Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has sent a message to Hindu communities for the festival of Diwali, highlighting the significance to him of continuing dialogue with Hindus.
In his message, posted on the Lambeth Palace website, Dr Williams shares his experience of meeting with five Swamis during his recent visit to India, and of the "joy and light" he experienced through their dialogue.
"Diwali celebrates the light of knowledge overcoming the darkness of ignorance. During the dialogue in Bangalore, I felt that we all learned to perceive each other's belief systems more clearly," he says.
The archbishop cites a personal reflection given by one of the heads of Hindu movements, Swami Harshananda, who spoke of the light in each person and stated: "the lamp is burning, but the chimney is full of soot."
"[Swami Harshananda] spoke of the power of prayer in clearing away darkness and bringing light. As Diwali begins, I pass on [his] message and I look forward to speaking further with you about light, jnana and bhakti at future dialogue meetings in the New Year."
Diwali is an important five-day festival in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, occurring between mid-October and mid-November. In 2010 it began on 5 November.
The full text of the message is as follows:
As celebrations for Diwali begin, I write to wish you a joyful festival. I have just returned from a two week visit to India. A high point of this visit was meeting with five Hindu heads of Monastic orders. The Swamis present were known for both their orthodoxy and radicality. They were heads of some of the most revered Maths – those founded by Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva – yet they had learnt to teach in English and had broken with traditional codes by travelling overseas. They represented a younger generation of outward looking teachers; many have a large non-resident Indian following in America. It felt very natural to settle immediately into a warm and open exchange; even though we each had our different metaphysical schemes and metaphors for the divine. I wanted to write to you personally to share some of the joy and light that I experienced during that dialogue with them.
As you well know, Diwali celebrates the light of knowledge overcoming the darkness of ignorance. During the dialogue in Bangalore, I felt that we all learned to perceive each other's belief systems more clearly. The Dvaita, Swami Sugunendra, spoke about how this world was nothing but two-fold division. Swami Chinna Jeeyar spoke about a Trinity of God, Soul and Nature. I spoke about the three cosmic dimensions that Christian's believe shape all creation.
In the second part of the dialogue there were some opportunities for more personal reflection. Anticipating Diwali, Swami Harshananda spoke about the light in each person and stated: 'the lamp is burning, but the chimney is full of soot.' He spoke about the power of prayer to clear away darkness and bring light. As Diwali begins, I pass on Swami Harshananda's message and I look forward to speaking further with you about light, jnana and bhakti at future dialogue meetings in the New Year.