More Hindus Enter Congress
THE 115TH UNITED STATES CONGRESS opened in Washington DC January 3, 2017 and with it an all-time record number of Hindus and Indian-Americans holding office. Tulsi Gabbard—who was first sworn in to the House of Representatives in 2013, representing Hawaii—was the first Hindu member in Congress. Now we have our first Indian-Americans, Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA). Senator Harris, of Indian-Jamaican ancestry, is the first Indian-American elected to the Senate. She hasn’t publicly offered a religious identification.
Raja Krishnamoorthi, Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna identify publicly as Hindus. Krishnamoorthi, Jayapal and Gabbard all took their oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita. Gabbard said at the time, “I’m grateful to the people of Hawai‘i for the opportunity to continue serving them in Washington, and was humbled to take the oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita, as I was sworn into the 115th Congress. The Gita has been a tremendous source of inner peace and strength throughout my life. I’m proud to welcome my new colleagues to the 115th Congress that has become even more diverse and representative of the makeup of our country.”
Representative Ro Khanna chose to take his oath of office on the US Constitution, explaining, “I have always believed that Hinduism is a philosophy of life that respects religious pluralism, a separation of church and state and civil liberties. So I also believe swearing in on the Constitution is deeply consistent with my faith, particularly as Mahatma Gandhi and my grandfather practiced it.”
Of the total of 535 representatives and senators, there are 485 Christians, 30 Jews, three Buddhists, two Muslims, four Hindus, and several who do not publicly identify with a religion.
Guru as Parent–Legally
IN A REMARKABLY INCLUSIVE gesture in December, 2016, the Ministry of External Affairs announced a decision allowing sadhus and sannyasins to apply for travel documents using their spiritual guru’s name instead of that of their biological parents.
A statement released from the ministry stated, “Sadhus/Sannyasis can apply for a passport with the name of their spiritual guru mentioned in the passport application in lieu of their biological parent(s) name(s) subject to their providing of at least one public document such as Election Photo Identity Card (EPIC) issued by the Election Commission of India, PAN card, Adhar Card, etc wherein the name of the guru has been recorded against the column(s) for parent(s) name(s).”
Do Britain’s Yoga Teachers
Really Need Regulating?
UK YOGIS ARE BEING PUT TO the test while the country awaits possible regulations on their beloved yoga. In October, 2016, the British Wheel of Yoga, the largest yoga membership organization in the UK, teamed up with Skills Active, an organization licensed by the government to deal with training in the active leisure and learning sector, in order to create a national occupation standard or NOS.
The question of regulation has been looming for several years as yoga becomes a major part of the country’s culture. Repetitive strain injuries, torn ligaments and damaged wrists have resulted from yoga practice, but the question of blame depends on which side you are on. For those supporting the NOS, the responsibility falls on unqualified teachers. The yogis against the BWY’s proposal to set standards say you cannot regulate the philosophy or culture that is yoga. They argue that the possibility of injury is always present in the practitioner, and yoga only makes it known.
“The other school of thought,” says Sarah Shone, a chartered physiotherapist and yoga teacher, “There is a risk of injury with any physical activity that any of us undertake.”
Paul Fox, Chairman of BWY, says he hopes regulation will “help to protect the public from injury in yoga classes.” Fox explains, “If you’re going to take members of the public through a set of yoga poses, you have a duty of care towards them. You have to do a risk assessment, and know how to modify postures and how to deal with people who have any number of common ailments. Many good yoga teacher training courses will cover that.”
Skills Active and BWY say their research for the project will take one year as they go around “holding a UK-wide consultation with specific sessions.” In the meantime yogis are protesting with a web-based petition, hoping to receive 5,000 signatures. The petition states, “Please refrain from infringing on the human rights of yoga practitioners to share their practice by instituting the entirely inappropriate ‘National Occupational Standard for Yoga Teachers.’ Yoga is not in your brief.”
Teaching about Gandhi
A NEW 134-PAGE CHILDRENS’ book, Ghandi for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities, brings to life the challenges and philosophy of India’s foremost freedom fighter. Author Ellen Mahoney takes a biographical approach to recount the Mahatma’s life but with added interactive lessons, arts and crafts projects and Indian culture descriptions.
Ghandi for Kids is filled with information and definitions for the Hindu tradition at the end of each chapter, including one entire section on yoga.
Detailing Gandhi’s childhood and work for equality and Indian independence in India, England and South Africa, Mahoney makes clear connections between Gandhi’s philosophies and contemporary issues that kids deal with on a daily basis, such as bullying and conflict resolution, healthful eating from local sources, civil rights and diversity and the “reduce, reuse, recycle” movement.
The book shares Gandhi’s impact on the lives and work of activists kids may be familiar with—Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, and others. Gandhi for Kids also offers 21 activities to illuminate his life, environment and ways of thinking.
Packed with historic photos, informative sidebars about historical figures and events, a timeline and a glossary, the book is an informative and illuminating read for young activists.
Children can dive into the Indian/Hindu paradigm, including vegetarian meal planning, without getting bogged down with complex religious themes and concepts.
Ellen Mahoney is the author of Nellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kids and coauthor with Edgar Mitchell of Earthrise: My Life as an Apollo 14 Astronaut. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, and is currently an instructor of journalism and technical communication at Metro State University of Denver.
PAKISTAN’S PRIME MINISTER Nawaz Sharif inaugurated the restoration of an ancient Hindu temple complex in Punjab in January, 2017. This is seen as a symbolic gesture that may appeal to the Muslim nation’s minority communities and soften the country’s image abroad.
HINDU PRIEST NARAYANACHAR L. Dialakote from the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lanham, Maryland, was invited to the Washington National Cathedral January 21, 2017, where he gave a prayer in Sanskrit to bless the country. The National Prayer Service, which was attended by President Trump, is an inauguration tradition that includes clergy from several religions, including Islam, Judaism Hinduism, Sikhism, Baha’i, Mormon, Native American, Greek Orthodox and others.
A RUSSIAN YOGA TEACHER HAS been forced into defending himself in the face of a controversial new law against “missionizing.” Computer programmer Dmitry Ugay was detained by police in St. Petersburg, Russia, on October 22, 2016, while giving a talk at a festival about the philosophies behind yoga, a discipline for achieving physical and spiritual well-being.
CHHOM KUNTHEA BECAME Cambodia’s first Sanskritist in December, 2016, after receiving a doctorate for her research on the impact the ancient Indian language had on the Khmer language. It is widely accepted that the country’s primary language could not have developed effectively without interaction with Sanskrit, which is believed to have arrived on Cambodia’s shores with Indian merchants sometime around year one on the Gregorian calendar. Sanskrit was used for written records during the Khmer Empire for more than 1,000 years, researchers believe. When Kunthea began her studies, Sanskrit was not taught at any Cambodian universities.
PHOTOS: COURTESY OF CHICAGO REVIEW PRESS
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