The Opening of the LOTUS

In the International Year of Peace, a beacon of peace, harmony and love was lit in Buckingham, Virginia. On July 20, 1986, the Light Of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS) was dedicated and offered to the world. Sri Swami Satchidananda, who had envisioned and designed LOTUS, was joined by spiritual leaders of all faiths and dignitaries from around the globe for the opening services and the World Faiths Symposium on the day before. At the height of the Dedication festivities, approximately 3,000 people gathered at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville. Everyone was deeply moved by the experience, and resolved to find ways in their own lives to promote accord among all people.

'As we settled in there was the feeling of anticipation. And almost before we knew what was happening the climaxing moments of lighting the light happened.' Incense was burned. There were prayers and chants in different languages. Lights were waved. Flower petals were offered. The flames in the starpoints of the meru were lit by the celebrants.

World Faiths Symposium

The Grand Opening and Dedication of LOTUS began on Saturday, July 19th, with religious leaders and dignitaries from around the world joining Swami Satchidananda for the World Faiths Symposium at the Charlottesville Performing Arts Center. Over 1500 people attended the morning program where thirty-two speakers addressed the theme: “Truth is One, Paths are Many.” Sant Keshavadas summed up the feeling of the morning so perfectly when he said, “The flower garland represents the unity of world religions. The group of speakers sitting here is a flower garland to God.”

July 1986 also marked the twentieth year of Swami Satchidananda’s service in the West. In a gala program on the evening of the 19th, devotees and friends paid tribute to this great servant of all humanity.

To introduce “One Small Voice”-one of the many wonderful songs she sang that evening-Carole (Karuna) King said, “This song is about one small child who spoke up for what he believed in. And Gurudev is kind of like that child. He was one person with a dream, a vision. Then more and more joined in, more will join . . . It’s a song about how every one of us can make a difference .. . If it weren’t for every one of us there wouldn’t be a LOTUS. But there is one!”

That evening, Swami Satchidananda spoke about God’s guidance in everything. “I have heard many beautiful prayerful songs written by great saints. But one always stands out, continuously haunts my heart. The mean ing of it is: ‘Lord, you are the in dweller of all beings. You are omnipresent. You make things move, you make people move. So, who am I to do anything? How can I do anything? It’s You. You feed me;

I am getting fed. You make me sleep; I sleep. You show me; I am seeing. You make me happy; I am happy. You make me dance; I dance. And not only me, but the entire universe. Therefore I know that without You I am nothing.’ That prayer has become my guiding light. I never planned anything. I never wanted anything. I’m not an ambitious person. God has simply moved me from place to place. This is all God’s work, not mine.”

Swami Satchidananda  presented special Awards of Merit to Mr. Hari Harilela, Sri N. Mahalingam and Karuna King. Then Sri Gurudev himself was surprised with an award. Mr. William Veprin, National Commissioner of Appeal and Director of Development for the Anti-Defamation League, presented Sri Gurudev with an ADL award. He was proclaimed a Trustee of the Society of Fellows of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, “In recognition of distinguished leadership and dedicated service in advancing the cause of human rights, dignity, and equal opportunity, preserving freedom, counteracting bigotry, and promoting brotherhood for all.”

Transported to Heaven – LOTUS Dedication

On Sunday morning, LOTUS was sparkling in the sun. Near the shrine’s Grand Archway, thousands of people waited in hushed readiness. Two tigers rested under small canopies; they too seemed to be waiting for something marvelous to happen. Suddenly, from the distance bagpipe music was heard. The parade was coming. Everyone looked up toward the sound. They could see the bagpipe player rounding the bend at the magnificent overlook on the path coming to LOTUS. Next came a beautifully decorated baby elephant. But it was the sight of the celebrants and the blue satin banners with the symbols of the world’s faiths that really stirred people’s hearts.

A choir sang, “All Creatures of Our God and King” as the celebrants came in stately procession to the All Faiths altar on the stage. Many people felt a tremendous emotional impact. One remarked, “Seeing all the celebrants in their clerical robes-so colorful and varied- watching them march in representing all the religions of the world, listening to the Western choir singing a traditional Western hymn, all the cultures and countries seemed to be coming together. For me, that memory said everything about what the weekend meant.”

The service allowed everyone to deepen that experience. A simple altar stood in the center of the stage. In the center of the altar was one large candle. The voices of the choir raised once again in song as all the celebrants together reached out with their lighted candles and simultaneously lit the central light.

Each celebrant spoke briefly and made an offering to the central light. Swami Satchidananda offered this prayer: “Beloved Lord, in the form of this light, please accept all of our humble prayers and worship. Bless us to raise above these physical and mental limitations. Help us to experience the one light within us all, Let us live harmoniously as Your beautiful children. Bless this holy place to vibrate peace, health, prosperity and harmony. Let there be a lot of healing vibrations in this area so that people can get healed of all their physical, mental and material problems.”

Among the many other beautiful words spoken that morning:

Wallace Black Elk: “Today I respect this candle lighted here. This will be the light of the world. It will lighten our minds and our hearts. This was a gift to us from Grandmother, the Earth. . . There are sacred colors, the rainbow colors. All life has sacred colors. We’re in a color TV world right from the beginning. Yet so recently people discovered that. But now we’re all here and all the beautiful colors
are here and we’re not going to be colorblind anymore.”

Rev. Victoria Parvathi Pratt-Ford: “Let this light remain as a never-ending symbol of our constant faith that this is the truth, that we are all one, that we are all light, and that we can radiate throughout the universe with this light.”

Siri Singh Sahib Yogi Bhajan: “Today is a special day. A united religion is born. The shrine of LOTUS represents that unity, that grace, that divinity and that infinity. It is that which the heart and head must bow to.”

Rabbi Joseph Gelberman: “All is one. That which seems to be an opposite really is not in opposition because all is one.”

Brother David Steindl-Rast: “It is a great privilege to represent here the Christian tradition, not as separated, but as united with all. If we address God as our Father/our Mother, I’m reminded of all God’s children; not only the two-legged or the four-legged, or the crawling ones, but all God’s children.”

Venerable Prabhasa Dharma Roshi: “I pray this wonderful incense will spread out to the whole world in the ten directions offering to all the Buddhas, the wonderful dharmas, and enlightened beings and saints and sages. I pray it will form an altar of light and do the cosmic work it is intended to do. I pray it will benefit all sentient beings so they will raise the enlightenment mind, depart from evil karma and attain the highest way.”

The beautiful worship service came to an end. As the choir sang Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the celebrants began a stately procession out of the tent and into LOTUS. Along the way, ribbons were cut to open the Grand Archway, the All Faiths Hall and unveil the beautiful statues.

Finally, the celebrants and other designated people entered the upper shrine.

One observer noted, “When people walked in they were overwhelmed by the magnificence of the shrine. There was this great feeling of awe and enjoyment of the beauty of it, It felt like we were entering this protective cave. I remember the blue violet feeling of the inside of the shrine. It felt like another place in time. Coolness in the midst of the heat. It was the way you would imagine a lotus flower in the bright hot sun of India; it would be floating on the pond but would nevertheless itself be very cool and poised. It was almost like entering another realm, like a pocket of heaven in the midst of the earth. As we settled in there was the feeling of anticipation. And almost before we knew what was happening the climaxing moments of lighting the light happened.”

Incense was burned. There were prayers and chants in different languages. Lights were waved. Flower petals were offered. The flames in the starpoints of the meru were lit by the celebrants.

At precisely 12:00 noon, the central column of light went on. From floor to ceiling, this magnificent light shone gloriously. At the top of the dome, it divided into twelve rays which came down to shine on all the altars of all the faiths. Bells rang. Outside, hundreds of multicolored balloons were released to float high and free into the air.

What happened next was a spectacular surprise to most of the thousands gathered for the opening. In the procession from the tent to the shrine, each of the celebrants had carried a small pot of holy water from the worship service. At the shrine, they had all poured this water into one large vessel. After the speeches from the balcony, Swami Satchidananda took the large container of holy water and entered the helicopter which had been waiting near LOTUS. The fascinated crowd watched as the craft hovered right over the spire of LOTUS. Swami Satchidananda, holding the vessel of consecrated water-put one foot on the helicopter’s runner and leaned very far out over LOTUS. In a truly magnificent moment, he performed the abishekam (pouring water over something holy, in worship). Loud cheers went up from the crowd, and the cheering continued as Swami Satchidananda, in the helicopter, circled LOTUS three times.

In the crowning moment of the whole weekend, which was the crowning achievement of his interfaith work up to that point, it was a perfect visual metaphor for his whole service in this modem world: He is a master who honors the past without clinging to it. He doesn’t hesitate to use technology to extend his service. The point is how he’s taken the essence (which the abishekam is) of the teachings and shown how they’re totally applicable to our place and time in this seemingly explosive modern 20th century. He seems to say there’s nothing off limits if it’s good and useful. A helicopter is totally appropriate in the midst of a puja if it’s the right tool to serve.

Night fell and LOTUS, lit so spectacularly, looked truly other-worldly-like some majestic and lovely vision from heaven. LOTUS celebrants led a procession to the other side of LOTUS Lake. Watching from a distance, one would see a long line of lights moving in stately promenade around lake. Gentle words of song rose from the line as everyone sang, “God’s light, pure and free; Light of lights, enlighten me.”

Finally, fireworks flew up over the spectacularly lit LOTUS-the clear sky, the moon, the bright stars, the lightning-it was just spectacular beyond belief.

Finally, the celebrants and other designated people entered the upper shrine. thanked “all my beloved children who made this a grand success.” But the real thanks, he reminded everyone, went to God, Who created LOTUS, made its completion possible, and gave us all an opportunity to be part of it. In a spirit of joyous quiet, everyone walked back toward the front of the shrine. There was a feeling of tremendous good will and love.

Visitors from all countries and all walks of life visit daily. Throughout each day people sit in silent meditation and prayer. The Light Of Truth Universal Shrine is open to all.