Dr. Abhaya Asthana is a Bell Labs Fellow with Corporate CTO at Alcatel-Lucent. He directs R&D in the areas of computer and communications systems and solutions, multimedia, wireless systems, converged network systems, computer architecture, operating systems, optical networks and VLSI design. He led the design of VLSI systems at INTEL from 1982-1985 and was on the faculty of IIT Kanpur in 1984. Dr. Asthana received his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical engineering from I.I.T. Kanpur in 1970, and his Doctorate degree from Tulane University in 1974.
Learning about Hindu Dharma, history and cultural tradition, living it and then passing it on to the next generation is his passion. He has been active in community service at the local and national levels. His main focus has been in promoting educational and spiritual programs and projects that will help Hindus living in North America to remain Hindus, and through their lives contribute to the richness of their adopted land. Organizing Youth Camps, Bal Vihars, Youth Conferences, Dharma Samsads, Hindu Awareness Yaatras, Hindu Mandir Executive Conferences, Hindu Heritage Days, Hindu Seva Day are some examples of what he has been actively doing for the past 25 years. He is the national General Secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America.
Congratulations on winning the lifetime achievement award. What does this award mean to you?
Indeed it is a joy to receive such an honor, but it also overcomes me with gratitude and humility: gratitude towards all the people who have worked with me and supported me, and humility in the presence of all the remarkable people who have inspired me and from whom I have learned so much. I have met so many wonderful people along the way. Each one of them left me with a gift that enriched me. This award really makes me proud of all the teams that I have worked with over the years. And, with Jaya working with me side by side, every step of the way, it has been a wholesome, enjoyable and fulfilling journey thus far.
What do you consider your own major accomplishments?
Foremost, I am happy about my professional achievements at Bell Labs, Intel and IIT/K. All of these great institutions enabled me to create, invent, innovate, and publish in the areas of high performance, robust communications and computing architectures. It is rewarding to know that my work advanced the boundaries of science and technology in a useful and meaningful way.
Jaya and I feel blessed to have a family with three wonderful children, help them grow and see them blossom into thoughtful, creative, individuals with a social conscience.
But perhaps our most cherished accomplishment is to be an instrument of service to our community through the remarkable medium of VHPA. We are fortunate to be a part of this institution, this movement that brought meaning to our lives and taught us how to live selflessly.
With Ishwara’s grace Jaya and I have been able to balance the family, professional and social aspects of our lives. This in itself has been very rewarding.
What motivated you to get involved with VHPA?
Let me pose a couple of human questions: What sets apart those who not just survive but turn every adverse moment into a defining point in history? What distinguishes those who prevail when the world goes out of control? I believe the answer lies in the value system that governs the actions of such individuals and an organization as a whole.
In 1989 my father came to visit us on his way to the Virat Hindu Conference in UK. He took us to the VHPA family Camp in Inawendiwin, NJ. It was Rakshabandhan day. The keynote speaker, a Swami, explained the social significance of Rakhsbandhan: the thread serving as a medium to connect the entire society into one organic entity. No one had explained the concept in such terms before. I was fascinated and moved. At the same camp, I saw a volunteer washing large pots and pans in the kitchen and another sweeping the bathroom floor. “People actually do that outside of their homes, for others?” I thought to myself. I introduced myself to them. “Here we do everything ourselves, no work is small,” said the volunteer. I had read that in Gandhi Ji’s “My Experiments with Truth,” but there I saw it in action. That unknowingly taught me one of the greatest lessons in my life: Do something for others. With that thought germinating in our minds, suddenly our lives had a meaning. That obscure visit to the VHPA camp was a turning point in the life of our family. There was no turning back.
These first impressions have stayed constant, living and working with the people of VHP of America for the past 25 years. Plain clothed Sadhus who single mindedly work for the sustenance and strengthening of the Hindu community. They sweat and toil to prepare the ground, dig the trenches and lay the foundation one brick at a time; a foundation to secure the future of our children and to leave a legacy behind that they can be proud of.
How does VHPA differ from VHP India?
Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bharat, (VHP) was inaugurated in 1964 at Sandeepany Sadhnalaya; the Ashram of Poojya Swami Chinmayanandaji in Mumbai. Swami Chinmayananda Ji was the founder of VHP Bharat and Swami Dayananda Saraswati Ji of AVG was the architect of its constitution and by-laws.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America Inc. (VHPA) was founded in 1970 at New York and incorporated in 1974 in New York State. VHPA is an independent socio-cultural-spiritual organization with its own independent constitution and registered under the laws of the United States of America. It is not a branch or a chapter of any other organization in USA or anywhere else in the world. The operations of VHPA and its Chapters in USA are not under the control or directives of VHP, Bharat.
Both organizations share a common name because both work towards the same cause: to network and serve the over one billion Hindu community across the globe. And in that work they share the core principles enunciated in the most ancient spiritual literature called Vedas, considered by many as the eternal source of spiritual and secular knowledge for humanity.
- “Truth is One, Sages call It by different names.”
- “This whole world that has moving things, and which itself is moving, is pervaded by one and the same Lord.”
- “For the kind-hearted people of character, the entire creation is one interconnected family.”
- “Let all be happy, let all be healthy, let all experience goodness, let sorrows be no one’s lot.”
Those who take these as guiding principles in one’s life can not but be secular, non-violent and without bias or bigotry of any kind. Thus, respect for diversity, peaceful and harmonious coexistence with people of different cultures and faiths is the heart and soul of Hindu Dharma.
We share with VHP Bharat the set of principles and values espoused by the four axioms of Hinduism mentioned above and the common interests of Hindus anywhere in the world. In all other respects such as the constitution and by-laws, the organizational structure, the operation, the decision making, the projects and programs, VHPA is totally independent of any other organization.
What is the mission of VHPA?
Our vision is that of a dynamic and vibrant Hindu society. Hindus are all those who believe, practice, or respect the spiritual and philosophical principles and practices having roots in Bharat. For us the word Hindu is used in the sense of a civilization that includes Shaivas, Vaishnavas, Shaktas, Smartas, Jains, Bauddhas, and Sikhs. The words Indian and Hindu to us are synonymous because the term Indian has the word Hindu as its root. Moreover, 99.5% of all Indians have Hindu ancestry including those who were converted through force, deception, allurement and exploitation. That is why VHPA is not attached to any particular Temple or Swami. All Mandirs, Vihars, Deosars and Gurudwaras are ours. All Swamis and Acharyas are our Swamis and Acharyas. All Hindus no matter where they live on this Earth are ours. We are all inclusive.
The work we do is very simple: To keep Hindus in America as Hindus and to lay the foundation on which Hindu Dharma can be sustained and strengthened in America by our generations to come. This is expressed in our four pronged mission of prachar, samskar, seva and sampark. The main objectives of VHPA are:
- To educate our next generations about the great human values as envisaged by our ancient sages and seers so they can learn and assimilate the best from both Eastern and Western cultures and become responsible, contributing citizens of their adopted land as well as of the world.
- To provide a forum that looks out for and addresses Hindu interests in USA.
- Help minimize the misconceptions and misinformation about Hinduism that may exist for whatever reason so that a meaningful, harmonious and mutually respectful coexistence is possible among people of diverse faiths, traditions and cultures.
- To provide humanitarian and relief services regardless of race, religion, color, creed, place or any other differences.
Our field of action is USA and we focus our energies in serving the Hindu community in this country. Our focus is on the family the basic element of our society. We work with children, families, elders, Dharma Gurus and other institutions. This work is done by our chapters. They represent the pillars on which the edifice of VHPA is built. Our chapters throughout the country continue to serve the Hindu community with energy, dedication and caring in innovative and diverse ways.
Rev Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
One of the big lessons the Hindus have learned is that turbulence is our friend. And it is in times of turmoil that we have understood the caliber of our people. As they say, if there is a storm on the mountain, more important than the plan are the people you have with you. VHP of America has always been fortunate in having a continuous stream of talented, passionate and dedicated members. Its vision, long term thinking and selfless service to the Hindu community attract those great people.
What are the major accomplishments to date of VHPA?
In the last 40 years, VHPA has undertaken over 30 major initiatives and programs towards the fulfillment of the above objectives. For example VHPA pioneered heritage camps & conferences and over the past thirty years thousands of youth have participated in these camps. Bal-Vihars were started by VHPA in 1974 to impart Hindu Samskaras and provide an opportunity for children to discover their cultural bond with India and develop pride in their Hindu identity. Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference (HMEC) is a network Hindu mandirs of America to explore ways of anchoring Hindu Dharma’s eternal values in the hearts of coming generations and the role that mandirs can play to make that happen. We create awareness through VHPA Publications. Hindu Conference was the brainchild of VHP of America in 1984. Dharma Sansad in America followed by a Dharma Prasaar Yatra and a Vishwa Dharma Praasar Yatra were major historical milestones in themselves. VHP of America has served as an incubator for many organizations: Hindu University of America, Hindu Student Council, HinduNET and literally gave birth to Hindu Activism on the Web in the form of AHAD.
The Seva projects are many including Support a Child (SAC) program started in the 1980s that provides for the living and educational need of over 800 children in Bharat with $250 per child per year. Ekal Vidyalaya program of VHPA focuses on mass education and health care in Vanvasi areas. One teacher helps a village with just $365 per year. During Gujarat Earthquake VHPA rebuilt an entire village of Lodai, which was near the epicenter of the Earthquake. After the devastating Tsunami, VHPA built boats for fishermen so they could get back their means of livelihood. Seva in America comes in all shades and forms: Homeless Soup Kitchen; Adopt-a-Highway; Blanket distribution; Ashraya; Bhutanese Resettlement Project; Katrina, Haiti, Chile and Japan, disaster relief; providing priest services when none is available, helping raise funds to transport the bodies of tragic victims of unfortunate accidents or racists attacks.
You have raised three wonderful children who identify closely with Indian culture. What advice would you give to Indian parents as they raise kids?
Parents are like gardeners. The genes come from our ancestors. We can only prepare the soil, provide shelter and create a nurturing environment for the children to get a solid foundation and proper samskaras. The flowers they blossom into, we have no control over. That is determined by their prarabdha. Still, here are a few things that we found helpful: Eat dinner together, do prayers together every day and speak in your ancestral language at home, no excuses and no exceptions. Visit the temples, travel together and teach the children the authentic history of Hindu civilization not the distorted version taught through current text books in schools. They should study and digest their historical texts Ramayana and Mahabharata. And finally, enroll your children in Bal Vihars, Hindu Heritage Camps, Indian classical dance, classical music (vocal and/or instrumental). The Boston area is blessed with an abundance of these resources.
Encourage them to be open, fearless, bold and assertive Hindus. America is full of people who value innovation and passion coupled with boldness and steadfastness. Teach them to take all the setbacks and negative feedback with a smile and persevere on. And teach them how to strike a balance between individuality and team play; between academic, personal achievements and service to the community. Both are important and both are valued in America.
Any special message for our readers?
Ours is a spiritual culture of respect, self-discipline and acceptance. At the Bal Vihar we instruct students to take off their shoes and refrain from talking to each other while the teacher is talking. We ask them to put the chairs back and arrange the room, fold their mats and put them away in neat piles. We do the same in the camp or at any meeting, “leave it better than we got it” – cultivating the ability to respect. Leave everything a little better than you found it.
Initially they may think that it is a waste of time and suggest hiring people to clean up, later they realize that when they do this, they are respecting not only the chair but the person who will sit on it next. When we care for the next person we feel valuable to others and become part of a community. We feel that we have left the world a better place than we found it. We do not respect because we will get something in return but because it helps us grow. Eventually we respect for no reason but just because that is who we are – Hindus.
We brought with us to this land, our value system, our family structure and our spiritual life style. These are the only treasures that our Rishis gave us to live by and to share with others leaving the world a better place than we found it.