Over 8,000 Hindu Youths Attend Spiritual Convention in Atlanta
When asked about their favorite time of year, the immediate response for a majority of youth is summer. Summer not only brings a break from school and work, but also brings an abundance of pool time, theme parks, vacations, and the simple joy of spending more time with friends and family. This year, for more than 8,000 Hindu youths, summertime also included a dose of spiritual enrichment at the BAPS North American Youth Convention hosted at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Atlanta, GA.
The 11-day event, unprecedented in the history of Hindus in North America, took place from July 4th to July 14th and consisted of three separate conventions, each catering to different age groups and their specific needs. The first convention saw 3,320 high school and college students. That was immediately followed by a gathering of 2,950 children, primarily in grade school, at the second convention. Finally, over 1,900 young professionals and families attended the third convention. Including volunteers, over 8,000 Hindu youths from North America participated in the event.
The theme of the convention centered around the true meaning of becoming Ekantik, a spiritual concept originally conceived in the Hindu scriptures and further elaborated upon by Bhagwan Swaminarayan over 200 years ago. Ekantik Dharma is comprised of four pillars: Dharma (righteousness), Gnan (spiritual knowledge), Vairagya (detachment from the world), and Bhakti (devotion to God and Guru). Achieving balance among these pillars leads to true progress and fulfillment of one’s ultimate goal in life. “It gives a new perspective on how to live a life true to your roots, culture, and heritage, but at the same time be able to succeed in this environment,” said participant Dhawal Tank of Toronto, Canada, speaking of his experience at the convention.
Regardless of age, with the relentless pressures of day-to-day life as well as being constantly pulled in various directions, this convention provided a platform for all delegates to discuss these struggles and utilize practical, spiritual methods to overcome them. Group activities, games, and cultural programs gave the attendees fun and engaging ways to learn more about Hindu values. One special program was a maha-arti held at the reflection pool in front of the mandir. Discourses were also delivered by Swamis of BAPS from around the world.
Sadguru Pujya Mahant Swami (Pujya Keshavjivandas Swami), the keynote speaker of each convention, explained that while the ideals of Ekantik Dharma are derived from ancient scriptures, they are still equally applicable to today’s generation. For example, Gnan seems like it might be fairly simple to achieve, as facts and information are easily attainable. However, the true challenge lies in differentiating between knowledge, which is interesting, and wisdom, which is necessary for progress.
The concept of Dharma is the governing factor of the way we conduct our lives and uphold our duties and responsibilities. Throughout each of the conventions, the overall message emphasized was that the four pillars of Ekantik Dharma not only apply to spiritual progress, but also help to ensure success when applied to academics and professional careers. Pujya Anandswarupdas Swami, mahant of Swaminarayan Akshardham in Gandhinagar, India, explained it in simple terms: “To live it, the Satpurush (guru) should be the center point of our lives, nothing else. That is the only way to be Ekantik.”
On the first day of the convention, attendees from various regions demonstrated their talents of singing, dancing, acting, and much more. Upon witnessing one of the skits, Yogini Patel from Atlanta commented, “I was taken aback because I didn’t expect it to be so relatable. That’s one of the biggest differences that I have seen in this convention is that it is really character-driven. These characters—I relate to their lives; their life is my life and their thoughts are my thoughts.”
Through a live video feed, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj gave blessings from India to encourage devotees. Planning for this convention started three years ago and involved 700 volunteers from North America. This was the 16th convention, each held to strengthen spirituality and increase balance in life. Understanding and embracing roots, preserving identity, and remaining grounded in faith and culture were encouraged.
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