With a backdrop of a life-size statue of Swami Vivekananda, to the traditional clarion sound of the conch, the second World Hindu Conference attended by 2,500 Hindus from 60 countries had a resounding start on Friday, September 7th at the Westin Lombard York Town Center in Chicago.
With luminaries from spiritual, educational, business, and political walks of life among the invited speakers, the message of Hindus coming together for the common good, with a sense of unity, reverberated the grand hall even as Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech to the World Parliament of Religions did 125 years ago at the nearby Art Institute of Chicago.
Convening September 7-9 at The Westin Hotel in the Yorktown Shopping Center, Lombard, IL, the 2018 WHC is celebrating the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s Parliament of Religions speech in Chicago in 1893. Upon completion of WHC deliberations, the Honorable M. Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President of the Republic of India, will participate in a special ceremony to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Swamiji’s Chicago speech. “The 2018 World Hindu Congress will be a landmark event,” said WHC Coordinator.
Dr. Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh from India, addressed the congress on the theme drawn from the Mahabharat, “Think collectively, Act Valiantly.”
Bhagwat highlighted the need for such an action now and how Hindus should work together.
“Our universal values now called Hindu values lead to the welfare of the individual, the society, the nature and the environment. It is the duty of Hindus to remind the world, the universal values from time to time. This duty of dharma to human beings should be performed till the world exists and thus, Hindu dharma will also exist till the world exists. Hindus know the basic values, but have forgotten to practice them.” Stressing the need for unity, Bhagwat said if a lion is alone, wild dogs can invade and destroy the lion. We must not forget that. We want to make the world better. We have no aspiration of dominance. Our influence is not a result of conquest or colonization.”
In this context, he alluded to the war and politics in the Hindu epic Mahabharat, and said politics cannot be conducted like a meditation session, and it should be politics. “To work together, we have to accept the consensus. We are in a position to work together,” Bhagwat said.
The congress recognized four organizations for their outstanding contributions to spreading Hindu philosophy. The Bochasanwasi Aksharpurshottam Swaminrayan Sanstha (BAPS) was honored for its extreme visual idealism around the world as it built architecturally beautiful mandirs. Chinmaya Mission for explaining the essence of the Gita, Geeta Press, Gorakhpur for making sacred Hindu literature easily accessible, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness for spreading the message of Gita were also honored.
SP Kothari, chair of WHC, said he and many speakers attending the conference received calls and petitions from organizations and individuals to withdraw from the Congress on the ground WHC or some of its organizers are “socially and religiously divisive.” “I categorically reject this supposition,” Kothari said. Kothari said he welcomed diversity and evolution of thought and believed that two areas will benefit from reform. Women have not fared well and this is a universal problem. There is a large chasm and women’s talents haven’t been harnessed. Focus on education is the other area requiring reform.
The three goals of WHC are “enlighten, reform and advance.” WHC brings enlightenment throughout the world about the Hindu community through spirituality, harmony and inclusiveness, he said. Hindus must reform and be in the forefront in eliminating social and economic inequality, foster cooperation among those with ideas and resources, and view commerce as a means to furthering Hindu dharma for a better tomorrow.
Vice-president of Republic of Suriname Ashwin Adhin in his address said “We, as Hindus, never forsake our mission. Hindus have always been the missionaries of renunciation and service.”
Words like peace, harmony and spirituality do not appeal to ordinary people easily and they have to be framed in right perspective terms so that they get established in people’s mind, Adhin said.
“Much change is needed and we need action,” Adhin said and recalled Swami Vivekananda’s stirring call, “Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached.”
Stating that it was a big achievement for a poor Kashmiri Hindu boy to be speaking at the event, award winning actor Anupam Kher saluted “our country India…a place that has been home to all cultures, religions and faiths. Hinduism is a way of life, he added, and one becomes a Hindu by living like one. Tolerance was the centerpiece of Vivekananda’s message. “My roots are steeped in Hinduism. I draw inspiration from Swami Vivekananda to shine a light on all of us gathered here and beyond. As a Hindu, it pains me deeply to see how ignorance and half knowledge are trying to destroy one of the oldest, world’s most peaceful religion,” the Bollywood actor told the audience.
Vice Chair Raju Reddy described the congress as an extraordinary opportunity to shape the dialogue about Hindus going forward and change the perceptions of Hindus as very positive change makers wherever they may be in the world.
Conference host Dr. Shamkant Sheth spoke of the two years of hard work that went into bringing together the WHC and of the opportunity to connect, inspire and learn to strengthen the global Hindu community in these productive 3 days of discussion.
Addressing the “confluence of Hindu leadership who have come to connect, share ideas, inspire one another and impact the common good” WHC coordinator Dr. Abhaya Asthana stated that “we have gathered to reaffirm the same message of diversity, cooperation and universal acceptance” uttered by Swami Vivekananda 125 years ago.
WHC, he stated is not an event, it is a community movement. It seeks to encourage Hindus around the world to ascend to the highest levels of excellence. This Congress, he stated, was important so we “may graduate from individual success to collective success.”