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Letter 51 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 51

DAY 51

Rita D. Sherma

Director and Associate Professor of Hindu Studies
Mira and Ajay Shingal Center for Dharma Studies, Graduate Theological Union
March 11, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

It is often said that diversity is America’s strength. But it cannot be a strength if it is penalized and pulverized; this is the danger of triumphalism. It also cannot be our strength if diversity is maintained in siloed solitudes; this is the danger of cultural disjunction.

Diversity can only strengthen the fabric of America if its many-hued dreams are interlaced in the warp and weft of America’s tapestry. Then, a complex cultural strength results—vivid with many imaginings and yearnings. As President Lyndon B. Johnson reminded us in his on January 20, 1965 inaugural address: “They came here—the exile and the stranger, brave but frightened—to find a place where a man could be his own man. They made a covenant with this land. Conceived in justice, written in liberty, bound in union, it was meant one day to inspire the hopes of all mankind; and it binds us still. If we keep its terms, we shall flourish.”

“But how are we to move beyond individual dreams to shared visions?”

But how are we to move beyond individual dreams to shared visions? In this quest, a theology of the land beckons. In a time of climate change and environmental degradation, a spirituality of place could move us towards care and compassion naturally, as we sense a “belonging” to the beauty that is America’s geography.

As a Hindu American theologian, I traverse by the light of the principle that holds as sacred the intrinsic value of the plenitude of divine creativity on Earth. The purpose that gives meaning to life is, thus, the quest for communion with the Divine—experienced through intimacy with creation. The fabric of this ancient faith contains key strands interwoven with gratitude for, and profound interrelationship with the natural world. This telos, to find transcendence in immanence, is well-reflected in an ancient hymn from the canonical Sanskrit text, Yajur Veda (36:17) that evinces an intertwined existence with the living world:

May peace sweep through the skies and universally across the immense spaces
May there be peace on earth, peace in the waters, peace in all herbal plants, peace and flourishing in the trees and forests
May the divine realms be inundated with tranquility
In all that exists, everywhere, may there be peace
May all be calm and ever-serene
Om, peace in all levels of existence!
(Translation by R. D. Sherma)

With gratitude and hope,

Rita D. Sherma

Professor Rita D. Sherma
Director, Shingal Center for Dharma Studies
Chair, Department of Theology & Ethics
Graduate Theological Union

the author

Rita D. Sherma is Director and Associate Professor at Graduate Theological Union’s Shingal Center for Dharma Studies in Berkeley, CA, Co-Chair of Sustainability 360, and Chair of the Department of Theology & Ethics at Graduate Theological Union. Dr. Sherma’s published works include numerous academic articles and book chapters and books, including Hermeneutics and Hindu Thought: Toward a Fusion of Horizons (Springer, 2008), Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisioning (Palgrave, 2011), Contemplative Studies & Hinduism: Meditation, Devotion, Prayer, & Worship (Routledge, 2020), Swami Vivekananda: His Life, Legacy, and Liberative Ethics (Lexington, 2020), and Sustainable Societies: Interreligious Interdisciplinary Response (Springer, 2021). Dr. Sherma is founding Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Dharma Studies (Springer).