On Sunday August 19th, ISKCON Hawaii hosted a special service in honor of the six Sikhs killed and four wounded at a shooting in a Wisconsin Gurdwara on August 5th.
ISKCON has expressed its condolences and support of its brothers and sisters in the Sikh community since the attack.
So when Dr. Raj Kumar—founder of the Gandhi Peace Institute in Hawaii—asked Madana-sundari Dasi, temple president of the ISKCON temple in Honolulu, if she was willing to host a memorial event, she saw a chance to show ISKCON’s support in a practical way.
Around fifty religious leaders, lawmakers and community members attended the interfaith event, held from 5pm to 6pm at the New Navadvipa temple in the Nuuanu section of Honolulu.
Special guests included the State of Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie and his wife Dr. Nancie Caraway, State Senator Pohai Ryan, and Democratic congressional nominee Tulsi Gabbard, who is a Vaishnava.
Also present were Dr. Raj Kumar, Dr. Birendra Huja, leader of the Sikh Association of Hawaii, and Sister Joan Chatfield, a representative of the Interfaith Alliances.
“I first spoke on behalf of the temple, citing ISKCON Communications Director Anuttama Dasa’s official statement,” says Madana-sundari. “In it, he asks our Sikh friends to please know that the communities of faith around the world support them, and stand with them in sadness, hope and prayer.”
From left to right – Dr. Raj Kumar, Governor Neil Abercrombie, Dr. Nancie Caraway, Madana-sundari Dasi
“It is with great sadness that we see the level of violence escalating in the world against religious communities and other innocent persons,” the statement reads.
“We deplore these acts of violence against anyone, regardless of their faith, nationality, ethnicity or other identity.”
Next, after also offering his condolences for the victims of the shooting along with their families, Governor Abercrombie issued a special proclamation he had written for the occasion.
“It is my sincere hope that the strength and resiliency of those within our Sikh community will serve as a shining example to all and that joy and peace will soon return,” he read. “As one who has been inspired by my visits to the Golden Temple in Amritsar and has been the recipient of the warmth and hospitality of the Sikh people, I with the people of the Aloha State, stand united and ready to assist in this difficult time.”
The Governor ended his speech with a quote from the Sikh holy book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which he said serves as a reminder of the obligation we have to serve one another: “The Giver of peace is eternally blissful.”
Dr. Raj Kumar spoke next, stating that the shooting in the house of worship in Wisconsin was not only a hate crime against the Sikh community, but a crime against all religions and humanity.
“Sharing love with everyone and seeing the presence of God in every human being is the best way to live in peace and harmony in the community,” he said.
In her speech, during which she quoted the Vaishnava saint Bhaktivinode Thakura and ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada, Tulsi Gabbard emphasized the need to respect every religion practiced by people living in the same community.
Governor Abercrombie and Honolulu Temple President Madana-sundari Dasi offer respects to one another
Meanwhile, Senator Ryan encouraged people to share love and aloha with everyone and spoke out against those who promote hatred and violence.
With their customary beards and turbans, Sikh men are often confused for Muslims, and have been the targets of hate crimes since the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. In his speech, Dr. Birendra Huja spoke out against this discrimination and lack of education.
“We need to look at people who look different not with fear, but as our own family,” he said. “They have mothers, fathers, families and children like us. There is no need to be suspicious of others without a good cause just because they look different. We need to grow up.”
Finally, Sister Joan Chatfield commented on how sad it was to be gathering for such a tragic incident in a house of worship—we should be gathering to praise God joyfully.
“But somehow this is bringing us closer together,” she said.
Following the speeches, local spiritual counselors Raquel Glassman and Noble Turner chanted the Sikhism mantra and sang a universal peace song.
Temple president Madana-sundari Dasi then led everyone in chanting Hare Krishna, saying “This is our our universal peace mantra.”
Governor Neil Abercrombie offers flowers and ghee lamp to Honolulu’s Panca Tattva Deities
Next, Governor Abercrombie, his wife Dr. Caraway, Senator Ryan, and Tulsi Gabbard all offered ghee lamps and flower petals to New Navadvipa’s presiding Deities of Sri Panchatattva and Sri Sri Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra.
Several television cameras filmed their offering, including Channel 2 News.
Afterwards, the visiting dignitaries honored prasadam, sanctified vegetarian food, and Governor Abercrombie recalled meeting ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada while serving as a professor at the University of Hawaii in the 1970s.
“I then took everyone on a tour of Srila Prabhupada’s quarters where he stayed and translated much of the Chaitanya Charitamrita,” says Madana-sundari. “Our guests were very impressed with Prabhupada’s story—how he journeyed to America and circled the world twelve times, opening so many temples and writing so many volumes, all between the ages of 70 and 82.”
The service officially wrapped at 6pm, with some guests staying on for the 6:30pm Sunday arati ceremony and kirtan.
“ISKCON Honolulu has always been very open to the public over the years,” says organizer Dr. Raj Kumar, who himself has frequented the temple for many years.
“But this event saw many spiritual leaders from other faiths visit for the first time, receive a warm greeting, and enjoy learning about Krishna consciousness.”
“Our hearts go out to the Sikh community in this difficult time,” says Madana-sundari. “And as we try to make sense of this seemingly random act of violence, we can understand that in leaving their bodies, these souls—who spent their life in spiritual pursuits—have brought awareness to the need for tolerance and
understanding of all religions.”
She concludes: “In this way, their final act was in service to God.”
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