ISKCON participated in a meeting organized by the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) of Washington D.C., on how to protect and promote religious freedom, in Sri Lanka this March 14thto 16th.
Around fifty spiritual leaders, lawyers, civil society leaders, government officials and scholars attended the meeting.
Among them were three representatives from ISKCON, including Yudhistira Govinda Das, Director of ISKCON Communications in India and Vice President of ISKCON Hyderabad.
The meetings began with an introduction to the RFI and its mission to protect religious freedom as a fundamental human right.
Then through breakout sessions and plenaries, leaders from different countries discussed how to promote religious freedom and tolerance, and how to empower each and every community member, regardless of their faith.
In his speech, which is included below in full, Yudhistira Govinda said, “Life in any form is sacred regardless of race, gender, nationality and religion,” and added, “True leadership is that which encourages and inspires its followers to see the divinity in all and respect it.”
Discussing his own society’s approach, he said, “Members of ISKCON are encouraged to be respectful to people of faith from other traditions and to see the need for people of different faiths to work together for the benefit of society as a whole.”
He encouraged different faith leaders to work together on areas of concern like climate change, environmental preservation, substance abuse, poverty and hunger, and said, “Collective unity is the real strength we have.”
He also spoke about ISKCON’s work in establishing and maintaining Vaishnava-Christian and Vaishnava-Muslim dialogues in both the U.S. and India.
At the end of the meetings, leaders discussed further how to stay in touch and build a network going forward.
“It’s important for ISKCON to participate in such conferences because Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Bhaktivinode Thakur, and Srila Prabhupada all stressed conversing with people of other faiths,” says Yudhistira. “And we naturally share a common bond with people who are God conscious, regardless of the path they choose to approach the Lord.”
He added, “Every religious community is a majority in one part of the world, but a minority in another – so it is important to build bridges with different faith communities. That way, whenever we need some support in a part of the world where we are a minority, they will always remember us as their friends and stand up for our rights.”
ISKCON has been invested in assisting with religious freedom around the world for many years now: Anuttama Das, the Global Director of ISKCON Communications, is a part of RFI’s Board of Advisors. ISKCON is also a member of the Board of Religions for Peace in the U.S. and Germany, and is involved in many local initiatives in Australia, Bangladesh, India, Russia, and other countries.[ dialugue ] [ interfaith ] [ religion ] [ washington ]