Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Julia Roberts is Hindu, just like so much in America

Julia Roberts is Hindu, just like so much in America

By Suhag Shukla

Richard Gere is a Buddhist. Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are initiated in Kabbalah. And Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are raising little Suri in the Church of Scientology. None were raised in the traditions which now inform their spirituality, along with the 44% of Americans who too have changed their religions. So why then should Julia Roberts' revelation of her Hindu practice, that today inspires the spirituality of over two million Indian-origin Hindu Americans and an unaccounted number of non-Indian-origin Hindus -- including those who may have converted or, for all intents and purposes, could be considered practicing Hindus -- elicit the question of whether America is ready to embrace Hinduism?

Whether Americans know it or not, we've been embracing Hinduism for longer than most would guess. Remember that revolt against the "establishment" called the American transcendentalist movement? Yes, the one sparked by the American philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau? What inspired them? You guessed it: Hinduism. One of the earliest Hindu centers of worship in the U.S. -- the Vedanta Society -- was established in 1894 by Caucasian American disciples of Indian Hindu, Swami Vivekananda, after he took the first-ever World Parliament of Religions by storm. The Vedanta Society continues to have a strong "convert" and "born" Hindu following with centers across the 50 states. Let's not forget Martin Luther King Junior and his non-violent civil disobedience movement, a movement which affords each and every one of us dignity and equal rights regardless of the color of our skin -- a movement which I am also proud to know was strongly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, a practicing Hindu, and his interpretation of the Hindu concept of ahimsa or non-violence. And how about the example of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi? He may be better known as the Indian guru of the Beatles, but in the late 60s and early 70s, he boasted some one million meditation followers.

Fast forward to 2010. Is there a city left in the United States that does not have at least one yoga class or a spa that doesn't have ayurvedic offerings? And one would be remiss to leave out Oprah -- streaming into some 7.4 million households daily and using her monthly magazine as well social networks to promote the teachings of Eckhart Tolle -- teachings he has said are influenced, in part, by Hindu saints Ramana Maharshi and Krishnamurthy. From the practical -- yoga, meditation, vegetarianism and ayurveda to the more esoteric -- belief in karma and reincarnation as well as an adherence to the trademark Hindu world view that multiple paths to the Truth can exist, core concepts of Hinduism are not only being embraced by Americans but are slowly being assimilated into the American collective conscience just as Judeo-Christian values were generations before.

After the lifting of the Asian Exclusion Act in the early 1960s, waves of Indian and other Hindu immigrants brought more aspects of Hinduism to American shores and began practicing their faith with the same freedom that all other religions enjoy in America. Today there are over 700 Hindu temples throughout the U.S.. From Hawaii to Minnesota down to Florida, and essentially every state in between, Hindu temples are flourishing and catering to both born Hindu and convert populations. The American embrace of Hinduism is also the result of the maintenance of traditions by these immigrants and their transmission to second and third generation Hindu Americans.

As most Europeans would attest, we Americans are a religious lot. Add to this either the melting pot or salad bowl metaphor, and the influence of any of the religions practiced in the U.S. should come at no surprise. But the question posed by Elizabeth Tenety in her Washington Post Under God piece begs another, more important question: why isn't all this "proof" of Hinduism's influence in America recognized? One answer: Hinduism, as a religious tradition, has for too long been mischaracterized and caricaturized in and by the media, academia and even school textbooks with age-old, colonial stereotypes portraying Hindu belief and practice as little more than "caste, cows and curry." At the same time, some Western Hinduism-practitioners, many of whom are celebrities in Western yoga circles, as well as Indian Hindu gurus (and wannabe gurus), have either intentionally or unintentionally delinked Hindu philosophy and non-ritual practices, including Vedanta, yoga and meditation, from Hinduism.

Indeed, it may be more palatable or in some cases, profitable, because of the stereotyped "baggage" of Hinduism, to call things Ancient Indian, Vedic, yogic or even "universal" -- none of which is inaccurate. But without a nod to their Hindu origins, this delinking disenfranchises admitted Hindus of recognition and appreciation for the depth and breadth of their faith. It also inhibits our ability as Hindus to promote an accurate and deeper understanding of Hinduism because if one reads or hears often enough that "yoga has nothing to do with Hinduism," for example, it will soon enough become the "truth."

But things are changing for the better. Many Hindus, both born and converted, are more publicly articulating their beliefs and thereby, reclaiming, in some sense, credit for what has been the wonderful contributions in teachings and practices of their faith. And yes, well known faces like Julia Roberts, who have found peace and contentment in an over 5000 year old tradition, also brings glamor and glitz to Hindu ranks. But hopefully in the near future, a mere admission of being a Hindu, albeit by America's most famous and gorgeous sweetheart, won't be a major media story, but a moment for us as Americans to appreciate our religious diversity and, more importantly, the freedom we enjoy to worship however we choose.

Suhag Shukla is cofounder of the Hindu American Foundation and now serves as its the Managing Director and Legal Counsel.By Suhag Shukla August 11, 2010; 12:05 PM ET

Monday, October 4, 2010

Man Writes 1905 Page Suicide Note

A New York native shot himself to death in Harvard Yard last week -- after penning an epic 1,905-page suicide note.

Mitchell Heisman, 35, quoted Thomas Jefferson, Friedrich Nietzsche and Albert Einstein as he attempted to explain his motives in the rambling missive, which included a lengthy preface and 1,433 footnotes.

Heisman put the encyclopedia-sized note online and asked that the Web page be kept up after his death, so that everyone could know his feelings about life and the universe.

"I propose opening your mind towards the liberation of death; towards exposing the blind faith in life as a myth, a bias, and an error," he wrote.

Heisman arranged to send delayed e-mails to about 400 friends with a link to the rambling farewell before he fired a bullet from a silver revolver into his head at Memorial Church in the Harvard Yard in front of about 20 people touring the campus last Saturday.

Friends who scanned the note tried to reach him to talk him out of it, but it was too late.

The massive document contains little information about his life, but includes many long passages touching on issues such as Jesus, the Battle of Hastings in 1066, sociology and the First Amendment.

"If my hypothesis is correct, this work will be repressed," he surmised on the first page.

The note ends with a 19-page list of sources and the comment "What good suicide note would be complete without a bibliography?"

Heisman, who grew up in Monroe, NJ, told his friends and mother, Lonni Heisman, 76, that he was looking forward to completing his enormous research on a book.

"All I knew was he was finishing his book and he was happy about that," she told the Harvard Crimson newspaper.

"I'm devastated. I just can't believe it," she said. "I don't think I ever will."

The document, posted at www.suicidenote.info, makes convoluted claims about democracy, Hitler, Jews, Christians, the American Revolution, and what he called "Jesus's penis of the spirit."

Heisman dryly prefaces the document by saying, "I will likely be unable to defend its content."

Heisman, who lived in Somerville, Mass., graduated from the University of Albany with a BA in psychology. He worked in several Boston-area bookstores and was able to work on his farewell note thanks to an inheritance from his father, an engineer who died when Heisman was 12.

For one woman, success after trying 960 times

Seoul, South Korea: A person could know South Korea for a long time without knowing Wanju, an obscure county 112 miles south of Seoul. And, at least until recently, a person could know a lot about Wanju without ever hearing of Cha Sa-soon, a 69-year-old woman who lives alone in the mountain-ringed village of Sinchon.

Now, however, Ms Cha is an unlikely national celebrity.

This diminutive woman, now known nationwide as "Grandma Cha Sa-soon," has achieved a record that causes people here to first shake their heads with astonishment and then smile: She failed her driver's test hundreds of times but never gave up. Finally, she got her license -- on her 960th try.

For three years starting in April 2005, she took the test once a day five days a week. After that, her pace slowed, to about twice a week. But she never quit.

Hers is a fame based not only on sheer doggedness, a quality held in high esteem by Koreans, but also on the universal human sympathy for a monumental -- and in her case, cheerful -- loser.

"When she finally got her license, we all went out in cheers and hugged her, giving her flowers," said Park Su-Yeon, an instructor at Jeonbuk Driving School, which Ms Cha once attended. "It felt like a huge burden falling off our back. We didn't have the guts to tell her to quit because she kept showing up."

Of course, Ms Park and another driving teacher noted, perhaps Ms Cha should content herself with simply getting the license and not endangering others on the road by actually driving. But they were not too worried about the risk, they said, because it was the written test, not the driving skill and road tests, which she failed so many times.

When word began spreading last year of the woman who was still taking the test after failing it more than 700 times, reporters traced her to Sinchon, where the bus, the only means of public transportation, comes by once every two hours on a street so narrow it has to pull over to let othervehicles pass.

They followed her to the test site in the city of Jeonju, an hour away. There, they also videotaped her in the market, where she sells her home-grown vegetables at an open-air stall.

Once she finally got her license, in May, Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group, South Korea's leading carmaker, started an online campaign asking people to post messages of congratulations. Thousands poured in. In early August, Hyundai presented Ms Cha with a $16,800 car.

Ms Cha, whose name, coincidentally enough, is Korean for "vehicle," now also appears on a prime-time television commercial for Hyundai.

It is a big change from her non-celebrity life, spent simply in a one-room hut with a slate roof, where the only sounds on a recent summer day were from a rain-swollen brook, occasional military jets flying overhead and cicadas rioting in the nearby persimmon trees.

A lone old man dozed, occasionally swatting at flies, in a small shop next to the bus stop.
Born to a peasant family with seven children but no land, Ms Cha spent her childhood working in the fields and studying at an informal night school. It was not until she turned 15 that she joined a formal school as a fourth grader. But her schooling ended there a few years later.

"Father had no land, and middle school was just a dream for me," she said.
Ms Cha said she had always envied people who could drive, but it was not until she was in her 60s that she got around to trying for a license.

"Here, if you miss the bus, you have to wait another two hours. Talk about frustration!" said Ms Cha, who had to transfer to a second bus to get to her driving test site and to yet another to reach her market stall.

"But I was too busy raising my four children," she continued. "Eventually they all grew up and went away and my husband died several years ago, and I had more time for myself. I wanted to get a driver's license so I could take my grandchildren to the zoo."

Ms Cha tackled the first obstacle, which for years proved insurmountable: the 50-minute written test consisting of 40 multiple-choice questions on road regulations and car maintenance.

Early in the morning (she wakes up 4 am) and before going to bed, she put on her reading glasses and pored over her well-worn test-preparation books. She first tried, unsuccessfully, an audio test for illiterate people where questions were read to test-takers. Later, she switched to the normal test.

"She could read and write words phonetically but she could not understand most of the terminology, such as 'regulations' and 'emergency light,' " said Ms Park, the teacher.

Choi Young-Chul, an official at the regional driving license agency, said: "What she was essentially doing while studying alone was memorizing as many questions -- with their answers -- as possible without always knowing what they were all about. It's not easy to pass the test that way."

Practice made perfect, but slowly. She failed the written test 949 times, but her scores steadily crept up. When she came to them early last year,teachers at Jeonbuk Driving School pitched in, giving her extra lessons, painstakingly explaining the terminology.

"It drove you crazy to teach her, but we could not get mad at her," said Lee Chang-su, another teacher. "She was always cheerful. She still had the little girl in her."

It was only last November, on her 950th try, that she achieved a passing grade of 60 out of 100. She then passed two driving skill and road tests, but only after failing each four times. For each of her 960 tests, she had to pay $5 in application fees.

"I didn't mind," said Ms. Cha. "To me, commuting every day to take the test was like going to school. I always missed school."

Her son, Park Seong-ju, 36, who lives in Jeonju and makes signboards and placards, said: "Mother has lived a hard life, selling vegetables door to door and working other people's farms. Maybe that made her stubborn. If she puts her mind to something, no one can argue her out of it."

About a decade ago, before embarking on her quest for a driver's license, Ms Cha spent three years studying for a hairdresser's license. For six months, she caught a 6 am bus every weekday, switched to a train and then to another bus to attend a government-financed training program for hairdressers. But no beauty salon would hire her. She was considered too old.

No matter, she said. "It was like getting a school diploma."

Her tenacity has struck a chord with South Koreans, who are often exhorted to recall the hardship years after the 1950-53 Korean War and celebrate perseverance as a national trait.
The country's most popular boxing champion was Hong Su-hwan, who was floored four times before knocking out Hector Carrasquilla to win the World Boxing Association's super bantamweight championship in 1977. His feat gave rise to a popular phrase about resolve: "Sajeonogi," or "Knocked down four times, rising up five."

Ms Cha seems to have given new meaning to this favorite Korean saying.
On her wall where she hung black-and-white photographs of her and her late husband as a young couple and a watch that had stopped ticking, she also had posted a handwritten -- and misspelled -- sign that read, "Never give up!"

Credit: ndtv.com

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

9/11, Ground Zero mosque, Babri & their symbolism

9/11, Ground Zero mosque, Babri & their symbolism

DNA / Sanjeev Nayyar / Thursday, September 9, 2010 23:58 IST

The controversy over the construction of an Islamic Centre near New York’s Ground Zero has got everyone excited. Media, bloggers, activists and even president Obama have jumped in and out of the fray, with those opposing the centre being labelled “fascists” by the liberal media.

The right way to understand the controversy is through its symbolism. September 11, 2001, (9/11) was the first major terror attack on US soil.

There’s symbolism in this date. Apart from 911 being an emergency dial-up number, September 11, 1683, was the date on which a Christian army defeated the Muslims in the Battle of Vienna.

he battle was won by Polish, Austrian and German forces commanded by the King of Poland, against an army of the Ottoman Empire commanded by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. The importance of this date could not have been lost on those who planned the 9/11 attack — an attack to defeat Christian America!

The Islamic Centre at Ground Zero was initially proposed to be called ‘Cordoba House’. Cordoba (Muslim Qurdubah) is a city in Spain that symbolised Islam’s inroads into the Christian world. The Arabs conquered the Iberian peninsula in the early eighth century and the St Vincent Church was torn down and replaced with one of the largest mosques of Islam. When the Christians reconquered Cordoba in 1236 they converted the structure into a Cathedral and set up an altar in the middle. In the 16th century it was given its current look.

This is why even Christians who have not opposed the construction of mosques earlier are upset about Cordoba House.

They understand the significance of why Muslims (subliminally) want a mosque at Ground Zero. 9/11 is perceived as an Islamic attempt to take revenge for the loss in the Battle of Vienna, among other things.

Naming the building ‘Cordoba House’ reminds the Americans of the 800-year Muslim rule over Spain, just as two pilgrim places in north India do — the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and the Krishna Janmabhumi. The original Kashi Vishwanath Temple was

destroyed by Aurangzeb and even today you see the Gyanvapi mosque standing on the old temple platform behind the current temple built by Ahilyabai Holkar (1780). The two domes of the temple were covered by gold donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1839). At the Krishna Janmabhumi in Mathura, too, there is a mosque.

Just as these two temples have enormous symbolic significance for Hindu devotees, the symbolism of an Islamic Centre so close to Ground Zero can be a painful memory for those who lost dear ones on 9/11, and for those who understand the symbolism of that date. Constructing a mosque near where the Twin Towers stood is a reminder to the traumas of 9/11.

The supporters of the Ground Zero mosque have made the following arguments in their favour. One, it would promote inter-faith understanding between Muslims and the majority Christian community. It would be a blow to all fascist Muslims who proclaim that the US is anti-Muslim. It might result in fewer American Muslims taking to terror and make society more inclusive. It also affirms every American’s constitutional right to religion and its propagation.

Opponents to Ground Zero could counter these by saying the mosque might be, in the Muslim mind, a symbol of Muslim victory over the Christian west and America in particular. The mosque will be on the same lines as the Babri Masjid in India, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Salimya mosque in Istanbul.

A few questions arise: when it comes to inter-faith understanding and pluralism, why do liberals living in democracies repeat these words as gospel but rarely use them when it comes to non-Muslims living in Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia and the Indian state of J&K?

More importantly, Cordoba House is an attempt to rewrite history. One hundred years from now Americans will only see the mosque, and the Twin Towers will be distant memory. Two hundred years later, Americans might doubt if the Twin Towers ever existed. Babar’s general similarly attempted to rewrite history by destroying the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. If the temple had existed, no Indian court or political party would have doubt the existence of Sri Ram!

Some liberals may wonder why the past is so important when there are more pressing concerns in the present. When posed with a similar question, Swami Vivekananda said: “Nowadays everybody blames those who constantly look back to their past. It is said that so much of looking back to the past is the cause of all of India’s foes. So long as they forgot the past, the Hindu nation remained in a state of stupor and as soon as they have begun to look into their past, there is on every side a fresh manifestation of life. It is out of this past that the future has to be moulded”.

URL of the article: http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_9-11-ground-zero-mosque-babri-and-their-symbolism_1436025-all
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Corrupt India

With reference to the earlier post on '30% Indians totally corrupt, 50% borderline: Outgoing CVC chief' I bumped on the following blog http://pancha-amritam.blogspot.com which is literally a register of selfless/heroic activities done by people. The activities mentioned are those which actually happened and appeared in various forms of media.
The world not really so gray. Good people do exist!

30% Indians totally corrupt, 50% borderline: Outgoing CVC chief

New Delhi: Almost one-third of Indians are "utterly corrupt" and half are "borderline", the outgoing head of the country's corruption watchdog has said, blaming increased wealth for much of the problem.

Pratyush Sinha, who retired as India's Central Vigilance Commissioner this week, said the worst part of his "thankless job" was observing how corruption had increased as people became more materialistic.

"When we were growing up I remember if somebody was corrupt, they were generally looked down upon," he said. "There was at least some social stigma attached to it. That is gone. So there is greater social acceptance."

Transparency International, the global anti-graft body, puts India 84th on its corruption perception index with a 3.4-point rating, out of a best possible score of 10.

New Zealand ranks first with 9.4 points and Somalia last on 1.1 points.

The campaign group has said that each year millions of poor Indian families have to bribe officials for access to basic public services.

Sinha told a Delhi-based newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday that 20 percent of Indians were "honest, regardless of the temptations, because this is how they are. They have a conscience. "There would be around 30 percent who would be utterly corrupt. But the rest are the people who are on the borderline," he said, adding that corruption was "palpable".

Sinha said that in modern India "if somebody has a lot of money, he is respectable. Nobody questions by what means he has got the money."

Recent corruption scandals in India have focused on construction projects for the Commonwealth Games that open in New Delhi next month, and alleged tax evasion in the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament.

India is also regarded as a hotbed of illegal betting syndicates, with gamblers and bookmakers involved in "spot-fixing" - the gambling that has engulfed the current Pakistani cricket tour of England.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has often spoken out against the damaging effect that bribes, extortion and fraud have on all levels of life, and warned that the problem threatens India's future economic prospects.

60 ஆண்டு மருத்துவ சேவையில் '2 ரூபாய் டாக்டர்’

60 ஆண்டு மருத்துவ சேவையில் “2 ரூபாய் டாக்டர்’ - தினமணி, டிச.21, 2006

வேலூர், டிச.21, 2006: வேலூர் அடுத்த காந்தி நகரில் வசிக்கும் டாக்டர் வி.எஸ். ஜெயராமன் (85) ரூ.2 என்ற குறைந்த கட்டணத்தில் நோயாளிகளுக்கு சிகிச்சை அளித்து வருகிறார்.

காந்தி நகரில் 2 ரூபாய் டாக்டர் என்றால் ஜெயராமனை தெரியாதவர்கள் இருக்க முடியாது என்ற அளவுக்கு இவர் பிரபலம்.

1946-ல் எம்.பி.பி.எஸ். படிப்பை முடித்து தனது சேவையைத் தொடங்கிய இவர் இன்று வரை மாலை நேரங்களில் 50-க்கும் மேற்பட்ட நோயாளிகளை பரிசோதித்து மருந்துகளை வழங்குகிறார்.

சாதாரண ஜுரம், சளி, இருமல் உள்ளிட்ட வியாதிகளுக்கு இவரே மாத்திரை, மருந்துகளை வழங்குகிறார். இதற்கு ரூ.2 கட்டணம் வசூலிக்கும் அவர் பரிசோதனைக்கு பணம் பெறுவதில்லை. மஞ்சள் காமாலை, டைஃபாய்டு உள்ளிட்ட தொடர் சிகிச்சைக்கு மருந்தளித்து ரூ.3 கட்டணம் பெறுகிறார்.

தவிர்க்க இயலாத நிலையில் மட்டுமே மருந்துக் கடைகளில் சற்று கூடுதலான விலையில் கிடைக்கும் மருந்துகளை எழுதித் தருகிறார். அவையும் ரூ.10-க்கு மிகாமல் கிடைத்து விடும். இவர் பரிந்துரைக்கும் மருந்துகளை சில மருந்துக் கடைக்காரர்கள் தனியாக வரவழைத்து விற்பனை செய்வதும் உண்டு.

“மருந்துக் கடைகளில் மிகக் குறைந்த விலையில் பல வீரியமாக செயல்படக்கூடிய மருந்துகள் கிடைக்கின்றன. அதனால் நான் குறிப்பிட்டு எழுதிக் கொடுக்கும் மருந்துகளுக்கு பதில் மாற்று மருந்துகளை தருவதற்கு மருந்துக் கடைக்காரர்கள் தயங்குவதுண்டு’ என்கிறார் ஜெயராமன்.

மருத்துவர்களுக்கு மிகக் குறைந்த விலையில் மருந்துகளை மருந்து நிறுவனங்கள் அளிப்பதுண்டு. அந்த முறையில் அவற்றை வாங்கி நோயாளிகளுக்கு தருவதால் ரூ.2 கட்டணம் எனக்கு கட்டுப்படியாகிறது என்றும் அவர் தெரிவித்தார்.