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Hindu Catholic Relations Promoted at Washington, D.C. Event

By: for ISKCON News on June 4, 2015
Photo Credits: Vivek Gupta Photography

Participants from the Hindu-Catholic dialogue held at the Durga Temple outside of Washington, D.C. on May 23rd

--ISKCON Leader Shares Remarks at Historic Dialogue

Washington, D.C.—For followers of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, 1965 holds particular significance. It was in August 1965 that Srila Prabhupada, under the order of his guru Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami, departed from India and travelled to the United States where he would begin his global movement, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). 

For members of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest of Christian communities in the world, 1965 also holds great historical importance. It was in 1965, after three years of meetings among more than 2,000 Church bishops and other leaders, that the well-known Vatican II Council released its final documents on reform and renewal within the Church.

These historic discussions reexamined many core practices and teachings in the Church. Decisions made at Vatican II impacted the life and worship of all Catholics—including the provision to use local languages in place of Latin in Church services and repositioning the priest during church services so that he would look towards the congregation and not, as previously, towards the altar and away from the congregation. 

Most significantly for ISKCON members perhaps, Vatican II redefined how the Catholic Church sees and engages with the non-Catholic religious traditions.

Thus, it was appropriate that ISKCON representatives took part in a series of events hosted by Catholic organizations in Washington, D.C. from May 19-24 celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II.  

“As a global religious community ISKCON interacts with Catholic leaders and congregations in dozens of countries,” said Anuttama Dasa, ISKCON’s Minister of Communications. “It is due to Vatican II that in most areas of the world, Catholic leaders are open to friendship with ISKCON members, and value the contributions we make.”

Anuttama Dasa, Minister of ISKCON Communications, joined Catholic dignitaries from the Vatican at the first Hindu-Catholic dialogue in the United States

Nostra Aetate, which literally means, “In Our Time,” is the Vatican II document that specifically deals with other religions.  The second paragraph of Nostra Aetate states the Church’s official thoughts on Hinduism. (As a Vaishnava sampradaya, or discipline, ISKCON is part of the broader Hindu family of faith traditions.) The Church states:

“In Hinduism men and women contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiries. They seek freedom from the anguishes of our human condition either through ascetical practices or through profound meditation or [in a clear reference to the bhakti, devotional traditions] through a flight to God with love and trust….”

In a phrase that drew much attention and analysis during the Washington events, Nostra Aetate states further:

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of acting and of living, those precepts and teaching which, though differing in many aspects from the one she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all….” 

“Many ISKCON devotees only have experience with Christians who advocate that their religion is the only authentic religion,” said Anuttama Dasa. “But, that is not the way educated Catholics look at religious diversity. Based on Vatican II, there is much opportunity for fruitful cooperation and dialogue with our Catholic counterparts,” he said. 

The D.C. events were centered at Catholic University of America and Georgetown University. Both are highly respected Catholic affiliated institutions. Hundreds of scholars, theologians, church leaders as well as representatives from Jewish, Muslim, Jain and Hindu communities shared in the discussion of the Vatican II documents, and in their impact on the Catholic Church and interfaith relations around the world. 

In addition to the major academic events, special bi-lateral dialogues were held between Catholic leaders and representatives of other religions. Anuttama Dasa, representing ISKCON, was chosen to be a speaker at the formal Hindu-Catholic Dialogue—the first ever held in the United States.

That event drew more than 100 participants and included Vatican, national and local Catholic leaders. It was held at the Durga Temple in suburban Washington, D.C., and was followed by a one-hour private meeting between Catholic and Hindu leaders wherein shared concerns about religious liberty, education, and other social concerns were addressed. The Durga Temple, one of a dozen or so Hindu Temples in the D.C. area, is part of the United Hindu Jain Temple Association to which ISKCON belongs.

During the two-hour official presentation, Anuttama Dasa was seated next to a senior Catholic Cardinal who was Rome’s special emissary for the event, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and was chosen to make the historic public announcement when Pope Francis was elected in 2013.   

Approximately 150 local dignitaries and other community leaders participated in the four-hour event promoting better Hindu and Catholic relations

The event was further testament to the opportunity for ISKCON members to become involved in interfaith dialogue, and to contribute to efforts to promote better understanding and cooperation between the world’s great religious communities. 

Below are Anuttama Dasa’s remarks:

“Esteemed Guests and Friends, 

Hare Krishna. 

I speak today as a Vaishnava Hindu, and a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, ISKCON, with its 500 temples in North and South America, Europe, Africa, India, Russia and beyond. I hope to share brief insights from the broader Vaishnava community---a devotional, theistic tradition exemplified by Madhavacharya, Ramanujacharya, and Sri Caitanya.

I have been personally involved in Hindu-Christian dialogue for twenty years. I have found it to be informative, transformative and a dire necessity in today’s conflicted world.  There are some in our broader Hindu, and perhaps Christian, communities who say we should not be speaking to each other here today. Isn’t it strange when some object to men and women of faith sitting together to seek understanding, friendship, hope, and perhaps, that most rare of virtues, forgiveness? 

To those who may raise such objections, I say with deep personal, theological and institutional conviction: I welcome this dialogue. ISKCON is proud to be part of it and we look forward to many, many more opportunities to dialogue with our Catholic friends.

In January of this year, in Tirupati India, twenty Christians and Vaishnavas sat together for three days to discuss “Theological Foundations for Dialogue” and “Love of God.” It was the first formal dialogue between Christians and Vaishnavas in India. We were honored that several prominent Catholic leaders graced that event, some of whom are here today.

The spirit of that meeting, as I pray this meeting, was to build trust based on mutual respect and our shared quest to understand, know, serve, and love the Divine.

I’ll share with you an image I carry from that Tirupati meeting.  On the second day, Parijata dasi, a 35 year-old Indian woman who heads ISKCON’s Office of Communications in Mumbai, spoke up to offer her gratitude to the Catholics present.

She said, ‘I want to thank the Catholic community for my education. I went to a Convent school for my entire education, and I believe the moral and other training they provided laid the foundation for my commitment to my Vaishnava Hindu faith.’ When she finished a male Vaishnava priest and then an ISKCON Swami, or renunciate, spoke up. Both are full time preachers and teachers in ISKCON. They revealed the same Catholic educational background. Both offered their thanks. 

I offer this as evidence that our two communities can and do live in mutual respect, service, and support of each other. And much more can be achieved through dialogue such as we begin here today.  All that is required is humility, respect, a willingness to listen, a willingness to learn, and a willingness to grow. 

I’ll end with a quote from a great guru in my sampradaya, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, who lived and wrote in the late 19th Century, a time of social, political, and religious unrest in Bengal and all of India.

He wrote that when encountering the religious faith of another, and in particular when visiting a place of worship different than our own, our meditation should be as follows:

When we have the occasion to be present at the place of worship of other religionists at the time of their worship, we should stay there in a respectful mood, contemplating thus: 'Here is being worshipped my adorable highest entity, God in a different form than that of mine. Due to my practice of a different kind, I cannot thoroughly comprehend this system of theirs. But seeing it, I am feeling a greater attachment for my own system. I bow down with prostration before His emblem as I see here and I offer my prayer to my Lord who has adopted this different emblem that he may increase my love towards Him….'

I offer this thought as both a prayer and a hope that a similar mood of appreciation and humility—knowing that God is in the heart of all, that God is calling all, that God loves all—can permeate our dialogues, and perhaps someday, the world.

Thank you.

Hare Krishna.”

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