Light is associated with God throughout the Bible, from Genesis 1:3 — “And God said, ‘let there be light’ ” — to Jesus’ “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). But light is also meaningful to other faiths, such as Long Island’s Hindus, who celebrate Diwali, a five-day festival of light, beginning Oct. 19. This week’s clergy discuss the many parts light plays in their beliefs and traditions.
Gayatri Gyan Kendra of Long Island, Deer Park
Hindus celebrate the festival of lights called Diwali (meaning: rows of lamps). This holiday signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair. In ancient history, Lord Rama killed the demon Ravana and returned back home after serving 14 years in exile. To welcome Rama, people lit lamps to honor his successful win over 10 evil instincts, which were represented by Ravana’s 10 heads. These negative instincts are lust, anger, attachment, greed, pride, jealousy, selfishness, injustice, cruelty and ego. Traditionally, on the occasion of Diwali, every home is decorated with clay lamps that are lighted using clarified butter (ghee). The ghee in the lamp symbolizes our negative tendencies (vaasanas) and the wick represents the ego. A lamp is lighted with the intention of spiritual purification and as the ghee is burned gradually, the vaasanas are exhausted and the ego perishes. If you notice, the flame of a lamp always burns upward. The same way, our spiritual knowledge always uplifts us through the state of higher vibration. Every time a lamp is lighted for Diwali, it is recommended that people set their intention for this gesture based on the following prayer: “From untruth lead us to Truth/From darkness lead us to Light/From death lead us to Immortality/Om Peace, Peace, Peace.”
Islandwide administrator, Baha’is of Long Island
Images of light are infused throughout the writings of the Baha’i Faith and have great significance in conveying spiritual concepts. Light, for example, is used to describe the relationship of God to man and man to God, the noble essence of all humans, the value of good character, and the role of love wherever it is manifested. But two specific examples of the use of light are particularly meaningful to Baha’is at the present time. One is reflected in the writings of Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, who said, “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” In a world where the need for unity, justice and peace becomes more apparent each day, the teachings of the Baha’i Faith offer a compelling vision of a future world united in peace and harmony. Claiming to be the Messenger of God for this time period, Baha’u’llah centered his teachings around the concept of the oneness of humanity, affirming that there is but one race, the human race, and that the diversity of humanity should be the cause of celebration, not division. The second reference to light is the fact that with Light of Unity Celebrations taking place this month, Baha’is in 100,000 localities across the globe will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah. The Long Island celebration, for example, will take place on Oct. 21 with a program and dinner open to all at Adelphi University’s Concert Hall.
The Rev. JoAnn Barrett
Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship, Melville
The name of our organization is Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship. We do not prescribe to any specific dogma or doctrine. However, the concept of light is significant to us in our unique perspective. When spelled out, L-I-G-H-T can be said to represent an acronym for Light Is God’s Highest Thought. The concept of light in the title of our organization refers to the spirituality within each individual. It represents one’s true nature. Each week space is provided and individuals gather to reconnect to the highest aspect of who they are. The light is the wisdom, knowledge, that aspect of divinity, even the spark or seed of God that is within every human. While exploring and celebrating all the many ways that the divine is interpreted, we reflect on how that light can enlighten us. We especially celebrate all festivals of light, such as Hannukah, Diwali, Advent and Kwanzaa, with gusto. We allow it to inspire us to gain the courage to look within and shine our own truth, our individual light. This allows for a deeper, richer understanding of ourselves and one another. Our prayer is that this illumined vision will help to create more light and peace in our world. This brings new meaning to the words of the song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” It is the recognition that what we thought was a little light, our own contribution, is not so little, and is more important than ever to shine in our world.