IIC Newsletter 12: December 1999
THE YOUNG ONES!!
On a brilliant early Cape Town summer afternoon, the Interfaith in Action in a Global Context Symposium began its final period of work. Fortunately, the session featured some of the young adults who had been involved throughout the three-day program of focused panels. The Rev. Dr. Robert Traer expertly guided and probed through a discussion of the place of interfaith in the lives of these young adults and where they will be five years from now.
First named people, Yashika, Megumi, Ramola, Matthew, Andre, Nava, Satish and Ebrahim came from distant places like Japan and Brazil as well as the local South Africa. They are usually involved in media or are social activists or are pursuing Ph.D’s. Though young in years they had a depth of experience in and wisdom about interfaith activity.
Some wondered if the word ‘Interfaith’ was necessary since they had lived life where faiths naturally integrated and no special word was needed. Perhaps by naming it we might lose it or make it too self-conscious. As a matter of fact, the word ‘interfaith sometimes kept their friends at a distance because their friends’parents suspected some kind of proselytizing. Others had scars from colonial religions and now were cautious lest a kind of colonial interfaith movement develop.
These young adults were knowledgeable, educated, passionate about the subject, independent and thorough in approach. A new day has arisen in interfaith leadership as these outstanding young adults no longer wait as add-ons but instead are charting their own interfaith courses of action. For instance they are themselves bringing together three existing interfaith organizations to create an interfaith youth corps which will have its first project in September 2001.
The International Interfaith Centre is to be congratulated for sponsoring the entire Interfaith in Action in a Global Context Symposium and most especially for scheduling such an outstanding number of young adults. I sat in on all three days and not only learned a great deal but was genuinely inspired.
The Rt. Rev.. William E. Swing
Bishop of California (Episcopal)
Interfaith in Action in a Global Context
Parliament of the World’s Religions, Cape Town
On the first afternoon of the IIC’s Symposium (developed in cooperation with CPWR), young leaders Andre Porto and Nava Bastani, Matthew Smith and Leigh Meinert, took turns to interview representatives from the World Congress of Faiths, Interfaith Centre of New York, Temple of Understanding, World Thanksgiving Square, World Fellowship of Inter-religious Councils, Israel Interfaith Association, United Religions Initiative and the Peace Council. The theme was: Healing the Wounds: What can interfaith organisations do to help a ‘peace process’?
Two further sessions followed and we include here some of the notes on these taken by Paul Trafford (MultiFaithNet) and a reflection by Bill Swing (United Religions Initiative) on the interview of the young people involved. A general report on the Parliament as a whole is written by Celia and a conference travel guide, inviting you to help shape IIC development, is offered by Sandy (both IIC).
The IIC also held an impromptu workshop at the Parliament (after the planned one had to be cancelled because of double booking) and we are grateful to the three South African women who made this a moving and revealing introduction to the hardships and horrors of apartheid and to their greatness of heart in finding a path to reconciliation and forgiveness.
Extracts from Dr Paul Trafford’s Notes on the IIC/CPWR Symposium
The second session, entitled: The Voice of the Voiceless: A Call for Recognition and Justice, was in two parts: in both cases, younger members interviewed older ones. Ramola Sundram (International Association for Religious Freedom) and Megume Hirota (Rissho Kosei-Kai) challenged a distinguished panel, somewhat more advanced in years, from the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, IARF, Global Ethic Foundation, Emergency NGO’s of Japan, International Council of Christians and Jews, World Faiths Development Dialogue, IIC and Ahimsa.
The first bout of questions raised by Ramola and directed at Jim Kenney were noticeably piercing. Whilst acknowledging the effort of the CPWR in organising the event, was the expense justified? Was this not a gathering of an elite group? Does the work really impact and shape the grassroots? Jim Kenney gave a careful response that stressed the need to apply much broader criteria, indicating that there was far more to the event than what took place at the surface, especially the raising of consciousness. Efforts had been made over many months in South Africa to solicit input, create new ways of tackling issues, drawing on wisdom and inspiration from many sources. The focus had been tied to concrete projects and three reasons for involvement had emerged: identity, dialogue and, in particular, the role of spirituality and religion in critical issues, which inevitably has to address the grass roots.
The next question referred to the Call document: What is a Guiding Institution? The answer: Eight of the most powerful and influential institutions, identified by the key role they have with regard to the important issues, for instance the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, and the need to work together with them for effective development and change.
Megumi asked about the goals of IARF and to what extent had it been successful? Bob Traer talked about the organisation’s founding in 1900 to uphold freedom of conscience, using interfaith work as a means to achieve this. He expressed the wish that this be tempered by a focus on the issue of practice. Bob later commented that if interfaith promotes religion rather than the dignity of human beings then its impact is reduced. IARF existed to support freedom to practise, even if a particular practice appeared not to one’s liking. IARF provides platforms for validation and affirmation, for instance in secular society, where there is a desire to have religion as part of a country’s institutions.
Ramola then probed John Pawlikowski about the role of the International Council of Christians and Jews. He reported that the ICCJ, which began with the perception of Christian failures, particularly on the part of churches in the Nazi era regarding the holocaust, now has 25 to 30 member organisations. Its roles include the support of ecumenism and theological reflection / re-assessment.
Wendy Tyndale described the work of the World Faiths Development Dialogue as working the field by faith groups. For instance, in Ethiopia, interfaith groups have brought Christians and Muslims to visit each other’s development programmes for the first time. Another initiative was multi donor food security programmes where different areas require different programmes, local religious groups being the best informed about the requirements of the poor people in their regions. WFDD is exploring the place of values in development work (not part of standard economic considerations): the Call to our Guiding Institutions recognises the responsibility to influence the influencers (such as the World Bank), to induce a change from authoritarianism to ways that liberate more people, especially women.
Gwyneth Little, when asked about the goal of the IIC, stated that the IIC was a resource to facilitate, encourage, and support other organisations on an international scale. And what of the inclusion of young people? They were here at the symposium! Gwyneth cited the IIC cooperative conference in Northern Ireland where schoolchildren were addressed by international figures such as Yasmin Sooka of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the encounter at a previous IIC Oxford conference between two young men, a Greek and a Turkish Cypriot, and the impact of that meeting. The main fruits of IIC work were heightened awareness of others, encounter and networking.
What of those who are not concerned about others, but only want to have a ‘good time’ in their short life? The response from Hans Kung was that the Global Ethic is a minimal set of responsibilities for all. Prof Kung reported that in 1996 he had received a gift of 5 million German Marks, from which he set up the Global Ethic Foundation for Intercultural and Inter-religious Research to investigate issues of peace, religion, and dialogue in the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In his state a teacher’s contest was organised on teaching ethics in schools from Kindergarten upwards and now the ethic is being tried in other states of the federation.
Dr Natubhai Shah was questioned about Ahimsa. It is an organisation, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, that was recently launched in the House of Lords to improve the quality of life and develop core human values. It promotes right faith, education and conduct. On an international level, it is assisting in the rural development of Bihar, using micro enterprises.
Ramola then brought Mr Nemoto into the discussion, asking, How does one achieve peace and reconciliation? What of the difficulties and solutions in Bosnia and Kosovo? Nemoto-san replied that it was difficult to receive objective reports so he went to Bosnia and met with all parties. He took a humanitarian view and had the simple aim of establishing trust. The main obstacle was suspicion among hurt people, so he placed the emphasis on human beings – people who could empower themselves, friends in need (not receivers of aid).
The third and final sessions of the IIC/CPWR Symposium foucsed on New Hopes: The Contribution of Young People, and Visions for Future Cooperation and Networking. Many of the young people involved in the Symposium – Nava Bastani (SA Baha’is), Ebrahim Patel (Interfaith Youth Corps), Matthew Smith (Unitarian General Assembly), Ramola Sundram (International Association for Religious Freedom), Yashika Singh and Satish Komal (SA Hindu Youth Forum), Andre Porto (Viva Rio), Megumi Hirota (Rissho Kosei-kai) – were interviewed by Bob Traer. This was a very inspired and involving session, well steered by Dr Traer.
In his introduction, Ebrahim gave a personal reflection on the work being carried out by the Interfaith Youth Corps. He focused on four topics: the state of the young, the state of the world (globalisation), the state of faith; and the state of community-based grassroot efforts. International interfaith organisations were useful support networks that promote positive activity and he gave the example of Banana Kelly, where solidarity for urban renewal saved the area from demolition and led to the building of new housing and further expansion. Young people have a particularly important part to play in the action: the Next Generation regard themselves as “the labourers of the Call [to our Guiding Institutions], working together, sharing hospitality, with a common ethics”. The activities of interfaith could help young people be restored to their religious tradition.
Bob Traer then began to interview members of the panel with the question, “Does interfaith work re-inforce traditions?” Yashika responded by saying that one can start more with the values of goodness, compassion, and social liberalism coming together. Then one can draw in the understandings of the various faiths. Nava said that the Parliament had strengthened her belief in humanity: the encounters were an educational experience. For Megumi, interfaith work had strengthened her respect for the dignity of life, and had become an opportunity for critical self-examination. Matthew Smith was interested in the processes of interfaith and argued that organisations were important to facilitate this.
Ramola, responding to a question about her experience of the Parliament, felt that it had been a valuable opportunity, providing a rich exchange with local people and their stories. Andre recounted how, for him, the large interfaith gatherings organised by the United Religions Initiative were a great inspiration and helpful in counteracting what he called ‘globalitarisation’ (a neatly coined phrase referring to the excessive control wielded by large corporations in ‘global markets’). Satish saw the need to change our consciousness as a primary act which can then influence the events we attend.
Bob next asked for views about ‘interfaith’ as a new religion, which I sensed was an issue about which he himself has quite strong notions. Eboo responded by saying that spirituality is becoming corporised, which is dangerous without rigourous commitment to particular traditions. Perhaps he had in mind large tele-evangelism organisations as he then talked about the need to provide alternatives to consumerism. Andre came from a different perspective and said that Brazil enjoyed its organic syncretism (for instance, 65% of the Christians there believed in re-incarnation). Ramola stressed the importance of context as it was only in the UK that she had found interfaith as an organised activity.
Bob became somewhat paternal in another question: How can the ‘older generation’ be more helpful? How can they share the Next Generation’s concerns without being over-bearing? What are the structures to make such cooperation possible? Nava suggested working on projects together and mentoring, whilst an observation from Ramola and Megumi was that many young people were conservative and apathetic, not so interested in dialogue. So how to involve them more? Disappointments were acknowledged: there was a lack of success in the outreach to Africa for the Parliament despite considerable effort. Perhaps the wrong language was being used? Work was certainly needed to prevent apathy developing into hostility. Yashika added that young people steered away from (turned a deaf ear to) indoctrination (as opposed to education). A remedy was in seva – service with the marginalised.
It was my role to draw the session to a close, trying to keep the spirit and vision planted in people’s minds. I recalled a few words from each member of the panel and Bob too, and gently questioned perceptions about ‘young’ and ‘old’.
After the break, Marcus Braybrooke chaired the second session, which discussed aspects of co-operation. In his introduction, Jehangir averred that interfaith could be seen, not just as something existing, but rather as a movement, and living organism. Within this, he stated the desire for more professionalism and involvement of business and commerce. Bishop Bill Swing talked of “interfaith without words” – deeds which should be encouraged – providing housing for the homeless etc. He went on to say that there are avenues for working corporately together and optimistically enthused about $1million donated for interfaith activities on the internet.
Launched at the Parliament, this has materialised in the form of the Word Foundation, a branch of the Spirit Channel (http://www.spiritchannel.com) established by Isaac Tigrett, founder of the Hard Rock Cafe and – in view of Jehangir’s comments above about new relationships needed between business and interfaith activity – it will be interesting to see how this develops. My own experience of working on interfaith organisations’ websites allowed the observation that people involved in interfaith activity are well positioned to make use of newly evolving internet strategies for networking.
Parliament of the Worlds Religions
To look for an inter-religious occasion at a Parliament of the Worlds Religions may be naive. To look for a medley of all that may be conceived as religious is realistic. At the 1999 Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Cape Town, South Africa a colourful array of leaders from all major faiths and many minor, new or blossoming could be seen. Talk to any of the participants and each will have a different reason for being there and will have had a different experience. Most will have found their eight days worth while and with a choice of over fifty things to do in any one hour, one might question the cynic.
Undoubtedly there were many there for self promotion. How many spoke to an empty room will not be known but one I questioned had evidently brought his own supporters and assured me his room would be full. From time to time a flurry of prostrating and excited admirers would herald the entry of some revered leader but the measure of clapping at the final line-up on the stage in the Good Hope Centre gave good indication of the general appeal felt by the masses and it was no surprise that the Cambodian monk who had silently sat with one attendant through sessions he would have had little chance of understanding but smiled throughout in a benign manner, raised the decibels beyond all other. The standing ovations given to Nelson Mandella and the Dalai Lama measured the overall opinion that humility is the essential ingredient of a great leader.
For those of us who attended from inter-religious organisations the strength of going to Cape Town was that the others, in general, were there too so it was an opportunity to meet, share at first hand and plan for future initiatives. It was a pity, however, that many of those who took part in the IIC Symposium, Interfaith in Action in a Global Context, were unable to listen to each other due to having to make their own presentations elsewhere. This puts a burden on ourselves to somehow transcribe the hours of tape so that it may sometime be read. The method of interviewing attempted to cut across flowery presentations of work intended and get to the core of the work which is being achieved in the interfaith scene. The young people who were the interviewers themselves became the interviewed in the last and perhaps the most hopeful of sessions which has been written up by Bishop William Swing.
For those of us fortunate enough to be invited to attend, the assembly of religious leaders and workers, which took place in four half day sessions, was a well structured and worthwhile event. Selected by different connotations of interest the participants sat each time at a different table with a different group of people to discuss the various topics around the subject of A Call to our Guiding Institutions. For me the most interesting time came when I was at a table of industrialists (I had come under the guise of agriculture but was the only one). According to them, and there were some powerful people there, change is coming in industry and it is not through government, religious or any other guiding institution. It is coming through people power. No longer are we the people prepared to put up with the world being raped or being fobbed off with things we do not want. We the people are calling the tune and industry and the other guiding institutions are required to follow suit.
Values and Transformation: Changing World Economics
The 1999 IIC Autumn Lecture, organised in cooperation with the World Faiths Development Dialogue, was held on the evening of October 14, 1999 at Mansfield College, Oxford. Peggy Morgan, IIC Trustee and Director of the Alister Hardy Research Centre, chaired the event. About a hundred people attended.
Andrew Rogerson, the World Bank Representative for United Kingdom and Ireland, could not find an apt metaphor for describing the potential complementarily between technocratic institutions and the great moral and ethical institutions of the world. Instead he came across one which is apt for what most people perceive to be the relationship between the moral and technocratic traditions: “A woman needs a man about as much as a fish needs a bicycle.” It set the tone for a stimulating evening as the speakers and the audience grappled with the question of how problems of poverty and development can be addressed without compromising on basic moral and ethical values.
Andrew Rogerson began with a description of the important lessons that the World Bank had learnt through experience as it tried to fulfil its goal of poverty eradication with a sense of mission and professionalism. The World Bank has just gone through a major exercise, listening to the ‘Voices of the Poor’, getting a first hand view of how the poor perceived poverty, its causes and the efforts being made to address poverty issues. The result has been a ‘wake up call’, a heightening of the sense of urgency to achieve results and the need for changing strategies to be able to achieve results.
The World Bank has learned through experience that technical solutions and finances are not sufficient for achieving success. A holistic, multifaceted approach that takes power relations and cultural values into account has become a must. Equity issues will also have to be brought to the fore. And no solutions are likely to work unless they are locally owned. A recent survey has shown that economic reforms advocated by the international aid community have worked only in those countries where they are locally owned, where the governments themselves are convinced of their need. On the other hand, bribes by the international community to promote reforms have been failures.
Andrew Rogerson then explained how the World Bank was trying to put new approaches into place by assisting governments in developing countries to develop their own strategies. The new approaches are rooted in more humility and underline the need to develop greater understanding. The Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF) being piloted in about a dozen countries was an important step in this direction. The CDF process begins with identifying priority needs for the next fifteen to twenty years, and developing strategies to meet these needs with various institutions, from international to grassroots, acting in co-ordination. Changes are not likely to happen overnight and provide a major challenge for economists who are not used to dealing with intangibles such as culture and values.
It is in this context that Andrew Rogerson felt that a dialogue between faith groups and the World Bank has become necessary. No technical agency, he said, could make changes on a significant scale (‘scale up’) without making alliances. The faith communities, who often are natural advocates for the poor and have an impressive repository of grassroots experience, can help the World Bank by bringing in the missing perspective and to understand the intangibles. The World Faith Development Dialogue (WFDD) is a sincere attempt to build up a dialogue between the faith communities and the World Bank. It is neither a forum for negotiations nor for confrontations. In Tanzania, for instance, it is providing an opportunity for faith groups, who supply 40% of all health services, to influence policy.
Satish Kumar, Editor of Resurgence and the Programme Director of Schumacher College, began his response with a narration of his experience when he crossed the border between India and Pakistan in the early stages of his World Peace March. Friends and relatives who had come to see him and his colleague off at the border were concerned about the reception they would get in enemy territory and urged them to take a few days supply of food with him. Satish Kumar, putting his trust in God and people, refused to do so, fearing that ‘packets of food would become packets of mistrust.’ To his delight he discovered that his trust was well placed. A young man who had heard about the March from a passing traveller was waiting to receive them with garlands on the other side of the border.
Entering into the substance of the debate, Satish Kumar raised issues about the concepts of development and poverty eradication. Development was a term coined by economists that divided the world into two, the industrialised nations, where everything was compartmentalised, and the developing nations, that had to strive to become industrialised. It was a notion that failed to recognise that the so-called developing countries could aim for a different goal.
Similarly, Satish Kumar emphasised that it was wealth and not poverty that was the root of the problem. He cited examples, of Jesus administering a ‘vow of poverty’ and Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi accepting the principles of voluntary poverty, to stress his point. The problem, he said, is not poverty but injustice and inequality. There was enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed. Unlimited economic growth which fuels the greed needs to be challenged. The concept of economic growth, which has become a ‘mantra’ for economists, itself needs to be challenged. It was time for fundamental questions to be raised.
Wendy Tyndale, Co-ordinator for Faiths of the World Faiths Development Dialogue, facilitated the discussion that followed the two presentations with a plea for taking a leap from folk tales to dialogue. She narrated an anecdote of a small boy in a Nepalese village pressing a coin into the hands of the World Bank President, James Wolfenshon, for his forward journey. The cultural divides and barriers were breaking. The time for a dialogue between the technocrats and the guardians of culture and values has come.
A lively discussion ensued. Sustainability of resource use at the global level and associated issues, such as the need to educate the industrial nations to limit the use of natural resources and the need to put back into nature what we take out, dominated the discussions in the beginning. The discussion on these issues was summed up well by Jehangir Sarosh of the World Conference of Religions for Peace who recounted how a three day gathering of youths to explore how they could contribute towards development was concluded with a one point agenda: ‘to educate the West.’
Questions were also raised about the difference between involuntary poverty and abject involuntary poverty, with Andrew Rogerson emphasising that you cannot just ignore the 1.2 billion people, a fifth of the world’s population, who do not even have access to potable drinking water. Satish Kumar clarified that he was not an advocate of hunger and depravation, that he was deeply concerned about it, but was sceptical about economic growth as the model for addressing the issues of poverty. It was a question of perspectives on how to deal with the problems. The concept of growth needs to be replaced with that of sharing, caring and daring.
There were questions on how to effectively link together the two forms of knowledge, scientific and spiritual, into harmony. There were recommendations for changing the culture of economists who find it hard to come to terms with values as it would be impossible to bring about a fundamental change in development concepts without this. There just wasn’t enough time to discuss the pertinent issues that were being raised in enough depth.
Wendy Tyndale raised a challenge to the faith communities in her concluding remarks. She asked whether we are out of our depths and do not have anything to offer to the people of industrial countries for whom consumerism has replaced God. She said it was easy to demonise but more difficult to take a constructive stand. There was, she said, a group within the Bank with a strong faith in faith that met every Friday morning, without fail. How many of us do that? The way ahead was to look for practical value based solutions.
Jael and I have just returned from three and a half weeks of conferencing in the Middle East and South Africa. We felt that it was a good idea that the IIC should be represented at other events and offer its support and solidarity to other organisations. Cooperation with others is a central focus of the IIC’s policy.
We would now like to share with you some impressions of the interfaith work we encountered and some suggestions for different approaches.
The first two conferences took place in Israel and focused on a) conflict resolution and b) the interface between religion and childrens’ human rights. We had a delay in arriving at the first because of an unscheduled and interesting, if somewhat alarming, diversion through the Golan Heights. When we finally reached the luxury hotel where the conference was being held, the contrast with the place we had just returned from was so stark that to discuss conflict resolution in such a setting, rather than up on the Heights where the impact of conflict was unavoidable, seemed a travesty and we did not attend.
The second event was much more modest and locally focused and activist based. Small is beautiful we think! It enables authentic listening and a more thorough engagement with the serious concerns which have brought people together. The format, however, was rather outdated and platform orientated. When people are continually talked at from a platform, we noticed that audiences soon dwindle! This became very evident at the large international event in Jordan which was our next venue.
Every morning was filled with endless speeches from a far off dias, hours of the same, more than six hours on the first day. This kind of indulgence of an elitist minority does not seem a very productive way of using our resources and making our work most effective. It may be that ‘religious leaders’ meeting together at such an event has a valid purpose and proves a useful encounter at that level, but it could perhaps better be done privately and more dialogically as a wilting audience adds very little momentum.
On to South Africa and a real marketplace of choices, some serious, some exotic, many self-promoting, and far too much of the same kind of platform elitism and self-selection. The event itself was a real achievement in many terms, especially in the stimulation of so many wonderful volunteers, all ready to give eight days of service. The inner sanctum which worked on a specific document has, next time, to be more open at the beginning, we feel, to allow those who are willing to dedicate the time and experience to be part of the process. Many people we met felt disenfranchised by a process that was being undertaken in the Parliament’s name and which, until they arrived, they thought they were part of. The distinctions were clearly made on participant’s badges with many proudly wearing their claim to something denied to others. In our own work at the Parliament, the aspect which most disapppointed us was that so many of the panellists who were interviewed in the first two sessions of the IIC symposium by young people from all parts of the world did not turn up for the final session to hear the young people when it was their turn to be interviewed. They missed something very special. Even experienced interfaith activists have to listen to other and new voices or they will be just perpetuating a system that is already too male, too western, too Christian, and too self-important.
All along the road, of course, there were wonderful people to meet, excellent projects worth supporting, all kinds of questions still to be answered. These especially relate to the work we all try to do and the issues which really affect people in the world: how to be more discerning and effective in the situations we address; how to bring more spirituality into our action; how to empower more women and young people and those from the south and east in our work; how not to waste limited resources in expensive travel where we only meet each other again, etc. In South Africa, some of these questions were particularly potent as we visited townships and met along the streets the disempowered, the voiceless, those whom justice and interfaith do not yet include.
From our own perspective, we are glad to be home, but reminded that all around is a community with which we have no connection. We welcome a debate on new ways of working in interfaith which values the contribution of all those seriously engaged; which does not promote only those who most often have the platform; which welcomes those who make the strong personal choices to do something for others not only for themselves; which supports the work of all our organisations in both a generous and critical way so that it improves and is not isolated; which does not recognise as important claims to being first or greatest or most representative but rather appreciates that which is humble and open and serious and spiritually motivated.
One of the ideas we expressed during our symposium was that each international interfaith organisation could dedicate a person to meet regularly with the others similarly chosen and reflect on ways to improve the quality and effectiveness of what we do and to consider if there are ways to support each other’s work without impeding on the distinctiveness of each organisations’ focus.
We invite you to share with us your new paradigms for interfaith work so that we can learn together how to make it a valuable contribution to those who look to us for assistance.
On the Practice of Meditation
by John Hick
I have been practising meditation, in a faltering sort of way, for some years, using the mindfulness (satipatthana) method that I learned from the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Nyanaponika Mahathera, whom I first met in his forest hermitage outside Kandy some twenty-five years ago. The method, which is not peculiar to him, and which one does not have to be a Buddhist to practice, is described in his book The Heart of Buddhist Meditation.
This is not meditation in the sense of meditating about something, but on the contrary a way of emptying consciousness of the ordinary world which we partly construct as we experience it as centring upon ourselves and in terms of our own categories of thought. The aim is that by emptying ourselves of this, and all the desires and anxieties to which it gives rise, we become open to the greater reality, to become one with which is nirvana.
The method is very simple, but nevertheless quite difficult. You sit comfortably, with a straight back, with the intention of opening yourself to the greater reality that is around and within us, take a few deep breaths, and then with eyes closed simply attend to your own breathing, the breathing in and breathing out. This sounds easy, but in fact the mind wanders and you have to refocus on the breathing again and again and again. However, it gradually becomes a little bit easier with persistent practice.
The one moment of breakthrough that I have experienced so far was only a few months ago. In normal consciousness I am here and the world is there, apart from me, surrounding me and so to speak hemming me in, and arousing all sorts of hopes and fears. But as I opened my eyes after perhaps ten minutes of meditating I was suddenly vividly aware of being an integral part of the world, not separate from it, and that that of which I am part is a friendly universe, so that there could be not possibly be anything to fear or worry about. It was the same world, and yet totally transformed, and for a short time – only one or two minutes – I was completely free and completely happy.
I was by myself at the time; but if this new consciousness had continued into daily life I believe that my attitude to others would have been a liberation from self-concern making possible love and compassion for everyone I had to do with.
It did not continue. But (together with earlier moments of theistic experience) it has given me an inkling of the transformed state which the religions each seek in their own way, and confidence to take the risk of belief in the transcendent reality of which they speak, again each in their own way.
Communion: That’s What Prayer Means to Me
by Sri Swami Satchidananda, Founder/Spiritual Head: Integral Yoga International/Yogaville
I would describe prayer as the process of attunement. In prayer we tune or focus our minds to the wavelength that enables us to be in divine communication or communion. I really don’t see any difference between meditation and prayer. Prayer itself is meditation. Meditation is a process. Focusing the entire mind on one point is what you call meditation. So, prayer also is a form of meditation.
I feel that prayer has become a time for asking God for something. In one sense that is okay because you seem to have the faith that when you ask for something from God or from a higher source of consciousness you will be getting it. So that means you must have a lot of faith. Otherwise you won’t pray. If you know somebody is not even capable of giving you something you won’t even go ask something from that person. So first you have the faith that you will receive what you are askingf or. And having that faith is very good. But, I believe that if you are going to ask for something in prayer, you should ask for it by putting your heart and soul into that. When the heart is totally involved in the prayer, then it becomes a kind of meditation—you are focusing the mind and heart on what you want. When prayer is done in a meditative way then both are the same.
I feel that being in silence is also a form of prayer. Because the idea behind prayer or meditation is that we are trying to silence the mind—almost to bypass the mind—and commune in the heart with the Divine. When the mind learns to be really silent, it becomes a beautiful reflector for our inner light. As a steady mirror would show everything that is in front of it clearly, when the mind is undisturbed by thoughts, it becomes still. Then it will show you a clear reflection of your true Self. A calm mind is the main requirement in order for a person to experience the inner Self. This means that when your mind is calm and peaceful, you will be able to see your true nature and to abide in it.
In whatever manner you pray, whether to ask something or to be in communication with the Higher Power, the most important thing is the aspect of communion. In my tradition, we have a Sanskrit term for union or communion and that word is: Yoga. It comes from the root, “yuj” which means “to join together.” Yoga refers to the state of union or communion with God, one’s true Self, or Higher Power. Yoga is also the
name for the pathway—the philosophy and practices—that may be undertaken in order to achieve a state of union or communion. It delineates the conditions necessary to experience inner peace and enlightenment. In the state of Yoga, the body, mind, emotions, soul are all in balance—a state of equanimity.
The Bible talks about this same principle in terms of “purity of heart.” In the Beatitudes, we read: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” So, what is the one quality necessary to enable us to see God? It is purity of heart. Whoever is pure in heart, will see God. It didn’t say that whoever is white, black, short, tall, whoever is an American or British, whoever is rich or poor, whoever is well-educated, whoever built a certain number of churches, printed thousands of scriptures, burned 100 candles every Sunday. It didn’t say anything about all those things. Those are all wonderful things but what is the ultimate requirement to see God? Purity of heart.
I love how Jesus used the word “heart” to speak about the doorway to God. If you say somebody is a kind-hearted person, or a soft-hearted person, you don’t mean that their physical heart is kind or soft. The term, “heart,” stands for both the physical and the subtle—it’s the union of the body and mind. In one word Jesus was telling us two things. Let your physical heart be clean and your mental heart also be clean.
That is the same principle behind Yoga. And that is why I appreciate interfaith prayer so much. It enables us to gain an appreciation for how there is one truth and many paths; that essentially we are all one in spirit. Every year we hold an interfaith prayer service that we call, “The Light Of Truth Universal Service.” Representatives of all the various faiths sit together around one central altar. They each offer prayer on a common theme but in their own tradition. What is always so uplifting and inspiring is to experience our underlying unity, as children of one God—as the beautiful variety of flowers all together in one bouquet.
Whether in prayer, in meditation, or in silence, when you are in communion, you will experience the unity behind all. That is why my motto is, “Truth is One, Paths areMany.” Let’s enjoy the unity in the diversity. God bless you. OM Shanthi.
The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, recently addressed both a Diwali celebration at Alexandra Palace, attended by guests from many faith traditions, and a special Shared Act of Reflection and Commitment, to welcome the year 2000, at the House of Lords, a unique event organised in consultation with the Interfaith Network of the UK.