Last Saturday, here at our Potomac, Maryland temple we held our 25th Annual Vaisnava Christian Dialogue. Our participants are, for the most part, scholar/practitioners who come from the Catholic, and Protestant traditions, as well as Vaisnavas of different lineages. Many of the participants are priests or professors or chaplains at universities.
Our theme this year was Human Fraternity, and Unity in Diversity. Someone each year writes a paper from each tradition’s perspective and then, together, we discuss it.
My dear sister, Krishna Kanta (Catherine Ghosh) is one of our participants. She is a poet herself, and a compiler and editor of many anthologies of writing and poetry by women.
Please be inspired by her report (shared below) on this year’s conference!
Bhakti’s Perpetual Spring Season ~ A few reflections from the 25th annual Vaishnava Christian Dialogue
~by Krishna Kanta Dasi
Spring is upon us, here in Virginia, announcing its presence with colorful yellow daffodils and pink cherry blossoms everywhere! The flower blossom is a favorite symbol in ancient Vaishnava verse, symbolizing our own consciousness in its fully awakened state. It is said that each of us begin as a tight little bud, and, gradually, begin opening, sharing our unique fragrance. What makes each of us blossom is love!
This year, at the 25th annual Vaishnava Christian Dialogue conference, graciously hosted by Rukmini Devi Dasi and her husband, Anuttama Dasa, several of us gathered amidst flowering trees to contemplate the theme of Unity in Diversity. Together, we reflected on building deep friendships—heartfelt brotherhoods and sisterhoods—with each other, regardless of our differences.
In our own Bhakti tradition, heartfelt offerings are at the core. We dive deep within our own hearts to find the many variegated ways we feel moved to express our love outwardly, in our daily exchanges with others in our families or communities, with the plant and animal kingdoms, with Mother Bhumi—or our environment—and directly with the Divine via the ancient rituals of nama bhajan and archana vigraha. We also enter deep into our own hearts, through our individual sadhana—our personal spiritual practices.
What do we find when we enter the garden of our hearts? These last couple of years, the global pandemic has given rise to much grief in the hearts of many. Yet, during the conference, we contemplated how this grief has brought us together, all around the world, helping us feel more connected to one another, in our feelings of compassion and empathy for one another, despite our differences.
Compassion is a beautiful unifying agent. Together, with grief, it powerfully exercises our hearts in ways that help us connect more deeply, and lovingly with others. It is in these heartfelt exchanges with one another that we begin to water our little flower buds, in earnest. Sometimes, we don’t know what lovely blossoms hide within each of us, until we are in the company of those who will nourish them.
This special loving sanga is the wellspring of water from which we each drink, regardless of how we identify. In our interfaith dialogue, we encouraged one another to find the spiritual wells within our own hearts—and drink from them deeply—so that we may be able to sincerely appreciate the value of others who “drink from other sources”, as Pope Francis put it in Fratelli Tutti. (quoted by John Borelli at the conference). For, whether we are drinking from Christian wells or Vaishnava wells, ultimately, we all draw from wells of love.
It is this love that unites us. When we make a practice out of sincerely drawing from our hearts in our exchanges with others, and being truly present to them, we also help them get in touch with the love in their own hearts. The quality of such exchanges then attracts to us the “all attractive” Supreme Beloved. When we draw in a divine presence to our dialogues, then, we naturally become more intimate with that divine presence, and our own divine essence starts to blossom.
In the end, we reflected on how we are all fellow travelers on the path, the camino, and in journeying with each other’s loving support—in heart-to-heart dialogue—we can “…plunge the depths of the mystery of God…”, (FT). But not before we learn to connect well with one another, plunging the depths of the mysteries of our own hearts, watering our buds until they too, blossom, like flowers in the spring.
This reminds me of the beautiful full moon night of the Rasa Dance in our sacred Bhakti literature, in which the Vrindavan forest began to blossom, spontaneously, in the middle of the autumn season! The forest was responding to the love exchanged by Krishna and the cowherd maidens of Vraja, the Gopis. That beautiful night, the Gopis linked arms with one another, uniting as one, drawing Krishna into the circle by the purity of their love.
Under the rasa purnima, the full moon of that sacred night, everything was in full bloom, including the Gopis and Krishna. In our Bhakti tradition, this circle of the Rasa Dance reveals to us a model for our exchanges with others, showing the potential each of us has to also beckon the season of love into own relationships, which causes us all to blossom, in Bhakti’s perpetual spring!
Krishna Kanta Dasi