Swami Touches Russian Souls, Planting Virasaiva SeedsIn late May and early June, 2012, Shri 1008 Kashi Jagadguru Chandrashekhara Shivacharya Mahaswamiji, head of the Virasaiva Jangamvadi Math in Varanasi, made his second visit to Russia. He stayed at the country house of one of his devotees, performing daily puja and giving darshan.
On June 2-3 he conducted a public workshop at the Ashtanga Yoga Center, organized and promoted by his disciple Dinesh Zaenchkovsky. Among the events, he presented the famed Saiva text Shri Siddhanta Shikhamani, which has been translated into Russian by his disciple Ms. Gauri Kravchenko. The public program included Siva abhisheka puja, followed by initiations. He gave diksha to twelve disciples, and fifteen students received a personal mantra. The program concluded with kirtan in praise of Lord Siva.
When asked about the future of Hinduism in Russia, Swami said: "From my point of view, Hinduism will not become mainstream in Russia. It will gradually spread due to the people doing their sadhana--in other words, due to the yogis who are now getting their diksha, performing their daily puja or to others who are doing their spiritual practices. Each of these sadhakas will lay the foundation of Hinduism in Russia."
Now the world has twelve more Lingayats, twelve walking temples of Lord Shiva in Russia. It is a small but potent new development for one of Hinduism's ancient traditions.
By Dinanatha Bodhiswami and Ksenia Bakhtina
USC Plans Hindu Studies Chair, the First in AmericaThe Dharma Civilization Foundation is making a $3.24 million gift to the University of Southern California's School of Religion to set up the Swami Vivekananda Visiting Faculty in Hindu Studies and eventually the Dharma Civilization Foundation Chair in Hindu Studies. Duncan Williams, Chair of the School of Religion and ordained Buddhist priest, explained, "This gift highlights the department's commitment to study the enduring questions of human life and values."
Foundation trustee, professor Shiva Bajpai told Hinduism Today, "Our agreement with USC is unique in that we have established criteria for the choice of faculty to ensure that this chair does not become an ivory tower retirement position. The faculty must have a vision which goes beyond dry anthropology and includes the philosophy and theologies of dharmic faiths. They should actively develop the department, be a scholar/practitioner of dharmic religion and keep the chair relevant through engagement with living faith communities. It will be the first of its kind in US academia."
Tallest Hanuman in AfricaIn a belated report we have learned that the tallest Lord Hanuman statue in the Africa was unveiled in January, 2011, at the Shri Vishnu Temple Society in Chatsworth, Durban.
The gigantic US$160,000 monument, over 42 feet tall, is the temple's contribution to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of indentured Indians in South Africa. Lord Hanuman is known as the embodiment of strength, righteousness and devotion--a symbol of power and strength, not only for Hindus but for all Indians.
The intricately and colorfully designed concrete structure was created by Umash Harripersadh, a resident of Ottawa, Canada.
Hindu Ladies Tackle IssuesThe first-ever "Hindu Women's Network" conference, an initiative of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, was convened at New Dorp High School in Staten Island, New York, on June 24, 2012.
The director and main convener of the day-long conference was Dr. Ila Sukhadia, a local pediatrician. Her primary objective was to highlight the various challenges faced by women and create an interactive network to guide them in times of crisis. With this goal in mind, the well-attended conference was divided into ten different sessions, headlining women's various needs as the nucleus of the family in USA. The subjects explored, in panels and with experts, were Family Relations, Self-Identity and Connecting with Your roots, Motivating Children, Caring for Aging Parents, Personal Loss and Loneliness, Marital and Conjugal Conflicts, Fitness and Health, Empowerment, Youth Sessions and Money Management.
The event so inspired the participants that the Hindu Women's Network is planning to convene more such forums throughout the USA.
Scott Jurek's Eat to Run BookHelps Mainstream Veganism
Recently, ultramarathons have become a highly publicized "extreme" sport. One veteran of the scene is Scott Jurek, a long-time vegan who has been running for 18 years. His longest race was 165.7 miles in 24 hours. His book, Eat to Run, is a wake-up call to those who believe animal protein is a necessity in a healthy diet. Recipes included. A marathon is 26 miles, 385 yards (42.195km). Ultramarathons cover greater, body punishing distances. Scott has run with Mexico's Tamahumara Indians, for whom running is a lifestyle requirement. They eat little protein and are known to run 600 miles in mountainous terrain to deliver messages. See: bit.ly/tarahum.
No New Yoga Copyrights. Will Bikram Yoga Rights Hold Up?In June, 2012, the US patent office ruled that a sequence of yoga postures cannot be copyrighted. But they also decided not to revoke previous copyrights, which include Bikram Choudhury's famous 26-posture series done for 90 minutes in a heated room.
In 1994 Bikram started an accelerated teacher program. For $4,000 you can go through an intense training and open a Bikram Yoga Studio. The method and has healed and changed the lives of thousands. Today there are over 330 US Bikram Yoga Studies.
But things are not all light in Bikram's world. One of his best students, Greg Gumucio, left and founded a new "Yoga to the People" chain of studios. Gumucio's program is an exact copy of Bikram's series in a heated room, billed as "traditional yoga." He is charging only $8 a class versus the normal $25 for a Bikram Yoga class; and teachers are not trained or certified by Bikram.
Bikram is suing him in Florida for copyright infringement. The US patent office ruling leaves the matter in the hands of the courts.
The fight has divided the yoga world. Bikram's supporters believe followers must respect the lineage and teach the series only with Bikram certification and within the Bikram franchise. Otherswise this is no accountability and the tradition will inevitably be diluted. Others insist these postures were passed to the public domain centuries ago and are free for all to use.
Military Uses Ancient Yoga Practice to Reduce StressFaced with the highest suicide rates in 30 years, US military officials have turned to yoga to help treat psychologically wounded soldiers. The Walter Reed Health Deployment Clinical Center has developed a three-week treatment program that includes hatha yoga and Yoga Nidra (labeled "Integrative Restoration, iRest) to assuage stress and PTSD. Ten states have implemented iRest programs.
BrieflyThe government of Himachal Pradesh is set to allow gold-rich temple trusts to melt tons of the precious metal in their coffers and turn it into mementos as is done at the Vaishno Devi shrine in Kashmir. Twenty-eight temples in the hill state hold an estimated us$18 million in gold and silver. "Fifty percent will be converted to coins and momentos. Of the remaining 50 percent, 10 percent is to be kept with the temple trust, 20 percent will be invested in gold bonds of the State Bank of India and the remaining will be used to adorn the Deities," said an official.
Thailand and Cambodia have pulled back their troops from the disputed border area around Preah Vihear, a ninth-century Hindu temple and World Heritage Site. This ends several years of a stand-off around the 900-year-old temple, during which it was badly damaged by military confrontations. The International Court of Justice will make a final ruling on ownership of the area next spring.
Maharashtra icon makers And pandal organizers are ignoring the state Forest and Environment Department's ban on plaster of paris images of Ganesha in preparation for this year's Ganesha Visarjana celebrations. They are charging half the cost in advance in case their statues are confiscated by authorities. They say that clay images may break during the festival, which would be considered an ill omen by the devotees.
In July, Varanasi police recovered a rare handwritten copy of Ramcharit Manas, the epic authored by Goswami Tulsidas. The manuscript had been stolen from the Hanuman Mandir at Tulsi Ghat in December, 2011. Other articles recovered at the same time included a statue and silver crown.
In My Opinion
Hinduism in College Courses
Misrepresentation and misguided emphasis plague the academic presentation of Hinduism
By Kirthi Narasimhan
As a growing number of courses on Hinduism are showing up in universities across the US, professors should be mindful of their audience, making sure they are communicating the appropriate message to their students. And students, especially Hindus, should not be afraid to apply critical thinking, to analyze and respectfully question the knowledge being presented. One class I took in college was called "Visions of the Divine Feminine." It focused on the Mahavidyas, the ten aspects of Devi, and gave a foundation in understanding Shaktism, the Hindu denomination that focuses on worship of the Divine Mother as the Supreme Being. Until I read the syllabus, I had not realized the importance that the female principle plays in Hinduism, and I looked forward to learning more. The reason the course did not meet my expectations was not that the content was incorrect, but rather how the material was covered. My professor's teaching style and tone allowed for, even encouraged, misconceptions to arise. For example, on the first day, the topic of why some of the Goddess's forms are depicted as scantily clad, if not partially nude, was brought into question. Some students asked why the Goddesses are represented by voluptuous figurines and had such large breasts. Until that point, I had not even noticed these features; since childhood I had simply accepted that this is how they look. This question even piqued my curiosity. But the professor did not provide sufficient responses to the questions. He started by implying that these are representations of absolute femininity, but finished by comparing the iconography of the Goddesses to a picture of a skimpily dressed American adult film actress. I found this highly inappropriate. A better explanation would have been that the icons are models of the essence of life: Large breasts symbolize ample milk to feed a child, and wide hips imply fertility. And in India's climate, prior to the influence of Islamic and Western culture, wearing less clothing and not covering women's breasts was more practical. The class also covered the topic of the Sivalingam. My professor did not adequately address the mystical significance and instead alluded to a more bawdy meaning. A more satisfactory presentation would have stated that the Lingam represents the union of the male and female energies of this world from which all life begins, the beginning from which all existence emanates. Explained in this way, the Sivalingam actually reinforces my belief and faith in Sanatana Dharma. However, when erotic connotations without justification or clarification are left to the imagination of students, who simply do not know any better, misinterpretations of our Divinities, beliefs and way of life become more likely. There was also a discussion on the four aims for existence as Hindus: dharma (righteousness), artha (prosperity), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation). Which aspect do you think the professor focused on? Although kama is an essential part of our lives, this topic has not been well elucidated in our upbringing. The course did not shed much light in this area either; the professor's discourse clouded my perception of sexuality, an essential part of our being, and licentious behavior, which is associated with other vices such as greed and pride. With better definition and demarcation, one can understand kama from the right perspective. I applaud the growing number of universities that are making an effort to provide courses on Hinduism in their religious studies curriculum, but the sheer expanse of our faith requires careful instruction so that people do not go away from classes with wrong ideas.
(Kirthi Narasimhan, 26, plays the veena and works as a retail development manager at a Palo Alto, CA, electric car manufacturer)
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to Sadguru Sri Sivaya Subramuniyaswami ji, Satguru Bodhianatha Velayanswami ji, Hinduism Today for the collection)
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