Interfaith celebration commemorates Hindu guru's birth

A couple of weekends ago, I had the great pleasure of celebrating the interfaith movement and one of its pioneers at Yogaville in Virginia. It is the home of an interfaith ashram founded by a Hindu guru, Swami Satchidananda. Satchidananda was known worldwide for promoting peace and encouraging the growth of a fledgling interfaith movement since the 1970s. This occasion for my visit was the celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. (He died in 2002.)

I was invited to moderate two panels on interfaith relations, and the guests were fascinating. For example, one guest was a woman from the Jewish Renewal movement who writes interfaith plays and musicals. Another was a stately Hindu civil servant from India who once headed India's equivalent of our FBI and is now a human rights and peace activist. A Sufi Muslim led us in prayer before one panel. Others were female swamis at the ashram with long experience practicing integral yoga and meditation.

The celebration featured an interfaith service with representatives of about 10 major faith traditions. One of them was a Sikh who happens to be the mayor of Charlottesville, Va.

In a world where religion is of less and less interest to many, this place stands out as something different. It is growing in size, and people are coming because they love its traditions and ideals. It's not merely the home of Hindu monks; they are a small minority of those who live there. Rather, many married couples are building homes in the area to share in the life of the ashram. Lots of young people come to study yoga and get hooked.

It's not unusual for people to spend 30 to 60 minutes in daily meditation, sometimes at the LOTUS shrine, which looks architecturally like a Hindu temple but is really an interfaith temple.

What many people embrace at the ashram is its spirit of freedom. Swami Satchidananda's most famous saying is simply: "Truth is one; paths are many." In a world where differences of all kinds are tearing us apart, there is much to embrace in that saying.

And in our own Catholic church, where leaders are too often given to dogmatism, there is a lot to learn along those "many paths" to truth.

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