The Vedic Federation of France, a coalition of Indian-origin religious denominations and spiritual movements including ISKCON, is presenting one united voice to the French government and thus strengthening ISKCON’s position in France, where it has long been treated as a cult.
Several years in the making, the Vedic Federation includes eight groups who have been in France for over two decades and have faced similar challenges: Ramachandra Mission, Embracing the World (led by Amma), the Art of Living, Sri Tathata, the Shri Chinmoy Centre, ISKCON, and Ramakrishna Mission. The latter’s leader, Swami Veetamohananda, is the elected president.
Nitai Gaurasundara Das, one of the founding members of the Federation, a former temple president of ISKCON Paris, and current organizer of Paris Rathayatra, acknowledges that some devotees may not agree with ISKCON partnering with impersonalist groups.
But he says that the Federation does not dive deep into philosophy together. Rather, members find common ground in the ideals they share – respect for guru, the Vedas and the Bhagavad-gita, vegetarianism, and a desire to establish Vedic values. And the other groups have great respect for ISKCON due to its strong established deity worship, brahmachari ashrams, and long history in France.
More importantly, the Vedic Federation has been making a lot of progress garnering ISKCON and its other groups higher regard in France since it was registered in 2014. Members met with the head of the French Government’s Ministry for Religious Affairs, and received a positive response. “The government likes to see one voice for any kind of religion,” says Nitai Gaurasundara.
Next, in 2015, the Federation was officially launched at an event at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Five hundred people attended, including the Ambassador of UNESCO in Paris, many prestigious French scholars of Hinduism, and a number of journalists.
“Part of our presentation was a very nice Powerpoint on a large screen of Srila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, and the main activities of the Hare Krishna Movement, such as Harinama Sankirtana on the streets and prasadam distribution,” says Nitai Gaurasundara.
Other major events included a one-day “Meditation on the Seine.” This cruise down the Seine River in Paris saw each organization represented in the Vedic Federation holding their own one-hour meditation course. ISKCON’s contribution was, of course, kirtan, as well as catering Krishna prasadam for the event. Two hundred and fifty people participated, including members of each spiritual organization, along with scholars and journalists.
To this day, members of the Federation meet every three months, with one member hosting the meeting at their place of worship. During ISKCON’s turn, the group met at the temple, attended midday arati, and honored prasadam together.
In addition, each member of the group gives a lecture under the Vedic Federation name once or twice a year at Forum 104 in Paris, a well-known venue where different spiritual groups speak.
“I’ve given lectures on the Bhagavad-gita, Mahabharat, and Ramayana, and at the end of September I have one coming up on Karma Yoga,” Nitai Gaurasundara says. “At all the talks I present Krishna consciousness as it is. About thirty to fifty people attend, including members of the organizations that are part of our Federation, such as Ramakrishna Mission and Sri Tathata.”
Nitai Gaurasundara Das with Federation president Swami Veetamohananda at Paris Rathayatra
The Vedic Federation also regularly plan various events. Most recently, members co-organized World Yoga Day with the Indian Embassy. The event, at La Villette in Paris, drew a thousand people and gave devotees a chance to present Bhakti-yoga.
Next up, in late August, the Federation will have a stall promoting their lectures and activities at Festival of Peace, the biggest Buddhist fair in France.
Members have also been invited to partner with various organizations for educational purposes. They’re currently working with the City Council of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, a small city in the South of France, to educate the public about unity in diversity. And discussions are underway about presenting yoga at the University of Lyon.
In the future, the Vedic Federation hopes to organize a widely promoted two-day conference on Vedic philosophy, featuring several big names, and to get a 30-minute TV slot on national television. As it becomes more renowned, membership is also likely to grow, with several other groups already applying.
“Not all devotees understand or appreciate what we’re doing,” Nitai Gaurasundara says. “But in terms of ISKCON’s respectability in French society, I think it can go very far. Because when we are together with these big groups, we are not seen as a small cult anymore. For example, if Krishna devotees on our own would try to have an event at UNESCO, we would not even be noticed. We are Mr. Nobody. But when we come with the Vedic Federation, we have the Ambassador of UNESCO in Paris himself attending. So our strategy is first unify, then afterwards wecan explain the differences between our philosophies.”[ france ] [ interfaith ]