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Indian spiritual leader to lead interfaith dialogue

United Campus Ministry will host one of India's top spiritual leaders this weekend to engage in an interfaith dialogue with attendees.

Mahamaṇḍaleśhwar Mahant Śri Kṛṣṇa Balarām Swamiji— Swamiji for short—will offer his views on and answer questions about faith and spirituality as part of UCM's Interfaith Impact program. All are welcome in the UCM lounge, located at 18 N. College St., at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23.

"Interfaith dialogue is very important to bring everybody to one understanding that we are all children of God," Swamiji said. "That understanding is required. When that understanding comes, then there will be peace and harmony and we will have no tension between one religion to another."

Aside from being a venerated Indian spiritual leader, Swamiji has written numerous books on spiritual philosophy and is learned in astrology, Vedic vegetarian cooking, palmistry, and natural Ayurvedic medicine.

Olivia Simkins Bullock, a junior studying geography and communications studies, is the United Campus Ministry intern in charge of the Interfaith Impact program, which is a weekly discussion group that serves as a forum for students to discuss philosophical issues relevant to their lives, such as pride, multiculturalism and labeling. The program's main goal is to promote an interfaith cooperation.

"[Interfaith cooperation means] talking about the ways in which people of varying beliefs can get along, ways that despite different conceptions of what truth is, we can find universal commonalities," Simkins Bullock said. "It's basically the idea that people are more alike than they are different in terms of religion."

Swamiji's visit will be part of a facet of the Interfaith Impact program called Interfaith Passport. This program gives participants the opportunity to learn about faith traditions different than their own through direct experience rather than information presentation, said Rev. Evan Young of United Campus Ministry.

The spiritual leader's teachings include the separateness of the body and the soul and dedication to the "Supreme Lord," as well as thoughts on meat eating, the nature of life, whether animals have souls and what happens to the soul after death.

He does not prepare his lectures, because he believes that spontaneity is the opposite of artificiality.

Swamiji's beliefs, which come from a Vedic Indian faith tradition, will be unfamiliar to many.

"I think a lot of times what happens with these interfaith dialogues is a lot of people are concerned that if somebody learns about another faith tradition it's going to weaken their commitment to their own," Young said. "My experience is exactly the opposite. Being exposed to and learning about another faith tradition most often stimulates people to ask questions and to inquire more deeply into the tradition that they claim as their own."