A seminar on Nutritional benefits of vegetarian diet!

Kenya Vegetarian Club and Hindu Council of Kenya Kisumu branch arranged for an interesting talk on the Nutritional Benefits of Vegetarian Diet on 25th October 2015 to celebrate World Vegetarian Day which was in the first week of October.

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The event was well planned by the founder chairperson Mrs Vaishali Kamal Shah of Shrivedant Foundation which runs the Vegetarian Club in Kenya. The event was held at Ram Garhia Singh Sabha, Guru Nanak Darbar Temple in Kisumu.

  

  

Ms Vaishali explained why we should help locals to turn vegetarian. The main emphasis was on the vegetable farming to help local women to be self-sufficient and promote tree planting. She also explained the effects of meat production on environment and what measures we need to take to avoid the same. She narrated how vegetarianism is an integral part of hindu culture and religion for centuries.

Ms Komal Shah explained how and why we should avoid meat, dairy and poultry products. She also shared some tips for healthy lifestyle and supported the idea of promoting vegetarianism in different parts of the society. Mrs Shobhna Shah narrated vegetarianism in Jainism and Mr Balvinder Singh Rupra explained what Sikhism has to say about vegetarianism.

The highlight of the event was the participation of various schools’ students. They brought up many ideas about water conservation, avoid air pollution, cleaning process of the used water, explained the benefits of nutritional food. Every participant was given gifts and there were six winners in different categories of food presentation and the environmental projects. Kisumu Junior and Senior Academy and Jalaram school participated in the exhibition. Sujata Derodra, co convener helped in the arrangements and Ms. Alka Vaghela encouraged students of the school to participate in the exhibition.

More than two hundred people from various communities attended the talk which was also attended by ms Atiano Otiano, the county representative of Kisumu. Hindu Council of Kenya Kisumu branch and Kenya Vegetarian Club have joined hands to plan the massive tree planting project in coming months with Ms Atiano Otiano and her representative of governments.

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Temples-Providing leadership, networking and serving as resource center

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Temples or Mandir or Devalayam in Sanskrit is the house of god, place of worship and a platform to connect with the inner soul. Temples have been a significant part of Indian culture for thousands of years. It has been a torch, a leading light, a social image of the society and a place to find the solace.

Currently, many famous temples across the world have become a source of income, a sort of business proposition. Many want to come and boast about what they do, make an impact socially, flaunt the riches they have, and beg in front of god to get more and more.

After maintaining Kamleshwar Mahadev Temple for two years successfully, I have made some interesting observations on how to maintain the premises and how to run a temple successfully depending on the location and the available resources.

Location

The location of the temple is the most important aspect to decide as it has to be approachable by all means of transport. Especially on the foreign shore, we don’t have the luxury of walking as we mostly commute in private vehicles or public transports. The serenity, cleanliness, vibration and other vastu related facts needs to be checked as that surely affect the intensity of the prayers. If the temple premise gives you a feeling of a commercial place, you won’t be able to concentrate and become one with god.

Maintenance

After the temple is built, the maintenance of the place is the most important thing, we are mostly ignorant about cleanliness of the temples and hence majority of the temples in India are not visited by urban people. We need to remember that a temple is the house of god and we can’t take it for granted. Maintaining and cleaning the premises with water every day, periodic cleaning of the facades and the outside of the temple, ensuring that people don’t throw garbage anywhere in the premises by keeping dustbins everywhere, spending money on maintaining the toilets are some of the minimum things that have to be done.

We find the sorry state of devotees coming into temples for Prasadam and waste the same in large quantity. That is because we have failed to educate our people on the right and wrong, the basic etiquette of life. With growing number of people in the world dying due to malnutritions we must emphasis on not to waste any food.

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A centre that fulfills many needs

A temple need not serve as a spiritual destination alone. The vast spaces inside the temple along with its mandaps and columns can aid in carrying out so many tasks, in that sense they are not merely sacred spaces but they serve as secular spaces also. When we visit any ancient temple, we can see the celebration of life unabashedly in the many statues, painting or architecture. Love, romance, birth, death, celebrations – all these form the themes of the temple art. Our ancients never divided the spiritual and the mundane into water tight compartments. Every aspect of life was celebrated and no topic was taboo. And that is the reason why the function of the temple extended beyond being a moral guardian of the masses. Since time immemorial, they have been centres around which the arts, community celebrations and economy have flourished. Temples have served as the hub to celebrate events like marriages, birth of a child, annaprashnam or offering the first solid feed to the child, Vidyarambham or initiation into letters, other significant life events, religious festivals, dance and music festivals like the Chidambaram Dance Festival or Konark Festival. Temples also managed lands endowed to it by its devotees upon their death. They would provide employment to the poorest. Some temples had large treasury, with gold and silver coins, and these temples served as banks.

Today we know that the social and ritualistic activities of the temples are the most prominent reasons for people to come and visit the same. Daily prayers, daily rituals, arti of the diety atleast twice a day, offering of food, bathing etc. should be performed without fail. We can use the temple space imaginatively and have programs that attract the youth. We can combine service initiatives with contemporary topics that aim to de-stress lives, offer short term courses that help the participants in personality development, yoga, spiritual entrepreneurship, value based management etc by offering practical solutions. This should be undertaken by traditional temples too as people visit temples not as worshippers alone but would like to seek solutions to real life problems. This would make temples largely relevant and can attract people from all walks of life. There is great potential if only our mandirs were to tap into this missing link.

Other activities like satsang, spiritual talks, celebration of the festivals throughout the year, encouraging youngsters to enlist for social causes should be part of any temple. It not only engages the community but also helps them to grow in their spiritual journey. I also feel that temples should become a center of matrimonial and job opportunities. We have been noticing that it is very difficult to find a suitable partner in any community in today’s hectic life. If the temple committee comes forward to pitch in, it would help our children to find a good partner and settle in life within the Indian and Hindu community.

A good committee makes a huge difference in running a temple successfully. The older group of people needs to invite youngsters to be part of the team. I also recommend we have a teen forum where they organize their own programs to empower youth and encourage them to bring the society together.

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At a time when the social media is shrinking distances, temples can also pitch in by serving as places where socially relevant contemporary issues can be debated; these can be telecast live in the local channels to attract more participants for forthcoming ventures. Temples can also serve as nodal centres where medical camps or screening programs can take place. In our Kamleshwar Mahdev Temple we had a medical camp where local African children were screened and treated.

Education should be a great idea to focus upon not academic or religious education but moral education which is woefully lacking in the regular curriculum these days.  A temple can be an amazing place where these are spoken about on a regular basis, over time there is bound to be some change in the thinking of the masses. Temples are not centres where people visit to do business with the divine, it can be an amazing resource centre where people are taught how to live, that is live right and the onus lies with those who build and steer temples. Children, youth, women, the aged – there are various segments among our Hindu populace that would like to use their weekly visits to temples to pursue more meaningful lives. It requires creativity, commitment and campaign on the part of temple committees to tap into these resources, to focus on inner engineering so that people can learn the art of living well.

The power of Silence!

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The world around us is so full of noise. Sometimes we keep hearing noises inside our heads even though everything is quiet outside. Add to this all the everyday noise. We have become quite immune because we keep hearing it continuously that somehow it has become a part of our life. Let’s just make a list, the fan whirring, the air conditioner humming especially when it is due for a service check, the washing machine swooshing, the microwave setting off the timer alongside the oven- my god we should be the noisiest planet in the whole universe. Now as if this were not enough, we see children and young adults, plugging in to their earphones and either listening to music, making a call or watching a television show.

With so much noise, all we can expect is only cacophony not the least symphony and absolutely no chance of harmony at all in our life. Our ancient lifestyle called for deep periods of introspection and long stretches of silence. If we are continuously engaged in such chatter, we cannot listen to our inner thoughts. It is important to spend some time where we shut down all external noises and just silence our thoughts and sit still. This is called reflective meditation. In the stillness of the mind, we can get insights to many of life’s problems. But the most important thing in today’s world we are so hooked to so many things that tearing away from them is going to be quite a difficult task. I think we need to keep our mobiles away, disconnect with the outer world and most importantly take our mind away from them. No point trying to sit still while the mind is thinking of the whatsapp messages received just then.

Maunvrat is a form of practice that is quite common in many households. Elders observe this as a fast and don’t talk to anyone. Quite a difficult task, I must say. Gandhiji used to follow this practice and would communicate by writing if there was anything urgent to convey. There are so many great saints in our culture who have observed silence as a way of life. Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharishi, the great Saint of Thiruvannamalai is supposed to have given profound messages to his devotees – all in silence. Arthur Osborne who has written the Sage’s biography describes the Maharishi’s habitual silence which communicated more than speech and his intuitive grasp of a questioner’s mind and his simple answers to the most complex questions. All these attracted many Westerners and Indians to his feet. But how do Gurus use silence to influence their disciples. Sri Aurobindo has explained this well in his book Record of Yoga where he talks of Prakamya and Vyapti.

By Prakamya we have perception of another’s feelings; by Vyapti these feelings are felt striking on our own consciousness or ours are thrown into another.   It is possible by vyapti to communicate anything we have in our systems – thought, feeling, power, etc – to another and if he is able to seize and hold it, he can make it his own & use it.  The teacher & the guru habitually use this power of vyapti which is far more effective than speech and writing.   Every thought, feeling, sensation or other movement of consciousness in us creates a wave or current which carries it out into the world-consciousness around and there it enters in any adhara (support) which is able and allowed to receive it.

Perhaps that is the meaning of the adage Mounam Vyaakyaanam -the Guru preaches through silence as seen in the Dakshinamoorthi picture who is sitting under a tree and giving profound lessons to his disciples through the language of silence.

Sometimes our environment can also help us in achieving the stillness of the mind. There is a great connection between us human beings and trees. In our ancient books, there is a lot of reference to men seeking enlightenment by sitting under trees. The Peepul, the banyan- all these are very significant trees that we come across in books. Great masters have gathered their pupils and given discourses under trees. The Buddha is supposed to have become enlightened under a tree. Maybe the vast expanses, the green foliage the positive vibrations flowing out of the trees all these are factors that help in achieving calmness of the mind. Nature has that unique healing power. Every time I see a sunrise on the beach, go trekking on the mountains or dip my feet in the cool waters of a river, I feel a strange pleasure and I know I am not alone. Just that we have forgotten to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. I strongly feel that Kenya has such serene beauty of nature which can actually give us a lot of opportunities to become one with god. I can feel the difference between advanced countries and Africa in case of spirituality.

If we are able to tune inwards due to the power of silence, then we can feel a bout of energy surging through us. We feel refreshed and also ready to take on the world with a fresh perspective.

 

Seminar on Bhagwad Gita at Nehru Center in London!

The Bhagawad Gita holds an eternal fascination to man and the wonder is that each time you read it, like an onion, you can keep peeling different layers from it. I have always been attracted to the Gita and each and every commentary that I have read has helped me gain fresh insights into this little wonder book. Imagine my happiness then to be invited to a seminar on the Gita which was held at the Nehru Centre in London in September 2015. It coincided perfectly with my trip to the UK so I decided to make the most of it.

The Gita is not a religious scripture followed by followers of a particular religion; oh no it is timeless, eternal and has a universal appeal because it provides solutions to every problem under the sun in a simple, logical and humane way. Thus the Seminar comprised of eminent scholars from all over the world who had gathered there to share their ideas and get enriched in the process. Members of the managing committee were drawn from India and England.

A high point of the program to me personally was when one of the keynote speakers, Mrs. Suryakanthi Tripathi remarked that she referred to my website www.indianscriptures.com everyday and has even bookmarked it. She was full of appreciation at my endeavor and congratulated me for presenting articles on a wide range of subjects from our Scriptures in a language easily understandable to the lay public. Scriptures like the Gita should be presented in a simple manner so that the common man can relate to it and follow it easily and the series Layman and the Gita presented on the site does exactly this.

    

The Seminar saw presentations by well-known academicians and scholars and these are the points what I gathered from them.

Mr. Brian Black is a lecturer of Religious studies in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at the University of Lancaster. He discussed how and why Bhagwad Gita was spoken in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It created an impact in the listener’s mind about the importance of the knowledge shared by Krushna.

I observed that many misconceptions about Vedic scriptures continue to prevail in people’s minds. The western scholars are highly influenced by scholars from the early 1900’s who presented the Veda in a derogatory manner. They still use the words like Brahamanism etc. which doesn’t exist in our scriptural directory.

Prof. Peter Flugel studies and propagates Jain scriptures and has an amazing in-depth knowledge of various Jain sutras. I felt truly proud of our community members who have emphasized on various such scriptures to impart knowledge to millions.

James Mallinson is a lecturer in Sanskrit and Classical Indian Studies at SOAS, University of London. He shared his true life experiences of the Kumbh Mela, how society connects with each other in India, the importance of Yoga in Bhagwad Gita. Prof. Theodore Proferes is a senior lecturer in Ancient Indian Religions at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. I was truly impressed with his way of presenting the Mimamsa point of view in
Bhagwad Gita. He stated that the theory of Karma is well explained in Gita and that it truly helps us to identify where we stand in life and where we want to go.

Swami Sarvapriyananda from Ramkrishna Math and Mission explained the Vedantic point of view of Bhagwad Gita. Vempaty Kutumba Sastryji explained how Gita strides across like a colossus and time stands still in its pages. Therefore its message is relevant to all people at all times. His paper explained the points of Atman and how it is explained in the Gita.

The most impressive part of the talk was the recitation of various verses from the Bhagwad Gita by Stephen Peter Thompson. He has been teaching Panini, Gita and Upanishads at various universities and centers across UK. He traced the connection between the verses of Chapter 2 of the Gita with Katha Upanishad.

It was nice to know the interest of the Indian High Commissioner to UK in such topics. He shared his idea of the Gita and also spoke of the need to hold such gatherings more often in London. On a personal note, I requested him to see my website and share his comments which he agreed to do.

    

           
           
I also met Prof Shaunaka Das, the Head of the Oxford Center for Religious Studies in another occasion. He answered all my queries and inspired me on how to look at scriptures from an academic angle. How to understand them from an international point of view? I can hardly wait, I am eager to take my research to the next level and make it visible on an international platform. His guidance is really going to help me to learn the Bhagwad Gita differently.

My profile!

Hey! It is difficult to say few words about yourself. But let’s try. I am the founder owner of Shrivedant Foundation (www.shrivedant.com) in Kenya. The foundation aims to bring forth the pearls of wisdom from ancient indian scriptures. I am one of the fortunate ones who could manage to collect more than 45000 pages of various scriptures under one portal http://www.hinduscriptures.com. After building a Shiv Temple in Kenya with my husband, I moved on to fulfil my dream of promoting vegetarianism in Kenya, hence launched Kenya Vegetarian Club. www.kenyavegclub.com. I have set up a team of geeks, researchers and New media professionals who help me to publish my researched content for website, mobile, books, journals and magazines. I also aim to open a university solely dedicated to Indian scriptures.

I do hold a couple of Diplomas and Degrees (Masters and Post-Graduate) in International Business, Management, Marketing, Internet Technology and Financial markets which I find to be useful only for the employments and to survive corporate jobs. I did lay my hands on various work profiles while working with the family in their businesses. After studying almost all the theories of management in the management school, I realized I want more. A typical nerd in the university campus, I started studying more about Indian scriptures during the weekends till the librarian would come and request me to leave the library so that he can go home. I started with Chanakya’s Arthashastra which I found in the college library. That lead to many more books, research papers, meetings with so called representatives of Hindu culture and religion etc. But my insatiable desire of knowledge didn’t end there. It is when I decided to fulfil the huge gap between the seeker of authentic knowledge and the scriptures in the world. This gave me an idea of combining my knowledge of technology, management, keen interest in research and present them as www.hinduscriptures.com.

The site actually changed my life, lifestyle, thinking pattern, approach, ambition, endeavours, circle of people around me, friends, emotions and made me much stronger person what I am today. It didn’t end here, it has added few more virtues too and made me ambitious, focused, more responsible towards the society, empathetic and more sensitive. Eventually sharing the real knowledge of Indian scriptures is the aim of my life. I am ready to go to any length to fulfil this goal till the last breath of my life.

This endeavour led me to compile the details about Indian lifestyle into the study material. We have recently launched courses called Hindu Culture and Lifestyle Studies on the website www.hinduculturestudies.com. It is also available in the form of self study books and one can teach into the classrooms too. We will make it available in various book stores online and offline very soon.

My passion for saving the environment and nurturing nature is taking shape slowly through Kenya Vegetarian Club. I am able to reach out to farmers, women and youth to empower them in the field of agriculture and organic farming. I surely want to appeal to my readers to go for tree planting wherever possible, donate some seeds to poor farmers and ensure not to bargain with them while buying any  such produce from them.

Chanakya Niti!!

chanakay5I am so glad that finally I completed watching series of Chanakya on DVD. It was an interesting journey watching this saga after so many years again. This series was released more than 20 years back in India which I watched again after more than a decade. I could relate the same to the book I had studied during my university days and also found it relevant to today’s time as well. I am sure why readers would like to know who was Chanakya?

Chanakya was a great thinker and writer who wrote a brilliant treatise on statecraft called Arthashastra. The treatise is relevant even today because Chanakya gives practical lessons on statecraft, strategy and governance. Many people believe that he is the first among nationalists because he was interested in unifying his country and rule them under one sovereign king Alexander. His strategy and vision helped in the consolidation of power and setting up of the mighty Mauryan Empire.

Neetishastra is another great work written by Chanakya and contains golden maxims that can be used in the modern day too because of its relevance. The set of ethics laid down in the Neeti Shastra can be followed by anyone in conducting his daily duties. There are many other Neeti Shastras in our country written by great men of wisdom like Brihaspati, Shukracharya, Bhartrhari and Vishnusharma but what is it that makes Chanakya’s work stand out. Perhaps it is the way he has applied his teachings. He teaches us that high ideals can become practically possible if we work towards achieving our goal in a progressive and determined manner.

The maxims are relevant today as much as they were thousands of years ago. Maybe we just have to substitute organizations and modern equivalents for the ancient language used by Chanakya in these maxims. He begins by offering salutations to Lord Vishnu, the lord of the three worlds. He narrates that these maxims were given for the public good. Therefore with an eye to the public good, I shall speak that which, when understood, will lead to an understanding of things in their proper perspective.

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In one sloka he says do not inhabit a country where you are not respected, cannot earn your livelihood, have no friends or cannot acquire knowledge. This is so true in this age of globalization where Indians keep migrating to other countries. We have to be careful to go to places where we are respected or where we know we can live honorably.

Save your wealth against future calamity. Do not say, “What fear has a rich man, of calamity?” When riches begin to forsake one even the accumulated stock dwindles away. Is this not true? World over we see people becoming bankrupt either due to wrong decisions or unethical practices which makes even the rich bite the dust. So never abuse wealth or think that we can survive after indulging in mal practices.

Test a servant while in the discharge of his duty, a relative in difficulty, a friend in adversity, and a wife in misfortune. Chanakya tells us of the ways of the world. Who is a true friend? A friend in need is a friend indeed. He is a true friend who does not forsake us in time of need, misfortune, famine, or war, in a king’s court, or at the crematorium (smasana). It is rare to find such loyalty and if we are lucky we should try to keep such loyal friends with us always because they are very rare in this world.

The most beautiful aspect of the neethi shastra is that it caters to all the four purposes of human life, that is dharma, artha, kama and moksha. So we can see the spiritual and the mundane sitting side by side in the maxims. Spiritual life is not something that has to be pursued in isolation. It has to run parallel to our daily duties or material pursuits. As long as your body is healthy and under control and death is distant, try to save your soul; when death is imminent what can you do? Here he exhorts us to spend our time in remembering spiritual things when we are strong and healthy and most important it should become a habit from a very young age. Because when death becomes imminent either due to disease or old age the last thing that will cross one’s mind is, thoughts on the higher self.
A few thoughts keep repeating in the neeti, this shows the importance Chanakya gives to these topics. One is learning. . Learning is like a cow of desire. It, like her, yields in all seasons. Like a mother, it feeds you on your journey. Therefore learning is a hidden treasure. All our life we should keep learning as it keeps our mind fresh. We should be open to new knowledge and be eager to learn something new every day. The same thought is stressed in this maxim- Let not a single day pass without your learning a verse, half a verse, or a fourth of it, or even one letter of it; nor without attending to charity, study and other pious activity. Thus, lifelong learning is something that he stresses for all of us, if our minds have to grow and not get embroiled in the mundane. All other forms of wealth may desert us but learning keeps company till the last according to Chanakya. A learned man is honoured by the people. A learned man commands respect everywhere for his learning. Indeed, learning is honoured everywhere. A person may be born in a noble family but it is only learning which makes him a complete human being. There is so much of stress given to learning and knowledge that the author has spent many verses in glorifying it. Those who are endowed with beauty and youth and who are born of noble families are worthless if they have no learning. They are just like the kimshuka blossoms (flowers of the palasa tree) which, though beautiful, have no fragrance. Who is a poor man? One who suffers from the poverty of ignorance. One destitute of wealth is not destitute, he is indeed rich (if he is learned); but the man devoid of learning is destitute in every way. Those who are destitute of learning, penance, knowledge, good disposition, virtue and benevolence are brutes wandering the earth in the form of men. They are burdensome to the earth.

Chanakya hits the nail bang on the head when he advises us on always choosing the best. No compromise, strive to reach for the best is his advice to us. It is better to be without a kingdom than to rule over a petty one; better to be without a friend than to befriend a rascal; better to be without a disciple than to have a stupid one; and better to be without a wife than to have a bad one.

Chanakya also writes about the importance of our Scriptures, yagnas, true wisdom and the benefits of leading a life of virtue. What are the qualities of a man who wishes to rise above the ordinary? Purity of speech, of the mind, of the senses, and a compassionate heart are needed by one who desires to rise to the divine platform. Here Chanakya speaks of inner purity not just saucham in the external sense. Compassion is a great virtue that has to be cultivated if a man has to elevate himself to divine stature. There is no austerity equal to a balanced mind, and there is no happiness equal to contentment; there is no disease like covetousness, and no virtue like mercy. Chanakya rates compassion as far greater than knowledge. For one whose heart melts with compassion for all creatures; what is the necessity of knowledge, liberation, matted hair on the head, and smearing the body with ashes? A compassionate heart is better than all other penance or austerities.

There are many references to food and water throughout the niti. Chanakya is a great advocate of vegetarianism. He has no patience for the dull heads and flesh eaters and brackets them all together. The earth is encumbered with the weight of the flesh-eaters, wine-bibblers, dolts (dull and stupid) and blockheads, who are beasts in the form of men. The wise who discern the essence of things have declared that the yavana (meat eater) is equal in baseness to a thousand candalas (the lowest class), and hence a yavana is the basest of men; indeed there is no one more base. Water taken at different times has different uses for the body. Ayurveda also prescribes which is the appropriate time when and how water should be taken. In the niti, Chanakya also remarks Water is the medicine for indigestion; it is invigorating when the food that is eaten is well digested; it is like nectar when drunk in the middle of a dinner; and it is like poison when taken at the end of a meal. Contrary to opinion which divides society into high caste and low caste, Chanakya remarks in many places that a man will be called as a chandala on account of his deeds not merely because of his birth. Caste based divisions entered society at a much later stage and has acted as a divisive force. This does not have the sanction of our scriptures. He is a chandala who eats his dinner without entertaining the stranger who has come to his house quite accidentally, having travelled from a long distance and is wearied.

Yet another strand of thought that runs through the niti is the true meaning of charity and benevolence. Like compassion, he treats these virtues also with great importance. We must use our talents or riches not just for ourselves but for the benefit of others too. One whose knowledge is confined to books and whose wealth is in the possession of others, can use neither his knowledge nor wealth when the need for them arises. He who nurtures benevolence for all creatures within his heart overcomes all difficulties and will be the recipient of all types of riches at every step.

Other topics are about a good and virtuous son, devotee of God, friendship etc. His thoughts on women are quite parochial and many may not agree to them especially in the modern age.