ISKCON Devotees Take Part in White House Event, Launch Initiative
Washington DC -- The Hindu-American community marked a milestone on Friday, July 29, when the White House hosted a historic conference designed to explore the role that Dharmic faith groups could play in civic engagement in the United States. The two-day conference, organized by the Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC) group under the auspices of President Obama's Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also saw strong participation from ISKCON devotees. Venkata Bhatta Dasa, Rukmini Devi Dasi, and Gopal Lila Dasa each served as panelists during a number of different sessions.
"My appreciation and admiration for ISKCON grows with each day," HASC co-founder and director Anju Bhargava told the devotee participants. "I hope that ISKCON can be at the forefront of community service and outreach, and serve as a model for others in the Dharmic community."
Venkata spoke on two panels, drawing on his experiences working as a chaplain and youth organizer to discuss how to effectively mobilize and inspire young adults. Rukmini Devi spoke about ISKCON's contributions in the area of promoting vegetarianism and distributing sanctified food (prasadam), and especially highlighted the astounding success of ISKCON's mid-day meal programs in India.
Perhaps the most noteworthy ISKCON presence at the event was Gopal Lila Dasa, project director the Bhumi Project. The brainchild of ISKCON devotees and created by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies in conjunction with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, the Bhumi Project is an initiative aimed at offering a Hindu response to the environmental challenges facing our planet. In the presence of Hindu leaders from North America, members of the US government, and a representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Gopal Lila officially launched the Bhumi Project’s "Green Temple" campaign, an innovative push to encourage Hindu temples around the world to be greener. Temples chosen to take part as pilots will look at issues concerning the greening of puja (worship services), energy sourcing, and the development of temple gardens.
“Hindu temples were traditionally the standard-bearers for good practice in the community. By making our places of worship earth-friendly, we can send a clear message that care for the environment is central to Hindu life,” Gopal Lila said about the campaign.
Following the launch, Gopal Lila elaborated upon the aims of the campaign on a special panel about the Bhumi Project. The panel -- regarded by many as among the most engaging and popular of the conference -- included discussion of other ISKCON-affiliated projects in the U.K., such as the Ahimsa Dairy which markets milk from protected cows and the Krishna Avanti School (which also happens to be the most "green" school in the U.K.).
The conference also highlighted another example of ISKCON's influence-- albeit in a rather indirect way. Two of the conference's meals were catered by celebrity chef Vikas Khanna. Khanna, who also recently produced a documentary film about the connections between Hindu spirituality and food, said that his main inspiration for the meal was ISKCON. The simple but tasty menu was purely vegetarian, sattvik, and evocative of ISKCON temple kitchens.