Historic Multi-Religious Coalition Formed to Spread Awareness About the Sacred Swastika
Saturday, June 11, 2022 Virtual. Representatives of prominent Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Bon and indigenous traditions of North America gathered for a historic one day virtual conference to present the ancient origins and deep significance of the Swastika in various traditions as a symbol of auspiciousness and well being. The leaders also emphasized that the association of the Swastika with the Nazi emblem of hate – Hakenkreuz (German word meaning “Hooked Cross”) – is historically incorrect and a grave injustice, since its continued false association restricts the religious freedom of more than 2 billion followers of various ancient traditions.
The leaders announced the formation of the Swastika Awareness Coalition (SAC) and launched its official website – www.understandingswastika.org – catapulting its collective mission and expanding its membership beyond North America. The website will serve as a repository of educational resources and original research on the sacred Swastika. The SAC will strive to improve the cooperation among all Dharma based traditions, as well as other ancient indigenous traditions around the world to protect, preserve and promote Swastika as a unifying and benevolent symbol and help to differentiate it from the Hakenkreuz of Hitler, the Nazi Party, the neo-Nazi supremacists and hate groups. It will also engage with leaders from the Jewish and other communities to encourage dialogue and dispel misunderstandings around the sacred Swastika while standing in solidarity against hatred and bigotry.
The conference was jointly organized by two Buddhist and two Hindu organizations – Heiwa Peace and Reconciliation Foundation of New York, Buddhist Council of New York, Coalition of Hindus of North America and United States Hindu Alliance.
Key speakers from the Buddhist tradition included Ven. Bhante Kodanna Mahathero (New York Buddhist Vihara), Ven. Dr Guan Zhen (International Center of Chinese Buddhist Culture and Education), Rev. Dr. TK Nakagaki (Heiwa Peace and Reconciliation Foundation of New York), Ven. Dhammadipa Sak (U.S. Zen Institute), Rev. James Lynch (Buddhist Council of New York) and Ven. Bhante Saranapala (Canada: A Mindful and Kind Nation).
The Hindu tradition was represented by Poojya Swami Sarvapriyananda (Vedanta Society of New York), Poojya Swami Sarveshananda Saraswati (Chinmaya Mission Dallas Fort-Worth), Poojya Swamini Svatmavidyananda Saraswati (Arsha Vijnana Gurukulam), Guru Dileepkumar Thankappan (Global Chairman of the World Yoga Community), Dr Ajay Shah (World Hindu Council of America), Gokul Kunnath (United States Hindu Alliance) and Nikunj Trivedi (Coalition of Hindus of North America).
Naresh Jain (Jain Center of New Jersey) represented the Jain tradition.
In a remarkable coming together of diverse traditions, the conference was also addressed by two speakers from indigenous groups of North America and Tibet – Grandmother Patricia Anne Davis (American Indian Elder from the Choctaw-Navajo Nation) and Chongtul Rinpoche (Founder of Bon Shen Ling New York), respectively.
All the representatives stressed on the need for reaching out to and educating the western world to differentiate between the two symbols: Swastika, which represents benevolence, and Hakenkreuz, which represents hate.
The presentations from the speakers highlighted the significance of the Swastika in their respective traditions which originated in lands as far apart as India, China, Japan, Tibet, Sri Lanka and North America.
Grandmother Patricia Anne Davis said that in the Choctaw-Navajo tradition the Swastika “represents the procreative life-affirming energy we understand as the sun-wise and clockwise motion of time and seasons. This [Swastika] symbol is the whole galaxy in which we live upon Mother Earth and with Father Sky.” Poojya Swamini Svatmavidyananda Saraswati said that for Hindus “the very sight of the Swastika is a blessing. It is a unifying symbol.” Poojya Swami Sarvapriyananda Saraswati added that the “Swastika is a very ancient symbol, which stands for auspiciousness, welfare, holiness and good luck.”
Venerable Dr. Guan Zhen traced the history of Swastika in Chinese Buddhism, noting that in earlier times both clockwise and counterclockwise versions of Swastika were used, but after the 7th century the counterclockwise version became standard in China. He said that Swastika represents “the turning of Dharma wheel and Enlightenment,” and showed images with the Swastika engraved on the Buddha’s chest.
Venerable Bhante Kondanna said that Swastika has been used in Sri Lanka as a symbol of Dharma and auspiciousness since the time Buddhism arrived there in 3rd century BCE.
Geshe Chongtul Rinpoche said that he belongs to the Bon tradition, which is indigenous to Tibet and predates the Buddha by multiple millennia. He shared the fascinating story of the founding of the Bon tradition and explained that the Yungdrung (the Bon name for Swastika, which translates to “is together”) is so central to the tradition that the full name of the tradition is Yung Drung Bon.
Speaking about the significance of Swastika among the Jains, Naresh Jain said that “Swastika is their primary holy symbol. It is found everywhere including home decorations, business counters, religious flags and offerings.”
Dr Astarte Sellers, who represented her late husband, Canadian artist and poet, ManWoman, shared that ManWoman had “devoted much of his life to educating people in the western world about the sacred nature of the Swastika.” She showed a video that talked about the visions that set ManWoman on this path and about his vast collection of art and artifacts on Swastika.
Multiple spiritual leaders said that referring to Hitler’s symbol of hate as the Swastika reinforces Hitler’s supremacist legacy of racism, discourages mutual respect and diversity and destroys the very foundation of religious freedom.
Poojya Swamini Svatmavidyananda Saraswati said that “once and for all, we must all work together to rid all the misconceptions around this most benevolent and sacred symbol and liberate it for the use of humanity”. Venerable James Lynch remarked that “we on the Buddhist Council of New York are ever mindful that the Swastika is a different symbol, from the Hakenkreuz, and that the Swastika is truly a holy symbol that at its core is sacred for and to many religious traditions.” Poojya Swami Sarvapriyananda Saraswati shared that he hoped that “this issue will gain prominence and justice will be done,” adding further that “we stand strongly against anti-semitism but we would plead for sensitivity to the two billion strong Dharmic community of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and others who use the Swastika as one of their most beloved sacred symbols.”
Reverend Dr. TK Nakagaki used the analogy of salt and sugar to point out that even though Swastika and Hakenkreuz may look similar, they represent diametrically opposite world views. Dr. Nakagaki has been spreading awareness about this issue for over 10 years. In 2018, he published a book titled “The Buddhist Swastika and Hitler’s Cross: Rescuing a Symbol of Peace from the Forces of Hate” and has recently produced a documentary film named Manji about Swastika in Japan. The documentary is an important resource for all those who wish to learn about the history and significance of Swastika. A promotional video of the documentary film Manji was also shown in the conference.
Poojya Swami Sarveshananda Saraswati stressed that Hitler never used the word Swastika nor was he inspired by any of the Eastern traditions to create the Hakenkreuz, adding that, “it was not this symbol [Swastika] in which he [Hitler] found inspiration for his movement.” He reiterated that Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf uses the word “Hakenkreuz”, not “Swastika” and said that “the entire sanctity of the Swastika has to be reinstated and the awareness as to why, how and who misappropriated it must be understood.”
Dr Ajay Shah, president of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), called for a multi-pronged approach to spread awareness about the true meaning of the Swastika, including educating the Dharmic community in North America. He cautioned that there is a “larger movement to deprive all Dharmic traditions of their Dharmic identity,” and that multiple initiatives of VHPA (Hindu Mandir Executive Committee, HinduPACT, HinduDvesha and American Hindus Against Defamation) are active in spreading awareness about the Swastika.
Nikunj Trivedi spoke on California’s AB2282 bill which was recently passed in the assembly and is slated to be presented to the state senate soon. He stressed that the use of the term “Nazi Swastika” in AB2282 is problematic since it associates Swastika with the Nazis and uses Swastika in the context of a terror symbol. He mentioned that several Hindu and Buddhist organizations are reaching out to the California lawmakers to express their reservations and propose simple amendments that would create further solidarity between the Dharmic and the Jewish communities while condemning Hitler’s Hakenkreuz.
Gokul Kunnath, said that “the conference and the decision to form the Swastika Awareness Coalition is a historic first step in promoting an accurate understanding of the ancient Swastika, a symbol that has been in continuous use for several millennia across traditions and cultures around the world. Removing ignorance and preserving truth is our collective mission.”
The full video of the YouTube broadcast is available at North America Swastika Leadership Conference: Swastika: A Symbol of Peace and Auspiciousness – YouTube. The SAC also plans to feature individual clips from the conference speakers on its website.
For more information, please contact the Swastika Awareness Coalition at firstname.lastname@example.org.