Erenlai - 按標籤顯示項目: prayer
週五, 13 八月 2010 16:03

Is Asia Pacific? Interreligious conflicts, dialogue and inventiveness in today’s Asia

There is no need to underline the dizzying diversity of Asia’s religious landscape. I do not intend here to attempt even a preliminary sketch of the patchwork of faiths and traditions that extend from Pakistan to Japan… I just would like to point out some general trends that have emerged in the last two or three decades, trends that have been partly reshaping the setting of Asia’s religions. Also, I would like to reflect on the challenges that these trends are creating. Furthermore, I’d like to suggest a few possible answers that Christianity could articulate in response to current developments, provided that Christians wish indeed to become “peacemakers” as the Sermon on the Mount calls them to be. Such responses may also inspire the ones brought forward by other religions. In any case, interreligious dialogue in Asia has become an endeavor that no religion can escape from, not only for spiritual reasons but also in order to achieve the following goals: (a) progressing towards national and ethnic reconciliation (b) ensuring religious freedom and other civil rights (c) tackling global challenges (dialogue of civilizations, ecology, struggle against consumerism, development of a global ethic.)

Revivalism and Identity Crisis

Revivalism has become a predominant religious trend. The clearest example is provided by the new vitality found by Islam in Asia, as is also the case in other parts of the world. Such fact is of utmost importance: Indonesia is the most populated Muslim nation in the world; Bangladesh and Pakistan have overwhelming Muslim majorities, and Malaysia has also a Muslim majority, though not as pronounced; India has a strong Muslim minority; and Muslim populations are located on conflict-prone frontier regions in the Philippines, Thailand and China.

The point here is that such “vitality” - experienced with different feelings according to the standpoint of the observer - encompasses an array of very different phenomena that have to be carefully distinguished:

- A kind of revivalist atmosphere stressing both Islamic and ethnic pride on a background of post-colonial sensitivity and widespread religious education, affecting the consciousness of Muslim populations all around Asia.

- Marginal violent movements carrying attacks, movements often fostered by international networks.

- Pervasive political strategies trying to impose and enforce Islamic laws and Islamic state apparatus; such strategies threaten the fabric of the secular state (which was a feature of post-colonial Asia) or lead some states that from the start were not altogether secular to become openly theocratic.

- At the same time, it is important to note that, since 2001. Muslin communities often suffer from accrued hostility and prejudices, especially in countries where they are a minority - and these prejudices can reinforce violence and deviant behaviors. Some of these communities also suffer from disadvantageous social background and economic conditions.

A few additional remarks are in order:

- Among these trends, the third one might be the most preoccupying one. In history, such strategies have led to the annihilation/assimilation of populations living in Muslin societies and professing other faiths. Strategies vary according to the size of the proportion of the Muslim population and the overall political situation. A distinction is to be made between Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia on the one hand, and the other countries of the region where Muslims are a vocal minority, sometimes with complaints rooted into national history. At the same time, further comparison between Bangladesh and Pakistan for instance might help us to assess better the role of cultural or international factors in religious attitudes: Bangladesh prides itself of a spirit of tolerance and accommodation seemingly lacking in Pakistan. This opposition of style between two Moslem countries leads back to an array of cultural and political factors deeply anchored into the collective memory of the two protagonists.

- In countries with Muslim majority, Christians of tribal origin generally constitute the most vulnerable population when it comes to forced conversion and discrimination. At the same time, Christians who are social leaders because of their wealth, occupation or educational level are often at the frontline of ongoing confrontations (this is patent in Pakistan).

- Of course, besides the Islamic revival, other sources of concern exist, which strongly influence interreligious conflicts and cooperation on the continent as a whole: authoritarian States manipulative of religions or even of interreligious dialogue; revivalist political/religious currents and organizations that might go with the assertion of a “national’ religion (in a Buddhist context, the phenomenon can be observed in Sri-Lanka); materialism and consumerism as they are cutting off the very roots of interreligious dynamics and dialogue.

- With the exception of Vietnam maybe, one notes everywhere a strong growth of Protestantism, most of the time under a fundamentalist and proselytizing garb, which often exacerbates tensions already existing. Proselytism also characterizes new religions, which are in the rise in many countries. As a consequence of this increase of religious communalism, a country like China is much less “syncretistic” than in the past and, witnesses a new assertiveness of believers who are conscious of clear-cut confessional divisions.


bv_buddhist_temple_bkk_2010

In a Buddhist temple in Bangkok (July 2010)

What is to be done?

1) In a context marked by potential or actual confrontations, but also by encounters and fluctuating frontiers, believers should not renounce the ideal of living and praying side by side as a privileged form of dialogue. Sometimes, and in different circles, there have been hesitations and reservations on a form of interreligious dialogue rooted into the fact of praying side by side. Still, one can reasonably think that God takes more pleasure in seeing people praying together than killing each other… Prayer often manifests itself as a kind of “revolutionary force”, and religious leaders are well advised to let and encourage people find their own way of associating their prayers in times and places of conflicts, natural disasters, or just for building up brotherly neighborhoods. Actually, what might be the most dangerous feature of violence is the fact that it exercises a kind of fascination that leads all people involved to a hardening of their own identity, fostering a chain of violent reactions - violent in spirit even when not in deeds. In this light, and even if such posture looks “idealistic”, the importance of a spiritual, even “mystical” approach towards interreligious understanding cannot be overlooked.

2) At the same time, it is impossible not to tackle directly the political dimension of interreligious encounters (understood as dialogue and tensions): ethnic or national revivalist movements and religious revivals are associated phenomena; ethnic, partisan and religious lines are often blurred. In the Catholic Church, a document of the Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis Humanae, has established the principle of religious freedom, associating it with a reflection on the mission, nature and duties of the state. At the same time, the text was strongly influenced by the American constitutionalism tradition. Asian religious leaders now need to clarify their stance about the secular state (which most of them tend to belittle or flatly reject.) Asian religions should debate of their political principles and, hopefully, agree on a few pressing tasks: (a) definition of the secular state, (b) pushing towards further regional union, encompassing a bill of rights emphasizing the spiritual roots of Asia (both their diversity and their strength), (c) working for equality among sexes (which might constitute the most important check against radical Islam on the long run)… Also going along this “political imperative”, arises the exigency to be always truthful about history. Interreligious and inter-ethnic encounters are made possible or are blocked by narratives that are shared or are conflicting. When they happen in a context where conflicting narratives are honestly recognized and retold, such encounters operate as a healing of memories.

3) Asia is a region marked by an irreducible linguistic, cultural and religious diversity. Traditionally seen by Christianity as a practical and theological challenge, such diversity is actually a treasure that needs to be assessed, appreciated and interpreted. Peace-building is thus to be seen as an ongoing endeavor inseparable from the development of interreligious dialogue: both tasks are anchored into an interpretative process through which cultures, creeds and world-views are perpetually reshaped. On the long run, the “translation” of traditional languages and narratives that the in-depth meeting with the Other makes possible nurtures a creative reinterpretation of one’s spirituality and faith.

4) Value education and other actions conducive to a culture of dialogue must target in priority women and the youth, as these two sectors are the ones who are susceptible to foster in the future a less rigid and more compassionate social culture. Value education starts from existential requirements such as the importance of honesty, mutual respect and joy. Interreligious cooperation is actually anchored into the nurturing of basic values that, ideally, could and should be taught in the schools of a pluralistic secular state.

A “musical” metaphor might help us to ascertain what is at stake in such encounters: we all have different musical tastes, different “ears”, and yet we are called to do music together. What then will come out of our musical disagreements? At the end of the day, we cannot bet for sure on the kind of music that God likes and composes. Maybe He does not compose in the C scale or in B moll, maybe He composes a kind of serial or computer-generated music that goes through disharmonies and rhythmic breaks – music that we do not immediately appreciate. Creative music generally challenges our listening habits - and we can assume that God indeed is a creative composer.


週五, 06 二月 2009 01:34

Remembering Master Sheng Yen

This morning I prayed for the followers of Master Sheng Yen.

Master Sheng Yen’s passing will be mourned by many in Taiwan and throughout the world—including his many friends and admirers in the Catholic Church—but it will be feIt especially by his disciples.

I prayed that his disciples might be comforted as they adjust to the painful departure of their beloved Master. Even good Buddhists, whose beliefs and practices help them overcome their desires and emotions, are still human beings and need time to process the loss of someone so close and important to them as Master Sheng Yen.
But I prayed especially that these students and disciples of his might continue the work and spirit of their teacher. Master Sheng Yen had a unique, humble, and effective way of imparting wisdom and peace to others.

We met many years ago on the set of a TV talk show hosted by Lee Tao and broadcast live by CTS on Sunday noon. I was a bit nervous because I had never spoken with Master Sheng Yen and was worried that I might not understand his Buddhist terminology, or that I might inadvertently say something inappropriate and offend this revered Buddhist teacher.

But my fears were unfounded. After a few minutes of conversation and discussion, I could sense Master Sheng Yen’s profound good will and gentle warmth. He smiled at the stories of my sometimes awkward experiences in Buddhist temples or with Buddhist friends. He nodded approvingly when I related how Zen meditation had become an important part of my spirituality and prayer life. He shared my desire that religion play a leading role in improving the moral life of the people and the healthy development of society.

As the program was ending, after bidding good-bye to the audience, Master Sheng Yen rose and came towards me. I felt drawn to him like a magnet and had to restrain myself from giving him a big, Italian-style hug. (I know that Buddhist monks are very restrained in physical expressions of affection.) Still, he reached out and grasped my arms in a warm expression of friendship. And there we were, before a large TV audience—a Buddhist monk and a Catholic priest—locked in an embrace of mutual friendship and respect.

There were many others happy meetings and experiences with this extraordinary spiritual leader. After our program at CTS, Master Sheng Yen visited us at Kuangchi Program Service to learn how TV programs are produced. I was honored to join him in his multi-media campaign on "protection of the spiritual environment" ("心靈環保"). He chose Kuangchi to help him produce his TV program series. Last year, once again he came to our studios to film a series of TV commercials on social morality.

That was the last time I saw my good friend and mentor—Master Sheng Yen. Even while suffering from kidney disease, he had the same bright spirit, peace and warmth that has inspired so many.

So I hope you will understand and forgive me if I permit myself a few tears as I pray for this spiritual Master and all his followers, asking my God that He keep the bright light of Master Sheng Yen shining on us in this world, as he passes on to another.

Photo courtesy of KPS

 


週一, 11 八月 2008 22:38

Do I really have to pray for my enemies?

I feel sorry for God. In any war the believers on both sides flood his ears begging for victory. God either has to please the side who wins and disappoint the side that loses or come up with some way that they both can win. What would happen if instead of praying for their side and against the other side both sides began to pray for each other? Praying for your enemy doesn’t mean praying that he will win but that he will no longer be your enemy, that there will be some peaceful solution without bloodshed or injustice.

Even the terrorists who are plaguing the world are men who pray, but their prayer seems to be for the annihilation of their enemies. If we too pray for their annihilation, there is sure to be bloodshed. Far better to pray for a change of heart, so the aim will no longer be injury and death, but some settlement that will bring us together in peace and toleration.

That would be a good beginning. But there won’t be real peace until we can all sit, stand or kneel and pray together, even if each one prays in his or her own words and gestures. The problem is that often our Gods themselves are enemies or they are the same God but with different names envisioned and reverenced quite differently. If we don’t have tolerance for one another’s Gods, how can we ever have peace and tolerance with one another?

Here is a fable I wrote about what happened on one particular World Prayer Day.
The World Prayer Day

Once upon a time there was a big international event. Its slogan was “the world that prays together stays together.” It was called “World Prayer Day” and at a single signal heard around the world, every citizen of the world began to pray.

Some people as a sign of reverence removed their shoes or hats. Others put on robes or covered their heads. Some knelt. Others prostrated themselves. Some stood motionless. Others rocked back and forth. Some extended or raised their arms. Others folded their arms or beat their breasts. Some closed their eyes. Others opened them wide. Some were perfectly silent. Others cried aloud. Some sang. Others wept. Some made petitions. Others dared say nothing. Some prayed for everybody. Others prayed only for themselves or prayed only for others. Some prayed that their enemies would live in peace. Others prayed that their enemies would die in defeat.

Thus, this act of common prayer that was intended to signify unity, in a sense, mocked unity by revealing all the practices and beliefs that keep men apart.

And yet the very diversities occurring simultaneously side by side in a moment of cooperative effort were the most powerful sign that there is really only one mankind and one divinity, a single humanity of a thousand tongues and a thousand cultures worshipping a single god of a billion sides and a billion faces.

There was no end to the variety of opinions voiced about the Prayer Day.

“For one day at least,” proclaimed one commentator, “the world is not talking about wars or violence or poverty or epidemics or even sports or the weather. But what does it all mean?”

“See,” someone said with a tone of despair, “how hopeless it is to expect peace when we can’t even agree on a common name for God.”

“See,” said others with a tone of triumph, “what hope there is since for five minutes at least even the bitterest of enemies were able to put down their arms to join their foes in a common effort.”

“God wins,” screamed one headline. “The event shows that nearly everyone believes in some sort of super-human, supernatural power that we revere as divine.”

“God loses,” claimed another. “What is left to believe? How can one God be so many things to so many people? There seem to be as many gods as there are individuals on earth. If every person is god, there is no god.”

“How wonderful,” declared others. “God is so infinite and omnipotent, no one can see the whole of him or her. Everyone sees only what is visible from his or her perspective.”

“There is no universal God who created mankind,” some complained. “Today’s exercise only showed that is we who create God to justify our existence or give us hope. The event shows that god is no more than a self-portrait of what we imagine we would look like if we had the qualities we are attributing to him or her. We either give God glorified quantities of the characteristics we most esteem in ourselves or we imagine what it would be like to enjoy the attributes we wish we had but know we don’t.”

“What nonsense,” someone else retorted, “If I had created myself, I would surely have done a better job.”

“You have it all wrong,” came the response, “If it was God who created you, He would certainly have done a better job.”

“No,” someone said in defense, “that just means that in God’s eyes, you are better than you think you are. If God created you the way you are, then things must not be as bad as they seem and there is a bright future for you after all, if you try your best to live as you believe He wants you to live.”

“It all just goes to show that we cannot understand God,” someone added. “This is a blessing, because if we could thoroughly understand God with our limited brain power, then God would be a pretty far from perfect creature.”

“Poor God,” some commiserated. “Today He had to listen to billions of people making billions of petitions, so many of which are impossible to grant. They request contradictory solutions to the same problems or for solutions that would not be good in the long run or solutions that infringe on the rights or welfare of others.”

“Poor mankind,” some commiserated. “They want God to be only what they want Him to be, afraid to look around the corner to see His other sides. God is in the calm and God is in the storm. God is in the fire. He is in the smoke that identifies the fire. He is in the water that extinguishes the fire. There is a time for justice and a time for mercy, a time for punishment and a time for pardon, time for hurting and a time for healing.”

There are lessons hidden here.

So long as everyone creates his or her own image of God,
there will be conflicts in the name of God.

So long as everyone wants God to do only what they themselves want,
there will be disappointment and ingratitude.

So long as everyone wants everyone else to be like himself or herself,
there will never be peace.

If you believe your religion is true,
then you needn’t be afraid to explore what others may see in it.

If God is omnipotent and infinite and provident and wise,
then there must be more to God and religion than meets your eyes.

“One flock and one shepherd” is a vision of hope for the future
only if it means we will one day all be united in one faith
that recognizes and respects the reality
that God created each one as a unique reflection of the divine.

Heaven is the ultimate adventure that takes us on a journey
to the sides of God now hidden from our eyes.
Heaven is the place where we will finally embrace and accept
the visions of God seen by others.

In the meantime, if men and women are to live in harmony,
there must be harmony between their gods.

If ever we can come to see the oneness of all gods,
then we will not have to renounce our own god.
We just need to see God reflected in the images of others.

It isn’t necessary to pray with the same words or bow the same way
in order to homage the one god of a billion sides and a billion faces.

God doesn’t require us to be men and women identical to each other,
only to be men and women united for each other.


(Photo: Liang Zhun)

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