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Report on Sai Interfaith Conference at Prasanthi Nilayam on 22nd and 23rd July 2005

Sai Interfaith Conference at Prasanthi Nilayam
Let all Faiths exist; let them flourish and let the Glory of God be sung in all the languages and in a variety of tunes. Respect the differences between the Faiths and recognize them as valid as long as they do not extinguish the flame of Unity. The basic Truth in all religions, irrespective of country or race, is One and the same. All religions exhort man to cleanse the heart of malice, greed, hate and anger.
– Baba

‘There is only one Religion and that is the Religion of Love’ has been one of the famous adages of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba whose Divine Mission is to bring peace in the world and in the hearts of men. At a time when the world is riddled with arson and violence in the name of Religion, where religious fanaticism often thrusts communal clashes, when the human mind is compartmentalized in the name of caste and religion, Prasanthi Nilayam, the Divine Abode of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba witnessed an Interfaith Conference – The Religion of Love in the immediate Divine presence of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba on 22nd and 23rd July 2005 coinciding with Guru Purnima Celebrations.

Participants in the Meet included representatives from the five major religions, namely, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. They were Ahangame Tudor Ariyaratne, the founder the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka representing Buddhism; Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, an Islamic spiritual scholar, who has set up an Islamic Centre in New Delhi representing Islam; Father Henry Fehren, a priest of the Holy Catholic Church who conducts pastoral and counselling duty in New York, representing Christianity; Rabbi David Zeller, an internationally acclaimed singer, story-teller and writer and a pioneer of Jewish spirituality and meditation, representing Judaism and P.S.Jayarama Sastrigal, a Sanskrit Pandit and Scholar of repute.

Personal Profiles of participants:

Ahagammage Tudor Ariyaratne (Buddhism) is the founder of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka. A former teacher at Nalanda College, he had conducted the first Shramadana work camp in 1958, eventually leading the largest non-governmental organization in Sri Lanka. He had led tens of thousands of family gatherings and meditations with millions of people. He has Doctorates from Emilo Aguinaldo College, Philippines, and Sri Jayawardenapura University, Sri Lanka. The seven volumes of his Collected Works provide a comprehensive collection of his speeches and writings.

Dr. Ariyaratne, recipient of many awards, including the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize, India, and the Niwano Peace Prize, Japan has been the President of the World Parliament of Religions.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan (Islam) is an Islamic spiritual scholar, who has been a strong advocate of peace and who has set peace as life’s mission. He was a visionary who understood the need to present Islamic teachings to suit the modern world and present day language. Towards this end, he had established The Islamic Centre in New Delhi, in 1970 and has been its president eversince. He has over 200 titles in his credit as publisher and his commentaries of the Holy Quran, in English and Arabic and an encyclopedia of the Quran, done under his guidance is ready for publication.

Maulana has represented Islam and Spirituality at International Inter-faith Islamic and Peace conferences on several occasions. He has won the prestigious Demiurgus Peace International Award 2002, for his outstanding achievements in strengthening peace among nations and developing a complete ideology of peace.

Father Henry Fehren (Christianity) was ordained as a priest of the Holy Catholic Church in 1948 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, USA. At present he conducts his pastoral and conselling duties in New York. He was a faculty in several colleges and universities in the U.S. and United Kingdom and has authored many books and articles. On TV and Radio he expounds the universal tenants of love and mutual acceptance of all others. He is a strong advocate of Universality of Godhood and the commonality of all religious faiths. He was the recipient of several awards from the Catholic Press Association and an award from the National Religious Press.

Rabbi David Zeller (Judaism) is an internationally known singer, teacher, story teller, and writer and a pioneer in Jewish Spirituality and Meditation. He has established his spiritual teachings beyond the Jewish Religion to Christians, Sufis, Taoists, Buddhists and Yoga communities. After organizational development for the Kibhutz Movement in 1970 and living as a sadhu in India in 1971, he was professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology from 1975. He founded the Network of Conscious Judaism in 1980 and directed the Shevet Centre for Jewish Spirituality and Meditation in Jerusalem.

P.S.Jayarama Sastrigal (Hinduism) is a Sanskrit Pandit and Scholar. He received his education at Vyakarana Siromani from Annamalai University and has been conducting Hindu ritual worship for over fifty years. Titles conferred on him include: Aanmiga Chemmal, Upanyasa Thilakam & Muhavai Periyavar. Sastrigal has authored several books, including Deepa Sthrothram, 108 Sivarpana Vilva Sthrothram and Ganapathi Suprabhatam and has several audio releases to his credit.

Introductory Speech by Dr. Michael Goldstein
Dr Goldstein, Chairman, Prasanthi Council, the body overseeing the activities of Sri Sathya Sai Service Organisations worldwide, in his introductory remarks said: Swami is the incarnation of selfless love. He has graciously permitted to hold an interfaith conference in His presence. Eminent speakers from five major religions have come to speak to you – Buddism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism. What is the meaning interfaith? Faith means religion; inter means between, indicating the existing division. Hence, the term interfaith implies division of religions. For us who are devoted to Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, there is only one religion, the religion of love. There is only one God, He is omnipresent. All the world religions are religions of love. The apparent differences among different religions are one of emphasis and not of essence. There are different languages, different rituals and practices. But, the fundamental spiritual basis is one. Hence, our conference is really an intra faith conference, not an interfaith conference. Spiritual truth is one. Intra means within. Deep within, at the very basis of world religions, there is spiritual truth. That is selfless love.

During the course of human civilization, our beloved Bhagawan in His many forms incarnated on earth to save mankind from the process of self- destruction. Hence, the advent of world religions. The lord God who is omnipresent, whose nature is selfless love, and who is with us as Bhagawan Baba, intervened to save man from his perverse propensities. The life and message of divine incarnations were recorded and followed, and were institutionalized by mankind. They became the religions of the world. However, all religions are the religions of love. To live our lives as examples of selfless love, to serve our brothers and sisters selflessly and lovingly is advocated by all of the world religions. Is it not the purpose of all religions to bring us back to God? to bring us to the realization of our divine heritage? Certainly these spiritual principles are the basic of all religions.

Bhagawan said, the only redemption for man is the grace of God, which can be won by constant remembrance of God and prayer from a pure heart. The purpose of this conference of religions is to listen to the men of faith, representing the religions of the world. They will speak to us in the context of their own religion and demonstrate spiritual unity and truth and love in the diversity of world religions. Let it not be an interfaith conference, because there is no difference between the deep spiritual truth of all religions. Let this therefore become an intrafaith conference. The divine truth is within all these religions and within all of us. The divine truth is one.

on Islam…
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan started his speech with a prayer. He said: When I reached this international village, my first encounter was with Mr. V.K. Kapur. He told me a very beautiful story. He said that he was travelling from Jalandhar to Delhi, and suddenly he got a heartstroke. His heart was badly damaged. Fortunately, after this he met Baba, and what happened was a miracle. Baba put his hand upon his heart and miraculously he was in complete health. Now he is leading a normal life. He is in normal health without visiting any doctor or any hospital. There may be many people who would have told you such stories. Really it is a miraculous city. This is my first visit to this place. I find it to be a spiritual city. Everywhere I find peace, spirituality, love and harmony. I remember the words of Swami Vivekananda. Hundred years ago, he said, that it is my dream that India will soon emerge as a spiritual country, a spiritual land. I think that India is emerging in this international city. Here Swami Vivekananda’s dream is being fulfilled.

The topic for this morning is Islam and the concept of love and peace. I am a student of Islam and I have studied Islam in detail. I can say with conviction that Islam is a religion of love, peace and harmony. You know the most sacred book in Islam is Al Khuran. Khuran contains 6500 verses. I can say that 99 per cent of those verses pertain to love, peace and harmony, either directly or indirectly. This is the basic teaching of Islam. The very first verse of Khuran is about love. This verse introduces God as one of love and compassion. The prophet of Islam said, “Adopt the attributes of God in your life.” It means that we have to adopt the values of love and compassion in our life. This is the basic message of love. The most important message of Islam is that one’s behaviour should be human friendly. Two basic principles of Islam is one should be God-worshipper and man-well-wisher. Well-wisher means one who loves. So, love is the basic quality expected of a Muslim. Islam promotes culture of Love and love contains all human values like compassion, tolerance etc. The Prophet of Islam says, “God gives to love what He does not grant to hatred.” Love makes you powerful and hatred makes you weak. Islam promotes only love culture and not hate culture. Islam says, “Do good deed in return to enemy’s bad deed. You will find that your enemy becomes your best friend.” It means that every enemy is your potential friend. What a beautiful idea! This is a great teaching. See your enemy as your potential friend.

I would like to narrate a story from the life of the Prophet of Islam. The Prophet was born in Mecca in 570 AD. He lived in Mecca for nearly 30 years. Then he migrated to Madina, another city of Arabia. One day the Prophet saw a funeral procession passing through a street in Madina. The Prophet was seated at that time. On seeing the funeral procession, he stood up in respect. One of his companions remarked, “O prophet! It is the funeral of a non-Muslim.” The prophet replied, “Was he not a human being?” It means that, although there is difference in religion, in culture, in race, the prophet found a commonality between himself and the non- Muslim and that was love. Love is greater than everything. There may be differences in religion, culture, etc.; but, there is no difference in love. You can love everyone. Love is the greatest binding force between human beings. All are brothers and sisters. This is the true message of Islam.

on Buddhism…
This is a great moment in my life. In 1982 July, I came here and sat at the feet of Baba and I still remember the advice He gave me. He emphasized both science and spirituality. And that was a great inspiration to my work. Everyday I am with hundreds of people belonging to all religions. But with all of them we are able to work with great spirit of brotherhood. Today, I am asked to speak a few words on Buddhism and Love. In fact, the more you study religions in depth, it is nothing but love. Lord Buddha in his discourse said, “In the same way the mother loves and protects her one and only child, even at the risk of life, protect all beings.” In other words, we are asked to love all beings. This love and kindness towards all beings and nature ignites within us a certain divine force, which is demonstrated by Sri Baba. He is showing clearly that religion is nothing but love. Under His guidance we are learning this truth. This is a unique opportunity we have in this world today.

If love can manifest in every human heart, what will happen? Every individual will look at the rest of the beings with great love and kindness. We see around us so much of suffering. So many are hungry and poor. Love and kindness (called Mettha or Mitri) can be translated into action. Most of you are young. Go in search of those who are suffering and try to remove the causes that lead to their suffering. Give water to those who do not have water to drink. That is compassionate action. In every sphere of life, be it mental, physical or spiritual, we can always translate love into action. Our entire ‘psycho-sphere’ is filled with organized hatred and ignorance. The result is, most of the resources in the world are spent today for evil and not for good. Therefore, if we can create a very very powerful spiritual force and get linked to the Divine being we have in our presence, then we can build in this world a ‘psycho-sphere’ filled with selflessness and love. That is the kind of love we need today. We have no time to lose. Lord Buddha repeatedly said, May all beings be happy. He said, hatred never ceases by hatred. Hatred ceases only by love and forgiveness.

In today’s world, there are a number of religions. When religions lack spirituality, there arise a lot of troubles. All over the world we have problems because religions deviated from their original path. What our great teacher Baba is trying to do is to bring back the lost to their religions so that the religions don’t have to fight with one another. Please remember this – There can be only one Buddha and one Baba for many thousands of years. We have to make them live in our hearts.

I first met Him in 1982 and spent over one and half hours in His presence. He explained to me my weaknesses and without my telling Him, He gave me guidance. Every day whatever good I do, I pass the credit to Him. As the 80th Birthday of Bhagawan is coming, we all have an obligation. Have that divinity in your heart. Never allow any ill will and selfishness to come in your way. Also believe that we can put an end to violence and build a new world. Young people must take the leadership.

Lord Buddha said, “Abstain from all evil. Cultivate good. Purify your mind. That is my teaching. And that is the teaching that Bhagawan is giving us. Let us all join together and spread this message everywhere. In my own country, you know that there had been a war going on. When I came in 1982, Bhagawan told me, “From next year, there will be terrible violence in your country.” I asked, “Can’t we avoid it?”. He said, “No, the kind of collective bad karma you people did, will have its consequences. But I will come one day.”

So, it is my fervent hope and also my greatest wish that, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, coming to Srilanka will not only usher peace into my country, but to the world.

Lord Buddha said, “Love all. Do compassionate service to all. That is Karuna. Learn to get the joy of living. That is Muditha. When you get the joy of living by doing good things, some people will praise you and some will blame you. Accept both name and blame with equanimity. With this four characteristics, namely, Mettha, Karuna, Muditha and Upekha, you can rise to the level of divinity.” Lord Buddha’s teachings are very much on these lines, never dividing people based on caste, creed and religion.

In the divine presence of Bhagawan, let us all resolve that by purification of our heart and mind and by serving everybody irrespective of who that person is, let us build a new society where Dharma rules and not armaments.

on Christianity…
Father Henry Fehren who chose to speak on the theme Non-violence said that our past was not negative and that we had learnt from it how to distinguish between love and religious hypocrisy. His speech began with a flashback of an inspiring story of a woman in the US, Ms. Dorothy Dey, who was an ardent follower of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai baba and a strong advocate of Non-violence who had spent the whole of her life doing works of mercy in New York City. She had established a House of Hospitality in New York for the poor which had become a Centre of Non-violence. She had even established a Weekly Paper, Catholic Worker, and sold it for a penny a copy. Even after she was diseased some years ago, the ‘Catholic Worker’ was still going strong. It is still being sold for a penny a copy even after sixty years and there are number of ‘Houses of Hospitalities’ all over the United States advocating Non-violence. Now, Ms Dorothy is on her way to being declared a Saint of Non-violence by the Vatican.

He said, for him, who was ordained to the Holy Catholic Church 57 years ago, Sai Baba was a great inspiration and his trip to India was a pilgrimage. Referring to Sai Baba’s teaching All people are One Family of God, he pointed out that “Sai Baba does not condemn any religion”; instead, says, “we can learn from them, find spiritual good in them. For every person there is something hollow which cannot be filled except by God. There are different traditions of the way by which people try to satisfy their religious longing. We must be open…open our eyes…and be willing to learn and realize that we are all made in the Image and likeness of God. When we try to make God into our Image and likeness then we will have trouble. When we think we have God in our pocket we are most likely to do evil in the name of God”.

Referring to Bhagawan’s teachings Father Ferren said, “His teachings are highly impressive. I have come to learn. We are all open minded and willing to learn which certainly enrich our spiritual lives. It is God who has given us identity…He has created us and we have not brought ourselves into this world. We do not need anything more than God. Despise and stain others is an insult to God for they too are children of God and God loves them and God is in them. Jesus said I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Sai Baba teaches God is in each one of us and therefore to offend anyone amounts to offend God. We must see God in other people. So we cannot do evil to someone in the name of God. If everyone understands this there will be peace in the world today.”

Mentioning Sai Baba’s teachings and various incidents in the illustrious life of Jesus Christ, Father Fehren drew the point that real love is something which prompts one to love against hatred, love against indifference without any expectations. He said, “Over and over, over the years, Jesus taught love and exemplified it and he knew that his unlimited love for everyone would cause his torture and death, and yet his love was unlimited. During his agony in the garden in the night before his crucifixion, Peter, James and John, his close disciples fell asleep and yet he loved them; Peter publicly denied him…yet he loved him. Judas betrayed him…yet he loved him. Love was never easy or effortless. Scourging at the pillar, crowning with thorns, abjured by soldiers and bystanders, the crucifixion, nailed to the cross for three hours, naked, and hanging there, did Jesus condemn anyone? No, He still loved them all…and from the cross he prayed, Father! Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Forgiveness is part of love and if we do not forgive we do not love, said Father Henry.

Sai Baba did not found any religion with concrete set of laws, instead, with a great blessed vision, He advised all to keep our own religion…and to realize who we were and that God was living in everyone.

Recapitulating his past, he illustrated from his own life as to how God worked mysteriously over the years right from his school days to help him to finally become what he is now. At every juncture in his life, where he was forced to face obstacles, he was mysteriously helped by the unseen presence of God. He added, “I have had too many blessings…including the invitation to come to Puttaparthi. Seen in misfortune, our lives could be a blessing if only we let God have His way. “One cannot compete with the Wisdom of God who is within us…who fills us…who loves us. Man proposes and God disposes.”

Concluding his inspirational and enlightening rhetoric, quoting St.Paul from his first letter written to the Corinthians, Summon all after us, "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal; If I have prophetic powers and understand all wisdom and if I have faith to move mountains but have no love...I am nothing; if I give away all that I have…and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have no love… I gain nothing. Love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong-doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end...And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love”, Father Henry said neither God nor Love can be defined.

Profoundly thanking Bhagawan for all the spiritual guidance He had imparted 33 years ago when he visited Prasanthi Nilayam, Mr. Zeller said, it was so special to be back here and that he was immensely benefited by that guidance from Bhagawan which helped him to go back to his path, his tradition. Addressing the gathering, separately to his Brothers and Sisters from India, Brothers and Sisters from all the world traditions, cultures and religions and from Israel, he said all are brothers and sisters as all are children of the same God.

Strumming his guitar, this internationally acclaimed singer mesmerized the minds and conquered the hearts of one and all with his rapturous, spontaneous and mellifluous singing that must surely have taken the gathering to the ecstatic heights of the Kingdom of Peace and Bliss. One would wonder whether the Gods of the highest heaven would also be watching this graceful artiste through the holes of heaven, if there be, when he was heard in his sweet voice, singing his heart out, praying to the Lord, in His immediate physical presence. He sang… “This is the House, the House of the Lord…I wish the best for you!!!”

Because of my brothers and friends
Because of my sisters and friends
Please let me ask, please let me sing
Peace to you!

Because of my brothers and friends
Because of my sisters and friends
Please let me ask, please let me sing
Peace shalome to you!

This is the house, the house of the Lord
I wish the best for you!
This is the house, the house of the Lord
I wish the best for you!

While extending his special greetings and honours to the representatives of all major religious faith, referring to the conference organized here, he said that for him it was one of the miracles in the world today that in the name of Peace…in the name of Love, we could be together, hear each other and open our hearts.

Drawing a parallel between the human body and the body of human kind, Mr. Zeller said, just like the body becoming healthy due to the harmonious function of all the organs, the body of human kind will be healthy when all the cultures, traditions and religions recognize each other and play their roles for the health, peace, wholeness and love of the entire humanity, all forms of life and creation.

Referring to his visit to Calcutta, ten years ago, representing Judaism in the World Parliament of Religions, he thanked Bhagawan for nudging and guiding him back to his own tradition and also India as a whole, the only country, according to him, in the entire planet earth that allowed his people, the Jews to live in peace for 2000 years.

Speaking about God and the Divine mystery of creation, he posed a question based on His religious philosophy: Why was the world created? When God is infinite…God is alone. It was for the sake of relationship, for the sake of love that God created this world. Because God wanted so much to have someone to give that love to, that God was willing to give up that infinite Oneness.

Admitting that he could not be too serious, he said it was important to have three Ls, i.e., to learn, to love and to laugh. To drive down to the point as to how Bhagawan would take care of His devotees even at far away places, he narrated his own experience in Puttaparthi, in his own genial humorous style, when he had visited the ashram 33 long years ago as a yogi. He said he was staying outside the ashram, bathing in the river. Having had the experience of people taking care of sadhus, he was used to this kind of good practice. But, to his great shock he found out Bhagawan’s saying that, we do not feed the sadhus, you have got to work or do not eat. He had a little bit of money that he was saving and thus managed to buy a banana, a little pea-nuts and tea. He was doing okay, every morning he would come out for darshan. Prasadam would be distributed - round biscuits - after Bhagawan came out of the room on to the balcony. He was never impressed with the little round biscuits, and told himself, ‘well this is not going to fill me up’. A man came with trays full of biscuits, knelt down to the person beside him, lost his balance and the whole tray poured into his lap. Yes, Bhagawan heard him; the thought that evolved in his mind reached him and He responded. To top it all, the whole day everywhere people, be it in the tea shop or in the canteen, would insist on him to have more food or offer to pay on his behalf, saying you never had enough to eat. He woke up in the middle of the night with stomach ache. When he was granted an interview after a week or so, Baba referred to the stomach ache he had in the midnight; He enquired about struggle in meditating and concentrating and a rosary was materialized and given which really meant so much to him.

Acknowledging profound heartfelt thanks to Bhagawan once again for the great opportunity granted to him to be here by keeping His heart open to all of them…he said: ‘it means so much...it means so much to all of us’. He sang the song ‘Shalome’ which means peace, ‘it really means wholeness. You can’t have peace if you do not feel that you are all part of one greater whole’. He lamented that what we call peace today is just a ceasefire. What we call Peace of mind is just a ceasefire of our thoughts for a couple of minutes. It is not real peace.

Shalome…Shalome…Shalome…Shalome (Sha…..aaa….lo…me…)
Let there be Peace…
Shalome…Peace throughout the world…
Shalome…Peace in every heart
Shalome…God Bless You, thank you so much!
Shalome…Thank you Swami, Thank you Baba!
Shalome…Thank you to the Organisers
Thank you to everybody who did so much to make it happen

On Hinduism…
Paying obeisance at the Lotus Feet of Bhagawan and other Divine Forms and to Lord Rama, whose mantra is the one that transports one from the Samsara (worldly) to liberation, Shastrigal said, the purpose of any Jiva is for realizing the ultimate reality of Godhood. We should always have love as the first object of our lives and we are in the very presence of love and divinity personified. This birth with which we have been gifted must be considered as good fortunate as we are able to have darshan of Bhagawan who is nothing but the personification of love, affection and kindness.

Referring to Bhagawan’s immediate divine presence, he said that we are immensely benefited and are fortunate for we are receiving blessings from the deity who is present before us through His darshan. ‘Rama’ is the Taraka Mantra, that transports one from the worldly to liberation and here we are chanting Sai Ram, Sai Ram for the divinity that is present before us. This is the one and only mantra that exterminates all foes. The quintessence of the Veda and Upanishads is Sai Rama Mantra. Sathya Sai Rama Mantra is the one that lifts up everyone from the Samsara or transmigratory existence to the place beyond spatio-temporal confines; it is the Mantra which helps you at the appropriate time.

In the 86 years of life of Panditji, he had two miraculous cures from Bhagawan, which otherwise would not have been possible. For the last fifty years it is the opulence of Bhagawan that made him free from all ailments which he has been suffering from. He owed his walking and talking in the Divine presence to the Grace and Blessings conferred by Bhagawan.

With his profound knowledge in Sanskrit and understanding of Spirituality and ritualistic worship, Panditji extolled the Divine Persona in Bhagawan by composing instant verses praising His Divinity.

Concluding his speech Shastrigal once again thanked Bhagawan for having given such a wonderful opportunity which he attributed to the merits of his past lives.

Images from Inter Faith Conference


Source: http://www.sssbpt.org/Pages/Prasanthi_Nilayam/Inter_Conference.htm


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