English Feature 7-37748 Broadast August 18, 2003
Indian immigrant parents in the Washington area have found a way of occupying their children during summer vacation that is both fun and spiritually uplifting. Let's visit the Chinmaya Mission’s summer camp, where Indian-American children learn some basic principles of Hinduism while also participating in sports and games and field trips to interesting places.
The children sit cross-legged on the carpeted floor of a large auditorium, facing a saffron-robed swami in an easy chair who is rhythmically clinking small brass cymbals. He leads them in chanting and prayers, and then tells them a story that in a subtle and humorous way emphasizes one of the virtues Hinduism teaches. Swami Dheerananda says there are eighteen such virtues, and there is even a song that helps people remember them.
“It goes, Serenity, regularity, absence of vanity. Sincerity, simplicity, veracity. Equanimity, fixity, non-irritability, adaptability, humility, tenacity. Integrity, nobility, magnanimity. Charity, generosity, purity.”
The kids attending the camp range in age from five to fifteen. They sign up for two or three or however many weeks of the summer-long program. The director of the camp, Sethuraman Balan, says parents, most of whom are immigrants from India, send their American-born children to the Chinmaya Mission camp to expose them to their traditional customs and values.
“Basically the immigrant parents are kind of lost, they don’t know what to do with their children, how to imbibe the cultural heritage to which they belong, and how to inculcate the values of life, because they are in a different society, and they have to adjust themselves as to how best to integrate in this country without losing our own identity.”
Mr. Balan believes that the United States is the one country in the world where you can retain those aspects of your ethnic heritage that you value while integrating fully into American society. He says his camp’s mission is to help the children who attend achieve this harmony in their lives.
“So these are the things which we try to inculcate in them. How to identify yourself, and be proud of your heritage, and at the same time be a responsible citizen of this country. It all boils down to the values of life and creating a positive attitude in dealing with life.”
In addition to religious chanting, prayers, and inspiring stories from scripture, the camp’s program includes yoga, classical and folk dancing, vocal and instrumental music, arts and crafts. There is time for sports, indoor games, swimming and socializing. Thirteen-year-old Tarang Bapna, who is attending the camp for the second year, is quite clear about which parts of the program he likes best.
“I like the games, and the ping-pong, the basketball, and I like playing and being with my friends.”
He is not as enthusiastic about the spiritual teachings that are part of each day’s program, but admits that they may be of some value.
“I find those boring. But yes, I learn a lot. About my religion, sort of, and ah… I learned a lot of values from this school, about truthfulness, and honesty, just being a good kid. I’ve also learned a lot about Hinduism.”
Tarang says he likes coming to the summer camp because here he meets friends who are more like him than most of his American schoolmates.
“See, most of my American friends are non-vegetarians, but I’m a vegetarian, and some kids here are vegetarians. The kids here, since they’ve gone through this religious process, they’re much better behaved than kids who have not gone through religious teaching. People who don’t go to a church or another religious place, they might not be as well-behaved, because they don’t know the proper way to live, or something like that.”
Tarang Bapna was born in America to Indian immigrant parents. His parents speak Hindi at home, while Tarang speaks mostly English. He says that when visiting India he feels at home there, but intends to live in the United States when he grows up -- his dream is to work for the CIA. Meera Puri, the administrator of the Chinmaya Mission camp, says that in the ten years of its existence the camp has helped many young people like Tarang Bapna come to terms with straddling two worlds.
“Initially it does cause a little bit of an identity crisis, but there is a way that this identity crisis can be resolved. And Chinmaya Mission has played a very big role in the life of young adults who are born here, who have seen a different culture at home and who have seen a different culture outside. And all the confusions that they have had in their minds, they have been resolved here at the Chinmaya Mission.”
Watch for more pictures of the activities at Chinmaya Mission summer camp and the people who participated in this program coming soon.