From many faiths grows greater understanding
Hawaii's All Believers Network examines multiple religions in search of common beliefs and themes
THE CONTINUING death and destruction in the Middle East reflect the limitless extent to which individuals and political entities will go to defend their faith as the only "true" path. No end seems in sight to this centuries-old conflict among followers of these Abrahamic faiths. We also saw how Catholics and Protestants fought wars of terror in Northern Ireland. And while conditions seem peaceful there now, they could reignite at any time.
The All Believers Network's second annual symposium, "Moving from Exclusion to Inclusion in My Faith," will explore the commonalities of multiple world faiths.
When: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sept. 4
Where: Seicho-No-Ie's Jisso Center, 47-451 Hui Aeko Place, Kaneohe, near the Valley of the Temples
Keynote speaker: Kent Keith, former Chaminade University president and author of books on spiritual living
Fee: $20, includes continental breakfast, lunch and beverages
To register: See www.allbelievers.net or contact Saleem Ahmed at Ahmedinhawaii@aol.com or 371-9360. Registration deadline is Tuesday. Late-comers' fee will be $25.
How can we rescue humanity from such quagmires? The Hawaii-based All Believers Network (Belnet) encourages individuals to examine their own faiths objectively and explore how scriptural passages that build barriers against other faiths might be reinterpreted to become more inclusive. Rather than focus on ritualistic differences among religions, Belnet tries to examine the underlying areas in common. To that end, Belnet's second annual symposium on Labor Day, Sept. 4 (see box), will bring together Hawaii residents of more than a dozen faiths for discussion of different religious beliefs and practices.
Established in 2003, Belnet believes that all spiritually based religions are from one source -- a source considered indescribable and beyond human comprehension by all Belnet board members. These are individual adherents of 13 faiths (Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hawaiian spirituality, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Subud, Sufism, Unitarian Universalism and Zoroastrianism). Many of them also believe the source is eternal, formless, omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient; loving, fair and forgiving.
In all cases, followers of these faiths learned about the source from the writings of some inspired spiritual teacher. Such teachers, Belnet believes, have been sent by the source to people all over the world throughout human history.
These inspired teachers, separated from one another by thousands of miles and hundreds of years, independently preached the same message: believe in the source and lead a righteous life. This message, while providing solace and hope to the oppressed people, often was received with open hostility by the ruling elites as it challenged their lifestyles and belief systems. Thus, a common theme that seems to prevail across the life stories of these religious teachers is that often they and their small bands of faithful followers were persecuted. Eventually, they won against great odds.
Belnet aspires to create a unity of consciousness that all spiritual teachings build a loving relationship between us and the source. In our quest to reach this source, we do not compete with each other, but only with our own egos and biases.
As we continue our exploration, we are learning to respect equally the founders of all spiritual paths, understand their messages and enrich our lives accordingly. In addition to belief in the source and leading a righteous life, each founder we have studied together so far also had something complementary and unique to offer.
For example, about 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, Hinduism's unnamed founder taught about the eternal being's multiple manifestations, while Abraham (founder of Judaism and Islam), emphasized the being's unity. They lived in India and the Middle East, respectively. About 2,500 to 3,000 years ago, Mahavira (Jainism's 13th inspired teacher) clarified the pathway for purification of the soul; Shakyamuni Buddha (founder of Buddhism) emphasized meditation and humility; Zoroaster (founder of Zoroastrianism) discussed the Spiritual Light; Kong Zi (founder of Confucianism) underscored living with piety; and Lao Zi (founder of Daoism) inspired living in harmony with nature. The first two lived in India, the third in Central Asia and the last two in China. About 2,000 years ago, Jesus (founder of Christianity) taught us love and forgiveness, and 1,400 years ago, Muhammad (completer of Islam) underscored the universality of the being's message. Both lived in the Middle East. More recently, Guru Nanak (founder of Sikhism, A.D. 1469-1538) emphasized equality of caste and gender, while Baha'u'llah (founder of Baha'i, 1817-1892) advocated equity and justice. They lived in India and Iran, respectively.
We also are discovering unsung heroes. We recently learned that the message of White Buffalo Calf Woman of the American Indian Lakota religion is similar to those of the above-mentioned inspired teachers. She is the first female on our list of founders, as we seek to uncover, respect and honor such inspired teachers elsewhere.
Belnet aspires to discover the common thread that runs through the teachings of all spiritual paths, including of indigenous cultures. We also respect religious reformers who came more recently to guide humanity back onto the path from which we might have been detoured by our close-mindedness, ignorance or arrogance. We are learning to appreciate the rituals various religions follow and marvel at this human ingenuity to try to reach the source.
We want to rise above narrow-mindedness, which divides us, and embrace the principles that unite us. We cannot undo past injustices in the name of religion, but can help prevent new ones. We want to keep an open mind, visit houses of worship of various religions and try to feel the divine presence everywhere; enhance the experience of our respective paths through this common exploration; and spread the message of unity of religious ideals with understanding and love.
» Methods we use to accomplish our goal: We try to identify unifying themes and spiritual principles in all religions, underscoring universality of the eternal message; learn to apply them in our daily lives; organize educational programs on these themes; develop curricula for schools and institutions of higher learning; experience other paths leading to the same source; and encourage formation of chapters worldwide and through the Internet.
» Guidelines for respectful and constructive dialogue: In our sharing, we try to neither convert, challenge nor ridicule any philosophy of life and/or spirituality; discourage arguments or dogmatic statements; "keep our cool"; and encourage feedback to help us improve our operational style to make this a more meaningful experience for all.
It was the openness of Hawaiian spirituality that inspired us to found this organization. We feel that Hawaii should be recognized as the world's interfaith harmony capital. Help us get there. Aloha!
Saleem Ahmed, a Muslim, is president and Joan Chatfield, a Christian, is board chairwoman of All Believers Network.