Roundtable Session II: Faith at work in service to humanity
February 17, 2003, 3:30 p.m.:
Moderator for the second roundtable session was Dr. S. S. Joshi, Professor Emeritus from Punjabi University, Patiala. He posed questions for consideration: “Why do we serve humanity? Are there any motives? Why? Do we want to gain or is it only selfless motivation? If it is without motivation, what keeps us going on and on and on? Do we have faith in ourselves, in humanity, or in the work that we do? These presenters have spent most of their lives serving humanity with unflinching faith. The basic question is Why? For self-satisfaction? To please God?” The goal for the session was to delve into the link between faith and service, beyond any sectarian motives.
Presenters for this roundtable session were Ralph Singh, First President of Gobind Sadan USA and Secretary of the North American Interfaith Network, Bhai Kirpal Singh, Head Granthi of Gobind Sadan and research scholar, Ernest Young, leader in the Emmaus retreat movement and United Methodist Committee on Relief, USA, Karen Ingvolstad, chaplain, parish nurse, and community organizer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, Reverend Judith Alderman, United Methodist Christian minister from Fulton, New York, USA, Natasha Schenova, leader of Valentin Sidorov Public-Cultural Centre, Ekterinaburg, Russia, Dr. Veena Sharma, former Head of Swahili Service and now Chairperson of Prajna Foundation, Yulia Pal, webmaster of Gobind Sadan’s Russian website and trainer for Pranic Healing Foundation of Delhi, and Malissa Bergner, actress, singer, and student leader from the USA.
Ralph Singh spoke from his personal experiences about the spiritual mandate to do hard work for the sake of others. He related how at the age of 21 he met Baba Virsa Singh in a visionary experience and thus learned that there is “an incredible Power.” He was then once meditating until after sunrise at Gobind Sadan when Babaji came to him and said, “What are you doing here? Get out into the fields and work! Do you think you came here just to meditate?” He concluded, “Meditation is only to empower your work. As we work, we are burning away our weaknesses that keep us away from God. This beautiful garden was a pile of manure only a few years ago. If there was a shortage of labour in the dairy, Babaji himself would milk the buffalos. You have to work, and the focus of your work should be to uplift humanity. I cut fodder, tended and marketed roses. Babaji himself was in the fields night and day. If anyone asked how they could see him, we told them, ‘Go work in the fields. He is there, and if you work, you can see him.’ After seeing crops and gardens appear where previously there was nothing, one develops a confidence that there is no amount of suffering, injustice, or oppression that cannot be solved.”
Gobind Sadan’s practical example of selfless hard work was further delineated by Bhai Kirpal Singh. He said, “Where you are sitting today was not like this. There was not even a blade of grass. On 18 June, 1968, Babaji came here at midnight with a team of his devotees. What did they do first? They started digging a well. It took 6 months. He said at that time, ‘We will not depend on anybody. We will be self-supporting in all respects.’ So we did farming. All the stones were removed by manual labour. Devotees were working day and night. They started growing sugarcane and maize and fodder for 200 cows and buffalos of the best type at that time. One cow was giving 60 litres of milk per day.
At another 250-acre plot in Surajpur, the land had never been developed and was lying barren. Wells were bored. The previous owner came after one year and was amazed to see that the only labourers were students. He said, ‘I have never seen people like this who have changed the form of the land.’
Then low-lying land along the Ganges was developed. Babaji and his followers used to go there in boats, in villages ruined by floods. He arranged bulldozers and constructed a dike. Once he worked continuously for 72 hours. Now the income from that farm supports the work of Gobind Sadan. This is the pattern set by Guru Nanak: Earn your living by honest means and share with the needy. No money is to be charged for spiritual services such as singing kirtan. And this place is a practical example of actual interfaith life.”
Ernest Young spoke of the hard work of responding to floods and hurricanes, providing disaster relief. He also described the Emmaus movement as a program for renewing one’s faith and commitment to serve more actively.
Karen Ingvoldstad described her work as a nurse, saying, “All my actions that serve spring from faith. For people, my work includes stress management and healing touch as well as conventional medical help. I consider myself a healer of the air, water, and plants as well as people. We must not let our sons and daughters kill other people’s brothers and sisters.”
Reverend Judith Alderman observed, “People need to experience the love of God for it to be a significant presence in their lives. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, prayed for five years to experience the power of God’s love in his life. Once he experienced that warming in the heart, his service took off in a new and meaningful way. When Mother Teresa held my hand and said, ‘May God bless you, my child,’ I stopped talking about mission and ministry and began doing it, by working in Newark [a lower-class urban community in the US] in soup kitchens for the poor and shelters for homeless people.” She related that many of the members of her congregation are also active in service, such as working with people who have AIDS. “Service is my way of saying ‘Thank you’ to God.”
In her presentation, Malissa Bergner said that young people can benefit their community and the world by their service. She spoke of her youth group’s weekly meetings in which “we develop faith in ourselves and in each other. Knowing that the adults have faith in us encourages us to have faith in ourselves.” Their group’s work includes encouraging others to be happy: “We often say, ‘If you don’t have a smile, here, take one of mine.'”
Natasha Schenova spoke of “how we in Ekterinaburg work to put faith into practice. As it is written in the Bible, if people have faith even as small as a mustard seed, even two people can save the world.” She spoke of the work of three great Russians of the past: Madame Helena Blavatsky, who said, “There is no religion higher than truth,” Nicholas Roerich, who started a movement to seek peace among people through culture, and Valentin Sidorov, who promised, “The one will come who can console the souls, the Spirit of Consolation.” Taking inspiration from these figures, Ms. Schenova said, “We are living in the special time of the Spirit of Compassion. We are to love our neighbour as we love ourself, and to bring spirituality into every aspect of life. We want to give new life to spirituality in our Motherland and restore our relationships with the hierarchy of Mahatmas. That is why we are here: We have found the great Mahatma here in India. It is Baba Virsa Singh. We do our best to spread his light in our land. I have been here 8 times. Every time that we go back to Russia, we try to spread this treasure of knowledge and love wherever we are, through conferences and talking with our friends.” She showed books that her group had published of the writings of Valentin Sidorov and translations of Kabir’s poetry into Russian.
Dr. Veena Sharma cited the Vedas: “Truth is one; learned people have called it by different names.” She observed, “Physicists have found this underlying unity. Humanity is not separate from the individual human; one spirit underlies all. Work done in this spirit would be an act of self-actualization.” She described her work in a basti of 500 households—a place of “dirt, ignorance, illiteracy, indiscipline, divisions and hatreds. As we worked with them in a spiritual way, privileged youth also came and helped. They began to respect each other a little bit. With very limited resources, things began to happen.” Now some of her students from the basti are even being trained as computer operators.
Yulia Pal described Pranic Healing as “a very ancient system of energy healing revived by a Filipino founder of Chinese descent. He emphasizes the need to integrate and balance spiritual and worldly life. I come from Russia where religion was very much discouraged by the State. I believed that there is no God, and that religion is old-fashioned, no good. I came to India with no faith. I went to a pranic healer with an incredible and painful skin problem, and by the next morning there was no pain, only a few red patches. It is a method of removing negative energies and bring fresh positive energies to the body. The technique opens your heart. Working in this way, we have to face death, and mentally and emotionally disturbed people. I became more compassionate, and am still learning the concept of service. The teaching is meant to lead us to the dawn of civilization. We are all parts of a large whole. The interdependence of all life means that our choices have an effect on all.”
Mary Pat Fisher posed the question as to how one could have faith within this world of suffering. She answered her question by saying that everything is within God—peace and conflict, happiness and suffering, light and darkness, as expressed in Guru Gobind Singh’s hymn Jaap Sahib. She also noted that Baba Virsa Singh recommends that people serve and then forget their service, not looking back, so that ego does not enter.
The session also included a presentation by Mrs. Prem Swaranjit, wife of Swaranjit Singh, President of the Institute, about the appearance of Jesus to Baba Virsa Singh in 1983, promising blessings which are being experienced to today in the place where he appeared.