VIDEO: Muslims and Jews vow to stand up for each other, build global movement of reconciliation

24 10 2013
By Rabbi Marc Schneier & Russell Simmons

hope_sign-fp-02af074c6d50b1caef2fb6e2d985bae1There is a widely accepted belief that Muslims and Jews are enemies and will always remain so. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

For the past six years The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding has not only challenged this narrative, but has facilitated a global dialogue between Muslims and Jews that is taking place on all six populated continents.

This Muslim-Jewish dialogue is our annual Weekend of Twinning which encourages joint Muslim and Jewish programming on the grassroots level in every community across the world where Muslims and Jews reside.

Our efforts reveal the actual harmony that exists between these two faiths and peoples and here is a video that we produced with Unity Productions Foundation, which documents this global Muslim Jewish coalition that is vowing to stand up for one another by combating Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred.

Next month, in cities around the world, these peacemakers will come together and break bread and discuss ways of improving the world as part of the Weekend of Twinning, which officially takes place November 15-17th.

To participate in the Weekend of Twining, please contact us
To view the longer version of this film:

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PHOTO ESSAY: Tibetan monks create ceremonial mural from millions of coloured grains at Salisbury Cathedral

4 10 2013

By Becky Evans/Daily Mail, photo by Getty Images

  • Sand mandala started on Monday at Salisbury Cathedral’s Chapter House
  • It will be ritually destroyed today and scattered in the River Avon

This painstaking process takes days and involves decorating with millions of grains of sand. But despite the arduous work, this sand mandala will be destroyed almost as soon as it is completed. It has been created by Tibetan monks at Salisbury Cathedral’s Chapter House.

They began making the mandala using coloured sand on Monday and will finish it today, October 4. However, they will then hold a destruction ceremony and tip the sand into water.

Sand mandalas are an artistic tradition in Tibetan Buddhism. They are of a symbolic picture of the universe representing an imaginary palace that is contemplated during meditation.

The monks will take part in a procession to the River Avon, where they will empty the sand so it spreads as far as possible.

The intricate design of the mandala is usually drawn in chalk before being filled with millions of grains of dyed sand.

Tibetan Buddhists believe the mandala gives positive energy and helps transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones. Once completed the sand is swept into an urn before being scattered. The monks, whose exiled monastery is in south India, are visiting various places in the UK and Europe and will complete two more sand mandalas.

Mandala 4

The monks are touring places in the UK and Europe and will complete two other sand mandalas

The monks have spent days painstakingly decorating the sand mandala with millions of grains

The monks have spent days painstakingly decorating the sand mandala with millions of grains

The beautiful Chenrezig Sand Mandala has taken four days to complete at Salisbury Cathedral's Chapter House

The beautiful Chenrezig Sand Mandala has taken four days to complete at Salisbury Cathedral’s Chapter House

After drawing a chalk outline of the design, monks use funnels to apply the coloured sand

After drawing a chalk outline of the design, monks use funnels to apply the coloured sand


Kachen Choedrak (left) helps complete the mandala that will then be destroyed and scattered in the River Avon

The sand is scattered in water so that it travels as far around the world as possible

The sand is scattered in water so that it travels as far around the world as possible

Pope Francis sets a good interfaith example

6 08 2013
Pope Francis salutes as he arrives at the Chiesa Del Gesu' in Rome on July 31, 2013. Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis salutes as he arrives at the Chiesa Del Gesu’ in Rome on July 31, 2013. Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

By Yasmine Hafiz/Huffington Post

Pope Francis personally reached out to Muslims around the world with Id al-Fitr greetings for the holiday that concludes the holy month of Ramadan. While the message has been traditional since 1967, usually the greetings are sent by the Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Pope Francis explained that he wanted to personally write this year’s message as a mark of his “esteem and friendship” for all Muslims, citing the example of his namesake Saint Francis, who “loved every human being deeply.”

Addressed “To Muslims throughout the World,” the message is an important call to action for peace and tolerance as he proposed reflection on the theme, “Promoting Mutual Respect through Education.” As sectarian and religious tensions continue worldwide, the pope emphasized the importance of respect and need to educate Muslim and Christian youth in a tolerant and loving manner. He said, “We all know that mutual respect is fundamental in any human relationship, especially among people who profess religious belief. In this way, sincere and lasting friendship can grow.”

The pope also offered good wishes to Muslims at the beginning of Ramadan during a visit to the island of Lampedusa in Italy on July 8, saying in a speech, “I also think with affection of those Muslim immigrants who this evening begin the fast of Ramadan, which I trust will bear abundant spiritual fruit. The church is at your side as you seek a more dignified life for yourselves and your families.”

His sincere and friendly greetings will hopefully be warmly received by leaders of the Muslim community, many of whom felt uneasy with the last pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, after he quoted an anti-Islamic remark in his 2006 Regensburg lecture and sparked worldwide outrage.

“In issuing a personal, heartfelt and meaningful message to Muslims around the world at the end of Ramadan, we see a genuine effort on behalf of Pope Francis to send a message of good will and compassion. Focusing on youth and ‘mutual respect through education,’ Pope Francis underscores the critical components of cohesiveness -– that people of all faiths should respect the other and learn about ‘the other,’” said Farah Pandith, the U.S. Department of State’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities. “His important message of mutual respect will no doubt have a powerful impact on how the next generation of Muslim and Christian youth view and interact with each other.”

Francis is being called “the People’s Pope” for his outreach to many marginalized groups.


Living Interfaith Church: A church that embraces all religions and rejects “us” vs. “them”

15 07 2013
Reverend Steven Greenebaum

Reverend Steven Greenebaum


LYNNWOOD, Washington — Clad in proper Pacific Northwest flannel, toting a flask of “rocket fuel” coffee typical of Starbucks’ home turf, Steven Greenebaum rolled his Prius into a middle school parking lot one Sunday morning last month. Then he set about transforming its cafeteria into a sanctuary and himself into a minister.

He donned vestments adorned with the symbols of nearly a dozen religions. He unfolded a portable bookshelf and set the Koran beside the Hebrew Bible, with both of them near two volumes of the “Humanist Manifesto” and the Sioux wisdom of “Black Elk Speaks.” Candles, stones, bells and flowers adorned the improvised altar.

Some of the congregants began arriving to help. There was Steve Crawford, who had spent his youth in Campus Crusade for Christ, and Gloria Parker, raised Lutheran and married to a Catholic, and Patrick McKenna, who had been brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness and now called himself a pagan.

They had come together with about 20 other members to celebrate the end of their third year as the congregation of the Living Interfaith Church, the holy mash-up that Mr. Greenebaum had created. Yearning for decades to find a religion that embraced all religions, and secular ethical teachings as well, he had finally followed the mantra of Seattle’s indie music scene: “D.I.Y.,” meaning “do it yourself.”

So as the service progressed, the liturgy moved from a poem by the Sufi mystic Rumi to the “passing of the peace” greeting that traced back to early Christianity to a Buddhist responsive reading to an African-American spiritual to a rabbinical song.

In other weeks, the service has drawn from Bahai, Shinto, Sikh, Hindu and Wiccan traditions, and from various humanist sources.

If the Living Interfaith Church could appear hippie-dippy, as if scented with sage and patchouli, that impression proved deceptive. Mr. Greenebaum’s goals were serious, and they exemplified a movement in American religion toward dissolving denominational lines.

“Many of our most intractable ills may be laid on the altar of our divisions into ‘them’ and ‘us,’ ” Mr. Greenebaum, 65, said during his sermon. “Such a mind-set allows us to judge others and find them lesser beings. Now, I’m not here to try to convince anyone that there is no such thing as right or wrong. But I am here to say that there is no ‘them.’ And there is no ‘us’ who are somehow superior to them.”

From the lectern, Mr. Greenebaum pointed to the concrete ways that his congregation had put virtue into action.

Members had collected 700 pounds of food for a local food bank and donated money to survivors of Hurricane Sandy. He had been an advocate for gay marriage. And 60,000 online visitors had clicked onto the church’s Web site, intrigued by its radically inclusive model.

Indeed, fully one-quarter of Americans attend worship services outside their own faiths, according to a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center. The report attributed that trend to the growth of interfaith marriage and to the influence of Eastern religions and New Age spirituality.

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, placed the experiment of the Living Interfaith Church within the larger “idea of religion as compassion.”

Its exponents, he said, include the Dalai Lama and the author Karen Armstrong. Americans can readily connect such theology to the national civic values of neighborliness and tolerance.

As for himself, Dr. Prothero expressed admiration and reservations.

“This strikes me as a kind of institutionalization of a very strong trend,” he said of Mr. Greenebaum’s start-up. “It’s the idea that all religions are different paths up the mountain, and when you get to the top of the mountain you find compassion.

“But one reason we have different religions is that we have different rituals and different beliefs. Those are not insignificant.

“So for all religions to be one religion, you need to elide all the elements that were central to religion in the past: the hajj to Mecca, Jesus dying on the cross, whatever it might be. You’ve got to turn these first principles into last principles.”

In Mr. Greenebaum’s case, he grew up as a Reform Jew in suburban Los Angeles and does not consider that he ever left that faith. But from the time he began being exposed to other religious traditions as a member of his college choir, he found himself rejecting Judaic exceptionalism.

“I believed that God spoke to Moses,” he put it. “But I don’t believe he spoke only to Moses. So it never made sense to me to worship separately.”

Over the course of his professional life — teaching, writing for television, directing choirs — he searched futilely for a spiritual home. Many ecumenical efforts involved mutual respect but not shared worship. The rhetoric extolling “Judeo-Christian tradition” or the “Abrahamic faiths” excluded other religions and humanism.

Then the Sept. 11 attacks, with their “holy war” justification, hit Mr. Greenebaum as a “depressing and saddening reinforcement that we need to pray together — or else we’ll keep slaughtering each other in the name of God.”

He firmed up his theological foundation by earning a master’s degree in divinity from Seattle University, a Jesuit institution. He put forward his case for interfaith as a capital-I religion in “The Interfaith Alternative,” his 2012 book.

Now his church has bylaws, a written covenant with “Six Fundamental Assumptions,” tax-exempt status, regular tithing and 30 regular worshipers.

He remains, however, a decidedly humble shepherd.

“I wanted to join something like this, not start it,” he said. “I kept thinking someone more holy, more knowledgeable would have done this. But I do what I need to do.”

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Imams Visit Auschwitz, Pray For Holocaust Victims

30 05 2013
Muslim Imams during prayer for Holocaust victims at Auschwitz

Muslim imams during prayer for Holocaust victims at Auschwitz, Poland

Muslim leaders from across the globe paid tribute Holocaust victims this week during a visit to Auschwitz, the former Nazi concentration camp, where they prayed at the Wall of Death for those who were killed by genocide and suffered under violent anti-Semitism.

The imams, who hailed from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bosnia, Palestine, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey and the United States, performed Islamic prayers while facing Mecca as part of a Holocaust awareness visit funded in part by the U.S. State Department.

“What can you say? You’re speechless. What you have seen is beyond human imagination,” Imam Mohamed Magid, President of the US-based Islamic Society of North America, told Agence France-Presse.

“Whether in Europe today or in the Muslim world, my call to humanity: End racism for God’s sake, end anti-Semitism for God’s sake, end Islamophobia for God’s sake, end sexism for God’s sake… Enough is enough,” said Magid, who leads the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Northern Virginia.

The visit, which runs through Friday, is scheduled to include a tour of Warsaw’s new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a kosher dinner with Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, and a meeting with the Polish Righteous Among the Nations. The group of imams, which includes Muzammil H. Siddiqi, president of the Fiqh Council of North America and the former president of the Islamic Society of North America, is also scheduled to meet with Muslim, Jewish and Catholic leaders in Poland.

“We thank [the imams] for their willingness to come. Our task is to encourage proper understanding between our faiths in ways that stress our common humanity,” said Rabbi Jack Bemporad, who is the Executive Director of the New Jersey-based Center for Interreligious Understanding and is leading the visit. “Understanding our particular histories will help us better understand each other so that we can unite in combatting prejudice against all religions.”

“I think that the imams that came here having very little knowlege in many cases of the Shoah are now convinced that any kind of Holocaust denial or Holocaust revisionism is simply out of the question,” Bemporad said.

Ahmet Muharrem Atlig, a Turkish Muslim and former imam, said that despite being educated in “much informaiton about Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Holocaust,” the visit was a “turning point” for him.

“As soon as possible, I will bring my family here … I will organize Turkish imams and muftis to go to Holocaust sites. My people don’t know what happened here. It’s not an agenda. It’s a reality. This is not Jewish heritage, it’s world heritage. Jewish people were mostly affected but the lessons are global,” Atlig said.

“The US imams told us that their trip was transformative and they shared their experiences with their American Muslim communities. We thought a trip with an international group of imams and religious leaders to be of vital importance,” said Catholic University of America law professor Marshall Breger, an Orthodox Jew and former Reagan White House liaison to the Jewish community who helped organized both trips.

“Increasing compassion and preserving man’s humanity starts with unveiling falsehoods that shore up bigotry. Unfortunately, one of those is Holocaust denial. Muslims and millions of others also suffered and Holocaust denial denies them, too, not just Jews who perished,” Breger said.

Source: Huffington Post

What is Interfaith? Stephanie Dowrick explores a very contemporary question

25 05 2013

By Stephanie on Apr 27, 2013 in Frontpage

“Interfaith” is a word increasingly used. It’s used as an adjective. It’s used as a noun. We can even do interfaith in the sense of engaging with a range of activities that might include the local rabbi, imam, Buddhist monk, Hindu priest and Catholic nun sharing insights around an urgent social need, as well as people getting together without their religious labels to share sacred silence, a day of prayer, peace-making, forgiveness or healing, an experience of art, poetry or music, or a service in a church, temple or under the trees that draws on humankind’s shared spiritual inheritance and is in every way inclusive. This last word matters most. From this perspective, no one is “lesser than”; no one is “left out”.

But that very range of experiences ought to give us pause: pause to celebrate that such events are increasingly commonplace; pause, too, to reflect that those vitally inclusive and welcoming experiences are unlikely to be enhanced when a definition of “interfaith” becomes rigid or constraining. Or when some experiences are regarded as more authentically “interfaith” than others.

Definitions matter. They can be thrilling and illuminating. They can also be used to create hierarchies and exert power. Or even to humiliate or batter those who see the world differently. It’s unhelpful to think about the definition of some words without taking into account who is doing the defining, and why. This is particularly true surely when it comes to those highly subjective, densely loaded words that attempt to describe, much less define “faith” or “belief”. In fact, as I write this images rush through my mind of countless individuals shunned, defiled, even murdered for religious claims or definitions that were regarded as so offensive they were called heretical. That has happened throughout human history. It still happens.

A great deal of religious and spiritual experience comes to be defined by what it is not. Growing up in the latter part of my childhood within the Roman Catholic tradition I learned very quickly to divide the world into Catholics and non-Catholics. (I’d come into the former world from the latter one: from Protestant Mars to Catholic Venus – or so it felt.)

That kind of sheep/goats talk is commonplace in other traditions too. The inference is clear: far better to be what “is”, than what is “not”. In those same childhood years I also heard people speak about a loss of faith in tones as hushed and concerned as might be used to speak about the death of a loved one. For many, it was equivalent. Yet when someone “loses” their faith this could mean a huge range of experiences within each individual from no longer believing in or accepting the God of their childhood to no longer believing that their faith is the “one, true” and only – or that it has any right to condemn “others”; to giving up on religion entirely – with all manner of shifts between.

The sacred is more likely to be found through experiences that engage the emotions than through dogma that rigidifies the mind. Self-righteousness, or insistence on “one way” trumping all others, is the enemy of the subtle, infinitely powerful, never-entirely-knowable sacred. Vulnerability, compassion, hope, tenderness, good humour, patience, forgiveness, love: these are sacred and sustaining qualities that belong to all of humanity and need not depend on religious belief. For some, they reflect the infinite and unconditional love that God has for our human family. But this is not always true. Nor is it true that people who are explicitly theist practise these qualities more obviously or profoundly than those who are neither theist nor atheist. “God” can be inspiration as well as source; but not for all and never within a context of fear.

The great twentieth-century visionary poet Rainer Maria Rilke was, like most poets, extremely wary of definitions and mistrustful of our anxious grasping after them. When it came to priests and their confident reading of the mind of God, he was particularly scornful. “Middlemen”, he called them. When it comes to questions of faith, religion and the awesome “sacred”, we must, Rilke believed and so do I, learn to trust an inner authority based on experiences, one that’s tempered by humility as well as wisdom as life continues to mellow us.

There is some argument as to whether Rilke did or did not call God “a direction of the heart”. (He called God many names and addressed God with sublime intimacy and often equally sublime lack of certainty: one of many reasons why he is a poet for our times.) But this gentle, questing notion of “direction of the heart” may be useful to some of us, too, as we think about faith, about our faith in thinking about faith…and about interfaith.

Modesty as well as humility is a great blessing here. I am thrilled when I hear people speak to one another about the interfaith services I lead in inner city Sydney with delightful familiarity as in, “Will I see you at interfaith next week…?”.  I love their confidence that “interfaith” experience is real for them and that they are eager to have those experiences together. But is interfaith also a “noun”?  I am not sure.

I have been teaching from a spiritually inclusive perspective for a quarter of a century. For at least an entire century our human family has been increasingly open to finding inspiration and ethical guidance from wherever it feels most inwardly refining and outwardly effective, in the sense of growing a love for our diverse human family, and service to it. As an ordained “interfaith minister” (and graduate of one of New York’s several interfaith seminaries), I have been leading those services to a large inner-city congregation for seven years, since 2006. During those years, and as a writer and public spokesperson for an interfaith practice and perspective, I have felt often that I am standing on the margins – where change in attitudes is most likely to happen – and quite simultaneously that I am right in the heart of where positive change is occurring. What I am sure of is that I am witnessing change as much as I am possibly contributing to it.

This intense familiarity with broadly interfaith questions and context does not, though, and should not mean that I want to offer a confident definition for interfaith beyond the key phrases of “spiritual inclusion” or “spiritually inclusive”.

My own inner calling to ministry was undoubtedly to spiritually support all who sought that, whatever their faith experiences, beliefs or questions. The teachings, prayers and practices that inspire and shape my work and life are those that could best be described as universal or mystical. They are challenging. They leave no one out. They do not assume that all religions are the same, or that all religious teachings should be valued equally. Universal teachings of the kind I cherish derive from love and urge us to live a life of love – without exceptions. There is nothing new in that. Universal Sufism and Vedanta are just two of many paths that have explicitly defied the idea that Truth revealed itself to a single privileged group.

Love, whether it is human or divine is considered to be sacred, in the view of the mystics, philosophers, and thinkers. That it is possible to regard it thus is shown by the fact that in its root it is beyond both the human and the divine. As it is written in the Bible, ‘God is Love’: three words which open up an unending realm for the thinker who desires to probe the depth of the secret of love. In ordinary life, we make this word mean affection for our surroundings, for our relatives or our beloved, but when we think deeply about it, we see that from start to finish it represents the power underlying the power of all activities and all intelligences.
 – Hazrat Inayat Khan, 20th-century Sufi teacher


Following a spiritually inclusive way of life has been, for me, both liberating and demanding, as it should be. It’s been liberating in that it has opened me to the incredible treasure trove of spiritual resources that each faith has nurtured, despite everything. It is demanding too – and I welcome this – in that it calls and depends upon an ethic that is also at the heart of all faith and spiritually philosophical traditions: the ethic of the “Golden Rule”.

Interfaith practice unequivocally calls me to consider who and what I am, who and what my “neighbors” are, and particularly how I treat and regard them as well as myself. How I live matters. How each of us lives matters. It also matters whether our beliefs nourish our relationships with one another, or destroy them. Looking at faiths as well as faith close up it is easy to see the complex human dimension in them all: the weaknesses are painfully similar; the strengths are encouragingly similar.

A “spiritually inclusive” attitude and way of living is a choice that challenges prejudices and stereotypes. It also challenges the power imperatives that characterize some conventional religious thinking and practice. Given the shockingly irreligious, sexist, homophobic and violent nature of much “religious” behavior, and given the violence that continues to be waged in the name of religions and faiths, I believe that we can safely say that in any of its sincere forms, interfaith activity is a change for the better in human consciousness. It offers a vital shift not only in how we think about religion and religious adherence, but also – and more profoundly – in how we think about humanity and what we are capable of doing and being. The time for tribal thinking is over. It has become too dangerous. This is a time for thinking that is both global and intimate; bold and delicately receptive and nuanced. It is a time for thinking and behavior that is self-responsible, self-respecting, and simultaneously caring of the effect of our choices on the world around us.

In a recent Huffington Post article, Chicago-based activist Eboo Patel claims three reasons why “interfaith efforts matter more than ever”: These are: “1. Interfaith helps harmonize people’s various identities. 2. Interfaith efforts help us to separate the worst elements of communities from the rest. 3. Interfaith efforts remind us America [I would add, all multi-cultural nations] is about welcoming the contributions of all communities and nurturing cooperation between them. “

Like Patel, I am confident that interfaith experience is brilliantly suited to these times. It is unconditionally rooted in care for others and a willingness to look way beyond one’s own garden gate; it is overtly harmonizing and peace-making; it is open to change; it is self-evidently more interested in questions of “how should we live” than in staking an exclusive claim to “truth”. I would also add that it offers a vital chance to “grow up”: to claim one’s inner authority and conscience that returns us to the profound simplicity of the Golden Rule and all that implies.

None of us “owns” God. Nor can any of us rightly claim to speak for God – particularly when those claims are arrogant, violent or divisive.  What we can know is how urgently humanity needs a more peaceful, self-respectful and caring way of thinking about – and living out – religion, faith, religious identity and belief.

One of my own community members, herself long versed in Sufi universalism, wrote to me recently: “Interfaith in my experience does not water down one’s own particular religious tradition. It seeks to strengthen by its intrinsic and explicit acknowledgement of the value of all religious traditions. In this way, the interfaith movement seeks to unite in a universal service by drawing together people to celebrate the essential Divine humanity expressed through diversity. Some call this a uniting path of love.”

My sense perhaps my hope is strong that in all its diversity, “interfaith” experiences – including shared worship -  will be increasingly available and supported within our global world. They will, though, be diversely lived. For some, this will strengthen a “home faith”. For some, it will involve a softening of attitudes about faith as well as interfaith, with a greater understanding of those who live or worship differently. For some, “spiritual inclusivity” will itself be a chosen and cherished path.

Accepting that diversity of experience can be challenging. Yet “interfaith” can itself be our finest teacher about what we more profoundly share. Bowing our heads together in silence, allowing ourselves to be transported by poetry or music, listening deeply to one another’s stories, offering consolation in grief and celebration in joy: these are unifying moments and may even be transformative.

Seeking meaning in and through life (and in and through our reflections upon it) is among the most profound quests that our human family shares. An interfaith perspective is likely to acknowledge this as a human activity, expressed and inspired in many ways, but transcending through first-hand knowledge and respect all the familiar separations of religion, culture, race, class and gender. In short, it’s a way of bringing people together around what matters most. It’s a way of opening hearts as well as minds.

In 21st-century life, interfaith activities, ideals and spiritually inclusive experiences can add substantially to our urgent needs for peace making, social and economic justice, care for the physical universe, and global as well as intimate, daily and personal understanding of one another. They also witness to what we share, rather than to what divides us. This is no small thing. In truth, I find it quietly hopeful.


Reverend Dr Stephanie Dowrick leads spiritually inclusive services each 3rd Sunday of the month at Pitt Street Uniting Church, 264 Pitt Street, Sydney, 3pm. She also leads retreats and events in Australia, NZ, and Japan. For further depth on interfaith and spiritual seeking, please see her book, Seeking the Sacred. This article is copyright. If you wish to reproduce or share it, please write to uhn @ (close up spaces) and acknowledge this website as your source. You are invited also to follow her on Facebook for spiritually inclusive, socially conscious inspiration.

A Christian Faith Enriched by Buddhism

19 11 2012

Susan J. Stabile is the author of “Growing in Love and Wisdom: Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian Mediation,” just published by Oxford University Press. A spiritual director and retreat leader, she is also the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

I gave up Catholicism when I was 17. No great trauma or explosive event. I simply realized one day I didn’t believe any more. Not in Catholicism. Not in God. So I went through college and a good chunk of law school with no faith or spiritual life.

Then I found Buddhism. What began as a flirtation turned into 20 years of life as a Buddhist, two of them living in Buddhist monasteries in Nepal and India, one as a Tibetan Buddhist nun.

In the 11 years since I returned to the Catholicism into which I was born and baptized, I’ve been asked many times if I consider myself a “Buddhist Catholic” or “Christian Buddhist.” Although the answer is no (and I discuss why in the opening chapter of “Growing in Love and Wisdom”), my Buddhist years were not only essential to my ability to return to Catholicism, they greatly inform my Christian spirituality.

But for Buddhism, I could not be Catholic today. When I left Catholicism my sense of independence and self-sufficiency was too strong to accommodate a personal relationship with, or recognition of my dependence on, God. Buddhism’s individuality was much more consonant with my self-image, and Buddhism offered me a means of developing a spirituality that facilitated my eventual return to God.

I bring back much from those Buddhist years that inform who I am as a Christian. Paramount is an emphasis on experiential knowledge. What had first attracted me to Buddhism was the Buddha’s view that there was nothing one must — or should — believe merely because the Buddha said it. Rather, everything is to be tested by one’s own experience. More importantly, it is through that direct experience that enlightenment is attained.

This emphasis on experiential knowledge has affected me in several ways. The first is recognizing the importance of a regular prayer practice, by which I mean not only attending Mass or other communal liturgies, but daily time in solitude with God. I’ve become convinced that this time with God is essential and something we need to make time for no matter how busy we are.

A focus on experiential knowledge has also given me a greater appreciation of the value of ritual. When I was young I viewed many rituals of Catholicism as meaningless. I have grown to understand, through my Buddhism experience, the power of ritual to transform our hearts.

The emphasis on experiential knowledge has also convinced me of the primacy of relationship with God over rules as a vehicle for personal transformation. If I am convinced to the depth of my being that I am the beloved of God and if I am deeply in love with that God, that will be manifest in the person I am in the world. Adhering to God’s law flows naturally out of relationship, resulting not from forced obedience to externally imposed rules but as a consequence of our recognition of our essential nature as the beloved of God.

In addition all that flows from an emphasis on experiential knowledge, Buddhism has helped me understand in a richer way some of the truths of Christianity. Although expressed in different terms, many of the truths of Buddhism have resonance in Christianity (another subject I explore in some detail in “Growing in Love and Wisdom”). The Buddhist teachings on cherishing others over the self helped me embrace Christian humility. The Buddhist concept of emptiness gave me a way of understanding Christian notion on dying to self and rising in Christ. The Buddhist understanding of impermanence helps me deal with difficult mental states and feelings.

Perhaps the greatest influences Buddhism has had on my Catholicism is my openness to different ways of being Catholic. Some Catholics are more “traditional” than others. Some want the Mass in Latin, others in the vernacular. Some pray the rosary daily, others view the rosary as old-fashioned. Many feel the need to say one way is better than the other. I don’t. Buddhism has helped me appreciate that we have different temperaments, inclinations, experiences and needs, and that all of that has an influence on what our Catholicism (and our prayer life) looks like.

Obviously, a journey through Buddhism is not a necessary part of everyone’s path. We all grow in our faith — and struggle with it — in different ways. Some people grow in one faith tradition for their entire lives. The spiritual path of others seems to require a sojourn in a faith different from the one in which they were raised before they either return to the faith of their birth or find a new spiritual home. Buddhism was an integral part of my spiritual path.


Source: Huffington Post

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA: Sarajevo hosts International Peace Conference

10 09 2012
The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina has hosted an international conference on peace. During the three-day conference, religious leaders and officials talk about dialogue between Christians and Muslims and a real peace strategy for the future of the country. The conference also marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the Siege of Sarajevo.
To see the video, click on the picture above

The Community of Sant’ Edigio and the Archdiocese of Vrhbosna in Sarajevo, in close cooperation with the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Islamic and Jewish Communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina have organized an important event of religious and political dialogue.

The International Peace Conference stressing the culture of living together is the first joint gathering of religious and state leaders from the Balkans since the 1990s conflicts.

International Peace Conference has been organized on the twentieth anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo. The initiative is fully supported by the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s authorities. Religious leaders of all faiths, from the Balkans and the world, as well as cultural and civil authorities have attended the conference.

Beside religious leaders, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, Italian Prime minister Mario Monti and Bakir Izetbegovic, Chair of Bosnia’s Presidency addressed the participants during the International PeaceConference. At the closure of the conference on Sep 11th the participants are expected to sign a join treaty for a long-lasting peace in the region.

Experts say the International Peace Conference gathering people in Sarajevo has sent a clear message to all: that is only open dialogue between religions and cultures can bring people better future.

Source: Press TV 

Hindus-Buddhists-Jews-Atheists seek EU intervention in Hungary to restore religious equality

9 02 2012

In a remarkable joint interfaith gesture, Hindus-Buddhists-Jews-Atheists want immediate intervention of European Union (EU) in Hungary to establish religious equality and freedom.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that Hinduism and many other religions and denominations were not officially recognized in Hungary. Should not all religions be equal before the law in a democracy? Is not Hungary part of the EU which boasts of being the human rights leader in the world? Zed asked.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, pointed out that Hinduism was the oldest and third largest religion in the world with a rich philosophical thought and about one billion adherents. Are not these enough qualifications for a religion to be recognized?

Rajan Zed expressed dismay at Hungary’s recent law on religion, saying that it was a setback to religious equality. The official recognition process was suffocating, cumbersome, unnecessarily burdened the Hungary’s minority religions/ denominations, smelled of favoritism, discriminatory against certain faith groups and was without any right to appeal. It was a step in the wrong and backwards direction, Zed added.

Zed further said that nations should not be in the business of regulating religion, which was very powerful and complex; and governments should not tell who was “church” and who was not.

Rajan Zed urged His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and other world religious leaders to speak against this recent Hungarian law and back the minority religions/denominations of Hungary. Religions/denominations with a major presence in Hungary should also come to the rescue of religious minorities.

Zed stated that Hungary seemed to have created its own narrow “definition” of religion which might not be compatible with European and international religious equality and freedom standards. This exclusionary approach sent a worrying signal, a cause for concern. Zed stressed the need for more openness, equality and religious freedom in Hungary; the country of Lake Balaton, romantic Danube River, Franz Liszt and Bela Bartok.

Meanwhile, Rabbi ElizaBeth Beyer, prominent Jewish leader in Nevada, in a statement today, stressed that Hinduism was one of the major religions of the world and the Hungarian Parliament was out of touch with the reality in not granting it recognition in upholding “The Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion and on the Status of Churches, Religions and Religious Communities” Law.  Rabbi Beyer stated that the Law created inferior religious status to faiths which had fewer followers in Hungary, violating the right to be free from religious discrimination.  Beyer noted that the Law, which also stripped liberal Jewish congregations of their religious status, was flawed and archaic.

Jon Eric Johnson, a well known atheist scholar belonging to Reno Freethinkers, in a statement today, said: “We are dismayed and disappointed at the Hungarian government for engaging in the regulation and exclusionary approach in religion. A free and democratic society must allow people to worship, or not worship, as they so choose without restriction, harassment or favoritism.”

Distinguished Buddhist priest in Western USA, Jikai’ Phil Bryan, in a statement in Reno  today, urged Hungary to end discriminatory practices aimed at members of any and all authentic religious traditions and treat all religions as equal before the law and government. Bryan stressed the urgent need of ensuring religious equality and freedom in Hungary.

In a past survey, 44% Hungarians reportedly replied that they believed that there was a God. Roman Catholics were the largest group with about 52% Hungarians as followers. Majority of Hungary became Christian in the 11th century. Budapest synagogue is said to be the largest in Europe. Pal Schmitt and Viktor Orban are President and Prime Minister respectively of Republic of Hungary.


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