Friday, 1 July 2016

Interfaith: My 'peace' of the puzzle

Me: "I do interfaith work"

Friend: "Oh wow... What is that?"

Saturday Night Live confused maya rudolph huh snl

As the world becomes seemingly more destructive, disparate and disconnected, it can be easy for a person to feel disheartened - to feel fear, hopelessness and helplessness. But helpless, I believe, we are not.

I truly believe that in order for the world to change or transform, to shift towards peace and harmony away from indignity and cruelty, it needs to inevitably shake up (like the event of Brexit in the UK). This "shaking up" we are experiencing is the painstaking effects of the deepest historical causes. And it's what we do now, while experiencing this change, that lays the foundation for our future. This is karma (cause and effect) in a nutshell.

It's easy to blame society for our societal problems. But who makes up society? It's us, me and you, individuals. And if we want society to change, surely we have to change (or take action towards change) concurrently, individually and collectively.

Towards the end of last year, I was introduced to the world of 'interfaith'. I was asked to attend an interfaith youth conference in Castel Gandolfo, southeast of Rome and the town of the Pope's summer residence, organised by Religions for Peace Europe, a platform for a network of organisations to facilitate multi-religious and interfaith cooperation, as a representative of my international Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International (SGI). The theme of the week-long conference was "From Fear to Trust".


At the time, I didn't really understand the significance of going. Having grown up in a multiculturally diverse town and as a practising Buddhist, I assumed I was already "doing interfaith".  Most of my friends are Muslim, I went to church for a while.

But I went. I absorbed. I struggled. I pushed myself. I even cried here and there. And mostly importantly I learned. I struggled not only to understand and treasure the person in front of me and everything that came with that person (be it faith or culture), but to also truly know and be proud of myself at the same time. The dialogues I was engaging in enabled me to turn the focus back on myself introspectively. I can now see that dialogue is a two way process of discovery. As a result of this conference, my view of the macro-world and my micro-responsibility as a citizen of this world transformed. 

Me presenting my "Buddhism" table to my new interfaith friends
(Castel Gandolfo, Italy, October 2015)

Interfaith activities are opportunities to listen, embrace differences and explore similarities. Whether you have a religion or not, you must believe in/have faith in something. There must be something you stand up for, something that makes your heart race and your mind tick. I believe that we all believe in wanting to live in a peaceful world (even if you don't think it's possible at this point in time).

Faith isn't always about religion. It can be a belief in the potential of human beings to act and change at the deepest of levels.

With the way the world is going, it's growing more easy to feel different to the person next to you. Dialogue is a crucial tool to tackle this. 

From this year onwards, I am making it my mission to study other religions around the world and engage in dialogue with the people around me. It need not be difficult; I want to discard my preconceptions and open my heart to everyone.

I recently watched the following video, which explores the importance of Turkey, a place of both Asia and Europe in one, in sharing common consciousness in our hearts and encourages us to have an inner dialogue, to ask ourselves: "Am I prejudiced towards so and so...?"

I recommend you do the same:

"The dialogue with Islam [or any religion...] need not be a debate over religious doctrines. We can start by discussing the mutual problems that we all face as human beings. We can discuss culture as education. Or we can discuss the imperatives for achieving world peace from a humanitarian standpoint. People all over the world share the same desire for peace and cultural development." (SGI President Ikeda in Europe - Vol. 1, p. 189)

This is the starting point. This is the goal of sincere dialogue. This is faith that your heart can be a peaceful place first and foremost, followed by the land around you. So I challenge you to have 1 meaningful and sincere dialogue a day, in your fullest humanity, and see how much your heart (and your environment) changes...

Let's create a new history.

Friday, 24 June 2016

REMAINing hopeful

As I sit on the bus to work, I can't ignore the thick layer of grief in the air. The sun is shining, a time when Brits usually rejoice this rarity! Yet I see no smiles this morning, only fearful looks and confused eyes glued to the ground below.

At the moment, most of us may feel powerless. A huge change is afoot, a Farage-driven change that the majority of our country's people has voted for. It's incredible that a country who, on the majority, voted in our Prime Minister has gone completely against what he was pushing and towards the opposition's policy on the EU.

I can't stand the negativity - so this is my push for positivity.

My mentor Daisaku Ikeda, president of the lay Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International, says that "peace is an endless endeavour".

An endless endeavour to feel hope when you feel hopeless. An endless endeavour to encourage the person in front of you to smile when you're crying inside. An endless endeavour to have the courage to even believe that the world can change and that you are part of that change when it feels like everything around us in regressing to the dark ages.

I believe that we have a choice

We have a choice of what we want to feel in our hearts. We have a choice about how we speak to people today - will we impart hope and courage at school and work? Or will we join the scaremongers and drown in self-pity?

We have a choice

We can advance together with optimism and hope, united with our European friends around us, surely, regardless of a political vote. 

We have a choice. 

I truly believe in my heart that in order for the world to change, the 'nastiness' needs to be exposed. And this morning was part of that exposure. Things will inevitably be shaken up and uncomfortable before they change.

This morning I stumbled upon a publication called The New Humanism for World Peace published by the Institute of Oriental Philosophy, which describes the beginnings of Shakyamuni Buddha's seeking to understand the nature of the suffering world around him, in a time of great upheaval:
In a world so full of conflict, how should peace and co-existence be brought about? The impetus of Shakyamuni’s denouncing of his royal heritage and searching for the truth within his deeper consciousness came from the shock and fear he felt at the sight of violence [...] 
Shakyamuni’s meditation took him into the deepest sections of humanity’s consciousness, and first sought a peaceful world without the sufferings of conflict, sickness, birth and death, but in his broad quest found that such a blissful world does not exist anywhere. He then sought to find the answer to what makes people antagonistic towards one another. At that moment, he perceived that “the arrow of earthly desires” was embedded in the depths of humanity’s consciousness,
“Then I saw a barb here, hard to see, nestling in the heart."
“Affected by this barb, one runs in all directions. Having pulled that barb out, one does not run, nor sink.” 

In a 1993 speech at Harvard University, Soka Gakkai International (SGI) President Daisaku Ikeda explains this further (in the same text):
“The following quote is illustrative: ‘I perceived a single, invisible arrow piercing the hearts of the people.’ The ‘arrow’ symbolizes a prejudicial mindset, an unreasoning emphasis on individual differences. India at that time was going through transition and upheaval. To Shakyamuni’s penetrating gaze, it was clear that the underlying cause of the conflict was attachment to distinctions, to ethnic, national, and other differences.”

How was he able to pull out the “arrow of earthly desires”? He became awakened to the great expanse of life, the inner cosmos, that exists in the depths of all people's lives. He deeply believed in his potential, and the potential of others, to also be awakened to his and pull out their arrow.

Everything in this blog is a representation of my beliefs and my beliefs only and in no way do I intend to represent the views of all Buddhists around the world.

For me personally, today's events urges me to deepen the Buddhist philosophy by which I live my life and encourages others to deepen their faith (religious or not) in whatever they believe in. It urges me to study history, to have the courage talk to friends and strangers about the fundamentals of life, to renew my vow that I will see a peaceful society - and do all I can to lay the foundations - in my lifetime.

For the sake of our children, their children and beyond, I believe that how we conduct ourselves from now on is vital. We will experience setbacks in life - and this is one of them - but life is long. 

What is YOUR vision of the future? And what role will YOU play in the endless endeavour to bring it to fruition?

Peace isn't easy. No-one ever said it was. Peace is hard work! So we've got work to do.