October 2003

» Sustainability, Spirituality, and Service - P. Kumar Metha 

» Harnessing the Power of the Human Spirit for Peace in the Middle East - Eliyahu McLean

» Human Spirit as an Instrument of Peace - Swami Prabuddhananda

» Bouquet of Fragrant Flowers

» Peace According to Jainism - Sadhavi Shilapaji 

» Science and Spirituality - Satish Kumar

Sustainability, Spirituality, and Service

Kumar Mehta

Globalization of the world and easy access to public information has created a growing awareness that our way of life is not sustainable. In this context, let us take a quick look at our economic, industrial, cultural, political, and social institutions.

Engines of our "Green" revolution and industrial revolution are powered by fossil fuels, the combustion of which has pushed the environmental loading of carbon emissions to a level that is already causing a change in the global climate. Washington's World Watch Institute has recently issued reports documenting that during the last two decades severe natural disasters in many parts of the world have increased six-fold. The frequency and severity of rainstorms, hurricanes, cyclones, and droughts have caused staggering losses of life and property in China, India, Honduras, and Venezuela. This summer over 20,000 deaths occurred in Europe due to heat. In spite of overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming, in the United States, which is responsible for 25% of the worlds?carbon emissions, we continue to run our business enterprises for short-term profit alone, with no attention to environmental and other consequences of our activity. Is this sustainable?

Economies based on unrestricted consumerism and waste has spawned a culture that is devoid of ethics and values. Selfishness and greed are eroding our social and political institutions. Every country seems to be divided into two worlds existing side by side  the first world enjoys a high standard of living and the second world cannot even afford basic human needs. Less than one billion people belong to the first world; more than five billion belong to the second. How long, with brute force, will a small minority deny social justice to the vast majority, is another question for our unsustainable way of life.

I believe that a sustainable future can emerge from our present unsustainable condition if we pay attention to our spiritual traditions, and practice the essential spiritual truths in everyday living. What are these essential spiritual truths? First, divine spirit and human spirit are not different. The Bible says that man is created in the image of God. Vedanta (Hinduism) says that both divine spirit and human spirit are characterized by peace, love, and oneness. According to Swami Prabuddhananda, it is all a question of developing our spiritual insight; the more our insight develops, the more we realize our inter-relatedness and interdependence. This is where the second spiritual tenant, Ahimsa, kicks in. Among other religious teachers, Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavir (the founder of Jain faith) preached the doctrine of Ahimsa ?do not harm anyone by thoughts or by action, and love all unconditionally. Another beautiful spiritual tenant of Jainism is Anekantavad, which says that there can be multiple expressions of the truth. Therefore, according to Sadhvi Shilapiji, we must be tolerant of others?viewpoints.

Spiritual beliefs by themselves cannot save us. For sustainability, we must incorporate them in daily practice. Find any corner of the globe that is suffering from environmental pollution and see how you can bring about healing. Find any group of people who have been marginalized by human greed or victimized by human prejudice, and learn how to serve them. Use the power of the spirit to serve the spirit present in humankind and other parts of nature. And plunging into selfless service of the global community, as shown by Eliyahu McLean, is an excellent example of how the power of the human spirit can heal deep wounds.

This young man from San Francisco, who now lives in Israel, directs Ruach Shalom (Spirit of Peace), which has launched peace vigils and reconciliation camps where thousands of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze are coming together in the spirit of peace. Three basic tenants of Ruach Shalom are  do not be attached to a fixed point of view, just bear witness, and take loving action. According to Eliyahu, these three spiritual tenants are derived from the mystic traditions of Islam and Judaism. I see a striking similarity between the Middle Eastern religious tenants and the South Asian tenants of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Don't you?

In conclusion, unsustainability of our society and, in fact, even life on earth, is a global issue that requires a global solution. Discovering and integrating universal spiritual truths into everyday life, is the only way out. Globalization should no longer be used for global exploitation but an opportunity for selfless service to build peaceful, and prosperous communities.

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Harnessing the Power of the Human Spirit for Peace in the Middle East

Eliyahu McLean

I have now lived for the last seven years in Jerusalem. I work with an organization called Ruach Shalom which means spirit of peace. The Jewish mysticism that pushes one toward the path of peace and reconciliation has many references, in the Bible, the Talmud, and in the Kabala. The word shalom, which is the word for peace in Hebrew, has different levels of meaning. To become whole in oneself, is shalem, and shlemootz, which is wholeness, comes from the word shalom. The peace tradition goes back to the time of the Prophets, especially the Prophet Isaiah. And it is the wisdom of the Prophets that we encounter as we embark in spiritual peacemaking in the Holy Land.

My own story started here in California as a young college activist here on the Berkeley campus. I was active in pro-Israel and Israel-related activities with the Israel Action Committee. Once I took a class on "Palestine", and for the first time I heard the Palestinians' side of narrative of the Holy Land. I went to Israel in '90-'91, on the education abroad program of the Berkeley campus, and I attended the Bethlehem University. On my return to the Berkeley campus, instead of getting involved in pro-Israel and pro-Palestine activities, I started bridge-building activities between the two communities. And in 1997, I went to live in Galilee in a Muslim city called Tamra. I was the only observant Jew living in a city of 20,000 Muslims. I was working in the community center in Tamra, on projects to bring children together from western Galilee cities. Arab, Muslim, Christian and Jewish. People came to know that my name was Eliyahu, and everyday they kept asking me, "Do you know someone by the name Abu Eliyahu?" I said, "I don't know, I haven't met the guy, I don't know who he is, stop asking." Note that "Abu" means "Father of." I was there for three months, and finally, the day before I was about to leave Tamra, I got a tap on my shoulder at a vegetable stand near the entrance to Tamra, and who was there but none other than Abu Eliyahu. I said, "Abu Eliyahu! You've found me! How did you know? And how did you get the name "Abu Eliyahu"?

Abu Eliyahu is a Muslim, Palestinian Israeli, but an Arab farmer. Well, in Arab culture, a father is named after the eldest of his first-born son. So he said, "I have had five daughters and finally I had a son, and I named my son al-Hadr. Al-Hadr means, "The green one", and is the equivalent to Elijah the Prophet in Islamic tradition." And so he said, "Your name is Eliyahu which is Elijah so I'm going to name you now, al-Hadr." My Arabic name by which my Palestinian friends call me is father of al-Hadr or father of Eliyahu — Abu Eliyahu, and that name has stuck with me." And so this Arab farmer named Abu Eliyahu started to introduce me to all the other farmers, and pointing to me he said, "This is Eliyahu. And I'm Abu Eliyahu, therefore, this man is my son." So, I became known as Eliyahu ibn Abu Eliyahu: Eliyahu the son of the father of Eliyahu. And he took me into his house, and he said: "You know what? It doesn't matter to me if you're Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist. What matters is that you have kalb-abyat - a pure heart. And that is the true religion. And that religion is transcendent of all differences, especially in this country that is so particular about national identification.

After I left Tamra, I went to study in an Orthodox Yeshiva, at a place called Mount Zion in Jerusalem. I was spending Shabbat with a Hassid- a religious man from Alabama with a long red beard. We were singing songs together, and I said, "Where can I find the Sufis?" And he said, "Hey brother, have I got a Sufi for you!" So he brought me to the home of a Sufi Sheikh. And how did he get to know this Sufi Sheikh? When he was working as a truck drive, everyone in his company was invited to deliver a truckload of concrete to a West Bank Palestinian village. But all were deathly afraid to go, because they said: "If we go, we'll never make it out alive." But he said, "I'll go. We need to make peace with our cousins, the Ishmaelites." And he went and he poured concrete in none other than the mosque of a Sufi Sheikh, Abu Sarech. He brought me to visit this Sheikh, and the Sheikh came out and gave me ten kisses and a big hug. Then the Sheikh's son came out, and gave me ten kisses on the lips. And his son Yacub is like a brother to me till this very day. I spent three days in the Sheikh's house, and we laughed together, we did prayers together- Jewish and Muslim prayers, and after three days, I said: "I probably have to go back to Jerusalem." He said, "Any time you want to bring anyone over to my home, they are most welcome."

There was a group of American Jews and Christians on the "compassionate listening tour" of the Holy Land, to listen to both Israelis and Palestinians who have suffered. So I brought that group over to the Sheikh's house. And the Sheikh said, "Let me tell you a story. Ten years ago, I was at the tomb of the Prophet Moses." That's a place called nabi Musa. It's halfway between Jericho and Jerusalem. According to Jewish tradition, we don't know where he's buried, but in the Muslim tradition, it is believed that is the tomb of Moses. And so the Sheikh was in prayer at the tomb of Moses, and he had a revelation from Prophet Moses that many Jews and Christians would be coming to his house. At the time, the only Jews that he knew were soldiers at roadblocks. So that he thought, "This must be the sheitan, the deceiving voice of Allah. And he thought it was a lie; it couldn't be true. And so ten years later, I brought this group of Jews and Christians to listen to his wisdom and advice. As he was telling the story of his experience, all of a sudden he realized that this was a manifestation of that vision that he had, and he burst out in tears. And just then, the whole group went up to embrace the Sheikh, and many of them were crying also, and it was a very powerful and beautiful moment. And from that moment forward, I became the Sheikh's booking agent, to bring him to meet with many other peacemakers.

At the same time I met the Sheikh, I also happened to meet a very radical Rabbi. Not only does this Rabbi- his name is Rabbi Frohman- live in a West Bank settlement called Ta'coah near Bethlehem, he is also one of the founders of Gush Ebonim, the West Bank Settler Movement. Well, this Rabbi turned out to be one of the most unlikely peace activists and peacemakers in the Holy Land, and one of my inspirations because he has been meeting with many of the Muslim leaders, including the Hamas Sheikhs. For the last fifteen years, he has also been working with the Muslim and the Christian mystics to try to find a spiritual definition of the land, one that even the settlers and the Muslim militants could agree upon. So when I introduced him to the Sufi Sheikh, they became like twin brothers, and instantly developed a bond. And, just about a month ago, I was at the wedding of the son of Rabbi Frohman, and the Sheikh came and in front of a lot of the settlers he gave a blessing and joined them in dancing in a circle.

The Rabbi also introduced me to another very unique Sheikh, named Sheikh Talal Sidr from the city of Hebron. Sheikh Talal Sidr was once an activist in Hamas, the Muslim radical movement, and through the love of this Rabbi had a transformation of the heart. And now, the two of them, the Hamas Sheikh and the Settler Rabbi, are now working together, for peace and reconciliation. This Sheikh is an advisor to Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Cabinet on inter-religious affairs. When they get together, they're trying to redefine the whole way that we look at the Holy Land, in spiritual terms, and to bring a spiritual understanding of Middle Eastern tradition to serve as a bridge between the different communities. For example: When I'm with my Palestinian activist friends in the West Bank, if I define the land in a political definition by saying Zionist National Movement... all of a sudden, the blood pressure will start to rise. And when I'm with some of my Israeli friends, all I have to say do is say: Palestinian National Movement... all of a sudden, the energy rises in the room, because I'm defining the land in a political way. And then, when I come to either side, if I come to a Palestinian and say (in Arabic): "We are all the children of Abraham in the land of the Prophets, in the land of peace," then all of a sudden, the pressure goes down. And the same, if I go to a religious Jew, and say, "We are all children of Abraham, the children of Adam and Eve, in the Holy Land." This is a religious tradition, in both Arabic and Hebrew that is actually a bridge between the two communities. Even when you come to some of the controversial issues - and one of the main issues was, what to do with the Al-Aqsa mosque, which is the third holiest place to Islam, and the Temple Mount, har ha-bait, holiest place to the Jewish people. So, Rabbi Froman and the Sheikh Talal Sidr had a plan to redefine the Temple Mount, not as Israeli sovereignty with an Israeli flag, or Palestinian sovereignty, but to have divine sovereignty. And all of a sudden, the religious people suddenly motivated on both sides could agree, one hundred percent: let's have God be in charge. And not just an Israeli or a Palestinian flag.

When the intifada violence broke out three years ago, a group of us, spiritually - oriented peace activists, decided that we had to do something positive to respond. We decided to hold a fast and prayer vigil, the very first week. So we chose to meet in a small tourist spot, overlooking the Western Wall and al-Aqsa mosque; it's in the Jewish quarter on the border of the Muslim quarter, right in the heart of the old city. We went there, we slept there, fasted, and formed a circle of prayer and meditation. We based our vigil on several principles that we follow in Ruach Shalom (Spirit of peace organization that I work with). The first, we call not knowing. One of the problems in the Middle East, maybe this is a problem everywhere, is that everybody, "knows." Everybody knows to such an extent that we're not willing to listen to anyone else who has another viewpoint or perspective. Liberal Orthodox Rabbi, David Hartman, calls Israel: "tyranny of certitudes." Everyone is so certain, that sometimes we need to just give up our concept of what is the one true and right way to make room for something else to emerge. So we went there with a perspective of not knowing. The second tenant is called bearing witness. Sometimes, when we don't know how to change a situation, a powerful thing is to go to a place like that, and just to bear witness. Just to be present, to be conscious, to be mindful, and just to bear witness. And the third tenant, we call loving action. From that place of not knowing and bearing witness, we take some sort of action but coming from a place of love. So we went into the Old City and formed a circle of Arab and Jewish activists, and one by one, many Palestinians from the Old City joined our circle. And they sat down and they shared their fears, and they said: "You know what? We want this prayer to succeed because we want to be able to have freedom of movement from east and west Jerusalem. We don't want to have any roadblocks or barriers." And then, with the power of spirit that we were holding there, some Israeli soldiers also joined our circle, and they said: "We, more than anybody, want your prayers for peace to succeed, because we don't want to be here, in the role of a soldier. I would rather be at home with my family. I don't want to be here in this role, wearing this outfit. This is not what I want to be doing in life." On a Friday, known as, "Day of Rage," because we knew there were going to be clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli security forces, exactly at 12:20pm when the Friday prayer ended at the al-Aqsa Mosque, we could hear a roar from thousands of people starting to demonstrate near al-Aqsa Mosque - Temple Mount. And we could also see Israeli soldiers starting to go in. We formed our circle and held hands engaging in deep prayer, to create a space of consciousness and stillness within that situation. Now, the tourist overlook where we were standing and holding our prayer vigil, filled with people who rushed forward to see what was going on. And the police came, out of concern for people's safety and said: "Everyone must leave! Everyone must leave now." And the policewoman sergeant pushed everyone away and then she pointed to us and said: "Everyone has to leave now. Everyone except for them. They can stay." She said, "Who knows? Maybe what they're doing can help." Is that not the power of human spirit? It was a very powerful moment. We found out that day that no one was killed. Every Friday for the last three years, we have held an interfaith prayer vigil, called the Old City Peace Vigil, at that same spot. That is one of the activities that we are regularly engaged in, in Jerusalem. Another is, what we're trying to do is tap into traditional Middle Eastern forms of reconciliation, to bring together different communities. There is an ancient ritual in the Middle East, called sulha. Sulha means forgiveness. Sulha is related to the Hebrew word slicha, or mechila, meaning forgiveness. We have a ritual in Jewish tradition around the time of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, to seek out people that we have wronged, to seek mechila, to seek forgiveness.

In sulha ritual, the mukhtar, or the mutally respected middle person will invite members of two feuding clans over for a cup of coffee. And, in the Middle East, if you're invited for a cup of coffee, you have to accept it even if it is from your own worst enemy. So, the two sides come together, and the member of the first tribe will offer the guy of the second one a cup of coffee. And the second one will take the first cup of coffee, to show "I'm willing to show you a measure of dignity and respect. But I have no further obligations. All I have to do is take one cup of coffee and I can take off and leave and I've not humiliated you, because the key aspect is that both sides have to feel a measure of dignity and honor and not feel humiliated." So if he drinks the first cup of coffee and stays, then a second cup of coffee is offered. And then if the second person drinks the second cup of coffee, he's saying without words, "Not only did I have one cup of coffee, I had two cups of coffee, and I'm giving you all the honor that I possibly could. I can drink this and I can leave, and I've given you all the possible honor that you could ever ask for." And then if he stays, then usually a third cup of coffee is offered. So if the third cup of coffee is drunk, then that's an unspoken signal as saying: "I am ready, in the name of my tribe, to make sulha with you, to make a reconciliation with you." And the two sides will then engage in a negotiation, where they'll say, "Okay, your third cousin was killed: I have five camels, is that good compensation, five camels and two donkeys only" "Okay." And then, each side has experienced a sense of loss, so at the end of day, there was fairness and justice done without the use of courts or the legal system. And at the end of the evening there has to be a handshake, because if I want to make peace with you, but I'm not ready to touch you, have I made peace? No, there has to be a physical embrace, and a handshake. And then after the handshake, the two sides come together for a hafla, a celebration. A huge celebration with food, and dancing- and that's newfound healing. Now this is a traditional ritual that I share with you that was usually practiced in Arab towns and cities and it's an ancient ritual that actually predates Islam and Christianity.

What we're trying to do is to take the principle of sulha, and to bring sulha on a national level. Let's make sulha not just between two families, but between the family of Abraham. Let's bring a national level sulha. Now, there are actually several steps that come before sulha, the first one is atwa, which is acknowledgement. And hudna- now Rabbi Froman, the Rabbi I mentioned to you earlier, was actually visiting the Sheikh of Hamas while he was in Israeli jail, and talking with him about the principle of hudna. If any of you read the news now about the Middle East, you will know that there is a cease-fire between the Israeli army and the Palestinian organizations. And that every cease-fire that was tried by the western political establishment never worked. But when you are basing it on the principle of hudna, which is what I like to call hudna and sulha as the indigenous Middle Eastern peace wisdom rooted in the traditional way of doing things; all of a sudden you're speaking in a language, that speaks to both the "primitive"minded Jews and the "primitive" Muslims and you are speaking to everyone's deepest experiences. And so the first sulha gathering that we had was a year and a half ago, we brought together 150 Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze. And we had a talking circle. And we had an olive branch as our talking piece. And everyone, from old men to little children, everyone got to speak from the heart. And at the end of the evening, we the Jewish community, prepared the Ramadan feast for the Muslims. And then the Christians, Muslims and Druze lit the Hanukkah candles, because it fell on Hanukkah. It was such a feeling of unity and celebration. So the first sulha of 150 people, grew to 600 people last summer, and just a month ago we had a sulha gathering in the Druze village of Maghar in the southern Galilee, with 1500 people, and it's just growing and growing. And this time we brought a Zulu chief from South Africa, and a Lama from the Tibetan parliament in exile from Dharamsala, and a Sufi Sheikh from Senegal, all the way over to the Holy Land to meet with the Rabbis and the Sheikhs and the Christians and the Druze. Next summer we're planning a three-day sulha and, in 2005, we hope to have a two-week caravan traveling with camels and donkeys to different spots in the Holy Land where there is tension between the cousins - the Arabs and the Jews.

If you look at the word shalom, it is one of the divine names of God in Hebrew. Shalom also means peace, therefore if you do not believe in peace, then you are actually denying that there is a divinity.

Salaam is one of the 99 names of Allah in the Islamic tradition. So what we're trying to do is to tap into the very roots of the Middle Eastern traditions for peace. My spiritual teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Kalibach, taught me one of the key principles that I use in my work for peace in Jerusalem, and that is called, holy hutzpah. If you don't know what hutzpah means, it means audacity. He says, "Okay, you know it takes a little bit of hutzpah to hurt, or wound, or kill another human being in the name of God, or in the name of land." Can't we have a little hutzpah, call it holy hutzpah, to also believe that peace is possible? In that land, we have two peoples: the Jewish people have 2,000 years of persecution, and the Palestinian people have been displaced from their homeland. We have two deeply wounded people in the same land, and we can't just try to apply rational solutions, we have to go to a much deeper heart level, so that we can come back and weave a "shared narrative" of that land.

-Eliyahu McLean is the Interfaith Director of Ruach Shalom, Peacemaker Community, Israel. Ashley Burns prepared the text for this article from a taped transcript of the talk.

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Human Spirit as an Instrument for Peace

Swami Prabuddhananda

The human spirit and divine spirit are not different. The human spirit in its true sense is divine spirit only. It is all peace. But when it expresses through the prism of the mind, it appears as human with different levels of manifestation. It is similar to white light; while passing through a prism the light scatters itself into different colors.

According to Vedanta, the power of the spirit expresses through three kinds of mental attributes  sattva, rajas, and tamas. At the crudest level it is tamasic, which is characterized by cruelty, indolence, dullness, delusion, miscomprehension, etc. The next level is rajasic  intense activity. In this state a person is driven  full of passion, attachment, and activity. In day-to-day life, the mind of most people is predominately under the influence of these two levels or qualities, tamas and rajas. These qualities are the cause of restless, thoughtless, impulsive activity that goes on in the world. Peace, which is our innate nature, is disturbed by these influences. Quarrels and wars resulting from political and economic dominance of one country over another, and racial and religious differences come under this category.

There is a third level of manifestation of the human spirit where the mind is luminous, healthy, and radiates peace. The effort of all goodhearted and thinking people is to increase the function of the mind at this level. This is sattva quality, which is the basis of moral and spiritual life. Broadly speaking, it is the cultivation and manifestation of this sattva quality, which is essential for the human spirit to serve as an instrument for peace.

What are the tools at the disposal of a person who is under the influence of sattva?

Right understanding: We are endowed with the faculty of discrimination, i.e., the ability to distinguish right from wrong, permanent from impermanent, good from evil, truth from untruth, etc. This brings right knowledge, or wisdom that always throws more light and helps remove prejudice, fanaticism, and misconceptions. It also broadens one's mental horizons through increased awareness. Knowledge which reveals truth is "Strengthening, invigorating, and enlightening."

Empathy: Another innate quality is empathy, or love. Empathy is an "Understanding so intimate that the feelings, thoughts, and motives of one are readily comprehended by another." That is, genuinely feeling for other's needs, trying to see events, problems, situations from other perspectives than one's own. Empathy helps to sublimate selfishness. "I" broadens to "We". Love expands our consciousness. Thought and action should be based on bahujana hitaya, bahujana sukhaya: "For the good of many and the happiness of many."

Freedom: This is the ideal of a spiritual seeker. To be free and allow others to be free. Swami Vivekananda said, "Freedom is the one goal of all nature, sentient or insentient; and consciously or unconsciously, everything is struggling towards that goal." We may seek peace and harmony for ourselves and our communities, but our peace should not come in the way of others seeking peace for themselves. Our peace should not create disharmony for others or within the society. Lord Buddha advises us to always act in a way that does not impinge upon the freedom of others. Our actions should allow the largest number of people to attain the greatest amount of happiness. Act according to dharma always with due consideration of others.

Nonattachment: Dispassion is also required as an instrument for peace. Stand back, be a witness, see the world as it is. There will always be differences at all levels from interpersonal to international, that's the nature of the world. We have to coexist because we are not isolated individuals. We have to agree to disagree.?But to do this peacefully, we have to be nonattached; otherwise we are thrown into a whirlpool of negative emotions and reactions. Don't be fanatical in the name of peace. Sri Krishna says even for the performance of prescribed duties nonattachment is required.

Oneness of the Spirit: Human spirit, which is none other than divine spirit, is characterized by peace, goodness, and oneness. I am one with my fellow beings. We are all connected. The more our insight develops, the more we recognize our interrelatedness. Imagine a traffic jam on the Bay Bridge  thousands of cars stopped. Only one car had a flat tire and that affected all the others. To live harmoniously with others without fear, first we have to be secure and at peace within ourselves. How can we bring peace between people, if we are divided within our own selves? To have inner peace, we have to be willing to pay the price. All religions prescribe certain practices such as meditation, prayer, selfless service, scriptural study, etc., for attaining inner peace. The main goal of all these practices is to become more aware of our true nature by shifting our attention to something larger and more comprehensive. The more we think of others, the less we think about ourselves. We have to have genuine respect for others and seek the common ground between ourselves.

When this insight deepens, we will see that we are one; this is where real peace begins. Behind everything the same divinity exists, and out of this comes the basis of morality. Do not injure one another. Love everyone as your own-self. Because the whole universe is one, in injuring another, I am injuring myself; in loving another, I am loving myself. The oneness of the human spirit is the essence of religion. Call that oneness God or by any other name, this is the truth and that's our only hope if we want to live together peacefully.

-Swami Prabuddhananda is Head of the Vedanta Society of Northern California. He is also a Founding Member of the AHIMSA Advisary Board.

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Bouquet of Fragrant Flowers

"Few will have the greatness to bend history;

but each of us can work to change a small portion

of events, and in the total of all those acts

will be written the history of this generationÖ

It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief

that human history is thus shaped.

Each time a man stands up for an ideal,

or acts to improve the lot of others,

or strikes out against injustice,

he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope,

and crossing each other

from a million different centers of energy and daring,

those ripples build a current

which can sweep down

the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

-- Robert F. Kennedy

All things in nature work silently.

They come into being and possess nothing.

They fulfill their functions and make no claim.

-- Lao Tzu

I slept and dreamt that life was joy,

I awoke and saw that life was service,

I acted and behold, service was joy!

-- Rabindranath Tagore

The purpose of life is not to win. The purpose of life is to grow and share. When you come to look back on all that you have done in life, you will get more satisfaction from the pleasure you have brought into other people's lives than you will from the times that you outdid and defeated them.

-- Rabbi Harold Kushner

A distinctive tenant of Vedanta is  realize your true self. That is all there is to do in religion. Know yourself as you are, infinite spirit. This is practical religion. Everything else is unimportant, for everything else will vanish?

Another distinctive feature of Vedanta is that we must allow infinite variation in religious thoughts and not try to bring everyone to the same opinion, for the god is same for all. "As many rivers at last flow into the ocean, so all these various creeds and religions, running through many courses, at last come into thee, O Lord"is a Vedic prayer.

The world is one. We are absolutely one. We are physically one, we are mentally one, and if we believe in spirit, it goes without saying that we are one as spirit. This oneness is the great fact being proved everyday by modern science.

-- Swami Vivekananda

There is only one religion, the religion of Love;

There is only one language, the language of Heart;

There is only one caste, the caste of Humanity;

There is only one law, the Law of Karma;

There is only one God, He is Omnipresent.

--Satya Sai Babat

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Peace According to Jainism

Sadhvi Shilapaji

I would like to take you back 2,500 years. Can you imagine a man, like you and I, who manifested such peace and love in his life that all kinds of animals felt at home with him? Can you imagine a man that loved everybody, whosoever came into his contact? Can you imagine a man, who could love the company of every plant, and every person in nature? He manifested just love, love and love. The day he renounced the world, he had only one piece of cloth on his body. He was walking along and suddenly his piece of cloth got entangled with a small shrub. He stood there for a minute, and said to himself, “If I just snatch it out, it might hurt the little shrub. I can do without clothes. I can leave it here, and I can just go without any possession in my life.” This is the man called, Tirthankar or Prophet Mahavir - an absolute embodiment of love, peace, and compassion. When he realized the final truth, thousands and thousands gathered around him and asked him, “What you have achieved in your life- the peace and love- could we also attain that?” Prophet Mahavir said, “Yes. We all have tremendous capacity of attaining peace, infinite peace, and infinite love. Because that is our innate nature, and we are born on this earth to experience this infinite peace and infinite love.” When people asked him, “Is it very hard to attain that?” He said, “No. It is not very hard to attain that, if you are determined.”

When he was asked, “What is religion? What is spirituality?” He didn’t talk about any religion, or about Jainism in particular. He said, “Religion and spirituality is nothing but your own basic nature.” His disciples asked him, “What is our basic nature?” He said, “I don’t need to answer that. You already know the answer.” And then he gave an example: “If you are in anger, if you are in jealousy, if you are in excitement, if you are in depression, how long can you remain in that state of mind?” They said, “Not very long; we always want to come back to our state of peace when we are in anger.” So, he said, “Peace and love: this is your basic nature, this is your fundamental nature. Whatever we do with any form of religion, or any form of spirituality, is to bring ourselves near to our own nature.” When we pray or meditate in a church or in a mosque, or a Buddhist monastery - the idea is to bring us as near as we can to our own basic nature. And then they asked, “How do we do it? We all know that we have this. We all know that we would like to practice this. We all know we would like to experience that, but what do we do?” And he said, “Follow three very simple rules in your life. The first rule is Ahimsa, or non-violence. Non-violence has two meanings. One is don’t kill or hurt people. And the other is, love people unconditionally.

And Lord Mahavir presented a very beautiful example of love from his life. There was a thirty-year-old man, his name was Sangam. Somehow, he was not happy with Lord Mahavir and his theories, and therefore he started harassing him. According to the story, Sangam really gave a hard time to Lord Mahavir, and pestered him for six months. He did all kinds of things to upset him, but the prophet of love and peace, was not disturbed. His equanimity and tremendous affection for Sangam was not diminished. After six months, Sangam realized that he was wrong, and that Lord Mahavir was a real prophet of peace. So he went to see him and confessed his error. Sangum saw tears in the eyes of Lord Mahavir, and asked. “Why are you crying? I gave you a hard time for six months but you were not disturbed at all! And today when I am repenting, I see tears in your eyes. Why?” Lord Mahavir said, “Look, Sangum. I believe in the cause and effect theory. What you bring to me, it will automatically go back to you. The suffering that you brought to me, according to the cause and effect theory, will go back to you. And just by imagining your suffering, my heart is sinking.”

Can you believe in this kind of peace we are talking about here? The peace which the human spirit can bring? And that peace, which we all carry with us, has to be translated into every action of life. It’s not in big theories, not in big research, but in everyday practice. And I believe that everybody sitting in this room, by can translate this idea of peace and love in every action. I’m a firm believer that you don’t become great by doing great things. You become great by doing every single thing in a great way. And that makes life extraordinary and peaceful around us. So, according to Lord Mahavir the positive affirmation of Ahimsa is to go and love people. He said that if you touch an inanimate object, do it with love, do it with grace. And if you are hard to inanimate objects, you will also be hard to animate things, and that will show that you are not peaceful. If you want to bring peace on this earth, it has to be translated into every little action of life.

Jainism’s second rule is about non-possessiveness. Lord Mahavir spoke very beautifully about non-possessiveness. Non-possessiveness of materialistic things is important, but what creates real disturbance in this world is possessiveness of our thoughts, possessiveness of our ideas, possessiveness of our beliefs. The way I believe, if you don’t believe in the same way, then we are two different people. The belief I carry in my mind, if you don’t happen to believe in the same way, has created a lot of chaos and fights on this earth. Lord Mahavir said, practice non-possessiveness with everything, but the most important is to practice non-possessiveness of your own thoughts. And he introduced a beautiful theory of multiplicity of truth called, anekantavad. If I ask you, how much you love your family, is there any language in the world which can really express the feelings of the human mind? There is no such language in this world which can really translate our feelings. So Lord Mahavir said, “If you cannot translate small experiences of life, how can you give words to the biggest experience of life: the experience of truth?” And he said: “Maybe the Hindu prophets realized that truth at some stage, and they wanted to express it in some language but it could not reach to us because language is always imperfect.” Similarly, truth might be experienced by following Buddhist practice, but we cannot know it because language is not perfect. So he advised to tolerate everybody’s attitude.

Have tolerance for everybody’s viewpoint on the basis that truth cannot be expressed fully; whenever it is communicated, it is communicated partially. And if it is communicated partially, there is always room to believe that others may also have some essence of truth. So I don’t need to be dogmatic that whatever I believe is the absolute or the whole truth. There is no reason to have conflict. You respect your belief, I respect my belief. You respect your tradition; I respect my tradition with an assumption, a hope, an understanding that all of us must be saying the same thing but in different languages. All of us experiencing the same thing, but maybe using different expressions, which is the theory of multiplicity of expressions of truth. If we are able to adopt this kind of non-possessiveness of thought and multiplicity of viewpoint, I think that peace can be attained.

And third rule is, that people who wish to follow the path of peace should not complain. It is a very simple rule. Whatever I have received in my life, it is my responsibility, not anybody else’s. That’s change of attitude. Lord Mahavir said that this is the beginning of religion in your life. Think how lucky I am to get everything that I have in my life. And that is the gratitude, the expression of gratefulness. Next think, “What is my share of contribution to this universe before I leave?” “How much have I taken, and what have I given back?” If I take a hundreds units, for example, am I giving back a hundred units? And if each one of us is able to think of our share of contribution towards community, towards society, towards nature, and towards the universe, then this earth will blossom, and there will be no reason for violence.

When people ask Lord Mahavir, “Who is a spiritual person?” He didn’t propose big theories. He didn’t talk about austerities and meditative techniques. He simply said, “One who is blissful, at every second of life, and can bring blissfulness to everyone around him, is a spiritual person.” The practice of peace, according to my view, starts with your determination: that I’m not going to make my life miserable. Every day is blissful, every morning is blissful, and we have a great practice in the Jain tradition that every evening, we sit for a couple of minutes, just to think, just to analyze, just to introspect- was I unkind in my emotions, in my thoughts, in my actions, or in my deeds to anybody since morning? And if I did, I will make an effort to undo it. Peace is an everyday effort. It starts with an individual, goes to the family, goes to the community, goes to the nation, and finally, it goes to the whole universe.···

-Sadhvi Shilapiji is a Jain Nun and scholar of comparative religion. Since 2001, she has directed schools and vocational training centers for earthquake victims in Western India, providing an excellent example of compassion in action.

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Science without spirituality seeks to work mainly in human interest and gives birth to technologies of comfort and convenience, as well as consumerism. Science denuded of deep values of the human spirit follows the lead given by money, military, and materialism. Such science works for those who can pay for it, and doesn't accept any constraints or limits to meet insatiable human greed particularly the greed of a powerful and privileged elite very often at a great cost to other forms of life. So, science without spirituality is not only incomplete, it is also dangerous.

On the other hand, spirituality without science is also incomplete. Such spirituality seeks otherworldliness and gives birth to institutionalized religions infected with dogmas, blind faith and fundamentalism. Spirit stripped of the daily concerns of human affairs follows the lead given by gurus, priests and missionaries who promise their followers a place in heaven and inject fear of hell thus exploiting the natural human urge for spiritual fulfillment.

-- Satish Kumar, a Gandhian scholar

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