The Parliament of World Religions, which first gathered in 1893 in Chicago, is the oldest and might well be the most prestigious international interfaith gatherings in the modern era. The 2018 gathering was the 125th year anniversary of Swami Vivekananda delivered a speech introducing Hinduism as one of the great religious traditions with much to offer the world. 2018 was also Sequoia Samanvaya's first global platform, and we, along with our family of friends, were delighted to be able to be an element of manifestation of Swami Vivekananda's vision of a world of greater harmony between the deep religious traditions of the world. Ramasubramanian (Ram), who has spent much time steeped in the same vedantic traditions as was Vivekananda, and I were, by the time we arrived at the Parliament, deep into our Indian to "Indian" dialogues between the ancient indigenous traditions of the Americas and the ancient traditions of India by the time the Parliament started: our dialogues with indigenous elders and with others had taken us from New York City to Boston to Maine, wherein we drove with another member of our family of friends, Dr. Gray Cox, from Maine to Toronto. The drive was long and beautiful, and we let the land, only just entering the cold season, captivate us with its inherent majesty.
And thus we - Quakers/Christians/Divine Feminine/Hindu/Buddhist (each of us holds carries more than one single lineage) arrived having been walking the true spirit of the Parliament, which seeks depth of understanding and the sometimes glorious heights of truth, long before we got there. How else could it be, when you walk a path wherein the journey is just as important as the destination?
The city currently known as Toronto has been a site of human activity for 15,000 years. The Lake Ontario waterfront watershed in which the participants of the Parliament shared their stories is the historical territory of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. The territory was the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and Confederacy of the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. We started our time at the Parliament in a fire ceremony held outside of the convention center besides a great teepee. The sacred fire was kept burning throughout the rainy week, and all of us found different times to go down and offer prayers, seek purification, and simply "be" outside of the inherent artificiality of the conference center.
In Toronto, Ram and I, as well as other Quakers participating in the Parliament, were generously hosted by Toronto Friends Meeting House. Ram's stay in Canada was kindly supported by Auroville International, an organization dedicated to support Auroville's goal of human unity, a goal that has for over 50 years inspired the international community in India whose ideals are much aligned with those of the Parliament.
Our family of friends were able to host and partake in many substantial dialogues and workshops. Gray Cox hosted a panel on, What would Gandhi say? Nonviolence and Gandhian philosophy and practice today, in which Ram was a speaker. Christopher Fici, an active member of the Sequoia Samanvaya community, facilitated a panel on Hindu Eco-Dharma for the Age of Climate Change, in which Ram also was able to speak. Our friend Beth Blissman from the Loretto Sisters was a part of the panel on How Can we use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to translate love into inclusive action? We kept running into other friends who were also presenting wonderful workshops, including Mindahi Bastida, who presented at a panel on Inspiring the Politics of Being, Spiritual Wisdom for a new development paradigm. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of wonderful people with wonderful programs -so many so that it was not until after the conference that I learned of several of them, including that my old friend Dr Paloma Pavel, along with Dr Carl Anthony and others, offered a section on The Earth and the City: Uncovering the Intersectionality of Race and Climate Justice.
Perhaps most meaningful for Sequoia Samanvaya was the act of hosting a booth. In a conference where over 10,000 people were wandering around choosing between 10-30 workshops at any given time, we were in one place. We offered that precious opportunity for participants to pause, enter our space, lay down their heavy bags, sit, and have some quieter conversations. We talked about sacred ecology and dharma, colonization and remembering, prisons and land acknowledgements, families and food, Parliament politics and chance encounters. The banner was made from organic cotton, hand died with natural dies by our friends in a village south of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The design on it was mine - that's our shell-spiral of a logo! The banner was a huge attraction and much admired by all. We were delighted to share space with the Quaker Institute for the Future, where we featured the QIF Focus Books.
We were particularly proud to launch Ram's book, Dharma Unplugged, at our booth. Swami Tyagananda, head of the Ramakrishna order in Boston and the Hindu chaplain at Harvard University and one of the key note speakers at the Parliament, launched the book. As with so many spiritual masters, joy emanated from him. Swami Tagananda was one of Ram's earliest teachers of the Bhagavad Gita, and spoke of how proud he was of Ram and the work Ram was doing through Samanvaya Social Ventures and the Sustainable Livelihood Institute at Auroville in Tamil Nadu, in which he listens to and helps others realize dharma through enabling sustainable livelihoods. During the book launch, I could almost feel the highly articulate, joyful ancestry of the Ramakrishna lineage present, giving strength to those who were working today to realize the ancient wisdom that has been passed down through prayers, chants, teachings, seeds, songs, farming practices, and a lot of love.
As behooves any gathering of its kind, the serendipitous encounters and impromptu community across and between religious and ethnic communities were beautiful and some of the most important interactions. I particularly appreciated the many moments for song, dance, chanting and music. Highlights included participating along with other women to sing some powerful native songs, our voices and drumbeats soaring high, as well as a late-night talk and spontaneous sharing of songs with new friends.