Tuesday, October 9, 2018

About my shoes at Rama Sethu


I got into a bit of a skirmish on facebook yesterday when I posted a status about what people have been saying about the fact that I wore shoes while I stepped onto the sacred place at Rama Sethu.

Some people said I should apologize for being offensive and I told them I felt like telling to shut up.  I didn't really explain myself, and I know it was silly to say this but sometimes I'm rebellious.

So here is what I really meant to say.  When I went to Rama Setu I went with a large tour bus, and we all went out to pray near the sea. I don't know everything about Hindu cultures but I did not see other people taking off their shoes.

We were outside and it was wet, there were other westerners on the tour and I am sure we all forgot to take off our shoes.  I was respectful about this as I could be while in India.

I really didn't mean any offense and I am sorry, it was a cultural slip and I will try to be more conscientious about it, I really don't like hurting the sentiments of my brothers and sister.

Anyway this is a good introduction to talking about my trip to Rama Sethu and some other things about this great place. Rama Sethu is at the Southern tip of India right across from SriLanka.

According to the Hindu Epic the Ramayana the hero Rama built a bridge of stone from Rama Sethu to the Island of Lanka in order to defeat the king Ravana who had stolen his bride Sita.

It is Rama's return to his kingdom after defeating Ravana that we celebrate during the festival of Diwali.  We celebrate the trumph of good over evil, of Rama over Ravana, wealth and light over darkness and poverty.

What I remember first is that to get to Rama Sethu we needed to ger out of our car and into a large open air bus.  I could not believe it but we drove this bus through deep water to Rama Sethu, I was shocked how high the water was and how close it was to our feet.

Then we got to a dusty part of the Island that had nothing but a few traditional shops, a path led down a small stone platform with a trident and hooded serpent.


After going down and saying my prayers at the holi spot I came back up to the small temple structure where seated in a small septum of water was a floating stone which we told was part of the bridge that Rama built, there is still remnants of a bridge structure under the water at Rama Sethu.


The Island ended with the ruins of an old church in the sands. Many half domestic gods ran about and it almost felt like the end of the earth.


Again, I am sorry for wearing my shoes and Rama Sethu, it was an innocent mistake.  Thanks for understanding.





Monday, October 8, 2018

Email to all NYC Council Members on Diwali/Holi Holiday Campaign

The following was sent to all members of the elected NYC Council 

NYC HINDUS
.5 Millions Strong

Contact Vincent Bruno
201-381-8727

NYC Hindu Holidays Campaign


Dear NYC elected officials,
NYC is home to nearly .5 million Hindus. According to Pew research Hindus are the most educated and wealthiest religious group in the United States, we are politically motivated voters and understand the importance of supporting our chosen candidates for elected office. 

The Hindus of NYC have been fighting for the inclusion of Hindu holidays in the public school calendar.  We have holidays for Jews, Christians, Muslims and the Chinese New Year, but nothing for Hindus. NYC Hindus are looking for the same inclusion and respect afforded to the world's monotheistic religions and other nationalities. 

We are looking for NYC elected officials who will plead our case in NYC and Albany.  We have made many strides with the NYC Mayor's office who has given us a 2.5 year plan which hopes to see either Mayor De Blasio enact the Hindu holidays of Diwali and Holi before he leaves office or to make Hindu holidays a campaign issue in the next mayoral election. Part of this plan includes extending the NYS school year by two days to include the two holidays of Diwali and Holi. 

Currently the following NYC Hindu organizations are supporting the campaign:

Federation of Hindu Mandirs, Hindu Learning Foundation, Indian American Intellectuals Forum, Hindu Students Association International, Justice For Hindus, Bangladeshi Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council; VidyaDham Panchatatva Gitapith; Vedic American Foundation Inc.; Jamaica Hindu Community, The American India Public Affairs Committee, American Hindu Coalition 

If you are willing to lend your voice to our cause then please contact us, we hope to hear from you soon.

NYC Hindu Holidays Campaign.
Vincent Bruno
vincent.bruno.1229@gmail.com
201-381-8727



WHAT WE'VE DONE SO FAR


NYC Hindus Get Quarterly Meeting With Mayor's Office
17 Aug 2017 &  25 Aug 2017- NYC Hindus had a second and 3rd meeting with the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit, assisted by Mr. Marco A. Carrion, Nick Gulotta and a city education official and were able to establish a quarterly meeting with the office to discuss Hindu affairs in NYC, especially those regarding the inclusion of the Hindu holidays of Diwali and Holi to the NYC public school calendar. 


NYC Hindus Outside White House
11 Dec 2016 - Close to 100 NYC Hindus gathered outside the White House to request that the federal administration take measures to further include the American Hindu presence in school and civic activities, such as consulting the community on Diwali and Holi education and including these holidays in public school calendars. 


NYC Hindus At Comptroller's Diwali Party
2 Nov 2016 - NYC Hindus bring the Hindu Holidays Campaign to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Diwali party at City Hall. We spoke with both the Comptroller and Assembly woman Neeta Jain on further engaging the NYC Hindu community on such issues as facilitating awareness on Hindu holidays with city law makers. 


NYC Hindus At Mayor's Diwali Party
October 2016 - NYC Hindu Holidays Campaign members attended the Mayor's first annual Diwali party at Gracie Mansion in Manhattan.  We distributed information cards to the public and city administrators on the subject of adding Diwali and Holi to NYC public school calendars.



NYC Hindus At Hindu Unity Day
Sunday 08/30/15 (Queens, New York) Hindu Unity Day was put on by the Indian American Intellectuals Forum (IAIF). IAIF is one of the member groups supporting the NYC Hindu Holidays Campaign. At the event a table was set up and hundreds of signatures were collected to request more city recognition of Hindu holidays and better education for schools and administrators on the Hindu religion.

NYC Hindus 1st Meeting With Mayor's Office
Friday, 04/24/15 - A delegation of different Hindu organizations met with the NYC Mayor's Office Community Affairs Unit Mr. Marco A. Carrion. Mr. Carrion was assisted by Ms. Halen Ho, Director of the Queens Community Affairs Unit. The delegation handed over a few documents supporting more acknowledgement of Hindu holidays in NYC schools.


NYC Hindus Demonstrate Outside City Hall
Friday, 04/10/15 - More than two dozen Hindu organizations and nearly 200 Hindus demonstrated outside City Hall for better inclusion of Hindu holiday education in NYC public schools. The event made it to NY1 News and was covered by the Times of Guyana. 

Mahalaya





Mahalaya Amavasya (amavasya, अमावस्या, meaning “new  moon night” in sanskrit) is the new moon which signals the end of the Pitru Paksha festival and the beginning of Navaratri (Durga Pujas). This year the new moon falls on the night of Oct 8th. Being the last day of Pitru Paksha (fortnight of the ancestors), many Hindus perform their most intense rituals to their deceased relatives on this day, from dawn till dusk. This usually includes creating elaborate feasts accompanied by Vedic rights.

The light of the new moon also signals the beginnings of Navaratri, the nine night festival dedicated to the nine forms of the goddess Durga.  On Mahalaya, many Hindus begin to prepare for the Navaratri festival. Preparing for Navaratri includes getting one’s home in order for the endless family and social events that will take place in the coming days, but also beginning one’s “fast”, which usually includes giving up meat, alcohol, smoking or some other vice.

Besides preparing for the intense and joyous festivities that will accompany the next nine nights, devotees may also want to make sure they have a copy of the Devi Purana, the extensive scripture of Durga which contains the story behind her festival. The story of Navaratri appears in Book 3, Chapters 14-30 in the Devi Purana. I will be studying these chapters over the next nine nights of Navaratri.

In the meanwhile, take this time to pay your last respects to your ancestors and get ready for all the fun and worship that is coming up, and don’t forget to start your fast!  Happy Mahalaya

Thursday, October 4, 2018

USA Hindus must prepare for the 2020 elections



We are just two yeas away from a major election year in 2020. The 2020 United States elections will be held on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, with primary elections beginning March 3, 2020. Not only will the USA be voting for the next president of the United States but all 435 seats of the House of representatives will be contested along with 33 seats in the Senate. The 2016 elections saw one of the fist ever movements of Hindu significance in American politics. 

The 2016 elections saw the launch of the Republican Hindu Coalition as well as the American Hindu Coalition, two groups which lobbied the Hindu vote to the White House.  We saw "Hindus For Trump" and "Hindus For Hillary", two grassroots movements which for the first time gave Hindus significant media coverage as a voting block.  The Hindu vote became extremely significant in battle ground states such as Florida and Virginia where Hindu temples were visited by members of the Trump family in order to garner Hindu votes there. And of course there were the fire rituals and demonstrations for both Hillary and Trump in India which made world news. 


In 2016, Donald Trump became the first president ever to address an exclusively Hindu electorate in New Jersey when he personally attended the Republican Hindu Coalition's evening event in New Jersey, he did this in a state where he had little change of winning, he did this only to impress the national Hindu vote and two solidify his position as being a pro-Modi president.  These were not insignificant events in American Hindu politics and they have set the momentum for the coming 2020 elections. 

But what are USA Hindus doing to expand on this political capital. Some of our work has already shown fruit.  Recently there was controversy over an ad with was placed by a Republican advocacy group in Texas seeking to propitiate Hindu voters, the ad features an image of Ganesh. But this is only a small flower on what should be a thickening vine of political significance for Hindus.  While we have perked some ears, we have not gone far enough, we need make sure the Hindu vote is courted in all states with major Hindu populations, such as New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois, Virginia and Texas. We need to start showing our presence now if we want to be chased in 2020. 

So what can we do to raise our profile?  It is simple as advertising our relative numbers in each voting district and state, we need to show politicians just how many votes they can get from us and from where.  The 2016 elections showed that Hindus are swing voters, while Hindus traditionally voted democrat before, in this election we saw the growth of a robust Hindu republican movement. Now politicians see they cannot take Hindus for granted, they need to work for our vote, support and campaign dollars. 

We need to start advertisement campaigns, we need to email elected officials and make them aware of the potential for a Hindu block vote and campaign contributions in their local areas. Hindus should start taking out ads in news papers and even billboards with advertisement such as "NYC Hind Voters, .5 Million Strong". We also need to raise the profile of Hindu party voters, such as Hindu Republics, Hindu Democrats and Hindu independents. 

Let's not wait for a mad dash in 2020, we need to go into this prepared.  We need politicians coming to us, not the other way around.  It is simple as making ourselves more visible. The Hindu vote is new, exciting, and adds to the diversity of any politicians portfolio.  It also opens up strategic alliances with the growing economic powerhouse of India. These politicians need us more than we need them and it is time we start proving it to ourselves. We should all support each other regardless of our political persuasion since any Hindu political presence is better than none. Who is ready to take up the charge. who is ready to get in the boat early and prepare the ground for a 2020 election which is more momentous for Hindus than 2016.  Let us not wait, let us not delay, it is time for us to realize our true potential and power, that time is today. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

NYC Mayor's Hindu Meeting Sees Plan For Diwali In Public Schools

Contact Vincent Bruno
vincent.bruno.1229@gmail.com


On Friday Sept 28th I met with the NYC Mayor's Community Affairs office to discuss the ongoing "Hindu Holidays Campaign" which seeks to institute Diwali and Holi as public school holidays in NYC which is home to nearly .5 million Hindus. The office has suggested a two and a half year plan which would hopefully result in either Mayor De Blasio instituting Hindu holidays in the school calendar before he leaves office, or making Hindu holidays an election issue for the next mayoral race. 

PLEASE SHARE
Our Diwali Flier On Social Media


The Plan:
  • Leadership: the campaign needs defined and regular leadership who will be the main lead for the project. That is me, Vincent Bruno.
  • Targeting Neighborhoods: the campaign needs to target the elected officials in neighborhoods in NYC where Hindus make up a large percentage of the voting population, such as Richmond Hill, Murry Hill, Jackson Heights and Flushing.
  • Coalition Building: we need to get as many Hindu and interfaith organizations as possible to sign onto our coalition and establish a regular meeting for the project
  • Campaign Materials: the campaign needs to produce a website, brochures, emails, pins and other campaign materials to be distributed to local officials, schools and the community.
  • Statistics: the campaign needs to set up a survey which can be filled out by Hindu community members detailing how many Hindus celebrate Diwali/Holi and are requesting the day off.
  • City/State Solution: the campaign needs to work with both NYC and NY State on this issue. We need Albany to extend the school year by two days to fit the Holi/Diwali holidays into the school calendar and the NYC Department of Education must also promote the initiative
  • Support of the Elected: We need to contact city and state senators, assembly persons and those on city council to gain their support for the campaign. 



Currently the following organizations are supporting the campaign, please contact me to add your organization's name: 

Federation of Hindu Mandirs, Hindu Learning Foundation, Indian American Intellectuals Forum, Hindu Students Association International, Justice For Hindus, Bangladeshi Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council; VidyaDham Panchatatva Gitapith; Vedic American Foundation Inc.; Jamaica Hindu Community, The American India Public Affairs Committee, American Hindu Coalition 

The Hindu Holidays Campaign will now begin to put the Mayor's office's plan into effect. We must create emailers which can be sent to district officials and school boards as well as Albany and the Department of Education. We must contact other religious leaders and organizations to support us in this project, and we must mobilize the Hindu community to provide the data needed to show we are needing of these school holidays. Individual Hindus and organizations who would like to support the campaign please contact me and please make me aware of any progress you have made on this issue under your own auspices.  Let's work on this 2.5 year plan and get Diwali/Holi into our public schools. 



WHAT WE'VE DONE SO FAR


NYC Hindus Get Quarterly Meeting With Mayor's Office
17 Aug 2017 &  25 Aug 2017- NYC Hindus had a second and 3rd meeting with the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit, assisted by Mr. Marco A. Carrion, Nick Gulotta and a city education official and were able to establish a quarterly meeting with the office to discuss Hindu affairs in NYC. - SEE MORE


NYC Hindus Outside White House
11 Dec 2016 - Close to 100 NYC Hindus gathered outside the White House to request that the federal administration take measures to further include the American Hindu presence in school and civic activities, such as consulting the community on Diwali and Holi education. - SEE MORE


NYC Hindus At Comptroller's Diwali Party
2 Nov 2016 - NYC Hindus bring the Hindu Holidays Campaign to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Diwali party at City Hall. We spoke with both the Comptroller and Assembly woman Neeta Jain on further engaging the NYC Hindu community on such issues as facilitating awareness on Hindu holidays with city law makers. - SEE MORE


NYC Hindus At Mayor's Diwali Party
October 2016 - NYC Hindu Coalition members attended the Mayor's first annual Diwali party at Gracie Mansion in Manhattan.  We distributed information cards to the public and city administrators on the subjects of Diwali and Holi. - SEE MORE


NYC Hindus At Hindu Unity Day
Sunday 08/30/15 (Queens, New York) Hindu Unity Day was put on by the Indian American Intellectuals Forum (IAIF). IAIF is one of the member groups of the NYC Hindu Coaltion. At the event a table was set up for the Hindu Holidays Campaign and hundreds of signatures were collected to request more city recognition of Hindu holidays and better education for schools and administrators on the Hindu religion. - SEE MORE


NYC Hindus 1st Meeting With Mayor's Office
Friday, 04/24/15 - A delegation of different Hindu Organizations met with the NYC Mayor's Office Community Affairs Unit Mr. Marco A. Carrion. Mr. Carrion was assisted by Ms. Halen Ho, Director of the Queens Community Affairs Unit. The delegation handed over a few documents supporting more acknowledgement of Hindu Holidays in NYC schools


NYC Hindus Demonstrate Outside City Hall
Friday, 04/10/15 - More than two dozen Hindu organizations and nearly 200 Hindus demonstrated outside City Hall for better inclusion of Hindu holiday education in NYC public schools. The event made it to NY1 News and was covered by the Times of Guyana. - SEE MORE

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Where I was the night Modi won!



Written in 2014

Narendra Modi has won the seat of India’s Prime Minister with a landslide victory and his BJP Party has taken a solid majority in the parliament.  The occasion was celebrated all over India with huge festivities that rivaled some of Hinduism’s highest holidays.  India’s victory party was joined by Hindus all over the world; from South America to Europe to Africa and Australia, Hindus stayed up all night watching the election unfold and celebrating their joy with fervor and intensity.  I personally attended an election party in NYC and it was one of the best nights of my life.
My evening started in Jersey City, I took the train to Newark and met a new friend of mine from India, we had connected over social media only a few short months ago, but our mutual passion for Hinduism has made us like brothers from the start. We took the Path train to Jersey City where we met with some of our other friends at their apartment for dinner.  While they whipped up some divine Indian dish we watched the early morning TV programs coming out of India.  I was surprised to find that many of the major stations were presenting in English, so it became much easier to understand what was going on.  While we sat and ate our food we listened to some very lively broadcasters present the ongoing situation.  I was both shocked and pleased by the candor of Indian television, unlike American news the entire program seemed rather unscripted, lacking almost any staged feeling at all.  I was particularly shocked by the voraciousness and tenacity of the news anchors as they interviewed appearing members from the ruling INC, such bold condemnation of politicians to their face and verbal brawls as I witnessed are unheard of in the American mainstream media. Honestly I found India’s news media to be much more informative, real and entertaining than anything we currently have in the West.
After dinner we took the Path train to Time Square NYC where the election was being covered live by a panel.  It was around 10pm or so when election results began to come in which the moderately sized crowd watched on a large screen.  It became very obvious right from the start that Modi and the BJP were going to have a significant victory, but just how significant we were yet to learn.  As the video cameras turned to the crowd everyone grasped together and began to chant NAMO, NAMO, NAMO… it was fun and lighthearted patriotism void of that feeling of chauvinism so common in other Nationalistic movements. TV Asia took an interview from our Mumbai friend who was wearing a “Namo for PM” t-shirt, the same shirt he was wearing when I met him only a few weeks ago at another BJP event in New Jersey.
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While the election coverage in Time Square was well attended, it was hard to stay interested in the event because there was no sound of the election coverage, just the visuals up on the big screen.  The friends who had brought me began to talk with some of the other people gathered in the crowd, I had been told that “Indians love to socialize” and the truth of this statement became very apparent as all of these strangers seemed to quickly become friends.  In a flash we were all invited to continue watching the election coverage at the facilities of The Art of Living Foundation, a yoga and meditation center.  As we walked to the center which was only a few blocks away I discussed with my friends the observation that I and other converts have made; Hindus in general tend to be very open and trusting people, lacking the social masks and disguises so ingrained into the unspoken protocols of other cultures. You can pretty much tell who a person is right away, yet you know there is so much more you can learn about them.
We arrived at a very beautiful center with large wooden floor rooms.  Our hosts brought out “Back Jacks” for us to use, they are basically chairs without any legs, it was really great because they allowed us to sit on the floor Indian style but at the same time we had the support of a chair back and could recline, it was the perfect fusion of East and West.  Someone connected the large screen TV to their computer and we turned back to the election coverage. In the short period of time it had taken us to get from Time Square to the center, Modi’s numbers had soared far above any of the other candidates and his BJP party had already gained more than 100 seats in the parliament.  As the night went on the group was constantly cheering as nearly every minute Modi and the BJP had gained another point or seat in the parliament.  But then the golden moment came, Modi’s BJP party had alliances and they were sure that with their coalition they would be able to take the majority of the parliament with 273+ seats, little did we know that the BJP would achieve the 273+ mark on its own, achieving a one party majority with an even larger coalition of aligned parties.  When the BJP number hit 273, the group went crazy!  I was able to catch their enthusiasm on my iPhone.
At the end of the evening we were served samosas and chai tea and finally stood for a group picture.  Even though I was the only person there who was not of South Asian ancestry, no one made me feel unwelcome or out of place, they allowed me to celebrate and be just as happy as everyone else.  That is because Modi’s achievement is not just an achievement for India, but for Hindus everywhere.  Unlike the nationalism of other nations, Hinduism is not based in race or language, it is based in a spirituality and ideals which transcend all borders and differences between people, Hindus are more than happy to share their light with the entire world.
We finally closed the night at another friend’s home where with their large family we watched the exuberant displays of joy that had erupted all over India, as well as the shock and utter disbelief of the rival Congress officials. All at once it seemed that the last shackles of imperialism and colonialism had been broken, the British contrived Congress party with all its divide and rule politics had been wiped out, the corrupt Gandhi Dynasty had been broken and the people had given the Hindu leadership a clear mandate to rule.  Almost no one slept that night and festivities continued all throughout the weekend.  Something has changed, everyone feels it, there is something about this victory that is going to shift the entire dynamic of the world.  Hindus are uniting, our enemies are on the run, we need to take this opportunity to gather our strength and prepare for the battle that is ahead, but whatever may come we all know that Dhrama will prevail and Modi’s victory has given us our much needed hope.  But most important of all, with India now under strong and good leadership we are certain we will begin to see Justice For Hindus.

When I did Modi Yagna

On Sunday, April 27th, 2014, the organization "Overseas Friends of the BJP" held a Shiv Maha Yagna to pray for the successful election of then BJP candidate Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India, and I was very grateful to be in attendance. At the time I was new to Hindu politics so I believe this was one of my first Hindu political events. It was so different from anything else I've ever experienced before, it was the most spiritual political event ever. 
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Arrival At Birchwood Manor, Whippany, NJ 

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The event was held at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany New Jersey and no better grounds could have been chosen for this very special occasion.  The entrance to the grounds was guarded by a lion and as one walked toward the ceremony site they were met by several romantic era idols representing Greek and Roman gods, Pan being the most noticeable of them all.  I believe I have detected a pattern with the Hindus, they do seem to go out of their way to find hotels with mythological themes to hold their events. 
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But one could not help but feel as though the gods of the West were conspiring with their long lost brothers and sisters in the East to make the occasion a success and further usher in the era of American Hinduism. Modi's election was really the start of the growth in real world American Hindu politics which has literally seen its first real bloom in the past five years. It wasn't just that Modi was a big man, but he was going to be in charge of a big country, India, and he had a big spiritual power at his back, Hinduism... and that meant something to the world. 
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Approaching The Ceremony Grounds
As one approached the ceremony ground the gray Western god statues gave way to colorful Hindu god flags which waved and fluttered in the wind. Even Kali was there holding her many severed heads. Usually in the West such overt imagery of god if used at a political rally would be frowned upon, but finally religion and politics were integrated sanely and safely, this did not have the feel of a theocracy. Still, it didn't quite feel like a political event or a religious event, or a party, it was it's own special energy. 
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The Yagna
The yagna was a medium sized flower shaped brick fire pit where a small fire was lit accompanied by the singing of hymns and the sacrificing of foods and spices into the fire pit. There was some Indian and Western media there to take video and speak with the attendants. Afterward we had lunch and all mingled. 
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If you do happen to be in a state with a large Hindu population such as New York, New Jersey, California, Texas or Florida, you should definitely look up the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP).  They hold many events every year and they are great places to meet elected officials from both the United States and India.  I am sure the OFBJP will be very active in the upcoming India elections in 2019.  As it looks I'll be supporting Modi and the OFBJP again.

Vishnu