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Anju Bhargava

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It Is Time To Invoke History's 'Other 9/11' Of Nonviolence And Global Interfaith Dialogue

Posted: 09/08/11 11:35 AM ET

Today in America, "9/11" has become synonymous with an event of terrorism that changed America. Much has happened. Yes, indeed, much has changed!

But the American spirit of goodness, compassion and patriotism remains as strong as ever. This has allowed an interfaith movement to sweep through the country. It has created an environment where a concerted effort has gone in to reduce Islamophobia through education and service.

This understanding was needed. And is needed. All human beings and traditions warrant respect. Should the follies of a few be used as weapons of destruction for the innocent?

Of course, America needs to continue to defend its freedom. We must support our brave men and women as they continue to protect us. But we need to keep in mind that acts of terrorism, such as what happened at the World Trade Center on 9/11, or recently in India at Delhi and earlier in Mumbai, does not define a whole religion or a whole community of people. We need to be careful of stereotyping others lest it be done to us. They (whoever the "other" is) are also our neighbors and friends in our communities and schools. Now, all of us must take responsibility of turning the country away from the negative mindset, toward one of prosperity and peace.

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary, I am reminded of Gita's teaching of acceptance. I believe we, as a country of diverse communities, need to accept the events happened; and then get beyond it. I have reached a point where I certainly don't want our future generation to remember 9/11 just as a day of destruction and negativity. I support our country's efforts of calling it a National Day of Service and Remembrance, where the country is bridging the faith divide by working on interfaith service projects, by honoring service men and women, by sharing the many stories of goodness.

I propose we remember that history records another 9/11 -- one of nonviolence and interfaith dialogue -- with the first global Parliament of World Religions, held here in America. Let us bring the "other 9/11" to the forefront. Perhaps now IS the time to invoke that memory!

Ironically, it was on 9/11 of 1906 that Mahatma Gandhi started his Satyagraha movement of nonviolence in South Africa, influenced by Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience. Thoughts have no boundaries. This launch of the Modern Nonviolent Resistance Movement influenced America's Civil Right's Movement. Senator Harris Wofford, who recently addressed the Hindu American Seva conference at the White House, shared with us his journey to India to understand the Gandhian thought (including the seva movement) and of bringing it to America, serving as an advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King.

And it was on 9/11 of 1893, when Swami Vivekananda, the first Hindu monk to come to America, gave his welcome address at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago:

"Brothers and Sisters of America. It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome, which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects. "

The America of that time was divided along racial lines. Yet, it warmly embraced the message of Swami Vivekananda, a "colored person" in the parlance of that time. Today, the governing body of the revived Council of Parliament of World Religions is represented by all major faiths. I am honored to be part of this august body, which is working hard to amplify the interfaith principles globally.

As I see it, the American Vedic Hindu path, which started with the transference of knowledge from India by Swami Vivekananda, is a path on which our immigrant Vedic Hindu community and its progeny are grafting on to and traveling, along with many in the mainstream community, starting from Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Beatles, etal. Many aspects of this path, such as yoga, have today become ubiquitous in America resulting in, we hope, increased understanding.

Swami Vivekananda's words are as relevant today as they were more than a hundred years ago. I can't think of a better way to say what I want to express for this day.

"...All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.

...As different streams having different sources all mingle their waters in the sea, so different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to God.

...Where can we go to find God if we cannot see Him in our own hearts and in every living being.

...The moment I have realized God sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him -- that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free."

So, let me, with folded hands, say Namaste and honor the divine in each of us. Let us respectfully remember all impacted by the 9/11 tragedy. As we move forward let us remember the multi-historical facets of 9/11.

Let us fill our consciousness with the positive and collectively, bridging all divides, become proactive problem solvers, innovators and job creators, for our country.

Om, shanti, shanti, shantih!!! Let there be peace, peace and everlasting peace, only.

This post is part of a collection of interfaith reflections on 9/11 and the decade that followed.

 

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