I am happy to reproduce below a summary of the proceedings of the "One Reality, One Humanity, Converging Paths" symposium, held in Honolulu on 9/10/11. Among others, the recommendations also suggest a follow-up symposium, possibly in Honolulu, in the latter half of 2012 or 2013. Your comments in this will also be highly appreciated. This is my first attempt to send a relatively large file (8 pages). I apologize if this does not go through nicely. I will also be happy to email the Perceptions Survey questionnaire or the entire symposium proceedings to those desirous to receive these documents.
ONE REALITY, ONE HUMANITY, CONVERGING PATHS
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Unity Church of Hawaii
3608 Diamond Head Circle, Honolulu, HI
One Reality, LLC
(Contact: Saleem Ahmed: HiSaleem@aol.com)
The Unity Church of Hawaii
(Contact: Rev. Sky St. John: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Logo designed by Daniel De Castro of Unity Church
Editors: Authors for their respective papers; Saleem Ahmed for the front matter
SYMPOSIUM SUMMARY AND SUGGESTED NEXT STEPS
A. OUR FINDINGS
Summary: Regardless of the path followed, we believe it is the same Reality worshiped in all religions. While paths differ, the Destination is the same. Thus, we are all on converging paths.
Survey Findings - Details:
Majority of the 300+ respondents to an internet-based survey conducted recently by the Honolulu-based All Believers Network (Belnet, www.AllBelievers.net) perceive the Reality they revere in surprisingly similar terms: compassionate, eternal, flawless, formless, genderless, omnipresent, omniscient, wise, and unique. This was true regardless of whether the religion followed was Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, Neopaganism, Sikhism, Seicho-No-Ie, Subud, Sufism, Unitarian Universalism, Unity, or Zoroastrianism.
Thus, paper author Dr. Saleem Ahmed asks: “Are there as many “Realities” with similar characteristics as religions? Or is it the same Reality in all religions, called by different names and honored via different rituals?”
Majority of the 75 participants who attended Belnet’s One Reality, One Humanity, Converging Paths symposium, concluded there was good reason to believe it is the same Reality in all religions. “It was as if a curtain had been lifted; participants were now looking at followers of other religions without the filtered glasses they had worn all along! They felt this “new” approach could help reduce religion-based violence and usher a new era of peace worldwide,” concluded Ahmed, who spearheaded this survey.
Other papers – which reinforced the above conclusion – included:
- Prayer, Meditation, and Rituals, especially at birth, marriage, and death by University of Hawaii Professor of Religion, Ramdas Lamb;
- Miracles, Miracles Everywhere! Their omnipresence in various religions by University of Hawaii Professor James Frankel; and
- Sacred foods in various religions by Buddhist minister and Belnet Vice Chair, Rev. Irene Matsumoto.
The day’s program began by Belnet Board Chair and Maryknoll Sister Joan Chatfield reporting on Interfaith conversation: Review of accomplishments and the road ahead and concluded by a panel discussion on “Moving from Exclusion to Inclusion in my Faith,” in which UH Professor D.P.S. Bhawuk, Joan Chatfield, lay leader and chair of the Ritual Committee for Congregation Sof Maarav in Honolulu Gregg Kinkley, and Saleem Ahmed shared their views on how passages of exclusion in the sacred texts of Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam respectively could be re-interpreted – or superseded by other passages -- and made inclusive.
The days’ final paper, presented by Dr. Zafar Mahmood, President of the Interfaith Coalition for Peace, entitled Interfaith conversation in India: Status, Problems, and Opportunities, provided some useful insights about designing our future programs.
B. RECOMMENDED NEXT STEPS
Education and training:
To spread the “converging paths” message internationally, a coordinated long-term education and training program was recommended. Aspects include curriculum development, leadership training for individuals involved in promoting interfaith dialogue, and interfaith poetry writing contests for children and adults – and, of course, a continuation of dialogue on converging paths. To the concern that religion cannot be taught in public schools in Hawaii and elsewhere, Dr. Zafar Mahmood mentioned they overcame this problem in India by underscoring that interfaith education did not promote any particular religion, but promoted global peace. Ahmed mentioned the same approach helped passage of a concurrent resolution by the Hawaii state legislature supporting the organization of an international interfaith conference in Hawaii (SCR5, 2008).
The question “What can we do to encourage moving away from highlighting ritualistic differences between religions to underscoring spiritual commonalities?” was addressed as follows:
Rituals (such as praying, singing, chanting, dancing, meditating, fasting and eating) provide guidelines on how to show our love for the Reality. Much synergy and camaraderie is created when rituals are performed in unison, often with overpowering and reinforcing psychological and emotional “highs.” Since different rituals were inspired by the Reality to different messengers at different times and places, many of these often reflect the sociocultural environment of the place where these were laid down. In the case of food, for example, while rice is sacred for Hindus and Buddhists, manoomin (“wild rice”) is sacred for the Cree, bison, for several other Native Americans, and the whale, for Inuits and other Eskimos. These are foods found commonly in the environmental conditions where the founders of these religions lived and preached. At that time, a journey of 10-20 miles took the whole day. But followers could still find their sacred foods in other villages to which they traveled. In our contemporary society, however, when one can travel 10,000+ miles in a day, our sacred food might not be available in the second location. So, if rice is not available, can one use wheat as sacred food instead? In all cases, the “spirit” of the law should take precedence over its “letter.” For example, what should Muslims do in the city of Tromoso in northern Norway to maintain their ritual of fasting (from dawn to sunset daily) and not starve to death when one “day” in summer lasts from late May to late July? Again, it was felt that “The spirit of the Law” should take precedence over “The letter of the Law.”
Many rituals are physical activities that we can see, feel, touch, smell, hear and taste. Here, it is easy to see the similarities and differences. The challenge is to underscore that rituals are NOT the ends in themselves, but the means to help us reach the “end” – of getting close to the Reality; the goal providing remarkably similar “ends” in all religions.
Summing up, therefore, while there are major differences among religions in rituals followed, the spiritual goal remains unchanged. So, let us celebrate ritual differences between religions and marvel at the underlying spiritual similarities.
Proposed rule of conduct
We should also strive to reach a win-win situation. Neither should we speak highly of our religion, nor ridicule anyone else’s. We should try to look at the world from the perspective of followers of other religions. The only religion we should question should be our own – and that too to try to understand reasons for any “discriminatory/exclusionary” passages/statements contained therein: passages against other religions; against women, or against other ethnic, racial, or economic groups; or against groups having interests different from ours. And we should discuss objectively and unemotionally how these passages could be re-interpreted in today’s world.
It is understandable that some people disagree with our suggestions. This should be appreciated rather than challenged. Since the only person we can change is ourselves, we should take the initiative to understand the other person’s view of the world. Winning over children might be easier. But we should do this only after we receive the parents’ approval.
Some specific suggested activities
- Engage in curriculum development looking at each belief and ritual across religions to recognize differences, appreciate them, and discuss possible reasons from these differences. To overcome the current prohibition against teaching interfaith subjects in public schools, we should learn from India’s experience where this prohibition was successfully overcome by underscoring to officials that interfaith education does not promote any one religion, but promotes how followers of various religions can work together to promote peace.
- Organize interfaith poetry writing contests for children and adults; and also consider similar interfaith contests involving the performing arts and interfaith talent shows;
- Organize periodic “faith food fairs” to share foods considered sacred in various faiths. Ideally, these should be prepared by people of other faiths, who should also explain why these are considered sacred. A fusion of sacred foods should be attempted.
- Select poets, artists, or writers promoting interfaith outlook and hold conferences, seminars, and performances underscoring their efforts.
- Encourage youth to go to houses of members of other communities during times of festivals, and live with them for a couple of days and participate in their religious activities.
- Encourage visits to houses of worship of all religions to search for common themes and practices.
- Begin to communicate with youth through social media so that we’re speaking same language (texting, online social networking, etc.).
- Partner with other organizations that support similar principles such as the Rotary Club, Lions Clubs, Jaycees, etc.
- Do interfaith service projects in the community (e.g. feeding homeless, cleaning up a yard, painting), and have interfaith retreats.
- Emphasize the “Golden Rule” found in all religions – as part of character education.
International interfaith conference
Following up on this one-day symposium, a longer-duration international interfaith conference, using the same theme (One Reality, One Humanity, Converging Paths), was recommended. Ideally, it should also be held in Honolulu, either in 2012 (possibly, during the Labor Day weekend, September 1-3, 2012) or 2013 (possibly, during the Memorial Day weekend, May 25-27, 2013). Similar conferences in other locations should also be encouraged.
Participants thanked the symposium’s sponsors (All Believers Network and Unity Church of Hawaii), speakers, breakout session facilitators and recorders, and all others providing logistics support to make the day a meaningful experience for all. The symposium facilitated a paradigm shift in the way we look at other religions, thereby increasing the hope that religions can help bring about peace in our world. Participants also thanked Hawaii Sen. Susan Chun Oakland, who had introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR5-SD1, 2008), which endorsed the organization of an international interfaith conference in Hawaii in 2011 – and which led to the organization of the current symposium.
Perceptions Survey questionnaire (used in Ahmed’s paper on Perception of the Reality in Various Religions) can be obtained from Saleem Ahmed (HiSaleem@aol.com). He will also appreciate suggestions/thoughts on the above-mentioned proposed International One Reality, One Humanity, Converging Paths conference in Hawaii in 2012 or 2013.