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When our son Nayan was 9 years old, he joined the local cub scout troop in Michigan. The other children in the troop were planning to work towards their respective religious awards. He asked if he could work towards a Hindu award, and we agreed. However, we soon found out that there was no Hindu award available at the time for boy scouts to work towards. This was in 1983.
I talked to the then relationships director, Josef Kessler at the Boy Scouts headquarters in Texas. He told me that there were so many sectarian groups within Hinduism that it was not possible to recognize all of them. He told me that they would however consider recognizing an award, if a non-sectarian Hindu organization proposed it. Much to my disappointment, I could not find any non-sectarian Hindu organization.
As I was venting my frustration about not being able to get a Hindu award program going for my son, Mr. Kessler told me, “Doc, if you really want something done, you will have to do it yourself. Start a non-profit Hindu organization, develop a dharma religious award program for the cub scouts, and we will approve it and your son can have the Hindu award badge.” With that statement, Kessler taught me my first lesson in the relationship between dharma (righteous path) and karma (a Hindu belief which explains causality through actions where beneficial effects are derived from past good acts, and harmful effects from previous harmful deeds creating a system of actions and reactions throughout a person’s reincarnated life; it also refers to a path of purposeful action with the goal being to create positive or good karma).
Hindu scriptures devote considerable time explaining the relationship between dharma and karma. It is not uncommon for seers to devote several days in discourse discussing the topic in detail. The relationship between karma and dharma has many implications for our daily lives regardless of our profession, age, position within family, or wealth. Whereas dharma is one of the four major canons (the other three being artha, kaama, and moksha) of Hinduism, karma or purposeful action is the means to fulfill them. In the Bhagavad Geeta, (Chapter 3), Lord Krishna tells the Pandava prince Arjun that it is his dharma to do karma. I was about to start doing karma to follow my dharma.
Besides a lifelong interest in Hinduism and a passing knowledge of Sanskrit, I did not have any special skills to lay down the framework for a Hindu dharma award for Boy Scouts to earn. Also, the work needed to be completed in a few months to get formal approval. I decided to find out about what other religious groups did to help Scouts earn scouting medals. I wrote to other religious groups that awarded scout badges to send their workbooks, manuals, and pamphlets. This served as the skeletal basis for developing the Hindu award.
Meanwhile, I formed a non-profit, non-sectarian organization and named it the North American HinduAssociation. After spending weeks working on a draft of the scouting workbook in the library at Wayne State University where I was an associate professor of Pharmacy, I submitted the first draft of the dharma award booklet to Boy Scouts of America for their approval. After some revisions, the award was officially approved for presenting to Boy Scouts on October 4, 1983. My son received the first dharma award on May 1, 1984. Soon after, the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. approved the workbook as well.
Over the years, Scouts from all over America have sent in for their workbooks and earned the dharma awards. Parents constantly wrote to us to have some program available for them so that they could teach their older children more effectively. In June 2001, the new Karma program was approved for older children and adults. To earn the dharma award, the student needs to complete a set of steps and record their progress in a workbook along with the help of a parent mentor. The steps to complete to earn this award can be as simple as reading a story that illustrates the concept of dharma, to recording good and bad karmas or actions for one week in a logbook. The karma awards program is suitable for young adults in high school or college. The requirements to earn a karma award are more demanding. Reading a Hindu scripture of choice, understanding Sanskrit prayers, and observing religious rituals in a temple with the goal of understanding the rationale for the way they are performed are some of the steps that one has to take to earn the karma award.
Interest in Hinduism is perhaps at an all-time high in the United States. Words such as dharma and karma have infiltrated into American dictionaries, newspaper commentaries, political speeches, and even comic strips. Dharma, a Sanskrit word with multiple meanings is our sense of responsibility and righteousness to not only ourselves but to others as well. Karma, any action that we do or not do, is what is necessary to fulfill our dharma. Our scriptures extol us to do our karma without any desire for the fruits thereof. (Bhagavad Geeta 2:47) With the Dharma and Karma awards I certainly hope that I have done just that.
Today, after more than 25 years of its existence, the North American Hindu Association has awarded hundreds of Dharma and Karma awards to children, both Scouts and non-scouts all over the world and I hope that it will continue to do so for many more years to come.
Dr. Bhupendra R. Hajratwala lives with his wife in Pleasanton, California. He has recently coauthored a book, “Our Kshatriya Samskara—1: Simant” and completed a contemporary translation and commentary on Eeshopanishad. He also conducts readings on the Hindu scriptures. To find out more about the Dharma and Karma awards: (925) 846-3811 firstname.lastname@example.org www.naha.us
This is part of an ongoing series of articles on spiritual experiences submitted by readers. If you would like to submit an article, please contact Nirupama at email@example.com