Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hinduism and Interfaith Understanding

On Hinduism and Interfaith Understanding

As Hindus living in America, I encourage you to keep contact with your cultural roots while at the same time you experience American culture. Share your culture and religious traditions with others, not as proselytizing, but as sharing. I would also encourage you to really understand the philosophical basis for the traditions in Hinduism. As you share your background and learn about other religions and cultures it is best to have a firm foundation for your own. You are in the best position to really understand and appreciate the religious traditions of your friends if you are thoroughly grounded in your own. And of all the major faiths, it is easiest to understand and appreciate other traditions from a Hindu perspective. After all we have in the Vedas:

Truth is One; sages call it by various names.

As the rivers all starting at different places all eventually mingle in the ocean, so do all the paths lead to thee, O Lord.

May you, O Mother, please shower your blessings on all the various races on the Earth, with their varying religions and languages.

For example, once you thoroughly know your philosophy, you will see that Christianity is a wonderful example of a Bhakta school. Thinking of Jesus as your savior and redeemer is a powerful way to develop your devotion. Suppose a friend pushes you out of the way of a moving car or a gunshot and ends up dying to save you. Would you ever forget him? Bhakti Yoga tells us to find some relationship with God that will help us to always remember Him. Hinduism gives us many options as to how to do this.

In the Jewish tradition we can appreciate how the attitude of having a covenant with God helps them to remember God throughout the year, the week, and each day.

In Islam we have a wonderful example of regularity of prayer as a way of connecting with God.

Similarly, we can understand Buddhism as a meditation technology, not that dissimilar to Patanjali’s system. Indeed, Sankhya philosophy is similar to Buddhism in that it focuses on the removal of suffering and it is essentially atheistic in the sense that a personal god is never mentioned. Sankhya focuses on the concept of Purusha as consciousness. The goal is to realize your true nature as pure consciousness.

In Hinduism, we have many sects. Each sect worships a particular deity. For the devotees of a particular deity, all aspects of God become symbolized in that one aspect. This is quite natural, for all aspects are Brahman. Krishna is one with Brahman, Shiva is one with Brahman, and Durga is one with Brahman. The Advaitin would remind you “Tat twam asi.” “Thou art That.” The pure Advaitin has the harder task, to see Brahman directly in yourself rather than seeing Brahman through one of the aspects or avatars. But all are equally valid approaches and have been proven to be effective paths to Moksha, liberation or God realization.

Diwali and Mother Lakshmi

On Diwali and Mother Lakshmi

May I wish you all a very Happy Diwali. Diwali is the festival of Lights, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance. It is usually associated with a puranic event when a demon is destroyed. The most popular one is probably the return of Ram and Sita to Ayodhya after the defeat of Ravana.

The Goddess Lakshmi is traditionally worshipped at this time. Lakshmi is frequently depicted as one of the daughters of Durga and the goddess of wealth, with Saraswati being her sister and the goddess of arts, learning, and culture. But as with other deities and avatars in Hinduism, they are ultimately aspects of Brahman. Because of this, the devotees of Lakshmi will see all the aspects of the Great Mother archetype in Lakshmi herself. Just as we often see family resemblances in siblings and parents etc., as we worship Lakshmi, all of her facets are revealed. We begin to see her as not just as the goddess of wealth, sustenance, and harvest., but also as Mother Earth, one with Mahakali, the destroyer of evil, the embodiment of beauty, grace, purity, and truth. We see her as the one who moves our inner consciousness toward God realization. Each sect in Hinduism sees the totality of Brahman in its chosen aspect. Brahman is like a multi-faceted diamond. The sparkle from one facet catches our eye. We become fascinated by it. As we focus on it, we realize it is the diamond that is sparkling. Thus one facet becomes associated with the whole.

When the devas and asuras were churning the ocean of milk to obtain the nectar of immortality, Lakshmi sprang forth in full form from the ocean on a pink lotus. What can we understand from this story? I believe it indicates that, like most goddess figures, she represents the divine energy manifested in the world. She is the divinity that was hidden in the ocean, but from the churning, was made evident. The lotus she is on also has that symbolism. It rises from the mud and water to bloom in all its purity and splendor. The divine energy is here, imminent in the world, but we must work to realize this, to be able to see it.

As we pray to Mother Lakshmi for her support in the world, we must remember to be thankful to her for the many blessings she has already bestowed upon us.

Monday, September 29, 2008

T,H.U.G. L.I.F.E, and Terror in Dayton

WARNING: Some profanity.

Tupac Shakur coined an acronym: THUG LIFE. It stands for "The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone". I apologize for the language, and I apologize for darkening the beginning of Rosh Hashanah for all of you, but a perfect (and awful) example of this happened on Friday in Dayton, Ohio. And the worst part of all is that nobody heard about it.

Last week, Ohioans recieved thousands of copies of Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against The West, a documentary film that parallels the rise of anti-Semitic Nazism in Germany and the rise of radical Islamic violence, also touching on the relationships between anti-Semitic Muslim leaders like the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and Nazi Party officials, up to and including Adolf Hitler. The film was produced by the Clarion Fund, a controversial New York nonprofit dedicated "to educat (ing) Americans about issues of national security," with a focus on radical Islam. This Ohio effort was part of a mailing campaign in swing states which sent DVDs of Obsession via newspapers and mail. Allegations on DailyKos and the Huffington Post link these efforts to the McCain campaign; however, no hard evidence has been found.

On Friday, September 26th, about 300 people were gathered at the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton for dinner and prayers celebrating the coming end of Ramadan, a month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset in commemoration of the revelation of the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad.

A child reported "two men with a white can spraying something into a window." Suddenly, people started coughing and fled the building. Dayton authorities suspect somone sprayed a "chemical irritant" into the mosque, which forced the members of the Society to get treatment for those affected. Further information from DailyKos , Huffington Post, and AfterDowningStreet claims that the irritant was sprayed into a room full of women and children.

Whether this had anything to do with the McCain campaign or not, or with the Clarion Fund or not...this kind of cowardice is disgusting. I will not make any accusations concerning outside players; however, the idea that such terrorism could happen in the United States grieves me to my heart.

Yes, I used the word terrorism. Let me explain. This is nowhere near the horrible morning we faced seven years ago, when we watched as innocent people died in New York, Arlington, and Shanksville. Nor is this close to the horrible suffering that our troops and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered by the perfidy of cowards abroad. But the goal of these people was the same--to inspire fear, to break resolve, to turn innocent people in a house of prayer into trembling victims in a dangerous place.

And the worst part of all? No major news outlet reported this. I had to go through two major politically liberal blogs (DailyKos and Huffington Post), as well as DemocraticUnderground (AfterDowningStreet's post was from DemocraticUnderground) to get to the Dayton Daily News site. This is domestic terrorism--why aren't CNN, NBC, and CBS covering this? Why are the two men jockeying for the nation's highest office silent?

I close with a passage from Matthew's Gospel:

"And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

-Matt. 18:5-6

For more information on this incident, please see:

Huffington Post
Dayton Daily News


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Prophetic, Peacekeeping Witness: Adventist Peace Fellowship

While the URC is home to a number of faith communities, and this blog will be pulling perspectives from every religious tradition, I thought it'd be fun to begin with my own--the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Most people associate Adventism with vegetarian living, health care, and going to church on Saturday (rather than Sunday, like most other Christian denominations). However, in recent years, Adventists have been rediscovering pacifism in their history and theology--something usually associated with Jehovah's Witnesses, Quakers, and Anabaptists.

The Adventist's church's original stance on violence came in the midst of the Civil War. When the Church was founded in 1863, its members were torn over what to do--joining the Union Army would betray their understanding of the Gospel as a message preaching the refusal of violence as a tool for government, life, law, or conversion. However, becoming conscientious objectors would put them under suspicion as "Copperheads"--Northerners who backed the Confederacy and slavery. Adventists were uniformly anti-slavery and anti-rebellion, but equally anti-violence.

Some heated Unionists proposed that Adventists form brigades to support the Union, while hardline pacifists were willing to be branded as traitors and imprisoned for their faith. In the end, the Church evaded the question in a number of ways--in Iowa, Adventist petitioned for recognition as a "peace church", while the national church raised money to pay to release Adventists from the draft, or encouraged laypersons to work as medics, helping freed blacks, or providing other services.

This same aversion to violence brought Adventists to attack William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Adventist writers damned other churches for supporting imperialism, bullying of a worn-out Spain and tired colonists, and what they saw as dangerous expansionism.

In the early 20th century, the Adventist Church published pamphlets to guide young men through the draft, and even made field medic courses a graduation requirement at Adventist colleges. As a result, an entire generation of Adventists--pastors and parishoners alike--recall military medical training.

The most visible example of Adventist pacifism is Desmond Doss (1919-2006), the field medic who saved dozens of lives--crawling under Japanese grenades to administer plasma and treat wounds--when serving on Okinawa in World War II. Doss, an Adventist from Virginia, was the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor.

However, by the time of the Vietnam War, many Adventists submitted to the draft as combatants, not medics. On the other side of the issue, many Adventists sided with the peace movement that mobilized the churches, choosing to side with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and William Sloane Coffin in demanding an end to the war. The division continued, and the church's leadership currently allows each parishoner to make up his or her own mind--while peace is encouraged, joining the military is not grounds for disfellowship. In fact, the Chaplain of the Senate, Rear Admiral Barry Black, is an Adventist.

Douglas Morgan, an Adventist historian, began discussing Adventism's nonviolent heritage with other Adventists. Those discussions grew into the Adventist Peace Fellowship, which seeks to present the historical and theological underpinnings for nonviolence in Seventh-Day Adventist doctrine. This work has led to Adventist Peace Fellowship joining the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (more on that in a forthcoming post!), and staging protests in Washington and Los Angeles concerning the Iraq War.

While people continue to accuse religion of separating people, fostering violence, and promoting human misery, Adventist Peace Fellowship and other organizations like it in other faith traditions prove that religions promote peace, goodwill, and friendship--and this isn't an innovation, but something integral.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

As the summer winds down,

Welcome to the URC's Interfaith Blog! We're your place to ask questions, get comments, and explore ideas about religion and spirituality's place in current affairs, campus life, and community issues.

With the tragic shooting at a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Pastor Rick Warren's talk with Senators McCain and Obama about their faith, it's increasingly clear that dialogue between different religious communities and between people of faith and secularists is growing more and more important in our nation and world. And you can be a part of that.

As Bruins, you're in an exciting place for religious work and interfaith dialogue. UCLA is host to 35,000 students, thousands of faculty and staff, and sits in Los Angeles, one of the largest cities in the world. UCLA history professor S. Scott Bartchy says in the syllabus for his introductory history of religion class that "the United States has become the most religiously diverse nation in the world – with the Los Angeles area itself being without question the most religiously diverse place in the history of humanity."

With all the opportunities (and questions) that such diversity offers, we at the URC hope that you can come to us with your questions, concerns, and ideas on how to make UCLA and the surrounding community a safe and welcoming place for members of every faith community, as well as those that don't identify with any religious organization.

Whether your interests revolve around religion and the 2008 election, moral values and college life, or questions about the holidays your friends are celebrating, come to us--with your questions, your ideas, and your feedback. We hope that your search for truth at UCLA is a fruitful one!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Recent News Articles and Updates

Recently, the New York Times had an article titled,
For Muslim Students, a Debate on Inclusion.
It's a great article that talks about some of the difficulties facing American Islamic students today.

Also in the New York Times was an article titled Poll Finds a Fluid Religious Life in U.S., with Switches Common. It discusses the results in a recent report, titled "U. S. Religious Landscape Survey," which discusses religious demographics in America. It's interesting to discover that 44% of Americans have changed religious affiliations and that a number of Americans (more men than women) are unaffiliated.

Finally, I'd like to mention an interesting tidbit. You may have heard about the new pet ordinance in Los Angeles that requires pet owners to spay or neuter their pet. Well, that was written by Dov Lesel, a member of our board of directors. Great job, Dov!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Thoughts on Shiva

Thoughts on Shiva

Shiva Ratri is the most auspicious night of the year for worshiping of Lord Shiva. This year it falls on Thursday, March 6, 2008.

In order to understand the significance of a Hindu deity like Shiva, we need a little background. As with most religious traditions, God is often described as omnipresent, omniscient, infinite, changeless and other terms which convey that God is really beyond anything we can imagine or put into words. While many traditions prescribe thinking of God in one way, Hinduism has thought that if God (usually called Brahman in philosophical discussion such as this) is Infinite, then its (Brahman is beyond gender) manifestation could certainly be many, and of both genders. Each manifestation is like one disguise, costume, or aspect of God. But each manifestation has the other aspects in it. If you see an actor in one of his many roles, you are still seeing the whole actor - he didn't leave part of himself at home. So devotees of one aspect or deity of God begin to see, recognize, all aspects within their chosen favorite aspect. But a Hindu might still choose to think of God in many ways depending on the time of year or the circumstances of life.

Shiva is a good example of this. While text books will often describe Shiva as the God of Destruction in the "Trinity" of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, this is a very limited view. This view does give clarity to creation, preservation, and destruction as a simple way to divide up the necessary functions of God. But it is much too restrictive for devotees of Vishnu or Shiva. For example, devotees of Vishnu will say that Brahma is created by Vishnu, thus seeing the primary creative act as coming from Vishnu.

Shiva is worshiped in several forms and the "energy" or character of his aspect is known through various stories.

The Shiva Nataraj, or the dancing Shiva, depicts all three major functions of God in the Lord Shiva himself. He is creating with the sound of the damaru (small drum) The creation is preserved by Shiva holding down evil forces with his foot. But the whole cosmic cycle is consumed in a circle of flames. Thus the unending cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction continues around and around. He dances the rhythm of the cosmic cycles.

Shiva is sometimes depicted as the perfected Yogi, meditating with complete control over body and mind in the Himalayas. Thus he becomes a role model for meditators and renunciates.

Shiva is sometimes depicted as an elongated egg-shaped or pillar like stone sitting in a round holder. This belongs to the very important and common archetypal image of a circle (sometimes a ring, or in three dimensions a sphere) and a rod to represent the creative forces of the universe. When the end of a rod is dipped into a smooth surface of water (or if a small pebble is dropped into the water), it creates concentric circles of ripples. This symbolizes the beginning of creation through vibration - the bringing forth of manifestation from the chaos or the unfathomable primordial oneness. It is interesting to note that mathematically, the zero and one are a circle and a line (rod). They are the basis of our number system and our binary computer code.

He is given the role of preserver when, in one story, he saves the world from destruction from poison by swallowing and holding the poison in his own throat.

Shiva can also be seen as the ideal husband of Uma (Parvati).

If a devotee chooses to see the manifesting aspect of God as feminine, then Shiva is seen as lying motionless, representing the absolute (Brahman) upon which the feminine aspect stands.

Shiva is also known as the one who accepts even the simplest worship and accepts even outcasts as devotees.