Americans Seek Bridges of Understanding After Gurdwara Fire

As Gobind Sadan gurdwara in Delhi today joyfully celebrated the birthday of its founder, His Holiness Baba Virsa Singh, guests from the United States were present to help build bridges of friendship in the wake of a fire set by American teenagers that damaged Gobind Sadan’s gurdwara in the United States in November. The American guests, who came in response to Gobind Sadan’s invitation, included renowned filmmaker Richard Breyer and Mark Lichtenstein. Mr. Lichtenstein is President of the School Board of the area from which one of the teenagers came. Both visitors are seeking ways of ending the ignorance and religious intolerance that led the drunken teenagers to burn the gurdwara.

Gobind Sadan is internationally known for its practical life of inter-religious harmony. It has responded to the fire with love and forgiveness of the perpetrators, and is warmly welcoming the guests from the area where its gurdwara was burned. Mr. Ralph Singh, spokesperson for Gobind Sadan USA who invited and is traveling with the American guests, explained, “This gives us the opportunity to rebuild the broader community based on love and understanding, so that the kind of ignorance and hatred that led to this senseless act is finally overcome.”

In his address to the multitudes who came to celebrate his birthday, Baba Virsa Singh emphasized the underlying oneness of all religions. He said, “If we respect one prophet and disrespect another, we will never be blessed, for this is contrary to dharma. Today people are creating boundaries, but where there is enlightenment, religion is a matter of one God. Enlightenment shows that there is one God, and all prophets are His family. We must meditate and see God everywhere, in every form of worship, in every religious place. With the blessing of God, at Gobind Sadan we live together with love as sisters and brothers. Always recognize that there is one Father, and we are all His children. As Guru Gobind Singh said, ‘Recognize all humanity as one human race.'”

Baba Virsa Singh also noted the great miracle that happened during the fire at Gobind Sadan’s community near Syracuse, New York: Although the room where the Guru Granth Sahib and Dasam Granth (writings of Guru Gobind Singh) were enshrined was utterly charred, the holy scriptures survived without any damage, without loss of a single word. Babaji explained, “Guru Granth Sahib is a scripture for the whole universe. That is why it has not burned. It says, ‘Do not call the Vedas and revealed scriptures such as Bible, Torah, Holy Qur’an, and Zend Avesta false. False is the person who does not understand and interpret them correctly.’ All the prophets and God are sitting together in Guru Granth Sahib. We understand Guru Granth Sahib as a living Guru. The Guru Granth Sahib is indestructible. It is not only a holy book but a living spirit.”

To encourage this teaching of respect for all religions, Richard Breyer, Professor of Mass Communication at the Newhouse School of Syracuse University and creator of the award-winning film “Kasthuri”,” has come to India again to make a new documentary highlighting Gobind Sadan’s ways of overcoming intolerance. The film will feature an American teenager from the same rural area as those who set the fire in the United States. He will travel to Gobind Sadan in India to experience the culture first-hand, and then return to share his experiences with his friends. At Gobind Sadan, people of all castes and creeds live together as family members, celebrating the holy days of all prophets with the same joy and love.

Mark Lichtenstein, President of the School Board in Mexico, New York, near Gobind Sadan’s United States community, has come to Gobind Sadan at his own expense to learn more about the culture and build bridges of understanding and friendship. Because one of the boys who set the fire attends Mexico High School, Mr. Lichtenstein stated, “Both I and our whole community were personally devastated to think that one of our students would commit a hate crime. I hope that this visit will provide the healing that our community needs. Moreover, I hope to serve as an ambassador to explore more opportunities for cultural exchanges between our community and India, and to help support the efforts to rebuild Gobind Sadan in the United States.”