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About Resource Personnel

Anantanand Rambachan Professor of Religion, Philosophy and Asian Studies at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota, USA, where he has been teaching since 1985. 

He received his Ph.D and M.A. (Distinction) degrees from the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Leeds, in the United Kingdom. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine,Trinidad. 

Prof. Rambachan is the author of several books, book-chapters and articles in scholarly journals. Among his books are, Accomplishing the Accomplished, The Limits of Scripture, The Advaita Worldview: God, World and Humanity, The Hindu Vision, Gitamrtam: The Essential Teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita and A Hindu Theology of Liberation. His writings include a series of commentaries on the Ramayana. The British Broadcasting Corporation transmitted a series of 25 lectures by Prof. Rambachan around the world. 

Prof. Rambachan has been involved in the field of interreligious relations and dialogue for over twenty-five years, as a Hindu participant and analyst. He has contributed to numerous consultations and discussions convened by national and international organizations concerned with interreligious issues. He is very active in the dialogue programs of the World Council of Churches, and was a Hindu guest and participant in the last four General Assemblies of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver, Canada, Canberra, Australia, Harare, Zimbabwe and Puerto Alegre, Brazil He is also a regular participant in the consultations of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican and an educator on interfaith issues in Minnesota. 

Event/Session Details/Discussions/Highlights

Below is a transcription of the entire lecture. (the entire lecture was a highlight)
The Bhagavad Gita commends the idea of the universal common good. In Sanskrit ‘Lokah sangraha’ of all the actions that we undertake this must be at the center of our concerns.

Lokah means “all existence”, it is not anthropocentric. One who is concerned about the universal common good values all life. So it includes all life, and all dimensions of life. They cannot compartmentalize life. (Dualists between public, private, religious and secular)

SDG are our most recent consensus about what this common good means. It is the unpacking of the meaning of Lokah Sangraha. Hinduism and Advaitist must assume responsibility and the joint partnerships to realize these goals.

May all be happy
May all be free from disease
May all know that which is good
May no one suffer
Om peace peace peace

ॐ सर्वे भवन्तुसखिुखिनः
सर्वे सन्तुनि रामयाः ।
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु
मा कश्चि द्दःुखभाग्भवेत्।
ॐ शान्ति ः शान्ति ः शान्ति ः ॥

Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Niraamayaah |
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

This is not simply an oral recitation but is an obligation. We cannot stop at merely wishing that all beings be free from suffering, we have also to inquire into the sources of human suffering. And to think and to formulate policies that aim to overcome these basic causes. I think there is no long-term freedom from suffering without sustainable development, as is articulated in the SDGs I think the challenge is not that
we do not have the resources for implementing the SDGs, they are there, natural and human, what is lacking is the will to do it. That is why I believe this topic is so important, what our religious traditions can bring in a very special way is the moral commitment, the moral resources that inspire us to work for achievement of these goals. It is a religious obligation. The Advaita tradition provides deep moral resources and justification for SDG

First of its important to identify the challenges with Advaita :
1. The prominent interpreters of the Advaita tradition throughout history have been renunciates, sunnyasis. They are in the 4th stage. They are free from obligations from work, etc. In fact they have offered themselves to their ancestors. So the interpretation of the Shastras is by people who have renounced and have little interest in materials, social factors. They are likely to be indifferent to social factors. – Economics, law, etc.
So the reading of these texts, which are moksha shastras, liberation is important, but we do not need to limit to only this issue. What are the values, what do they say about relationships what are our obligations to the planet, nature. So a broader reading of the texts is needed.

2. SDG requires that we take life in this world very seriously. The challenges in Advaita and many Hindu traditions is their interpretation of the world. I do not think always emphasizes the significance or the value of life here and now. You may be familiar with some interpretations that liken the world to a sense illusion that we conjure based on experience because of our ignorance of the true reality. So the point is that if the reality of the world is underplayed when life is not treated as significant or important we may not feel drawn to the challenges or problems of life in this world and not want to be affected by them. To respond to the world is to grant reality to the world. (which does not exist, which is an illusion)If we take this to the extremes then we do not take poverty and injustice seriously. See the world as a marvelous outpouring of the Infinite One. The world derives value because it comes from Brahman. It exists within, and has its ultimate destination in the Infinite One. In Taiteryia Upanishad there is a beautiful description about Braham, the one from whom all has come, the one who is the final destination of us all. We can interpret the world positively as an outcome of the intention of creativity of the divine one, expressing the fullness of the Divine One. In other words, I do not think that an Advaita that the world does not necessarily need to be devalued. To take the world seriously while holding onto the fundamental teachings of Advaita.

3. Liberation and Moksha are sometimes expressed as freedom FROM the world, freedom from samsara. Now samsara sometimes carries negative connotations, often with ignorance and suffering, etc. And so when the world itself is equated with samsara then the focus becomes itself to attain freedom from the world, not solving the problems. I think there is a different way of understanding this…to not see the world as world. That it is a mistake to see Advaita as seeing a problem with the world, but a problem of AVIDYA, or ignorance. Seeing everything as separate. So if we put the emphasis on Avidya as a human problem, then we move now we can see Moksha, not as escape from the world, but as a transformation of how we are in the world. We need to UNPACK the social implications of MOKSHA, what are the implications of moksha, I mentioned one already, LOKAH SANGRAHA. Such a person finds delight in working for the wellbeing of all. This opens us up to a more empathetic way of being. Identification of others in suffering and in joy. The BG says the best yogi is one who experiences others joy and suffering as their own.

4. Regarding KARMA, actions that can be traced to performance in past lives. Or even at an earlier point in this life. Such rigid interpretations lead to fatalism. Sees all forms of suffering as somehow justified and deserved. I do not think that is the only interpretation of karma, I argue against it, it offers 2 insights. 1 is we should be very responsible of choices, because choices are consequential. 2. Choices, sometimes it takes time to see the consequence of our actions, but we do see it, like climate change. To see structural issues that are the causes of suffering.

5. Dukha. May be construed as an inner condition that results from avidya, as an individualized and personalized condition. We can expand this understanding. There is no good reason in Advaita of why we would ignore the suffering of others, of human beings when they lack the resources to attain necessities for dignified and decent living. Or when suffering is inflicted through oppression and injustice based on gender, birth, hierarchical race construction. we can expand our understanding beyond the individualized internal suffering. There is no glorification of involuntary suffering and involuntary poverty in the Hindu Shastras/tradition.

4 fundamental goals of Hindu life

  • Artha (economic wellbeing) is one of the 4 fundamental goals of Hindu life.
  • Kama
  • Dharma (ethical conduct)
  • Liberation

So working to overcoming suffering means identifying, enlarging our understanding of dukha and suffering, and identifying those political, social, economic structures that cause and perpetuate suffering.
So my point of identifying these 5 challenges is to be realistic. That there are alternative ways of looking at all these issues. That provide positive, ethical and moral resources for Advaita being relevant our thinking to being social, SDGs.

The 6 ‘buckets’
  1. Prosperity (Artha). We have the poverty of the renunciate but not of those impoverished by involuntary poverty. It is seen as a great source of dukha, suffering. I already mentioned that Artha is one of life’s 4 goals and that everyone should have the basic necessities that every human being requires for dignified and decent living: food, healthcare, education, shelter, clothing. If we attest to the fact that Artha is a desirable goal for all human beings as we do, then we can’t stop there.
    We have to then inquire, take the next step. what are those structures , what is it that impedes human beings from attaining those basic, what are the structures, political economic, that deny persons the opportunities to attain life’s necessities these need to be identified as the next step, then of course, policy measures, to make these necessities accessible to must be advanced. But wealth is not enough, we require much more.
  2. Planet (nature…) Paying attention to the social reality that we cannot be concerned only about our individual wellbeing. Dharma calls upon us to be concerned about, to work for the wider good. It offers ethics there, it offers an ethics of human relationships, which also speaks to the institution of wealth and economic resources.
    Several of the SDGs speak of uplifting poverty and I believe Advaita is in agreement (sic) SDGs also speak to planetary wellbeing, nature, sustainability.
    Advaita sees the world of nature as having an intrinsic value that is derived from important theology, the sacred divine the infinite divine exists equally and identically in everything So development that is anthropocentric the focus is only on the wellbeing of humans to the exclusion to all other life forms. in fact the planet antithetical to this understanding, we don’t have a right to dominate, possess, make all other beings subservient to our needs and wants. Advaita philosophy is inclusive of all beings.
    We can’t extract ourselves out from the world of nature. We are formed of the Universe. We represent it in our abundance we are organically connected to it. This liquid in our bodies, warmth, energy air in breath speech sound. so important to give a voice to this cosmology in our thinking about development, we have become strangers and we are alienated from our planet. Failing to understand that when we injure the planet we fundamentally injure ourselves.
    So From an Advaita perspective our ecological crisis is also a crisis of self understanding it is a crisis of meaning, it is a spiritual crisis, and while it has to be addressed in different ways it also has to be addressed from this spiritual place of meaning. which is an invitation to treat the planet with respect, with reverence, as a wonderful outpouring of the infinite. You see this in so many beautiful verses in the Bhagavad Gita in that invites us to see the infinite in the face of water in the brilliance of the moon and sun, in the fragrance of the earth and so on. And then you have one of my favorite texts from the Shvetashvatara Upanishad speaks of the divine presence in the dark ?wood the green one with red eyes, the rain clouds the seasons the oceans, I believe that the ethics of environmental sustainability can also flow from this vision of sacredness, of reverence that is so much imbedded in the Advaita and the broader Hindu tradition.
  3. People (equality) – I think that Advaita- SDGs are people centered, but not anthropocentric , certainly a people centered way of thinking about development that again has its source in the inherent dignity and equal worth of every human being. And that again comes from the vision of life’s unity and the presence of the Sacred Divine identically in every sentient being. This is for me the antidote to any effort to deny . to deny the value and dignity of any human being. In Advaita we cannot honor the sacred and dishonor or devalue human beings. It is so fundamentally contradictory. We cannot give our assent or support any social or cultural system that is founded on human inequality and indignity. To see women as inferior to men, to prefer the boy child over the girl child, to mistreat the elderly. To ascribe unequal worth and to demean people on the basis of birth or gender. Are fundamentally contradictory to the deepest vision of the Advaita traditions.
  4. Children (dignity)Wellbeing of Children. In Advaita, children have the same dignity as adults. Do not attribute dignity and value on the basis of age. It springs from the sacred, that is present, identically in child and adult. not age, not emotional, not maturity. it (the value) is intrinsic. Children are not valuable because they serve adult needs. Their value is intrinsic. We have an obligation to protect children from cultural practices, from believes, from economic conditions that don’t allow them to flourish. We have an obligation to give them opportunities for a healthy life. For education, for leisure and for happiness. Forcing children into a life of arduous work is contrary to Hinduism for so many reasons.
  5. Peace (Ahimsa)I think in Advaita we need to connect this goal of peace, shanti, ahimsa with justice. Ahimsa, the cardinal ethical principle. Gandhi said: In its negative form it means abstention from harm or injury to other human beings In its positive form it is a practice of love and compassion for all. Ahimsa means justice towards everyone. Abstention from all forms of exploitation. Gandhi said you cannot claim to be a practitioner of nonviolence if you are not committed also to social justice. So the inseparability of peace and justice is a very important connection that we need to make. and we need to move these values, such as ahimsa, from the sphere of personal relationship and into the social.. and this I believe is a fundamental contribution of Mahatma Gandhi to our thinking. Martin Luther King Jr whose legacy is so important, said something about Gandhi on this issue. Gandhi : Gandhi was the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love, for Gandhi, was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation.
  6. interreligious/traditional collaboration We need to do this with our Advaita resources. To bring virtues that were exclusive to interpersonal sphere and ask about the application for the social sphere. This connection is necessary to make for a vigorous relationship between the Advaita tradition and SDGs. and we cannot do this of course without partnerships. Advaita cannot do it alone, this is why interreligious collaboration becomes so vital, so necessary. Any religious tradition that has concern about the social order and its transformation or about sustainable development goals. Its challenge today reach across borders to find common ground and values, or those without religion or religious commitment to confront and overcome the sources of human suffering. Our hopes for just and peaceful communities, flourishing communities, can only be realized together. Or they will not be realized at all.
    The global pandemic is a great example. We cannot protect ourselves unless we protect the entire planet. Not just religious but every agency working for human development religion can be a very positive source of moral energy, a positive inspiration for human will.
List of Participants

Attendance /No.of participants: 44 
Male- 23 Female -21 
List of the participants: 

  1. Anthony Chafa 
  2. Mojtaba Enayati 
  3. Hari Chandana 
  4. Douglas Marowa 
  5. Habanyati Estone 
  6. Niloofar Abed 
  7. Krishna Sreesuthan 
  8. Muganyizi Jonas 
  9. Matov Baker 
  10. Aswathi Suresh Babu 
  11. Pardon Dandadzi 
  12. Meenu Prakash 
  13. Sreevidhya C 
  14. Devika Shaji 
  15. Amabile Manianga
  16. Deva Temple 
  17. Fernanda Imada 18. Balogun Babatunde 19. Krishneil Maharaj 20. Juliet Angom 
  18. Mukil MV 
  19. Amritesh AR 
  20. Martin Kanyagui 24. Selina Shah 
  21. Rondine Anushree 26. Kripa Gressel 
  22. Debashish Brahma 28. Krishna Nandan 29. Jyoti Sharma 
  23. Anushri Tiwari 31. Bernard Otu 
  24. Aroun 
  25. Amrita Sadanand 34. Isaac Lukambagire 35. Reshma AS 
  26. Ogbanna Amarachi 37. Vineeth 
  27. Nihal 
  28. Akshay Krishna 40. Cristina Mayumi 41. Mosoud 
  29. Balmukund 
  30. Balu
  31. Tzur Sayag 

Source of Funding : E4Life PhD Scholarship fund, Ammachi Labs, CWEGE

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