by Anju Bhargava
Drawing Strength from the Goddess
The Vedic Hindu statement Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah states, Non-violence is the foremost duty to the extent that it supersedes all other duties. On this 9/11 national day of remembrance let us pray that obstacles to the path of peace and social justice dissolve in the light of knowledge. Let our service projects bring awareness of all the myriad issues we are dealing with in 2013 and going forward.
This week, I along with millions of Hindus, observed Ganesh Chaturthi, through prayers, as a day of birth and renewed remembrance of Ganapati principles, the remover of obstacles. In this iconic image, the divine is seen as the leader of senses and the message is that by controlling our mind we transform ourselves. As the inner self gets strengthened, obstacles in the outer realm melt away.
Holding those ideals I prepare to face an obstacle in front of me, as today, I saw ignorance in full display. I saw my sacred feminine icons of strength, icons whose stories inspire nobler aspects in me, “artistically” shown as victims of domestic violence. To me it seemed someone had abused my own inner archetype as these are images that I relate to and identify with. I felt defiled.
I wondered, How are these mutilated images making Hindus in India or abroad stronger in dealing with abusive behavior? These images project powerlessness in the Hindu psyche. Instead of learning about the strength that these images portray, they are projecting victimization.
For me, the Shakti principle is the innate strength of a woman, not an image of victimization. Nor an object or deification nor perverse desire.
As an empowered Hindu American I asked myself, What can I do transform this into a positive action? How can I reduce the social injustices impacting women not only in the Hindu community, but almost all communities across globe?
As I have understood, Hindus see the divine in everyone. Perpetuating domestic violence certainly is not in Vedic Hindu philosophy.
I want to believe that the organizers of that negative campaign had good intentions and a desire to bring change and an awareness of the problem. I am curious – Why focus only on the Hindu community, when India is a secular country with all faiths represented?
From a Hindu viewpoint, I can understand the dichotomy that they must feel. Here are the Hindus who have a culture in which women are honored, they are treated as goddesses, they are feminine icons of wealth (Lakshmi), tremendous strength and courage (Durga), and sustenance and knowledge (Saraswati), but in the society we see a social injustice gap.
So the question arises: How can people, including Hindus who come from a culture of such noble thoughts, treat women in this lowly and base fashion? Why is society not reflecting Dharmic values? How do we change behavior?
I believe change comes from within our communities and Hindus, people of Dharmic traditions, are united against domestic violence. I see this unity cutting across all practicing Hindus, whether they are the most orthodox and conservative or the most progressive or even the “secular” Hindus.
We don’t need images denigrating our sacred icons to remind us that domestic violence and other aspects of social injustice are adharmic (against our religion).
What we need is to understand the strength of our culture. We need to educate and empower ourselves – not only to understand the innate divinity in each other – but also the true inner meaning of our own sacred icons. We need to imbibe the meaning and live up to the higher nobler values. We then transform ourselves and are empowered to bring a change in the external behavior.
We need to bring education of higher values into the education system globally. Here in America, the Dharmic community will address ways of dealing with social injustice issues such as domestic violence and human trafficking at our 4th annual Seva conference, cohosted with the White House – Transforming Ourselves, Our Communities, Our Country.
As we celebrate the interfaith social justice message of Swami Vivekananda on his 150th birth anniversary across the globe, including the White House, let us contemplate on his message ...
Swami Vivekananda said: “... On The Basis Of Being Right and Doing Right - The Whole World Can Unite...Women must be put in a position to solve their own problems in their own way. No one can or ought to do this for them...”
To bring change I feel we should take a pledge to augment the festivals with a call to action against social injustice. Festivals of Service (UtsavSeva) is community service augmenting the spirit of Hindu festivals through seva events organized during this time and connecting them with the cultural heritage.
Let us educate ourselves and see our goddesses as our ancient rishis intended them to be seen - as icons of strength, not of victimization, as symbols bringing the ancient Vedic teaching to life.
Anju Bhargava is a member of the Executive Council of Religions for Peace USA. She is the Founder of the Hindu American Seva Charities, a progressive American organization advancing seva (community service), interfaith collaboration, and pluralism. This article was originally published September 11, 2013 in Huffington Post Religion.