Palatine, IL: , Illinois, hosted an Interfaith Peace Conference, along with an open house at their Gurdwara Sahib facilities at 1280 Winnetka Street, Palatine Illinois, on Saturday, November 15. The topic for the conference was “Service: A Pathway to Peace”. Selfless Service (“Seva”) is an integral part of Sikh tenets that the Sikhs learn to practice from their early childhood.
About 250 neighbors, friends and spiritual leaders of other faiths gathered at the gurdwara for the event which was free and open to public.
The conference featured 11 speakers from Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jain, Jewish, Pagan, Sikh and Zoroastrian faiths representing a kaleidoscope of religious and spiritual perspectives.
The open house, fellowship and refreshments began in the Langar Hall. Several exhibition tables with displays of rare books and historical photos including those of Bhagat Puran Singh were also set up in the main lobby for the visitors to browse around.
The Interfaith Conference started in the Congregation Hall with Sikh prayers lead by Bhai Gurjant Singh for the wellbeing of the whole humanity. The traditional “Hukam” (order for the day) from Siri Guru Granth Sahib was recited in Punjabi and translated in English by Jasvir Kaur. Gurbani shabad “Ek Pita Ekas Ke Ham Baarak” (we are children of the same Father) was recited by the S.R.S. Gurmat School Children.
Prof. Mohanbir Singh Sawhney, McCormick Professor of Kellogg School of Business of Northwestern University, took over as the master of ceremonies for the conference.
The conference began with a welcome address by Dr. Jasbir Kaur Saluja, President of the Sikh Religious Society. She welcomed the participants and talked about the importance and uniqueness of having a gathering of such diverse and distinguished religious and spiritual leaders. This was followed by remarks by Sardar Gulbarg Singh Basi, Chairman of the World Sikh Council, Americas Region.
Arun Gandhi kicked off the conference by sharing perspectives from his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi. He reminded us that wasting resources was a form of violence against nature and discriminating against fellow humans was a form of passive violence against humanity. We must practice non-violence in our thoughts as well as our actions.
Shayda Safapour talked of the Baha’i tradition and urged us to spread service as a river of love. Asayo Horibe, representing the Buddhist faith, told us to be a strong link in the chain of love. If we are all strong links, the chain of love will be strong and peace shall prevail.
Reverend Dirk Ficca shared the insight from Jesus’ teachings on service – we need to serve the least among us, not the most powerful. He also reminded us that service is worship in the Christian faith. Anil Deshpande shared the perspective from the Hindu tradition that the entire universe is a family and it is therefore our duty to serve all humanity. He also shared the work that his organization Seva International is doing. Iman Kareem Irfan shared Prophet Mohamed’s teachings that we need to serve the Creator and we need to serve the Creation.
Molly Horan, the Communications Manager for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, recounted the great ties that she has shared with the Sikh community and invited everyone present to the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions to take place from October 15 – 19 in Salt Lake City.
Dr. Hema Pukharna from the Jain faith expanded the notion of service beyond humanity to all living creatures. Non-violence and service to all living beings is a fundamental tenet of Jainism. Dr. Drake Spaeth, representing the Pagan tradition, expanded the idea of service even further to include service to Mother Earth and respect for our environment, because Earth sustains us all.
Rabbi Lisa Bellows from the Jewish faith exhorted us to put together the shattered pieces of glass that represent fragmented humanity into one vessel of light. Rohinton Rivetna from the Zoroastrian faith talked about the most ancient of religions and its message of choosing good over evil and right from wrong.
Pastor Herbert Martin spoke with great emotion about the beatings he endured as part of the Civil Rights movement and how he learned to forgive those who had hated and beaten him. He shared the profound insight that service begins with us, and that service begins with forgiveness.
Gaurav Singh, representing the Sikh religion, reminded us that we should not only think of service – we should be of service. Being of service requires us to serve without expectation of any return. He also shared the importance of service in the Sikh religion as a fundamental tenet of Sikh life.
“It was striking how much resonance the major faiths of the world have among them on the concept of service, despite the differences in the beliefs and traditions they represent. The conference inspired us to be of service to all humanity, living beings as well as Mother Earth,” commented Prof. Sawhney.
Dr. Balwant Singh Hansra concluded the conference by sharing a moving story of the “langar” (community meal) provided by Sikh volunteers at the 2004 Parliament of World Religions conference in Barcelona, where thousands of people were provided free meals daily for a week by volunteers who worked 12 to 14 hours a day. That is the embodiment of service in the Sikh tradition.
Participants at the Interfaith conference came away with a wealth of insights on how the major faiths of the world talk about the concept of Service, and how Service leads naturally to peace and harmony in the world.
“I enjoyed a deeply moving presentation of diverse perspectives from 10 faiths, a beautiful introduction to services in your Gurdwara Sahib, and especially appreciated the warmth and generosity of your fellowship. Several elders took time to speak with me and made me feel welcome. I learned a great deal about Sikhism and discovered many ways in which your community’s values reflect my own personal values,” said Anthony Auston, Director of Palatine Public Library District.
The event ended with the final prayer of thanking the Lord. The attendees, many for the first ever time, experienced sitting on the carpeted floor with head covered, shoes removed, observing Sikh worship service, and partook “langar” a vegetarian community meal served with dignity & respect to all.
The event was organized by a committee consisting of Dr. Balwant Singh Hansra, Iqbal Singh Chopra, Thakar Singh Basati, Kulwant Singh Hundal, Gaurav Singh, Achhar Singh, Surinder Pal Singh Kalra, Balbir Singh, and Rajinderbir Singh Mago. Nearly 20 youth volunteers helped out with the logistics of the event.
The event was held in collaboration with the World Sikh Council (WSC-AR), and Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) which is head quartered in Chicago.