So I had an interesting weekend: I was in Washington, D.C., at the White House as a participant in the historic first Dharmic Religious and Faith Institutional Leaders Conference: Community Building in the 21st Century with Strengthened Dharmic Faith-Based Infrastructures.
Co-hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement and White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships with Hindu American Seva Charities, the conference brought together a large group of religious and institutional leaders from Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Jain communities to discuss service with various government departments and agencies.
Among others, we met with representatives of the Department of Education, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. We also heard from and dialogued with a large group of interesting speakers, including Joshua Stanton, founding co-editor of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, co-director of Religious Freedom USA, and co-editor of O.N. Scripture — The Torah; former U.S Senator Harris Wofford; and Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
Overall, I concur with many of my colleagues, who felt that the gathering was hugely important symbolically: to see Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains gathered together at the White House to spend a day in dialogue with the government about service and community-building felt like a huge step forward in terms of addressing the lack of attention to and representation of Dharmic religious practitioners in Washington. (Some of you may recall an article I wrote for Religion Dispatches in 2009 that talked about the lack of a Buddhist representative on the White House’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. As of today, this problem has still not been rectified. You can read that article here.)
The conference agenda itself, though, did feel a little overstuffed to me. And things were done in relatively broad strokes. I think we might have benefitted more from smaller groups and more precise focus on unique issues in particular communities, with some attention to broader concerns for us all. But it was certainly a great start in terms of encouraging future events like this, and I thought Joshua Stanton did a really nice job of illustrating the effect the conference had on one person outside these communities looking in. Make sure you give his piece a read over at State of Formation.
In addition to Joshua’s piece, you can read the official press release about the conference here, as well as a substantial blog post at Hindu American Seva Charities’ official blog. [UPDATE: In addition, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi offers his own take at the official blog for Buddhist Global Relief.] I also thought I would share with you some pictures I took, as well as some other shots I have permission to share with you. You can find those below (and can click on all of them to enlarge).
What a thrill to be invited to the White House, a joy to see some old friends and make new ones, and participate in something so important. Many thanks to the White House Office of Public Engagement, White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Hindu American Seva Charities, and my friend Bill Aiken at Soka Gakkai International-USA. I’m humbled and always at your service in the future.