Q: We have heard that you recently attended the URI conference. Please tell us in short what the URI is and what its purpose is.
URI stands for the United Religions Initiative, and its goal is a permanent Parliament of Religions. As the URI charter declares, URI is a growing global community dedicated to promoting enduring daily interfaith cooperation, ending religiously-motivated violence, and creating a culture of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. URI is based on grass-roots communities that operate locally, but are interconnected to a worldwide network of cooperation circles, the smallest unit being the URI. These circles are formed when a minimum of seven members of at least three different religions, spiritual communities or indigenous traditions join together and form a cooperation circle (CC). Individuals can also form or join a circle. These circles may further link to others around the globe if there is some mutual interest or concern. There is also the intention to address policy-makers and to cooperate closely with governments, as well as with the United Nations and other non-governmental organisations (NGO). It is important to mention that the URI is not a religion in itself, just as the United Nations is not a nation. The URI rather creates a framework for cooperation to facilitate the common good.
Q: How did you come to represent ISKCON in the URI conference?
This came from my service in ISKCON communication and my desire to be more involved in interfaith dialogue. Prior to the URI Global assembly, there was an application process for those who wanted to attend its young leadership program. I wrote to them and received the grant that enabled me to attend the assembly. Currently, I am writing my Bhaktivedanta College BA thesis on dialogue and peacemaking, and by Krishna’s mercy, I was able to put some of its theory into practice at the assembly.
Q: There was a separate conference for young representatives of URI. What were the topics discussed in these two conferences?
The first conference was organised for young leaders under the motto “Youth: Taking the Initiative”. The one-week program was designed so that we could get to know one other, and to share our views concerning what should be further done in interfaith dialogue. There were many cultural events and presentations about successful interfaith projects. There were also educational seminars in which we could receive training in practical skills. After one week, the global assembly started and the young leaders joined with the newly arrived delegates. The programs continued in a similar way, the difference being that we were now 350 people (not 100). By the end of the week, we all focused on twenty priority areas that had been drawn up in the workgroups. Ideas were generated in twenty new groups, which were then presented to the general assembly and the Global council. Some of these ideas included a new council for the youth, to be closely connected via mentorship to the elders and the Global Council. There were also many ideas about conflict resolution and education as priority areas, including the innovative idea of a travelling “Free University of Peace”.
Q: What was your experience in both conferences?
It was a great pleasure to see so many people of diverse backgrounds all coming to Mayapur. Previously, I had experienced how the whole world finds shelter in the holy dhama, especially during Gaura Purnima, but this time it was different. The URI delegates were representing the whole world in its spiritual plurality. The spirit of cooperation was amazing, and I felt I was amongst brothers and sisters. It was remarkable that many of the delegates broke common stereotypes. An Iranian lady was a
Christian, a German woman a Muslim, I was a German Hare Krishna-Hindu, and so many others were glowing with their sincerity and spiritual connection. The bonds of friendship and the service opportunities seem to become unlimited when we can embrace the whole world, in our own Hare Krishna community or beyond, without fear in our hearts.
Q: What was your contribution?
During the conference, I participated in all the events and actively took part in the workgroup discussions. I also gave some guided mediations and was part of some of the events addressing the whole global assembly. As the only Hare Krishna delegate in the young leaders program, I spoke with many of the delegates, actively sharing from our tradition. Towards the end of the conference, I helped form a youth think-tank for the President’s council, and I also formed a new cooperation-circle with some of my friends from the assembly.
Q: What was the experience of URI in the holy dhama?
All the delegates felt very much welcomed by the ISKCON community, and the devotees were seen as excellent hosts. The prasadam-buffet was first-class and the devotees’ service attitude outstanding. Everyone felt the spiritual purity and peace of the holy dhama and its residents. Many delegates expressed their gratitude for having been able to come to Mayapur, and decided that the upcoming meetings should always be in a faith-community, because compared to their previous meeting at the hotel in Buenos Aries, Mayapur was like the kingdom of God on earth.
Q: What will be your future engagement in URI?
The URI has identified four main areas in which they want to invest energy: communication, growth, conflict-resolution, and leadership/education. Satellites for the President’s council have been formed to support these aims. These satellites are like think-tanks, meant for strategic planning to further the goals of the URI Global. I became a member of some of the satellites and will take part in the discussions and work programs. As a recent member of the Executive Committee of URI Europe, I continue the work of the satellites in this region. One of the program plans for this year is the election of a URI youth representative, which I will coordinate in Europe while seeing that such elections will also take place in the other regions. By November, a summit will be held in Bali, which the elected body will attend, and a smaller number of additional trainees will join them. This summit will prepare those who attend for their services in support of the youth-led initiatives for peace throughout the world. Soon, aided by the competence of the elders, we satellites youth-members will start to work out the curriculum. The mood of mentorship is important, because whatever strength and high performance the youth possesses depend on the elders’ wise council and experience for success. All this will lead us to a group of delegates who will present the URI Youth in Melbourne at the Parliament of the World Religions in December 2009. There will also be a Youth summit in Hyderabad in April, for which I will help organise some delegates, and by Krishna’s grace, I may be able to attend myself. We will meet there to discuss how to address contemporary issues by drawing from the resources of our respective traditions. In this event, we will also meet some Indian politicians and academics; it surely will be an exciting opportunity to work on some programs that may aid the countless efforts of a growing number of committed people. There is a big vision that is driving us forward. We will grow on the grassroots level until we achieve our goal, which is peace.