On Faith: A Hindu Thanksgiving Prayer

Minneapolis, MN (November 24, 2011) - As a regularly featured blogger on the Washington Post/Newsweek's "On Faith" blog, Dr. Aseem Shukla, member of HAF's Board of Directors, has the opportunity to provide a Hindu viewpoint on various issues. Below is Dr. Shukla's latest blog. Please post your comments directly on the "On Faith" site by clicking here.
A historical rooting of Thanksgiving tradition in the intersection of early European immigrants with erstwhile “Indians” notwithstanding, the newest Indian Americans --not those native to the Americas--embrace this weekend with the same gusto. A time to give thanks for life’s bounties-- material and spiritual, and relish the bonds of family and friends over shared meals, Thanksgivings is a uniquely secular, non-sectarian and singularly American holiday that will put my family and millions of other on the road later today.
A Hindu American family, mine will share a vegetarian meal rich with pastas, pumpkins and all of the traditional fixings--eschewing the gastronomically bland--much maligned tofurkey. Most of us will head out to the gym--weekend warriors trotting out to battle--knowing that only a spirited basketball game will assuage the coming guilt of over-indulgence and gluttony. There will be pumpkin pie and pecan pies after all! Prayers of thanks will be shared, children will bask in the independent company of cousins on the “kid’s table” and, most of my Florida raised friends and family will take in another Miami Dolphins football game--no matter the ludicrous futility of a team fallen so far...
Hindu Americans share, I am sure, in the collective gloom of national economic doldrums. Unemployment is too high and the news from Europe hardly portends soft landings. There is universal disgust with a dysfunctional U.S. Congress at ideological loggerheads that holds a nation’s future hostage. Not much there to celebrate.
But focus the view from a Hindu American perspective, and there are many thanks to give. Hindus are a visible and integral part of the American dialogue. Hindu philosophical insights first became visible here in the writings of Emerson and Thoreau, and as Phil Goldberg writes in his fascinating new book, “American Veda,” the Hindu barrier was broken by a dashing, articulate monk, Swami Vivekananda in 1893. After him, Hindu spirituality inspired and was intertwined in the works of intellectuals, authors and dreamers as diverse as Salinger, Huxley, Ginsburg and George Harrison.
I will give thanks that yoga, inspired by my Hindu spiritual heritage, at least in its physical—asana—form, is invariably practiced by a neighbor, co-worker and, likely, the barista and bank teller. Millions of boomers have rediscovered the wealth of benefits of the meditation they learned from Hindu gurus and yogis in the heady sixties, and now their grandchildren incorporate it as an integral part of their daily yoga practice.
Hindu American advocacy has placed Hindu festivals on the national agenda. A congressional resolution recognizing the festival of Diwali was passed a second time by the U.S. Senate and President Obama, no less, celebrated the festival of light in the White House, personally lighting the Diwali lamp amidst chants from the Hindu scriptures, the Vedas.
I am thankful that our president upholds the values of American pluralism—a nation that is inspired by the divine, but gives no preference to any religion over another or those without faith. And I am very thankful that presidential contenders that openly endorse their faith as the only true path—that long to perpetuate the divisive rhetoric of “Christian nation”—continue to flounder in polls. And when a gubernatorial candidate from Kentucky attacked the incumbent Gov. Steven Beshear for joining Hindus at a groundbreaking ceremony last month, he was inundated by national opprobrium. For this country’s commitment to pluralism, I give thanks.
Advocacy has ensured that school textbooks better reflect the Hinduism that two millions Americans practice, rather than the biases of some academics and school board members, and more and more, dharma religions are being taught at colleges and universities by brilliant academics that actually practice the faith they teach, rather than revel in the exotic and erotic. The human rights of Hindu minorities in Pakistan and Malaysia are part of the international agenda of House subcommittees and the State Department, and for those victories, momentous as they are, I give thanks.
So Hindus will gather as all Americans and celebrate the day of thanks. Give thanks for the successes of the Hindu American journey, they must. But as always, the prayer before dinner transcends the mundane struggles of identity and personal aspirations, and we will recite from the Holy Upanishads:
AUM saha navavatu, saha nau bhunaktu
Saha veeryam karvaavahai
Tejasvi naa vadhita mastu
maa vid vishaa va hai
AUM shaantih, shaantih, shaantih.
Let us together (-saha) be protected (-na vavatu) and let us together be nourished (-bhunaktu) by God’s blessings. Let us together join our mental forces in strength (-veeryam) for the benefit of humanity (-karvaa vahai). Let our efforts at learning be luminous (-tejasvi) and filled with joy, and endowed with the force of purpose (-vadhita mastu). Let us never (-maa) be poisoned (-vishaa) with the seeds of hatred for anyone. Let there be peace and serenity (-shaantih) in all the three universes.