Global Dharma




The Zero Rupee Note: a Clever Tool in the Battle Against Bribery

VIJAY ANAND IS PRESIDENT AND co-founder of 5th Pillar, an NGO created in 2006 to fight corruption in India. Its stated mission is to go beyond the “four pillars of democracy”—legislative, executive, judiciary and electoral—to work for a bribe-free society. Its main tool is the zero-rupee note. To comply with counterfeiting laws, the note is only printed on one side. Otherwise, it looks like a standard 50-rupee note, Gandhi and all. It carries the slogan, “I promise to neither accept nor give bribe,” as well as the url for the 5th Pillar’s website.



Counteracting corruption: Vijay Anand with the note he created in 2007

The group’s primary target is government officials who demand bribes for services that are supposed to be free, such as obtaining a driver’s license. According to Anand, the campaign is proving effective.

Soon after the note was created, massive zero-rupee-note banners were carried to more than 1,200 schools, colleges and public gatherings. Over the following five years, more than 500,000 people signed banners as their pledge against corruption in the country. Many students volunteered to be messengers of anti-corruption to Indian society. Altogether, 5th Pillar has put some 2.5 million notes into circulation.



School children take an anti-bribery pledge as they sign a giant note in 2007 during the 5th Pillar’s 30-day road trip across India


The Healing Power of Placebos

A 2011 STUDY CONDUCTED BY Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard, and published by The Royal Society’s journal Philosophical Transactions, sought to explain the known effectiveness of placebos in healing by comparing them to traditional ritual healing ceremonies. The study postulates that the administration of a placebo by a medical professional is itself a ritual, and it has an actual healing function.



Science or snake oil?: A new comparative analysis provides insight into why placebo remedies are actually effective in healing

Comparing Navajo healing ceremonies, among others, to routine biomedical, pharmacological and procedural interventions, the study showed that such procedures contain significant ritual dimensions. “Healing rituals create a receptive person susceptible to the influences of authoritative, culturally sanctioned ‘powers.’ The healer provides the sufferer with imaginative, emotional, sensory, moral and aesthetic input derived from the palpable symbols and procedures of the ritual process.”

In short, placebos use the subtle power of ritual to stimulate the body to heal itself.



Meenakshi Temple App

YOUR NEXT PILGRIMAGE TO Indian holy sites can be a lot easier, thanks to a new app, an audio guide called Pinakin from Chennai-based Aseuro Technologies. The initial release can guide you through the famous Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, explaining its history, stories, dress code, temple rules, architectural marvels, hours of worship, and even parking and dining options.



Mobile Meenakshi: A screenshot of the app on an iPhone. Ancient mandapams, towering pillars, art-filled halls, history, legend and divine lore are a tap away on your device.

Pictures and text supplement the audio as you explore. For example, you can select “rotating Lingam” and learn about an unusual painting on the ceiling of one hallway. All the information is downloaded to your device, so you need not be online. The app will soon include guides to Belur temple, Mahabalipuram, Mysore Palace, Kanchipuram and other historic landmarks.



A Hindu-American Olympian

DENVER-BORN RAJEEV RAM won a silver medal at the Rio Olympic games. He joins a small group of Hindu-American Olympic medalists that includes artistic gymnasts Mohini Bhardwaj, who won a silver medal in 2004, and Raj Bhavsar, who won bronze in 2008. Rajeev won the medal in tennis mixed doubles, partnered with famous tennis star Venus Williams.



Hindu hero: Rajeev Ram and Venus Williams accept their silver medals at the 2016 Games

“Hindu Americans are used to having successful scholars, entrepreneurs and physicians, and have excelled in many professional realms with the exception of sports,” University of Florida religion professor Vasudha Narayanan noted. “This is the last frontier, some believe, a sure way of being woven into the American fabric.”

The son of Indian immigrants from Bengaluru, Rajeev credits his Hindu upbringing with giving him the self-control needed to become a successful athlete: “Your body’s going to do what your mind tells it to do. If you can have that inner control, a sense of peace, your body’s going to follow,” he told the Washington Post.



India Bans the Use of Animal Products in Making Silver Leaf

IN AUGUST, 2016, INDIA’S FOOD Safety and Standards Authority set new rules for silver leaf, which is often used to decorate sweets (like burfi), pan and packaged supari. An official explained a banned method: “The silver leaf is prepared by placing small, thin strips of silver between the intestines of cows and buffaloes and continuously hammering these bundles for up to eight hours a day until the desired thickness of silver is achieved.”

As reported in Times of India, the process was found to be offensive and unhygienic, posing potential risk to consumers. This ruling protects the purity of vegetarians, as to date the sheets do not carry a green dot or maroon dot, India’s marking system designating veg or non-veg products. An additional concern was the presence of traces of heavy metals in silver leaf, such as nickel, lead, chromium and cadmium, which are harmful to health.



Silver sweet: Burfi made from condensed milk and sugar is often covered with silver foil

The US Postal Service receives approximately 40,000 suggestions for stamp ideas annually from the public. These are reviewed by the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, who select approximately 25 topic suggestions for commemorative stamps and submit them for the Postmaster General’s approval. There has been widespread public support for a Diwali stamp for the last 12 years. With its production, there are now stamps for Hindu, Christian, Jewish and Muslim holidays.

Also known as Deepavali, which roughly translates as “a row of lights,” Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Spanning five days each autumn, it signals the start of the New Year in many parts of India.



Group photo: All of the swamis and most of the attendees gather for the annual group photo


HMEC 2016 in Atlanta

THE ELEVENTH ANNUAL HINDU Mandir Executives Conference met September 16–18, 2016, in Atlanta, Georgia. Organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, it was attended by more than 200 temple presidents, trustees, priests, devotees and four swamis, including Hinduism Today’s editor Paramacharya Sadasivanathaswami.

The meeting’s theme, “Awareness and awakening: the future role of Hindu mandirs and institutions,” was addressed in nearly a hundred plenary and breakout sessions over the three days.

A common concern expressed by the younger presenters is the over-use of concepts that don’t work in today’s society. For example, in the plenary session discussion conducted by the Hindu Students Council (HSC) titled “The Ticking Clock: Hindu Mandirs and the Next-Gen Challenge,” the panelist emphasized that gone are the days where reciting a scriptural text or popular epic tale can sweep someone off their feet.

As today’s students and youth try to forge a Hindu identity in the midst of their American life, they want sensible answers to questions, not vague responses. Their need today on college campuses, explained one HSC panelist, is to have a place to worship as well as a Hindu chaplain readily available to provide full spiritual and life-skills support, just as the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist students have.

Older presenters shared their concern that the temples are not dispensing quality information in a manner that appeals to youth. “Too much religion, not enough spirituality,” was a repeated theme. Several expressed the worry that temple attendance would ultimately be impacted by a lack of interest among the next generation. There was a tangible sense of pessimism about the future of temple management.

The swamis present took a different approach. Swami Parameshananda of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha agreed that there isn’t enough spirituality in the temples, but contended that if we are going to influence others we must first change ourselves. “If we don’t live and experience the divine within us, can we expect to teach it to the next generation?” Overall, though, he assured the group that Hinduism is going to be fine.

Swami Aksharananda of Guyana gave two talks. He spoke first on the serious challenges faced by Hindus in his country and the need for strong Hindus to come there and help uplift the community. In his second talk, he dove into the controversial topic of whether all religions teach the same truth and lead to the same goal, taking the position that they most certainly do not.

Sadasivanathaswami gave an overview of the work of the Hindu community in improving the teaching of Hinduism in California schools, followed by a presentation of the major trends in 21st-century Hinduism.

The presentations were excellent and the discussions uninhibited. Participants expressed being a bit overwhelmed by the flurry of topics and hoping for more focus next year.



ON SEPTEMBER 22, 2016, NIMOJI presented an emoji icon app signifying vegan-friendly, gluten-free, kosher, paleo and many other dietary patterns. Downloading the app and applying the Nimoji keyboard will give you almost 50 dietary emojis for your communication needs.

A 2014 STUDY PUBLISHED BY THE science journal Biological Conservation found that attitudes toward traditionally stigmatized animals in the United States, such as wolves, sharks and bats, have shifted for the better. The differences in attitudes witnessed in this study may be indicative of growing concerns for the welfare of animals, both wild and domestic.

IN AUGUST, 2016, THE HIMACHAL Pradesh high court suspended a July, 2016, court order which had ordered Maheshwar Singh to hand over all Raghunath temple properties—movable and immovable, temporary and permanent fixtures, structures and devices as well as stock, stores and cash, including cash books—to the temple trust chairman in Sultanpur, Kullu. Two justices clarified no other action would be taken in the suspension.

A NEW ANALYSIS FROM THE PEW research center focuses on how much money various religious groups earn. According to data collected in a 2014 study, 44% of American Jews live in a household with total income of $100,000 or more, followed by Hindus at 36%.These two groups also had high representations in the $50,000 to $99,000 income bracket. Altogether, roughly 70% of members of the Jewish and Hindu faiths have household incomes of $50,000 or above. A previous Pew study, in 2012, revealed that Hindus have higher rates of higher education, with 85% holding college degrees and 57% with some post-graduate education.

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