By Jaya Hariprasad
From a young age, parents and guardians tell us that we, the youths, must carry on the “torch”. This “torch” can be symbolic of many things, such as family name or reputation. This “torch” is also symbolic of something that is even greater: DHARMA. Youths from Shri Surya Narayan Mandir (SSNM) have recognized the importance of preserving and protecting their dharma.
This past weekend, SSNM held its annual Winter Spiritual Retreat. Through collaboration among the youths, it was decided that this year’s theme should be focused on teens. Why is it when they reach a certain age, they shy away from Mandir? Why is there a disconnect between Mandir life and home/school/social life?
Our first guest speaker was a psychologist, Dr. SharlaJi. She lead an interesting discussion about the things that teens might view as a challenge. There are, at times, many forces working against pre-teens and teens. Being accepted by peers, keeping up with social media, self-esteem issues, competition among siblings, and pressure from family to do well are only a few. Dr. SharlaJi proposed that when teens feel as if they are facing their problems alone, there is no one they can turn to. She reminded them that they shut out one place they can always turn to: Mandir. Other youths and adults here share similar backgrounds. Their families, traditions, food choice, style of dress, taste in music, etc., are identical, so there is no feeling of loneliness. An older youth in college can share an experience from high school to someone who is currently in high school. The same can be done for middle and elementary school students.
To reinforce this point, Pandit Ganesh, our second guest speaker, had everyone break into groups. He asked everyone to list challenges they face that discourage them to come to Mandir. A few of the top problems were (1) A heavy workload from school, (2) Tests/SAT/AP exams/Finals (3) Not having a ride to Mandir. In addition to listing problems, the campers were also asked to brainstorm solutions. What is intriguing to note is that many of the teens want to be in Mandir, but because of the problems they listed above, it becomes easy to skip one Sunday service. Missing one day soon turns into two, three, and eventually not coming often or at all. They suggested having resources available that would enable them to study and complete homework at Mandir. This keeps them in the religious environment they want to be surrounded by, while also being able to complete school tasks. The same goes for major exams. They want resources and extra help to supplement what they receive in school. As for the third problem, sometimes the parents do not have the time to come to Mandir. The teen sees this nonchalant attitude towards Mandir and feels it might not be “such a big deal” except on major holidays. They might also feel their friend might not be there. The solution was to carpool. This generates excitement to continue to go to Mandir, because not only does the teen show their parents how much they want to be in that environment, they also motivate a friend to come along.
The Monday of camp fell on Dr. Martin Luther King Day. In America, this day is used to set aside the great strides this one man made, and the movement he began to earn equality for African Americans. Since America is a country that allows everyone to practice their religion freely, the President of SSNM Uncle Amar Persaud gave a talk about this great man’s achievements. He told us that even if there are forces working against us, it is not impossible to strive for what we want. Dr. King’s story should inspire us never to shy away from any challenge we meet.
Uncle Amar also showed us another person we could look to for inspiration: US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She is a proud Hindu, who grew up with the same teachings that the youths of today are receiving. That did not hinder her in anyway from becoming an active member in the government. When she was being sworn in to office, she chose to do so on the Bhagwad Gita. The message this sends to youth is that being a proud Hindu does not and should not stop them from being leaders not only in Dharma, but also in their community. Who is stopping one of us from following in Tulsi Gabbard’s footsteps and giving back to the community by being a pioneer for productive change.
Winter Camp of 2014 mission to find out why teens become less excited about Mandir was solved. Of course there is still work to be done. The next step is to put these solutions into action. Parents can do so much to teach us and help us, to pass on the torch they maintain so proudly, but now it is time for the teens and young adults to step up. The torch is being passed on to us in little ways, and it is our job, our duty, to keep it lighting strong. We are now the ones who must protect and preserve our beautiful Dharma. We have the torch.