On September 5, 2017, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj met with former President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. The meeting was arranged as part of Mahant Swami Maharaj’s efforts in North America to share universal Hindu messages and foster public dialogue on service and the importance of unity in our communities and in our nation. Joining His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj and President Obama were Pujya Ishwarcharandas Swami and Pujya Viratswarupdas Swami from BAPS as well as Ben Rhodes from the Obama Foundation.
Mahant Swami Maharaj presented President Obama with a garland as part of a traditional Hindu greeting as well as an Amrut Kalash symbolizing ultimate victory of good over evil even in difficult times. Mahant Swami Maharaj also gifted President Obama a sanctified mala (Hindu prayer beads) and a copy of Transcendence, a book written by former Indian President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam about his spiritual experiences with Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
The two leaders discussed the role of BAPS mandirs in communities around the United States and the world. President Obama appreciated how BAPS mandirs have served as houses of worship but also community centers catering to society’s diverse social and humanitarian needs. In particular, President Obama took note of the vibrant children and youth programs that take place in BAPS mandirs. Mahant Swami Maharaj was also pleased to learn that one of President Obama’s priorities in his post-presidency is preparing the next generation of leaders. The two leaders then discussed how they could work collaboratively on this key effort in preparing the next generation of public servants.
With reference to the Indian American community, President Obama spoke about how, like in other immigrant communities, the second generation often engages more fully in civic life, making America theirs. The two leaders agreed that more needed to be done to encourage young South Asians to pursue careers in public service. Mahant Swami Maharaj and President Obama both spoke about how encouraging service requires encouraging individuals to see goodness in one another. Mahant Swami Maharaj specifically explained the Hindu principle that each individual soul is divine, and so service of each individual is a selfless act of devotion.
Mahant Swami Maharaj took time to specifically praise President Obama when he learned that President Obama had set aside time, even as President, to have dinner with his family five nights a week. Mahant Swami Maharaj greatly values unity in all of the building blocks of society, including families. Mahant Swami Maharaj was also touched by President Obama’s humility, sharing with the President a verse from a John Bunyan poem, “He that is down, need fear no fall. He that is low, no pride. He that is humble ever shall have God to be his guide.” Mahant Swami Maharaj noted that he saw this humility in President Obama, remarking how it has been noted that the President took the time to look after and care for his staff while in office. As Mahant Swami Maharaj was departing, President Obama respectfully bid him farewell with the greeting: “Jay Swaminarayan.”