Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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26th Annual Vaishnava-Christian Dialogue Held in Washington DC
By Thomas Haribol, Managing Editor of ISKCON News   |  Apr 22, 2023

Amidst Potomac, Maryland’s cherry tree blossoms and spring flowers, religious scholars and spiritual practitioners gathered for the 26th Annual Vaishnava-Christian Dialogue on March 14-15th. Attendees include priests, pastors, professors from both the Protestant and Catholic traditions, and leaders and scholars from the Vaishnava tradition. Its founders, Anuttama Dasa, and Rukmini Devi Dasi, hosted the event at the ISKCON of DC Temple. The location rotates between the different traditions hosting the dialogue. Past locations have included retreat centers and a Benedictine Abbey. This was their first in-person meeting since 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The ongoing interfaith initiative gathers every spring around a pre-selected topic of discussion. Past themes have included topics like “The Name of God,” “Incarnation,” “Spiritual Disciplines,” and “Theodicy” (the problem of evil). 2023’s area of focus was “The Art of Spiritual Accompaniment,” inspired by the recent language used by Pope Francis but found (in principle) across religious traditions.

“I find this dialogue to be one of the most enriching things I do all year,” said Anuttama Dasa, ISKCON Minister of Communications. “These are mature people who have dedicated their lives to serving God and seek to live based on deeply held principles. In our polarized world, it’s refreshing to spend time with people who – despite our differences – truly want to learn from and with each other.”

Several scholars offered in-depth presentations, and robust discussions followed. Garuda Das (Dr. Graham Schweig), professor and Director of Studies in Religion at Christopher Newport University, explored the theme of accompaniment as ultimately seen in the Divine, within the human and divine embrace. He further connected the theme to śravaṇam or “hearing,” dharmyam saṁvādam or “the sacred dialogue,” humility and passion, the return embrace of the divine, and embodiment and instrumentality.

Two joint prayer services were also held during the two-day event. Madan-gopala Dasa, NA Co-Director of Communications, led the Vaishnava prayer service, which included readings and bhajans. This was his first time attending the gathering. Speaking of his experience, he said, “The most striking thing about the Vaishnava-Christian dialogue was the immediate feeling that I was joining a circle of close friends who have known each other for over 25 years and have only deepened their mutual appreciation over time.” He continued, “These were accomplished scholars, pastors, and religious leaders who share a deep love for scripture and the need to share the message of divinity with the world. First, Christian scholars discussed the nuances of certain Sanskrit verses and terms from the Bhagavatam. Then I heard Vaishnava scholars quoting from the Bible. I felt that this event represents the maturity of interfaith dialogue with open-hearted spiritual practitioners and scholars of religion.” In addition, the Temple provided attendees with three sumptuous vegetarian (prasada meals).

One Jesuit priest-scholar who has taught Hinduism and Interfaith Dialogue for over four decades and attended this particular dialogue for over 20 years noted that “mature dialogue is about mutual understanding and enrichment.” Another participant commented about the longevity of this dialogue and mentioned that it was because “what we learn enrichens us in our own faith tradition.”

In April 2024, the dialogue will take up the topic of “Loving Your Enemy”. It will be held again in Washington, DC. Madan-gopala Dasa will be offering the Vaishnava presentation for the event. For a comprehensive document on Interfaith Dialogue, see “ISKCON in Relation to People of Faith,” visit here.