Tips For a Healthy Interfaith Relationship
Excerpt from the workshop on Sanathana Dharma
at the Annual Gathering of the Interfaith Council of Sonoma County
Ner Shalom Congregation Hall, Cotati, California
August 30, 2015
We must want to have a healthy relationship first of all. It is very obvious what damage can be done because of a wrong relationship when we see the massive destruction of religious edifices and persistent wars caused in the name of faith. We also know what has happened in the past. No wonder so many of the young do not wish to follow any religion.
Foundation for a good relationship
All religions even the so-called primitive (I do not really know what is primitive for after all, they addressed the divine as they felt) to the sophisticated are all for sure, addressing the divine from genuine motivation. The final outcome of this motivation, over the years, has often taken a tortuous course resulting in a ballooned version that perhaps drifted away from the original intention.
1. Keep in mind The other who follows another faith has a connection with the Divine just as important as mine.
2. Respect other faiths. Know that it is the lack of it that shows itself in the following
a. Interpreting the other solely using standards of the one I relate to or are used to, makes way for much injustice and misunderstanding.
b. Wishing the other to conform to mine, if not, then considering their way as either foolish or wrong is downright arrogant.
c. Finding oneself totally uneasy until he or she converts to mine is simply giving in to a lack of resorting to one's capacity for logic. Loss of traditions, culture, and languages have resulted from this behavior. It has been noted that many indigenous people of South and Central America who gave up their traditional beliefs and accepted that of the Spanish conquerors have also seriously taken to alcohol. One needs to ponder over what lack are they compensating for by this addiction.
3. Accept through knowledge the processes that religions underwent in order to be where they are today. Geography, culture, constraints, politics, and pressures influencing it over a lengthy period of time, are all factors to consider. Separate the chaff from the grain.
4. Refrain from vandalizing directly or indirectly concepts, traditions, and disciplines from other religions. For eg yoga, guru, karma, kundalini, dharma all these are sacred and valuable. Sadly they continue to be misused and abused here and now in India. Why? Simply because time and trouble have not been exerted to understand them before using. Why? Because greed commercialization and fashions take priority here. Think twice before you purchase a T-shirt or a bag with the picture of Ganesh on it. How are you going to treat it? Whom are you insulting when you abuse it For instance in India you will not find shoes or toilet bowls with Jesus or Moses on them. Look here are pictures of Ganesh and Buddha on toilet bowl covers. Here is a pair of slippers with a split Buddha for each foot. This glaringly indicates a lack of sensitivity to other cultures and other faiths. One can see why backlashes of all kinds take place!
5. Areas that need caution.
a. Becoming overnight experts on other religions. Even one's own is difficult to fathom in a short time then what is there to say about others that came from such diverse lands and cultures.
b. Paraphrase rather than translate. A single word most often in a language does not have its equivalent single word in English and vice versa. Prominent egs. God and Soul. Devatha the common term for the divine in India is defined as Deeyatey iti devathaa", suggesting the source of illumination. Therefore using the word god for Ganesh, Ram or Krishna or Lakshmi is extremely misleading. Indeed they are sacred divinities and deities but they are not to be aligned with the God concept initiated by Abraham or Moses. Polytheism is a term that has done so much harm. It is a result of using one concept as a standard to judge the concepts of others. For example when I was in Turkey where I went to enhance my skills in singing Turkish ilahis, I got a confirmation for what I had always felt, that the word CAN ( Jaan ) which I find so prevalent in Turkish mystic music should not be translated as soul. When you hear this word being used especially in Farsi you will see its ramifications. So too the word Efendi in Turkish, which is not just Sir out of respect. It can mean different things depending on the context. So too Brhman, the Sanskrit term is not God. For the concept of the Judeo Christian God is one with attributes. Brhman is never considered as being all compassionate, powerful, a ruler, etc. So too Atman is not the soul. The soul can be defiled by sins and purified by virtues. Atman cannot be defiled or purified.
c. Beware of mispronunciation. We have to be careful when chanting Sanskrit. Research done in Higher Physics and in Yoga Institutes have shown alchemical and vibration effects of the sounds produced by Sanskrit chants. Do we know what price we pay for mispronouncing ??
eg The famous Sanskrit Buddhist mantra Om namoh Amitabho that is recited by millions in China, Japan and nowhere in the West is wrong. It should be Amitaabhaaya. ... Amitabho keeps it in the Nominative case. To say " to Amitaabha" we must say Amitaabhaaya which is in the Accusative case. Also he famous Tibetan prayer to the 21 Tara-s supposedly based on the Sanskrit version is sadly misconstructed. The Tibetan prayer translation reads as Tara being born from the tears of Avalokiteshvara. A Buddhist nun from a monastery in Arizona who came to know of my search for the original Sanskrit version managed to get a copy of the original Sanskrit from Banaras Hindu University. Tara is described as the central core in the flower that is Avalokiteshvara. This prayer is available at www.ambahouse.org.
I would not be surprised if such cautions should be seriously observed in sacred languages such as Hebrew and Arabic.
6. When taking to a faith other than what one grew up, analyze the sincerity of your motives. Do not rush into it. Going into another faith because it is cool or fashionable may not be the right thing to do. It may be very damaging too if you are going into it because you have an identity issue. Eg These days it is cool to say one is into Sufism. All of a sudden in America and slowly in India too Sufism has become fashionable. We forget that Islamic Mysticism existed long before Rumi came into the picture.
7. Learn but do not follow blindly therefore lookout for those teachers and guides who are only interested in fattening their pockets and their egos and not your growth. Do not ever give up the objectivity that our mind is blessed with.
8. Make efforts towards participating in the rituals, ceremonies of other faiths with an open mind. Rather than book knowledge, observe how other faiths manifest say within a family 's traditions. If you can afford it, visit the lands where these originated or are being practiced. Surely then one can reap a sense of beauty that displays itself in manifold ways as to how people all over this world connect to the Divine.