On May fifteenth, all the first-year students took a field trip to Brussels in connection with the World Religions course taught by Anupama Dasi, who has an MA in philosophy and religion. We visited several religious and spiritual groups.
First on the program were the Mormons, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, founded in the USA in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. The members welcomed us into their home and answered our questions, which were, to their surprise, many. Unfortunately, we arrived a bit late and thus needed to curb our enthusiasm for inquiry. Nevertheless, we got a profound impression of their life, mission, and founder.
Next we visited the Brahma Kumaris, a Hindu-oriented movement constituted mainly of unmarried women. The Sind merchant, Dada Lekhraj, founded it in India in 1937. A lady in a white sari, who has been involved over thirty years, received us. Here many of us had questions bubbling up, partly because the dress and activity appears a little closer to ours. However, we found out that our philosophy may have more in common with Christian thought than with the thinking of the Brahma Kumaris. This contrast left many of us with mixed feelings.
A welcome break came when we arrived at our Bhakti Yoga center in Brussels, where we were served delicious prasada. After a brief period of relaxation, we visited the Dominican church.
The Dominican order falls under the Roman Catholic umbrella and was founded by Saint Dominic in 1215. Their orthodoxy is based upon the philosophical and theological teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. In Brussels, they perform charitable work, especially in cooperation with musicians and other artists, aside from their work in and around the church and its congregation. The Dominican Church in Brussels has a large library with a unique Bible collection. This collection is housed in a separate, idyllic room and includes many editions and versions of the Bible. They do not have a catalogue for the library, but they organize the books according to the date of publication and then the author. For us students, it was good to see a library bigger than ours at Bhaktivedanta College.
On the same street, we visited a big mosque that also functions as an education center. Among other courses, a three-year training program is offered for those who want to become qualified to teach Islam in Belgian mainstream schools. Unlike the places we visited earlier, this place was buzzing with activity. We saw children, parents, teachers, and students coming in and out of the mosque. We even got to take part in one of their prayers. The men enter the mosque from downstairs and the women from upstairs. While being guided around by a professor and administrator, we met several students and exchanged questions and answers. The jolly manager of the mosque greeted us and shared many gifts with us.
Ending our day, we returned to the vehicles and traveled back to Radhadesh, where everything feels familiar to us, but must appear strange to others from a Western background, just as some religious groups we visited appeared strange to some of us.
Written by Anasuya Dasi.