Hindu Americans Take Global Stage at Parliament of World Religions
Melbourne, Australia (December 13, 2009) - Calls for religious understanding, simple living, vegetarianism and an end to religious imperialism were clear and resonant over the last week in Melbourne. As the Australian summer approached, swamis, rabbis, bishops, imams and high priestesses from around the world converged for the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions (PWR). During plenary addresses and intense small breakout sessions, lay delegates mingled with religious and spiritual leaders to discuss issues as complex and diverse as climate catastrophe, poverty, wars, justice, the rights of indigenous peoples and interfaith harmony. The Hindu American Foundation's (HAF) co-founder and member of the Board of Directors, Mihir Meghani, M.D., and Managing Director, Suhag Shukla, Esq., attended and addressed multiple sessions at the summit.
The PWR catapulted to prominence in 1893, when the trailblazing Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, became the first to bring Hinduism to a Western audience. The PWR was reconstituted in 1993 for a grand centennial celebration and now meets every five years.
"This was an awe-inspiring and humbling experience - to simply bask in the presence of our greatest spiritual leaders and re-orient our work for a higher purpose," said Dr. Meghani after he addressed a session that highlighted the conflict between the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights and predatory proselytization and coerced conversions. "We met so many who also agree that the ongoing global mission to harvest souls by some Christians is an affront to religious freedom and a violence on Hinduism and other indigenous traditions. That alone made this perhaps the single most important conference we have attended in recent years."
While Meghani addressed religious freedom, Shukla spoke out against what she described as the commercial appropriation and misappropriation of yoga which purposefully delinks yoga from its roots in Hinduism.
"Yoga is available to anyone regardless of color, caste, creed or country, but we simply cannot ignore, contrary to what's done by many Western yoga practitioners, the fact that yoga is rooted in core Hindu concepts of divinity in all of existence, karma, reincarnation and moksha (liberation)," stated Shukla. "If along with asana, you're studying the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita, you're not just engaged in exercise anymore. Your engaged in a spiritual practice shared by millions of Hindus." She also addressed a session exploring the challenges of Hindu advocacy in a Western context.
Shukla said that besides extensive interactions with leaders of all traditions, they also observed the ratification of the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change. This document, released in advance of the Copehagen summit this coming week, calls for a shift to a holistic view of nature and states that, "the Hindu tradition understands that man is not separate from nature, that we are linked by spiritual, psychological and physical bonds with the elements around us."
Swami Amarananda of Ramakrishna Order; Swami Avdeshananda Giri, Trustee of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, an apex unifying body of traditional Hindu leaders; Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami of Kauai's Hindu Monastery; Swami Chidananda Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan; Sri Chinnajeeyar Swami; Dadi Janki of the Brahma Kumaris; Sri Karunamayi Vijayeswari Devi; Sri Swamini Mayatitananda (Mother Maya) of Mother Om Mission; Swami Paramatmananda Saraswati of Arsha Vidya Gurukulum; Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of Art of Living Foundation; and Dada Vasvani, were among the many Hindu spiritual leaders attending the PWR. They mingled with the Dalai Lama, representatives of major Christian denominations, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, pagans and indigenous and aboriginal peoples.
"The intersection of religions holds the potential for cross-pollination between faiths, and the creating of links and understandings that may, if pursued thoughtfully, even bring into focus solutions to the many plights facing the human race," said Paramacharya Palaniswami of the Kauai Hindu Monastery and editor-in-chief of the magazine, Hinduism Today. "In Melbourne, Hinduism had a strong voice and with that voice it spoke out the message of dharma, a message of reverence for nature, of a return to the dharmic ideal of restraint, of changing the world through our collectively living in harmony and simplicity on the Earth, our Mother."