Born in a Hindu family in the city of Chennai, South India, Karthik Raghavan grew up religious and from a very young age, participated in Hindu rituals, celebrating religious festivals and going regularly, at least once a week, to the temple, to chant, pray and meditate.
“I was also vegetarian,” he says. “It was the way to be and almost second nature. I never questioned it and just followed by example.”
Raghavan was also from the beginning, and throughout his life, guided by the moral duties of the Sanatana Dharma (or Eternal Duty), also called Hinduism, a code of ethics incumbent upon all Hindus, regardless of class, caste, or sect, and which, when closely followed, would allow one to reach enlightenment and liberation (moksha).
In school and through a moral sciences class, Raghavan was taught virtues and was exposed to other religions, learning their creeds and their prayers. For college, he left his birth city and went North, to attend an engineering school near New Delhi. There he befriended many Sikh students, accompanied them often to their temple, and found commonality with their faith.
Even though aware of social injustices all along, he had not been actively engaged until then. This was, however, bound to change.
“While in college, our Indian prime minister was assassinated by her Sikh body guards, and full scale riots ensued targeting the Sikhs,” he says. “I had to protect my friends and hide them from the mob; this could have been me.”
Raghavan also ran for the student government; and protested cheating on campus by a hunger strike and by working at changing the college rules.
In 1987, at the age of 21, he enrolled at the University of Missouri, in Rolla, to pursue a Master’s degree, then a PhD degree, in chemical engineering. This was his 1st exposure to the US, where he has been living since, save for a 4 years hiatus, back to India, to take over his father’s firm. His 6 years in Rolla were mostly devoted to studying, but also punctuated by social services to the community, mainly during the holidays, gathering clothes and food for the homeless and the underserved; also providing help and guidance to newcomer students on campus.
Late 1990’s Raghavan moved to the Cincinnati/Dayton area for professional reasons and got married around the same time. His wife and her parents were followers in India of Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian guru and philanthropist who passed for being the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, himself an Indian spiritual master of the early 20th century, regarded by his devotees as the true guru, a saint and an incarnation of God. Introduced to the spiritual teachings of Sathya Sai Baba, Raghavan was quickly taken by their wisdom, their focus on love and on self-realization, and saw them as complementing his Hindu faith; he quickly became one of his fervent followers.
“Sathya Sai Baba wants each of us to recognize the divinity inherent in us,” says Raghavan, “to emphasize and experience the One in all we do or speak, and this principally through Love. He said: ‘Love All; Serve All. There is only one caste, the caste of humanity. There is only one religion, the religion of love. There is only one language, the language of the heart.'”
In fact, in his teachings, Sathya Sai Baba always stressed the unimportance of a differing religion, sect, status or color, the main goal being to help each individual be the best he could be, in harmony with God.
“Following Sathya Sai Baba actually helps me be a better Hindu,” says Raghavan. “He gives me rules of conduct to live well my life; he guides me; he gives me the tool.”
In Mason, north of Cincinnati, where he and his family currently live, Raghavan joined the Sathya Sai Baba Center (SSBC) of Cincinnati-Dayton located there and recently became its president.
All like Sathya Sai Baba who through his life stressed devotion through prayers; education through his teachings, writings and the many schools he founded; and service through the many free hospitals he started and the programs of free water distribution he established; the SSBC has also created 3 wings along the same lines. Raghavan in his position of president oversees them and helps coordinating them, and also as a member participates actively in each of them.
At SSBC Devotion is achieved every Sunday by unison group singing and chanting in many languages and of prayers of many religions (bhajans), also by individual prayer and meditation.
Education which focuses on values is achieved by different means. Classes are offered every Sunday of the school year to kids of different grades. They emphasize the universal human values of Truth (Sathya); Righteousness (Dharma); Peace (Shanthi); Love (Prema) and Nonviolence (Ahimsa), essential for leading moral lives. They are taught by parents who would have undergone themselves specific training for that matter. Study Circles also occur every Sunday during which spiritual writings and topics are discussed by a group of adults who will also examine their effective application to their daily life.
“We are now discussing the topic of mindfulness,” says Raghavan, “also finding ways on how to practice it in our lives. We will evaluate ourselves and our efforts afterwards.”
Speakers and lecturers are also frequently invited to come to SSBC to instruct and enlighten the community on various topics pertaining to spirituality and religion.
The Services to the community that Raghavan facilitates and in which he and his family participate are numerous. They include: providing food, cooking and serving dinner and lunch several times a month at 3 shelters in both Cincinnati and Dayton (the David & Rebecca Barron Center for Men, formerly Drop Inn Center; the Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women; the St Vincent de Paul Gateway Shelter for Womens & Families); participating in medical camps and health centers in the area, providing medical manpower, and helping in any task needed; singing, playing music and reading stories to the elderly residents of Mason Health Center.
Raghavan and members of the Center also lend their hand to Christmas in April, a program similar to the one Habitat for Humanity organizes. They help fixing houses, painting, cleaning, doing yard and landscape work.
To strengthen interfaith exchange, collaboration, and to promote unity in diversity, SSBC also celebrates the holidays of the various religions (Christmas, Ramadan, Hannukah,…) by special gatherings and events.
Raghavan would like to have a Walk for Values started in Cincinnati. He would see it as a culmination of many other widespread activities throughout the year, focused on moral values, peace and justice.
Spirituality is an important part of Raghavan’s daily routine. He always aspires to be mindful of his thoughts, words and deeds so that they are in sync with each other. His goal is to self-realize himself and serve his community. For him religion implies that: eternal duty to himself, to his family and to society.
“By serving others, I am serving God,” he says. “Love is responsible for everything. It is the only way to self-realize oneself and the God who is in each of us.”
What Is HINDUISM Hinduism is one of the oldest known organized religions; its sacred writings date as far back as 1400 to 1500 B.C. It is also one of the most diverse and complex, having millions of gods. Hindus have a wide variety of core beliefs and exist in many different sects. Although the third largest religion in the world, with over 1 billion followers, Hinduism exists primarily in India and Nepal. The main texts of Hinduism include the Vedas which contain hymns, incantations, philosophies, rituals, poems, and stories from which Hindus base their beliefs. Even though Hinduism is considered polytheistic, it has one “god” that is supreme—Brahman, believed to inhabit every portion of reality and existence throughout the entire universe. Brahman is both impersonal and unknowable and exists in three separate forms: Brahma—Creator; Vishnu—Preserver; and Shiva—Destroyer. There are many schools of Hinduism and "Hindus" are very diverse. To be Hindu one has to recognize the Vedas as sacred. The Vedas are “theo-mythology” books deeply rooted in India's history and culture and a Hindu has to embrace to some extent the Indian culture.
Religious Peacemakers is a regular column published in Streetvibes; it highlights Greater Cincinnati individuals who use their faith and religious beliefs for peace and justice and for a better world.
It is authored by Saad Ghosn, founder and president of SOS (Save Our Souls) ART.
December 19, 2017 at 6:25 am
“… the unimportance of a differing religion, sect, status or color, the main goal being to help each individual be the best he could be…”: that is quite powerful and the day all religions practice this and only this, it will be heaven on earth.
Dear Saad, you have a fascinating body of work here, uncovering all the beautiful aspects of different religions, long enough to wet our appetite yet short enough to capture our attention. I really hope to see a book out of this, and in case you do, please keep us posted. Bravo!
December 19, 2017 at 11:26 am
thank you PC for your kind and uplifting remarks!!!! yes the beautiful essence of all religions is always corrupted by we humans who use them for our own interests, greed and control… but luckily there are still people like those featured in this column who live what religion really is… they are and should be inspirational to all of us.