The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
September 2011 – Vol. 14 Issue 7
During the month of Ramadan, one of the holiest times of the Islamic year, believers neither eat nor drink from sunrise to sunset. At this time of year in Seattle fasting lasts from 4:00 a.m to 8 p.m. (because of differences in the solar and the Islamic lunar calendars, Ramadan falls about eleven days earlier each solar year, and so over about 33 years it circles all through the solar year.) It is also a time for self-reflection, prayer, family and community gatherings, and compassion for the poor and hungry.
Branch members had the opportunity to attend two Iftar dinners this Ramadan. At the first, the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) invited members of the community to break the daily Ramadan fast at their 5th Annual Iftar Dinner on August 17. This was the first year that MAPS could invite the community to their own mosque, a beautiful new community center in Redmond, WA. Hundreds of guests received a welcoming gift and tours of the facility. All present were treated to a recitation from the Koran, a talk on “The Common Good” by former Kirkland mayor Jim Lauinger, a presentation by Alaa Badr explaining similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity, a time for “table discussion” between guests and hosts, a message from Dr. Sanaa Joy Carey on “The Essence of Being Faithful,” and a keynote speech by Hassan Hatem. After evening prayer, tasty foods including dates, olives and an assortment of Indian delicacies were brought to each table to initiate the breaking of the fast. Then all were invited to serve themselves from a bounteous buffet. Sheikh Joban of MAPS wrapped up the evening with his heartfelt remarks. The evening left guests with a sense that MAPS’ new mosque will be a most welcome addition to the community.
On Saturday, August 27, the Acacia Foundation held its 7th Annual Iftar Dinner at the Old Redmond School House: “Following the example of our ancestors, we at the Acacia Foundation invite our neighbors for dinner to break bread with us. Breaking bread together allows us to understand each other and sets a great example for our children to follow and make our future communities a better place to live in. We believe that the Acacia Iftar Dinner tradition has deepened the relationship amongst members of all faiths and none in our communities, and we are hopeful that it will continue to serve as a bridge builder among those who are coming from diverse backgrounds.” After the call to prayer and an appeal to assist famine victims in Somalia, those present enjoyed a buffet of delicious Turkish food while engaging in stimulating conversations with people of many nationalities and ages. After dinner Prof. Turan Kayaoglu spoke about the meaning of Ramadan, followed by brief comments from State Senator Andy Hill and State Representatives Ross Hunter and Roger Goodman, as well as Redmond Police Chief Ron Gibson. More than two hours flew by during this wonderful evening of intercultural and interreligious fellowship.
Even though apparently awake, one is still asleep if one sees multiplicity. Wake up from this dream of ignorance and see the one Self. The Self alone is real.… This world today is, tomorrow is not – empty as a dream, shifting like a circle of fire. There is but one consciousness – pure, transcendental – though it appears as multiple in form. – Srimad Bhagvatam 11:7
Holy Cross Lutheran Church is planning a community celebration Sunday, September 11th, from noon to 5 p.m., marking the church’s 50th anniversary with an old fashioned Country Fair complete with food, fresh apple cider, games, crafts, a pie eating contest, music, and resource booths and displays. Among the resource booths will be an “E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many One” table offering literature from many of the faith traditions followed by Americans today, explaining their beliefs as well as expressing the kinship of human life, in keeping with the host church’s focus on community. Branch members plan to participate. The fair will take place at 4315 129th Place SE, Bellevue, WA, in the orchard at the church.
An exciting addition to the orchard is a basalt rock amphitheater that seats fifty people. Holy Cross teamed with the Pomegranate Center, a nonprofit organization based in Issaquah, WA, that is dedicated to fostering community through the creative process, to turn more than an acre of church property into a public gathering place available for neighborhood use. As Pomegranate founder Milenko Matanovic remarked, “Our purpose is to help communities create gathering places in the outdoors where people have a chance to interact across differences. We find that this pro-motes cohesion, people feel better about one another.” The fair will mark the completion of the amphitheater, a stage and shelters which were built in late August. Preceding the fair at 10:30 a.m., the church will inaugurate the new amphitheater with an ecumenical worship service celebrating creation, gratitude for bountiful harvests, and the community collaboration which in the ten years since the 9/11 tragedies has been redefining our community’s future. For questions about these events, contact Holy Cross at (425) 746-4848.
Interfaith contact necessarily raises the issue of truth in religion. As the Dalai Lama puts it: "Can a single-pointed commitment to one's own faith coexist with acceptance of other religions as legitimate? Is religious pluralism impossible from the perspective of a devout person who is strongly and deeply committed to his or her own faith tradition?" Indeed, "some version of exclusivism – the principle of 'one truth, one religion' – lies at the heart of most of the world's great religions. Furthermore a single-pointed commitment to one's own faith tradition demands the recognition that one's chosen faith represents the highest religious teaching." How can this inherent exclusivity be transcended? In Toward a True Kinship of Faiths the Dalai Lama suggests ways people can appreciate other religions and respect their adherents while still remaining totally committed to their own religious tradition.
As leader of one branch of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama has no interest in the withering away or merging of religions and rejects pluralism based on an ultimate unity of all religions whether pictured as streams flowing into the same sea, paths up the same mountain, or expressions of one underlying theosophy. Recognition of such oneness "demands a precondition that remains impossible for the majority of adherents of the world's great religions. . . True understanding of the 'other' must proceed from a genuine recognition of and respect for the other's reality. It must proceed from a state of mind where the urge to reduce the other into one's own framework is no longer the dominant mode of thinking." (p. 148)
Rejecting both exclusivity and inclusivism, his starting point for respect of other religions is recognition of their benefits to millions of adherents by providing them with ethical guidance, inspiration, meaning and solace. This is a problematic point, since many nonbelievers hold that the harm religions cause believers outweighs their benefits, and religious adherents may feel the same about religions other than their own. This brings us back to the paradox at the heart of interfaith: "Given the need for upholding the perspective of 'many truths, many religions' in the context of wider society, while the dictates of one's own faith demand embracing the 'one truth, one religion' perspective, I believe that a creative approach is called for here – if one wishes to uphold both of these perspectives with integrity." (p. 160) Such an approach not only recognizes the benefits to believers of other religions, but that the doctrinal teachings, though unbridgeably different, inform each religion's ethical way of life: "The doctrines themselves cannot be reconciled, but the way they make it possible to ground strikingly parallel and praiseworthy ethical systems is a wonderful fact." (p. 161) And while religions can be divisive, they can also motivate people to make great personal changes and sacrifices since they reach a deeper emotional level than most other institutions. Thus they offer an opportunity to bring about peaceful, compassionate, earth-friendly behavior on a large scale if they can work together for the good of mankind.
Because recognizing and celebrating differences is key, the first section of the book examines several religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam – by recounting the author’s experiences with each faith and its exponents. In this way he provides examples of how to gradually become familiar with other faiths and come to genuinely appreciate aspects of them, while still being firmly committed to one’s own spiritual path. For those not familiar with these faiths, these sketches provide an introduction to some of their basic beliefs and practices.
In the end the Dalai Lama asks people to "return to our basic human quality of empathy and good heart, " the quality that underlies all ethical teachings, religious or secular: "On that level, all differences break down. Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or nonbelieving, man or woman, black, white, or brown, we are all the same. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are all equal. We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and love. We all aspire to happiness and we all shun suffering. Each of us has hopes, worries, fears, and dreams. Each of us wants the best for our family and loved ones. We all experience pain when we suffer loss and joy when we achieve what we seek. On this fundamental level, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language make no difference. Today's great challenge of peaceful coexistence demands that we remain in touch with this basic part of our nature." (p. 180) By moving our focus to our own and every other person’s humanity, we can come to appreciate differences and emphasize meeting our common needs. In this way people can create paths to peace and well-being for all, and religion can become a positive force in this process.