NORTHERN INDIA - 2014
Interfaith in the Lower Himalayas (& Ecological Awaking)
The Embrace Founders have made many trips over the past 31 years to the lower Himalayas and
Delhi. We wanted to revisit these locales and share photos of some of the numerous interfaith and
intercultural activities that are going on.
HRISHIKISH - INDIA
THE DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY
Swami Sivananda the founder of the Divine Life Society has long been considered a beacon by
many decades of idealists in the promotion of interfaith/intercultural values. Books such as: “Unity of
Religions” published by the ashrams’ own publishing house give examples of his many speeches,
writings and teachings concerning universally shared values and ideals. In 1945 Swami Sivananda
founded the “All World Religions’ Federation.” In 1953 he convened a “World Parliament of
Religions.” Swami Sivananda passed from his physical body in 1963.
Swami Sivananda was the Guru of Swami Satchidananda one of Embrace Foundation’s Honorary
Founding Directors. Swami Satchidananda built a temple in the United States (Virginia) especially
designed so that people of all religions could pray there in their own manner.
AN INTERRELIGIOUS ASHRAM
Ajata and Virginia were delighted to have lunch at the Ajatananda Ashram with Swami Atmananda,
several of the ashram’s Brahmacharis (novices) and Silvana Panciea and Piere Giorgi of Centro
Europeo in Italy. The Ajatananda Ashram is a unique practicing interreligious ashram located in
Hrishikesh. The Founder of the ashram has his roots in both the rigorous Eastern philosophical
system of Vedanta and in Eastern and Western mysticism. A visitor will find photos throughout the
ashram of saints from all religions who have lived in India and contributed to India’s rich spiritual
heritage; Hindu, Sufi, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, etc. There are also quotes from many spiritual
and religious leaders to be found posted and hanging throughout the ashram.
For those living outside of India who may be interested in visiting and learning more about the
Ajatananda Ashram, you will find Swami Atmananda (the founder) is intellectually astute, as well as
YOGA FESTIVAL - PARAMARTHA NIKETAN ASHRAM
The Yoga Festival included awakening environmental activism in India
A Large International Yoga Festival was held the first week of March at the Paramartha Niketan
Ashram in Hrishikesh. This is the ashram that sponsors arati (ritual prayers) every evening on the
Ganges, often aired on Indian television. A majority of Westerners organized and attended the
festival. For those who are not familiar with Hatha yoga, this yoga is not a religion but a series of
practices that can be done regardless of religious belief, or non-belief.
India is facing a nationwide environmental and conservation crisis. The ever growing population and
unsupervised and unrestricted development has not only destroyed forests, wildlife and the safety of
water supplies, but has also impacted the quality of life everywhere in India. The combined efforts
of Indian's and Westerners of various backgrounds at the Yoga Festival set into motion a critical
awakening in Himalayan Ganges environmental consciousness. At the Northern End of Hrishikish
is a lovely waterfall. The villagers told us that a resort hotel (these are small affairs in this area and
unregulated) will be built over the falls thus guaranteeing sewage and garbage being dumped over
the falls. Hopefully, with the growing realization that grassroots people can take action to protect
their cherished environment, they will take action to protect the waterfalls.
BUT YES !!! THERE IS GOOD ECOLOGICAL NEWS!
GOOD NEWS!: Levi Jeans, India has invented a way to use 8 plastic bottles to make one pair of
Levis. We think this is brilliant and hope this innovative type of thinking multiplies a million fold.
MORE GOOD NEWS!: The highly polluting but much loved motor rickshaws are rapidly being
upgraded and electrified. No pollution and more people can go at one time to the same destination
(such as a Metro stop.) One mid-sized vehicle can hold from 4 to 6 people. We promise you won’t
miss the lead gas fumes.
DON’T FORGET!: The Delhi metro has had a major impact on reducing pollution.
EVEN MORE GOOD NEWS!: Conscientious developers, merchants and Indian citizens who love
nature are beginning to take on India’s massive litter and environmental problems. Photos above
show some examples from Bagsu Nag.
DELHI - INDIA
Sikh Bangla Sahib Gurdwara
The Sikh Dedication to Feed the Hungry All Day and Night
(An Intercultural Shared Experience)
Srimati Lata Mehtaji , a friend of Embrace and of the Embrace’s Founders had wanted to take Ajata
and Virginia on their previous visits to Delhi, to the Sikh Bangla Sahib Gurdwara. This February she
did so. The Gurdwara has a sacred well with healing waters but the most meaningful thing about
the Gurdwara is that it feeds anyone who comes to the Gurdwara and is hungry, all times of the day
or night, without regard to any religious, class, caste or racial differences and without any questions.
This practice of feeding the hungry 7 days a week is an integral part of the Sikh tradition but not all
Gurdwaras can do it on this huge scale or for nearly 24 hours a day.
Many people of all faiths in Delhi and even visiting Westerns who are not Sikhs volunteer to work in
the enormous kitchen to help feed the hundreds who come throughout the day and night. The only
requirement is that you must cover your head. The Gurdwara provides head cloths for all visitors.
Some of the photos above show volunteers in the kitchen from all walks of life and many different
spiritual and religious traditions helping out.
The Baha'i Lotus Temple in Delhi
The Baha’i Temple in Delhi is incredibly popular as a day outing among Indians of all faiths. Baha'is
have long believed in One Human Family and the equality of all religions as part of their faith. It is
phenomenal to see hundreds of people constantly lining up for a chance to visit this temple. No
doubt the lovely well-kept, grounds and the pools of crystal clear water surrounding the temple are
among the attractions for those visiting. However, most importantly no one is shy because all know
they are welcome. Among sight-seers, were many traditional Muslim couples. Smiling young
women in black abayas requested that they get their pictures taken by their husbands, brothers and
sisters in front of the sign photographed above - It Says: The essence of all the Messengers of God
is one and the same. - Baha’u’llah
THE SUFIES IN DELHI
A Long History of Inter-Religious Dialogue
The dargahs of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and Hazrat Inayat Khan of the Chishti order (or Chishtiyaa)
are major pilgrimage places for people from all over the sub-continent and many from Western
Nations for Hazrat Inayat Khan, since he spent many years in Europe and America. These shrines
are a distance apart of about 5 minutes.
The founder of the Chishti Order Khwaja Moinudeen Chishti of Ajmer, India (1142-1236) strongly
advocated the shared spiritual ideals between Hindus and Muslims, particularly in reference to the
Beautiful Names describing the Beloved, Allah (or Khuda, in Farsi / Urdu which is mostly spoken by
Muslims on the sub-continent) and the various Hindu Gods and Goddesses representing different
aspects of the One Brahman or Parmatman.
The Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah is visited by thousands of people every day from every religion on the
Indian sub-continent. On Thursdays & Sundays there is feeding of people who are hungry and
visitors. The food is made purely vegetarian because many of the people visiting are: Hindus, as
well as, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and others.
Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote and taught extensively on the universal truths and ideals of the worlds’
religions. Although, these teachings penetrated a large majority of his talks, classes and writings,
the volume of his work entitled “The Unity of Religious Ideals” consolidates many of the primary
teachings in this area.
Hazrat Inayat Khan’s son Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan is one of the Honorary Founding Members of
Embrace Foundation and until his death was a strong proponent of “Unity within Diversity.” He used
to say that “Unity is not Uniformity.”
THE DALAI LAMA, TIBETAN CULTURE
Interfaith, A Way of Being
His Holiness the Dalai Lama was one of the first religious leaders that Ajata and Virginia went to visit
after they conceived of the idea for Embrace Foundation in Gangotri, India in 1982. This of course,
was long before the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize. The Tibetan Community has from
the inception of Embrace participated wholeheartedly in our interfaith/ intercultural activities. For 16
years Ajata and Virginia were unable to attend any audiences or talks by the Dalai Lama, so they
looked forward this year to hearing him give one of his annual talks to the Tibetan Community in
At the talk, Virginia sat next to a Vajrayana Buddhist woman and her daughter who had come to see
His Holiness from Russia. The mother began crying at the end of the talk while she watched the
Dalai Lama pass by. Many people around the world think of the Dalai Lama as only the spiritual
leader of the Tibetan people, but he is also very much revered in: Mongolia, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan,
parts of Burma and a small area of Buddhists in South-West Russia.
His Holiness has actively engaged in to many interfaith events. In 1984, he wrote a small brochure
called “A Human Approach to World Peace” highlighting the commonality of all people (which he has
later reiterated in many other talks and books).
The Dali Lama instituted elections a few years ago, so that now the Tibetan Diaspora has a
democratically elected government representing them.
McLeod Ganj, the heart of the Tibetan Refugee community, has changed a great deal since the
early days, as traffic has escalated on streets that can barely accommodate pedestrians. This is
making life very hard on everyone whether visiting, working or living there. It is hoped by just about
everyone that vehicles will be parked at the bottom of the mountain and luggage and people will be
brought up by small electric motor rickshaws to both McLeod Ganj and adjacent Bagsu Nag.
The compassion long exhibited by the Tibetan people has made itself felt with even more refugees
coming in over the years from Kashmir and Afghanistan. These refugees have fled to the safety in
McLeod Ganj from terrible wars and violence. In McLeod Ganj refugees who had little hope have
been made to feel safe and welcome.
A Small Note about Some Quirky Developments in India
Diabetics & Sugar Consciousness
It used to be that only people from the state of Gujarat put sugar in their dhal. Curries and other non-
dessert meals. However, India is now a large producer of sugar cane. Sugar is cheap and many of
the traditional spices are not so to cut costs and increase profits, many small dhabas and
restaurants are flavoring meals that should be savory with sugar. This is not good for diabetics or
for anyone's health, so being aware of this phenomenon you can either order something you are
reasonably sure won't have sugar or ask whether they put sugar in the dhal, curry etc. You will not
necessarily get a truthful answer but at least the ever accommodating restaurant owners will quickly
get the idea that tourists aren't keen on sugar in what are supposed to be savory meals.
Shampoos & Conditioners
Because most Indians have black hair, it has never been uncommon in Indian manufactured
shampoos to add an herbal “blackening” agent into their products. However, you will find this now
common even in Western brands sold in India (the ubiquitous Unilever products can not be trusted
in this regard.) We witnessed a blond blue-eyed Irish architectural student go quickly from a
vibrantly natural blond to a brunette.
Since 2010, the Embrace Founders have traveled extensively to: Lebanon. Syria, Jordan, UAE,
Oman, Sikkim (India), Ethiopia, South India, Egypt and Ghana to bring interfaith/ inter-cultural
education to people both East and West and to bring the Truth of what is happening in many
countries since the Western Broadcast Media does not do so. For information about our previous