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Realizing the Vision of a Great Acharya -- Formation of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha in India -- Conclusions Formulated During the Apex Conference -- What is Needed is a Collective Voice -- The Second Conference at Mumbai -- Dharma Samstha Pramukh Sabha -- Dharma Summit 2005 in the United States -- "Hindu Collective Initiative" -- Temple Issues, Fostering their Health & Dynamism etc. -- Conclusion: Recognizing the Wisdom in Uniting Ourselves

Realizing the Vision of a Great Acharya
Swami Vivekananda realized long ago the need of unifying the Nation by bringing together various spiritual forces working on the Indian soil. With an unfailing foresight, he showed the way for achieving both solidarity and national integration. "National union in India", declared Swamiji, "must be a gathering up of its scattered spiritual forces. A nation in India must be a union of those whose hearts beat to the same spiritual tune."

Formation of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha in India
In realization of Swami Vivekananda's vision of unifying all adherents of Sanatana Dharma, a sincere and first attempt was made through the formation of the "Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha", an Apex Hindu Body, three years ago in 2003. And, history was thus made in Chennai starting on 29th November and ending on December 1st, 2003, when for the first time in modern Hinduism, the Heads of Maths and Mandaleshwars from different parts of India got together and deliberated upon the momentous issues facing the Hindu society and the nation. They crystallized the collective Hindu consciousness and spoke in a single Hindu voice. Thus, the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, a body which represents almost all the important Hindu religious leadership in the country, has come about not a day soon. Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the convener of the Sabha, who guided the proceedings of the Chennai Sabha conference, highlighted the vision and the mission of this Apex Hindu Body as well as the basis for its formation. "Hindu Dharma requires one single voice" he declared, and exhorted the assembled Spiritual Heads thus: "You are our strength. You occupy a position, which is very significant. Your participation, therefore, in this conference is very important in formulating the resolutions. Later generations will take care of what they need to take care of. But in our lifetime, we need to make sure that this Dharma is protected; not only it is protected; it is handed over intact without any damage to the generations to come".

An immediate issue with the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha was deregulating the Hindu Religious and Endowments Act that gave the so-called secular government in India total control over Hindu places of worship while it respected the autonomy and self-governing features of the non-Hindu institutions of worship; nor did the Sabha hold back on its objections to proselytization as an innocuous projection of one's faith. Sanatana Dharma does not seek to subvert, conquer or denigrate other religious persuasions and faiths nor does it seek convert others into its dharmic traditions. It was therefore resolved to appeal to the leadership of the proselytizing religions in the country to review and change their theological disposition towards Hinduism in order to promote harmony and avoid any conflict, violence and disruption in Hindu society.

Conclusions Formulated During the Apex Conference
The following conclusions were formulated during the Apex Conference:
Proselytizing religions should not be allowed to erase the identity and spiritual and religious Sampradayas of tribals, Adivasis and hill tribes since these communities are far removed from the political power centers, are inherently weak and thus deserving of state protection for the maintenance of their spiritual and religious identities. Social peace and harmony will prevail in the country only with correct understanding of the concept of religious freedom, which means freedom to practice one's own religion without having to feel the "religious" need to denigrate the faiths of others. The latter obsession appears to be unique to the proselytizing varieties of the Abrahamic religions, particularly western Christianity and Islam.


The Acharya Sabha was not formed to antagonize any religion or religious community in India. India's tradition of grace and charity embodied in its Santana Dharma has always accorded from very ancient times hospitality and protection to other non-Dharmic faiths rooted in the western and or middle eastern religious traditions. However, the Sabha recognizes now that it is high time that we evolve a strategy to prevent the continuing disruption of Hindu families and the exsanguination of Hindu Society by proselytizing faiths which are frequently bank-rolled by foreign religious institutions or quasi-governmental foreign agencies cloaked under the pretext of ensuring human rights and religious freedoms of all people everywhere. In this context, the Sabha believes that the world should be made aware of the innate integrity of Sanatana Dharma to achieve precisely the same purpose, viz., of ensuring that all human-beings everywhere should be allowed to exercise their freedom of worship and pursuit of their spiritual enlightenment in whatever manner they deem fit. The Acharya Sabha was of the view that the spirit of tolerance and inclusiveness of Hindu Dharma have been exploited by aggressive religions for too long. The Sabha felt strongly that an organized and unified effort must be made to preserve the integrity and strength of Sanatana Dharma.

The Sabha also recognized that the Hindu society needs to be strengthened by ridding it of birth-based caste-centric rigidities such as untouchability, dowry-related atrocities on women, female feticide and infanticide etc. Restoring individual dignity through education, employment opportunities and empowerment of women needed reinforcement through the activities of Hindu religious leaders. Justifiable and informed pride should be inculcated in the youth of Hindu Society at being Hindus and to understand that practicing Hinduism should not stop with the performance of rituals but involve exemplary practice of values enunciated in Sanatana Dharma. Such efforts should be directed towards the recovery and rebuilding of places and sites of worship which are sacred in Hindu memory -- temples, bathing ghats, pilgrimage centers etc.
What is Needed is a Collective Voice
Swami Dayanandaji said: "Faced with militant missionaries and missionary militants, Hinduism has to show that its plurality and all-encompassing acceptance are not signs of disparateness or disunity. For that, what is needed is a collective voice. In the Acharya Sabha, it can find one. Quite simple, it is a Sabha whose time has come. The idea of the Sabha is to become a massive movement of the people of Hindu Dharma, with the primary focus on caring for the poor, the downtrodden and the powerless. This is a commitment," he emphasized. "But more than such caring proposals, the very fact that there is now an umbrella body that has representation from all the important Matams (Hindu monasteries) and Peetams (traditional religious establishments) in the country will in itself send out all the right signals that Hinduism is looking for."
The Second Conference at Mumbai
In the second Conference of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha (held at Mumbai, from October 16 to 18, 2005, at the initiative and under the convenorship of Swami Dayananda Saraswati), Heads of ancient Samprdayas, which collectively constitute Sanatana Dharma (Hindu Dharma) deliberated on various issues of importance to Hindu Society. Sixty-four members comprising Acharyas and Mahamandaleswars of several Peethas and Akharas, from different parts of the country representing seventeen Sampradayas participated in the Conference. Three major issues relating to the sense of self-esteem and health of the Hindu Society were discussed: The control of temples by the governments treating them as merely charitable institutions and not as places of worship and cultural values to Hindus world-wide; the rampant religious conversion in the country, that is taking pace unabated, without let or hindrance from governments; and the unjust reverse discrimination to which Hindus are subjected by organs of State in the country under a wholly untenable pretext of 'secularism'. The three day conference concluded after passing unanimously several resolutions for future action
Dharma Samstha Pramukh Sabha
In this context it should be noted that there was another conference of all Dharma Samsthas of India, which took place in Hyderabad during December 4th and 5th, in 2002, under the banner of "Dharma Samstha Pramukh Sabha". Representatives of 13 Dharma Samsthas participated in the Conference and at its concluding session, 19 Dharma Samsthas had given consent to become members of a Federation of the Dharma Samsthas in India. In a historical context, one could say that the Acharya Sabha in Chennai was a sequel to the Hyderabad Conference. For the Hyderabad conference as well as the Chennai Sabha, Swami Dayanandaji was the catalyst. He is also the organizer of the Mumbai Acharya Sabha of 2005

Dharma Summit 2005 in the United States
The Acharya Sabha's success in Chennai and its radiating effects reached the shores of the United States to kindle a similar move for the Indian diaspora there to come together as a united community to safeguard the interests of Sanatana Dharma through the fostering of solidarity among the leaders of Hindu Organizations and representatives of the Hindu temples there. For the first time in North America, 400 participants representing more than 80 Hindu temples and religious organizations came together for a Dharma Summit on August 13-15, 2005. The conference included Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.


The theme of the Summit was: "The Future of Dharmic Traditions in North America." The concern that many young generation Hindus in U.S.A. are not learning and maintaining Hindu traditions was clearly evident throughout the conference that brought together presidents and boards of trustees of many temples, Devalayas, spiritual institutions, and organizations, together with many intellectuals and committed volunteer leaders from throughout the U.S.A. The rich mix of Swamis, intellectuals, temple trustees and youth leaders provided a unique opportunity to exchange different viewpoints, thoughts and ideas and share experiences on how to impart spiritual and cultural education to future generations. They also discussed the serious problem of distortion and misinformation about Hinduism and India prevalent in schools, colleges, and in the media.

A workshop was organized by the Hindu University of America, which is starting a program to train Hindu priests (Pujaris) to meet the expressed needs of temples in the U.S.A. for priests who can also communicate with the younger generation and with the interfaith community. Many of the speakers associated with temples touched on the subject of integration with the majority community, pointing to the need to be more actively engaged in their neighborhoods and communities. It was observed that a number of Hindu communities are living a rather insular life in America, unaware of the religions of their neighbors and not really trying to join into the mainstream or be part of their town or county. Various speakers encouraged the temples to reach out more, to study the philosophy, history and practices of the faiths they are surrounded by, get to know the leaders of other religious communities, participate locally through charitable programs, free clinics, free feedings and the like. There was a strong youth presence from the Hindu Students Council. Unfortunately, participation by women was less than the organizers had anticipated. Legal aspects, media and interfaith relations, successful temple management practices, and financial resource development were also discussed. A plan of action was proposed to follow up on the insights and recommendations generated in the earlier sessions.

"Hindu Collective Initiative"
The positive experience of this conference resulted in overwhelming demand for a "Hindu Collective Initiative" that will allow all Hindu religious organizations to work together to shape the future of Hinduism in North America, raise awareness of issues, and provide a platform for a united Hindu voice. Together they will address issues such as promoting changes to enhance the participation of the new generation, correcting biased and distorted views of Hindu traditions in educational institutions and the media, improving temple management, developing resources, enhancing the role of the temple, and helping the temples and religious organizations to reach out to the larger community with voluntary services (Seva) and education.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the convener and patron of the Dharma Summit outlined a basic organizational structure for continued cooperation, envisioning a Steering Committee to implement the goals of the Dharma Summit, with the help of volunteers and supplementation of efforts by salaried full-time staff.

Temple Issues, Fostering their Health & Dynamism etc.
Hindu temple issues, such as training of priests and their specific duties with regard to ceremonies at homes, temples, funerals, weddings etc and the division of duties among priests were discussed. Traditionally in India, these are handled by two different groups of priests. One performs temple ceremonies, the other performs all home ceremonies. In the absence of adequate priests, many temples have priests from either tradition performing both tasks, one of which they are not often trained for.


The second is the recognition of the need for both teachers of Hinduism and Counselors to deal with personal problems of devotees. Priests are trained to perform neither of these functions, though some priests have done both successfully.


Participants debated whether community members should be trained to fulfill the role of spiritual counselors, or if the priests should be so trained, with the general opinion favoring the former. Some temple leaders recognized the "disconnect" between temple priests and youth, and recommended that priests officiating here get trained in American cultural ways and language, preferably even while they are in India. It was reported there are 50 massive temples in America and over 700 smaller ones. Media and community relations, participation inter-faith groups, the legal aspects of temple management, legal obligations of temple trustees including financial and fiduciary responsibility, with a strong emphasis on liability, libel and defamation, avoidance of litigation and effective ways of responding to hate crimes were covered.

The Bridgewater Temple of New Jersey, which is just a 15-minute drive from the venue, outlined an interesting program called the "Traveling Mandir." The motivation here is to keep college-age children involved in Hinduism. Their parents organized a one-hour temporary temple at the local college, Rutgers in this case, on Sunday during the same time others are going to Christian services.
The importance of volunteer help, especially under the leadership of women, was acknowledged. In fact, it was said more than once that a strong contingent of selfless volunteers is more essential than abundant finance to the health and dynamism of a temple. Future financial security was addressed in discussions about wills and endowments.
Conclusion: Recognizing the Wisdom in Uniting Ourselves
The above chronology of events are presented here merely for the benefit of the attendees of the Second Acharya Sabha meet in Mumbai, India, so that the participants can appreciate the energy, enthusiasm and expectations of the efforts so far expended by the Dharmis and Acharyas in furthering the renaissance of Sanatana Dharma both in India and among the Hindu communities in North America. We realize that there may be movements in other parts of the world where Hindus live and work. We know for certain that in the United Kingdom, Hindus are well organized. Hopefully, in the years to come, Sanatana Dharmis everywhere will come together globally at regular intervals much as other religionists do to protect diverse modes of worship in the preservation of their respective cultures and heritages. As Sanatana Dharmis we applaud all such conclaves of other religions but often neglect to recognize the wisdom in uniting ourselves to highlight our innately pluralistic approach to Godhead and faith without ever having to belittle or nullify the faith of others
-- Swami Jyotirmayananda Puri
1. "Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha: The Apex Hindu Body
-- Its Vision and the Mission" (Souvenir)
2 .Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha Conference 2003, (First Conference at Chennai):
3 .Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha Conference 2005, (Second Conference at Mumbai):
4. "Arise, Awake and be Vigilant to Safeguard Dharma"
5. "Be better known about India and Her Culture"
(Brochure released during the 'Dharma Summit 2005')
6. "Shaping the Future of Dharma in North America."
7. Dharma Summit 2005 (Souvenir)
8. "India Abroad" (August 26, 2005)