Women’s Interfaith NetworkIN AUGUST 1999 some ladies, leading representatives from the major world faiths, formed a Women’s organization as a platform for them to share ideas about the social and spiritual aspects of life, especially those touching the lives of the women in the group. The first meeting was in October 1999 and in every month since then. It was decided that political issues should not be raised in the meetings of the new organization called Women’s Interfaith Network (WIN). At the launch of WIN held in the Jubilee Room, NSW Parliament House on March 22, 2001, Dr.Rachel Kohn, Broadcaster and then Head of ABC Radio’s Religious Department, emphasized the need we all have for religion and interfaith dialogue:
“Many people have asked me, ‘Why promote religion, when it has done so much harm, it is so backward, and it is so often the source of the greatest intolerance and violence?’ And I reply, “Yes it is true, religion has been all of those things, and undoubtedly will continue to be. But it is also the source of the greatest human ideals and social values that we have, and it is those which I would seek, in some way, to hold up before as many people as possible, and say, ‘Remember these.’ Like a genuine friendship, interfaith dialogue is a living thing, which necessitates, if it does not spontaneously effect, changes in the way we view each other and the way we view ourselves. There is no genuine relationship which does not change the people involved. …. We owe to the whole society our commitment to producing harmony, understanding, compassion, and above all a great and deep respect for human life and dignity. If we do not, then who will? This event, and this organization, is an important step in that direction.”
Under the guidance of the original group WIN groups have been started in different parts of Sydney including one for young women.
Dr.Vimala Nayanar, Norma Anet, Toni Whipper and Pravrajika Ajayaprana, represented Hinduism and the Ramakrishna Sarada Vedanta Society of NSW, for some years at the monthly meetings along with representatives from the Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Quaker and Sikh faiths. Pravrajika Gayatriprana is the current Hindu representative.
Multifaith Lecture Series
An important teaching of Sri Ramakrishna is that all religions are equally true and valid roadways leading to the same destination—God or self-realization. He expresses this truth in his teaching, “As many faiths, so many paths.” The Society has been promoting and practicing this idea over the past 30 years by organizing several Multi-faith Lecture Series. Prominent speakers were invited to share the perspective of their faiths on themes such as “The Concept of God,” “Tolerance” (Our contribution to the International Year of Tolerance), “The Meaning of Life,” “Mysticism” “How to Maintain Inner Calm in Today’s World” etc.
These 45 minute talks were given on Sunday mornings in our Vedanta Hall followed by a guided meditation given by Pravrajika Ajayaprana. These talks have been very successful in attracting a diverse group of people.
Religions for Peace
In 1993 the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP), now known as Religions for Peace, held its four-yearly international conference in Melbourne. About 400 delegates from all over the world had gathered. Australia had never hosted an Interfaith event on this scale before. The Hon. Bob Hawke, Prime Minister at that time, gave a speech at the opening. As one of the Hindu representatives Pravrajika Ajayaprana read two papers at the Conference. She subsequently became an Executive Member of the N.S.W branch of the W.C.R.P. which had been formed soon after the Conference. She, or a representative from the Society, attends the monthly meetings held in Sydney and the bi-annual NSW Heads of Faith meetings at the NSW Parliament House. The Society is also involved in a number of Multi-faith gatherings organized by Religions for Peace in NSW.
Other Interfaith Activities
Pravrajika Ajayaprana was invited to join leaders of faiths to participate in the launch of “Common Belief, Australia’s Faith Communities on Climate Change.” at a function in Sydney in December, 2006. As mentioned in media reports, this was a world first in bringing together all the major world faiths to express their concern about climate change.
In June 2004 the Society organized a Half-day Forum on “The Spirit of Women,” celebrating the 150th Birth Anniversary of Holy Mother. Eight women from eight different faiths spoke at the forum held in a large lecture theatre at the University of Technology.
Each year, for several years, as a part of their Graduate Certificate in Interreligious dialogue up to 10 young women and their teachers from the Australian Catholic University in Canberra visited Vedanta Hall to have dialogue with Pravrajika Ajayaprana and learn more about Hinduism.
Pravrajikas Ajayaprana and now Gayatriprana attend the annual National Meeting of the Australian Partnership of Religious Organizations (APRO). With the backing of several Government Departments and Community Organizations APRO has the potential to play a leading role in promoting community harmony.
World Youth Day
On July 10, 2008, in the lead up to the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day in Sydney, an international group of 23 pilgrims visited the Society’s Vedanta Hall. The visit was arranged by the Jesuits to expose the young pilgrims to the people, places and teachings of the major world faiths. Pravrajika Ajayaprana gave a 15 minute introductory talk on Hinduism followed by a question/ answer session.
A World Youth Day Festival Interfaith Forum was held at the Convention Centre in Darling Harbour on July 17. The theme for the Forum was Australians All, Face to Face, Faith to Faith, Multifaith Communities heading in the right direction? In preparation for the Event a group of 20 young people including two members of the Ramakrishna Sarada Vedanta Society’s Youth group: Dr.Vivek Thakkar and Ms.Priyanka Parikh, attended a workshop organized by the Catholic Church to explore the Fears, Faith Issues and Practices associated with Interfaith Dialogue.
Over 1,000 people attended the Interfaith Forum. Leaders of Australia’s faith communities spoke at the event including Pravrajika Ajayaprana. Mr.John Cleary from the ABC was the Master of Ceremonies.
The following day Pravrajika Ajayaprana, Dr.Vivek Thakkar and Mr.Robert Grant attended an invitation only Interfaith Meeting with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI held in a small Chapel behind St.Mary’s Cathedral. Only 35 invitees were present for the 35 minute meeting. His Eminence, Cardinal George Pell, head of the Catholic Church in Australia, the Chief Rabbi in Sydney and a senior Imam gave speeches with the Pope giving the concluding speech. Each of the invitees, including Pravrajika Ajayaprana, were presented to the Pope, one by one. The Pope gave each invitee a small box with a medallion enclosed.
This is to mention just a few of many interfaith gatherings the Society has participated in over the past 30 years.