My Experience in the Parliaments of Worlds’ Religions

N.S. Xavier, MD

The first Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Chicago in 1893 in connection with the Chicago World Fair. The Parliament which promoted dialogue among various religions was a great step in the history of religions. Swami Vivekanda from India was one of the impressive speakers at that conference. In 1988 an organization called Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions headquartered in Chicago was incorporated to promote interfaith activities and work together for a just, peaceful and sustainable world.

The second Parliament was held in Chicago in 1993. At that conference, Christian Theologian Hans Kung who presented the Global Ethic, had stated that there could be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. That insight has reverberated since then. I have participated in the second Parliament and  three other ones including the 2015 Parliament held in Salt Lake City Utah on October 15—19th. Each Parliament has been enjoyable, exciting, inspiring and educational. I spoke on conscience at the previous conference and premiered my documentary in the recent meeting.

Since I grew up in Kerala, India, and had read many books by Raimundo Panikkar, a Catholic priest and great scholar, whose father  was a Hindu from Kerala and mother a Catholic from Spain, I listened to his eloquent and very insightful speeches at the 1993 and 2004 conferences. He promoted inter-religious and intra-religious dialogues. In one of his sessions, somebody asked what to do when religious leadership pursues wrong agendas and he advised the person to practice “holy disobedience.” At the 2004  conference, I was probably among te few who could follow the speech of Amma [a Hindu sage from Kerala] in Malayalam. I have included part of that speech [in translation] in my documentary.

It was wonderful to participate in the 2015 Parliament along with about 10000 people from 80  different countries and 50 faith traditions promoting Compassion, Peace, Justice and Sustainability. Thousands of participants ate the free vegetarian meal, the langar, provided by the Sikhs. With a head cover on and shoes off sitting on the ground being served by volunteers, was a spiritual experience without any formal prayers, making an everyday activity sacred. The same point was made in a Huffington Post article.

The messages from Pope Francis read by the Vatican’s  representative to the UN was inspiring. It was exciting to watch the interview the President of the Parliament had with the Dalai Lama. Vice President Al Gore’s taped speech about the dangers of climate change and the urgency of taking action was warmly received by the audience. Al Gore’s daughter Karenna Gore was the MC for that plenary session. Primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodal gave a rousing speech exhorting religious groups to work on saving the environment. She and Al Gore drove home our moral responsibility to protect the environment. Those who consider it not a moral issue misunderstand are not using their consciences with open minds.

My son and I presented my documentary The World’s Most Enlightening Region. It was  enthusiastically received. People wanted to share the film with others and so I promised to put it on the internet which I have done on my website. The film is about the 2000 years’ ongoing religious harmony, peaceful transformation of extremism within  many religions, and the influence of six, may be seven religious mystics  in the Kodungallur-Kochi region of Kerala..

Karen Armstrong, the famous historian of Religions was the main speaker among the major speakers.  She championed compassion which she has passionately promoted for many years. She was forthright in her criticism of extremists misusing religious texts to support violence, She talked about the teaching of the third century Christian thinker Origen [who was the first scientific Christian theologian according to Hans Kung]. Origen taught that there are four levels of interpreting scripture: literal, allegorical, ethical and mystical. Fundamentalists  tend to use literal or even worse interpretation.

Regarding mystics, I discussed with Mathew Fox, the expert on mysticism, about the mystics I refer to in my film. He didn’t know of any other region in the world closely connected with the number and variety of significant mystics. Rabbi Rami Shapiro, an author and public speaker, who was very excited about my film and recorded a radio interview with me, found the story of the Jewish mystic Nehemiah Mota in Kochi very interesting. Among the entertainments, the Sufi mystics’ whirling dervish dance performed by young boys was the best.

A presenter with Chinese background was talking about karma in connection withTaoism. So I asked whether karma is part of Taoist philosophy. She answered that although it is not in the popular Tao book Tao te Ching, the idea equal to karma is present  in some other Taoist writings. As to my question about the status of religions in China, she said China is now approving of religions now.

The openness, the promotion of reason and the Golden Rule, the emphasis on goodness, love and compassion all at each Parliament were excellent examples of conscience working. The four Parliaments I have attended have been among my most precious experiences.

whirling 1

(Dance of the young Whirling Dervishes)