For the last several years, I have had the privilege of representing Shinnyo-en at two distinct observances of the United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony week, held annually in February. These two iterations of the intention behind interfaith harmony week have traditionally taken form as an inter-religious prayer service and a dialogue. This year, I participated once more in the Westchester County-based Inter-religious prayer service, hosted this year at The India Center of Westchester on February 2nd, 2019, which was coordinated by Dr. Charles Chesnavage. The speakers hailed from different faith traditions and some represented local government, and all shared a message of peace and harmony. I had prepared a written statement and intended to recite two Buddhist mantras. When it was my turn to present, however, I realized that I had been so moved by the representative of the Quaker tradition who came up several speakers prior and held silence for several minutes. So, I shared with the group that I wanted to carry on the wonderful holding of silence and space from my Quaker friend and did the same, forgoing my prepared statement. After that, I offered a recitation of the two mantras I had prepared and explained that if we learn to all hold space in our own ways, that it will enable us all, as humankind, to have the authentic experience of listening to those around us and finding ways to collaborate in positive and altruistic engagement. That this would be a single embodied act that we might all do to also portray what harmony looks like to our younger generations. We had more young adults in attendance at this year’s gathering than ever before. In total, we had approximately 15 traditions represented and concluded with a communal singing of “May there be peace on earth” with the central theme embodied by the lyric: “…and let it begin with me.”
On February 16th, 2019, at The Shinnyo Center for Meditation and Well-being, another observance of work interfaith harmony week was hosted in collaboration with the International Day of Yoga committee at the U.N. At this gathering, dialogue rather than a sharing of prayers from various faiths and traditions was the main focus. The theme of discussion was well-being and how different faith and spiritual traditions understand that concept. It was a fitting theme as we were reminded during the gathering of how the yoga committee at the U.N. was started by Denise Scotto, a former legal counsel for the U.N. and good friend of Shinnyo-en and the Shinnyo Center for Meditation and Well-being, who felt an entity needed to exist to help mitigate the stress of the U.N. staff so that their well-being was prioritized as they prioritized the welfare of the global world in myriad ways, often over-looking their own well-being in the process. Well-being therefore is a part of the formulation for true peace and harmony to exist that we reaffirmed once more at this gathering. We also engaged in a short period of yoga and silent meditation. The observance was organic and flowed without much facilitation. In that sense, harmony flowed in this gathering from once again holding shared space and sensing where verbal contribution was meaningful as well as sensing where holding space together with silence was perhaps more suitable. This was a theme I felt deeply in both observances this year. I feel that the significance of such gatherings, no matter how big or small, is that we continue to have shared opportunities to articulate what harmony means and how we can embody it in our daily circles.
Qalvy Grainzvolt is a Shinnyo-en Buddhist minister based in New York and serving as a meditation guide at The Shinnyo Center for Meditation and Well-being. He is an active participant in various U.N. programs and remains engaged with community service and faith-related initiatives. In addition, Qalvy serves as a New York City Police Department Clergy Liaison representing the Buddhist tradition, a meditation instructor at New York University, and a mental health professional in-training having just completed a one-year clinical rotation in psychotherapy at NY-Presbyterian psychiatric hospital. As a native New Yorker, Qalvy is particularly interested in exploring ways that human beings can connect and collaborate toward a more peaceful and compassion-filled future.
To learn more about the U.N. observance of the World Interfaith Harmony Week, please visit this website.