Even in a heartfelt community such as Baltimore Yoga Village, there is still a great need for interfaith dialogue. We recently had a bit of a facebook upheaval, when the leader of a kirtan group publicly posted that he could not sing anymore songs in Sanskrit, “to blue people”, “gods and idols”, and the words went on. I had often sensed that people who lead kirtans would best lead if singing from the heart, from what is most meaningful to them, and that all traditions lead to the same big ocean. However, what was posted became an expression of his internal source of conflict now that he found Jesus. And so I want to share my response (seen below) with the heartfelt prayer that we all remember the beauty and necessity of cultural sensitivity and Universal Love.
“I’m really happy for you that you are going deep into your connection to any expression of love. I have to say one thing though, just because this message you sent here has been coming up for me at times and because Baltimore Yoga Village has been a place for your Kirtan.
There are as many ways of expressing Love as there are people in this world. It is equally diverse. Sanskrit is a root language just like Latin, old and beautiful from which many languages have come. Some common roots of words can be found between Sanskrit and Latin too – as in fact this world is just one and people have been nomadic throughout history. Many of the songs we know in Sanskrit translate to universal themes, though many of the translations that people write out are somewhat re-interpreted. And I have always had a sense in many kirtans I have attended that those leading them do not know how to translate the songs with love and understanding, that there is some distance from them – in which case I was wondering why we weren’t reading an english poem or singing another song. It is most powerful for anyone leading a kirtan to be coming from the heart. However, one of the beauties of these cross-cultural kirtans or interfaith meetings is opening the heart to everyone in the community in celebration of the many ways to express Love. With true understanding of the “gods” even, there is no such thing as an idol. When singing these names, there is no singing TO anyone. That is an interpretation of hinduism and other faiths that has been particularly emphasized through evangelism combined with colonialism around the world. No one who truly practices from the heart would even know what an idol was. No one who bows in front of a statue, like those who kneel or dance in a church or sing before an alter of Christ, is expressing division but rather humility and love.
The “blue” as in representation of Krishna’s or Siva skin color or the “skulls” as in representations of Kali are symbolic like fish and loaves of bread or a dove or water. They are commonly known symbols of something. I understand that these symbols without any context may seem far out, which is why this kind of conversation would be very useful at a kirtan if people are feeling conflict. What a shame that that conflict was not expressed so that it could be dissolved. These seemingly fictitious symbols are there because people grow up with stories, parables, taught lovingly by parents and elders, to learn something deeper. And what they are learning at a deeper level is no different at the root of the matter for a true lover of Christ. In most temples or regions of India, people have one particular image of god they relate to most strongly. That is not say, one “aspect” of God – because for each person in prayer or ritual, Love is big and total. I recently learned that “Hindu” itself was a name made up by the Brittish for “religion of those Indian people”, though as India does generally, it absorbed the name. “Hinduism”, if you want to look at it that broadly, is actually monotheistic but accepts that there are many expressions over time as to tell stories and to express that God is present in everything, everyone, and everywhere and serves every function, creation, balance, destruction – No matter what, God is present even when we are experiencing suffering. Again, this is a message that crosses all religions and spiritual forms. Some people catch this realization by looking at reminders on earth like the soil, sun, and sky. And some people through stories they grew up with or embodied practices. It’s all symbolic. Every practice. Even language itself (all languages) are symbolic.
Your email has shown me more and more what I have known for some time which is that one way out of “conflict”, be it internal or between people, is through educating oneself and remaining open. Perhaps another way is to connect to the love of Christ so strongly that there is no possible room for division. I’m sure at that point the symbols that seem so daunting will be as meaningful and empty as every other symbol. With that comes great compassion and humanity – which is the main point of any of this.”