BEVERLY HILLS, CA – The Dharma Civilization Foundation (DCF) came closer to its goal of establishing the Swami Vivekananda Endowed Chair at the University of Southern California (USC) when it raised over half a million dollars at a fundraising event held at the residence of industrialist B.K Modi here on June 21.
Many prominent members of the Indian-American community including entrepreneurs and academics were present at the event which drew around 120 guests. The spirit of Hindu pride was palpable throughout the evening along with a strong exhortation to bring back the lost glory of an ancient civilization and religious tradition which has been distorted and misrepresented by so called “experts.” In this respect, Wendy Doniger ‘s recent book ‘ The Hindus: An Alternative History,’ drew immense flak from speakers. Chief guest for the event Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii 2nd district , the frist American Hindu elected to Congress who took the oath on the Bhagvad Gita said India has given the world this big treasure house of wisdom embodied in the Gita.“ As a karma yogi I have put these principles into action in very practical ways. I uphold karma yoga and the servant leadership model,” she added. Highlighting her connection to Hinduism she explained that her mother is a practicing Hindu and her father a practicing Catholic but also an adherent of Hinduism. Growing up in a multi-religious household she fully embraced Hinduism as a teenager. During her stint with the Hawaii National Guard in Iraq, where she served voluntarily across two deployments in 2004 and 2005, Gabbard recalled how she had resorted to verses from the Gita which gave her refuge and strength when faced with the ugliness of war and meaningless loss of life. It was the Gita which inspired her in her moments of crisis. She bemoaned the lack of knowledge and misunderstanding of Hinduism at Capitol Hill. Her goal is to enlighten and she is encouraged by the positive way she has been received in Congress.
Gabbard assured DCF of her support saying the “vision of DCF should have happened yesterday.”
B. K. Modi, who hosted the event, is an alumni of the University of California, where he got his M.BA in the year 1978. Speaking on the occasion, he highlighted the fact that India has something to offer to the world, as a thought leader in the domain of spirituality, sustainable living and development. He said “No other country or civilization has articulated the idea that the world is one family – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, as India has”. He also expressed great hope in the new government in India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who he called a `global leader’ adding that Indians in the US had a big role to play and he was here to support this. Modi has a strong entrepreneurial presence across many industries, including films, telecommunications, hospitals, rubber, photocopying and financial management. His highly popular “Buddha” tele-serial is being broadcasted in multiple languages all over the world. During the dinner break, sequences from the Tele-serial “Buddha” were shown to the audience. Executive Vice President DCF, Kalyan Vishwanathan brought to the fore the vision of the organization which is to radically transform the representation of Hindu dharma in the realm of higher education in North America. The mission is to establish systematic academic study of dharma through the creation of academic institutions and infrastructure. The problem at hand he said was the radical abandonment by the Hindu community of the humanities in favor of sciences, engineering , technical disciplines, medicine, resulting in non-practitioners becoming “experts” in Hinduism and becoming the official “voice” of Hinduism. Vishwanathan went on to show a brief film that highlighted some of the problems that existed in the current discipline of the academic study of Hindu Dharma and the Dharma traditions in general. The film underscored how the dominant voices in academia in the domain of Hindu studies were voices of non-practitioners and outsiders to the lived traditions of Hindu Dharma.
Carrying on in a similar vein was Manohar Shinde ,Chairman DCF, who called for a systematic transformation in higher education to create a new community of scholars to represent India and Hindu dharma as a thought leader for liberty and peace. Bemoaning the fact that the study of Hindu Dharma has been neglected and misrepresented, he said Hindus were to blame for this and it was time to launch an intiative and movement nationwide to make an impact in the US.The Dharma Communities of North America had a responsibility to ensure that “The ethos and value system of Dharma is accurately communicated to the world in a modern idiom and language.” Rita Sherma, currently the Swami Vivekananda visiting professor at the USC School of Religion and Varun Soni, Dean of Religious Life at the USC also made an eloquent pitch for why USC is an ideal place for the Hindu Community to invest its time and money. Ushakant Thakkar who recently pleged a million dollars to set up a Vedic Studies Chair at University of California, Irvine, also spoke as did Ravi Tilak and Praveen Mody.
Dilip Parekh, Professor of Clinical Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC, presided over the event as Master of Ceremonies. Swami Mahayogananda of the Vedanta Center of Hollywood, a resident monk of the Ramakrishna order also attended the event, and supported the fund raiser.