Dharma shines again at Toronto's UN World Interfaith Harmony Event

Toronto, Ontario, Canada, February 10, 2015 (Washington Bangla Radio) :Often described as the world's most multicultural nation, Canada celebrated the United Nations Interfaith Harmony Week by citing Indian icons from Lord Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former President Abdul Kalam to even Bollywood mega-stars Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Amitabh Bachchan as role models for pluralism.
The landmark event held near the US Embassy in downtown Toronto brought together the nation's foremost scholars and experts including the Hon. Paul Hellyer, former Acting Prime Minister of Canada and the longest serving member of the Privy Council of Her Majesty, the Queen of England; Shri Amar Erry who is the Head of the Vedic Center and Canada's foremost Hindu guru; Professor and Sanskrit author Srilata Raman from the University of Oxford, John Joseph Mastandrea who leads one of the largest Christian congregations, Rabbi Shalom Schachter who is the son of the legendary American Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Imam Abdul Hai Patel of the University of Toronto and  Zenji Acharya - Canada's leading motivational speaker and Buddhist researcher who is also slotted to serve as an expert during the upcoming Pan Am Games 2015.
This year the event was even more significant as Canada has recently been rocked by home-grown Islamic terrorism and thus the main speaker Zenji Acharya highlighted the important role Indian Muslims must play in curtailing extremism. He cited examples of popular yet pluralistic Indian Muslims like Shah Rukh Khan who keeps his Koran on an altar of Hindu dieties and a large statue of Lord Buddha in his palatial living room; Salman Khan who organizes one of the largest celebrations of the Hindu Buddhist deity Ganesha-Kangiten and loves to paint images of Lord Buddha and former President Abdul Kalam who reads the Koran, Bhagavad Gita and Dharmapada and recently stated that Lord Buddha's teachings were best suited for world peace.
Zenji also pointed out that there was no history of antisemitism in India although she is home to one of the world 's oldest Jewish communities. Zenji further elaborated on how many of his friends in Hollywood call themselves 'Jubus' or Jews who follow Buddhism. It has even been reported that famous Jewish-Buddhists include Robert Downey Jr. who used Buddhist techniques to overcome his addictions and become the world's highest paid superstar for 2 years running.
Acharya went on to punctuate his posh English accented speech with eloquent recitations in pure Sanskrit from the iconic Saddharma Lotus Sutra which deeply inspired and influenced both human rights icons Mahatma Gandhi as well as Rosa Parks - all delivered from Zenji's own memory without any notes as per the tradition of the highest acharyas of the world's foremost university of Nalanda. Zenji Acharya also explained the original vow of universal salvation to all castes, colors and creeds as promised by Amitabha - the Buddha's most popular and eternal form - prompting high praise from those attending on behalf of Japan's largest Buddhist congregation Jodo Shin Shu. In fact the name Amitabha was so synonymous with Lord Buddha that even mega-star Amitabh Bachchan appeared in a commercial stating that whenever he would misbehave as a child his parents would remind him that he should live up to his sacred name.
Furthermore, at a recent event when Zenji was invited to meet the personal representative of the Pope, Canada's powerful Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney greeted Zenji with the phrase "Amituofo" - the most common greeting in Asian communities worldwide. This highlights Canada's commitment to celebrating diversity and pluralism and it's respect for Buddhism as the greatest influence on Asian culture.
Hindu leader Amar Erry went on to chant important prayers in Sanskrit including the famed Gayatri Mantra as well as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. His participation also highlighted the very close ties between Hinduism and Buddhism which can serve to inspire close ties between the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as well. Moreover, India's powerful new Prime Minister Narendra Modi was praised as a shining example for inter-religious harmony. Despite being the world's most powerful Hindu, Modi's first overseas visit was reserved for the world's top Buddhist nation Japan where he took time out of his busy schedule to visit the Buddhist temples of Kyoto and offer prayers to Buddha Devatideva -- even inviting Buddhist monks to join him and Japan's Buddhist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in their official photographs.
Pastor John Joseph Mastandrea went on to state that Christianity itself had been influenced by earlier religions like Buddhism and Imam Patel explained that God did not require the latest communication technology to hear prayers. Rabbi Schachter displayed Jewish prayer items to show how Jews have been praying to God for centuries. The filled-to-capacity event was organized by IDI which is known for hosting the leading speakers of Canada from Lt Governor David Onley to Premiere of Ontario Kathleen Wynne among many other statesmen.
The event also appealed to younger generations by including a slide show on inter-faith relationships by famed photographer Colin Shafer and a highly acclaimed art exhibit on the Original Lord and Savior Avalokiteshwara (Guanyin in China, Kannon in Japan) by NAMAHA Museum. Shri Amar Erry said he was very encouraged that younger generations were now taking to the theme of spirituality and interfaith dialogue due to younger leaders like Zenji Acharya who he felt was "doing an even better job at representing Indian spirituality than any of the older gurus" - a thought echoed by Professor Raman who compared Zenji to the legendary scholar Vimalkiriti.
University of Toronto Professor Peter Larisey expressed his interest in more such events to remove many of the misconceptions that have cropped up in regards to religion as presented by certain agenda-driven scholars and priests. He further elaborated that any claims that Jesus is the only path to salvation are erroneous and all faiths must be open to interfaith understanding.
By bringing together the per-eminent leaders and scholars of the major faiths, Canada lived up to the United Nations resolution of fostering peace and harmony during the UN Interfaith Harmony week. Events like this have assumed greater significance in light of the recent terrorist attacks that have been seen in all corners of the globe from Ottawa and Paris to the Middle East. 


 (Reported by our special correspondent)