Archive for the ‘Previous Parliaments’ Category
Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, a former Brooklyn Jewish housewife turned Guru, lost her battle with pancreatic cancer last week at her home, Kashi Ashram, an interfaith spiritual community, which she founded 35 years ago in the central Florida town of Sebastian. A memorial service will be held at Kashi Ashram on Ma’s birthday, May 26, and will be open to the public.
Thousands followed Ma’s teachings and way of life through a network of affiliated communities and charities throughout the globe. As actress Julia Roberts said, “There are a few people in one’s life that create only the warmest and most powerfully positive impact imaginable. Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati was one of those people to me and my family. She was a beautiful person who shined with love and understanding in all ways. Kashi Ashram was created out of her devotion to all who sought her wisdom and ideas. Her transition was deeply sad news and yet, as with all she did, it has brought me even closer to her words and her teachings. May we all look upon one another with loving kindness in her name and in the memory of all Mothers who love and teach us all.”
Founded by Ma in 1976, Kashi Ashram blends Eastern and Western philosophies. The Ashram sits on 80 acres at the banks of the St. Sebastian River and has dozens of temples and shrines to many diverse religions and spiritual paths. People from all walks of life are welcome and embraced at Kashi and encouraged to worship and coexist in harmony. Kashi Ashram affiliates have been opened in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, and Santa Fe.
Ma was the founder of Kashi Church Foundation, The River School, The River Fund, Kashi School of Yoga, the Village of Kashi, and By the River affordable senior housing. Her present and past affiliations include Trustee Emeritus of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Advisory Board Member of Equal Partners in Faith, Advisory Board Member of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, Advisory Board Member of the Gardner’s Syndrome Association, Delegate to the United Religions Initiative, Member of the Board of Directors of the AIDS care organization Project Response, and member of the Parliament’s General Assembly. Ma also founded orphan centers in Uganda and India.
by A. L. Bardach
from the Wall Street Journal
By the late 1960s, the most famous writer in America had become a recluse, having forsaken his dazzling career. Nevertheless, J.D. Salinger often came to Manhattan, staying at his parents’ sprawling apartment on Park Avenue and 91st Street. While he no longer visited with his editors at “The New Yorker,” he was keen to spend time with his spiritual teacher, Swami Nikhilananda, the founder of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, located, then as now, in a townhouse just three blocks away, at 17 East 94th Street.
Though the iconic author of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Franny and Zooey” published his last story in 1965, he did not stop writing. From the early 1950s onward, he maintained a lively correspondence with several Vedanta monks and fellow devotees.
After all, the central, guiding light of Salinger’s spiritual quest was the teachings of Vivekananda, the Calcutta-born monk who popularized Vedanta and yoga in the West at the end of the 19th century.
These days yoga is offered up in classes and studios that have become as ubiquitous as Starbucks. Vivekananda would have been puzzled, if not somewhat alarmed. “As soon as I think of myself as a little body,” he warned, “I want to preserve it, protect it, to keep it nice, at the expense of other bodies. Then you and I become separate.” For Vivekananda, who established the first ever Vedanta Center, in Manhattan in 1896, yoga meant just one thing: “the realization of God.”
by Leo D. Lefebure
When I was a graduate student at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago in the 1980s, there were intense discussions of religious pluralism and theological understandings of religious diversity. My doctoral dissertation focused on the importance of the biblical wisdom tradition for contemporary Christian theology, concluding with suggestions that this trajectory could be a fruitful starting point for inter-religious reflection.
During this period, a couple that I knew moved from Casper, Wyoming, to Bangkok and invited me to visit them. This led to my first trip to East and Southeast Asia. I visited Kyoto, Bangkok, Myanmar/Burma, and Bali, and was deeply moved by the beauty of the Buddhist and Hindu art in these sites. I also stayed in the Buddhist monastery of Wat Rempoeng near Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I was introduced to the practice of Theravada Buddhist meditation.
Shortly thereafter, I came to know the noted Japanese Zen Buddhist philosopher, Masao Abe, who was then a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. He agreed to be the mentor to me for a post-doctoral research project funded by the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada, which allowed me to go to Kyoto, where Abe introduced me to a circle of Japanese scholars, both Buddhist and Christian. These encounters led to my book, The Buddha and the Christ (Orbis Books 1993). My most recent book, The Path of Wisdom: A Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada (Peeters and Eerdmans 2011), continues this trajectory of reflection, responding to the wisdom sayings of Shakyamuni Buddha in light of both biblical and later Christian wisdom traditions. I continue to appreciate the deep wisdom of the Buddhist tradition and find it enriching on many levels.
In 1987, as I was beginning to teach at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary near Chicago, I was invited to participate in a retreat of Catholic priests and rabbis at the University’s Center for Development in Ministry, where we not only talked to one another but also prayed together. This began my decades-long engagement in Jewish-Christian dialogue, which continues today. In the spring of 2009, I participated in a very moving Jewish-Christian study trip to Poland, co-sponsored by Georgetown University and the Polish Foreign Ministry, exploring various aspects of Jewish-Polish relations past and present.
In the 1990s, I was invited to join the Midwest Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims, where I contributed to the drafting of a booklet on Revelation in Catholic and Muslim Perspectives. I was teaching at Fordham University in New York City on September 11, 2001. Afterward, I was involved in discussions of religion and violence at a number of venues, including Siena College near Albany, NY, the Islamic Center of Passaic County, New Jersey and in the Mid-Atlantic Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims in Queens.
I became involved with the work of CPWR when I went to a theology meeting at DePaul University and happened to come upon a group of colleagues who were on the CPWR research committee helping to plan the 1993 Parliament in Chicago. They invited me to attend their next meeting and join the research committee. I also covered the 1993 Parliament for The Christian Century. Later, when I was teaching at Fordham University, I participated in the Consultation on Interfaith Education’s planning for their symposium at the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, where I offered reflections on the Dalai Lama’s contribution to interfaith education.
The most powerful defining moment of the interreligious movement for me was the 1996 Gethsemani Encounter at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky, which included the Dalai Lama, Maha Ghosananda (the Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism), and many other Buddhist and Catholic monastic leaders. The context of a Catholic Trappist monastery with its rhythms of silence, meditation, and prayer, provided a welcoming atmosphere for the week-long monastic inter-religious reflection. The spirit of Thomas Merton hovered around us as we continued his practice of inter-religious friendship. As an advisor to Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, I enjoyed many moving exchanges with Buddhist and Catholic monastics. Other powerful experiences have come on Buddhist-Christian retreats that draw upon the resources of both traditions.
Given the often problematic role of religion in the world’s conflicts past and present, I believe my involvement in inter-religious reflection is important in building bridges and shaping a healthy community of the world’s religions. I find much hope and encouragement in the wonderful women and men whom I have met in inter-religious encounters.
by Kay Lindahl, CLP
from the Interfaith Observer
The 1993 Parliament was a watershed event in interfaith history, following in the footsteps of the first Parliament in 1893. Both events forged new ground and introduced new interfaith possibilities. In addition to making history, the 1993 Parliament transformed my life.
My love affair with the Parliament began before I had even heard of it. In 1989 my husband and I moved to a community where almost everything was new – the oldest buildings had been around for less than 20 years. We became involved in the founding of a church, holding the first service in our living room. We soon found a space to meet in the community room of a local bank.
Within a few months our community became an incorporated city. During this time we met people from other new congregations, of many traditions. Together we lobbied the City Planning Department to include zoning for non-profits and houses of worship in the new city plan, which we accomplished.
We made some wonderful friends during that time, and when that project ended we continued to meet. I invited the group to a conversation asking, “What would it be like to have a strong spiritual base in our community?” By the end of that meeting, we had formed a local interfaith organization, the Alliance for Spiritual Community. Its main focus was interfaith dialogue and being present at community events.
by Ellen Grace O’Brian
Vice-Chair, CPWR Board of Trustees
As a practitioner of yoga, I was aware of the Parliament of the World’s Religions as the watershed interreligious event that opened the door to yoga in the West through Swami Vivekananda’s dynamic presence at the first convening in 1893. What I didn’t know was that beginning in 1993, this powerful global event was now occurring approximately every five years and was open to everyone with an interest in the interreligious movement. Although I had heard about the Parliaments in Chicago (1993) and South Africa (1999), it wasn’t clear to me how to participate and that it was something that could so profoundly affect my life and my community.
Curiosity has a way of helping us discover doorways that we didn’t know existed. In 2002, I learned about a local group of people meeting in someone’s home to talk about the next Parliament event slated to convene in Barcelona in 2004. Between homemade soup, networking, and sharing about why we thought it could make a difference to bring people together, I found myself on the path to the fourth global parliament event. This local connection with people who had been to other parliaments, and those who, like me, were just learning about it, was invaluable. It provided inspiration as well as information. Little did I know I was already engaged in one of the hallmarks of the Parliament: bringing people together in ways that empower and equip them to solve the problems we face in our world today.
When I checked in at my first Parliament in Barcelona, I was overwhelmed by the abundance of programs and events, the sight of so many people from different religious traditions and far reaches of the globe engaging in dialog, and the inspiration that pervaded everything from the meeting place to the program book. After a time of prayerful consideration about what I should chose amidst such rich opportunity, I dove in. One of the things I decided to participate in was a dialog with others who were concerned about the rise of religiously motivated violence in our world.
The dialog group I was assigned to included a Hindu man from India; a Muslim woman from Egypt, a Christian seminary student from the US, a Catholic woman from Rome, and a Lutheran man from Switzerland. We were provided with some questions to reflect upon and discuss. Why was this issue important to us? What in our own experience had contributed to why we cared about violence in our world? What could we see ourselves doing we returned home to our own communities that would make a difference?
As I sat with this group of people from religions, countries, and viewpoints different from mine, something became apparent that changed everything for me: we all shared a deep concern about this issue and a belief, grounded in our diverse traditions, that peaceful change was possible. The experience of connection across differences was profound, I felt like I was sitting in the heart of the world. We were inspired to return home and engage in action. Then it came to me. I live in a large, diverse, metropolitan area. I realized that if people who were concerned about the rise of violence in our own community gathered together, that group would look very much like the one I was with in distant Barcelona. And, with a similar rich diversity, we could find ways together to begin to solve this problem.
When I returned home with this inspiration from the Parliament, I reached out and was joined by leaders from different faith communities, educational institutions, government and nonprofit organizations, students and community members who met to convene a community nonviolence conference. Inspired by the Parliament model, hundreds of people have attended these conferences over the years and brought forth their own commitments to action.
Whenever I think about what the Parliament does, or what it means to attend such a global gathering, I remember my experience of sitting in the heart of the world. And I think about what happens when people come together and share their deepest concerns and aspirations for a peaceful world.
Rev. Ellen Grace O’Brian is the Spiritual Director of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, a ministry in the tradition of Kriya Yoga. She was ordained to teach in 1982 by Roy Eugene Davis, a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. She is the author of several books on spiritual practice and is the editor of the quarterly magazine, Enlightenment Journal.
Rev. O’Brian is the Founder of Meru Seminary, training leaders in the Kriya Yoga tradition, as well as Founder and Chair of the community nonprofit educational organization, Carry the Vision, which provides educational programs in nonviolence. She received the 2008 Human Relations Award from the Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations recognizing her contribution to positive human relations and peace in Santa Clara County. She serves as a member of the Advisory Council of the Association for Global New Thought; on the Executive Board of the International New Thought Alliance; and as Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.
by Ann Louise Bardach
from New York Times
Ann Louise Bardach is a writer at large for Newsweek. She is working on a biography of Vivekananda.
The party planning is in full swing throughout India. Never mind that the big day, Jan. 12, 2013, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vivekananda, is more than 15 months away. Not too long ago, Vivekananda, a household name in his homeland, was famous here as well, as the first missionary from the East to the West.
If you’re annoyed that your local gas station is now a yoga studio, you might blame Vivekananda for having introduced “yoga” into the national conversation — though an exercise cult with expensive accessories was hardly what he had in mind.
The Indian monk, born Narendranath Datta to an aristocratic Calcutta family, alighted in Chicago in 1893 in ochre robes and turban, with little money after a daunting two-month trek from Bombay. Notwithstanding the fact that he had spent the previous night sleeping in a boxcar, the young mystic made an electrifying appearance at the opening of the august Parliament of Religions that Sept. 11.
For most of the rest of the month, Vivekananda held the conference’s 4,000 attendees spellbound in a series of showstopping improvised talks. He had simplified Vedanta thought to a few teachings that were accessible and irresistible to Westerners, foremost being that “all souls are potentially divine.” His prescription for life was simple, and perfectly American: “work and worship.” By the end of his last Chicago lecture on Sept. 27, Vivekananda was a star. And like the enterprising Americans he so admired, he went on the road to pitch his message — dazzling some of the great minds of his time.
Yet precious few of the estimated 16 million supple, spandex-clad yoginis in the United States, who sustain an annual $6 billion industry, seem to have a clue that they owe their yoga mats to Vivekananda. Enriching this irony was Vivekananda’s utter lack of interest in physical exertions beyond marathon sitting meditations and pilgrimages to holy sites.
“You are not your body,” he often reminded Americans, who tend to prefer “doing” over “being.” More distressing, for some, was his other message: “You are not your mind.”
It is with deep sadness that we note the passing of Yael R. Wurmfeld, longtime member of the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Yael served as Director of the international office (Office of Pioneering) of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States for over 20 years. She was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Council for Higher Education and of the North Shore Choral Society. She was a talented singer, and she was passionate, optimistic and deeply committed to the interreligious movement.
Yael was crucial to the hands on organizing efforts for the 1993 Parliament and served for many years on CPWR’s Board of Trustees.
“Yael was one of the inaugural members of the Council, going back nearly to 1988,” said Dirk Ficca, Excecutive Director of CPWR. “She was one of a few Trustees who literally became like staff members in the preparation for the 1993 Parliament in Chicago. For months on end she came down to the office to put in long hours on the program and do outreach to religious and spiritual communities internationally. Yael was a key voice in calling the Council to continue on past the 1993 centennial.”
“We will all miss Yael,” said Rev. William Lesher, Board Chair Emeritus. “She was truly a interreligious pioneer who embodied the kind of passion that gave the Parliament movement its rebirth in our time, and for that we are exceedingly grateful. May perpetual light shine upon her.”
by William Lesher
The hearts and prayers of people of goodwill everywhere go out to the people of Norway and to the families of those killed and wounded in the recent bombing and senseless slaying of young people. It is especially painful when such tragic acts are in any way associated with misguided religious overtones.
The poignant words of Swami Vivekananda in his opening speech at the first Parliament in 1893 come readily to mind:
“Sectarian bigotry and its horrible descendent fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair.”
How relevant this 118 year old statement is to this current situation. Vivekananda ends by declaring, “ But their time has come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolls this morning may be the death knell of all fanaticism…”
Given the aura of contentiousness, conflict and confusion that hangs over the global social order today, it is doubtful that violent acts against people and property can be prevented. It is, nevertheless, Vivekananda’s fervent hope that still motivates the Parliament of the World’s Religions and all expressions of the interreligious movement.
At the Barcelona Parliament in 2004, hundreds of participants attended workshops on “Religiously Motivated Violence” and made commitments to stand with people of other faiths whenever lives are threatened or property is defaced or destroyed. Currently the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions encourages religious and spiritual communities everywhere to adopt a “Solidarity Pledge” as a minimal expression of their harmony, support and respect for people of other faiths. In the greater Los Angeles area where I live, a group has recently formed called “Interfaith Witnesses for Peace,” pledged to gather on short notice, as a silent testimony to peace, wherever a religious community is threatened.
The tragedy in Norway is another occasion for us all to reassess our personal commitment and that of our religious communities, to active expressions of peace-building. Are we building bridges to other faith communities? Are we teaching and preaching respect for other religions, providing opportunities to learn what others believe and how to best share our beliefs with them? Are we exploring ways to work together for the common good? Are we mobilized to act, as a powerful presence of solidarity and love when tragedy strikes.
It is our engagement in interreligious actions like these that keep Vivekananda’s fervent hope alive.
by Helen Spector, CPWR Trustee
When Rev. Dr. David Ramage recruited me in 1990 to serve on the Board of Trustees leading up to the 1993 Parliament, I was not engaged in or much aware of the inter-religious movement.
My commitment to the Council’s work caught fire when I joined a group of Trustees to travel to Cape Town in 1998, to meet with our organizing counterparts and talk with leaders from all the faith communities who would support the Parliament in 1999 in Cape Town. From that visit and my work since, I have come to see clearly the power of the interfaith experience and the positive impact of Council’s community organizing approach.
During our visit, we each were asked to meet individually with leaders from different faith traditions. Although I am Jewish, I had done considerable consulting with the Episcopal Church in the United States, so I visited with the Dean of St. George’s Cathedral. He spoke with great energy about the glory days of interfaith in Cape Town during the struggle to overthrow apartheid, when every few weeks, leaders from all faith communities would meet to map the next steps in their powerful strategy of standing and marching forward together.
When he had finished his story, it seemed that a great sadness overwhelmed him, and he sat quietly for a few moments. I asked him what he hoped would come from organizing and holding the Cape Town Parliament, and he said in a very quiet voice, “Since our victory in overcoming apartheid, we have not met again. I hope that we will find a way to come together again as leaders of faith and share our hopes for rebuilding our country.”
In the years since that meeting, I have had the opportunity to witness the formation of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, which just observed its 10th anniversary on May 10, 2010. Gordon Oliver, CTII Chairman, credits the Parliament event as the organizing impetus for this vibrant and growing local inter-religious movement.
More recently, Dr. Gary Bouma, Chair of the Board of Management in Melbourne, has shared with us that “before PWR 2009, 3 or 4 cities in Melbourne (which is itself divided into over 20 separate cities with their own mayors, councils and local responsibilities) had interfaith councils; now all but one do. This is a HUGE result!”
While these stories show what tangible results look like when local communities get inspired and connected, I learned something else in Cape Town, something perhaps even more important about our work of interfaith.
In the lead up to the 1999 Parliament event, The Cape Times daily newspaper sponsored a 13-week special section—“One City, Many Faiths.” Monday through Friday, the paper carried four full pages of stories and information about five different faith traditions—Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and African Independent traditions—which have significant populations in the city. The publisher organized discussion groups, luncheon meetings of leaders, and interviews with people on the street to keep this initiative highly visible and energized.
After the Cape Town Parliament was over, I talked with the publisher, asking him what results he had seen from this massive initiative. “None,” he said. I was stunned. This was a huge investment of energy and resources! What did he mean he hadn’t seen any results?!
Then he told me the lesson that we all must remember: “We cannot tell you what the results are, because we have no way to count the number of hate crimes, attacks and killings that did not happen because someone walking on the street no longer saw a person who dresses differently or worships differently as someone to be feared.”
The world is full of stories like these that we will never hear. Yet we know that the inter-religious movement helps us to see each other as people with whom we share human experiences, even while we know we differ on how we worship and what we believe.
Mrs. Helen Spector joined the Board of CPWR in 1990 to help plan the 1993 Parliament Centenary Celebration. As a professional facilitator and Organizational Development consultant, Mrs. Spector has used her skills to further the values and goals of CPWR. She served as co—chair for the Site Selection task forces for the 2004, 2009 and 2014 Parliament events. She now lives in Portland, Oregon and continues as a Trustee of the Council.
The environmental crisis is one that is well documented in its various interlocking manifestations of industrial pollution, resource depletion, and population explosion. The urgency of the problems are manifold, namely, the essential ingredients for human survival, especially water supplies and agricultural land, are being threatened across the planet by population and consumption pressures. With the collapse of fishing industries and with increasing soil erosion and farm land loss, serious questions are being raised about the ability of the human community to feed its own offspring. Moreover, the widespread destruction of species and the unrelenting loss of habitat continue to accelerate. Climate change threatens to undermine efforts to reverse these trends and to move toward a sustainable future for humans and nature.
Clearly religions need to be involved with the development of a more comprehensive worldview and ethics to ground movements toward sustainability.