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Diwali Illuminates Global Pluralism: “E Pluribus Unum”

by Anju Bhargava
CPWR Trustee

Deepavali popularly known as Diwali, literally means a row (avali) of lights (deepa). In essence it is the celebration of the victory of good over evil and the awakening and awareness of the Inner Light. This Inner Light, though not seen outside, outshines all darkness by removing all obstacles and dispelling all ignorance. When this inner realization blossoms then there is universal compassion, love, and the awareness of the oneness of all things. It awakens the individual to one’s true nature, not in the physical, but as the unchanging, infinite, and transcendent reality; the Sat (Truth), Chit (Consciousness) and Ananda (Inner Joy). This, for the Hindus, is the very goal of life. Monotheistic Hinduism’s original name is “Sanatana Dharma” or Eternal Order.

At its heart, Hindu philosophy emphasizes the presence of that which is pure, infinite, and eternal, which is something beyond the physical and mind. The Vedic prayer (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad — I.iii.28) captures the spirit of Diwali: Asato ma sadgamaya. Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya Mrtyorma amrtam gamaya…: “Lead me from the untruth to Truth. Lead me from darkness to light. Lead me from death to immortality.”

The foundation of Indian civilization is the pluralistic acceptance embodied in the ancient Vedic scriptures; the perennial Vedic thought: “Ekam Sat, Vipraha Bahuda Vadanti”: “The Truth is One. The Realized Ones (rishis) describe the One Truth in several ways.” Acceptance of this Truth gives people a way to express their differences while finding a common ground. And, Diwali shares a special connection with American values. It exemplifies the ideals of “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one.

The ancient ones (rishis) creatively brought Vedas to life through the festivals. The Festivals serve an important link between philosophy and the practical application for people in all walks of life. They exemplify the struggle between good and evil and that ultimately victory is of good and it needs to be celebrated. These joyous occasions remind us, and future generations, that it was only through the selfless service of those who sacrificed that the victory was attained. Service and giving, being a karma-yogi, are an integral part of multifaceted Vedic Hindu traditions.

Diwali is a holiday uniting the world cultures. Celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists (commonly referred to as Dharmic/Indic traditions) and the by those of any, “all and no faith,” the different aspects of Diwali create an interlocking, global mosaic. Often, Muslims and Christians participate, and artisans of all faiths make the lamps, fireworks and sweets that are used to celebrate the occasion. The lights shine and illuminate the small mud homes and the palatial mansions, which now both dot India’s landscape. In America, many homes celebrating Diwali are decorated with Christmas lights as well as Shabbat candles.

For Hindus themselves, the festivities of Diwali are celebrated through the recitation of many stories. Universally, the celebration is the triumph of Good (Lord Rama or Lord Krishna) over Evil (Ravana, Narakasura, etc.).

For Jains, the philosophical significance is similar to the Hindu perspective. Diwali reflects the joy of Lord Mahavir on attaining liberation through the path of right knowledge, right faith and the right conduct; known as three Jewells for Liberation.

The Sikhs, who were the protectors of Hindus, have also always celebrated Diwali. Its significance increased when, on this day the Sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind, was freed from captivity of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, along with other political prisoners.

Buddhists in India and Nepal honor Emperor Ashoka who, on this day, took to Ahimsa (non-violence), a key Vedic principle which became an integral part of Buddha’s teachings. King Ashoka sent his emissaries to many parts of Asia, and they spread Buddha’s teachings.

Diwali traditionally marks the beginning of the New Year for Hindu businesses and the last harvest of the year before winter. Many celebrants close their books and open new accounts with prayers for success and prosperity. Symbolically it is a new start – forgive and forget – in all aspects of life, including relationships with family and friends. It is the time for community and family celebration with prayers through puja, of togetherness, of sharing all resources.

Many Hindus also invoke Goddess Lakshmi, (from sanskrit word lakshye which means aim) for blessings at the outset of this process of worldly and spiritual accounting. Prayers of thankfulness, (Lakshmi Puja), are offered for future prosperity by people of all faiths. Lakshmi Puja is another common factor in Diwali celebrations which connects the people of the Indian subcontinent and now globally.

Today Diwali is enjoyed by most Indians, regardless of faith, and by people of Dharmic faiths globally. Everyone celebrates it through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, sharing of sweets, and worship as is customary for each religious and/or non-religious group. No house is too big or too small for illumination.

While the story behind Diwali varies from region to region, the essence is the same: to rejoice in the Inner Light and understand the underlying reality of all things. Diwali unifies and lights the lamp of understanding within us. Seva (communal service) during Diwali means bringing in light, especially in the life of those less fortunate than us.

May the spirit of Diwali bring Joy, Health, Wealth, Prosperity, Peace, and Spiritual Enlightenment!

Loka Samastha Sukhi Nau bhavantu – May the Lord bless the whole world with eternal peace and goodwill…

Anju Bhargava was a member of President Obama’s Inaugural Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and is the founder of Hindu American Seva Charities.  She is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

October 18th, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Religious and Spiritual Leaders Reflect on 9/11

Beyond 9/11 to a Broader View of the World by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB

Healing, Hope and Humanity: A Sikh Reflection by Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia

It Is Time to Invoke Historys Other 9/11 of Nonviolence and Global Interfaith Dialogue by Anju Bhargava

9/11: Ten Years On by Eboo Patel

From Memory to Hope by Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson

Lessons from the Kaddish a Decade Later by Chancellor Arnold M. Eisen

WATCH: The Future Of Christian-Muslim Relations In The West

For A More Unified, Understanding New York by Georgette Bennett, Ph.D.

Did 9/11 Make Us Morally Better? by Miroslav Volf

Hate and Hope by Serene Jones

Reaching for Hope After 9/11 — Together by The Interfaith Amigos

WATCH: Finding Hope And Healing At Ground Zero

The Sukkah and the World Trade Center by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

An Opportunity For Reflection by Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori

Our post-9/11 failures by Desmond Tutu

Unite through compassion by Karen Armstrong

Remaking the world after 9/11 by Tony Blair

Radical Islam on its way out by Feisal Abdul Rauf

9/11 demands intellectual honesty by Sam Harris

Rebuilding our souls by Thomas Monson

Spirituality after the attack by T.D. Jakes

Peace begins internally by Donald Wuerl

Live the memorial by Katharine Jefferts Schori

Death and the hope of resurrection by Mark Driscoll

Divided world, divided hearts by Deepak Chopra

We grasped our brokenness anew by David Wolpe

Americans still dont know Islam by Yasir Qadhi

A prayer for America by Sally Quinn

From Ground Zero to the State Dept by Suzan Cook

10 Years Later, We Must Do Better by Rabbi Michael M. Cohen

Anju Bhargava: An Interfaith Journey

from Odyssey Networks

Interfaith harmony requires first recognizing boundaries — our own and those of others, says Anju Bhargava, founder of Hindu American Seva Charities, an Odyssey member. Then, harmony requires respecting differences and finding ways to support each other. Bhargava was a member President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2009-2010.

Click here to learn more about Anju Bhargava

Seva: Celebrating the Sacredness of Service

by Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn
from Huffington Post

The best way to find your self is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi

What we seek from religion is a sense of meaning, purpose, belonging; a stronger connection to each other. This is what seva is and this is what seva does. When we speak of seva, we mean ego-less service in which we put ourselves to work in aid of the greater community. It answers all these needs in a profound way. Vikas Khanna and I began exploring seva in True Business, our first Holy Kitchens film about Sikhism. We were intending only to show how people shared food but quickly discovered that sharing food was just the beginning of seva. This work of quiet dignity allows its practitioners to directly benefit from the work they do in that they can see its effect in front of their eyes. Hungry people come and they are fed. The fear of starvation is removed from their lives. When you take away someone’s hunger, you make it possible for him to think about his existence on a higher spiritual plane. In the secular world we refer to this as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In a spiritual setting it is putting someone in reach of the divine. When you put a roof over someone’s head, provide access to clean water, give children medicine to keep them alive, this is seva. It is keeping the promise of the covenant that we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

Click here to read the full article

The Importance of Seva and Social Justice for Inner Transformation

From The Huffington Post

On the surface, emphasis in the Hindu and Dharmic (eastern) traditions appears to be primarily on inner self realization. We are encouraged to engage in community service as a transformation practice, sadhana, without personal recognition or publicity. Our underlying Vedic philosophy, often quoted by Mahatma Gandhi is Service to Man is Service to God. (Nar Seva, Narayan Seva). It is an inside out approach to living. Our definition of seva is: “Service which is given without consideration of anything in return, at the right place and time to one that is qualified, with the feeling that it is one’s duty, is regarded as the nature of goodness.” – Bhagavad Gita 17.20

It is no wonder then that in America, where community service is institutionalized as a well disciplined field, many wonder, where is Dharmic (eastern tradition) seva? Do Hindus serve the needy? Where is community service through their faith based institutions? What theology guides the Hindus to serve?

Click here to read entire article.

February 23rd, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Council Welcomes New Trustees

In a commitment to extending its reach to diverse religious and spiritual communities, the Board of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, at its October 24-25, 2010 meeting, elected seven new Trustees for a three-year term:

Ms. Anju Bhargava (Hindu)
Mr. Kirit Daftary (Jain)
Dr. Robert Henderson (Baha’i)
Ms. Mary Nelson (Christian)
Mr. Christopher Peters (Native American)
Dr. Anantanand Rambachan (Hindu)
Mr. Kuldeep Singh (Sikh)

The Council also welcomed to their inaugural meeting four Trustees who were elected in April 2010:

Mrs. Ginny K. Jolly (Sikh)
Dr. Leo D. Lefebure (Catholic)
Rabbi Brant Rosen (Jewish)
Dr. Robert P. Sellers (Christian)

(For more detailed bios, please see below)

The roots of the Council go back to the historic 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, hosted in conjunction with the World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, marking the first time in history the traditions of East and West met for formal interreligious dialogue.

Chicago was the site for the centennial celebration of this event with the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in August of that year. Subsequent Parliament events have been held in Cape Town, South Africa in 1999, Barcelona, Spain in 2004, and most recently, Melbourne, Australia in 2009.

Parliaments of the World’s Religions are the largest and most diverse interreligious gatherings in the world. 6,500 participants from over 80 countries representing over 200 religious, spiritual and traditional communities attended the most recent Parliament in Melbourne.

The Council is also establishing a network of locally based interreligious movements in over 70 cities worldwide.

The Council is governed by a board of 35 Trustees, with persons of Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Jewish, Hindu, Indigenous, Pagan, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and humanistic traditions.

BRIEF BIOS OF NEW TRUSTEES
COUNCIL FOR A PARLIAMENT OF THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS

Elected October 2010

Ms. Anju Bhargava (Hindu)

Anju Bhargava is a Strategic Business Transformation and Risk Management professional and management consultant. She has provided thought leadership in the public and private sectors, published papers and received many awards.  She is the only Hindu American appointed to President Obama’s Inaugural Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and was the only Indian-American to serve in the Community Builder Fellowship, President Clinton’s White House initiative.  She is the Founder of Hindu American Seva Charities, which is now a national movement for Hindu faith-based community service programs addressing social issues.  For more than twenty years she has been a Hindu representative to the Interfaith Clergy Association of Livingston, New Jersey.  An ordained pujari, she strives to combine philosophy and practice from a contemporary view and is active in Hindu education. She blogs “On Faith” for the Washington Post.  She was a founding member of the New Jersey Corporate Diversity Network and is the President of Asian Indian Women in America (AIWA).

Mr. Kirit Daftary (Jain)

Kirit C. Daftary is a leader in the North American Jain community and is active in a number of organizations including the Jain Association of North America (JAINA) which he has served as president and the local Jain Center of North Texas of which he has also been the head.  Currently, he is the President of Anuvibha of North America, a UN/NGO organization based in India and spiritually guided by Acharya Mahapragya Ji, the disciple of Acharya Tulsi. Kirit has a passion for the message of non-violence and the promotion of peace and harmony and is a frequent speaker including at universities. Since 2006, he has been associated with Parliament activities and was an Ambassador of the 2009 Parliament as well as active in the site selection process for 2009. He is a metallurgical engineer and received and M.B.A. and an M.A. from Wayne State University. He currently owns a successful import company dealing with India, China and Korea.

Dr. Robert C. Henderson (Bahá’i)

Robert C. Henderson is a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, the national governing body of the American Bahá’í community. He has extensive experience in the fields of business, government, and education. He co-founded Henderson Zorich Consulting, which specializes in management consulting and leadership and diversity training, with his daughter, Dr. Camille Henderson. His clients have included such Fortune 100 companies as Amoco, AT&T, General Electric, Hallmark, Mobil, United Technologies, and Xerox, as well as the Chicago White Sox. Dr. Henderson served as a Federal Commissioner of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission and designed and led meetings of California Supreme Court members, judges and lawyers to establish a California State Supreme Court Commission on Race and Ethnic Bias.  Dr. Henderson’s public speaking engagements are numerous; highlights include a plenary address given at the invitation of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the international conference, “Educating Girls: A Development Imperative,” and an address to an “Education Against Hatred” Seminar at Haifa University sponsored by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.  He was invited by President Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race to participate in the religious forum held in Louisville, Kentucky. Robert Henderson holds a doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts (1976).  He has published several articles and books on management systems and in-service training programs.

Ms. Mary Nelson (Christian – Lutheran)

Mary Nelson has spent the last forty years working in faith-based community development on the west side of Chicago, seeking to carry out the asset based community development principles in concrete ways through her leadership of Bethel New Life, Inc.  She received an MAT from Brown University and a PhD from Union Graduate School.  Her focus has been community based planning and development, and Bethel New Life, under her leadership, grew from an all-volunteer organization to a nationally recognized community development corporation. Mary transitioned in 2006 from the leadership of Bethel New Life into a senior associate/President Emeritus position. She is former chair of the Board of Mid American Leadership Foundation, Woodstock Institute and National Congress for Community Economic Development. She is on the national Boards of Sojourners (currently as Chair) and Christian Community Development Association.  She has also had a number of government appointments.  Mary has been teaching graduate university courses for over fifteen years and does workshops on community development and faith based community development all over the world.  She is currently the coordinator of the Loyola University (Chicago) Institute of Pastoral Studies (IPS) Masters in Social Justice and Community Development.

Mr. Christopher Peters (Native American)

Christopher Peters (Pohlik-lah/Karuk) was born and raised on his people’s territories in northwestern California. He is President and CEO of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, a Native led Indigenous Peoples public Foundation which supports grassroots Indigenous communities in the Americas and beyond. For more than thirty-five years his work has focused on grassroots social justice organizing, protecting sacred sites, working for holistic community renewal, rebuilding traditional economies, and supporting cultural revitalization efforts. Chris is a well-known and leading advocate for the protection of Native American prayer places and ceremonial life with long experience and expertise on the legal aspects of these issues. He has fought on the frontlines of environmental justice struggles to protect aboriginal ecosystems from the devastating effects of clear-cut logging, dam development, mining, recreational development and the negative impacts that the nuclear industry and globalization has inflicted upon Indigenous Peoples and homelands. Chris has a B.S. degree from the University of California, Davis, and an M.A. degree from Stanford University.

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan (Hindu)

Anant Rambachan, an internationally known scholar of Hinduism, is Professor of Religion and Chair of the Department of Religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he has taught since 1985. A native of Trinidad, he received the M.A. and Ph. D. from the University of Leeds, England. He is the author of many books including The Hindu Vision (1992), Gitamrtam: The Essential Teaching of the Bhagavadgita [Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993), and The Advaita Worldview: God, World and Humanity (2006). He has been active in interfaith programs with the World Council of Churches as well as the Vatican for twenty-five years as well as in the local setting in Minnesota. He is widely respected as a spokesperson for Hinduism and a bridge-builder between Hindus and other religious communities.

Mr. Kuldeep Singh (Sikh)

Mr. Kuldeep Singh has lived in the US since 1971 and “is probably known to and respected by nearly every Sikh in the United States,” according to Tarunjit Singh Butalia. He is currently President of Sikh Youth Federation-USA, established in 1968. He was Chairperson (1998 -2001 and 2003 -2004) of the World Sikh Council-America Region, which is the representative body of Sikh Gurdwaras and other Sikh institutions in the USA. He actively participated in the formation of the World Sikh Council and in 1996 was unanimously selected as the founder-coordinator of the World Sikh Council-America Region. He has organized Sikh youth camps in the summer for the last thirty-seven years for Sikh youth from across the US and Canada. He is an able fundraiser within the Sikh community. He is a sought-after speaker and has spoken at nearly every national and international Sikh conference and seminars and also organizes many such events.  He helped organize the Sikh presence at the Chicago 1993 Parliament and provided assistance in encouraging Sikhs from across the world to attend the Melbourne 2009 Parliament, at which he was a major speaker.

Elected March 2010

Mrs. Ginny K. Jolly (Sikh)

Ginny K. Jolly is on the board of FATEH (Fellowship for Activists To Embrace Humanity) a nonprofit organization involved in service projects for the community.  She has been instrumental in aligning with other organizations like Habitat for Humanity, March of Dimes, and Make a Wish Foundation to arrange many service projects in the Chicago community. To give something back to the community, which she strongly promotes, she has adopted a special needs child from Vietnam.  She is using her Masters of Nutrition education in effectively managing two GNC stores and helping clients in their health needs. An aspiring Sikh, and proud mother of three, Jolly was on the PTO for Willow Creek School for four years in charge of the school’s cultural programs.

Dr. Leo D. Lefebure (Catholic)

Leo D. Lefebure is the Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of four books, including Revelation, the Religions, and Violence and The Buddha and the Christ. His next book will be Following the Path of Wisdom: a Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada, which is co-authored with Peter Feldmeier. He is an honorary research fellow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Rabbi Brant Rosen (Jewish)

Rabbi Brant Rosen has served as rabbi of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston, IL, since 1998. A long-time activist for peace, social justice and human rights, Rabbi Rosen is the co-founder of Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza serves as the co-chair of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbnical Council. Rabbi Rosen’s writings appear regularly in his blog, Shalom Rav, and he has published articles for the Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Jewish Week. In 2008, Rabbi Rosen was honored by Newsweek magazine as one of the Top 25 Pulpit Rabbis in America.

Dr. Robert P. Sellers (Christian – Baptist)

Dr. Robert P. Sellers is Connally Professor of Missions at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas. In the graduate seminary program, his classes emphasize cross-cultural living, the Global Church, Two-Thirds World and liberation theologies, world religions, and interreligious dialogue. He’s taught in Canada and Mexico, Great Britain, Eastern and Western Europe, Eastern and Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. Along with Muslim and Baptist partners, Rob plans periodic national conferences. He also is active nationally as a member of the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches and internationally through the Baptist-Muslim Relations Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.