hindu congress opens

Indian American entrepreneur Raju Reddy, vice-chair of the World Hindu Conference 2018, exhorts Hindus to become more visible in their adopted homelands to emerge as positive changemakers. (Twitter photo)

CHICAGO, Ill. – Against a backdrop of a life-size statue of Swami Vivekananda, to the traditional clarion sound of the conch, the second World Hindu Conference, attended by 2,500 Hindus, many of them Indian Americans, from 60 countries had a resounding start Sept. 7 at the Westin Lombard York Town Center here.

With luminaries from spiritual, educational, business, and political walks of life among the invited speakers, the message of Hindus coming together for the common good, with a sense of unity, reverberated in the grand hall as Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech to the World Parliament of Religions did 125 years ago at the nearby Art Institute of Chicago.

Dr. Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh from India, addressed the congress on a theme drawn from the Mahabharat, “Think Collectively, Act Valiantly.”

Bhagwat highlighted the need for such an action now and how Hindus should work together.

“It is an opportune moment. We have stopped our descent. We are contemplating how to ascend. We are not an enslaved, downtrodden nation. People are in dire need of our ancient wisdom,” Bhagwat said.

 “Our universal values now called Hindu values lead to the welfare of the individual, the society, the nature and the environment. It is the duty of Hindus to remind the world, the universal values from time to time,” he said.

Hindus know the basic values, he continued, but have forgotten to practice them

Stressing the need for unity, Bhagwat said if a lion is alone, wild dogs can invade and destroy the lion. We must not forget that.”

“We want to make the world better. We have no aspiration of dominance. Our influence is not a result of conquest or colonization.”

Hindu society will prosper only when it works as a society, he said. “To work together, we have to accept the consensus. We are in a position to work together,” Bhagwat said.

The congress recognized four organizations for their outstanding contributions to spreading Hindu philosophy: Bochasanwasi Aksharpurshottam Swaminrayan Sanstha was honored for its extreme visual idealism around the world as it built architecturally beautiful mandirs; Chinmaya Mission for explaining the essence of the Gita; Geeta Press, Gorakhpur, for making sacred Hindu literature easily accessible; and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness for spreading the message of Gita.

SP Kothari, chair of WHC, said he and many speakers attending the conference received calls and petitions from organizations and individuals to withdraw from the Congress on the ground that WHC or some of its organizers are “socially and religiously divisive.” “I categorically reject this supposition,” Kothari said.

“I urge them to listen to my talk and reflect on whether it is tainted with hate. I have chosen to disregard those petitions as originating from a lack of complete understanding of the World Hindu Congress.”

Kothari said he welcomed diversity and evolution of thought and believed that two areas will benefit from reform. Women have not fared well and this is a universal problem. There is a large chasm and women’s talents haven't been harnessed. Focus on education is the other area requiring reform.

The three goals of WHC are “enlighten, reform and advance.” WHC brings enlightenment throughout the world about the Hindu community through spirituality, harmony and inclusiveness, he said.

Hindus must reform and be in the forefront in eliminating social and economic inequality, foster cooperation among those with ideas and resources, and view commerce as a means to furthering Hindu dharma for a better tomorrow.

Addressing the “confluence of Hindu leadership who have come to connect, share ideas, inspire one another and impact the common good” WHC coordinator Abhaya Asthana stated that “we have gathered to reaffirm the same message of diversity, cooperation and universal acceptance” uttered by Swami Vivekananda 125 years ago.

Stating that it was a big achievement for a poor Kashmiri Hindu boy to be speaking at the event, award winning actor Anupam Kher saluted “our country India…a place that has been home to all cultures, religions and faiths.

The vice chair of the conference, Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur Raju Reddy, described the congress as an extraordinary opportunity to shape the dialogue about Hindus going forward and change the perceptions of Hindus as very positive change makers wherever they may be in the world.

Reddy said Hindu Americans, or more broadly, Indo Americans, today are known as great doctors, academicians, engineers and entrepreneurs, generally successful in different walks of life and their per capita income is twice the national average here in America. It’s a point of pride but it also means we have the capacity to make a positive difference around the world, he noted..

Conference host Shamkant Sheth spoke of the two years of hard work that went into bringing together the WHC and of the opportunity to connect, inspire and learn to strengthen the global Hindu community in three days of discussion.

Stating that it was a big achievement for a poor Kashmiri Hindu boy to be speaking at the event, award winning actor Anupam Kher saluted “our country India…a place that has been home to all cultures, religions and faiths.

Hinduism is a way of life, he added, and one becomes a Hindu by living like one. Tolerance was the centerpiece of Vivekananda’s message. He stated that despite being refugees in their own country, Kashmiri Pandits have practiced tolerance for 28 years like no one ever has.

“My roots are steeped in Hinduism... I draw inspiration from Swami Vivekanandaji to shine a light on all of us gathering here and beyond.”

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