The Hindu Students Association (HSA) hosted their annual camp ‘Gateway’ in Bruceville, TX from February 3rd – 5th. From all the HSA branches, there were a total of over 130 attendees. This year’s camp sought to provide a gateway for young Hindus in “finding your dharma, ” as the camp theme demonstrated.
The weekend was filled with various activities such as: icebreakers, games, outside activities, cultural dancing, bahajan night and speeches by the keynote speakers. This year the keynote speaker was Jeffrey Armstrong, also known as Kavindra Rishiji. We were honored to have Brahmachari Girish Chaitanyaji (Chinmaya Mission, Austin) and Acharya Praveen Gultaiji (Arya Samaj, Houston) as the other speakers.
As a newcomer to HSA, this was my first time attending one of HSA’s events. Although I have attended other spiritual retreats, I thought the HSA experience was unique. Undaunted by the large number of attendees, the district and national officers continuously engaged the Hindu youth with breakout sessions that sought to challenge young minds to think critically in regards to their faith. Moreover, the attendees were provided ample opportunities to socialize, thus solidifying friendships amongst peers.
In addition to the long-lasting friendships made, the keynote speakers did an excellent job addressing issues that affect today’s youth. A perfect example is the way in which Girishji answered a question posed by one of the attendees: How do we train our minds? Girishji was able to discuss various aspects on how we can do so not only as students, but also as young professionals. He urged us to use the Bhagavad Gita as a source of inspiration as we seek the answers to our questions. Moreover, he advised that regular study groups is key in helping us overcome the tumultuous thoughts and desires in our minds and enjoy calmness and focus in our endeavours. Taking Girishji’s advice, most of the various HSA branches conduct regular study groups at their respective universities around the country.
Jeffrey Armstrongji was our other guest speaker. His first lecture instructed today’s Hindu youth to “reframe the argument.” Jeffreyji represents a unique perspective having been raised as a Christian. Accordingly, he provided direction in how to effectively communicate our spirituality as Hindus to non-Hindus. This aspect was greatly appreciated by several Hindus with non-Indian origins. Although it happens periodically throughout my work-life, I never think about how to re-frame a discussion so our beliefs can be explained in a positive manner to non-Hindus. This was further reinforced as we were sharing the Greene Family Camp with a Jewish spiritual group. Interacting with other spiritual non-Hindus at the campsite allowed us put our teachings and thoughts into action.
Jeffreyji also conducted an amazing workshop on chanting mantras. His workshop splendidly complemented the HSA mantra project, which presents Hindu mantras in a more appealing form to the Hindu youth. For me, this was the highlight of the weekend. Although I had learned mantras as child, Jeffryji urged us to articulate loudly and in unison, thus shining a new light on these ancient practices. Not only did he explain proper technique, but he also expounded up the significance and history behind each mantra. By the end of the hour, I truly felt as if the entire group was in harmony with one another. The positive energy generated from this early morning workshop certainly spilled over to the entire weekend’s activities.
Moreover, Jeffreyji spoke on how the etymology of many western religious terms stem from Sanskrit roots. His talk was therefore not only mind-opening, but also thought provoking. I immediately felt a sense of gratitude for my faith and how deep its roots are. As Akshay Jaipuria a junior at University of Texas at Dallas remarked, “[We] learnt a lot from this weekend from our speakers, Jeffrey Armstrongji, Girishji, and Gulatiji. Coming to Gateway also teaches the youth of our age to be able to talk about Hinduism and answer questions people have related to Hinduism.”
Being an HSA event for the South District, the event was organized by the HSA South District Officers. All the attendees were impressed by the level of organization and professionalism of the event. Priya Gupta, a sophomore at The College of New Jersey said “I was so impressed by the level of organization, dedication, and passion of the leaders as well as the participants of the retreat. Even though it was far, it was definitely worth the trip because I was able to meet some great people and learn interesting new things, both of which made the experience really enjoyable.” In addition to the organization of the district officers, the HSA national officers and the Board of Directors presented the four HSA projects Mantra project, Hindu Animation project, Quickfire project, and Hinduism Awareness Week. The presentation, led by the HSA president Varun Mehta, was innovative, engaging, and unique. With the vision and purpose of each project explained, we were broken up into our “families” (social groups) to work on new ideas for each project so as to get a real feel for each project. This call for action for each project was highly successful with several of the Hindu youth excited by the projects and signing up to participate in them.
Overall, the camp was a great success. Everyone had a great time and was inspired by the various planned activities. Whether it was Hindu Jeopardy or performing Suryanamaskar- every activity brought us closer together and helped to give us a better understanding of ourselves and our culture. Gateway 2012 has truly brought light to HSA’s motto- “Be You, Be Hindu!”.