Interfaith Pioneer

H. H. Swami Satchidananda was a leading proponent of interfaith understanding. His motto, “Truth is One, Paths are Many,” has been celebrated around the world. He organized many interfaith programs, retreats, and conferences. In 1968, Swami Satchidananda, along with Rabbi Gelberman; Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Roman Catholic Benedictine monk; and Eido Tai Shimano, a Zen Buddhist monk, co-founded the Center for Spiritual Studies, in which the clergy of different faiths met once a month to share their dialogue. This center grew into the Yoga Ecumenical Seminar that held weekend retreats for the followers of different religions wishing to come together in prayer and meditation and to share ideas.

During these interfaith retreats and symposiums, Swami Satchidananda had another innovation: the Yoga Ecumenical Service (now known as the Light Of Truth Universal Service), in which representatives of different faiths gathered together around a circular altar and performed a worship service to a central light. This light—in the form of a lit candle—was adopted as the universal symbol of the Divine. Performing the service were celebrants representing their respective faiths, and offering worship to the central light from their own faith tradition.

Swami Satchidananda was also invited to serve on the advisory boards of many interfaith organizations. For over 30 years, he lent support to organizations including: The Temple of Understanding, Thanksgiving Square, The Parliament of the World’s Religions, The International Interfaith Centre, The Interfaith Center of New York, and the United Religions Initiative.

In 1980, the World Thanksgiving Council named Swami Satchidananda a “Fellow of World Thanksgiving.” In 1994, in recognition of his tremendous contribution to interfaith dialogue and understanding, Swami Satchidananda was chosen to be among the first recipients of an interfaith award presented by The Temple of Understanding. Sri Gurudev received the Juliet Hollister Award at the United Nations. The two other eminent recipients were Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan and the Very Reverend James Parks Morton, Dean Emeritus of The Cathedral of St. John the Divine and President of The Interfaith Center of New York.

In 1998, Swami Satchidananda was invited to meet President and Mrs. Clinton. During the visit, the Clintons expressed their appreciation for Swami Satchidananda’s continued support of the Clinton Administration, as well as for his prayers and encouragement during difficult times. Swami Satchidananda gave the Clintons a mala (prayer beads), along with copies of his books. They all then participated in a blessing ceremony for the President’s godchild.

That same month, President John Casteen of the University of Virginia invited Swami Satchidananda to a luncheon at the University with Ms. Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate and children’s rights activist. Following the luncheon, Swami Satchidananda joined H. H. the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Nobel Peace Laureates’ conference sponsored by the University. After the conference, the Dalai Lama invited Swami Satchidananda to attend a plenary session in Washington, D.C. with several other religious leaders to discuss how they could work more closely together toward furthering interreligious dialogue and world peace. This group formally became the “Interreligious Friendship Group” and, in November 1999, it met for another planning session hosted by President Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Also in the Fall of 1999, Swami Satchidananda was invited to give the opening prayers for an interfaith service convened by The Interfaith Center of New York and The Temple of Understanding. This service was a celebration of the interfaith community’s commitment to the work of the United Nations, and it marked the opening of the 54th Session of the General Assembly. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, H. E. Kofi Annan, Mrs. Annan, and the President of the General Assembly, H. E. Theo-Ben Gurirab addressed the gathering. During the program, The Rev. James P. Morton gave a tribute in honor of Swami Satchidananda’s 50th anniversary of Sannyas (ordination as a monk), citing his leadership in the field of interfaith dialogue for those many years.

Then, in April 2002, Sri Chinmoy presented the U Thant Peace Award to Swami Satchidananda, on behalf of The Peace Meditation at the United Nations. The Rev. James P. Morton hosted the occasion at The Interfaith Center. The U Thant Peace Award is given to individuals and organizations that have exemplified the lofty spiritual ideals of the late United Nation’s Secretary General U Thant and that have implemented those ideals in the tireless pursuit of world peace. Previous recipients of this prestigious award have included, H. H. Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela.

On June 5, 2014, Sri Swami Satchidananda was honored as an “Interfaith Visionary” with the James P. Morton Interfaith Award.

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