After the enlightening inaugural session in the morning, the delegates were in for yet another spiritual feast post lunch. The highlight of the afternoon was the panel discussion on Sarva Dharma Samanvaya. With participation of elite panellists representing different faiths and religions, the discussions were rich in content and deeply impactful.
Panel discussion captivates the audience
The first panellist to share his thoughts on the topic was Professor H.S.Bhatia, former Scientist, Indian Space Research Organisation. “All religions work for the unity of faiths” he said. Sikhism had started almost 550 years back and Guru Nanak, the main Guru for Sikhs, who wrote the Guru Granth Sahib had specifically propitiated respect for all religions and the thorough need to understand the similarity between Creator and Creation, he explained.
“The two main aspects of importance are one, the spirit of God abiding in all of us uniformly, and two, the base commandment to treat everyone as our own brother or sister.” He urged the delegates to meditate on God’s name, and by doing so “you tend to become God-like, and rise above troubles”.
Speaking about the importance of education in today’s world, he said that Vidya or education is meant for empowering for the betterment of society, and anything that is not good in the society has to be uprooted at the grassroots level. He ended his talk asking everyone to work together for the welfare of mankind. “Bhakti and Shakti have to go together”, he ended.
The next panellist to enlighten the audience was Venerable Ghese Lhakdor, former Interpreter and Religious Assistant to HH (His Holiness), The Dalai Lama. He began by explaining the motivating force behind Lord Buddha’s thirst for enlightenment. “Lord Buddha believed strongly in the impermanence of things in this world, and always encouraged people to explore their own inner potential.” He explained that “I can be God anytime. Without understanding the reality and without a strong foundation, there is no use talking.” Nothing can exist without harmony, he stated. “Just as a tree gets damaged with too much sun or too much water, it is important for the element of harmony and balance to exist even in Nature”. Therefore, “a human being is a combination of body and mind and it is important that we avoid starvation of the mind”.
Giving spiritual education to the younger generation is quite important, he said and went on to proclaim that the only country where all major religions live together is India.
Father Charles Ogada, Founder and President of the Spartan Self Awareness Initiative in Nigeria was the next panellist to address the audience. “The essence of Christianity is love and compassion” he began. Jesus who was born on this earth, lived in love and went about doing good to everyone, he explained. He then narrated an instance when a rich man approached Jesus and questioned Him about the essence of religion? Jesus replied that Thou shall love Thy neighbour as Thy Friend.
God is one and that is the fundamentality of all religions. While everything is consciousness and there is constant integrated awareness – that exists with us all the time, we also have to realise that everything we do is for God, he explained emphatically.
“The cross of Christianity symbolises the highest form of Christianity, which is the cutting across of the human ego, the cutting sense of me and mine. Religion divides and unites humanity across the globe. But the essence of all religions is that we are all divine. It is necessary for us to realise that God is everywhere – above you, below you, in you, around you.”
His talk was followed by the equally breath-taking speech by Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, Honorary Secretary, JudahHyam Synagogue in New Delhi. He began with a definite statement that he was an Indian first and then a Jew. Not surprisingly, he quoted the verse “Janani Janma Bhoomischa Swargadapi Gariyasi” in his opening remarks. He said that though Judaism had been in existence for the last 2300 years, it hasn’t faced any persecution from other religions. India, he said, was the most tolerant country.
“God is always merciful and has love in abundance”. He spoke of two important aspects of Judaism – God is our Lord and the Lord is only One. Try to appreciate, not to criticise anyone at any point in time, he urged the audience. Elucidating the other main principles of Judaism, he requested the youth delegates and students to “take care of their parents in their old age, develop humility, forgiveness, control their anger and repent for their mistakes at least once before death.”
Stressing the need for holistic education, he said that education should comprise of development of the physical, mental, intellectual aspects of a student. He ended his talk by praying to God that “You are the Master, You alone O God are the Master” and asked for God’s blessings that everyone remain devoted to Him.
Swami Nikhileshwarananda, Head of the Vadodara Centre of Sri Ramakrishna Math and Mission took the dais next, sharing his thoughts on how the fundamentality of all religions were the core values of love, harmony, compassion and peace. He explained this concept by narrating the story that Swami Vivekananda had shared during his trip to the United States of America. Once upon a time, a pregnant lion, in her attempt to cross a flock of sheep, delivered her little cub, and died after jumping to the other side. The lonely cub wept at the loss of its mother. Seeing this, the mother of the sheep felt sad and consoled the cub. The mother sheep taught the cub to eat grass, and to bleat and in no time, the cub was yet another member in the flock. One day, a lion was passing by the forest, and was surprised to see the bleating cub. The lion chided the cub for acting like a sheep. It helped the cub undo her previous traits that were learnt, rather than acquired and moulded the cub into the true nature of a lion.
“Inside every human being, there is a centre of consciousness, which in itself is powerful, he explained, drawing parallels from the story. We have indeed forgotten our true nature of divinity and have got entangled in unreal pursuits. There can be only one infinite power but each soul is potentially divine”, he elaborated. He then went on to say that since I and You are not different, it is undoubtedly important for everyone to think and act beyond Maatru Devo Brava, Pitru Devo Bhava, Aacharya Devo Bhava, Athiti Devo Bhava. He said that we should also worship the God in poor, and the God in patients. He then expressed his happiness with the mighty projects taken up by Sri Sathya Sai Baba in the education and healthcare space. “We reap what we sow and hence it is important for us to recognise, realise the infinite power within ourselves and act in concurrence with human values,” he ended.
This was followed by a short Q&A session which dwelt on cultivation of tolerance, how to extrapolate living in harmony from the microcosm to the macrocosm, and other such topics. The discussion concluded with the collective understanding that “religion and human values were not only inseparable, but closely connected. Values are core and religion is based on the values.”
Bhagawan arrived at the hall around 6 PM, led by the traditional Poorna Khumbham and Veda Chanting by the students of Sri Sathya Sai educational institutions.
The formal proceedings for the evening began with veda chanting by the girl students of Sri Sathya Sai Prashanthiniketanam Campus, Chikkaballapur. The many guests and dignitaries, who were seated on the dais were then formally welcomed and honoured, as an expression of gratitude. Guest of Honour Sri HK Patil, Honourable Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, Honorary Secretary, JudahHyam Synagogue in New Delhi, Prof. H S Bhatia, former Scientist, Indian Space Research Organisation and State Secretary in Gurudwara, Sri Guru Govind Singh Sabha, Bangalore, Sri Isaac Tigrett, Founder, Hard Rock Cafe and House of Blues and a long standing devotee of Bhagawan, Venerable Geshe Lhakdor, Former Interpreter and Religious Assistant to His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, Father Charles Ogada, President of Spirit and Self Awareness Initiative in Nigeria, Sri B Narayana Rao, Secretary of Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva Trust, Ms Gulsha Begam, President of Global Peace Mission and Chairman of The Divine Abode Foundation, Sri Kesava Reddy, Zilla Panchayat President, Chikkaballapur district were among the dignitaries seated on the stage.
Summary reading by delegates
This was followed by short speeches by two delegates, recapitulating the morning session. Sister Kritika from Bangalore and an alumna of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute Of Higher Learning, Anantapur campus and brother Sonu Kumar from Bihar, current student in the Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Kendra, Muddenahalli Campus beautifully summarised the morning sessions.
Following Bhagawan’s command, Father Charles Ogada spoke about the unity of religions, dwelling on the life and message of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. In his address, he emphasized that only Sri Sathya Sai Baba can epitomize this harmony of all the religions under one umbrella ‘Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Man’. He explained that the essence of religions is the realization that all are Divine.
This was followed by an address by the Guest of Honour Sri HK Patil, Honourable Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Government of Karnataka. He began with an appreciative note on the many expanding projects under the continued guidance of Bhagawan, and focussed his speech on the Swami’s main message of love and selfless service.
Sri B N Narasimha Murthy spoke next, beginning his speech by citing quotes from different people appreciating India as the land of spiritualism and as a ray of hope for the poor and downtrodden. Comparing Jesus Christ to Bhagawan in subtle form, he said just as how Jesus had resurrected Himself for 42 days after His crucifixion, Bhagawan had come back in subtle form to continue His mission for 11 years by choosing the State of Karnataka. Recapping the education projects undertaken by Bhagawan in His subtle body, he announced about the upcoming campus for girls in the Gadag district of Karnataka.
The much-awaited divine discourse was the highlight of the evening. Bhagawan began His discourse by saying that the whole creation has emerged from Truth and will merge back in to Truth. “If one realizes this, then one will know that it is the absolute truth that is within oneself.” He said that in every religion the Truth is one and the same. Every human being is the embodiment of the Divine Atma and not just human. To realize this, one has to experience oneself by developing pure love in one’s heart. All human relationships are based on love. One can follow any religion but only if one develops love and practices it, one can reach the ultimate destination. “Love lives by giving and forgiving. The essence of all the religions is Love. Love in word is Truth, in practice is righteousness, in feeling is peace and in understanding is non-violence. Bhagawan emphasized that all are God but that realization will come only when each one constantly thinks that he is God, “Yath Bhavam Tath Bhavati.” During this process one has to be always be selfless and not selfish, He explained.
Multi-faith cultural concert
The evening session ended with a grand musical offering by Bhagawan’s students and members and volunteers of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Vrinda, the service organisation of Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva Trust. This conceptualised presentation was based on the theme ‘Harmony of Religions’. The musical fest treated the audience to a multilingual performance, touching upon many religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikkhism, Judaism and Islam. The soulful renditions indeed touched every heart.
The evening ended with Mangala Arathi to Bhagawan.