Erenlai - Religions at the Crossroads 當神人相遇
Religions at the Crossroads 當神人相遇

Religions at the Crossroads 當神人相遇

Our world is being shaped by inter-religious interaction, both cooperation and conflict. Here is a selection of articles and testimonies that challenges the encounters of believers from various faiths, with special focus on Asia.

當這個世界的和諧深繫於宗教間的合作或衝突時,我們要如何讓不同的宗教合奏出優美的旋律呢?你所全心信仰的神引領你變得更開闊,還是將你關在只看得見自己的牢籠中?

 

 

 

 

 

週三, 29 二月 2012

From self-exploration and reflection to community: The Baishatun Mazu Pilgrimage

For over a century devotees of the Goddess of the Sea, Mazu (媽祖 lit. Mother Ancestor), from the Gongtian Temple in Baishatun, Miaoli County have flocked to Beigang’s Chaotian Temple in Yunlin County for an annual 400-plus km pilgrimage in the 2nd Lunar month of the year. They participate for the blessings, protection and fortune afforded by Mother Mazu, who was said to protect the fisherman and sailors on the high seas when she was a living human, known as Lin Moniang. As I lived by the seaside growing up myself I was moved by this significance. This year, as I tracked my way back from my Chinese New Year holiday to urban life in Taipei, I decided to join the devotees on the return leg of their 9-day journey, hoping to find in the ritual space, time and an opportunity for reflection.

The Mazu Pilgrimage (媽祖進香), which literally means an offering of incense, involved more than one thousand pilgrims following by foot Mazu’s jiao(轎)or palanquin, on her journey to the sacred first Mazu temple in Taiwan. While not shunning modern technology - A GPS informs followers of where Mazu is at any point in time – the deity nonetheless has an erratic and unpredictable personality in deciding her path. No one knows which route the unpredictable goddess will take and what locations or occurrences will draw her attention along the way, in fact, the only certainty is that the goddess will arrive at the ancestral temple and will find her way back to her hometown temple. One year Mazu even guided her followers through the cold currents of the Zhuoshui River rather than taking the rather more practical Xiluo Bridge. Mazu indicates the direction she wants to go by leaning and putting more weight on a particular corner of her palanquin, which is held aloft by devotees on their shoulders. The Baishatun Mazu is also fiercely incorruptible by modern politics and etiquette. She is a chaotic force for good, oblivious to any rules that would be imposed upon her. While politics often plagues other religious processions such as the most famous Dajia Mazu, the Baishatun Mazu avoids many of these problems with her anarchical mode of existence. Mazu’s uncontrollable free spirit, nonetheless, seems to give respect to local knowledge, with considerations of geography, the cultural map and mythology of the people and prevailing conditions during the journey.

The Council of Cultural Affairs is now promoting the Baishatun pilgrimage as a distinctive peculiarity of the island's native culture and identity; arguably this may be a strategy to bring this religious activity more closely in line with the needs of the state. But this tradition and community cannot be defined and imposed upon by state ideology. This Mazu pilgrimage is a grassroots, bottom up culture which develops spontaneously in dialogue with the local land and people. It has a thousand different interpretations, and a thousand different truths.

mazu_witek_nick2

With her sometimes cruel sense of humour Mazu mocks state control and rules implemented by faraway experts and institutions. In this festival of passionate religious expression, all the repressions that normally apply to earthly beings are broken or sidestepped. The police seem more like spectators, sighing as Mazu decides to divert troublesomely on to the motorway, or guide her followers through private property bumbling, or a movement I could only describe as 'bianging', aggressively through whatever stands in her path. Throughout the pilgrimage local residents light a barrage of fireworks on the roads, in theory an illegal activity, leaving the pilgrims engulfed in a constant cloud of smoke and the police look on impotently as the palanquin barges on through. This freedom of religious expression and creativity is severely lacking in Mazu’s homeland of southern China, where the government’s tight policy of control of religion leaves little space for such crowd-inducing rituals which are viewed with great suspicion, cutting the local populations off from these potentially de-alienating rituals and connection with the land. What I saw on this pilgrimage showed me that a lack of central control on the body and mind stimulates colour, contrasts and distinctive flavours whilst opening the doors for creative problem solving.

What sets the incorruptible Baishatun Mazu apart from other Mazu pilgrimages is the lack of shackles placed upon the followers forcing them to follow a strict temple doctrine; the space allowed for creativity, is inspiring to its followers without being repressive. Those in good health will follow the whole journey on foot as suixiangtuan, but for those who can’t walk long distances they will follow as jinxiangtuan in their car or a coach, stopping off to pray as Mazu sets off in the early morning. By throwing divination blocks, temple representatives will ask Mazu at what time they will set off in the morning which in my experience ranged from 2am to the early afternoon. This disorganized state allows for diverse interpretations and truths and encourages creativity and innovation. All along the journey individual worshippers happily spend their time and money practically, forcing upon you endless cups of green, red and ginger tea, sports drinks, and cans of Mr Brown coffee, also rarely did an hour pass by without being served lashings of thick soup, sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaf or mantou steamed bread. Many people even go extra lengths to create their own special dishes, such as one man who had been raising fish eggs which he combined with a delicious salmon sauce; each passer-by was treated to one deluxe mouth-watering bite served on a lone potato chip. Almost every house along the way seemed delighted to provide free accommodation to the pilgrims and discuss past stories and inquire as to how Mazu’s mood had been this year. Also known as the Silent Maiden, her mood could only be guessed by each devotee based on observing her interactions with the land and the people.

Each devotee’s belief in Mazu’s powers seems to stem from a different story based on their own personal experience and enlightenment, merely taking part in this year’s walk I encountered a host of different stories which is why I thoroughly recommend readers take part in the procession themselves.

I first heard about this Mazu pilgrimage due to my explorations into the world of performance arts and theatre, more specifically in the year I spent with Sannyas Meditation Theatre, which gets its inspiration from the Butoh tradition and the late Kazuo Ohno. The works of experimental theatre pioneer Jerzy Grotowski inspired a generation of performers to take part in local rituals, in order to make their performance more seamlessly connected to their inner self and local conditions, parenthesizing the alienating performance training they had received, thus making their performance more natural, truer. For me, asides from unfettered curiosity, taking part in the pilgrimage was a chance to enter a very pure state stemming directly from the connection between body and land and to explore how I would develop naturally on from this.

I kicked off my journey in a characteristically inauspicious way. As I was waiting to meet up with a fellow member of the Sannyas Theatre in the sacred Chaotiangong temple in Beigang, I was found to be leaning unawares on Mazu’s palanquin and was quickly exhorted and shuffled away by her stewards. I commenced the walk over-relishing the physical challenge and was perhaps even a little bit competitive. Jogging sections and even giving a friend a piggy back ride, left my knees and ankles suffering heavily over the last few days. I also found myself slightly overindulging in the free food offerings. Perhaps Mazu sensed that I had not yet entered a pure mind while following her as a couple of nights later Mazu appeared twice in my dreams, staring at me sternly and leaving me waking up damp and sweaty. It was not until later that I realised I had started the pilgrimage more as an observer, outsider than a full participant and seamless member of the community. I had heard a thousand different truths and meanings of peoples own experiences of the Mazu procession but I was still in the process of discovering my own, truthful only if based on the personal experience of my body and soul in dialogue with the community.

Photos by Witek Chudy

See the complete photostory by Witek

週二, 31 一月 2012

Language matters - Shengren, bigger than the buddhas?

The shengren is the most important concept in Chinese tradition.

Since the Europeans never had anything like it, but refused to hold the candle to China; instead they omitted the shengren and talked about some lesser versions of Greek "philosophers" or Christian "holy men".

The English soon found a slightly better translation; they called the shengren "sages", from Latin sapientia –being wise.

The Germans however, the descendants of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, never had a concept for sages or sagehood. In their effort to christen China, the Germans called the shengren "Heilige" (saints), from Germanic hailaz –being holy.

週三, 30 三月 2011

Blessed are the Peacemakers: The Search for an East Asian Reading

[Abstract]
East Asia is a region marked by an irreducible linguistic, cultural and religious diversity. Traditionally seen by Christianity as a practical and theological challenge, such diversity is now often considered as a treasure that needs to be assessed, appreciated and interpreted, so that Christians may enter a new understanding of the mission of “peacemakers” that the Sermon on the Mount calls them to fulfill. Peace-building is thus to be seen as a an ongoing, creative endeavor inseparable from the development of East Asian theology, for both tasks are anchored into an interpretative process through which cultures, creeds and world-views are perpetually reshaped. What defines them is never taken for granted but rather is being discovered and challenged throughout the process of exchange and interpretation. On the long run, the “translation” of traditional languages and narratives that the in-depth meeting with the Other makes possible nurtures a creative reinterpretation of one’s spiritual, dogmatic and cultural resources. This “translation” process amounts to a trespassing of boundaries, reviving and reshaping theological and peacebuilding endeavors alike.

This article is available in a recently published book entitled Asian and Oceanic Christianities in Conversation, Exploring Theological Identities at Home and in Diaspora (Studies in World Christianity and Interreligious Relations (SWCIR),Volume 47).

The old contrast between “universal” and “local” is now collapsing, but a new paradigm has yet to be defined. The contributors claim that the questions they raise will help redraw the lines of demarcation each in a unique way. Their collaborative result is a re-submission of the century-old question regarding “essence of Christianity,” and the readers will hear answers to this question resounding in polyphonic voices. The book will make a unique contribution to the scholarship by constructing a common forum connecting diasporic Asians and Oceanians who live and work in regions around the Pacific Ocean. Publication in the field of theology has been thick on the American side of the Pacific, and the agenda of discussion are shaped largely in accordance with the concerns of those living on the North-American continent and in British Isles. Theologians living on the other side of the Pacific, while in daily contact with the multi-religious realities that beg theological attention, sometimes lack means of engaging in sustained discussion with other theologians who are similarly struggling to gain insights into different cultural contexts. This book will provide a shared ground for reflection and discussion.

More info and order form with a special discount

 


Read a BV's article on Interreligious conflicts, dialogue and inventiveness in today's Asia

 

 

週一, 13 十二月 2010

New Religions in China

An Italian translation of this article appeared in the December 2010 edition of popoli and is a continuation of some ideas raised in eRenlai's October 2010 Focus on religious innovation in East Asia.

To recap, the term 'new religious movement' was originally coined as a less loaded alternative to 'cult'.  It represents an attempt to classify new religious groups that are either a brand new conception of reality, a reinterpretation of an existing belief system or transplanted beliefs in a foreign land. Such groups are continuously evolving all over the world, and China is no exception.

週三, 24 十一月 2010

A Meeting at Twilight: When I met Master 馬神父

“And who is that foreigner?”

Sometime around Chinese New Year 2004, I was offered an invitation to a concert. The venue was the auditorium of the World Trade Center and instead of featuring a specific artist; it enlisted the performances of different religious organizations. These two facts triggered my attention: In one go, I would be given a glimpse at the whole religious worldview of Taiwan. I hence waited for the day.

There were many memorable things that evening: speeches, dance and music performances, all executed in an orderly and solemn mood, particular to religious events. To that should be added an imposing and memorable image, namely that of two widely open arms, as if they were ready to embrace the whole world. They particularly gestured at each time a new guest march in. Those arms showed an amount of warmth, of friendship, respect which without disturbing the solemnity of the event complemented it. From their attire, it was clear that the VIP guests came from different religious backgrounds and denominations. And the gestures of those arms and the responses they received showed beyond any doubt that these were old acquaintances. Their interaction contributed to the beauty of the event. Yet, those arms belonged to a foreigner. That triggered my curiosity even more. I could not refrain from inquiring on that delighted, and well accepted foreign presence. Who was that foreigner, what was he doing, which wind has led him to where he stood? I had plenty of questions to which my informant could only say: “He is a Jesuit. His name is 馬神父(Father Ma). He works in interreligious dialogue.”

A landing concerned with the possibility of another take off

Few days after this interreligious concert, I visited 馬神父in his office at Tien Educational Center. In this encounter, the list of my questions was to be quenched at the horse mouth. But more than a curiosity, I looked forward to a wider view of the religious picture of Taiwan, to an understanding of the challenges and opportunities for a commitment in the field of interreligious dialogue. Father Albert welcomed me with cordiality. He spoke of the forty years of commitment in that field. He insisted on his conversion as led by the spirit of Vatican II, specifically as stipulated in Nostra Aetate. Because of NA, he had dealt with all students, respecting their religious convictions. Humbly acknowledging, his own limitations, he accepted to learn from different masters (Buddhist and founders of other religious movements). As executive secretary of the FABC commission for Interreligious Dialogue and member of the Pontifical Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, he not only persuaded Asian bishops on the necessity of the mission; he unceasingly knocked at doors of prominent religious leaders, inviting them to open up so they could enjoy the freedom of the mutual respect, mutual enrichment achieved through dialogue. He co-founded organizations aiming at promoting interactions and cooperation among religious groups. Using his contacts, he had acted as a bridge among religious people and offered a neutral platform fostering a respectful dialogue among their leaders. The atmosphere, I had witnessed to the previous day at the inter-religious concert was a flashback at those achievements.

In this initial sharing, Fr. Albert did not hide the concern of not finding many people sharing fully in his enthusiasm. He feared being a successful lone-ranger, with no heir of the legacy he had striven to build up in a lifetime. This was the first of a series of visits, the last being on the eve of his departure. The content and mood of this first conversation colored and impacted all the succeeding encounters and plans that Fr. Albert was projecting.

A Training à la Ma Shenfu

The dialogic training which Fr. Albert proposed consisted in an exploration, an exposure to the religion of the other. He insisted on the necessity to immerse oneself in the world of the other. The live-in experience dealt opportunities to cultivate friendship, which, Fr. Albert retained, was a basic ingredient for dialogue. Fr. Albert was convinced that where friendship blossoms, there would be room for respect, tolerance, mutual understanding, cooperation etc. For this reason, his dialogic method aimed at positing the ground where friendship could grow. For this end, he had developed techniques nurturing that value: periodic visits, calls, mails, etc. In meeting a new person, he would gather all the detailed information on the host so as he or she would feel immediately close. With regards to etiquette, he would ensure that the person is addressed with his or her real title. And for this, one needed to study the relations and the position of the host; gather all possible on the person and his/her institution. He held friendship among religious leaders in high regard, convinced that it had a trickle down impact on the followers. By despising and belittling the followers of one’s master friend, one was in fact shaming and disrespecting his/her own master.

The practical implications of these convictions made the training in Albert’s steps a continuous excursion, during which he would introduce the disciple to the circle of his friends. Dialogue occurred during these meeting around the shared food, a cup of tea, a chant, an acquaintance with the visited environment, a sharing in the activities of the people visited and so forth. What imported was transcending the separation – signified by the existence of closed door.

Knocking at your door…

A visit always leads to a door, to be knocked at with the expectation that it be opened, give way to a sharing which bridles and nurtures true friendship. One observation is that Fr. Albert loaded the concepts “knocking” and “door” with specific meanings. All doors were to be knocked at and opened: those of the temples, those of churches, the Catholic Church with its various religious congregations included. But foremost, the doors to knock at and open were those giving access to the depth of human existence. For this reason, he insisted on a form of dialogue which transcended the confines of time and space, language and grammar. He spoke of “a dialogue in depth.” Albeit the limits of explanation, dialog in depth refers to a spiritual experience in which one is projected and dwells in the other, transcending subjective limits and achieving an ineffable communicability translated in an “I in You, You in Me” awareness. This communicability no longer needs an external support such as words or language, physical presence. Fr Albert recognized though the scarcity of those instances. In fact, despite his long experience, he could only name a few as partners who had reached that level of dialogue.

The figurative meaning of this knocking reminds of the challenge of dialogue, especially if it has to lead to a dialogue in depth. Fr. Albert knocked at numerous doors, many of which have lowered their threshold as a sign of their willingness to dialogue. The question is how to transform good will into a reality given that dialogue in depth starts with the first step in or across that threshold.

Against the clock time

My encounter with Fr. Albert occurred at the twilight of a life dedicated to the cause of religious dialogue in Asia. The décor of his office – a small interreligious altar, pictures of famous masters, some in their young age, inspirational sayings, books… – reflected the fruits of the toils of those bright days. It also justified a sustained enthusiasm for a bright future. But this hope has to stand against the slog of aging with its pile of health problems. It would also be sustained by a certainty that more people would cross those open doors and, made of the threaded path, a tradition. Sometimes that hope was really put at test, especially when Fr. Albert realized that his memory was fading and that his medical visits were taking up the time and attention that used to be dedicated to temples and monasteries. Pain progressively took over and dwelt in his body, making it difficult “to keep on smiling.” Hence, during the visits in the infirmary where he was sheltered for the last three years, he would ask for prayers so “that he could keep on smiling.” – Yes, smiling and strong enough to continue knocking at doors so that dialogue could be initiated. Till the end, he would surrender everything but not the idea of the urgency of dialogue.

During one of the visits in the temporary chapel where his body was laid to rest, I was moved by the comment of one of his care takers. I had noticed her for about three years but never exchanged a word with her. She inquired on my acquaintance with Fr. Albert, how I knew him, adding that “He must have been a great and a kind person.” After answering her questions, I added that for many, he had been like a wineskin containing good wine that had brought joy, meaning and insights to their lives. We then bid goodbye. I left that place with a deep sense of gratitude and awe for Bro. Jose Diez and his team for their dedicated service and companionship. What they offer is indeed a threshold conducing to a dialogue filled with the hope of another sunrise beyond the twilight of human existence.

Photo provided by the Tien Center

週一, 22 十一月 2010

A pioneer of inter-religious dialogue

As with Father Jean Lefeuvre, Father Albert Poulet-Mathis is one of the first Jesuits I met when I first came to Taiwan during summer 1982. It was difficult for me to figure out exactly what was his work was as he had an office outside the house where we were living. His work for the Federation of Asia Bishop Conferences in the field of inter-religious dialogue sounded a little mysterious to me. My stay was quite short but Father APM managed very kindly to invite me to his friend’s house on a couple of occasions. Later, after I settled down for good on the island, I realized that his work was indeed of great importance. But as the Catholic Church is really a minority in the religious world of the island, I somehow had the feeling that while his concern was for sure admired, it was also shared with reservations by other colleagues, as the care for the little Christian flock seemed always to be the priority of the priorities.

But now I realize that his contribution was a real gift not only to the Catholic Church or to all the religious groups in Taiwan, but also to the society in Taiwan as a whole.

In the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, what APM did in Taiwan was indeed the right thing to do for the Catholic Church in Taiwan. His initiative of inter-religious dialogue came at a time when the Catholic Church arrived somehow en masse from the mainland and had started to grow roots into Taiwanese soil. From a Catholic point of view nothing can be lost from a deeper understanding of other religious traditions and spirituality. The cheerful personality of APM, his charisma for making friends and bringing people together really did help many persons of good will and from very different backgrounds to cherish and keep the atmosphere of mutual respect among the different religious groups in Taiwan.

In this regard the work of Father APM in Taiwan has been of great importance. He has been a pioneer. Hopefully this task of promoting inter-religious dialogue will find a second breath and will bring deeper and more concrete experiences. The achievements of Father APM and his friends in this regard show that Taiwanese society is able to draw from its riches and diversity to innovate and move forward from a troubled past. The work of Father APM spanned during a period when various constituent groups of this society have been facing a new situation and also have confronted each other. May his efforts in the field of inter-religious dialogue be also a sign for the future of Taiwan!

(Photo provided by the Tien Center)

 

週四, 02 九月 2010

從文化志業到信仰實踐——耕莘文教院院長杜樂仁演講紀實

7月25日上午10點,在天主教震旦中心舉行過主日彌撒後,杜樂仁神父帶著裝滿珍貴文件照的投影片檔案,以名為〈跟隨著聖依納爵和利瑪竇的腳步,從辭典走向雜誌——台灣耶穌會士的實踐〉的演說,向在座教友分享五十餘年來,台灣利氏學社在文化志業上的點滴實踐。

週三, 01 九月 2010

以家庭互愛為基礎的宗教對話

人們常覺得宗教間對話的層級僅限於較高層次,例如宗教領袖有時公開會面,在群眾或鏡頭前交流。但在社區內,教會可能和清真寺或廟宇共襄盛舉,成為慶典的一部分。以一般層次而言,也不難見到不同宗教的鄰居討論彼此信仰內容。

週五, 13 八月 2010

Is Asia Pacific? Interreligious conflicts, dialogue and inventiveness in today’s Asia

There is no need to underline the dizzying diversity of Asia’s religious landscape. I do not intend here to attempt even a preliminary sketch of the patchwork of faiths and traditions that extend from Pakistan to Japan… I just would like to point out some general trends that have emerged in the last two or three decades, trends that have been partly reshaping the setting of Asia’s religions. Also, I would like to reflect on the challenges that these trends are creating. Furthermore, I’d like to suggest a few possible answers that Christianity could articulate in response to current developments, provided that Christians wish indeed to become “peacemakers” as the Sermon on the Mount calls them to be. Such responses may also inspire the ones brought forward by other religions. In any case, interreligious dialogue in Asia has become an endeavor that no religion can escape from, not only for spiritual reasons but also in order to achieve the following goals: (a) progressing towards national and ethnic reconciliation (b) ensuring religious freedom and other civil rights (c) tackling global challenges (dialogue of civilizations, ecology, struggle against consumerism, development of a global ethic.)

Revivalism and Identity Crisis

Revivalism has become a predominant religious trend. The clearest example is provided by the new vitality found by Islam in Asia, as is also the case in other parts of the world. Such fact is of utmost importance: Indonesia is the most populated Muslim nation in the world; Bangladesh and Pakistan have overwhelming Muslim majorities, and Malaysia has also a Muslim majority, though not as pronounced; India has a strong Muslim minority; and Muslim populations are located on conflict-prone frontier regions in the Philippines, Thailand and China.

The point here is that such “vitality” - experienced with different feelings according to the standpoint of the observer - encompasses an array of very different phenomena that have to be carefully distinguished:

- A kind of revivalist atmosphere stressing both Islamic and ethnic pride on a background of post-colonial sensitivity and widespread religious education, affecting the consciousness of Muslim populations all around Asia.

- Marginal violent movements carrying attacks, movements often fostered by international networks.

- Pervasive political strategies trying to impose and enforce Islamic laws and Islamic state apparatus; such strategies threaten the fabric of the secular state (which was a feature of post-colonial Asia) or lead some states that from the start were not altogether secular to become openly theocratic.

- At the same time, it is important to note that, since 2001. Muslin communities often suffer from accrued hostility and prejudices, especially in countries where they are a minority - and these prejudices can reinforce violence and deviant behaviors. Some of these communities also suffer from disadvantageous social background and economic conditions.

A few additional remarks are in order:

- Among these trends, the third one might be the most preoccupying one. In history, such strategies have led to the annihilation/assimilation of populations living in Muslin societies and professing other faiths. Strategies vary according to the size of the proportion of the Muslim population and the overall political situation. A distinction is to be made between Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia on the one hand, and the other countries of the region where Muslims are a vocal minority, sometimes with complaints rooted into national history. At the same time, further comparison between Bangladesh and Pakistan for instance might help us to assess better the role of cultural or international factors in religious attitudes: Bangladesh prides itself of a spirit of tolerance and accommodation seemingly lacking in Pakistan. This opposition of style between two Moslem countries leads back to an array of cultural and political factors deeply anchored into the collective memory of the two protagonists.

- In countries with Muslim majority, Christians of tribal origin generally constitute the most vulnerable population when it comes to forced conversion and discrimination. At the same time, Christians who are social leaders because of their wealth, occupation or educational level are often at the frontline of ongoing confrontations (this is patent in Pakistan).

- Of course, besides the Islamic revival, other sources of concern exist, which strongly influence interreligious conflicts and cooperation on the continent as a whole: authoritarian States manipulative of religions or even of interreligious dialogue; revivalist political/religious currents and organizations that might go with the assertion of a “national’ religion (in a Buddhist context, the phenomenon can be observed in Sri-Lanka); materialism and consumerism as they are cutting off the very roots of interreligious dynamics and dialogue.

- With the exception of Vietnam maybe, one notes everywhere a strong growth of Protestantism, most of the time under a fundamentalist and proselytizing garb, which often exacerbates tensions already existing. Proselytism also characterizes new religions, which are in the rise in many countries. As a consequence of this increase of religious communalism, a country like China is much less “syncretistic” than in the past and, witnesses a new assertiveness of believers who are conscious of clear-cut confessional divisions.


bv_buddhist_temple_bkk_2010

In a Buddhist temple in Bangkok (July 2010)

What is to be done?

1) In a context marked by potential or actual confrontations, but also by encounters and fluctuating frontiers, believers should not renounce the ideal of living and praying side by side as a privileged form of dialogue. Sometimes, and in different circles, there have been hesitations and reservations on a form of interreligious dialogue rooted into the fact of praying side by side. Still, one can reasonably think that God takes more pleasure in seeing people praying together than killing each other… Prayer often manifests itself as a kind of “revolutionary force”, and religious leaders are well advised to let and encourage people find their own way of associating their prayers in times and places of conflicts, natural disasters, or just for building up brotherly neighborhoods. Actually, what might be the most dangerous feature of violence is the fact that it exercises a kind of fascination that leads all people involved to a hardening of their own identity, fostering a chain of violent reactions - violent in spirit even when not in deeds. In this light, and even if such posture looks “idealistic”, the importance of a spiritual, even “mystical” approach towards interreligious understanding cannot be overlooked.

2) At the same time, it is impossible not to tackle directly the political dimension of interreligious encounters (understood as dialogue and tensions): ethnic or national revivalist movements and religious revivals are associated phenomena; ethnic, partisan and religious lines are often blurred. In the Catholic Church, a document of the Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis Humanae, has established the principle of religious freedom, associating it with a reflection on the mission, nature and duties of the state. At the same time, the text was strongly influenced by the American constitutionalism tradition. Asian religious leaders now need to clarify their stance about the secular state (which most of them tend to belittle or flatly reject.) Asian religions should debate of their political principles and, hopefully, agree on a few pressing tasks: (a) definition of the secular state, (b) pushing towards further regional union, encompassing a bill of rights emphasizing the spiritual roots of Asia (both their diversity and their strength), (c) working for equality among sexes (which might constitute the most important check against radical Islam on the long run)… Also going along this “political imperative”, arises the exigency to be always truthful about history. Interreligious and inter-ethnic encounters are made possible or are blocked by narratives that are shared or are conflicting. When they happen in a context where conflicting narratives are honestly recognized and retold, such encounters operate as a healing of memories.

3) Asia is a region marked by an irreducible linguistic, cultural and religious diversity. Traditionally seen by Christianity as a practical and theological challenge, such diversity is actually a treasure that needs to be assessed, appreciated and interpreted. Peace-building is thus to be seen as an ongoing endeavor inseparable from the development of interreligious dialogue: both tasks are anchored into an interpretative process through which cultures, creeds and world-views are perpetually reshaped. On the long run, the “translation” of traditional languages and narratives that the in-depth meeting with the Other makes possible nurtures a creative reinterpretation of one’s spirituality and faith.

4) Value education and other actions conducive to a culture of dialogue must target in priority women and the youth, as these two sectors are the ones who are susceptible to foster in the future a less rigid and more compassionate social culture. Value education starts from existential requirements such as the importance of honesty, mutual respect and joy. Interreligious cooperation is actually anchored into the nurturing of basic values that, ideally, could and should be taught in the schools of a pluralistic secular state.

A “musical” metaphor might help us to ascertain what is at stake in such encounters: we all have different musical tastes, different “ears”, and yet we are called to do music together. What then will come out of our musical disagreements? At the end of the day, we cannot bet for sure on the kind of music that God likes and composes. Maybe He does not compose in the C scale or in B moll, maybe He composes a kind of serial or computer-generated music that goes through disharmonies and rhythmic breaks – music that we do not immediately appreciate. Creative music generally challenges our listening habits - and we can assume that God indeed is a creative composer.

週五, 06 八月 2010

The boundary between religion and the state in China

In this video Professor John Lagerwey examines the boundary between the state and religion in China.  Importantly, he identifies the problems that arise when attempting to understand Chinese religiosity through a Western religious framework, rather than through a Chinese cultural one.

This video is an excerpt from Professor Lagerwey's presentation on 11 May 2010 at the "Dialogue among Civilizations and Global Challenges" forum hosted by the Xu-Ricci Dialogue Institute at Fudan University, Shanghai.

Professor Lagerwey is the Professor for Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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週一, 21 六月 2010

Spiritual experience and interreligious dialogue

Religions are not only made of rituals, creeds and cultural expressions. They provide different paths for one’s spiritual experience and growth. For sure, spiritual experience can happen and develop outside religions but religions provide written traditions, guides and beliefs that lead one along the way. Religions are not only spiritual experiences, and spiritual experiences are not only religious in nature. But there is a strong connection between the two.

Different religions provide different kinds of religious experiences. The way the Absolute is conceived, the cultural context where these religions grew or still the styles of prayers and liturgy proper to different religious traditions shape the spiritual experiences that a given religion allows. But this does not mean that one religion would allow for only one type of spiritual path, nor that there is no communication possible among these paths. Actually, spiritual experiences are also determined by the psychological characteristics of the pilgrim, or maybe, even more basically, by human nature itself. Said otherwise, spiritual experiences are anthropologically determined.

In fact, studying spiritual experiences in their variety makes us able to investigate both things at the same time: (a) the nature of Man as an animal capable of praying, meditating, and investigating what he cannot see or touch; (b) and also, maybe, the nature of the Absolute itself, since dialogue among different spiritual traditions might reveal common insights. For using a crude comparison, the nature of Man and the nature of the Absolute are the hardware on which can play the various “software” of the spiritual paths. Spiritual experience, when lived and reflected upon, has much to tell us about the ‘hardware” of human and divine nature.

Seen in this light, religious dialogue, when anchored into dialogue among spiritualities, is also a way to explore our common human condition. It is an investigation, a way of growing into one’s spiritual identity, and not only a way of building more harmony and peace among religions. When seeing interreligious dialogue as the cross-fertilization of various spiritual experiences, a few interesting insights might occur to us. For instance, spiritual traditions put a special stress on some basic virtues that are anchored into our everyday experience and that prove to be fundamental for starting the spiritual path: the most important of these qualities is to be deeply attentive to Life within us, to the Other and to the world. This is the way to develop “pure attention”, which, in many traditions, has often been defined as the essence of prayer. “Attention” goes along a growing awareness of the richness of the our world and of the inner mystery of the things and beings that surround us.

All spiritual traditions also develop a paradoxical language that mixes metaphor of “summit’ and “abyss”, of fire and water, of awe and deep confidence. They try to subvert our ordinary categories and experiences so as to open us to the novelty of the Absolute. They make us see the spiritual path as a pilgrimage that we are called to undertake.

A third characteristic of spiritual cross-encounter is that all spiritual traditions develop ways of transcending the limits of the Self, so as to abolish the distance between “subject” and “object.” They want us not to concentrate on ourselves but rather to open us to a transforming reality. Becoming more familiar with the object of our quest and being progressively and deeply transformed by it is one and the same operation. In this respect, spirituality is a form of experimental knowledge. It aims at experiencing and revealing the inner world within the external one by making us dare to be transformed by the reality we investigate. Spiritual writings can thus be seen as “maps”, as itineraries. Among them, mystical writings are of a special quality, as they are personal testimonies on life-long experiences that have led their authors to the very limit of their humaneness. Mystics can be seen as “explorers” on the boundaries between human and divine nature.

Finally, there is a post-modern twist in the way inter-spiritual encounters are lived today: many people do not live only an experience of inter-religious dialogue but also of intra-religous dialogue; they can internally refer to various traditions (for instance aboriginal religions and Christianity), due to the fluidity of cultural contexts. This can enrich their own spiritual experience and the one of all Humankind. Spiritual pilgrims do not live their experience for themselves alone but for the community of which they are part - and ultimately for the whole of Humankind searching for its nature and destiny.

Photo by B.V.

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