The Disruption of the Senate Prayer and Swami Vivekananda

Yesterday someone emailed me a link to Swami Vivekanana’s speech to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. At that time the speech was very well received. This made me think of the contrast between this and the reception that Rajan Zed’s prayer On July 12, 2007 when he opened the United States Senate.

Maybe it is not surprising that a few individuals disrupted the prayer. What is more surprising is the way the prayer itself has been misrepresented in the American Press. The prayer started:

Let us pray. We meditate on the transcendental Glory of the Deity Supreme, who is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky, and inside the soul of the Heaven. May He stimulate and illuminate our minds.

(full text)

This was reported in some of the American press as:

… a Hindu chaplain prayed to “earth” and “sky” and “spirits” on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Now to me the prayer is very like the biblical Psalm 139:

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

In fact the prayer appears to have been designed to be meaningful to people of all religions, and cause offence to none. It would be hard to accept Psalm 139 and reject the prayer.

It is clear that the Christian Fundamentalists, finding that the prayer was inoffensive, had to make up something. I assume that this was to justify their disruption. This is very like Islamic extremists did during the Danish cartoon controversy. Finding that the cartoons were not offensive enough, they added extra cartoons, much more offensive than the real ones. Maybe this is a common tactic among religious extremists.

This post should not be taken to mean that there would be anything wrong with a prayer to Prithvi mata (the vedic earth Goddess) or Dyaus pita (the vedic sky God). People knowing Hinduism would know that this too is a prayer to the one supreme God. Such a prayer probably would have been misunderstood by people of other religions. This illustrates that Rajan Zed deliberately chose to say a prayer that would not be represented. Even so fundamentalist Christians misrepresented it to “justify” their disruptions.

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