Monday, April 17, 2006

Pre-Gathering Workshops - 2

To the question, "What Has Caused Abandonment of the Center in the Faith Traditions?" Dr. Alan Godlas asserted that Buddhists and Muslims share a common desire to see the goodness of human nature; that they share the qualities of patience, tolerance, compassion, wisdom, and taking refuge; compassionate awareness of the tragedies that befall the human race and a desire to transform them for the better; and that they use all available energies, including the negative, to bring about transformation for the better.

Co-chair Dr. Barbara von Schlegell spoke of the story of Hagar and how the sharing of water and the marriage of her son Ismael to an Arab brought the two worlds of Jews and Arabs together. She claimed that Islam was the religion of outsiders, demonized by the mainstream. (We Pagans could probably tell her a thing or two about being demonized.) She alluded to a sympathetic Muslim character on the television program "Lost," a referenced that puzzled most listeners there because they'd never seen the program. She claimed that personal relationships are the best way to demystify the "other" and change from us-and-them to simply us.

I have espoused this same idea for Witches for many years. We tend to fear the unknown, and when the unknown becomes familiar, fear disappears. This concept came up again and again in various ways over the course of the afternoon.

Dr. Maryam Sharief, dressed in black-and-white printed swaths of fabric round her head and body, is Sudan-born and reared and Oxford-educated. A mellifluent-voiced woman who'd traveled all the way from Cairo for this event, Dr. Sharief said that extremism reflects a state of the soul rather than religious thought. . She claimed that people have to earn their faith by raising their consciousness. Further, she said that extremism comes from modern consciousness, that modern educated people have lost their religous identity. I can agree with that only to a degree, not entirely.

Master Hang Truong, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and founder of the Compassionate Service Society, said that Buddhists shun extremism. He observed that exclusivity in daily life fosters extremism, and that change must occur deep within the individual and then love must be put out into the world. Sounds good to me.

Professor John Alden Williams, bearer of two distinguished American names, now retired, has traveled and studied throughout the world. He insisted that we need to make our principals live and real. I heartily agree.

Tekaroniamekan Jake Swamp, sub-chief of he Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, spoke of three important principles: first, teaching humans to allow peace to come into their bodies, to feel good about themselves; second, when inner peace is achieved it emits from each person to others; and third, the power of a good mind, of working with heart. This last, power of a good mind, seems similar to Starhawk's concept of power-from-within. Chief Swamp maintained that in whatever we do we must always be thinking of the children, of the following seven generations.

Well, that's about half of one session and it will have to do for now.

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