The 2023 SSSIO International Conference on Love and Service began befittingly with an inspiring multi-faith session that highlighted the universal foundation of love and service on which all major faiths rest. Thanks to Swami Mahayogananda, President of the Interreligious Council of Southern California, we were privileged to listen to a panel of eminent faith leaders address the ideal of love and service within their own faith traditions, and, in the process, expand our understanding of the unity of all faiths.

Swami Mahayogananda opened the session aptly citing the ancient Vedic truth:

Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti

That which is Truth/Reality is One, but the wise ones/sages call it different ways.

He stressed that while we seek commonalities, we should continue to respect the uniqueness of each tradition and let them sing in their own tune and languages. He cited a well-known quote from Sathya Sai Baba that expresses this beautifully:

“Let the different faiths flourish. Let the different faiths exist. Let them flourish and let the glory of God be sung in all the languages of the world and in a variety of tunes. Respect the differences between the faiths and recognize them as valid as long as they do not extinguish the flame of unity.”

Dr. Mustafa Kuko Former Director, Islamic Center of Riverside

On this last day of the holy month of Ramadan, Dr. Mustafa Kuko, who had served as Director of the Islamic Center of Riverside for 18 years, graciously made time to be present and gave an enlightening talk on Islam’s core tenets to Muslims everywhere – to show love and compassion to all beings. He clarified that Ramadan is not only about fasting of the body, but also the spiritual cleansing of the heart and senses, and serving those in need. Dr. Kuko reiterated that Islam is replete with examples of love and service, including those set by Prophet Muhammad himself. Even while fleeing persecution, the Prophet called upon his followers to spread love and peace, distribute food and meet other needs and treat everyone like family through their own severe hardships. Indeed, serving others is considered to be holier than meditating in the mosque, words that echoed Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s own message, which deeply resonated with everyone in the room.

Debra Boudreaux Chief Executive Officer, Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation

Ms. Debra Boudreaux inspired the audience with the ideal of love in action as exemplified by the Tzu Chi Foundation which has a truly breathtaking array of humanitarian services all over the world. The Tzu Chi Foundation, led by Dhamma Master Cheng Yen in Taiwan, is dedicated to the Buddhist principle of universal compassion. It puts it in practice through providing relief globally, along with spiritual ministry. At the same time, the Foundation is also dedicated to developing a vibrant humanistic culture that inspires community volunteering. Ms. Boudreaux highlighted several specific areas of their global footprints - international disaster relief in areas devastated by earthquakes including Turkey and Syria, floods and landslides in Sri Lanka and war-torn areas such as Ukraine; bone marrow registration and development of stem cell centers; and various climate protection initiatives such as eco-blankets made from recycled plastic bottles.

Rabbi Hillel Cohn, Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Emanu El, San Bernardino/Redlands

Rabbi Hillel Cohn gave a thought-provoking talk on love and service, drawing from the Torah, the Jewish scripture. He described Judaism as a religion of love, and the Torah as God’s expression of His deep love for man, offering wisdom, advice, insight and experience, so man in not left alone, stumbling blindly through life.

Love in Judaism, according to the Rabbi, is encapsulated in the Commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy might”, and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”.  The Rabbi described that to love God is to become more Godlike, and to love one’s neighbor is "to know what gives a person pain and to bear the burden of the person’s sorrow, and to know that what gives them joy and seek its fulfilment".

The Rabbi powerfully described service in terms of seeking justice for all. This includes being angry when justice is violated; to right wrongs; to wish the guilty be convicted and the innocent, acquitted, and to demand justice for others. It is to desire that the rights of all be respected; to desire that the needs of all be satisfied; to revere the Divine in every single human being and to work for a society in which these ideals are realized. His potent closing remarks left everyone much food for thought.


Reverend Petra Malleis-Sternberg Pastor, First Congregational United Church of Christ, San Bernardino

Reverend Petra explained how the Christian understanding of love and service is powerfully embodied by the Supreme Manifester of love Himself, Jesus Christ, in the story of the Last Supper. Jesus set an example of humble service for His followers by washing their feet.  His core message and commandment was “that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend”. This was a message that He lived out in the ultimate sacrifice He made by giving His own life for the salvation of mankind. She described Jesus as exemplifying love through His actions and teachings, reaching out to all, without judgment. Whether man or woman, poor, corrupt, and or even any opposed to His teachings, Jesus loved them all unconditionally, without regard to social status or convention. Like Judaism, the two key principles – “love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength” and “love thy neighbor as thyself” – form the very basis of Christian beliefs about love and service in the faith.

Swami Sarvadevananda, Head, Vedanta Society of Southern California 

Swami Sarvadevananda, Head, Vedanta Society of Southern California couched love and service in terms of highest Vedic wisdom- that everything is permeated by the One Divine Consciousness. Hence, service would be a most natural and spontaneous outcome of this understanding. Religion is not just doctrines and dogmas, but it should open our inner eye to see the One Consciousness, the Divinity in all. It is the realization that “with every breath of life, who you are is no other than me, that you are nobody but me. I am everywhere, the infinite ocean of Consciousness”. Seen through this lens that we are all waves on the One Ocean of infinite Consciousness, then another person’s suffering becomes one’s own suffering and another persons’ joy is one’s joy. There would no longer be any distinction or separation from the other. Building our life on this foundation of non-dualistic thinking will lead us to the natural spontaneous outcome of love and service for all because there is only One. In closing, he stressed that to be truly meaningful, all service needs to be connected with spirituality.