The Atharva Veda, one of the sacred texts of Hinduism, says: “Let there be peace in the heavens, the Earth, the atmosphere, the water, the herbs, the vegetation, among the divine beings and in Brahman, the absolute reality. Let everything be at peace and in peace. Only then will we find peace.”
What would it mean to put sacred calls like these into action?
That is the question that our group – Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus – is seeking to answer. We are an all-volunteer group of New York-based Hindus who first came together in 2011. Our purpose is to bring a progressive Hindu voice into the public discourse, and to live out the social justice principles at the heart of Hinduism.
One such principle is ahimsa, which forbids violence against all beings, so that we can realize our connection to each other and nature. Through our grassroots green project, Project Prithvi, we mobilize Hindus, especially the youth, to live out the principle of ahimsa by taking care of the environment.
Currently, we are working on a project to clean up specific beaches in Jamaica Bay where Hindus worship, leaving mountains of the most gorgeous litter one ever saw. We have been aware for some time about efforts in the local Indo-Caribbean Hindu community to address the growing problem of litter left behind when Hindus worship at the local beaches. The efforts of Hindu leaders to address this problem have been covered in the media in recent years, but the beaches are as littered as ever.
Rivers and oceans are considered sacred by Hindus, as are trees, all life forms, and the Earth herself. Prithvi Maa and Bhumi Devi are names for Goddess Earth. Many rituals in this community require making an offering to the water, and Indo-Caribbean Hindus don’t feel that their worship is complete without the offering being made.
This month, Sadhana signed a volunteer agreement with Gateway National Recreation Area, the park that is responsible for these beaches. As part of the volunteer agreement, we have formally adopted the beach at North Channel Bridge.
Our commitment is as follows:
- We will rally the religious community leaders who have already made efforts to keep the beaches clean and work with them to build dialogue in the community about how to address this problem.
- We will bring priests into this effort so that they can encourage greener rituals and raise awareness of the problem. We hope that priests will help us make the point that since our Hindu texts describe the earth and the water as Goddesses, it does not honor them to pollute and destroy them.
- Every first Sunday of the month starting in April, from 1 – 4 pm, volunteers will help clean the beach at North Channel Bridge. Please email us here if you would like to be a part of this Seva (service) activity. Gateway has promised to provide exciting incentives for our volunteers, like kayaking and hiking adventures right after the cleanups.
Gateway and Sadhana are jointly organizing a launch event for our partnership on April 6, at the North Channel Bridge Beach at 1 pm. There will be food and music, a Hindu dance performance, and of course a beach cleanup. Please join us!
The pictures below are from Sadhana’s beach cleanup efforts in 2013. Sadhana’s Project Prithvi is supported with a small grant from Citizens Committee for NYC.
Sunita Viswanath is a founding member of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus in New York City.