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Meditation promotes unity

Dada Tapan Kanti Bidya and Muhamad Rashid, the heads and souls behind the monthly meditation sessions at the Methodist Community Church in Jackson Heights, consider themselves secular but are strong in their beliefs.

“I believe in God,” said Bidya. “I belong to the Hindu religion but I do not practice religion. I believe in all religions.”

Bidya, originally from Bangladesh, is a performer of Indian music. He not only plays multiple Indian string instruments, such as the surmandal (a small harp) and the tanpura (a four-stringed instrument similar to a sitar), but also teaches others how to play them and uses them to lead meditation, which to him and Rashid promotes a message of peace and harmony across all peoples.

He has been leading meditation sessions since 1997, although only recently brought them to Jackson Heights, which he moved to earlier this year. The most recent session was Saturday.

The sessions came about partly through Bidya’s partnership with Rashid. Rashid, a tutor and community activist also originally from Bangladesh, said he met Bidya at an Ecuadorian function where Rashid was providing the food. From there, they decided to work together.

“I heard Dada’s name for a long time, but I had not been able to get him,” Rashid said.

Rashid, 55, a former Muslim, became secular after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center´╗┐, which he said made him want to improve lives in America, the country where he has lived since he was 40, and in Jackson Heights, which he calls one of the best places in the world because of its diversity.

“How can this beautiful country be hijacked by these thugs?” Rashid asked.

Rashid said while he is not a musician himself, he believes music carries a message of peace, and is a contrast to the controversy surrounding the Muslim world.

“I love music,” Rashid said. “I think music is God.”

Bidya’s meditation sessions have been held every other Friday for two hours in the garden of the Methodist Community Church at 81-10 35th Ave. in Jackson Heights. In them, he leads chanting for one hour, then does a solo performance. The music he plays is called Raaga, an abstract, pure classic Indian music which he plays with improvisation.

“People get relaxed after a long day of stress,” Bidya said of the sessions.

Rashid said that during the sessions Bidya calls upon the many names of God, but the meditation is secular and all faiths and those who are non-religious have come to the event. Approximately 30 came to the first event in July, but now the numbers have grown to around 100.

“All are welcome,” Rashid said.

Rashid and Bidya are both teachers and work out of a studio at 37-47 76th St. in Jackson Heights. Bidya teaches music to local students and to students in other places in the country by phone, through a device that hooks up the phone line to a speaker and/or microphone,´╗┐ while Rashid takes on four to six children of various age groups for a certain number of months and prepares them for gifted and talented classes, SATs or to apply to special high schools or Ivy League schools.

Rashid and Bidya also hold other events in the community aimed at bringing people together. Their next event, “Autumn Festival and United Nations Day” will be at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights at 37-06 77th St. and will feature not only meditation but dancing from a variety of countries.

“We are telling the United Nations we are grateful,” Rashid said. “You are bringing all the countries together.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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