The Story of Hinduism Today
As the new millennium approaches, the world's oldest religions is donning shining new clothes. The age-old Hindu philosophy passed from mouth to mouth in tiny villages across India is now going high-tech, thanks to Hinduism Today, the preeminent global journal of Hindu Dharma for over 30 years. This Hawaii-based publication is a sleek, easy-to-carry, full-color magazine. Its on-line version is just as eye-catching and brings every aspect of Sanatana Dharma to millions of Internet users across the world. Hinduism, which had always been the domain of unchanging swamis in far-off ashrams, is now entering the computer age with Hinduism Today. Founded by Satguru Sivaya Subramaniyaswami (1927-2001) and published by the Himalayan Academy on the idyllic island of Kauai in Hawaii, the magazine is totally service oriented. The current publisher is Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, the spiritual head of Kauai's Hindu Monastery.
Observed Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (Gurudeva): "Hinduism Today was created to strengthen all the many diverse expressions of Hindu spirituality, to give them a single, combined voice because everywhere else their voices were individualized. There was nothing that encompassed the whole Hindu experience around the world. Every religious order has a mission and instead of starting an eye-clinic or an orphanage, we created a global publication to advance the cause of Hindu Dharma." Hinduism Today's rebirth as a full-color magazine is an idea whose time has come. According to Gurudeva: "It's something we've wanted to do for a long time, so it's just a natural evolution." It was indeed the logical outcome of Gurudeva's remarkable life and mission to give all Hindu denominations and their lineages a voice to and thus Hindus as a global community.
WHY Hinduism Today? While bookstores and newsstands are filled with countless newspapers and magazines, it was apparent there was nothing to satisfy contemporary Hindus, to articulate in modern language India's ancient wisdom. As Paramacharya Palaniswami, chief editor of Hinduism Today, points out, "Open up many books, and they are so cluttered with technical terms, obscure references and other languages that the average seeker would go about three pages and not pursue it further." Hinduism Today wanted to say all the important things, the profound things, but in an interesting voice which all could understand and appreciate. While Hindus living in India are surrounded by their culture and faith, this magazine's mandate was to also reach the millions of Hindus who are trying to keep their faith alive in far-off places surrounded by different cultures. In isolated, alien townships and cities, shared words can provide courage and enthusiasm, energy to keep true to a faith. Hinduism Today is a voice for Sanatana Dharma's all-embracing philosophy. It tells the world about India's cultural riches: ayurveda, classical dance, literature and drama, magnificent temples and profound traditions of worship, the healing power of meditation and yoga, and the virtues of vegetarianism. To those who are Hindu and to those merely attracted by the principles of Indian spirituality, it offers a common platform, a feeling of family, setting off good vibrations.
Mark Twain Meets HT: Few know that the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn spent time in India, and fewer still that he was karmically connected to Hinduism Today. That story begins decades ago. Starting life as a black-and-white newsletter about the doings of Gurudeva's worldwide fellowship on January 5, 1979, its founder's 53rd birthday, Hinduism Today has evolved over the years to embrace everything of interest to a Hindu. Before the newspaper appeared, Himalayan Academy was publishing books on Hindu-related metaphysical topics as early as 1957, laying the groundwork for Hinduism Today. Recalls Palaniswami, "We've gone from trudging through 30-foot snowdrifts in our Nevada monastery in the 1960s to walking under rainbow skies in Hawaii in the 21st century, so that's a good step forward." Interestingly enough, the Academy's earliest books on yoga and meditation were hand set by the young monks on the same wooden type Mark Twain used as editor of the Territorial Enterprise, a Nevada newspaper. There was a symbolic meaning for the editors of HT in this, and by coincidence the Hawaiian island they settled on many years later was the very one, Kauai, Mark Twain had visited on his way to India, a hundred years earlier.
Editor in Chief Palaniswami notes: "Mark Twain was the author of "Following the Equator," which he considered his finest work, the pinnacle of his career. He had visited India for three months, on the lecture circuit, giving a one-man show called "An Evening with Mark Twain." While in India he observed that all the world's religions are really paupers and beggars, but India's Hinduism is the only millionnaire, because of its pantheon of Gods compared to other religions which have to make do with just one God! Of the home of Hinduism Today, the island of Kauai, Mark Twain had this to say: "It was the most beautiful in the world." From the hand-made wooden type sorts that Mark Twain used to set his headlines, to the computer-generated fonts called Quantum Leap and Relato customized by the mathavasis on their ubiquitous Macs, Hinduism Today has come a long way. It was an unsung pioneer in the desktop publishing revolution, embracing the microchip revolution early and with gusto, presenting the ancient wisdom of Vedic Dharma in a contemporary way. In fact, three decades ago Apple Computer was so impressed by their efforts it sent a video team for three days to the Hinduism Today ashram to capture the production of the journal by monks on Apple's Macintosh computers. This film was later shown to Apple's 8,000 employees to demonstrate how a small group of monks had constructed the world's first desktop publishing network.
The editorial team is amazingly adept, working with equal facility on books, web pages, art projects, children's texts and lessons, and more. In 2009 they launched a major new website which showcases their extensive resources, resources which give guidance and knowledge to Hindu families around the world. In India the pandits still sit on the ghats in Haridwar-nothing ever changes. But Hinduism Today has embraced change with enthusiasm in full cooperation with some of these same wisdom-laden pandits.
So, Who Reads Hinduism Today? Hinduism Today reaches Hindus in 80 countries. Besides Hindus in countries across the globe, readers include seekers of every ethnic group and religion, attracted to the sublime philosophies of Sanatana Dharma: ayurveda, yoga and the benefits of the vegetarian lifestyle. Indophiles and all who have traveled to India and been mesmerized by her magic count themselves among the readers of Hinduism Today, and, perhaps surprisingly, the clergy and theological students of other major religions form a strategic part of the HT family. A very vital contingent of Hinduism Today is the second-generation Indians growing up in foreign lands. For them, many who know the magazine only in its digital version on the Worldwide Web, Hinduism Today provides answers to perplexing questions in an intelligent and easily accessible way. These are the children who have to deal with classmates who have formed misconceptions about Hinduism from films like Indiana Jones in which Hindu sects are shown eating eyeballs and cracking monkey skulls to eat the brain. Every Indian child living abroad has had the distressing experience of peers asking "In India, do you ride elephants and tigers and live in trees?"
With its colorful graphics, comprehensive cover stories, and educational Insight Sections with detailed descriptions of Indian traditions, rites and customs, Hinduism Today makes religion contemporary, current and viable for these young Hindus by birth. The Publisher's Desk, In My Opinion and the Letters page all conspire to set up a lively dialogue between intelligent readers, academics and believers. Columns like Global Dharma and Minister's Message keep readers abreast of the current events affecting Hinduism. The Quotes & Quips humor page and Healing touch upon many issues of interest to even non-Hindus, such as the dangers of second-hand smoke or ways to alleviate menopause. Their goal was and is to create a true Hindu renaissance by providing readers, browsers, believers and non-believers alike a forum, a soapbox to vent their feelings and discuss every aspect of Hinduism and how it effects modern life. HT has done this, and Hindus worldwide wholeheartedly congratulate them for achieving their goal of renewing a diminished sense of Hindu pride and presence in the modern world. It looks something like Newsweek, only better, making it possible for our Hindu front to continues= to promote the world's oldest religion.
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By: Lavina Melwani - New York