On a Thursday in November, more than 60 students and religious and university leaders gathered on prayer mats to celebrate the opening of Georgetown’s Dharmālaya, a new meditation center for members of Dharmic spiritual traditions—and the first of its kind on a U.S. campus.
The moment marked the culmination of years of collaboration and advocacy among interfaith student groups, alumni and the university’s Campus Ministry to create a dedicated space on campus for students of all varieties of Dharmic spiritual traditions. The center will host weekly meditation services, small student groups, classes, reading groups and Dharmic observances open to all members of Georgetown’s community.
“Elation is the only way to describe it,” said Piyusha Mittal (SFS’18), an alumna who advocated for the center while at Georgetown. “This was a manifestation of cooperation and advocacy among four different, diverse faith groups. It’s a dream realized for so many students and alumni to have a space to be spirituality engaged and authentic to who we are and to our faith traditions.”
During the center’s November 4 unveiling, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia praised the student leaders who envisioned and established the space in his opening remarks.
“This opening adds an important dimension to the spiritual resources within our community and reflects our commitment to interfaith and interreligious engagement,” he said. “I couldn’t be more grateful for the tremendous work and dedication that made this all possible.”
Brick by Brick: An Interfaith, Student-Driven Effort
The Dharmålaya offers space for members of Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Hindu and other Dharmic traditions to gather in small groups, practice religious and spiritual traditions, and meditate.
The room was built with teak shrines from Myanmar and marble icons from India to enable students’ worship. It was also built from the interfaith effort of students from the Hindu Association, Sikh Student Association and Buddhist Student Association, who advocated for a sacred space in partnership with Campus Ministry and alumni, particularly as Georgetown’s Dharmic community grew.
One such student, Anna Naiyapatana (SFS’21), now an alumna in Cornell University’s graduate school, was the former president of the Buddhist Student Association. She was raised in a Buddhist household in Bangkok, and was eager to find a communal space to practice ritual-based meditation while at Georgetown. She heard a similar need from leaders in the Hindu Student Association and Sikh Association during their monthly meetings and annual interfaith retreats facilitated by Campus Ministry.
“Advocating for a sacred space would be so helpful for the mental health and well-being of students in the community. Also, I learned so much about other Dharmic faith traditions at Georgetown that I didn’t have much exposure to before. I knew much could be gained from mutual support and solidarity between the traditions.”
Anna Naiyapatana (SFS’21)
Naiyapatana built on the advocacy of alumni like Mittal, a former member of the Hindu Student Association and interreligious student coordinator in Campus Ministry. During her years at Georgetown, Mittal leveraged her involvement with Campus Ministry to lift up the needs of the Dharmic faith communities. This movement toward a permanent space was accelerated by the hiring of Dr. Brahmachari Vrajvihari Sharan, director for Dharmic Life and Hindu Spiritual Advisor for Campus Ministry, and without whom, she said, “none of this would have ever come to fruition.”
Dr. Sharan, who was hired in 2016, was the first Hindu monk and priest to serve as a chaplain at a U.S. university. As director for Dharmic Life, Dr. Sharan helps students deepen their knowledge and experience of the Dharmic spiritual traditions. Weekly services and programs had been hosted in Makóm, a gathering space for Georgetown’s Jewish community, since 2012, and in 2015, Campus Ministry approved the development of a more permanent space. With Dr. Sharan’s appointment, he, Campus Ministry and student leaders helped expedite, fundraise and design the permanent center, and construction began in 2020.
Navneet Vishwanathan (SFS’18), a former member of the Hindu Student Association, found his Hindu faith deepened at Georgetown—and wanted to ensure the next generation of students had opportunities for similar experiences. After he graduated, Vishwanathan worked closely with Dr. Sharan and fellow alumni to fundraise and steer the Center’s opening.
“Over my time at Georgetown, I saw services move from something more casual and student-run toward more organized, deliberate, conscious and enlightening experiences with serious administrative power behind it,” he said. “It pushed me to think critically about what the experience meant to me and what it could mean for folks who came after. Any way we can enhance the experience for students who come after us and provide a space that creates a sense of belonging, community and spiritual challenge and spiritual growth is something that’s a priority for the university and became a priority for me as well.”
Dharmic Faith on a Catholic, Jesuit Campus
For many students, the opening of the Dharmālaya at a Catholic, Jesuit institution helps increase the visibility of the Dharmic spiritual community—and advances Georgetown’s core values of interreligious understanding and dialogue.
“For Dharmālaya to be opening on a Catholic, Jesuit campus is monumental and demonstrates Georgetown’s level of commitment to its students and interreligious understanding,” said Mittal. “Dharmālaya is now a space for everybody to come learn about this tradition and be invited to be part of our culture, our holidays, our history, and celebrate the diversity of these traditions.”
Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J., vice president for Mission & Ministry at Georgetown, delivered remarks prior to one of the blessings at the Center’s opening. He underscored how students’ dedication and tireless efforts to open the center demonstrated Georgetown’s value of interreligious understanding.
“Representing so many of the Dharmic traditions on campus—Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Hindu—these students embody and exemplify the best of what it means to be part of the Hoya family,” he said. “Their efforts have enriched our understanding of what it means to be a true community in diversity marked by a commitment to genuine interreligious understanding. As a Catholic and Jesuit home for people of all faiths, Georgetown has become a richer and more diverse community thanks to the vision and hard work of our Dharmic community—especially our students.”
Sannidhi Shashikiran (NHS’22), president of the Hindu Student Association, and Triveni Patel (G’22), vice president of Hindu Student Association, reinforced the hard work of alumni who helped open the new space for the next generation. They said they hope students of all faith traditions will visit the Center for weekly services, meditations or to recenter.
“This landmark space will positively shape the Georgetown experiences of students for decades to come,” Shashikiran and Patel shared. “We are especially excited to use this space to share our faith tradition with all members of the Georgetown community, and we hope that the Dharmālaya will become a home that welcomes all members of Georgetown’s community.”
Hear more from students of Dharmic spiritual traditions on what it felt like to see their work realized in these reflections.