State of the Church 2008

The Annual State of the Church talk is given and includes progress and updates on the following topics: What is Hinduism seminars, Premonastics, You Tube and Websites, Digital Innovations, Publications, Innersearch and Retreats, Travel, Iraivan Temple and Himalayan Acres.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone.

This morning we have what's called "The State of the Church Talk." So this is a tradition started by Gurudeva that, every year close to the New Year, he would talk about some of the major activities he saw coming up in our organization and share them with members and students. So they had an idea of the overview of what we were doing. So, I wasn't here right at the, right at the New Year April 13th, so it's two weeks late. Better late then never. And so it covers the year in the panchangam which is mid April to mid April. Not the Western year. So therefore our new year started about two weeks a go and we were in Mauritius; went there to spend time with the members and students. And then we tagged on a few days at the end for a visit to South Africa which was very interesting.

So in Mauritius we were able to present the keynote which is the Mac version of power point. Half day seminar on "What is Hinduism" Session Two, to over 350 attendees at the Vivekananda International Conference Center. Very nice modern conference facility built in Mauritius by the government of India. Government of India occasionally builds things for the country of Mauritius. So that's one of them. So that went very well and everyone was very impressed with the huge screen and it's first time we've really had such a big screen in such a modern facility. And also the first time we had our keynote with a new version in which the photos move. So, the photos would move left to right, they get bigger and smaller and so forth. So it catches everyone's eye. You know you look out at the audience and everyone's glued to the screen and the moving photos. So, we found that it's very helpful particularly in something that's you know longer than say, an hour and a half, when the attention tends to wane. After about an hour and a half talk you can notice everyone starting to yawn and all. But when you have something up on the screen they don't. It holds their attention and somehow, just able to concentrate for a longer period of time. So it's kind of the new version of what teachers have known all the time; you have to write it on the blackboard. Need a blackboard; write on the blackboard and you'll hold the students' attention.

So also at the Aadheenam we have three premonastics: Rajan, Tandava and Nandi, who are moving forward in their monastic training and have taken the second step which is called becoming a supplicant. And hoping later this year to take the next step of becoming a postulant or a sadhaka. So we're giving them some training.

An area that moved ahead more quickly than anticipated is putting videos on to You Tube. So I remember last year telling some of the devotees in Southern California: "Oh, sometime next year we'll manage to get a few videos onto You Tube" but actually started last year. And we've launched three You Tube channels, for those of you who don't know: one's for the monastery, the second one's for Hinduism Today and a third one is for Hindu Heritage Endowment.

So a few of the videos are quite popular at least in our concept of popularity for a Hindu group. We have one on the Guru Parampara Lineage and the Kadavul Lingam Abhishekam. Each of them has been viewed over 2,500 times. And our most popular video is on Thai Pusam, Malaysia: Part One of three which has about 11,000 views for Thai Pusam. And we're working on what are called book ends which have nothing to do with books, right. Such is language. I think they call them video ends. But a book end is what's at the beginning and the end of a video. So if you've watched things on Apple TV or on You Tube, something like National Geographic has a fifteen second opening that's the same on every single National Geographic video. So we're creating three sets of those, one for each of the channels. It's being done by a professional in Southern California. He's finished the first one for the monastery and we're starting to get it onto the web site soon and should have the one for Hinduism Today done in the near future.

So also in the digital area, we're undergoing a major redesign of our Hinduism Today and Hindu Heritage web sites with the help of a professional. And the sites, as you know, were designed many years ago and lots of features have developed on the web that we don't include. And ease of use aspects as well. So, we're updating them to include the new features and make them more user friendly. We've got lots of great information but it's a bit hard to find. Have to be really dedicated, particularly in Hinduism Today site, to find things. So that should be, the Hinduism Today should be launched in the couple of months and then we'll move on to the Hindu Heritage Endowment.

One of the things we're hoping for, for Hindu Heritage Endowment, is to get a way where our volunteers, our sevaks or karma yogis can upload information directly on various activities such as we have the Thirunavukkarasunayanar in our Guru Kulam in Batticaloa for example. Has lots of great activities on a regular basis but they never end up on the web site. So, we want to create a way, whereby, not the monks but rather our volunteers, can upload regularly. They choose an activity such as that orphanage that they want to be the newsperson for and then they regularly upload the photographs and the news items and that way keeps the web site updated without giving the monks more work to do. And there's lots of quite interesting web sites. Siva Poomi a web site would be, I mean Siva Poomi activity in Jaffna would be very interesting if we got those photos on the web site as well. So that's the kind of upgrade we're hoping to achieve in the Hinduism, Hindu Heritage Endowment area. So we find a way to get all this news on, on a fairly current basis.

So also in the Digital world we have done something that we have been wanting to do for a while. We have in the Master Course area Gurudeva's Trilogy study, Dancing, Living and Merging with Siva, we have a study course. And the study course has created a pile of papers for the last few years. They get mailed back and forth sometimes half way around the world and it's created, you know, before the web developed certain ease of use PDF ways of doing things. So you can create a PDF file right on the web and fill it in. So we can send a file to someone and then they can send it back and we don't have to send all this paper work around the world. So that's just started and gets us toward what was supposed to happen years ago. Remember the paperless office? Supposed to happen. Have you ever seen one. So, seems to be coming slowly; we're all attached to paper. But this is one small step toward that.

So, we're, also in the Master Course area, working with having a blog or a web log and also a forum for those involved in the Master Course study. So, it's a way of sharing information and individuals submitting questions and talking to one another; all those who are involved in the Master Course study. So that's getting going this year as well.

In our book publishing area, certainly the major effort is the book we're creating on the stories of the lives of our Guru Parampara. We have up through Yogaswami's life done and of course, subject to final editing. But the editing team has been working on Gurudeva's section. So this is a big task and they're moving forward quite steadily and they're coming across some wonderful documents that we didn't know we had which provide very interesting facts about Gurudeva's life that probably no one knew except Gurudeva. So, some of those will be shared in the book as well. So if all goes well we hope to finish up Gurudeva's section this year which would allow us to print the book next year. And I think it'll be quite popular among those who know of Yogaswami because you don't really find stories about Yogaswami and his guru and his guru so forth, except in verbal form. If you find someone who knows stories they'll tell them to you but they're not written down anywhere. So this will be a great resource for those who are familiar with the Yogaswami tradition or want to pass it on to their children or their grandchildren; be able to give them storybook. So I think it'll be quite effective and quite popular in that regard.

Another very important area we're working on in publications is the India History Lesson Series. We came out with ancient Indian history as an alternative information on Indian History verses the standard U.S. textbooks. U.S. textbooks information on India and on Hinduism is quite poor and flawed. So, we came out with our own lesson which was ancient history. Now we're coming out with Part Two which is what I call medieval history, the middle history. And that's, if all goes well, that's scheduled for the October Issue of Hinduism Today. Get that out and you know, lots of Hindu groups, particularly in the U.S., that are finding this material useful in influencing school boards and teachers in various ways with it. So this will be one more part that they can use to upgrade how Hinduism and India is taught in the public schools.

In the realm of Innersearch and retreat programs, we have a Memorial Day weekend retreat in Northern California that follows the pattern we started last year. It's a three day weekend so having a retreat program on that weekend allows individuals who live in other parts of the U.S. besides California to travel there and have a nice full program because there's one more holiday day. So that's the end of May. Middle of May we have a kumbhabhishekam invitation to the Maha Ganapati Temple in Phoenix. We gave them the Ganesha murthi and have been quite close to that temple since it's beginning. Also after the May retreat we're continuing on to Toronto with stops in Illinois. So visiting the, primarily, the Sri Lankan community there in Toronto at a couple of temples having the special sponsored homa by Kandaswamy Gurukkal at his temple. He wants to do it as a fundraiser for Iraivan Temple. So he's very keen when he comes here and does ceremonies for us you, you know you have to twist his arm just to give him dakshina. He insists on paying his own airfare and everything. You know he's very giving and very supportive priest for Iraivan. He was the one who did first ceremony on top of the foundation; the first laying there of the stones. So we're going there and we have that sponsorship as well as a few talks at temples.

Then in November our other scheduled trip is, have a what we call donor appreciation receptions in Northern and Southern California where we invite everyone who's been contributing to Iraivan Temple or subscribing to Hinduism Today for a while, participating in Innersearch, to come. And we update them with some of our news of what we've been doing for the year as well as share some of our teaching information from the What is Hinduism course.

Then also, we'll be doing: What is Hinduism, Session Three, in September in Singapore and Malaysia and we have an invitation from the Hindu Center in Singapore give a talk, one of the keynote talks, at their thirtieth anniversary conference which is toward the, guess it's right at the end of August. So we're working to see if we can attend that, it would be very nice if we can.

So of course, when it comes to the, it comes to our Aadheenam property here our main activity which has been the main activity, won the main activity award for seven years in a row, is Iraivan Temple. Huge project. And keeping the team of silpis busy is a big job for Yoginathaswami and those in the Siddhidata Kulam, requires a huge amount of support work just to keep them working full speed in terms of: cranes lifting stones and building scaffolding and planning out things. Particularly, since we don't have what's called a supervising silpi. We haven't had one for a number of years so we have to do a little extra work when it comes to measuring and other activities that we wouldn't normally have to do. So I was, I think, yesterday I went out and saw the west side, we finished the three courses on the edge of the roof on the west side and the scaffolding's come done. So if you haven't seen that it's quite beautiful. Very long stretch the three courses on the edge of the roof. Now they've moved over to the other side and will doing the same there. We're also, doing some construction out front; you've seen that on the way in. We call that a minimela, meaning it's where we have our literature and books for sale and certain teaching information is shared there. So, we're moving forward on that finding; we have our building permit, and provide a much bigger space for providing information. Particularly, like on the day where we have tours, we have too many people for the current building. So they can't all fit in and many of them, I think, just give up. And whereas, a new building will allow more people to come in at the same time and look at the books and other items and purchase some.

And we have our 400 acre parcel across the river, which we call Himalayan Acres, which is an agricultural parcel and we're continuing what we've been doing before; we're planting mahogany trees on a large scale. Every year we add a number of acres of mahogany. And this year our noni trees, noni is a fruit that's on the tree, will be fruiting enough to sell the produce. Sell the noni to this, a local noni processor. So it's the first year the noni trees are that mature. We have so much rain here plus we have very poor soil that agricultural activities that work the best are trees. Trees don't seem to mind all our rain and our difficult soil. So various kinds of fruit trees and hardwood trees, coconut trees are what are easy to plant and have grow successfully over there.

So that gives everyone some idea of what we're doing this year. Of course it's not everything but just some of the major activities.

So thank you very much for listening.

Aum Namah Sivaya

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