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.

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