Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hindu spirituality in USA

I read the following article in one blog and find it is informative. It is publishing here


During my stay for these five months, from 20th May 2010 at U.S.A, I have noticed something remarkable in this country. Wherever one goes, one witnesses Hindu temples, Hindu religious teachers, Hindu spiritual leaders, and in the language of spirituality, we see more of Indian Spiritual thinking in this country. At present in USA nearly every city has Hindu temples and more temples are under construction. It is not merely about temples but it is worth noting that many great spiritual masters, Hindu religious teachers come here and propagate their preachings and response is good. We find Ashrams built by some Gurus here while some others have established Yoga centers teaching physical exercises, mind concentration techniques and conducting spiritual retreats focusing on imparting spiritual knowledge. Some others are getting Yagnams and Vratams performed.

U.S.A. is a country big in size. Among those who have been going there for employment are many Telugus, Tamilians, Gujaratis, Malayalis and other Indians. Contrary to the widely believed perception that one forgets God when one is living in a comfortable country, our people worship God by going to temples for prayer, puja whenever they get time. Our Indians not only show devotion with their presence in temples but they are seen giving charity for noble causes. The first generation of Indians whose number was small used to allocate a room within their home for puja purpose. When Indian people grew in number gradually with the strength of Telugu people growing by threefold, all Indians together planned building temples. Accordingly, they contributed funds and having taken permission began construction of temples. After getting people from India for temple construction, required deities were imported from India and priests were appointed. After constructing temples as per Agama Shastra, deities were consecrated as per tradition and puja activities thus began. It is of interest to see Indians visiting temples in large numbers during week ends and holidays. Further, elders visiting USA on short trips also accompany their family members to temples and hence the temples are rarely less crowded. Tamilians and Gujaratis are more in number in USA. All of them contribute for the establishment and development of the temples. Generally people from the north are ahead in big financial contributions.

         Our Indians in America now are seen organizing religious activities on a larger scale like 'Yagnams' not only out of devotion but also with a faith that such rites and rituals would make mankind overcome both man made and natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, famine, disease and recession.
As part of it, recently “Srinivasa Kalyanmahostav” was celebrated on a grand scale in three cities with the support of a weekly paper 'Telugu Times', under the direction of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam. Nearly 8000 people attended the first program at New Jersey. Subsequently, this program of 'Srinivasakalyanam' was conducted at Californiaand Bridgewater Temple and devotees came in large numbers. Then a proposal was made for performing “Viswa Yagam” for world peace. In New Jersey, this 'Yagam' was performed for the sake of world peace and was started by His Holiness Sri Sri Sri Tridandi ChinaJeyar Swamy on a grand scale. In that place 33 Yaga Kundas were erected. Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavatam, Sri Ramayanam, Sri MahaBharatam, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Shri Bhashyam were recited. It is creditable that 108 Vedic Scholars performed Yagnam as per Shastras. Several devotees from various parts of USA attended this Yagnam. It looked unbelievable that in a country of technological advancement, so many devotees responded by attending in large numbers for Yagnam conducted by a Swamiji much to the surprise of so many people.

                       Though we accept Vedas as a constant source of inspiration through which so many teachings are available to us, our culture and traditions are being forgotten at present times due to our indulgence in western style. But yet some devotees began such programs with a view to propagate our great teachings of Vedas to the present day youth. Vedas preach that Yagas have capacity to wipe out our difficulties. Keeping this in view our people are conducting 'Yagas' and 'Kalyanams' in tune with our traditions though staying in USA.
It is worth mentioning about another significant event which many temples in different cities are organizing. That is Satyanarayana Vratam. For the good of the world and for getting over their difficulties, many perform Satyanarayana Vratam. It is said in the story of the Vratam that performance of it entails one to all prosperity. Priests, schloars and temple officials from the Veera Venkata Satyanrayana Swamy temple of Annavarampersonally came and got the Vratams conducted at places of USA.


Having said about organizing rituals, pujas, vratams, abhishekams, homams, kalyanams in temples which have their own part in one's spiritual progress, I shall now mention about some of the places visited by me which teach meditation methods, yoga, and other related techniques by which one develops inner knowledge for attaining ultimate reality.

Throughout the world, Vipassana meditation courses are held at both centers and non-center locations. Meditation centers are a dedicated facilities where courses are held regularly throughout the year. In regions where centers have not yet been established, 10 Day meditation courses are still held at temporary non-center course sites. There are sixteen full fledged centers in U.S.A. and in some centers long courses of 20, 30, 45days duration are organized. There are numerous places where one day courses and group sittings are conducted.
During the marathon Dhamma tour of the principal teacher Shri Goenkaji in Europe andNorth America during 2002, which went on for 128 days there was tremendous response from the people interested in spirituality and meditation. He gave Dhamma talks, leading meditation sessions, giving media interviews and guiding students in private interview along the way.
I sat in 8 day residential Satipattana Course at Dhamma Mahavana at North Fork,Northern California from 18th June to 28th June 2010. I was benefited to a large extent.
Vipassana meditation aims at the highest spiritual goals of total liberation and full enlightenment. It is one of India's most ancient meditation techniques. A unique method which was lost to humanity was rediscovered by Lord Buddha more than 2500 years ago. Shri S.N.Goenka, the principal teacher of this ancient technique has reintroduced this meditation method. Vipassana means seeing things as they really are and it is a process of self- purification through self-observation. The foundation of the practice is 'Sila' which means moral conduct. Sila provides a basis for the development of 'Samadhi' which means concentration of mind; and purification of the mind is achieved through 'Panna' which means the wisdom of insight.
One should learn this meditation in a residential course where for the first three days one is asked to learn how to calm and focus the mind with the help of the breath. On the fourth day one is taught Vipassana ie., observation of the sensations throughout the body, the experiential understanding of their changing nature and the development of a balanced mind. On the tenth day one is permitted to resume speaking and one can share the benefits received during the retreat with others. The course concludes in the early morning of the eleventh day.
What Vipassana is not:                                                          
  1. It is not a rite or ritual based on blind faith.
  2. It is neither an intellectual nor philosophical entertainment.
  3. It is not a rest cure, a holiday, or an opportunity for socializing.
  4. It is not an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
What Vipassana is:-
  1. It is a technique that will eradicate suffering.
  2. It is a method of mental purification which allows one to face life's tensions and problems in a calm, balanced way.
  3. It is an art of living that one can use to make positive contributions to society.

Ten days of residential meditation course is in fact a very short time to penetrate deepest levels of the unconscious mind and learn how to eradicate the complexes lying there. One should continue the practice in seclusion which is the secret of this technique's success. The meditation will suit only those willing to work seriously and observe the discipline which is there for the benefit and protection of the meditators and is an integral part of the meditation practice.
It is praiseworthy to note that in all Vipassana Meditation Centers throughout the world, people from various countries join courses to learn. The conducting teachers of the course authorized by the principal teacher Shri S.N.Goenkaji hail from various parts of the world. Day by day the demand for Vipassana courses is increasing and courses are booked in advance.

We visited the former home of philosopher and spiritual teacher J.Krishnamurti, Pepper tree retreat on 6th September 2010 which is located at the east end of the Ojai Valley next to the Los Padres National Forest, Southern California. Jiddu Krishnamurti was born on 12th May 1895, in Madanapalle, South India. He traveled all over the world speaking spontaneously to large audiences from 1929 till his passing away in 1986. He had a unique style of conveying his message by engaging in dialogues with religious leaders, scientists, professors, authors, psychologists, computer experts and people from many different backgrounds deeply questioning their daily life. His talks and dialogues have been compiled and published in more than fifty books and translated to as many different languages.
According to him Truth is a pathless land and one cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. Truth being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized nor should any organization to be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. No one can come to realize truth through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, nor through any philosophical knowledge or psychological technique. One should find it through the understanding of the contents of one's own mind, thorough observation and not through any intellectual analysis or introspective dissection.
He explained that each one of us can come to understand the content of our own consciousness, and discover that it is common to all humanity. He suggested that our violent, conflict-ridden world, cannot be transformed into a life of goodness, love, compassion, by any political, social or economic strategies but only through our own observation and fundamental change. The transformation can come through first-hand understanding without depending on any guru, system or organized religion.
We spent some time at the same place where he used to stay in the above mentioned Pepper Tree Retreat and found the place so peaceful and full of tranquility and went through some of the great philosophical books of his own as well as some others.
It is significant to note that Center attracts visitors from all places of the world and for the periodically held retreats there. Organizers also hail from all places and are source of inspiration with their philosophical depth who show their commitment as torch bearers of J.Krishnamurti's legacy.

We went to see Paramahansa Yogananda's temple on 8th September '10 which is also known as Self-Realization Fellowship which was founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda and spent some time in the main temple hall.
We also went round 'India House', which is part of the temple with the help of one organizer of Self-Realisation Fellowship. The following thoughts were reverberating throughout our stay at the temple which spoken by Paramahansa Yogananda.
“There is great value in visiting places where saints have lived. Such places are forever permeated with the vibrations left there by the divine souls who walked those grounds. Their vibrations will remain until this earth is dissolved. Where souls have communed with God, there you will find greater communion and response from God. Often such pilgrimages completely change one's life for the better.”
Kriya Yoga taught by Paramahansa Yogananda is an advanaced Raja Yoga technique which reinforces and revitalizes subtle currents of life energy in the body, enabling the normal activities of heart and lungs to slow down naturally. Because of this, the consciousness is drawn to higher levels of perception gradually bringing about an an inner awakening more blissful and more deeply satisfying than any of the the experiences that the mind or the senses or the ordinary human emotions can give.
One technique of energization enables one to draw energy consciously into the body from the Cosmic Source. This technique of life-energy control purifies and strengthens the body and prepares it for meditation, making it easier to direct the energy inward in order to reach higher states of consciousness.
I understand that most of his students then and now are men and women with responsibilities to work with family who learn through the Self-Realization teachings how to balance their active lives with meditation. It is pertinent to recollect the tribute paid by the Government of India while issuing commemorative stamp in 1977 on the occasion of 25th anniversary of the mahasamadhi of Paramahansa Yoganand.
“The ideal of love for God and service to humanity found full expression in the life of Parmahansa Yogananda. He had but one goal; God-realization, and one program; to unite East and West by spiritual understanding. Though the major part of his life was spent outside India, still Paramahansa Yogananda takes his place among our great saints. His work continues to grow and shine ever more brightly, drawing people everywhere on the path of the pilgrimage of the Spirit.”

We visited S.A.T. during Satsang on 22-8-10 from 9-30 A.M. To 11-30 A.M. This place with the SAT Temple inside is situated at Santa Cruz, California. This Temple is so often spoken of as “a great silent dwelling”. The Satsang was conducted under the leadership of Shri Nome, a master in preachings of Ramana Maharshi. After a brief discourse by Shri Nome, question & answer session was held which I very much liked. He answered several intricate questions patiently and smilingly. S.A.T is a spiritual non profit organization consecrated to the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, especially as revealed by Shri Ramana Maharshi. These teachings emphasize non-dual Self-Knowledge and deal with Self-Realisation, the primary means of attaining which is the spiritual practice of Self-enquiry.
The message is this:- “Something in you is constantly knowing or observing the
perceptions and thoughts which flow past. This something is Consciousness, and it has always been the same throughout your entire life.” by Shri Nome.
When one enters the front doors of the temple, there is an unmistakable silence permeating the space. This may be due to the 20 years of countless meditators who have availed themselves of this beautiful temple for the purpose of accessing the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
At the top of the staircase, directly outside the satsang hall, one is presented with double, hand-carved wooden doors. Once through the threshold of these doors, a vivid silence permeates the small shrine room built as the inner sanctum of the temple to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. The events conducted by SAT are wonderful opportunities for profound absorption in Self-Knowledge to experience the deepest happiness, freedom, and peace. The SAT Temple is also open for silent meditation during most days.

The four requisites for Realization and Self-Enquiry as taught by SAT are:-
    1. Discrimination:- It refers to the ability to discern what is true and what is not true. To commence discrimination, one may start meditation with what are seemingly simple questions, such as, “What is the source of happiness? What is eternal? Who am I? Though simple and basic, these questions remain extremely useful continually in the practice.
    2. Detachment:- Attachment produces suffering; indeed attachment is suffering. Discrimination leads to detachment. Detachment yields freedom and joy; indeed detachment is freedom and joy. Actual detachment means one has to abide free from attachment to anything perceived by the senses and one must also be detached from the sensing itself, be it seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling or touching.
    3. The six essentials:- The next requisite for Realization is actually a combination which can be called as six essentials and are all inter related among themselves and are interwoven with discrimination and detachment in the practice of Self-Enquiry. The six are enumerated as follows:-Peacefulness; Self-control; Renunciation; Fortitude; Faith; Deep Profound Meditation.
    4. The desire for Liberation.
The desire for liberation functions as the fuel for one's spiritual practice. The desire for Liberation is the desire for complete spiritual freedom. The desire for Liberation is ultimately the inner yearning to Be as one truly is. Since Being is neither an object nor an activity, the practice can only be that of knowledge. The result of the inquiry is Knowledge identical with Being. The desire for Liberation is the motivation for the inquiry into the Self.

It is significant to note that the followers of SAT are found from all places and all religions.

We visited the Ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi and had her darshan on 5th june 2010 night. We went to the USA Main Center at San Ramon, California at 06-00 P.M. (1 hour road journey from our residence) to have darshan of Mata Amritanandamayi and to listen to her discourse. Large number of people came over to the center to have her darshan and our turn came at  and it was doubtlessly a unique and wonderful experience while having Amma's darshan. She has unique way of blessing the devotees through an extraordinary expression of universal love when she hugs and chants words of wisdom. It is pertinent to recollect what she replied to BBC when asked why she hugs people. She replied that "It is like asking a river, 'Why do you flow?' It simply flows because that is its nature and in the same way this is Amma's nature- a mother expressing her love to children.
Through her extraordinary acts of love and self-sacrifice, Amma has endeared herself to millions of people around the world. It is reported that Amma in the past 38 years, has physically hugged more than 2.8 crore people from all parts of the world. Her teachings are universal and whenever she is asked by her religion she replies that her religion is Love. She does not ask anyone to believe in God or to change their faith but only to inquire into their own real nature, and to believe in themselves.
Her tireless spirit of dedication to uplifting others has inspired a vast network of charitable activities round the world through which people are discovering the sense of peace that comes from selflessly serving others.

I have noticed that the following organizations also conduct various programs involving discourses on spirituality, conduct courses on scriptural knowledge, retreats as an inspiration and for continuation of practice.

We attended a discourse delivered by Swami Tattavavidananda on Bhakta Hanuman/ Sundara Kanda for a few days in the first week of August 2010 arranged by Arsha Vidya Centre at Milpitas, California. This center periodically organizes several such programms. Swamiji first explained as to how Ramayana is treated as Adi Kavya written by Maharshi Valmiki. He then narrated the story in Kishkinda Kanda and Sundara Kanda and about the qualities of Hanuman which are inspiration to one and all for emulation.

In Iskcon temples, pujas, bhajans, discourses and Bhagvad Gita classes are held. Community services also are conducted.
We attended Iskcon Temple at San Jose where Narasimha Jayanthi celebrations were conducted on 26-5-10 and Temple President Vaisesika Prabhu (an American by birth) gave pravachan on the subject of Prahlad charitra as detailed in Sri Mahabhagavat and exhorted the devotees to cultivate such qualities to walk on the path of Bhakti. Later Bhajans were sung in praise of the Supreme Lord.
We also took part in Rath Yatra at San Fransisco Golden Gate Park, conducted by Iskcon (Berkeley and Silicon Valley temple) on 8th August '10.
We visited the Iskcon Los Angeles temple in the morning on 6th September which is also known as New Dwaraka Dhama, Srila Prabhupada's Western World Headquarters at Los Angeles, California.
According to the Iskcon philosophy there is a meaning behind chanting the Maha-Mantra of Hare Krishna and Hare Rama. The name Krishna means “the All Attractive One,” the name Rama means “the All- Pleasing One”, and name Hare is an address to the Lord's Internal Energy. So the Maha-Mantra means “O All-Attractive, All Pleasing Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your devotional service.”
On two occasions, I had the opportunity of meeting the revered Shri Radhanath Swami, an important senior monk of Iskcon movement and the author of the book “The journey home” autobiography of an American Swami in which he mentioned about mystic yogis, gurus and an epic quest through spiritual India and he was kind enough to spend some time with me to discuss some points about his book.

  • Talk by Param Pujya Didi Maa Sadhvi Ritambhara.
Attended discourse at Sunnyvale Hindu temple on 30th July,'10 on “Shreemad Bhagwat Katha” by Param Pujya Didi Maa Sadhvi Ritambhara founder of Vastalya Gram on an invitation from Param Shakti Peeth of USA. She is here giving discourse for 5 days from July 30th to 3rd August. She says that thousands of children in the world are waiting for a permanent place to call Home and that Home is Vatsalya Gram and wants to adopt one village in every State of India in the coming 10 years period for overall development of the village.
She says that “the whole world needs maternal love. Every child should get a mother's lap so that no child may feel deprived”.
  • Discourse by Swami Mukundananda at Sunnyvale Hindu Temple.
While priests were performing puja and other rituals inside the Sunnyvale Hindu temple and several devotees were participating in these programs, Swamiji was giving discourse in the adjoining hall and was attended by even more number of devotees. I like this aspect most because the temple environment catered to all types of spiritual seekers like those performing puja, carrying out devotional service and attaining knowledge through listening to spiritual teachers.
Swami Mukundananda who learnt Vedic knowledge through his master Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj dwelt on the subjects of necessity of being spiritual in the age of science and as to why the mind is considered the basis for bondage or liberation from this world and how to conquer the mind. He further said that mere chanting the name of Lord without attaching the mind towards the Lord would not bring the result. In other words, he mentioned about an alert mind while reciting and attaching it towards the God instead of mechanically chanting.
He took the example of an ex-wicked person (Ajamila) who is known to have obtained liberation (after Yamadutas and Vishnudutas had an altercation) when he called the name of his child (Narayan) on his death bed. Swami mentioned that after this episode, Ajamila went for a deep meditation on the holy name with alert mind and only after some time did he get the real liberation. He gave this example to dispel any notion that mere chanting the name mechanically will not be of any help.

  • Hanuman Temple located at Mount Madonna (on top of hill).
Mount Madonna Center is a conference and retreat center located on 355 acres of mountain-top redwood forest and grassland overlooking Monterey Bay, between Santa Cruz and Monterey, in Northern California.
Baba Hari Das. He has been on a vow of silence for the last 40 years and under his inspiration a community was designed to nurture the creative arts and health sciences within a context of personal and spiritual growth and sponsored by the Hanuman Fellowship, a group whose talents and interests are unified by the common practice of Yoga.

After visit to the Hanuman temple, we had the darshan of Swamy Hari Ramdas at the community office of the above temple on 24th July. Some questions were asked by us and he replied in writing, since he is on a vow of silence.

Question 1: How to control mind?
Answer: Live a virtuous life.
Question 2: What is enlightenment?
Answer: A mental stage where there is neither aversion nor craving. The real state however is beyond
Question 3: Buddha never talked of God, but showed path of enlightenment. Several were enlightened by following his preachings. What is your opinion about that path?
Certainly. It is possible with his path if you make continuous effort.
Question 4. Any message/upadesh:
Answer: Practice meditation regularly.
Question 6: What should be the object of meditation?
Answer: Any spiritual object or Akash.(space).
There are so many other centers which I could not visit.
  • Discourses by Brhama Sri Samavedam Shanmukha Sarma.

The learned scholar gave discourses on various topics of spirituality which were very inspiring on different days arranged by Silicon Andhra, Satyanarayana Devasthanam and other organizations of Silicon Valley, California from 8th to 10th August 2010. Other prominent spiritual leaders like Swamy Sukhabodhananda, Rajendrasinghji Maharaj and several other leaders keep visiting to impart the spiritual knowledge and the response has always been very good.

The way the hospitals at USA are suggesting to the patients to do daily yogic practices to get the benefits of gradual change in one's thoughts, conduct, attitude, behavior, words and deeds is an indication of the increased understanding and acceptance of Indian yogic methods. The heart centers in particular are specifically suggesting yoga practices both to focus on physical benefits and also to delve into the spiritual side. While stressing that yoga culminates one into mental stability, happiness, peace and contentment, and ultimately a fruitful life, they tell the patients to select a yoga center that suits one's style by giving a big list of yoga and meditation centers.
There is in fact a greater acceptance and understanding of spirituality than what is widely perceived in India about U.S.A. The atmosphere is gradually becoming conducive to pursue 'Shreyo Marg' (path leading to achieve higher goals) contrary to the impression that it is a country good only to pursue 'Preyo Marg' (path leading to achieve material pleasures).

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