I arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday, October 15 to attend the 6th Parliament of the World’s Religions. The opening ceremony was spectacular, though not quite as extravagant as an event like the summer Olympics. Apart from the competition, though, it had the same elements of excitement, expression of camaraderie, and sisterhood and brotherhood. There were no Olympians to compete against each other, but rather the Parliament participants were there to share their experiences, faiths, views, ideas, and proposals for the creation of a better world. There were no reasons tooutdo, criticize, or belittle one another; we were there to learn, help, and support each other through this journey. We were gathered together to share our strengths and weaknesses, and to build a better world in keeping with the Parliament’s stated mission: “to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.”

This was my first time at the Parliament; the previous gathering was held in Melbourne, Australia in 2009, and I did not attend. As an academician, I am familiar with academic conferences and I have attended countless throughout my career. Unlike academic gatherings, where one attempts to demonstrate knowledge of new research – often in the midst of colleagues facing challenges and criticism – the atmosphere at the Parliament was just the opposite. Participants spoke about the issues that mattered most, while their audiences listened and agreed,pledging commitments to work together. This was a breath of fresh air, and I enjoyed it every minute of it.

As a Nepali, it was but natural to look for the presence of a fellow Nepali. As expected, it was like finding a needle in a haystack; with 2,000 people packed into the plenary room, it was absolutely impossible to find anyone.  According to a recent tally, the Parliament this year attracted more than 9,000 participants from around the world. A sea of people from more than 80 countries, representing every possible faith, was seen in native garb, conversing in native tongues. Salt Lake City’s massive Civic Center, popularly called Salt Palace, was the perfect venue for this event; with three levels,floor space the size of a football field, and hundreds of rooms of all sizes, it had no problem handling the large crowd. In fact, the Salt Palace is so big that it was even able to accommodate FanX 2014, where event attendence surpassed 120,000 people. Every day I must have walked at least five miles within the colossalbuilding!

On the second day, October 16, I finally spotted a man in a topi (cap) – that was the marker that identified him as a Nepali. As I approached him with a Nepali greeting, a look of delight crossed his face; we bonded immediately and even took a few photos together. His name is DadhiKhanal, a schoolteacher who teaches Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Vedas.  We went our separate ways because we had our own priorities.  I ran into him once again on the 19th, the final day of the conference.  A conference of this size doesn’t give opportunity to chat much.  How many times we have met our colleagues just to say “hello” followed by a “see you later, bye.”  The same thing happened with Mr. Khanal as well.

Though physically exhausted from such a busy trip, I returned home refreshed and enriched from this incredible experience.  More later…….