THE 2004 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 could happen.
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. 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; www.vedicfriends.org)
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.
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 issue.
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.
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 most.
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.