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A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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27th Annual Vaishnava-Christian Dialogue Meets in DC to Explore the Theme “Love Your Enemy”
By ISKCON News   |  Apr 29, 2024

Madan-gopala Dasa leading a presentation on “Love Your Enemy” from a Vaishnava perspective.

More than 20 religious scholars and spiritual practitioners gathered for the 27th Annual Vaishnava-Christian Dialogue on April 6th-7th in Potomac, Maryland, to explore the theme “Loving Your Enemy.” 

Attendees include priests, pastors, professors, and university students from both the Protestant and Catholic traditions, as well as leaders, scholars, and students from the Vaishnava tradition. Catholic monastics sat in their robes next to dhoti-clad Vaishnavas, young scholars interspersed with retired professors, and newer members of the dialogue added their viewpoints to enhance the perspectives of long-standing dialogue partners. Some observers noted that the variety of participants was a reflection of the array of flowering trees that decorate the grounds of the (newly constructed) ISKCON of DC Temple. 

The event was hosted this year by the ISKCON of Washington, D.C. Temple, which also catered three elaborate meals. Previous dialogues were held at various local retreat centers, as well as the Washington Benedictine Abbey (Catholic).

The dialogue is an ongoing interfaith initiative of ISKCON Communications. Members gather every spring around a pre-selected topic of discussion. Past themes included “The Name of God,” “Incarnation,” “Spiritual Disciplines,” “Theodicy” (the problem of evil), and “The Art of Spiritual Accompaniment.” 

“Amazingly, the core of our dialogue group has been meeting for almost three decades,” said Anuttama Dasa, GBC member and co-founder of the dialogue with his wife, Rukmini Dasi. “There are strong bonds of friendship here that bring us together each year.” 

A leading voice among Vaishnavis (women devotees of Lord Krishna), Rukmini Dasi commented, “Our traditions are diverse, but we’re drawn together by a shared interest in better understanding God, and how the Divine is revealed, revered and loved in these two devotional traditions.” 

“Loving Your Enemy” was chosen as a topic because of the increasing tensions around the world between nations, religious groups, and other social distinctions. There was a need to study the prominent voices of respect, patience, and reconciliation in the two traditions.  

“Both the Christian and Vaishnava faiths challenge us to go beyond the borders of tribal, economic, and family bonds; to see beyond our differences, and learn to be tolerant, and even love those who oppose or deprecate us,” said Anuttama. 

Madan-gopala Dasa, ISKCON’s Co-Director of North American Communications, led the Vaishnava presentation on the first day, exploring the topic from Vaishnava texts including the Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, and the purports (commentaries) of ISKCON Founder-Acharya Srila Prabhupada.

Madana-gopala collaborated on the topic with the presenter from the Christian perspective, Dr. Patrick Beldio. Beldio, who is a professor of comparative theology and religion at Marymount University and George Washington University, shared Christian insights as well as thoughts from his own eclectic spiritual background. 

“It was illuminating for me to discover numerous parallels between these religious traditions and how the principle of ‘Loving Your Enemy’ is a crucial concept of spirituality,” noted Madan-gopala Dasa. “You can’t progress in seeing the soul, if you can’t see beyond the designations that divide us,” he added. 

The second day of the dialogue, began with observation of and/or participation in two prayer services. The Christian prayer service was held first, modeled after the Taize style of meditative experience. It included the reading of Biblical texts, repetitive prayers accompanied by live sitar music, and moments of contemplative silence. 

The Vaishnava service included reading selected verses from the Bhagavad-Gita, reading the story of the deliverance of Jagai and Madai from the Caitanya Bhagavata, kirtan, and an aarti ceremony. 

The prayer services were followed by several hours of discussion on the event’s theme, as well as any questions or ideas that arose during the prayer time. 

“I leave this dialogue every year with a deeper conviction that, as Srila Prabhupada taught, the Lord is calling each of us to awaken to His presence. Learning from these friends of another faith how God is working in their lives is both inspiring and faith-building,” said Anuttama.  

Next year’s event will again be held at the ISKCON of Washington DC Temple in April 2025. The dialogue will address the topic of “Spiritual but not Religious.” For a comprehensive document on Interfaith Dialogue from the ISKCON perspective, see “ISKCON in Relation to People of Faith” here.