Today we come to the end of our series on Tibetan Buddhism in the Midwest. As I said earlier, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 19-21 for a festival on Engaging Compassion. Tickets for his public talk on May 19 are already sold out but there are still places left for his public teachings on May 20. See www.dalailamalouisville.org for details.
But that’s not the only reason to go to Louisville in May. During the week prior to the visit of the Dalai Lama, the city of Louisville will hold its annual Festival of Faiths. This celebration of religious diversity is in its 18th year and is normally held in November, but it’s been moved to coincide with the Dalai Lama’s visit. I’ll be there and hope you might consider a trip as well.
The Festival of Faiths began in 1985 when Louisville’s historic Cathedral of the Assumption needed repair and a community-wide campaign was launched to raise funds for the work. Those who were involved decided to continue their interfaith efforts even after the cathedral was restored, recognizing the benefits to their city of encouraging dialogue between religious groups.
It’s really quite amazing how the Festival of Faiths has grown to become an internationally recognized event that attracts thousands of people. Its goal is to foster interfaith understanding and cooperation, which it does through addresses by visiting speakers, prayer and meditation services, panel discussions, music, art and films. In 1998, it was even commended by the U.S. Senate for its efforts to foster religious tolerance and understanding. Through the years it’s received many requests for information from people around the world who are interested in exploring how the Festival of Faiths model might be developed in their own communities.
This year’s theme is “Sacred Silence: Pathway to Compassion.” The festival includes a mini-retreat on Tibetan Buddhism, presentations on how compassion is defined in Eastern and Western spiritual traditions, a session on compassionate governing led by Louisville major Greg Fischer, and an impressive list of guest speakers that include:
- Matthieu Ricard, molecular biologist turned Buddhist monk, author and photographer
- Fr. Richard Rohr, globally recognized ecumenical teacher and author
- Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the world’s leading experts on Islamic science and spirituality
- Siddheshvari Devi Ji (Didi Ji), founder of Radha Madhav Society
- Swami Atmarupananda, renowned teacher of Hinduism
- Arjia Rinpoche, director of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana
Rabbi Arthur Green, scholar of Jewish mysticism and
Neo-Hasidism and professor in the non-denominational
rabbinical program at Hebrew College in Boston
Fittingly, this year’s festival derives great inspiration from the 1968 meeting between the Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton. The meeting, which took place when Merton traveled to India, brought together the leading representatives of Eastern and Western contemplative spirituality. The Dalai Lama has said that Thomas Merton was one of the three most influential people in his life (Merton, alas, died just a few weeks after their meeting, but it’s clear that the Dalai Lama also made a deep impression on him). Since that historic meeting, both traditions have benefited from each other in countless ways. This year’s festival will deepen those connections even further.
Interfaith dialogue is often held up as an ideal, but it rarely happens at a deep level. I greatly admire the efforts of Louisville to build bridges and increase understanding between religions. The Festival of Faiths is truly a model of how interfaith dialogue can be done. I think Thomas Merton would be pleased to see what has grown from the friendship he struck up with a young monk from Tibet all those years ago.
The Actors Theater of Louisville and the Galt House Hotel are the venues for the 2013 Festival of Faiths, which will be held May 14-19, 2013 in Louisville. For details, see Festival of Faiths.