Dharmic Seva and Vivekananda: The Catalyst to Building Pluralistic Communities

The Dharmic American community has an immense, untapped potential to serve at home and abroad. Dharmic Seva can become a catalyst to strengthening and building pluralistic communities. Our ancient expression, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The Whole World is One Family) is a key principle driving Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC) as we prepare for the first historic briefing at the White House, followed by the conference at Georgetown University.

The theme of the event is "Energizing Dharmic Seva (Service): Impacting Change in America and Abroad," and is designed to inspire all toward community service. We will explore ways to further strengthen America through service and honor those within our community who have served, are serving and will serve. We have an impressive slate of speakers coming to share their perspectives.

As we started our journey to impact change and encourage new service ideas, HASC sponsored a widespread civic and service participation essay contest to develop service plans. The winners of the contest will be recognized by HASC at the White House briefing on the 29th. With their Seva Plan we expect our participants to become change makers as they become part of expanding the ongoing seva movement. They will play a role in America valuing the talents of its diverse faiths, its pluralistic multicultural communities, the New Americans. As a member of the President's Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in our report we recommended and are now implementing interfaith cooperation and community service as an important way to build understanding between different communities and contribute to the common good.

We asked our community to tell us: What role does your dharma (religion/faith/spirituality) play in civic engagement, social justice and development issues? How do you propose to establish and expand seva (service) on campus, places of worship, yoga centers, in towns, cities or rural areas (for example through "seva centers" or virtual hubs)? What other ways will you grow the faith and/or interfaith seva movement? What is the change you want to see in yourself and in your communities by doing selfless service?

We were amazed with the response and the great ideas that got generated. Our short listed essay participants are preparing to come to the historic event. One of the students, Priyanka Srinivasa, connected her journey to the White House and drew inspiration from the first Hindu monk who came to America and brought his message of pluralism. She recently shared her thoughts on HASC's blog: "Vivekananda and the Allegory of Pluralism in a Globalizing World and Me."

Priyanka Srinivasa, a rising sophomore at American University double majoring in International Relations and Anthropology, is fascinated by the common threads that weave our diverse global culture together. Priyanka is a proud Hindu and enjoys seva through social justice, a key component of HASC's work. Below in her own words:

Sisters and Brothers of America, a greeting that I have held close to me ever since I was young. I always wondered: How is it that in this nation, land of diversity, can we all be inter-related? What was the meaning of a spiritual united pluralism? How can the United States function if we are all sovereign but equal? Yet we do. This nation has inspired our fathers and mothers to take on a diaspora to an unknown land. But not just our kin, but our global family's sovereign lineages as well. Miraculously we coexist even though we have differences. Sisters and Brothers of America. Words that have inspired generations.

When Swami Vivekananda gave his address in Chicago on Sept. 27, 1893, the entire audience roared. Never before in the global melting pot had one acknowledged the importance of religious pluralism before. But this curiosity of the global neighbor has not ceased since that year. Ever since then, the American community and diversity has expanded and so has its interest. But in the process, cross-cultural communication may fail. Fascism has been on a rise just as globalization has been. Faith has become a defensive abode. So where must we go? I found these answers in the inspiring words of Swami Vivekananda. His message of plurality and coexistence had been his message and spent his life spreading this knowledge. In a world in which one's beliefs have become defensive by nature, we can finally breathe.

In the Swami's speech, "Why We Disagree," he gives the allegory that each man and his respected religion is comprised in his finite world. But we must break these barriers. Vivekananda calls upon the United States as his aid: "I am a Hindu and I think that the whole world is my well. The Christian believes that the whole world is his well. The Mohameddan believes the whole world is his well. I have to thank America for the great attempt you are making to break down barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that in the future the Lord will help you accomplish your purpose." Vivekananda inspires me to apply Hindu beliefs of coexistence, peace, curiosity and understanding into the 21st century.

Often our generation has become apathetic to the words of the divine because they are steeped in ancient traditions seen as archaic. Vivekananda has bridged the primeval to the modern. We have the ability to address our generation. To halt the defensive nature of our faith and be open to pluralism, acceptance and spirituality. Now we can address our sisters and brothers of America on the issues of diversity and coexistence. As a youth, I have faith in my words and my actions thanks to the teaching of Swami Vivekananda. It was, after all, his inspiring words "Arise, Awake and Stop not till the Goal is Reached!" Those words reverberating in me, motivate me to strive every day for this goal. A goal that is beyond me or my community or this generation. This is the goal is sahishnuta, acceptance, so that we can address each other as our own. And as one.

The doors of inclusion have opened in America. We are excited to be part of this historic journey as we prepare for to serve, celebrate and learn at the White House.