There are a lot of misconceptions circulating around about Hinduism and how it is perceived by the youth today. Many think that contemporary Hindu youth don’t really understand Hinduism and what it’s about or how it impacts our lives as whole. Being involved in Hindu Students Association (HSA) has opened my eyes to a vast group of peers and like-minded individuals in America who struggle with understanding Hinduism and integrating it into our daily lives to help us achieve our true potential. Being an active member and officer for two years in HSA, Gateway was always something I had heard. However, this year I was able to see what the hype was all about in person and it more than lived up to my expectations.
Finally, ‘Gateway 2012: Find Your Dharma’ was here! As the weeks went by leading up to the event itself, I became more involved in Gateway through the programming calls for the event. All of the preparation heightened my anticipation to actually be in Bruceville, TX – the location of Gateway 2012 – and meet with the people I had been talking to and to see the speakers we had selected.
When we finally arrived at the Greene Family Camp, it was 11:45pm on Friday, February 3rd. Although it was late and the drive was long, we immediately jumped into the icebreaker games, the over 130 attendees playing “Hindu Jeopardy.” We were separated into “families” with members from other universities and were competing for bragging rights. It was a lot of fun, and I was astounded with the amount of knowledge that the youth in the room possessed about things I had never heard of such as, temples in far off places, or stories about Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Their complete confidence in the information and my lack of knowledge only kindled the fire for me to want to learn more about Hinduism and its teachings.
The next day we started off with a morning speech from Jeffery Armstrongji, and then went into Surya Namaskar with Brahmachari Girish Chaitanyaji of Chinmaya Mission, Austin. It was my first time doing a Surya Namaskar and I was pleasantly surprised with how easy and soothing it was. My impression was that it would involve a lot of chanting and a long and strenuous routine of yoga movements that I wouldn’t be able to do. How wrong I was! Girishji’s Surya Namaskar was so refreshing that I heard several people state that they were going to integrate it into their morning routines from then on. The rest of the day was filled with speakers, discussion sessions, group activities and games; all of which were aimed to promote a better understanding of what Hinduism is and what it means to us. Akshay Jaipuria, a junior at the University of Texas at Dallas remarked “I think Gateway was a really great experience. I learnt a lot from this weekend from our two speakers, Jeffrey Armstrongji and Girishji. 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.” Last, but not least, we were able to build valuable friendships in such a short time. We seemed to be clicking with each other as if we had been friends out whole lives, and bonding over Hinduism and what it means to us and how we use it in our lives to give us peace or Shanti.
One particular session I attended was titled ‘Be You. Be Hindu’ led by a very engaged, young professional by the name of Kavita Pallod. Her discussion encouraged us to think of what Hinduism really means to us, how we interpreted what we had learned from the weekend so far and why Hinduism was so important. In an effort to help us continue in our paths as Hindus, Kavita encouraged all of us to voice out loud what one of our goals would be when we leave Gateway. Mine was to learn more chants and mantras and use them in my daily life to be a better person. Other people said they wish to actually read the Gita and learn the stories with in it. One of my favorite goals was of a friend and fellow attendee, Anand Jayanti who said “I wish to see the divine in others and love them for that, even if I don’t know them.” I think that is a beautiful way of expressing Hinduism and everything we were being taught by the guruji’s.
All in all I think Gateway far surpassed what I thought it would. It was spiritually healing and left the attendees feeling rejuvenated about Hinduism. Most importantly it left us all with a network of fellow Hindus who we could connect with in times of need, if our faith dwindles or if we need spiritual guidance. This support system is, in my opinion, vital in continuing the growth of Hinduism today. Priya Gupta a sophomore at the College of New Jersey shared my views “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.”