World Congress of Religions 2012 – Hindu Congresswoman-Elect Teaches Karma Yoga to Lawmakers

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December 5, 2012

By Geeta Goindi

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman-elect Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat-Hawaii), the first ever practicing Hindu elected to the US Congress who will take the oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita, has pledged to teach the most powerful lawmakers in the world about her faith.

December 5, 2012

By Geeta Goindi

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman-elect Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat-Hawaii), the first ever practicing Hindu elected to the US Congress who will take the oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita, has pledged to teach the most powerful lawmakers in the world about her faith.

Congresswoman-elect Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat-Hawaii), second from right, delivered the keynote address on the third day of the World Congress of Religions in Washington, an interfaith conference commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of the spiritual and social visionary Swami Vivekananda

In a question-and-answer session, following her keynote speech on ‘Spirituality, Karma Yoga and Service to Humanity’ at the three-day World Congress of Religions 2012 and commemoration of the 150th birth anniversary of the spiritual and social visionary Swami Vivekananda here, in the nation’s capital, Gabbard was asked if she would be able to teach Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga to members of Congress, to which she promptly replied: “It is already happening”!

She told the gathering of interfaith leaders, religious and spiritual experts and believers that she was afforded an opportunity to speak about Karma Yoga at a dinner hosted by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) for new incoming Democratic members, in the National Statutory Hall of the US Capitol.  Caught somewhat off-guard, by her own admission, Gabbard was asked to talk about her faith and she spoke of Karma Yoga.  She told US lawmakers, “Regardless of whether you call it Karma Yoga or something else, each major religion celebrates and cherishes this practice of service to others”.

At the World Congress of Religions 2012 in Washington, Congresswoman-elect Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat-Hawaii), the first ever practicing Hindu elected to the US Congress, is flanked by conference organizers Surabhi Garg (left) and Dr. Pradip Ghosh

About the response from fellow Democrats, she affirmed it was “very good”.  Elaborating, she said, “The reception of most of the Democratic leadership among my fellow members was incredibly positive, very warm and one that was very uplifting, both from what I saw on their faces as I was talking, some of them put their hands on their hearts because they felt it, as well as the conversations which came about because of that opportunity to share a little about Karma Yoga”.

The World Congress of Religions, held November 30 to December 2, in the cavernous Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, drew distinguished speakers from major religions – Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism – on a common platform to explore the relevance of religion and spirituality in addressing the critical issues of poverty, empowerment of women, human rights and peacemaking.  The conference was inspired and informed by the message of Swami Vivekananda on the 150th anniversary of his birth and offered an opportunity to pave the path for a new era of cooperative action among the world’s religious and spiritual communities as well as civil and political societies.  “Such a gathering is urgently needed in the present context of the global inter-religious movement and the striving for world peace”, stated the organizers, among whom were activists such as Chairperson Dr. Pradip Ghosh, Surabhi Garg, Kamanashis Chakraborty, Jogobrata Mazumdar, Progyan Basu, Debasri Mitra and Surinder Puri.

Gabbard assured this gathering, “It will be my job as a member of Congress to speak about Karma Yoga”.  At the same time, she stressed, “We have to live it ourselves otherwise whatever we say rings hollow”.

Besides being a Karma Yogi, Gabbard is also a vegetarian.  At the conference, she described her background as “unusual” insofar as she had a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith upbringing.  “Since I am coming in as the first Hindu member of Congress, many people assume that I am also of Indian ancestry”, she said, adding, “I am not”.  Born April 12, 1981, in American Samoa, her mother is a Methodist, but has been practicing Hinduism for many years; her father is Catholic, but practices Mantra Meditation including kirtan.  Gabbard told the interfaith gathering, “As I was growing up, I spent as much time studying the Gita as I did studying the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament”.

She acknowledged and appreciated “the welcome and the very warm reception” that she got from the Indian-American community.  “I didn’t know how I would be received”, she said.  “Because I am a practicing Hindu by choice and not by tradition, I think it is a sign of the times within the next generation that we are taking a look at what is meaningful to me and how do I practically apply that in my life.  For me, the true meaning of religion is not about labels, but about spirituality and about living a personal relationship with God through prayer and meditation, Bhakti Yoga.  Simply speaking, the path to God is through devotion and Karma Yoga, using our time and energy on a daily basis to be of service to God through serving others”.

Mr. Satyam Roy Choudhury (left) presenting a book on Swami Vivekananda to Congresswoman-elect Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat-Hawaii), the first ever practicing Hindu elected to the US Congress who will take the oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita.  At right is Dr. Pradip Ghosh, chairperson of the World Congress of Religions 2012

Gabbard disclosed, people were critical that she and her siblings – three older brothers and a younger sister – all have Hindu names.  “Isn’t there something suspicious about that”, they wanted to know.  “No, not really”, was her reply.  She told conference attendees: “Each one of us in our communities has the responsibility of calling people out on their bigotry, calling them out when they try to incite bigotry in other people to further their own selfish ambitions because so many people have sacrificed their lives in this fight against bigotry”.

Gabbard commended the efforts of the organizers for holding the World Congress of Religions in the nation’s capital, drawing people from various faiths on a common platform which, she said, “is so important given all the challenges we are facing not just in this country, but around the world.  We hear a lot of talk, especially in Congress, about the need for unity, the need for overcoming differences, finding common ground and working together.  Unfortunately, many people who are part of these conversations don’t understand what you all here are talking about.  Oftentimes, I think, we look too much at the superficial, rather than going deep and looking for the common ground and shared values which is the only way we can find true solutions in order to make true progress”.

She noted that conversations at the conference “have been very productive and will make an impact when they are turned into action.  I am inspired to be here with you today and I will take this inspiration to the halls of Congress where I can do my small part in bringing people together for the good of all humanity”, she vowed.

In the question-and-answer session, Gabbard, who has served in the Middle East, first in Iraq and then Kuwait, was queried about the prudence and viability of non-violent protests versus war.  She denounced combat as a last resort.  She told the gathering, “Because of my experience in my first appointment in Iraq, serving in a medical unit, I understand and have seen first-hand the cost of war.  You will find, as with other members of Congress who have been in combat whether from World War II, Korea, Vietnam or now, we understand what that cost of war is and are the first to say that it should be a last resort and only as that last resort”.

At the World Congress of Religions 2012 in Washington, Congresswoman-elect Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat-Hawaii), the first ever practicing Hindu elected to the US Congress, is flanked by conference participants

Gabbard pointed out that Senator Dan Inouye (Democrat-Hawaii) “voted against the Iraq war because he understands the costs of that war, not just those who lose their lives on the battlefield, but the impact on their families, the cost on those who return home, not just whether or not they will be able to find a job, but how many years people will suffer the impact of these wars.  They will never ever be the same person again.  Their families will never ever be the same again.  Whether you have someone who has visible injuries or invisible wounds, people who come back appearing to be completely well adjusted, every person who is in the face of that kind of evil, is changed.  Taking that step of sending human lives into combat should not be anywhere near the first option”, she emphasized.

On her part, she admitted the deployment to Iraq “completely changed my life in so many ways.  It deepened my own faith”, she explained.  “It caused me to seek strength and courage in the Gita in very unusual ways and in very unusual circumstances”.  In the absence of temples, she said, “It made my relationship with God very personal” and deepened her “appreciation of the freedom of religion in America and all the other freedoms enjoyed here”.

Kuwait was a completely different experience.  Since she was a woman deployed to impart military training, many men would not acknowledge that she even existed.  “How do you work with that?”, Gabbard asked the audience at the conference.  “It’s funny because there are some parallels that we have seen in Congress”, she said to much laughter.  After seven long months in Kuwait, she prevailed and was awarded for her efforts.  “Be humble and respectful, then people will have the opportunity to respond in kind”, she advised.

“Whatever we do, it all comes down to relationships”, she said.  “You can have the best background, but unless you are connecting with people, it’s impossible to move them”!


Religion Special by MYDOSTI.COM