Two recent initiatives by Hindus living abroad raise fundamental questions about who has the right (adhikaar) to speak for the Hindu community in India and in the various countries where Hindus have settled, often for generations. The question is pertinent because in the Vedic tradition, the celestial island on which the territory of Bharat lies is the sole dharmic punyabhoomi and karmabhoomi. The oblations to the ancestors (shraad) can only be performed here, and here alone can the debts (rnas) to gods, teachers, family and society (humanity) be discharged.
As the Vedic homeland, Indian Hindus obviously enjoy the principal right to reinterpret or regenerate dharma according to the needs of the times (yuga). However, in keeping with the spirit of the times, the various Hindu communities abroad have the right (which implies also the duty, because adhikaar encompasses both) to articulate their special problems in their non-Hindu environments and to find solutions to the same. They do not, however, have the right to superimpose their views upon India'sHindus, who are still living in the dharmic punyabhoomi and are grappling with the civilizational challenges to the survival of Hindu dharma in their own hinterland. In this context, the First Hindu Mandir Executives Conference (HMEC), representing 57 temples from over 20 states of America, Canada and the Caribbean Islands, in Atlanta last week is a welcome development. It is heartening that beside temple executives, the delegate-devotees included physicians, scientists, businesspersons, homemakers and engineers, with an abiding commitment to the community'sspiritual and social ethos. The Hindu Mandirs of the Americas reiterated their unity concurrent with allegiances to myriad panthas (path), sampradaya (tradition), or country of origin.
The group emphasised service to humanity (sewa), symbolised in an annual Hindu Seva Divas, whereby the Mandirs will organise community service activities in their respective local areas. The Hindu Mandirs in Americas has also shown concern about the educational needs of Hindu children, expressing anxiety over the deficiencies and gross distortions in American school textbooks on the Hindu dharma, its culture and traditions, causing humiliation to the youth. All school districts will now be approached in an organised manner to rectify this intellectual discrimination against the Hindu community, and this aspect of the deliberations were probably the most positive aspect of the meeting. Held under the auspices of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, the temple authorities decried the rising vandalism (hate crimes), destruction and desecration of Hindu Mandirs throughout the world.
The HMEC meeting however, is in sharp contrast to a current attempt by some foreigners (including non-Hindus) and their Hindu friends to appropriate the agency of the entire Hindu society in India and subordinate Hindu dharma-gurus to their agenda on the pretext of facing the contemporary dangers to Hindu dharma. Titled as the United Hindu Dharma Samsthan (UHDS), a group of lay persons living mostly in America are urging all the major Hindu acharyas to join them and execute their plan for the reinvigoration of Hindu society.
With little regard for religious sanctity or hierarchy, they have simply lumped a number of well-known acharyas and traditional mathams together, and dictated an agenda which involves the swamis? meeting two-three times every year, instead of once in two-three years! The audacity of this diktat has not occurred to any of the sponsors even after gentle remonstrance from some well-meaning souls.
Instead, they have rushed in where angels fear to tread, lamenting that it will ?take a long time to unite Hindus.? If that is true, who has authorised them to outsource our burden to the White Man? Appropriating this authority, the United Hindu Dharma Samsthan is seeking 100,000 signatures on a petition to ?force many reluctant swamis to join UHDS.? And reflecting the mentality of monotheistic faiths, the UHDS proposes to have a ?Pramukh Swamy? who will represent all Hindu swamis for a revolving term of one or two years. As though the idea of a Revolving Hindu Pope was not enough, our American friends also propose a corporate-style ?chief executive officer for the Pramukh Swamy of UHDS.? A well-known politician has been offered the post; on what basis, it is difficult to say.
The sponsors of this new spiritual-corporate entity have tended to brush aside information that India already has a Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha (HDAS), which is the apex body of Hindu Dharma and is being supported by the heads of various Sampradayas, and is steadily extending its reach over all of spiritual India. Their determination to create an A.O. Hume type of Hindu Vatican of America must logically, therefore, have a political agenda and also probably some kind of Western backing.
The whole tenor of the petition is offensive. It states: ?We dream of a day when the Hindu gurus and swamis unite under one umbrella to protect Dharma. Time has come, now or perhaps never. Each group and guru will retain their leadership and autonomy of the pantha-s or matam-s but will meet periodically, at least three times a year to review the situation and issue dharma proclamations and edicts, much like Ashoka'ss?aasanas. Such proclamations will be firm guidelines for dharmic action for hundreds of millions of Hindus all over the world, coming as they do from the voice of the great gurus speaking with a unity of purpose?Dharma rakshana.?
In short, a Secular Oligarchy will dictate an agenda to the great gurus of the Hindu tradition, and impose it upon the millions of world-wide Hindus who revere the sants. The real danger of the move lies in the persistent attempt to mould Hindu dharma into a monotheistic mould, which will facilitate a later-day cannibalisation by the Western Christian tradition, because if you end Hindu diversity, India will be up for grabs. It needs to be rebuffed in no uncertain terms.