Understand God, by Stephen Knapp

Sometimes people say that they want to see God, or that God is not perceivable. And this is confirmed in the Vedic scripture, but with additional points of instruction on how we can perceive the Supreme Being. The Svetasvatara Upanishad (4.20) explains “His form of beauty is imperceptible to mundane senses. No one can see Him with material eyes. Only those who realize, through deep pure-hearted meditation, this Supreme Personality, who resides in everyone’s heart, can attain liberation.”

 

Krishna lila or His pastimes are eternally going on in the spiritual world, whereas they appear to be happening only at certain points in time within the material energy. However, one who has purified or spiritualized his or her consciousness can still witness these activities even while in the material body. This can especially happen at the holy places (dhamas) where the spiritual and material energies overlap, and where the spiritual world appears with this material domain. Such places include Vrindavana, Mathura, Jagannatha Puri, Dwaraka, etc. And when the Lord is pleased with your service, He can reveal Himself to you. In this way, many greatly elevated and pure devotees of Krishna have been able to have personal darshan of the Lord and witness His pastimes even while in the material body. Then they may leave instructions for the rest of us to follow so that we can do the same. This is verification that the process of devotion, bhakti-yoga, works.

 
The Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.14.29) continues with this point. “My Lord, if one is favored by even a slight trace of the mercy of Your lotus feet, one can understand the greatness of Your Personality. But those who speculate to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead are unable to know You, even though they continue to study the Vedas for many years.”

 

The Katha Upanishad (1.2.23) also relates “The Supreme Soul can neither be attained by studying the Veda, nor by sharp intelligence, nor by hearing many discourses on the scriptures. However, the Lord reveals His original transcendental form to the soul who embraces Him within the heart as the only Lord and Master. That soul alone can attain Him–the Supreme Soul, the Personality of Godhead, the Lord of the heart.”

 

Since Krishna is the Supreme Being and source of all enjoyment, it is in our best interest to engage in His service, for that will also connect us to Him and give us that great pleasure and bliss that we are always trying to find. That is the point of devotional service, called bhakti-yoga, which is the process of connecting (yog) with the Supreme through devotion (bhakti). In this way, our inherent loving propensity is directed toward the supreme lover and natural object of love, God. There is no better way of finding God than this. In other words, through devotion we do not try to see God, but we act in such a way that God reveals Himself to us. Then everything is accomplished. There can be no greater achievement in the human form of life than that. Everything else is temporary; it comes and goes. Only our spiritual achievements last eternally because they are connected with the immortal soul. Therefore, reawakening our relationship with the Supreme is the highest goal in human existence.

 
Since it is established in the Vedic texts that the Absolute ultimately is a person, then meditating on the personal form of God rather than the impersonal feature is the highest form of meditation. This is verified in Bhagavad-gita (12.2): “The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: ‘He whose mind is fixed on My personal form, always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith, is considered by Me to be the most perfect.’”

Herein, we can understand that realizing the Absolute Truth in the form of the Supreme Person is much easier and much more attractive than struggling to realize, meditate on, or merge into the great white light of the impersonal brahmajyoti, or some other non-personal aspect of God. By understanding the Supreme Personality, all other facets of the Absolute, such as the Brahman effulgence and Paramatma or Supersoul, are also understood. In fact, those who are absorbed in Brahman realization can easily become attracted to understanding the Supreme Personality as did such sages as Sukadeva Gosvami and the Kumaras, as noted in Srimad-Bhagavatam:

“Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master, the son of Vyasadeva, Sukadeva Gosvami. It is he who defeats all inauspicious things within this universe. Although in the beginning he was absorbed in the happiness of Brahman realization and was living in a secluded place, giving up all other types of consciousness, he became attracted by the most melodious pastimes of Lord Sri Krishna. He therefore mercifully spoke the supreme Purana, known as Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is the bright light of the Absolute Truth and which describes the activities of Lord Krishna.” (Bhag.12.12.68)

Therefore, since Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality, then naturally there are certain ways in which to understand Him. This is a science, which we can more deeply explain later. But for now we can offer a summary of the instructions that point the way. The main point of consideration is that if we are trying to understand Lord Krishna, then we need to know what pleases Him, which is something that we can find from His direct instructions.

The key is explained directly by Lord Sri Krishna Himself when he says: “Knowledge about Me as described in the scriptures is very confidential, and it has to be realized in conjunction with devotional service. The necessary paraphernalia for that process is being explained by Me. You may take it up carefully. All of Me, namely My actual eternal form and My transcendental existence, color, qualities and activities–let all be awakened within you by factual realization, out of My causeless mercy.” (Bhag.2.9.31-32)

Therefore, it is Lord Krishna’s causeless mercy upon us that allows us to reach the stage of being truly awakened. Any other process is but mechanical and does not necessarily invoke the mercy of the Supreme Lord. So, to start this process, one needs to hear from one who knows and is acquainted with the qualities of Lord Krishna and can explain them to others. This is established in this famous verse:

yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthaha
prakashante mahatmanaha

“Unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master, all the imports of Vedic knowledge are automatically revealed.” (Svetasvatara Upanishad 6.23)

Lord Krishna also says, however, that “I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My internal potency, and therefore they do not know that I am unborn and infallible.” (Bg.9.25)

Lord Brahma concurs with this point and verifies the need for the performance of devotional service, in which he says to Lord Krishna, “My dear Lord, devotional service unto You is the best path for self-realization. If someone gives up that path and engages in the cultivation of speculative knowledge, he will simply undergo a troublesome process and will not achieve his desired result. As a person who beats an empty husk of wheat cannot get grain, one who simply speculates cannot achieve self-realization. His only gain is trouble.” (Bhag. 10.14.4)

As Lord Krishna establishes the foundation for attaining the means to understand Him, He continues to emphasize the importance of this process: “Only by practicing unalloyed devotional service with full faith in Me can one obtain Me, the Supreme Person. I am naturally dear to My devotees, who take Me as the only goal of their loving service. By engaging in such pure devotional service, even the dog-eaters can purify themselves from the contamination of their low birth.” (Bhag.11.14.21)

In his summary of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sri Suta Gosvami also explains the above point: “Remembrance of Lord Krishna’s lotus feet destroys everything inauspicious and awards the greatest good fortune. It purifies the heart and bestows devotion for the Supreme Soul, along with knowledge enriched with realization and renunciation.” (Bhag.12.12.55)

Lord Krishna continues His instructions to Arjuna: “My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding.” (Bg.11.54)

“The person who is searching after the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, must certainly search for it up to this, in all circumstances, in all space and time, and both directly and indirectly. O Brahma, just follow this conclusion by fixed concentration of mind, and no pride will disturb you, neither in the partial nor in the final devastation.” (Bhag.2.9.36-37)

Herein it is as if Lord Krishna is speaking directly to us, that if we follow through with this process, we will be successful even at the time of death, which is certainly the final test of life in whatever we may have done.

“For one who worships Me, giving up all his activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, who has fixed his mind upon Me, O son of Pritha, for him I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.” (Bg.12.6-7)

“All that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me. In this way you will be freed from all reactions to good and evil deeds, and by this principle of renunciation you will be liberated and come to Me.” (Bg.9.27-28)

“By regularly hearing, chanting and meditating on the beautiful topics of Lord Mukunda with ever-increasing sincerity, a mortal being will attain the divine kingdom of the Lord, where the inviolable power of death holds no sway. For this purpose, many persons, including great kings, abandoned their mundane homes and took to the forest [for performing spiritual pursuits].” (Bhag.10.90.50)

Here it becomes clear that, as it is further described, for those who hear and chant the holy names and topics of Krishna, millions of grievous sinful reactions become immediately burned to ashes. Of course, the most important time for remembering the Lord and chanting His name is at the time of death. That is why it is said that those who chant “Krishna, Krishna” at the time the body expires become eligible for liberation.

 
The GopalaTapani Upanishad (1.6) states, “One who meditates on this Supreme Person, glorifies Him, and worships Him, becomes liberated. He becomes liberated.”

In conclusion, Lord Krishna simply explains that, “Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do. Because you are My very dear friend, I am speaking to you the most confidential part of knowledge. Hear this from Me, for it is for your benefit. Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend. Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” (Bg.18.63-66)

This, therefore, is the means by which we can reach the stage of understanding the Supreme Being.

[More information can be found at: http://www.stephen-knapp.com]

Mantra-Yoga: A Necessity for this Age, by Stephen Knapp

Using mantras or prayers is a means of doing a number of things, depending on our purpose. First of all, it is a method to raise our consciousness and prepare ourselves for perceiving higher states of being. It can also help us enter into the spiritual dimension, or to invoke the blessings of the Divine. It is also a means to call on the positive energies to help us overcome obstacles, enemies, or to assist in healing our minds and bodies from disease or negativity.

 
There are two basic kinds of mantras, those for spiritual and inner progress, and those for outer or more material needs. Concentrating on a mantra is also called mantra-yoga, especially when it is for our spiritual upliftment, or to unite us with the Supreme. Mantra-yoga, or the art of focusing on the sound vibrations in mantras or prayers, is actually a mystical tradition found in almost every spiritual path in the world. It may involve the softly spoken repetition of a prayer or mantra for one’s own meditation, or it may be the congregational singing of spiritually uplifting songs, prayers, or sacred names of the Supreme Being. It all involves the same process, but in the Eastern tradition it is called mantra-yoga because it is the easy process of focusing our minds on the Supreme through His names, which helps spiritualize our consciousness. In the word mantra, man means the mind, tra means deliverance. Therefore, a spiritual mantra is the pure sound vibration for delivering the mind from material to spiritual consciousness. This is the goal of any spiritual path. Although all spiritual traditions have their own prayers or mantras, the Vedic Sanskrit mantras are especially powerful and effective in uniting us with the spiritual realm. However, a complete yoga process is generally a blend of a few yoga systems, such as ashtanga-yoga with bhakti-yoga, and bhakti-yoga with mantra-yoga. Therefore, some yoga systems also include mantra-yoga, or the process of concentrating on the sound vibration within a mantra. This is especially important in this age of Kali-yuga, the age of quarrel and confusion.

 
Many years ago the brahmana priests could accomplish many kinds of wondrous deeds simply by correctly chanting particular mantras. Many of these mantras still exist, but it is very difficult to find those who can chant them accurately. This is actually a safety measure because if the wish-fulfilling mantras were easily chanted, there would no doubt be many people who would misuse them. But other mantras that are available can easily help purify one’s consciousness, give spiritual enlightenment, and put one in touch with the Supreme.

 
In Bhagavad-gita (10.25) Sri Krishna explains that He is the transcendental om mantra and that the chanting of japa (chanting a mantra quietly for one’s own meditation) is the purest of His representations and sacrifices. It is understood that by chanting japa and hearing the holy sounds of the mantra, one can come to the platform of spiritual realization. This is the process of mantra-yoga. However, even though the mantra is powerful in itself, when the mantra is chanted by a great devotee, it becomes more powerful. This is also the effect when a disciple is fortunate enough to take initiation or diksha from a spiritually potent master who gives him a mantra for spiritual purposes. Then the disciple can make rapid progress by utilizing the mantra.

 
Sanskrit mantras often consist of eternal sound energies that have always existed, both within the universe as well as beyond it, and before its manifestation and after its annihilation. Such special mantras are part of the eternal sound vibration called shabda-brahma.

 
When it comes to mantras, the Vedas mention three types: vedic, tantric and puranic. These can be further divided into sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. The mantras that are sattvic or in the mode of goodness are chanted for light, wisdom, compassion, divine love, or God realization. They help bring peace, destroy karma, and bring one to perfection after death. The mantras that are rajasic or in the mode of passion are chanted for material benedictions, like blessings for a healthy child, prosperity, successful business, and so on. However, such mantras do not help one rise above karma, but force one to take rebirth in order to acquire the results of their karma. The mantras that are tamasic or in the mode of ignorance or darkness are also called “black magic.” These are used for the deliberate manipulation of the material energy for one’s own purpose. Thus, they are what could be called sinful, and are often used to call spirits or to assist one to perform deeds that may bring harm to others for one’s own benefit.

 

Some mantras hold certain powers in their vibratory formulas that are directly related to particular deities, divine personalities, or forms of God. In fact, they may represent the deity in full. When they do, they are considered non-different from the deity and the sound vibrations are spiritual in nature. By the repetition of the mantra, the person who chants it invokes the energy and mercy of that deity. Thus, the deity reveals Himself or Herself to the sadhaka or practitioner, who then overcomes illusion and realizes the spiritual position of the deity and his or her relationship with the deity. The six kinds of mantras used in this connection are:
1. Dhyana Mantras–mantras for meditation to mentally invoke the deity’s form, abode or pastimes.
2. Bija Mantras–the seed mantras or seed words that are used for meditation and purification of the articles used in worship. Mantras often begin with these. They include such bijas or seed mantras as Aim and Shrim, which are often connected to the feminine or Devi. Or Klim which helps arouse the force of attraction to the object addressed in the mantra. Or Krim which is often connected to Kali or Devi, or Gum which is in association with Ganesh. The bija or seed mantras are derived from the 50 prime sounds which invoke various levels of energy and also the nature of the elements, such as water, air, earth, fire, etc., and are related to om.
3. Mula Mantras–root mantras are the essence of the deity, used when offering certain articles during the worship to address the Lord or deity.
4. Stutis and Stotras–mantras or prayers chanted before, during and after the worship to glorify the Lord’s name, form, qualities, and pastimes.
5. Pranama Mantras–prayers offering obeisances to great personalities or to the Lord, often used at the end of worship.
6. Gayatri Mantras–Vedic or Pancharatrika mantras used to worship or invoke the blessings of the Lord, or to focus the mind on God, and for invoking different moods, energies, or powers.

 
The Vedic mantras, such as those coming from the four samhitas of the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas, are eternal or spiritual sound vibrations. They are not composed by any man at some particular point in history. They are part of the shabda-brahma, the eternal sound vibration. These mantras are like seeds of vast amounts of power and knowledge that are held within them. Thus, many scriptures explain that such powers cannot be fully revealed to someone unless such mantras have been received through the process of diksha or initiation from a spiritual master.

 
Besides this, the results of chanting a mantra depend on the chanter’s conception or intent in the mind while chanting it. Thus, one must know the meaning or purpose of the mantra while reciting it. If one thinks the mantra is for attaining material goals, the person may get that. But if the inner purpose of the mantra is known to deliver one to the spiritual world, and a person chants it sincerely for that purpose, then that will be the reward rather than something minor or material, as long as the person does not prematurely give up chanting it.

 
Most Sanskrit mantras have several principles that you find in them. First, they are often handed down or revealed by sages or authorities who have attained self-realization by its use. They also generally use a particular meter or rhythm while chanting it. Plus, the mantra often represents a certain deity. It also has a bija or seed word that gives it additional power, and the sound formula it contains has a special shakti or energy. And finally, constant repetition of the mantra will open or activate the key of it which then can reveal pure consciousness in the one who has been initiated into its use. The practice of repeating or chanting it for one’s personal use is called japa. The japa or chanting it a required number of times is often what triggers its power within the consciousness of the chanter in which it reaches its siddha, or perfection and goal.

 
The mantra is thus a point of meditation for the mind, but also a formula or transcendental sound vibration, like the holy name of God, that releases its energy into one’s consciousness. Thus it prepares one for perceiving higher states of reality. With constant practice of the appropriate mantra, and with the proper pronunciation and devotional mood, the mantra can reveal the Absolute Truth to the practitioner as well as one’s own spiritual form and relationship that you may have with the Supreme Being.
This is why it is best that one should receive and be initiated into the chanting of the mantra by a qualified guru. Then the mantra will be especially effective and powerful, and carry special means of invoking realizations into the devotee who uses it.

 
Mantras can be divided into two additional categories, namely saguna and nirguna. Saguna mantras (those that describe personal traits) often are like prayers that invoke certain deities or characteristics of the deity or Absolute. Nirguna mantras (those that refer to the nature of the Absolute without qualities) describe the person’s identification with the Absolute.

 
Mantras can be used in different ways. They can be chanted in whispers, or out loud, or silently within the mind. Generally each mantra has a recommendation as to which way works best. Some mantras, like the Hare Krishna mantra, can be used in any of these ways, as well as sung as a song with a group or congregation. Generally, this is done with a lead singer who sings the mantra in a particular melody, and then everyone else sings in response.

 
Some mantras are meant to be chanted only within the mind because their vibration or wavelength is beyond ordinary sound. So the silent method helps invoke the energy within the consciousness. However, to first whisper it or softly speak the mantra correctly may help one be able to chant it silently and make a stronger connection with the mantra.

 
The repeated chanting of a mantra is called japa. It is explained in the Vedic texts that in this age of Kali-yuga the process of chanting japa or mantra meditation is much more effective than practicing other spiritual paths that include meditating on the void or Brahman effulgence, or trying to control the life air within the body as in raja-yoga. Plus, only a very few can become perfect at raising the kundalini force up through the various chakras, or moving the life air up to the top of the head for enlightenment, and then get it to leave the body at the right time to achieve full liberation. And meditating on the void becomes useless as soon as there is the slightest external distraction, which in this age of Kali-yuga is a continuous thing. Therefore, the most effective means of focusing the consciousness is to concentrate on the sound vibration of a mantra.

 
Using a mantra for japa meditation is a process to help rid ourselves of unwanted thoughts and to retain the one thought upon which we are concentrating. It helps us purify the mind of that which obstructs knowledge of our true self. As our concentration on the mantra frees our mind from random thoughts, and as the sound vibration of it raises the frequency level upon which we operate, our consciousness can become clear to observe our real nature. In the word japa, the letter “pa” stands for that which removes or destroys all impurities and obstructions. The letter “ja” stands for that which puts an end to the cycle of birth and death. Japa, therefore, is a means of liberation when the proper mantra is used for destroying the mental impurities and negative and materialistic desires and impressions that exist in the mind and consciousness.

 
There are two mantras that are especially recommended in the Vedic literature to accomplish this. One is omkara or the om mantra, and the other is Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, which is known as the maha or great mantra. It is explained that these two mantras can deliver one to the realm beyond material existence. But there are ways to use these mantras. There are specific instructions for chanting om for it to be effective, but there are no hard and fast rules for the conditions in which one can engage in chanting Hare Krishna. So, the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra is especially recommended for this age as the easy process that anyone can do.
[This is a chapter from my latest book, Prayers, Mantras and Gayatris.]

Past, Present, and Future of Hinduism in North America, By Stephen Knapp

One thing I have witnessed is that how 30, 40 or more years ago, when Indians were coming to America, they came to concentrate on their careers, not their culture. Yet, many of them have now turned back to their culture and have become better Hindus than if they would have stayed in India. Some may have realized that the American dream is not all it’s cracked up to be, or, more simply, in order to feel more complete and fulfilled, it is better that they still have a strong connection with their Vedic traditions. It may also be because they want their children to be trained up in the culture of their homeland. So, now many of them have reconnected with the spiritual customs and traditions of Vedic India. They have combined their assets and have built so many temples across America.

However, a problem that many Indian Dharmic families are facing is how to make sure their children learn about and take an interest in their own culture. That can partly be because the parents do not always show enough interest, which is the impression passed on to the children. But it is also encouraging to see that those children who do take an interest are often becoming more dedicated Hindus than their own parents. Yet, we can see that this is often a matter of association, who the children pick as friends and how they learn about what really is Vedic culture or Sanatana-dharma. Therefore, the children have to be guided by proper training, proper association, and proper observance of Vedic traditions. This also is part of forming the proper samskaras in the minds of the children. And isn’t this what we are meant to do anyway?

One thing that we should realize while we live and grow in America, is that the way things have been going in India, we practically have more freedom to practice the Vedic culture and its traditions in America than we do in India, and I could certainly elaborate on that point, but already have in other articles that you can read on my website. However, hopefully, with the proper government, that will change and obstacles that have come up against the Vedic community can be dismantled. Nonetheless, we need to know how to utilize this freedom that we have here in America.

Secondly, we need to know that America is a prime location where we can work together for cultivating as well as protecting and preserving the Vedic tradition. But we need to base this cooperation beyond the considerations of caste or ethnic differences, those labels of the body. We may call ourselves Hindus and then Indians, but how many times do you call yourselves Gujarati Hindus, or Bengali, or Marathi, or Tamil Hindus, and so on. But as the Vedic teachings relate, we are actually the spirit soul within whatever kind of body we may temporarily have. We need to base our cooperation and the way we identify with each other on that. And America can be the best place for this to happen. We are all speaking a main language of English, we all go to the temple, and our caste and ethnicity matter the least here than back in India.

Yet, this is one of the problems that we see in India: there are so many groups that have similar goals and interests for the benefits of the culture and country, but there are so many differences between these groups based on superficialities of the body and ego that they cannot unite and become a strong federation, a powerful organization that can determine their own fate, or the future of the country. If anything, so many associations in India still fight with one another and, thus, weaken each other to the point of becoming incapable of performing any significant actions that will make a real difference for the unity and future of the Vedic culture in India. This is where we have a real chance of excelling while in America.

This was the same sort of weakness of the past 1000 years when invaders came into India, sometimes few in numbers, but took over parts of the country without much resistance. It was a lack of unity amongst the princely states, their inability to support each other or come to the aid of another that allowed for such a poor defense system that they could not repel their invaders. So, we have to ask ourselves, are we going to continue the same pattern? Are we going to sit back and criticize others and what they have done and point out what they should do, while we accomplish nothing? If we do, then there is no doubt that we are already finished. It is only a matter of time when we and the Vedic system will become so reduced that it will fade from the world, like other cultures that have been reduced to mere museum pieces. We have to rise above that.

Some of you will say that I am being overly dramatic, and that Sanatana-dharma is eternal, so that will never happen, and there is nothing to worry about. To that I will only ask, haven’t you honestly read the Bhagavad-gita? Haven’t you read that one of the reasons why Lord Krishna appeared in this world was to revive the Vedic traditions and its teachings, which had become lost, faded from what it once was? So, are we going to allow that to happen again? Are we going to simply wait for someone else to take up the reigns to lead us, to protect and preserve the culture, or to bring it back to its glory the way it used to be?

So, as American Hindus, Western Dharmists, we should first recognize ourselves as spiritual beings, followers of Sanatana-dharma. Only after that should we recognize each other as Indians, or related to India. We must first see ourselves as spiritual beings, and then everyone else in the same light, the light of Vedic spiritual knowledge. Then we can come together and cooperate in real unity, real concern for protecting and preserving the Vedic Dharma, not only for ourselves, but for our families, our children, and for the many generations to come. Even my own spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, once asked us, what is the use of being Americans if you cannot do something significant?

Let us make sure that the Vedic tradition and its spiritual knowledge is not an eternal yet hidden philosophy that has been forgotten or is difficult to attain and utilize. Let us make sure that it remains a guiding light for everyone, all over the world, and accessible for those who seek deep spiritual knowledge, over and above mere pious religion. That is the way it is meant to be. I have often said that Vedic culture is the last bastion of deep spiritual truth. If we lose that, then all of humanity is in for a very dark future.

However, as followers of Vedic Dharma in America or as Americans of Indian descent, we also must never forget that India is the homeland of our Vedic tradition, and that is what it must always remain. We must protect that as well. But how do we use our freedom here in America to do that? What do we do? Of course, the following points, though oriented toward America, can be done anywhere, especially in India.

AN EIGHT POINT ACTION PLAN

FIRST, as I mentioned, we need to respect each other as spiritual beings, followers and friends on the path of Vedic Dharma. We can become encouraged by coming together and associating in this way, and seeing the positive effects of the tradition on each other. Then we must cooperate and work together to assist ourselves and our friends along this path, and there are many ways in which we can do this, of which I will mention only a few here.

SECONDLY, we utilize our freedom to assemble and rejoice in the Vedic festivals and celebrations that we can observe, especially in the temples. This makes way for the joys of life, and also creates many samskaras or impressions of these happy times in the minds of our children, the memories of which last for many years and propels them to do the same with their children. This is love, this is what we want, love for God and love for each other as parts of God.

THIRDLY, the Indian community in America is one of the wealthiest. According to Vedic Dharma, such wealth is a tool to either help spiritualize your life, or build a crown on your head, the weight of which will only drag you down into darker realms in the next life if you are a miser. So, let us use our wealth for the spiritual well-being of everyone, whether in building temples or establishing programs, a few of which are described as follows.

FOURTHLY, educating yourselves and the youth in the Vedic customs and its philosophy is of extreme importance. The number one reason why Hindus convert to other religions is not because the other faiths are so much more organized and well funded, though this may sometimes be a part of it. But it is primarily that Dharmists or Hindus are not educated enough in their own traditions and Vedic philosophy. They may go to the temple and do pujas, but they may not even know the significance of them, or the spiritual knowledge that is a part of the Vedic tradition, or the depth of this spiritual philosophy. Thus, it is important that everyone is educated properly. This can be done by holding regular group classes and discussions in the temple. And if this is not so easy, I have seen where people get together on a weekly basis to read, comment on and discuss such sacred texts as the Bhagavad-gita among themselves. This is extremely important so that people, and especially the youth, understand their own culture more deeply and can perceive the profound and dynamic nature of it.

FIFTHLY, we may do all of the above, but we also must realize that all we do to preserve and protect the Dharma can not be fully accomplished without its promotion. Yes, we have to promote the good and the depth of this Vedic culture, otherwise how we people know about it? Such promotion may start amongst other Hindus or Dharmists, or within our family, Indian community, etc. Or it may also be done in ways to share our culture with other non-Hindus who are interested, such as inviting them to a festival, to the temple and showing them around, or just having a lunch with them at the local Indian restaurant and sharing the stories of your own life on how your culture has had positive affects on you. This is easy, there is nothing hard about it. And if you don’t know what to say, then give them a brochure, or a booklet or book that explains the basics of the philosophy so they can start to understand it or look more deeply into it. (And I have got plenty of free brochures or booklets on my website that you can download or ask that I send you if you need them.)

SIXTHLY, we must object to all prejudice against Vedic culture and Hinduism in the media. Why are people so easy going about writing and publishing any damn criticism about India and Hindus and Vedic culture? Because they know that in most cases, no one will object and nothing will be done about it. No one will stand up against them. This attitude must change. In America free press is for everyone. In other words, you can also write to the editor of any publication to object to something you disagree with. However, the point to remember is that the more who do that, the more effective it is. And this is where group cooperation becomes very important and influential. If someone denigrates a Hindu or Vedic culture, it is not so difficult to write a letter and demand an apology. But if that same letter is circulated to a large group, along with the email or address of the editor, and many people start signing it and sending it in, it will flood the editor’s office or email address and certainly get noticed. In today’s world of communication, a program of protest could be put together and accomplished within a few days, or even hours.

We also need to process lawsuits as well. Utilizing part of our money in defense of Vedic Dharma in lawsuits against slander or other crimes against Vedic culture and those who follow it will also help make sure that people become more cautious about committing such acts again. These and other methods need to be taken into consideration to make sure that people and the media realize that Hindus are a force to be reckoned with. American Dharmists must clearly understand that they cannot remain silent or wonder who will be the fodder for the next racist policeman or person who wants to take their anger out on them. For too long Hindus have not been organized and have remained apathetic to what has gone on around them or to them. This needs to change.

SEVEN. The above point leads to point number seven, in which American Hindus or Dharmists must become politically active. This does not simply mean that you vote, or that you attend fundraisers for your favorite candidate to have a photo with them that you can hang on your wall. How has that helped anything? We need to get more serious. American Dharmists can also volunteer in large numbers in political campaigns to show the force that we can have, so that politicians realize we are a great force that they will want on their side. But we should also vote as a block. We should look seriously at the issues any candidate is addressing, and then vote for the person who will be best for the interests of American Dharmists and relations between the U.S. and India. And we can also run for various offices as well. That is already happening on an increasing basis. More Indians should consider it. As the saying goes, it is easier to change things from the inside than remaining on the outside.

EIGHT. The last point is dealing with interfaith marriages. This is happening on an increasing level. As they say, love is often blind, keeping you from seeing the realities that will become apparent down the road. But statistics have shown that most interfaith marriages dissolve, ending with divorce, especially when the issue of children comes up and the decision has to be made regarding how they are going to be raised, and what religion they will follow. The fact is that most Hindu girls who marry outside the Hindu fold either convert or allow their spouse to have control over the children in regard to their faith. And Hindu boys often do the same thing. Therefore, whenever an interfaith marriage occurs, most often by the next generation or two, that family will no longer be following Vedic culture. They will be something else, which contributes to what may be viewed as the slow demise of the Vedic or Hindu population. That is why the fourth point about educating yourselves, your children and giving them the right association and friendship through temples and youth or Dharmic camps can be so helpful for them to realize the depth of what the Vedic philosophy has to offer, and to keep them in the Hindu fold. But the key to these youth camps is that they must be fun. They should not be a grinding indoctrination program that loses its attraction. These kinds of things can help pave the way for them to realize the importance of this to their future, their children, and the future generations of their family if they remain in the Dharmic fold by marrying another Hindu, or someone who wants to follow it.

These are all powerful ways in which the community of American Hindus/Dharmists can work together to cultivate and benefit from the oldest living, spiritual tradition on earth, as well as preserve and protect the Vedic tradition. In this way, we can pave the way for a long and bright future for Hindus across America and around the world. Let us all help each other do this.

Dharma Rakshati Rakshitah. Jai Sri Krishna.

[More Information at http://www.stephen-knapp.com]

Strong Hindu Families for Strong Hindu Youth, by Stephen Knapp

Naturally it takes a strong Hindu family to instill in the youth of today faith in their Vedic culture. The family is where such faith and identity begin.

When the parents are strong in their confidence and practice of the traditions of Vedic Dharma, naturally the children will pick up on this. They will also become attracted to various aspects of the Vedic path. They may like watching the arati, or saying the prayers, or having their Krishna dolls, or even in offering their food to the deity, or watching episodes of the Mahabharata. As they get older they may like attending a Hindu children’s camp, or going to the temple for children’s classes like Balgokulam or Balvihar, or going to the temple for the holidays like Janmastami and others. Actually, I have seen when the children like going to the Sunday classes to join with other children at the temple, it may also become an impetus for the parents to regularly go to the temple. Yet, the parents should want to go anyway. Plus, taking the children every year to joyous occasions and festivals like Rathayatra, etc., can create impressions, samskaras and memories in the children so that they will want to continue that tradition when they are adults and take their own children to such joyous events at the temple. They will remember the happiness when the whole family celebrated such festivals. This is what helps create a strong Hindu identity in the family, especially in the children, as well as a loyalty to the traditions.

However, it seems that this is not how it is always happening. Too many times the parents do not get involved in developing their children’s understanding of Vedic Dharma and its customs. Too many times the parents also do not know enough about it to be able to answer all of their children’s questions, or to at least answer the questions in a way it makes sense. Nor are the parents always motivated to go to the temple on a regular basis, or to take their children to classes, leaving it up to the children to find their own way.

This is why, more than a few times, Indian Hindu parents have asked me what to do now that their children are dating a Christian or Muslim, or attending Christian youth camps, where the criticism of anything outside that faith plays a specific role. And when the parents object to their children about doing such things, the Hindu youth reply that their parents were never involved that much or took it seriously, or they were always told that all religions are the same, so what makes the difference? This is where the problems begin. But it is funny that the only religion wherein some members say all religions are the same is Hinduism. Otherwise, many other religions are quick to not only point out the differences, but to criticize Hinduism as well.

If families are not strong enough to invoke a strong Hindu identity in their children by the way they are raised and educated, then the children may grow up to be “simply wimpy, hardly Hindus” to such a degree that they not only will not know how to maintain a strong Hindu identity, but they may even be indifferent to do so, or worse yet, be ashamed of it. In such a scenario, it is only a matter of another generation or two when Hinduism, at least in the way we know it, will cease to exist, at least here in America. Of course, the same pattern can apply to India.

So parents must understand their duty to their family when it comes to the education, the inspiration, the understanding, and participation of their children in the traditions, customs and philosophy of Vedic Dharma.

Actually this is an obligation that is outlined in shashtra. For example, the Bhagavata Purana (5.5.18) explains: “One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother, or a daivam (accepting a worshipable position).”

So, it is the duty of parents to train their children appropriately. Naturally, we can only encourage our children to a certain extent, but it has been seen that those children that grow up in a strong Hindu family are more likely to be grounded in the Vedic values, and will remain stronger in their Vedic identity than those who are not. While those that come from weak-minded Hindu families, who are taught that all religions are the same, are also likely to give it the least consideration. They become like ships without a rudder, with little spiritual direction, little strength to maintain their identity, and you do not know where they are going to end up culturally.

However, Hindu parents should know better than this. They should be educated in their own culture and philosophy enough to know how to answer questions of their children. They should be willing and able to show a strong dedication to their Vedic culture and its traditions so the children will also pick up on that and understand the benefits that it provides, and what is the basis of these traditions. The Hindu temple priests should also be willing and able to explain the details and reasons of any ceremony. The point is, that it is the family setting and environment, and the example of the parents that creates a strong Hindu identity in the youth, which is especially important when they are young, which can then help continue the tradition in the future. Without this, the continuation of Vedic Dharma becomes questionable.

Naturally, as Hindus or Vedics, we are respectful of all religions. But there is no reason why we should not be more so toward our own. And this starts in the family. It is the attractive nature and the universal spiritual principles in Vedic Dharma that draws people to it. We are not interested in converting people, especially by tricks, force, intimidation, fear tactics, or economic manipulation. But in India, these have been important tactics for converting Hindus to other religions for years. I especially saw this while doing two lecture tours in India’s northeastern states. And the same tactics are appearing elsewhere, like in Tamil Nadu. They have no qualms about saying things like Hinduism is the worship of devils and demons. I have even heard televangelists say that here in America. And should we not be able to defend ourselves from such things? Should we not be able to speak out? The strength to do so depends on our upbringing or background.

Not long ago I was invited by a young Hindu in Houston to participate in a Hindu youth camp. I had booked the plane ticket and everything. But later it was decided that I should not be invited. The reason was because the previous year, another popular western Hindu speaker had been there and was describing his story of how he became a follower of Vedic Dharma. In telling his story, he mentioned that Christianity and Islam did not have what he was looking for. A simple statement, I would think, and hardly anything political. He was simply relating part of his development. But that statement created a backlash at the camp. So, it was decided this year that they did not want to take a chance of someone saying something similar. And this was supposed to be a “Hindu camp.”

The youth I was speaking to came from a strong Hindu family, and he was telling me that he felt frustrated by the whole thing because many of his age group lacked the backbone or strength to stand up for their own culture. Plus, only a short time earlier, at a nearby university the president of the Hindu Student Council, which is known for supporting strong Hindu ideals, converted to Islam because she wanted to impress the parents of her Muslim boyfriend. This leads to question how much Hindu are they. How strong are they in their allegiance to and participation in the Vedic traditions and Hindu community if they cannot even stand up for their own culture or remain in the Hindu fold? So, the question is: Do Hindus have a right to defend themselves? Can I say why I left a previous religion to follow Vedic Dharma? Apparently not when other Hindus object.

Certainly, Hindus can do better than this. I do not like to feel that I am in a minority of those who are strong enough to take a stand and say that I’m proud to be a Hindu or Dharmist, and also have the information and the willingness to explain why. Or am I alone here, like a dying breed?

We should be willing to stand up for who we are, and not be afraid or intimidated by those who challenge us or our tradition. But we need to be educated to know how to do that in the right way. But if we are going to be afraid to defend ourselves, or try to be overly politically correct which paves the way for others to walk all over us, then what is the future of Hinduism going to be? If we cannot even say why we chose Vedic Dharma over other religions, because some may interpret that as a criticism of others, then what kind of spineless person are we? I may not be criticizing other religions, but I should certainly feel strong enough to explain what I find attractive and profound about Vedic Dharma. And if that is a problem, if that is typical about the mindset of Hindus, then others will and do take advantage of that.

The conclusion is that the future of our freedom to participate in the traditions of Vedic Dharma and its continuation starts with the family. This should not be neglected, nor should we assume that everything will be all right, or someone else will take care of this and I do not need to be concerned about my children. We need to recognize how our actions can make a difference in our own sphere of influence, starting with our family. That is why a strong Hindu family can set the stage for strong Hindu youth, which, along with the continued spiritual development of everyone, is the purpose of Vedic culture.
[More information at http://www.stephen-knapp.com]

Adding Innovation, Wisdom and Holistic Human Development to Our Universities by Stephen Knapp

 (Written for my presentation at the World Parliament of Science, Religion and Philosophies in Pune, India, October, 2018)

A long time ago, back when I was about 20 years old, and when I had already been studying such books as the Bhagavad-gita, the Upanishads, and other Vedic texts of India, I saw an article in my local paper by the principle of my local high school in which he said that when students come to school, they should already have an understanding of what they want to accomplish and what they want to get out of their education. When I saw this, I thought it was rather odd, because is not that what education is supposed to give you, the understanding of who and what you are, and how to reach your highest potential? But if the principle says that he expects the student should already have such insight before he or she arrives at school, this would seem to mean that there must be some kind of supplemental education that the student should have before he goes to school.

So I wrote a long letter to the editor of our local newspaper pointing this out, that there must be some kind of preliminary education that would provide the student with such insight. Otherwise, if he does not get that from school, from where is he expected to acquire such understanding? So, I mentioned that books like the Bhagavad-gita in the Vedic tradition could provide some of these insights, if people would take advantage of it.

However, some would say that this is spiritual knowledge, or even religious information, and how is that supposed to be provided in schools that are meant to be completely secular? The point is, as mentioned in the Sri Ishopanishad (Mantra Eleven), that to reach perfection in life, one must learn material knowledge side by side with spiritual knowledge. It is not enough to learn some craft or trade skills to make a living, but a person must also know the purpose of life and why we are here and who we are.

When we forget or do not know who we are, we also lose sight of the moral standards we need to accumulate to develop ourselves into decent and law abiding citizens, human beings who can make a substantial and uplifting contribution to the community and the world at large. Instead, we may fall to the platform of only trying to live at whatever cost, even if it is by trying to take advantage of others, rather than trying to better ourselves along with everyone else.

In this light, when I’m traveling and lecturing about the traditions of India, it is not uncommon that some people will ask me why there is often so much corruption, cheating and bribery in India. I often tell them that the fact is that people are forgetting their own culture, their own traditions of moral standards that the Dharmic principles are meant to teach them. In fact, it is often said that the problems you find in India are caused by India’s religion. But actually, wherever I go I find that it is not the case at all, but it is the result of forgetting, the distancing from, and the misinterpretation of the Vedic tradition that leaves the gaps in society and in the character of humanity that cause the problems of which we see so much.

The fact is that if we really understood and followed the culture that is the legacy and inheritance of this country, many of the social problems we see would simply disappear. Therefore, we need to continue to teach our children the basic principles of moral standards and character building that India’s Vedic tradition promotes. So, my advice was that we need to continue to spread the understanding of the Vedic Dharma traditions in order to show the proper example of truly noble character, not only in the teachings in such traditions, but by the example of the great character of the personalities and heroes that are described in the great epics of India.

Actually, I also put this question about the corruption of India to M. Rama Jois, the retired Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court when I had met him on one of my tours while visiting Bengaluru several years ago. He had written a book called “Dharma: The Global Ethic.” In this book, he shows the many ways in which Vedic Dharma is not a religious teaching, but a moralistic code that can provide advice for people of all standings, and in all kinds of situations, and especially for the children which can use a standard of insight that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. He also showed, as I also say, that present-day problems are due to the neglect of Dharma. And that with Vedic Dharma, there would be a reduction of evil, confusion in society, the propensity for selfish motives and cruelty to others, and how an orderly society is an incarnation and manifestation of Dharma, and how Dharma does not mean religion, which is the means of worshiping God. But Dharma is a code of living by good conduct, respect for the law and our traditions, and the means to sustain society and the world, and propel them to a higher grade of living and refined consciousness. Without that, we can see what is happening.

Dharma is conformity with the truth of things, while adharma or vice is the opposition to it. On a national, ethnic, or racial level, Dharma is an instrument of unity, not divisiveness. That which helps unite everyone and develop love and universal brotherhood is Dharma. That which causes discord or disharmony or provokes hatred is adharma.

Dharma is also said to be the force which maintains the universe. Where there is Dharma there is harmony and balance individually, socially, and inter‑galactically. So the path of Dharma brings about the harmony and contentment that is also another aspect of what we are seeking. In this way, we want harmony inwardly, in our own consciousness, but we also cannot have individual peace unless there is harmony or cooperation socially, among the masses. So, where there is no Dharma, there is disharmony and a state of being that is out of balance. And socially it means that without Dharma, there is a lack of cooperation, along with escalating quarrel, fighting, corruption, and dishonesty.

When we act against the law of Dharma, we disrupt the very harmony and cooperation that we want. In other words, we create a life for ourselves in which there is stress, confusion, discontent, and frustration. And when we feel that way, that becomes our contribution to the general social condition. It is the exact opposite of what we wish to attain. Thus, to live a life outside of Dharma means to work against ourselves.

Rama Jois explained to me that years ago, before India’s independence, it was common that children would be taught before they went to school about the moral standards and character of the heroes of Vedic culture. Sometimes the schools also would include the Dharmic teachings to imbibe in children the character and principles of being a good and decent human being, and, thus, also a good student, which the children would then take with them for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, once India became independent it also became a secular nation, which meant that all such early teaching about human development, and moral standards based on the heroes and characters within the Vedic epics of India, could no longer be taught in schools or any government affiliated institution. It was considered religious teachings, and therefore was not allowed. With this, as M. Rama Jois explained, came the distancing of the youth from the Vedic culture and the high moral standards that went with it. And from this came the ever-increasing corruption that has infected much of the country.

These days, only through private schools, or in families that teach the Vedic culture, or I have also seen families who hold weekend classes in such topics for the neighborhood children, do the youth still learn of this type of knowledge that helps instill in them pride in their heritage and the principles of high moral standards, and the means to acquire insights into character-building for their own development, either before they go to school or even after they have already started their education. On the other hand, if secularism means a state without Dharma, then we will see a lawless state, a lawless country. Surely, the Indian constitution did not mean that we become a State of Adharma. Dharma regulated the mutual obligations and what is beneficial for individuals and society. Therefore, it was stressed that the protection of Dharma was in the interest of both the individual and the society. And the best way to protect it is to train youngsters in Dharma from the beginning of their lives.

Therefore, the concluding point I am making is that the basis of knowledge, wisdom and holistic human development is to not only offer the necessary classes in material studies, sciences and skills, but to include the basis of human refinement that has been a part of India’s traditions since time immemorial, which includes that of Dharmic studies. Such could and should be part of the curriculum, or extra-curricular classes that students could take. This would transform India’s universities into true centers of innovation, wisdom, ethics, holistic human development, knowledge, and balance for the student’s life. This would add to the beneficial contributions such a student would offer to their family, society and the country. This would change the direction of India, and provide an example that the rest of the world should follow.

Stephen Knapp (Author/Writer of over 40 books on various aspects of India and its Vedic culture. http://www.stephen-knapp.com)

United Hindu Identity, United Hindu Cooperation

By Stephen Knapp

(Sri Nandanandana dasa)

(Written for the 2nd World Hindu Congress in Chicago, September 7-9, 2018)

            As we look at Hindus today, we have so many organizations that work for the sake of the Dharma traditions. We have such institutions as the RSS, HSS, VHP, HSC, HMEC, Kalyana Ashrama, or Swadhyaya, Iskcon, Gaudiya Math, the World Vaishnava Association, RamaKrishna Mission, Chinmayananda Mission, Vedanta Society, Self-Realization Fellowship, and many others. And I am happy to say that I have worked with many of them or still have friends in them. But some of these groups seem to be more exclusive than others. They may work hard for their own interests, yet these are often similar to the work and goals of other institutions. So, what if we were more united, more cooperative with each other? We know that there is strength in numbers. So how much stronger could we be if we could cooperate in a single force, at least when needed?

It seems that right now we cannot easily unite and become a strong federation, a powerful force that can determine the fate or future of India and the preservation of its Vedic culture. If anything, so many of these associations in India still fight with or are indifferent to one another and, thus, weaken each other to the point of becoming incapable of performing any worthwhile actions that will make a real difference for the unity and future of India and its traditions. More divisions mean more disunity. This means the less unity we will have for defending our culture.

This was the same sort of weakness of the past 1000 years when invaders came into India, sometimes few in numbers, but conquered and took over parts of the country without much resistance. It was this lack of unity amongst the princely states, and their inability to support each other or come to the aid of another, that allowed for such a poor defense system in which they could not repel their invaders. So, we have to ask ourselves, are we going to continue the same pattern? Are we going to sit back and criticize others and what they have or have not done while we have yet to do anything of real significance? If we do, then there is no doubt that we, Hindus in general, are already finished. It is only a matter of time when we and the Vedic system will become so diminished that it will fade from the world, like other cultures that have been reduced to mere museum pieces. We have to rise above that.

So, it seems we still do not have a unified identity in which we can all work together. I was the president of the Vedic Friends Association for 15 years in which we are still trying to create such a united force here in America. Nonetheless, in my view, one of the greatest attempts to do this in India was the Acharya Sabha as organized by Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, which joined together over 200 spiritual leaders of the major paramparas and spiritual lineages to discuss the common issues that affected all of them, and then make plans on how to deal with such concerns.

So, in this regard we need to reach a singleness of purpose in which we feel that if any part of the Vedic tradition or any group is under attack or being challenged by outside forces, then we are all under attack, and we all must be ready to stand up for the cause. We should be willing to be a united force to be reckoned with, the kind that makes people think twice before persecuting or attacking any Hindus or any part of the Vedic tradition. But this is a call to be active. And many Hindus are not.

Once while giving a talk at a Krishna temple in Mumbai, I began discussing the need to be protective of our culture and try to elect those politicians who are pro-Hindu, or show why they should be pro-Hindu. So, I asked the audience of over 1200 people how many had participated in the last election. Not one hand went up. This is why some people ask whether Hinduism is destined to become extinct. I hope not, but that depends on what we do. Which means we all have to be pro-active.

If we were a stronger and unified force, politicians would know that they need to get our approval. They would take the needs of Hindus more seriously if they want our vote. They would not simply be concerned with vote bank politics that often cater to non-Hindus. Such strength would also mean there would not be the persecution of Hindus that often seems to be sanctioned by politicians in states such as Kerala or West Bengal, or love jihad as found in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. They would know that Hindus will react and defend themselves, or even go after the politicians who neglect them or even work against them.

Some say that Sanatana-dharma means that it is eternal, so there is no need to worry. But that means they do not even know that Lord Krishna said in Bhagavad-gita (4.1-3, 7-8) that one of His purposes was to re-establish the Vedic traditions that had become lost. This lack of familiarity is a sign of such fading away of knowledge of the Dharmic culture, and the importance of understanding the part we need to play. Arjuna also had to fight for Dharma, so why should we not think that we also need to do something to protect Vedic Dharma?

India must remain the homeland of a thriving and dynamic Vedic tradition. This is essentially based on the universal spiritual truths and knowledge that can be applied by any person at anytime, anywhere in the universe, so they can reach their highest potentials. That is Sanatana-Dharma. If Hindus, Dharmists or Sanatanis, whatever name you want to use, can stand united, there is no threat we cannot handle. History has shown that. But history has also shown that when we are fragmented, then bits and pieces of our culture and even our Mother India get chopped off and taken away from us. This cannot go on.

Therefore, the need of the hour is to find the means wherein we can stand together for the cause of Sanatana-Dharma, the basis of our Hindu culture.

If we can do this, the youth would also be more proud of being a part of something in which reasoning is sound, stable, and in which the participants, such as their parents, are not shy about sharing it or defending it. Nonetheless, the children have to be guided by proper training and association, and proper observance of Vedic traditions. This also is part of forming the proper samskaras in the minds of the children. And isn’t this what we are meant to do anyway? But for this to happen, the parents must also be educated in our Dharmic traditions.

We also need to realize that America is a prime location where we can work together for cultivating as well as protecting and preserving the Vedic tradition. Why? Because there is less emphasis amongst Indian Hindus on local ethnicity or caste. In other words, it is easier to simply be an Indian Hindu or American Hindu rather than a Rajasthani Hindu, Maharashtrian Hindu, or Tamil brahmin, and so on, which thereafter can bring out so many distinctions. If we are going to become united, our identity should first start with being a Hindu, Dharmist or Sanatani: a follower of Sanatana-Dharma. Anything else can be added after that, no matter whether we are Indian, Nepali, Malaysian, Fijian, or from Mauritius, Bali, or America. We are first Hindus or Dharmists. In order to create greater cooperation and a powerful association, we need to have and accept a more unified identity. Then in that light, we can work together and assist each other for the Vedic cause, and form a united federation that can more powerfully take on any threats to our future. There is no reason why we cannot do that if we actually live by the spiritual principles of Sanatana-Dharma, and, thus, Think Collectively, Act Valiantly.