An Interfaith Event in Alberta
This article has first been published in the Canadian Sathya Sai Newsletter, Summer-Fall 2015.
The Edmonton Sai Centre received an invitation to participate in an interfaith event on June 28th, 2015 in the town of Whitecourt, Alberta which is a smaller resource-based community about two hours northwest of Edmonton. The event was sponsored by the Ahamadiyya Muslim Jama’at and hosted by Reverend Alwin Maben, the local United Church minister. Four speakers were invited to speak on
Freedom of Expression and Respect for Religious Sanctities, and the Sai Centre of Edmonton was invited to present from a Hindu perspective.
When we discussed this at the Sai Centre executive meeting, we felt it was important to bring Swami’s Universal message to this event. We also felt it was important to distinguish the Sathya Sai International Organization from Hinduism in general. While it is true that the majority of our membership are practicing Hindus, I felt it was important to stress the Universal nature of Swami’s Teachings.
We arrived at the event with a delegation of our SSIO Vice-President, our Regional President, our President of the Centre’s Foundation Committee, our Education Coordinator and myself. Immediately we all seemed to be engaged in conversations with participants and organizers. This was perhaps more important than the presentations, as we established a good rapport with several key people who were present.
The four presenters were given 20 minutes each and I started the presentations. The first order of business was to address the fact that the Sathya Sai International Organization is a Spiritual Organization. I described my experiences of first encountering Sathya Sai Baba in 1996 in Puttaparthi. It was right after the New Year and those reading this can appreciate the enormous crowds that were present from all over the world, naturally including many Hindus, but there were also Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and others all basking in His divine love. With such limited time to present an overview of Swami’s teachings, there was quick mention of the Super Specialty Hospital providing free medical treatment to the poor, Swami’s school system integrating Human Values into traditional subjects, the vast network of seva and the requirement for members to perform selfless service.
Without reproducing the entire talk, there are a few paragraphs that represent the essence of the presentation. Swami said:
I have not come to start a new religion. He stated on many occasions that all religions are facets of the same truth. He wanted us to be a better Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or whatever faith we follow. And most importantly is that we should repeat the name of our chosen Deity at all times and in all places. This is the most important way of developing that heart to heart connection with Divinity. In this dark world this is the lamp that will illumine the way forward. Swami has assured us that if we
take one step towards God, He will take a hundred steps towards you. Sai Baba also said that He is not teaching something new, what He taught is the same truth that has existed for ages and in every faith. The five Human Values on His emblem exist in all faiths, Love, Truth, Right Conduct, Peace and Non-Violence.
Is there a belief here that does not share these Values?
Sai Baba commonly addressed those present during His Discourses as ‘Embodiments of Love’. These values, including Love, are all inter-related and exist in every religion and two in spirituality. The core of religion is beyond the intellectual understanding or mad monkey mind. All theology is but road signs and directions.
We are the ones who must come to the experience of love, and
the peace that surpasses all understanding as Jesus said. We are the ones who must rise to a heart to heart connection with the Divine with love itself. The presentation ended noting how similar Swami’s words of
Love All – Serve All, were to the Ahamadiyya Muslim slogan of,
Love for all – Hatred to none.
Mr. Roderick Alexis spoke next on the revival of Aboriginal spiritual traditions and sensibilities.
Just take what you need from Nature, sounded so similar to Ceiling on Desires that was quite universal. Dr. Henry Victor a retired Anglican Minister and Professor of Comparative Religions spoke on the Christian perspective of inclusion, tolerance and exclusion of other beliefs in the 28,000 denominations. Salman Khalid, an engineer and Vice-President of the Ahamadiyya Muslim Society spoke on the perception of Muslims as violent. He took the audience through Koran verses used as justification from some of the extremism in some sects of Islam. It was truly refreshing to listen to his presentation of a peaceful Islamic perspective.
After the presentations there was an opportunity for everyone to share their thoughts during refreshments. Several members of the Ahamadiyya Muslim Jama’at expressed how similar their focus is on providing education and medical care where it is needed as a spiritual service. Mr. Khalid also added that he would have said so much more about their organization’s service but the time was limited. We also spoke about the similarity of spiritually-inspired goodness in the various faiths.
One woman shared that her daughter was about to marry a Hindu man and this presentation gave her a better understanding of how to bridge her Christianity with her future son-in-law.
Ceiling on Desires reference seemed to stir one man as he talked about the fact that 40% of all food purchased in our society goes to waste. Being retired, he was quite passionate about starting a campaign to bring awareness to this abuse of resources. A few people spoke of the simplicity and clarity of the Human Values program which seemed to be their
take away. These comments were typical of the short conversations we had with people present. We did not get into any in-depth discussions but we left feeling that we made some good connections within this gathering.