Dr Glenville Ashby, Contributor
In an era when the words religion and peace almost seem oxymoronic, a revolutionary event in Brooklyn, New York (NY), proved that many in the religious community are willing to buck the trend of sectarianism and distrust by bridging communities and advocating unity and understanding.
In the Caribbean, where race and religious affiliation are intertwined, for the most part, healing racial angst through the medium of religion can be meaningful.
No one understands this more than Pundit Shivernand Gosine.
Tapped by the Trinidad and Tobago consul general in New York, Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam, as a boon for that country's overseas Interfaith Council, Pundit Gosine immediately proved his worth.
His counsel in the area of education and technology gave the 'council' a much-needed shot in the arm as it laboured to globalise its mission. His assiduous work ethic and people-centred philosophy resonated with the executive branch of the board.
In the twinkling of an eye, Pundit Gosine was installed as a board member and its education liaison. For all the good karma he has reaped recently, Pundit Gosine remains humble, self-effacing, and dedicated to uniting the Indo- and Afro-Trinidadian communities. Unlike Guyana that has reeled under open racial violence, the twin-island state has been spared a volatile confrontation between the two largest ethnic groups.
Still, no one holds the key to the future.
Engendering peace and accommodation between different cultures with a chequered interracial past is a delicate task capped with political mines and knitted-brow exclusionists who are resistant to change at any cost.
"The divisiveness is very sharp in New York, a far cry from what I've observed in Trinidad," Pundit Gosine said.
"When we leave our homeland, we gravitate to our own," he explained, trying to make sense of the cultural gulf between the two groups.
Pundit Gosine played down race as the only determinant of interpersonal relations.
"It's more territorial ... our natural response is to identify with those who are similar to us. Trying to pigeon-hole racism can prove complex, he said. "There are always shades of grey involved." He used the tenuous relations between Indo-Guyanese and Indo-Trinidadians in New York to bolster his argument.
"We are Hindu and Indian, but there is no real camaraderie there," he said.
Pundit Gosine left the shores of Trinidad two decades ago and remains passionate about "building community relations."
The former Penal resident, who credits a number of pundits with his training, was initiated as a 'Ghri Gosine'at Vishva Hindu Pariishard of Trinidad and Tobago.
He conceded that emphasis on religion and ethnicity has stymied the creation of a 'Trini' identity.
The pundit made a distinction between religion and spirituality, touting the latter as "the way forward," and "the key to a future of genuine love and respect for each other".
He assailed influential religious leaders who promote "tribalism" and "exclusiveness."
He decried the notion that "Hinduism is about Indianness" and envisioned a more embracing Hinduism that is true to the concept of Sanatan Dharma or "Eternal Ethics".
Using the title 'guru' and 'pundit' interchangeably, "because the former is more universally appealing and in tandem with his inclusive philosophy," he recently formed the organisation, PEACE Yoga, to promote healthy living through spiritual therapy and Aryuvedic medicine.
WHAT IS PEACE?
He explained that 'PEACE' is the acronym for Powerful Emotional Awareness Cultural Experience.
"Again, spirituality is about cultivation of wholesome values. Sometimes the opposite is true of religions, at least how it is spun by so called religious leaders," he said.
A week ago, Pundit Gosine was given his biggest platform to spread his universal message.
In an event organised by the Trinidad and Tobago Interfaith Council at the Lady of Lourdes Orisha-Spiritual Baptist Church in Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn, he held court among a sea of Shouter Baptist and Orisha devotees. Leading the meditative chants and singing rousing bhajans (devotional songs), he compared Lord Hanuman to Shango, in particular, and highlighted the similarities between the Hindu pantheon and the orisas and saints who are revered by Afro-Trinidadians.
"I am amazed by the commonality between Hinduism and the Afrocentric religions," he said with near incredulity.
He described his "baptism" among the Baptist and Orisha faithful as "awe-inspiring," and "educational", adding that "there was such a genuine outpouring of love".
He considered the event, titled A Day of Atonement, as seminal and prophetic and a "defining moment for Indo- and Afro-Trinidadians."
"There will be social change despite the naysayers," he opined, pondering for a moment before adding, "the only true race is the human race, and the only true religion is love for all of God's creation".
Dr Glenville Ashby is the president of the Trinidad and Tobago Interfaith Council Int'l.
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