On Saturday evening September 17th, the Hindu American Foundation held it’s annual fund raising dinner. Two of the Covenant of the Goddess’s National Interfaith Representatives were there to enjoy the dinner and witness the professional finesse with which this organization handles its only SF Bay Area fund raising drive.
What makes this event of interest to us as Pagans and Wiccans, is that this religious organization holds so much in common with us, recognizes that connection, and is actually reaching out to us to form bonds of mutual support. Rather than bore you with a blow by blow description of the evening let me instead mention some of the many reflections that occurred to me.
The first thing that struck me so forcefully was the repeated mention of PantheaCon and their attendance at that event last year. Samir Kalra made a point of coming over to join Macha Nightmare and myself prior to the start of the program to introduce himself as the HAF California representative this year. He wanted to thank us for our presence and mentioned how much he had enjoyed attending the PantheaCon conference. For those of you reading this who may not have attended the Convention last year, the Pagans and Hindus put on a ritual combining elements of both systems and everyone on both sides seemed to be very happy with the result. Mihir Meghani, one of the co-founders also present at PCon, even mentioned it during his main presentation.
I was struck by all of the ideologies, practices and beliefs that we share as the program moved forward. Army Oficer Rajiv Srinivasan, of Roanoke, Virginia, now a recruitment officer for West Point, spoke of his isolation as a practicing Hindu, in the Armed Forces and how his faith was tested in Afghanistan as a platoon leader almost constantly in harms way. As a Wiccan myself who was in the military I can very much relate to his feelings of being pressured to attend one of the religious services offered on base on Saturdays and Sundays and, having partaken of mess hall food can only imagine his difficulty in maintaining a vegetarian diet. Many young pagans have spoken to me of similar issues.
They spoke of the difficulty that their children face in school. Where Pagan children can sit quietly back and not worry that issues of their religion will arise, Hindu children must face that fact during the fifth and sixth grades here in California when, during Social Studies and World Culture, religions of the world are discussed. Many of the text books are incorrect in their information on Muslim and Hindu practices and the children must face the decision to correct them, or set themselves up for ridicule from class mates during breaks and after school. To counter this mis-information on the Hindu religion, they have developed their own textbook in partnership with several Hindu scholars and professors which is due to be released in hard back within the next two weeks.
Their Gods, like ours are multiple and complicated and they emphasize the equality of power among genders. Their practices vary as much as ours, and they respect men and women in modern practice equally. Within this organization there were as many highly positioned and professional females as males. Many of their spokespersons are women.
We do also have vast differences between us. They worship in a congregational manner, with temples and all of the infrastructure that this implies. As I looked around the room I noticed that most of the people in it were Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, or other very highly paid professionals. A person at the table next to us, during the fund raising part of the program, wrote a check for $20,000 without even wincing. Can you imagine? A Hindu comedian commented that if you were an American Hindu male you had only four choices of career, doctor, lawyer, engineer, or failure. Unlike most Pagans today, they have grown up with and have a deep commitment to their religion that goes back five thousand years over countless generations. This means that they don’t even have to think about how much they wish to commit to this religion. It is simply who they are. Many of these still fairly young professional families are donating a year or two away from careers to work full time without pay for this organization.
During the program they spoke about how they came to develop HAF and the plan that they implemented, which is certainly a model that we could all use. The first step was reaction. They took immediate action against articles and news reports that were incorrect and set forth to both correct and educate the people and organizations involved. The second step was pro-action. They quickly discovered that there was no “go to” place to get accurate information on the Hindu religion and so they set out to let those same people and organizations know about them. The third step was activism.
This has been reflected in many ways. They began a program to take back Yoga. Over the course of many years here in the United State there had been a real effort on the part of health practitioners and the new age movement to play down and separate the practice of Yoga from its religious roots and connected practices. The program was very successful with great news coverage by all of the major news media. We received word during the dinner that several of the Lawyers in the room were flying back to Washing DC the next day to attend a congressional hearing on the case of the Hindus in the Kashmir.
There is much that we could learn from this organization and I believe that we will profit from the work that they are doing on behalf of Hindus and Pagans. As a new religion I believe that Hindus have much to teach us about dedication to a belief, and as an organization I believe that HAF has much to teach us about organizational structure and how to use its members to their best and fullest ability.
As a final note, all that this organization has accomplished has been done with only four paid staff employees and a budget one tenth the size of any of the comparable major religious organizations out there doing the same work. They raised approximately a quarter of a million dollars last night. I wish us how to do THAT.