New Jersey’s first statue of the great humanitarian Mahatma Gandhi is located in Secaucus. Gifted by a local family, the statue – carved from a single piece of rock – stands outside the Sadhu Vaswani Meditation Garden at the Recreation Center, 1200 Koelle Blvd.
Cosponsored by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the dedication ceremony on Saturday, May 31 was a festive outdoor affair under a huge tent, with music, dance, and free food courtesy of local Indian restaurant Mausam. Speakers offering tributes to Gandhi included everyone from U.S. senators to a 95-year-old Indian spiritual leader.
Pilgrim of love
Dada J.P. Vaswani, known as the “pilgrim of love,” is the head of the Sadhu Vaswani mission. The mission was founded in India in 1929 by Dada Vaswani’s uncle Sadhu Vaswani, a philosopher, education advocate, and close associate of Gandhi.
Dada Vaswani has continued in his uncle’s footsteps, writing about 75 spiritual books and speaking at countless events everywhere from the British House of Commons to the United Nations.
“He’s a man of wisdom, a man of love, a man of peace. A man that just has a way about him that is different from anything I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli in his introduction.
Speaking for about half an hour, Dada Vaswani focused largely on animal rights, urging the audience to treat animals with compassion and to not eat meat. He also participated in a question-and-answer session along with several of the other guests, responding to spiritual queries from the audience.
When asked why the Hindu religion has so many gods, Vaswani responded, “It is not that there are many gods. It is that there are many forms of God.”
He equated it to a man who wears different clothes in different circumstances — being a father at one moment, a worker at another, a friend elsewhere. “It is not that he is three different persons. He is only one. But he puts on different forms to suit different environments and different situations,” he said.
Asked the purpose of our time on Earth, Vaswani explained, “We have come here to be purified. This Earth is a school. Experience is a teacher.”
Among the guest speakers was New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell, who offered a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and his legacy.
“Gandhi had ‘satyagraha’ — the truth force,” said Pascrell, adding with a laugh, “Don’t look to the congress for that.”
Instead, he encouraged the audience to “look inside yourselves… Do not simply say the fashionable thing, the thing that makes you acceptable, the thing that makes you liked. Say the unfashionable. Be politically incorrect, to bring our communities closer together. You need to reach out to do that.”
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii also spoke. The first Hindu member of congress, she said, “Mahatma Gandhi is the most famous Hindu the world has ever known, but his teachings are universal and are applied to all of us. Regardless of our own spiritual practice, regardless of our own choice of how we take action, by following his very simple teaching — to serve others, to act in a way that we can make a positive impact on other people’s lives, putting them first, before ourselves — this is a universal teaching found in every religion, found in every spiritual practice”
Following the dedication ceremony, Gabbard joined the Secaucus chapter of the Junior State of America (JSA) for a luncheon. The JSA is a national organization dedicated to helping high school students hone their leadership skills and foster their interest and involvement in politics.
Gabbard, who at age 33 has already served two deployments with the army to the Middle East, and served in state and local office in Hawaii, offered heartfelt words of advice to the high school audience.
“I got started in politics at a young age,” she said, “and I remember being so frustrated because as a teenager growing up, I heard from so many people [saying] ‘What do you think you’re doing? You’re too young. You can’t do that.’ Maybe some of you have experienced some of the same things. And I just am really happy to have the opportunity to share with you just a little bit about my own experience and encourage you to not listen to those people. Whether it’s because of your age, your ethnicity, your gender, the way you speak, the choices you make, there are always different reasons and different excuses that people can find to place obstacles in your path. Especially when you’re trying to do the hard things.”
Many of the students thanked Gabbard for serving her country, and for providing an inspiration to them personally.
Among the other speakers at the statue dedication service were Wayne Pacelle, CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, and Alex Patel, whose family donated the statue to Secaucus.Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.