The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
March 2014 – Vol. 17 Issue 1
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all in-directly…. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.” – M. L. King, Jr.
On February 23 the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community sponsored One Human Race, an interfaith event at Garfield Community Center in Seattle. Speakers included Dr. Michael Trice of Seattle University, Congressman Adam Smith, the Rev. Aaron Williams of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Seattle, Lama Tulku Yeshi of Seattle’s Azkya Monastery, Rabbi Jim Mirel of Temple B’nai Torah of Bellevue, Harjinder Sandhu of Gurudwara Singh Sabha of Washington, and Imam Azhar Hanif, National Vice-President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. We only have space to share a few highlights.
Rev Williams opened with words of W. E. B. Du Bois: “I believe in God who made of one blood all races that dwell on earth. I believe that all men … are brothers, varying, through Time and Opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and in the possibility of infinite development.” The Bible speaks of the human race coming from a single pair. As Clement of Alexandria wrote: “the same nature exists in every race, and the same virtue. As far as respects human nature, the woman does not possess one nature, and the man exhibit another, but the same: so also with virtue.” Human identity does not lie in superficial differences of language, color, ethnicity, or biology; its reality is identified by one love. Culture is often predicated on race, and children are socialized to treasure their differences as superiorities. Such teaching conflicts with one’s human identity. We need to be human first.
Rabbi Mirel referred to the January 14, 1963 gathering on Religion and Race, where Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said: “At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. Moses’ words were: ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, let My people go . . .’. While Pharaoh retorted: ‘Who is the Lord, that I should heed this voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover I will not let Israel go.’ The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The exodus began, but is far from having been completed. … Let us yield no inch to bigotry, let us make no compromise with callousness. … Perhaps this Conference should have been called ‘Religion or Race.’ You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.” The center of the Jewish religion is that we are the children of one God. Each person represents a unique genome, but race does not exist as a scientific construct today – earlier theories of race that sought to justify as biological and innate one group’s superiority or dominance over others have been thoroughly debunked – but racism is very real because we all do not live up to the ideals of our faiths. The Holocaust came because Nazis denied the humanity of Jews; today wearing a Sikh outfit can bring on violence and prejudice. The solution doesn’t lie in becoming the same but in respecting differences of faith, color, and practice. As Jacob said to his brother and former enemy Esau, “When I see your face, it’s like seeing the face of God.” We each should say this to every other human being.
Mr. Sandhu pointed out that the unity of humankind is the core of the Sikh faith. Guru Nanak, Sikhism’s founder, confronted the racism of the Punjab of the 1400s: the caste system and the denigration of women. Caste is still influential in South Asia, though it is now illegal, and mistreatment of women, religious conflict, distrust, hatred, and violence exist around the world. Sikhs hold that there is one God who is not physical or a person, but formless, and who exists within every creature. Religion is a veil over our inner humanity. Asked who was better, Hindu or Muslim, Guru Nanak replied: those who do good, compassionate actions are greater. Superficial distinctions disappear at death, even religion is washed away, and all that is left are our actions. The Sikh’s Golden Temple was build with doors facing the four directions to symbolize that it was open to all. Still today, no one can be turned away from Sikh worship or the following meal. To think we are special, focusing on our differences and setting ourselves apart, corrupts our humanity. We are each special only as a single piece in the mosaic of humanity. All have different practices but pursue one truth. Only those whose lives are filled with love are able to find God.
Imam Hanif brought up the African concept of ubuntu, “I am because we are,” meaning we are all interconnected. Studies show that all humans share more than 99% of their DNA, so the greatest differences are those in our minds. By being god-conscious we can rise above superficial differences and realize we are one human family. Afterwards there was conversation over refreshments. The Ahmadiyyas sponsor these events to support their creed of love for all, hatred to none. They reject terrorism and violent jihad, support the separation of mosque and state, work for universal human rights, and provide disaster relief around the globe.
In Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change (2012) Buddhist Pema Chödrön offers inspiring, down-to-earth advice for those of any or no religion on dealing constructively with the human condition. The book centers on three traditional Buddhist vows – to do no harm, to do good, and to see the world as it is – which aren’t about being moral but “about opening ourselves to a vaster perspective and changing at the core.” To make this change we need to be honest and kind with ourselves while confronting our mental and emotional habits: “Buddhism holds that the true nature of the mind is as vast as the sky and that thoughts and emotions are like clouds that, from our vantage point, obscure it…. The thoughts and emotions may make it difficult for us to contact the openness of our minds, but they’re like old friends who have accompanied us for as long as we can remember, and we’re very resistant to saying good-bye” to them. Together, the three vows help people contact their vaster self and its fundamental goodness.
The first vow, to do no harm, involves refraining from (not repressing or denying) particular harmful actions, but Pema explores a more profound aspect: “The commitment is to refrain from speech and action that would be harmful to others and then to make friends with the underlying feelings that motivate us to do harm in the first place.” To control speech and actions we must be aware of the thoughts and feelings behind them. Meditation and other mindfulness practices keep awareness in the present moment and let us observe our thoughts and feelings without identifying with them. Practicing letting go of the mind’s contents when calm helps later in upsetting situations. Neurologically emotions last only about ninety seconds; when they last longer we are re-energizing them with our thoughts about what happened. With mindfulness we can learn to stop feeding these feelings.
The second vow, to do good, puts us on the bodhisattva or warrior path, which requires the cultivation of courage, empathy and love. Consciously opening up to the world’s pain – the pain of those we like, those we don’t like, and those we don’t notice or will never meet – in order to relieve it requires strength, fearlessness and determination: “Compassion is threatening to the ego. We might think of it as something warm and soothing, but actually it’s very raw. When we set out to support other beings, when we go so far as to stand in their shoes, when we aspire to never close down to anyone, we quickly find ourselves in the uncomfortable territory of ‘life not on my terms’.” Compassion isn’t the strong pitying or supporting the weak, but a relationship of mutual support between equals.
The practice offered for this vow is breathing in the pain of others and then breathing out relief. This counteracts the human tendency to take in relief and give out or reject pain. The author also suggests that when we realize we’ve closed down or are beginning to lose it, we come back into the present, getting in touch with our body, mind and feelings; feel our heart, “literally placing your hand on your chest if you find that helpful,” accepting yourself as you are right then; and then “go into the next moment without any agenda,” opening to the person or situation in front of you and dropping the storyline you were telling yourself about it.
The third vow, to embrace the world just as it is, means “to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws and centralizes into oneself…. being completely present and open to all sights, all sounds, all thoughts – never withdrawing, never hiding, never needing to jazz them up or tone them down.” As we become less self-absorbed, less attached to a vision of who we are, and less controlled by our fearful ego, we begin to see our opinions and vision of things as simply our opinions and visions. Instead of dread or a need to control, we develop curiosity.
Everyone is bound to break the three vows over and over. Each time we do, we start again from wherever we are and reaffirm the vow. “Together, the three commitments form the education of the warrior. On the warrior path, we train in never turning away from our experience. And when we do turn away, it’s based on being able to discriminate between turning away because we know we can’t handle something at the moment and turning away because we don’t want to feel what we’re feeling, don’t want to feel our vulnerability. But we don’t develop this discrimination all at once. We get there inch by inch, moment by moment, step by step, working with our heart and mind.” This book is an excellent aid on this path to becoming more fully human.