My visit to Oxford
Saturday, 10 May 2003
by Bhavit Mehta
I thought I would share with you my feelings and experience from my recent visit to the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.
The few days leading up to the trip were pretty hectic at work and with my studies. A coach had not been confirmed for Saturday (which was partly my fault) and hence I could not inform many people about the day trip. When the coach was finally confirmed, I spent many hours phoning around asking friends if they would be interested in joining the ëyatra' to Oxford! Unfortunately most (in fact ALL) had other commitmentsÖquite understandably.
In the end the coach passengers consisted of a small group of youth from the ISSO Swaminarayan, Streatham Temple (Nilkanth and crew) and a large group from the Anoopam Mission (Bhavisha and crew). I was a bit curious as to how the two groups would interact, as it was (as far as I knew) the first time these two youth groups had met.
The journey up to Oxford (which started late- surprise, surprise!) was a good opportunity for me to meet some of the Anoopam Mission youths. I had heard of the organization, which is based near Uxbridge on the A40, but was not aware of its history, aims, mission, etc. It was wonderful hearing about the organisation's background and spiritual beliefs from the dynamic group of youngsters on the coach. I became quite inspired!
When we finally arrived at the Centre in Oxford, we were welcomed very hospitably by Shaunakaji and some of the students. For me it is always a pleasure to meet the students, especially young Ravi Gupta. Talking to him for 5 minutes leaves you amazed and inspired. The group of 20 odd people then assembled in the library and began to hear about the Centre's history and activities. Shaunakaji spoke with his usual wit and Irish humour, and Ravi spoke from a personal perspective. Other students also gave their comments. As the group was mainly composed of Swaminarayan devotees, Shaunakaji spoke in detail about the Shikshapatri Digitalization project and its importance. The audience was enthralled and asked many (sometimes difficult) questions.
We learnt about the recent developments in producing a translation of the Shikshapatri, which would take into account all the translations and commentaries written by the various Swaminarayan groups in the UK. I also learnt about the difficulties and the successes in undertaking this task.
Each time I visit the Centre, I become more and more aware of the need for good academic scholars in Hinduism or Hindu scholars of Hinduism. In a recent article in Hinduism Today, I read about a study conducted in the USA in which they found that 100% of the scholars of Jewish studies are Jews, 90 % of the scholars of Christian studies are Christians, and over 70 % of the scholars of Buddhist studies are practising Buddhists. However, less than 20 % of Hinduism scholars are practicing Hindus. Quite a statistic!
Anyway- back to my story! The discussion was followed by lovely prashadam, which provided a very good opportunity for all to mingle and talk about what they had just heard. Now came the best part- the journey home!
The ISSO and Anoopam Mission youths spent the 90 minutes singing (bhajan-kirtan antakshari followed by Bollywood!), joking, laughing, and sharing views and ideas. It was great. When we dropped off our friends at the Anoopam Mission Centre, they insisted that the rest of us come in for 5 minutes and take darshan of the wonderful murtis in the temple. They were truly wonderful. The atmosphere, the calmness, the vibe of the centre was beautiful.
The day went well (better than I expected). I learnt a lot and went home feeling very fired up and inspired. The spirit of spiritual youth can be used in such a positive way. Hindu Youth UK has achieved much in two years, but there is more work for us to do, and many many more dynamic spirits to reach out to. I met a group of 20 on Saturday. I look forward to meeting more next time!