Several ISKCON devotees contributed to the Parliament of the World’s Religions – the largest interfaith gathering in the world – this year, with kirtan, japa, and an introduction to the Bhakti philosophy.
The first Parliament was held in 1893 and is recognized as the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide. It wasn’t held again until one hundred years later in 1993, but has been held every five years since then.
This year’s Parliament, which ran from October 15th to 19th at the Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, drew somewhere between eight and ten thousand people from eighty nations and fifty different faiths. It was so successful that outgoing chairman Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid announced it would be held every two years from now on.
Major speakers included interfaith scholar Dr. Karen Armstrong, professor of contemporary Islamic studies Dr. Tariq Ramadan, United States Ambassador for International Religious FreedomRabbi David Saperstein, and conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall.
ISKCON GBC member and Communications Director Anuttama Das, meanwhile, spoke on a panel about Hinduism and Humanitarian Service. As a Vaishnava, he was the only panel member not from an impersonalist school.
“I talked about our Hare Krishna Food Relief programs being the largest vegetarian food relief program in the world, including the Annamrita program in India which feeds 1.2 million children a day,” he says. “I also spoke about our eco farms, like our Govardhana eco-village North of Mumbai, and our hospitals such as Bhaktivedanta Hospital.”
“Finally,” he adds, “I mentioned that ultimately our focus is on the spiritual benefit of all people, and that’s why we published and distributed 512 million books in the last fifty years.”
Devotees chant onstage at the Parliament
Anuttama also participated on a panel about Abuse within Religious and Spiritual Communities. He talked about the need for spiritual leaders to be transparent and accountable, and about what practical steps organizations, communities, members, and leaders can take to ensure healthy social dynamics and interpersonal care.
(Click here to watch Anuttama's presentation: http://iskconnews.org/video/anuttama-das-michael-langone-at-parliament-of-world-religions,999/#.VlG1xoTEPzI)
Other speakers included scholar Radhika Ramana Das (Ravi Gupta), who gave a presention on “Creation and Chaos” according to the Upanishads, and family team Lokadhyaksha Das, Vidarbha Dasi, and their son Nimai from Baltimore, Maryland.
Vidarbha Dasi participated in a panel on Remembering the Divine, with members of different faiths talking about how they remember God in their practice.
“I talked about how our remembrance is mainly based on the chanting of the Holy Name, and recited the first verse of the Siksastakam, which lists the benefits of chanting,” she says. “I mentioned that we must develop the qualities of humility and tolerance to approach this meditation, and that its purpose is to develop a loving relationship with God.”
Other faith representatives on the panel also prioritized chanting the Holy Name of God, with the Sikh representative speaking about chanting Sat Nam, or “True Name,” and the Muslim about chanting the 99 names of Allah.
“It was very nice,” says Vidarbha. “It felt like there was a lot of connection, and that we were all speaking the same language – our meditation processes sounded very similar.”
Vidarbha’s son Nimai, 16, who writes for the interfaith online teen magazine Kids Spirit, also participated, speaking at a Kids Spirit panel. Discussing how religious practice came naturally to him growing up as a Vaishnava, he talked about how his faith was enriched by writing about it in the magazine, and also by bringing it into conversation with other traditions.
A highlight of ISKCON devotees’ contribution to the Parliament was the Bhakti Experience hour from 7 to 8 every morning. It was led by Radhika Ramana on the first day, and by Anuttama, Spanish Fork temple president Charu Das and Lokadhyaksha Das on the following days. It drew between 25 and 50 people every day, and included kirtan and japa meditation, along with readings from Srila Prabhupada’s writings.
“People were very enthusiastic to chant, and asked a lot of deep questions,” says Lokadhyaksa.
Meanwhile Charu and a group of twenty devotees from the Spanish Fork and Salt Lake City temples were invited to sing kirtan in the main hall during lunch hour on Friday. They were joined by three Jewish rabbis, and alternated between chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, and chanting Hebrew names for God. Then on Monday, local band Ananda Groove, a mainstay at the Utah Festival of Colors, performed a Mantra Rock kirtan in the main concourse. On both days, hundreds of people danced and chanted along with the devotees.
“One 85-year old Jewish lady even got out of her wheelchair and was dancing for ten minutes,” says Charu. “I think everybody received the kirtan as an extremely refreshing component of the Parliament.”
Devotee participants felt it was important for ISKCON to have a presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and also for them to see the work of different faith traditions.
“It was nice just to experience and appreciate how God is being worshipped in so many different ways – every tradition seems to have some unique, special richness,” says Vidarbha.
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