I wrote this piece for NPR's This I believe this past summer, after a significant loss in my life - someone who has been part of the second set of parents that I have been gifted with. She passed away before she had the opportunity to share all the experiences she could have had with her family. I decided that my essay had to be written to share my core beliefs, if I too got taken away from my children earlier than expected. I thought it is fitting that as I begin this blog, my first post speaks from the heart about something that embodies me.
Pluralism is the Password for Peace
Padma Kuppa, Troy, MI
I am an interfaith activist. As a founder and board member of various social justice organizations, I organize and participate in activities where spiritual understanding and cooperation are fostered by people of all faiths.
Born in India, I arrived in New York to start kindergarten in 1970, and lived for the next 11 years in the Northeast. My parents’ eclectic approach to ritual and religion was enhanced by close friendships with people of many faiths and ethnicities.
We returned to India in 1981; I was alienated because of my parents’ acclimatization set against my inability to fit in to the culture of pre-globalized and pre-outsourced India. I explored the myriad of Hindu traditions foreign to me because of the undeveloped Indian-American diaspora in the 70s. I found truth in the Hindu philosophy my father expounded upon – a faith where all paths are accepted. Ekam Satya, Viprah Bahuda Vadanti. But I felt stifled and out of place socially, and was constantly seeking something, and decided to go home to America to find myself.
Tempest-tossed, I returned to NY as a foreign student in 1988 for graduate school. I studied, worked, got married, got a green card and had kids over the next ten years, and slowly achieved stability – marriage and motherhood were key. On relocating to Michigan in 1999, I began to volunteer at the local Hindu temple. Major surgery eventually led me to quit my job and begin a commitment to even more community service. It bothered me when a teacher wasn’t willing to explain the difference between Indians and Native Americans, or when members of the school community were unhappy with including Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite song at the Holiday Sing-Along – especially since we live in Troy, the city with the highest Asian population in Michigan. In 2005, I was refused a part in the City of Troy’s National Day of Prayer, and realized that a Hindu voice was needed at America’s table and that interfaith interaction is important in dispelling ignorance and fear. My neighborhood, my town, my country, my world – today all seem torn apart by an adherence to the belief that one’s own interpretation of beliefs is the only way.
I believe that pluralism is the password for peace, and that it is the promise of my country and my faith. My neighbor the Methodist creates the interfaith organization’s website, my neighbor the Episcopalian coordinates an interfaith Habitat for Humanity build. I break bread with my friend the Republican Congressman to celebrate the Temple expansion, I am honored by my friend the Democratic County Commissioner with a flag flown over the Capitol. My Muslim sister enlightens me about her hijab, my Jewish brother and I walk a labyrinth together on an interfaith pilgrimage. We are each unique and yet so much more than these labels… I am eager to engage people in dialogue, sometimes getting hurt in the process, and make connections so that we do not identify someone as “the other.” I believe in a truly pluralistic society.