By Dorothy Le —
In celebration of the 100th birthday of Hindu spiritual guru, H.H. Swami Chinmayananda (1916 – 1993), Chinmaya Mission of Los Angeles hosted an interfaith dialogue right in their ashram, featuring religious leaders from a variety of faiths including Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism and Judaism.
Chinmaya Mission of LA, directed by Swami Ishwarananda, is a branch of the global Chinmaya Mission movement established in 1953 in India by followers of Swami Chinmayananda. The movement aims to infuse a spiritual revival in the community through education of Hindu scripture, charitable activities, and meditation retreats.
All 300 of the centers around the world regularly conduct devotional and cultural events in memory of the spiritual leader, and to rise up spiritual empowerment among its members.
On February 20, the ashram held the dialogue centered on one of Swami’s Chinmayananda’s famous quotes, “What you have is His gift to you. What you do with what you have is your gift to Him.” In the two hour discussion, each representative was allotted time to share about their religion’s background and what is His gift according to their scriptures and beliefs.
While each religion has their unique origin –different times, different country, different circumstances, a common thread among their answers was that His gift to mankind was ultimately to live a spiritually prosperous life while serving others with a thankful heart.
Mr. Maneck Bhujwala of the Zoroastrianism religion stated that, “Everything we have in life is a gift from God, and we return that gift back to Him through good thoughts, words, and actions”
Echoing this same thought, Nichelle Madrigal expressed that those in the Buddhism faith must “embody good merit and humble gestures to those around them.”
And Rabbi Frank Stern of Judaism shared a story that can be universally understood. In Hell, there is a long banquet table filled with delicious food and surrounded by many guests, but each guest had a long fork and long spoon attached to their arms so that when they try to feed themselves, the foods ends up being tossed behind their shoulders. In Heaven, there is the same table with the same delicious food, and also guests with long utensils attached to their arms. But here, each guests is using their forks and spoons and feed each other and thus, there is peace and harmony.
After the panel discussion, there was a short Q&A session with a different question as a theme. Each representative was asked for their thoughts on all the global conflicts occurring right now, what role religion plays in it, and also what is their response to the conflicts based on their religions’ teachings. All agreed that it is human error, a wrongful agenda and the misinterpretation of scriptures that causes conflict, and that everyone should do their part to pursue the peace and love that is so staunchly advocated in their religions.
We spoke with director Swami Ishwarananda on his purpose for the interfaith dialogue and how mankind should receive and give back the gifts given to us:
Religio Magazine: What kind of legacy do you hope for your religion to leave in the world?
Swami Ishwarananda: The basic tenant of Hindu is values, which is known as dharma. Each one of us is born with certain abilities. Whatever you are born as, whether as a farmer, a merchant, or a teacher, they all have to do their work to the best of their abilities so that the people around them will also benefit. That way, there will be no conflict. So if we are happy with what has been given to us, and live with what we are given, there will no problems with anyone else.
RM: Some say the greatest gift in life is life itself. So how does this play out in your life of faith?
SI: Life as a human is a great gift. Imagine if I was born as a fish or some other animal. I would just be living life and not doing much else. But as humans, we can do great things by changing anything that we want, especially ourselves. And as a gift, it has to be utilized. Your body is a gift, your intelligence is a gift. Just take a look around you, everything here has been given to you. And we always complain about what we don’t have. If we value what we have, we can do wonders.
RM: This interfaith dialogue was successful in that each representative peacefully shared about their religion’s stance on the given topic. Is this the first event that your temple has planned?
SI: Yes this is our first time where we give them a particular topic and they interpret it the way that they want. Because many times, the topic is about their own religion. This time, we didn’t give them anything about their religion, but it is more about what can their religion express to the world.
RM: How do you feel about the last Q&A session on the topic of why so many global conflicts have started due to religious differences?
SI: It is a wrong assumption to say that religion is the cause of all this violence. It is not religion, but the misinterpretation of religion. It is caused by human greed and hatred. So this has to be addressed at the human level, not at the religion level. And that the same time, you cannot be passive about it but have to also fight against it in order to protect others’ lives.
Reported by Dorothy Le and Michelle Kim.