VEDIC FRIENDS ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE.....
By Stephen Knapp, VFA President
The first conference of the Vedic Friends Association in America was quite
successful. It took place this October 1-3, 2004. The Vedic Friends Association
was incorporated only two years ago in October of 2002, so this was especially
noteworthy in that it was our first conference. With the invitation of Swami
Dayananda Sarasvati, it took place at his ashram, at the beautiful facilities of
the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. Several members of the
VFA and nearly 30 invited guests from other Hindu organizations, as well as
professors from universities across America and Canada, were in attendance.
Everyone there was already engaged in various ways in protecting or expanding
the Vedic culture. We had assembled together to discuss some of the major issues
that the general Hindu community in the West is facing. So it was with great
honor that I was in the midst of such an assembly. It turned out to be a very
successful and enlivening event. It was obvious that we will have a larger group
of participants for the next conference.
I had been at many conferences before wherein we put our heads together and
discussed various important issues, but afterwards there was often a lack of
plans to continue the development. So I wanted this meeting to be different.
Therefore, I proposed the idea for this conference would not be to merely have
general discussions in which everyone would talk about whatever issue they were
most concerned with, but to focus the little time we had on a few of the most
pertinent issues. Then develop action plans for dealing with these issues, after
identifying the problems and discussing them. The premise was that if everyone
cooperatively did a little toward the solution, then together something huge
So the first morning we had presentations made by several individuals to the
general audience to help our awareness of problems and the directions we need to
take. In the afternoon the assembly was divided into three basic discussion
groups for particular issues and for making proactive plans. The next morning we
wrapped things up with any final comments and suggestions to the assembly and to
present the conclusive plans that would need to be pursued after the meeting by
the discussion groups. During lunches, breaks and evenings, it was great to meet
new people, see old friends, and talk about new directions and plans for the
future. The issues the primary discussion groups addressed consisted of:
1. Problems with the Image of Hinduism and Hindus in the Media. This was a
lively discussion and presentation by Jeffrey Armstrong for understanding how to
deal best with the press, conduct interviews and make points to communicate the
correct information about Indian culture.
2. Problems with the Image of Hinduism in Academia. The object of this group was
to identify where academia has continually left much to be desired in its
understanding of Vedic culture and the impressions it gives to others. Heading
this discussion was Dr. Yvette Rosser.
3. Preserving the Hindu Identity and Traditions. This discussion group was for
developing plans for emphasizing what works best in the ways of working to
preserve our traditions and their purposes and meanings with both adults and
children. Most Hindu parents are concerned with the means to pass down the
correct understanding of Indian culture to their children in the face of so many
western influences. There must be the means to do this properly. Heading this
discussion was Tom Beal (Harinama Baba Prem).
ACTION ITEMS FROM THE MEDIA GROUP
1. In order to make a more credible image and impression in the media, and
become more of a formidable force, Indian journalists must make sure they
professionalize themselves and take courses in journalism or composition.
2. The general Indian/Hindu community must know their media contacts in
newspapers, radio, and television.
3. We should have someone, local or otherwise, who is known and can be referred
to when it comes to the topic of Hinduism and the Vedic tradition.
4. Create a list of experts on specific topics on Hinduism, such as Ayurveda,
Jyotish, Vedic spirituality and traditions, etc. (This has already been started
by the VFA on the “Affiliate Writers” page of the VFA website;
5. Invite such people to your functions, meetings, and for media contacts. Let
them present an accurate understanding of the topic.
6. Proper words and language need to be identified and developed so that
everyone clearly understands what is being discussed.
7. The presentation by Jeffrey went so well that it was also decided that he
should lend his experience as a corporate speaker and make his availability
known for those who would like him to give a special class on dealing with the
media, especially for younger people as found within the Hindu Students Council.
He could also provide a special interactive lecture and training course wherein
everyone would learn how best to act in dealings with the media.
8. It was also decided to fund a video session where Jeffrey and Professor
Ramesh Rao could present a class on dealing with the media that would be made
into a CD. This could then be ordered by all interested Hindu groups.
9. We should also utilize Cable Networks which by law must allow individuals to
use their facilities for a fee. These stations can provide facilities wherein
individuals or groups can make their own television program to be broadcast in
the area. You can also order many programs that are already made and available
for broadcasting without making anything new. VFA member Vrindavana Parker is
one who has experience in utilizing cable networks and also has programs about
Vedic culture that are ready to be broadcast. Also, Swami Dayananda Sarasvati
had made a series on the “Spiritual Heritage of India” with 50 slots of ready
programming that could be utilized.
10. There should be a list of airable programs and speakers for this purpose.
11. There is also a need to develop a list of favorable radio and television
shows that could offer presentations on Vedic culture.
12. On an individual level, we must all watch for misrepresentations on Vedic
culture in the press and be ready to write to the editor about such matters.
When this happens, let other Hindus know about such incidents, such as within
the VFA, so that numerous people within the group can write in to help show
concern throughout the Hindu community. Power for change comes when numbers
increase. You may also ask the editor for an interview in which you can express
the correct information, or at least be sure to supply the correct information
in your letter. Then when numerous others write in about the same incident, the
editor will certainly take notice.
13. I will also write a general sample letter that can be adjusted to suite most
any situation needed. This will give any person easier ability to write about
any misleading information in a publication.
14. Another suggestion was to develop a VFA channel for television, at least at
local levels. This is something for the future.
ACTION ITEMS FROM THE ACADEMIA GROUP
(Some notes contributed by Mr. Shivaram)
Regarding Hinduism and India in the USA textbooks: They often give a
distorted version of Indian History and Hindu Dharma. Textbooks usually focus on
Caste, Curry and Cow (the CCC formula) and ignores the immense knowledge and
value system contributed by the world’s most ancient civilization. Hindu
children that study in schools in America have to suffer through the indignity
and mockery of their peers once the school teaches the wrong impressions about
India and Hinduism. The VFA and its friends should make an attempt to approach
school boards and textbook publishers to make them aware of these distortions
and supply them with the correct history and true facts.
1. We must pick out proper textbooks and analyze others for misconceptions. This
is something that Dr. Yvette Rosser has been working on and will continue to do
with the help of others. Dr. Yvette Rosser, an American Hindu scholar (Sri Ram
Raniji), has done the systematic study of ‘Hinduism and India’ in USA text books
of social studies which shows that the contents about Hinduism and India
degenerated and distorted more in 1980s and 1990s as compared to the ones in
1960s and 1970s. Please read "The Clandestine Curriculum: Temple of Doom in the
Classroom " (http://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/s_es/s_es_rosse_EAA.htm).
Her interview with the Hindu children studying in Texas high
schools is published in the “Hinduism Today” magazine in the April/May-2004
Mr. Shivaram presented a detailed analysis of the social studies book used in
Fairfax County, VA and which was prepared by Dr Rakesh Bahadur. Every one agreed
that the tabular format prepared on the issues, refutations and the proof of
alternative authentic material provided in that case study is very good and
decided to follow the same approach for other counties and state.
A sub committee was formed, which will coordinate the project on the national
level. The committee consists of Dr. Yvette Rosser as the chief coordinator and
Dr. Abhinav Dwivedi and Mr. Shivaram (with the assistance of Dr. Rakesh Bahadur
and Kalyan Raman) will help in the process of getting various text books used in
the USA, and prepare the points indicating the inaccuracies about Hindu Dharma
and India in them and furnish the correct material.
2. Network with others in various parts of the country to check out the
textbooks and point out errors and provide corrections. Identify textbooks that
deal with India and its culture, buy them and interface with the publishers to
make any necessary corrections. [The point of this is that the first exposure to
India and Hinduism for western students is generally in high school. When they
are exposed to false presumptions and misinformation, it can make a lasting
negative impression, or even create a misleading attitude toward fellow students
who do follow Vedic culture or are from India.]
Sri Manohar Shindeji has agreed to bear cost of textbooks if there is a need to
buy them for this project. Sri Yashwant Patakji will be actively perusing the
information dissemination about this project among the volunteers of HSS.
3. Coordinate activities with others who are doing the same so we can share
information and methods that are effective. The web site
www.hindu-international.org will act as central resource for this project.
4. Work with school boards to make changes in the textbooks. [Yvette Rosser and
Dr. Abinav Dwivedi outlined a series of steps that one can take and improvise to
best suite the way to deal with your local school board. Dr. Abinav Dwivedi, a
scholar on Hinduism who is also one of the main coordinators of “Hindu
University of America” in Orlando, Florida, presented a very informative
presentation on textbook distortions and tips for volunteers on how to approach
school boards for getting them corrected. He emphasized working with the state
level curriculum speciation committee, get the correct syllabus/learning
guidelines (Standards Of Learning, SOL) issued by them which will be followed by
the text book writers and school boards. Yvette and Abhinav will supply these
specific instructions soon.]
5. Supply ready-made material that teachers can use in their class to help
provide corrections and the means to give the proper information about Indian
culture. [Often times the teachers themselves do not have time to do the
research to provide the correct information and views to the class. Thus, they
are often genuinely happy to receive something that they can immediately put to
use. Such material may be in the form of articles, books, or videos and CDs, or
even a personal presentation or slide show by someone local.]
Mr. Robert Arnett (the author of the famous text book “India Unveiled”) has
agreed to produce a small 20 minute pictorial presentation CD (such as “Hinduism
Unveiled”) that can be used by all parent volunteers who approach a school to
teach/give some presentation about India and Hinduism in schools.
6. Create short trifolds that deal with what is often misunderstood ideas about
India and Hinduism and which will supply the proper information. These can be
used as handouts.
7. Link with other groups and through a web site to share this kind of
information and the methods that have been successful.
8. Links, methods, and instructions for dealing with school boards, etc., will
also be presented through the VFA website as they become available. Mr. Shivaram
and other members of this group will also be assisting in these matters.
ACTION ITEMS FOR PRESERVING HINDU IDENTITY AND TRADITIONS
1. Create trifolds on presenting the correct information regarding, for
example, 10 prominent misconceptions on Hinduism. This will be a start for
addressing the most common misperceived points about Hindu culture.
2. Create a questionnaire to identify what Hindu children need to be more aware
of the real nature of Vedic culture and the problems they have in being Hindu in
America, and then create or find those programs that help provide what is needed
3. Develop a program to establish Hindu counselors at schools and universities
to assist children and students to deal with problems in regard to their
culture, and difficulties that Indian students may be having at the school.
4. Create a booklist of quality books for adults to study so they can easily
have a better understanding of their own culture. Thus, they will be able to
more appropriately pass down their culture and the meaning of its many
traditions to their children, as well as dismiss false myths about their history
like the Aryan Invasion Theory.
5. Create a booklist for children that will be able to teach them the principles
of Vedic standards, the legends and stories, the meaning behind the temple
rituals, holidays and festivals, etc. Different organizations already have books
meant for various age groups of children to train them in the ways, traditions,
legends and principles of the Vedic Dharma. Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, for
example, already has created a set of books for children from first grade on up
with accompanying books for the parents or teachers.
6. Look at what other organizations or teachers have created in order to help
children understand and follow the tenants of the Vedic tradition, and use what
is available or shape them into more qualified programs.
7. Develop or find videos that help instill Vedic values in children.
Many more discussions on ideas and projects were held as well, of which the
significant ones were about:
1. Producing documentaries about Indian history and culture and Vedic Dharma
with Indian experts in that field.
2. Forming think tanks for the continuation of developing methods for the
advancement of Vedic culture and issues in America and throughout the West.
These are some of the main points that were discussed and presented for
development. The idea is that the plans themselves will be a start toward
something bigger in the long run. We can always adjust such plans later as we
learn more ways to better implement them.
Another conference is already being planned for 2005. With the feeling of
increasing momentum at this conference, the next will no doubt be bigger and
include a larger number of people.
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