In keeping with the Hindu values of unity and dharma, over fifty youth from across nine Midwestern states and representing fourteen different universities and three high schools came together at the Hindu Youth Retreat this past weekend (October 16-17, 2004).
A core team with representatives from both Hindu Students Council (HSC : www.hscnet.org) and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS : www.hssworld.org) joined in spirit, strength, and resources to coordinate the two-day retreat at the Hoover Outdoor Education Center in Yorkville, Illinois.
By learning together, discussing various Hindu topics, competing in games, singing bhajans, practicing yoga, and sharing personal experiences, all the students and young professionals left with new friendships as well as an intense desire to bring about positive change in the world.
Hindu Students Council (HSC) is a well-established Hindu student organization with noble goals of knowledge, unity, progress, and dharma. HSC is an international forum that provides opportunities for college students and young professionals to learn about Hindu heritage through various activities, events and projects. HSC presents ample opportunities for self-development at the spiritual and professional level via campus study groups, seminars, lectures, workshops, conferences and camps.
Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) is a non-profit organization with the mission to unite Hindus and instill Hindu culture. The main HSS objective is to strengthen the Hindu community via building character in each of its individual members, eventually leading to the advancement of society as a whole.
Amongst the key guest speakers at the retreat was Professor Subhash Kak. Dr. Kak is an acclaimed poet, historian, and computer scientist who is currently on faculty at Louisiana State University. He offered a broad perspective by sharing Hinduism in modern perspective.
He emphasized the interrelation between religion and many of the scientific fields of study, as well as discussing the role of youth activity in society. He actively engaged in discussions with students at the retreat by answering their questions ranging from ancient Hindu history to the concept of dharma, and offering his knowledge and passion of Hinduism.
There were several other speakers that emphasized the preservation of Hindu culture and outlined the youth responsibility in the global Hindu renaissance. The participants had the full pleasure of Saumitra Gokhale for the weekend; he is a full time volunteer for HSS who travels on an international level. Originally from Trinidad, and now in Chicago, Gokhale gave an inspirational talk commending the participants of the retreat, and asking them to increase the awareness of Hinduism across the world.
Although Hindus constitute a large portion of the world population, there are but a handful of "towering personalities" in the community. It is the responsibility of interested and dedicated individuals to increase the strength of all the people as a whole. Dr. Bharat Barai, cancer specialist and Vice Chair of Medical Licensing Board of Indiana, joined the panel of speakers to share his thoughts on the current movement in Hinduism as well.
There was also the opportunity to learn about various Seva projects at the retreat. Ravi Raghavan, the Joint-Vice President of Chapter and Regional Activities of HSC from Houston, Texas, shared the great outreach work and fundraising that HSC has done through its Seva Initiative, NetSEVA.
The currently supported organizations include Ekal Vidyalaya, All-India Movement for Seva (AIM), Indicorps, the 5H Program of the International Association for Human Values, and Conservation International.
Shyamji Gupta, a founding member of Ekal Vidyalaya (www.ekalvidya.org), briefly joined the youth to share his vision of service. He encouraged all the youth to "be the Vivekananda of 2004" and remember that the importance of Seva is not service to others but rather towards purification of self.
In addition to the inspirational talks and intellectual discussions, there was time to underline spirituality, share bhajans, and enjoy the feeling of family around a campfire. The weekend could not have been so successful without the tireless months of planning amongst the core team.
The end of the retreat marked the creation of fifty new friendships and the emergence of many new leaders who carry with them the vision of Hindu dharma, and love and dedication for their Hindu family.