Connecting local responses around the world
It has always happened to me. What I have not wanted, I have had to do and then I have become so absorbed in it that I wonder how I never wanted to do it:-). I didn’t want to attend the training on Constellation's AIDS competence and today I am passionately involved in it. When I met my best friend I thought she disliked me and now…!
Similarly in the recently concluded international Knowledge Fair in Karnataka participants had to join one of the four sub-groups. I made up my mind, I will not join group two whose itinerary included visit to a religious leader, Swamiji. I thought that the Swamiji would preach and what did SALT have to do with religion anyway. I didn’t see any connection. However, we needed a facilitator in that group and Sanghamitra urged me to facilitate the group, he is a modern Swamiji and you will enjoy meeting him and grudgingly I said yes.
Second day of the event, first agenda item to visit Swamiji’s place. I thought that it was a one hour visit and the time would just fly by and we would be soon out. We were greeted by one of the managers who took us right away for lovingly prepared breakfast. We were amazed to know that the ashram served food twenty four hours a day. The spick and span area demonstrated that being clean is a sign of spiritual purity or goodness, Cleanliness is next to Godliness as the proverb goes. So far so good, I said to myself, as I dug my fingers into the delicious upma (food). Bheri, my co-facilitator, smiled at me remembering my initial reluctance for this visit.
Then we met the Swamiji who gave us a warm welcome. A young, dynamic man, Swamiji, oozed oodles of charisma, magnetism and energy. You may visit the temple and then we can sit together he suggested gently. We learned that he was the 18th Swamiji of the temple and had been appointed by the previous Swamiji as his successor at a young age of 23 years when he was studying here.
Highlight of the visit was the meeting with Swamiji, it definitely was. Swamiji said a few things in a very ordinary way and at that time we were not as attentive. It is only later that we realised the depth of his so called simple words. When we appreciated the provision of free meals he said it was a tradition and he was just continuing it, no big deal.
We also learnt that he was well able to influence his followers, but much more than this he was exceptional at connecting with people in a way that moves them. It is no exaggeration to say that Swamiji has played a pivotal role in stimulating thousands of people to respond to the needs of the community from raising funds for food to setting up an Ayurvedic Medical College.
Swamiji stated that stigma against PLHIV is a way of thinking which goes against religious teachings. Religion is not limited to merely reading religious scriptures but is about living it, he stressed. Yes, we realized that
commitment by faith leaders can break down the wall of stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV. Leaders like him can restore the dignity and respect of communities affected by HIV.
Last but not the least our visit ended with planting of tree by each member of our team. It would be a memory of your visit to our ashram, said Swamiji affectionately. And then he personally took us for a visit to the Ayurvedic Medical College which has come up as a result of his efforts.
It was later, after a deep reflection, within our team did we realise that our team represented four religions - Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism. The religious identity had not struck us when we were with the Swamiji. We, at that moment, were all human beings on a spiritual mission.
We went for a SALT visit to Swamiji’s Ashram or did Swamiji do a SALT visit with our team, I wonder!
[ This blog is dedicated to Swamiji and his team, my group team members- JP, Bheri, Joao, Darinji and Taher and of course Sanghamitra and Jean Louis who requested me to join group two and thankfully I listened to them. Swamiji was special but my group made it an exceptional experience because of the time we spent on reflection and discussion. Aristotle describes this beautifuly, "The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival."]