Swami Aksharananda at Shri Surya Narayan Mandir
May 26-28, 2017
A beautiful Memorial Day weekend commenced at Shri Surya Narayan Mandir with the knowledge and wisdom imparted by Swami Aksharananda of Guyana.
Pujya Swami Aksharanandaji, as a child, always had a thirst for knowledge, specifically for the teachings within our great shastras. After completing his bachelorâ€™s degree at Banaras Hindu University in 1978, Swamiji returned to Guyana in order to use his teachings to mobilize the Hindu population there. During his time in Guyana, Swamiji made great advances in influencing Hindus in Guyana where he presided over: Guyanaâ€™s Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), Hindu Swayamsevak Sang of Guyana, the National Suicide Prevention Committee of Guyana, the Saraswati Vidya Niketan, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
During the first night of the three-session discourse, Swamiji introduced his theme of loka sangraha. The term, which is found in Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, literally means, â€œthe welfare of the peopleâ€. However, as he explained, the phrase actually extends far past just that translation, and is also deeply rooted in the ideas of karma yoga and dharma. Swamij references the prevalence of social movements, specifically those whose slogans tend to include the phrase, â€œvictory, by any means necessaryâ€, and goes on to explain that in fact, the means are actually the most important aspect. He goes on to say that, â€œwe cannot conceive the notion of loka sangraha without having a concept of dharma.â€ Of course, while dharma is not always inherently-known, Swamiji explains that Hinduism provides many outlets for us to learn of our responsibilities. He states that the Vedas and shreshta purushaha, or role models such as acharyas and gurus, provide us with information and real-life examples of how we should behave and act in lifeâ€™s tough situations. The night concluded with a beautiful question of, â€œwho deserves to receive the teachings of the shastras, and who deserves to learn about Hinduism?â€ Swamiji then went onto explain that the knowledge that is contained within the shastras is actually not fit for everyone, and it should be given to those who want to learn it. He even went on to make an amusing analogy, basically stating that if you are not hungry, you would not be able to appreciate food. The same way if you do not have an insatiable desire to learn about yourself, you will not appreciate what Sanatan Dharma has to offer.
On the second night, Swamji compared the beliefs of other major religions to the beliefs of Hinduism. He began by introducing the issue of pastors, one in particular who ventured to schools and taught about hell. The idea or motive was to scare people by the idea of hell, so that they conduct themselves in a way that would eventually lead to the opposite end of the spectrum, heaven. However, more important than this, Swamiji explained that the distinction must be made between people and their beliefs. He explained that there is a certain sanctity of the individual, that is not influenced by their beliefs, and therefore, while we are not required to respect a personâ€™s beliefs, we are required to respect them as a person. Swamiji also went on to explain that we are all on the same conquest of managing the mind through abhyaas and vairaagya, or practice and dispassion. We must be able to differentiate what is verifiable and non-verifiable, in order to live a dharmic life.
During the last session which took place on a sunny Sunday morning, Swamiji stated, â€œHinduism is not a mysterious systemâ€, and in fact, we have access to all of the resources we need to better understand both our dharma and ourselves. He also introduced the method of purva paksha, in which an individual is able to fully internalize, digest, and analyze an opposing argument, and therefore come up with their own educated response, which can be defined as uttara paksha. This is a very powerful concept, introduced to us by Adi Shankaraya as a primary method of being able to understand the arguments proposed by others.
Overall, in the course of 3 short sessions, the devotees of Shri Surya Narayan Mandir and the attendees of the discourse were very fortunate to have experienced the small fraction of Swamijiâ€™s vast knowledge that was bestowed upon us. We are indeed very fortunate to have hosted such a learned individual, and we look forward to hearing from him again in the future.
At the conclusion of the event, $9,500 was donated on behalf of Shri Surya Narayan Mandir, towards Swamijiâ€™s project to construct a science building for students in Guyana.