UNITED RELIGIONS INITIATIVE Southeast Asia & the Pacific Regional E-Newsletter
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URI GLOBAL COUNCIL MEETING 2007 IN ANTWERP

The UNITED RELIGIONS Initiative’s Global Council and Staff gathered in Antwerp , Belgium last June, 2007 for their annual meetings to deepen relationships, exchange knowledge and experiences and to co-create vision and plans for URI’s growth and development in the coming years.

We were graciously hosted by URI Europe in the beautiful grounds of the Theological and Pastoral Center in Antwerp . The staff and volunteers of Bond Zonder Naam ("Movement without a name") CC were great hosts. We thank Fr. Patrick Hanjoul, the dynamic Director of the movement for their great hospitality.

“A THRESHHOLD MOMENT FOR URI” was the theme of the meeting of the three day Global & Regional Staff (June 6-8). Seven years after the signing of URI’s Charter and with over 350 CC in more than 60 countries of the world and the enormous challenges, URI is now poised to enter a new, dynamic stage of growth and development...
(to read the full story and see more photos, click here: http://www.urigcmeetingantwerp2007.blogspot.com/ )

Editorial: ENVISIONING URI IN THE REGION AT ITS THRESHOLD

by Sr. Sandra G. Clemente, RSCJ

Dearly beloved URI co-workers,

United Religions Initiative (URI) as a global organization is now seven years old from the time of its charter signing in June 26, 2000. We are not a “toddler” anymore as we are now beginning to enter the world of “knowing and learning”. In the process of human development, the child at this stage not only grows physically and intellectually but spiritually as well. In a similar manner URI is now entering the world of “knowing and learning” and the organization has now begun to ask a lot of WHY & HOW questions.

Indeed, URI as a global organization is now at a threshold - a moment of joy, a celebration of continued hope for the future at this critical stage of our growth. During the Global Council (GC) meeting, we were able to cross some challenges and envision DREAMS of a brighter future for URI.

The URI Foundation has been affirmed and its organizational structures and governance have been approved. Its role in forging the future of URI as an organization has been laid, and this brings joy and hope for the global URI family, including our region, Southeast Asia & Pacific.

Another significant decision made at the GC was the amendment of extending the term of service of a Global Council Trustee from one term of three years to three terms. It is at this point of the process where I, as a current trustee, really felt the immensity and depth of our responsibilities in the whole URI organization. This is one of the thresholds we had crossed that will remain in my memory forever.

For me, this threshold is a leap of faith that will keep us on the path towards that image of what I have always envisioned URI doing: “gathering all the leaders of different faiths from the different nations in the world in one circle-- to discuss, reflect on and decide upon the future and safe-keeping of the world”. This is a very powerful vision indeed!

And how does this relate with our region? What repercussions do such processes have for us?

My co-Trustees in the region, Dr. Ratnam Alagiah and Dr. Amir Isahak, together with our Regional Coordinator, Dr.Shakun Vaswani and myself, as well as all the other officers and trustees from the other regions were given some time during the GC meeting to ponder on these questions and plan for these visions. In our attempt to see where we are going as a region for the years ahead, we have identified several strategy points like: Network-building with other non-government organizations (NGO) and the media; More visible and active involvement in local/national as well as international interfaith dialogues/conferences; a strengthened Support Structure, Communication, and Public Relations; creation and development of leadership training for peace-building; even working towards a URI-SE Asia Pacific Center and Training Institute!

As we continue to plan for the growing presence of URI in more SE Asia-Pacific countries, we also envision strong, well-trained and active Cooperation Circle (CCs) members (most especially, youths) ready to take on leadership roles in the region and global organization.

As I share with you these bright visions I am filled with gratitude and honor in being a part of this newsletter, and to share as well the reflections and stories of hope and inspiration that have fueled these dreams-- bringing them to reality.

Together, let us dream and manifest a URI future in our region with vibrant, self-witnessing, self-reliant CCs that will share its LIGHT and PEACE to the world! We may begin by looking ahead to a full-force participation in the URI GLOBAL ASSEMBLY in Mayapur, in India on November 2008!

Yours in Peace,

Sr. Sandra G. Clemente, RSCJ

Reflections: WHEN SIDDHARTA AND JESUS MEET

by Mr. Michael Lim, Unitarian Universalist from Malaysia

I wish to reflect on the tale of two masters – Siddharta and Jesus – two individuals whose life stories have touched the lives of billions for over two thousand years.
Siddharta (meaning “wish fulfilled”) Gautama or better known as the Buddha was born about 500 years before Jesus in Lumbini in the plains of what is today called Nepal. He was a prince who had everything while confined within the walls of their palace. When he finally saw the reality of human suffering in the outside world he gave up his affluent life to seek enlightenment through ascetism and meditation. He eventually found it and dedicated the rest of his life teaching loving kindness, compassion, mindfulness, tolerance and understanding.

Five hundred years later, in a very different part of the world, in what is today called Palestine and Israel, another master, whom we know by the name of Jesus, was born. Jesus unlike Siddharta, was not a prince but the son of a poor carpenter. He did not live in a palace and probably lived a simple life of poverty. We do not know too much about his youth except that he was also a wanderer and at about the age of thirty, he went into the desert to meditate for a long period. When he emerged, he experienced enlightenment, and like Siddharta went about preaching his message of love, compassion, justice and understanding.

How is it that two very different people, living 500 years apart and going through vastly different experiences and history; one the son of a king, the other a son of a carpenter, ended up walking the same spiritual journey and preaching the same spiritual truths? No doubt there are differences between the two; but I think they have more in common than most of us think.

The famous Vietnamese Buddhist monk,Thich Nhat Hanh, said that he was asked the question, “ If Jesus and the Buddha met today, what do you think they would tell each other?” He answered, not only have they met today, they met yesterday, last night and also will meet tomorrow. The spirit of Jesus and the Buddha is in all of us – the spirit of love and compassion. It is up to us to be in touch with it; to make it alive; to share it with others. There is no conflict between the Buddha and Jesus. They are real brothers. A Christian is a child of Jesus, a continuation of the spirit of Jesus. A Buddhist is a child of the Buddha, a continuation of the spirit of the Buddha. Just as you are a child of your father and mother who are the children of your grandfathers and mothers. How do you keep alive the memory of your parents? By living and practicing the values they taught you.

When my mother passed away in July 2005, my son, Michael had this to say: “Some people leave behind large fortunes when they pass away, but this money is of little consequence in the long run. Far more important is how they have lived their lives and the lessons they taught those around them….Although we say good by to her for a final time today, I know that she will always be with us, in our thoughts and memories, as well as who we are and how we choose to live.”

So it is true to say that when a Buddhist meets a Christian, the Buddha is meeting Jesus. What do they ask or tell each other? Who are you? What are you here for?

If I ask you these questions, what are your answers?

For most people they will say I am John (my name), or I am a teacher (occupation), I am a Filipino (nationality), I am a mother (familial role), I am a Christian (religion) etc.

One day someone asked me whether I am a Catholic, Protestant or a Buddhist? I answered that I am a bit of each and all of the above. She was quite shocked and I did not have time to explain to her.

I consider myself, first and foremost, a human being, a child of God, a citizen of the world. I seek the commonalities that bind us together as human beings, while appreciating and enjoying the differences between us. If there were no differences, life would be boring. However, it is through this bond of commonness and understanding that we build a better and more loving world; a heaven on earth, rather than a heaven after life. Heaven is not the absence of suffering; it is where love and compassion exist.

Let each of us seek that spirit that Siddharta and Jesus taught us, to live it in our lives, to meet each other daily as Jesus met the Buddha in the past, present and future.

Mr. Lim has formerly worked in the Philippines as an executive in an international bank . During his stay in the country he has contributed to the Peacemakers' Circle programs, and was instrumental in the formation of the Unitarian Universalist Community in Manila.

InterSPECT: THE GOLDEN RULE

InterSPECT (Interfaith Perspectives) features centeral themes and subject matters viewed from the perspective of the different religions and faith traditions.

The GOLDEN RULE is the most fundamental common ethical denominator of all religious and non-religious belief systems on Earth.
In fact, the GOLDEN RULE is a rather simple but very profound precept.
It means: “TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE TREATED” or “Do not treat others as you would not like to be treated”.

This is the basic law of peaceful human coexistence and can, therefore, be characterized as the mother of ethics or the constitution of humankind.
As a matter of fact, the GOLDEN RULE is found in the holy scriptures of all major religions and faiths – in different words but with the same divine meaning.

Below are the interpretations of the Golden Rule in the different faith traditions:

HINDUISM:
"This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you."
— Mahabharata 5:1517


JUDAISM:
What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah (the basic law); all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn."
— Rabbi Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a


ZOROASTRIANISM:"That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself"
— Dadistan-i- dinik 94:5

"Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others."
— Shayast-na- Shayast 13:29

BUDDHISM:
"A state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?"
— Samyutta Nikaya v. 353

"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."
— Udana-Varga 5:18


CONFUCIANISM:
"Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you"
— Analects 15:23

"One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself"
— Mencius VII.A.4


TAOISM:
"Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss."
— T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien 213-218, Lao Tzu


SHINTOISM:
"The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form"


JAINISM:
"A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated."
— Sutrakritanga 1.11.33, Mahavira


CHRISTIANITY:
"In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law (of God) and (the teachings of ) the prophets."
— Matthew 7:12 ; Luke 6:31

ISLAM:
"No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."
— Hadith of an-Nawawi 13


SUFISM:
“If you haven't the will to gladden someone's heart, then at least beware lest you hurt someone's heart, for on our path, no sin exists but this."
— Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order


SIKHISM:
“Do as you desire goodness for yourself as you cannot expect tasty fruits if you sow thorny trees.”
— Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Slok 23, p. 1379

BAHA'I:
"Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not."

"Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself."
— Baha'u'llah

"And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself."
— Epistle to the Son of the Wolf


WICCA:
"And it harm no one, do what thou wilt."
— The Wiccan Rede


PIMA (Native American):
"Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself."
(a Pima proverb)


YORUBA (Nigeria):
"One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts."


INDIGENOUS SPIRITUALITY:
"Do not strive to cause your neighbor’s undoing, for as you strive for your own good treatment, so render it to others."


TAGALOG SPIRITUALITY (Filipino):
"That which you do not want others to do unto your spouse, child and sibling, do not do to another's spouse, child and sibling."
— Emilio Jacinto, Kartilya ng Katipunan


ANCIENT GREECE:
"Do not do unto others what angers you if done to you by others."
— Isocrates (436-338 BCE)


UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM:
"We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent of all existence of which we are a part."
— Unitarian Principles


There are many other moral values and ethical standards which are shared by all faiths and belief systems, like the respect for human rights (i.e. every human being must be treated humanely), love and compassion, justice, caring and sharing, environment (nature) protection, honesty, integrity, accountability, etc.

Let us try to make the Golden Rule and the many other common ethical standards and shared moral values to be accepted as the global ethic of human kind by as many people as possible!

We should do this not only in our families but also in the school system. This means that education about the Golden Rule, shared moral values and common ethical standards should become an integral part of the curricula. Such an education would be a peaceful but forceful weapon against the spread of extremism on all sides.

Obviously, if the great majority of people practice the Golden Rule, we would definitely live in a better and much more peaceful and just world.

(by Peter Schier, Konrad Adeneur Foundation & inaugural member of MIN-CC, Malaysia)

LISTENING TO THE OTHER: Peace & Taoism

Listening is the essence of true dialogue. It is about silencing our minds so that we can hear what is in the heart of the “other.” This space is for essays and articles from friends and supporters of the Circle. We invite you to engage in the spirit of dialogue by “listening” to what is being said with openness, respect and understanding.

Peace Among Religions: A Taoist Perspective

by Mr. Tan Hoe Chieow*

Each and every religion teaches mankind to be peaceful, righteous, virtuous, kind and loving.

All conflicts, be they political, religious or racial must be resolved WITHOUT violence.

To quote some verses from the Tao Te Ching (Chapter 8), the sacred scripture of Taoists:

The sage’s way, Tao is the way of water.
There must be water for life to be, and it can flow wherever.
And water, being true to being water is true to Tao.

Those on the way of Tao, like water need to accept where they find themselves;
And that may often be where water goes to the lowest places, and that is right.

Like a lake the heart must be calm and quiet having great depth beneath it.

The sage rules with compassion, and his word need to be trusted.
The sage needs to know like water how to flow around the blocks and how to find the way through without violence.

Like water, the sage should wait for the moment to ripen and be right: water, you know, never fights, it flows around without harm.


Man, especially political and religious leaders, need to learn how to flow like water. Like water flowing around blocks, they need to learn how to find the way through challenges WITHOUT violence.

All conflicts must be resolved at the negotiating table, through negotiations and dialogue. All avenues must be exhausted to achieve a peaceful solution to conflicts.

Malaysia had often been looked up to as a model country where its citizens of diverse religions, cultures and races living peacefully and harmoniously together. One of the main reasons is that Malaysians display the highest level of TOLERANCE. But more importantly is UNDERSTANDING. Inter-religious dialogue should be held more often to promote understanding of each others’ religions. Understanding comes with respect. We must respect others if you want others to respect you.

As it is said in Chapter 1 of the Tao Te Ching:

"Follow the nothingness of the Tao; and you can be like it, not needing anything, seeing the wonder and the root of everything.”

This means we must be humble and Selfless.

In Chapter 3 it was mentioned:

“If the sage refuses to be proud, then people wont compete for his attention.
You see if there is nothing to fight for, then there is nothing that can break the flow.”


We must be humble and generous and graceful in what we do, without ever claiming any merit. Our greatness lies in taking no credit.

We must be selfless, we are nothing, we are not important and always look after the interest of others. Then we can see the goodness and the root of everything.

Man must live in peace and harmony among religions. We must be tolerant, understanding, respect and trust one another. All these are universal values of all religions that must be practiced.

We must adopt the Golden Rule that was the fruition from the last conference on Religious Harmony:
“Do unto others what you want others to do unto you“ and “Do not do unto others what you do not want others do unto you.”

This conference on Peace among Religions had indeed brought people of various religions together working in close cooperation to promote Peace among Religions, globally and regionally, But it should not stop there. It should go down to the basic unit, the man on the street, to the villages and housing estates.

Malaysia’s unique “Open House” for Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Christmas and Deepavali should be continued as these activities provide interactions among the races.

I would suggest that residents Association or Rukun Tetangga be roped in to organize inter-religious dialogue and conferences that will promote peace among religions.

Tao zu chi bei!

Mr. Tan Hoe Chieow is the Secretary General of Federation of Taoist Association in Malaysia. He presented this article during the Peace Among Religions interfaith conference organized by InSaF URI KLCC on March 18, 2007 held at the Singhasana Hotel in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

EMBRACING DIVERSITY with Dr. Judy Banu (Catholic from the Philippines)

This is an interview section with practitioners of interfaith dialogue. In this issue, we feature Dr. Judy T. Banu, DVM, RN, a Folk-Catholic from Manila, Philippines. She is a former board member of The Peacemakers’ Circle CC.

TCC: What is your faith tradition?

Judy: I was raised in a traditional Catholic family. Going to other churches was considered taboo. But later on, questions kept cropping up. These questions weren’t easy to answer so the SEARCH for answers began. I got involved in different spiritual groups and tried visiting other churchewhen friends invited me. However, I did this without having to convert to another faith.

Later on, I became an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher and met and made lasting friendships with people of different faiths and nationalities. The journey brought me back to my own faith.

Now, I have a deeper appreciation and understanding of Catholicism as I realized that while no single dogma is perfect, it could be a guide to perfection. What matters most is what is in a person’s heart and the effort he/she exerts to achieve perfection.

TCC: What are your experiences in interfaith dialogue?

Judy: Even before becoming a member of The Peacemakers’ Circle I believe I was already involved in interfaith dialogue. This would happen during my English class when my students would ask me about my religion. Instead of avoiding the question I would try to answer them in an informative and sensitive way, taking care not to offend anyone and controlling my emotions whenever I receive offensive comments from anyone.

It was also during my life as a full-time English teacher when I met the members of Shinji Shumei Kai (a Japanese spiritual organization). It was a Shumei friend, Yoshiyuki, who brought me to The Peacemakers’ Circle Interfaith Dialogue Center. At the first encounter I immediately liked what I saw and I resonated instantly with its activities. It was then that I found a name for what I have been doing all along—“interfaith dialogue”.

At one point, we had a Jordanian and a Moslem who lived with my family for two years. Mealtime was a leisurely experience then as we usually share the richness of our faith traditions without disagreement or debate and always in the spirit of learning and understanding.

TCC: How has interfaith dialogue enriched you?

Judy: Interfaith dialogue has not only enlarged my world, but it also extended my family. Furthermore, It has helped me answer many, if not all, of the questions that has bothered me about my own faith. It has made me a more accepting and more understanding person. It has made me a better listener and has taught me restraint and sensitivity. I would not be what I am today without the love and support of my interfaith family.

TCC: What teachings from your faith enabled you to appreciate interfaith dialogue?

Judy: I would quote my favorite passages from the Christian scriptures: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brother-- that you do unto me.”

Another one is: “There will come a time when man will no longer worship in the temple but in spirit.”

TCC: What personal message would you like to share to the readers?

Judy: It is natural to fear what we do not know. But our weapon against ignorance is knowledge. We acquire knowledge through learning. And we learn by keeping an open mind and heart. Others may think that the wars will not end, and that peace can never be achieved.

But I say that understanding ourselves and being at peace with ourselves and our God would eventually help us understand and make peace with others.


URI SEAP Family welcomes new CCs in the region!

Mabuhay, TULAY CC - Bohol, Philippines!

TULAY (a word in the Filipino language which literally means “BRIDGE”) stands for Trust, Understanding & Learning Among Youth. The name says it all— our CC’s purpose is to serve as venue for us youths to trust, understand and learn from each other. In establishing our group and registering as a cooperation circle we commit to contribute our time and talents to serve the purpose and vision of the URI.

Our CC has a total membership of 12 youths with ages 16 to 33. TULAY CC’s religious, spiritual, indigenous diversity includes: Roman Catholic, non-denominational Christian, Islam & Baha’i.

TULAY CC plans to visit each other’s places of worship as part of our mutual learning and bridge-building activities. We also intend to visit remote areas in our province to inspire other youths, and expand of our membership. We also plan to campaign for our identified advocacies of ending the wars in Mindanao and responding to the global climate crisis. We hope to sponsor movies like AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH to show it to as many youths as possible.

CC Contact: LUDWIG BON M. QUIROG (warlock_avatar@yahoo.com)

Selamat Pagi, Malaysian Interfaith Network (MIN) CC!

The Malaysian Interfaith Network is a pre-existing organization that was launched in February 15, 2003. Represented by different religious leaders, it aims to organize programs to get Malaysians to practice unity, peace and the common values of different religions in order to create a more harmonious and peaceful society in multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia.

Its theme is based on The Golden Rule: “Treat Others As You Would Like To Be Treated”—which is found in all the scriptures of major religions. This is MIN’s response to the need to promote common moral values found in different religions.

MIN’s Mission is primarily three-pronged: 1) to proactively promote DIALOGUE between faith organizations in Malaysia; 2) to foster better UNDERSTANDING of common concerns and values and areas of contention; 3) to organize specific ACTIONS, sharing information, service and advocacy.

Aside from the URI Charter, MIN draws inspiration from two documents as their guiding vision statement, namely: 1) the DECLARATION ON RELIGIOUS HARMONY which was signed by representatives of all faiths on September 16 2001 in Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA; and 2) The TAIPING DECLARATION on the CULTURE of PEACE which was adopted at the International Seminar of cities, meeting in the Peace Park in the historic town of Taiping (which means “Everlasting Peace”) in Malaysia on September 2001.

Some MIN key projects include an interactive website, a program on promoting The Golden Rule, an action calendar—Days of Action, how to make international days (UN days of Environment, Tolerance etc) work for promoting interfaith Harmony—A “Malaysia Day of Harmony” September 16 (the day Malaysia was established) is planned. Currently, MIN membership is composed of 22 people coming from the Muslim, Roman Catholic & Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Baha’I faith traditions.


(Written by M. KRISHNAMOORTHY)

Welcome Peace, Justice and Harmony (PJH) CC - Sydney, Australia!

The PJH CC was recently formed through the encouragement of Mr. Sabapathy Alagiah (from Mozambique CC) and Dr. Ratnam Alagiah (from Gold Coast CC) and our members all agreed to name it: PEACE, JUSTICE, HARMONY (PJH).

Our purpose is to learn from and study the different religions and faith traditions in order to promote understanding, mutual respect and tolerance and to contribute towards bringing an end to religious motivated violence , and towards peace, justice and healing for mankind and all living things on earth.

Our religious, spiritual, indigenous diversity includes: Baha’is, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists.

At the moment all the members have agreed to meet and decide of our future plans and goals, and the first project we want to do is to plant a Peace Pole. We plan to involve the local council and the representatives from various religions to be present in this gathering.

CC Contact Person: Nemat Sabapathy (adib9@unwired.com.au)

COMMON CC EVENTS IN AUSTRALIA (Regional update)

"HEALING LOVE IN ACTION”

(In conjunction with Heart Flow Worldwide; SLAM; UNESCO Clubs; & APNIEVE)



Over 150 people gathered on April 29, 2007 for the event that was held at the Sanctuary of the Heart, Daylesford, Victoria.


The panel discussion moderated by Margaret Coffey an ABC presenter looked at healing and what it means for each religion. In the panel we had Uncle Reg Blow (Aboriginal elder); Jessiee Kaur-Singh (president of COMMON and Sikh representative); Dr. Farvardin Daliri (Baha’i), director migrant resource of Townville, Joy De Leo, president of APNIEVE from South Australia, Ron Laurie, president of SLAM, Yasser Soloman from Islamic Society and Bishop Neville Anderson.


With a room full of people who only want to feel and give love this conference flowed smoothly from one session to another. It feels like this is the beginning of joining people to support one another, creating connections that will bring people to feel they can be at one and always feel loved. Where isolation is a thing of the past and links and bridges replace. In our uncertain, changing society we need to create these events more and more so those who are fragile can feel it’s ok to laugh, cry and show emotions. The conference was born out of love and enveloped the message of unconditional love to those we mix with and interact with. It’s a clear sign that times are changing, truth, justice, honesty and freedom can become our reality.


(a report by Helen Greenway )



Living under Civil Laws and Religious Laws in Australia: Conflict or Harmony?
The Multi-Faith Centre of Griffith University organized and hosted a one-day public inter-faith forum on the 1st of May, 2007. It was very encouraging that over 120 participants attended the forum from diverse faith, interfaith, social and governmental agencies, communities and organizations from Qld, NSW and Victoria.

The Forum consisted of four panel sessions exploring the subthemes: Sharia Law and Living as Muslims in Australian Society; Respecting Faith “Laws” Codes and Doctrines and Australian Civil Law: Jewish and Christian Perspectives; Practicing Hinduism, Buddhism, & Sikhism under Australian Civil Law; and Responses: Social, Cultural & Legal Perspectives
COMMON CC president, Jessiee Kaur-Singh who is also the Multifaith Director of UNITEDSIKHS and the multifaith representative of the Sikh Council of Australia was one of the panelists. She highlighted the problems the Sikhs were facing especially since Sept. 11, and talked of the importance of equity for all.

SEEING THE WORLD THROUGH WAITANGI: Reflections on Building Bridges

3rd Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue
Waitangi, New Zealand (May 29 - 31, 2007)

SPECIAL REPORT

by Marites Guingona-Africa

The Peacemakers' Circle URI CC Philippines

I was privileged to be part of the Philippine delegation that was among the 150 delegates representing the diversity of religions and cultures in 15 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. We gathered together in Waitangi, New Zealand from May 29 to 31, 2007 to “Build Bridges” of interfaith understanding and cooperation in our parts of the world. Being the third in the region, the conference built on the commitments from the 1st Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue Conference in Yogyakarta , Indonesia in December 2004 and the 2nd Conference in Cebu , Philippines in March 2006.




At the conference, New Zealand Prime Minister, Rt. Hon Helen Clark, acknowledged the rich diversity in our region “where all the world’s major religions are represented,” and called on “responsible nations and people of good will to build bridges across the divides of our societies." Her call was echoed by the other nation leaders who expressed hope that despite our differences in culture and beliefs, we, in Asia and the Pacific, will be able to create “greater mutual understanding and respect for each other” and “deeper interfaith ties within the region towards building a culture of peace.” This is a “shared journey that demonstrates the diversity and openness of our societies,” it was said. The role of regional dialogue in connecting religious leaders and faiths across the region was deemed of great importance, and building bridges at all levels of society was called for.



The resulting Waitangi Declaration recommended that faith leaders and governments establish and facilitate faith and interfaith points of contact at the local and national levels; that there be further exchanges between people (e.g. youth, students, teachers, religious leaders, academics) of different faiths, within and between countries, and at the grassroots communal levels; and that faith groups and civil society develop partnerships with each other and with governments to work for social and economic justice, minority empowerment and reconciliation among conflicting groups within society.


The sense that something big and awe-inspiring is happening in our midst heightened my awareness of the significance of the URI. I spoke of the URI before the plenary during the first day of the conference as I responded to the talk of Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir of Indonesia on the challenges and opportunities of Interfaith Action for Peace and Security.


This 3rd Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Conference in Waitangi had me experiencing, for the second time in my life, the sense of awe at seeing the world the way I envisioned the world to be, the realization of the kindom of God here on earth. The first time I had that experience was in 1999 at the URI Summit in Stanford University in California where two hundred people from diverse religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions gathered together in the spirit of mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation to articulate their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the world in the United Religions Initiative Charter! I feel blessed to have borne witness to two momentous occasions in history!


On the third and last day of the conference, we, the 150 delegates, came up with a plan of action focusing mainly on three areas of concern: Building bridges, Education (with emphasis on the strengthening of intra-faith dialogue); and the role of Media.





As I listened to the various articulations of our highest hopes, dreams and aspirations, and bore witness to the gentle workings of the human spirit in seeking wholeness for itself and oneness in our midst, I could not help but realize that, truly, we are at the threshold of something big and awe-inspiring happening in the world!


Back home, as I reflect on the Waitangi experience, I am filled with hope and joy knowing that there is a growing awareness in our midst of the need to cross the great divides in our parts of the world and to collaborate with one another. But I also realize that the best action plan that I could take in this direction is that of disarming the heart and speaking the language of the heart so that all of us may come together to that "safe space," that "sacred ground" of our common humanity, and together we can bring forth the triumph of our human spirit!

DIALOGUE WORKSHOPS FOR MUSLIM YOUTHS HELD IN MANILA (Newsbrief)


The Peacemakers’ Circle has recently conducted two workshops on The Art and Soul of Muslim-Christian Dialogue for two groups of Muslim youths from the Manila district. The first workshop was held on February 25, 2007 for 22 youth members of the Filipino Muslim Foundation Youth Council for Peace and Development (FMYCPAD), and was conducted at the office of its co-organizer, the Filipino-Muslim Foundation, Inc. (FilMus) in Ermita, Manila.

The second workshop was conducted on April 3, 2007 in Quiapo, Manila for the 24 members and friends of the Integrated Muslim Students Association of the Philippines (IMUSTAPHIL) who were gathered together by another partner organization, the Agama Islam Society (which is led by The Peacemakers’ board member, Alim Said Basher).



The one-day workshop was designed to introduce and orient Muslim youth leaders to ways of engaging in Muslim-Christian Dialogue in building relationships of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation with Christian youths. This is in response to the expressed need to help the young Muslim leaders develop interest in participating in the endeavor of promoting peace and harmony between Muslims and Christians in the metropolis.


The workshop engaged the participants in conflict awareness exercises, viewing of the “In the Light of the Crescent Moon” Peacemakers’ DVD-documentary, lectures on Muslim perspectives on dialogue and relationship-building, and a demo-lecture on “Aikido as a Way of the Peaceful Warrior”. The two workshops were also made possible through the support of the Miriam College Center for Peace Education.

INTERFAITH DIALOGUE WORKSHOP FOR EDUCATORS HELD AT MIRIAM COLLEGE (Newsbriefs around the region)

On March 28, 2007 The Peacemakers’ Circle was invited by the Griffith Multifaith Center (Queensland, Australia) in partnership with Miriam College Center for Peace Education and the Silsilah Dialogue Movement of Mindanao to co-facilitate a workshop for educators entitled: “Promoting Understanding, Respect and Harmony Among Faiths for a Culture of Peace”. Held at the Caritas Hall of Miriam College campus in Quezon City, the one-day workshop was attended by around 50 representatives from various non-government, academic and peace institutions—from all over the country. With the support of the Australian Government through the Strengthening Grassroots Interfaith Dialogue and Understanding Program of the Australian Embassy, the workshop brought to Manila educators from Mindanao, the Cordillera, and other regions.

The event was organized with the aim of: enhancing the knowledge, and pedagogical skills of educators in Philippine schools, especially from the Mindanao region, in educating for understanding, respect and harmony among communities of different faiths in the Philippines; strengthening the educational and leadership roles of educators in the Philippines in building a culture of peace and non-violence in their school communities: and fostering cooperation and linkages among educators, administrators and schools in Manila and other regions with colleagues from Mindanao, especially from conflict zones, thereby enhancing interfaith understanding and acceptance.

The program consisted of interfaith prayers for the opening and talks from a panel of interfaith speakers showing perspectives of diverse faiths on key issues and themes related to building a culture of peace in the Philippines. Dr. Shakun Vaswani and Ms. Marites Africa of The Peacemakers’ Circle shared from the Hindu and Christian perspective respectively. Sharing from Islam was Ms. Mucha Shim-Arquiza of the Lumah Ma Dilaut Center, from the Buddhist perspective was Prof. Toh Swee-Hin of the Griffith Multifaith Center, and Ms. Beting Colma of the Manobo tribe, speaking for an indigenous spiritual tradition of Mindanao.

Case studies and best practices of multifaith and interfaith dialogue initiatives were also presented by representatives from organizing educational institutions and NGOs. Dr. Loreta Castro and Ms. Jasmine Galace talked about the Miriam College Center for Peace Education, Fr. Sebastiano D’ambra represented Silsilah Dialogue Movement in Mindanao, and Prof. Toh and Ms. shared the Griffith University Multifaith Center). Ms. Africa represented The Peacemakers’ Circle with a powerpoint presentation of its beginnings, various programs and current projects. The afternoon sessions consisted of a lectures on pedagogical principles and a workshop on the integration of interfaith perspectives in educational programs.

THE SYMPHONY OF WORLD PEACE PRAYERS AT MT. FUJI (Newsbrief)

On May 20, 2007 the Byakko Shinko Kai (White Light Spiritual Organization), with the support of the World Peace Prayer Society (WPPS) and the Goi Peace Foundation, held its Third Annual Symphony of Peace Prayers at the Fuji Sanctuary (located at the foot of Mt. Fuji) in Japan. The event gathered together more than 10,000 Japanese participants and hundreds of leaders and representatives from different faiths from over 80 countries.


In conjunction with this event, the Byakko Phils.—in cooperation with The Peacemakers’ Circle—organized a connecting activity of meditation and prayers for world peace through body prayers and mandala-writing held at the Peacemakers’ Interfaith Dialogue Center in Quezon City to synchronize and synergize with the major event happening in Japan on the same day. Simultaneously, other connecting activities were also held elsewhere at the Center for Migrant Youth in Quezon City; Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (SFIC) – Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Commission (JPICC); Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters and Kalinaw URI Cooperation Circle in Cebu (led by Sr. Sandra Clemente, RSCJ).

Newsbriefs around the region: FIRST PHILIPPINE CONVERGENCE FOR HUMAN SYNERGY

On May 26, 2007 representatives from The Peacemakers’ Circle attended the First Annual Philippine Convergence for Human Synergy held in Quezon City. The whole day event was organized by SanibLakas ng Taongbayan Foundation under the initiative of its Lead Founder and Executive Director, Mr. Ed Aurelio “Ding” Reyes (also a recent regular attendee of the Peacemakers’ Tuesday Inner Work Circle).

The talks, group discussions and paper-reading (and even the community singing!) centered around the significance of cooperation, interconnection, and human synergy as a necessary factor in consciousness and social transformation, and nation-building. Also featured in the gathering were the convergence events in Mt. Fuji (Symphony of Peace Prayers), as well as the Silo’s message convergence at Punta de Vacas, Argentina on May 3-5, 2007 (where also around 10,000 people were gathered). Although not as many as tens of thousands in number (compared to the events in Mt. Fuji and Argentina), the conference which was attended by only about 24 participants was a humble—yet timely, significant and historic—contribution of the Philippines to the world synergy of convergence and the celebration of the oneness of humanity amidst these times of awakening.

THE URI GLOBAL COMMUNITY: An inspirational message from the hub


A Reflection from the URI President, RET. BISHOP WILLIAM SWING


Five years ago a few men commandeered four airplanes. Two crashed into the World Trade Center Towers and one into the Pentagon. This scene of horror was motivated by a conviction that God would be praised by such devastation. Two years ago hurricanes Katrina and Rita carved a path of destruction through Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama, causing many people to wonder if there was a message from God in those events.


One year ago a tsunami washed away villages, towns, adults and children throughout the Indian Ocean region. Flurries of articles were written by believers and non-believers as to whether God had visited these places with divine justice.


The question arises: can the hand of God be perceived by sifting through the rubble created by planes, hurricanes and tsunamis?This kind of question was once raised in Hebrew Scripture. Elijah, a prophet, went up to Horeb, the mountain of God. While he was standing on the mountain “Behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains…but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the lord was not in the earthquake; and after this earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in this fire, and after the fire, a still small voice.” (I Kings, 19:11-12)


How to make sense of the world where constant claims are being made that destruction is god-like, god-inspired, god-pleasing? How to make sense of a God who may well be recognized in the unfolding of human and natural drama? Clue: trust the still small voice.


In interfaith dealings, people of various religions don’t agree on doctrines or dogmas. Nevertheless, despite wide and deep chasms gouged by centuries of differing beliefs and conflicting destinies, there is a bridge connecting the various boundaries, a bridge where orthodoxies are not threatened and actual accords can be discovered. The bridge is formed by sitting together, quietly, in common respect for the still small voice.

Almost any ritual of one religious group has the potential to offend people of other religious groups. If that is the case, can people of differing religions find any middle ground for being together reverently? Yes, we can all be quiet together, on alert to hear the still small voice. This has promise and actually happens.


Personally, I muse about the core of the United Religions Initiative effectiveness, i.e. the basic Cooperation Circle (CC). What each CC is supposed to do is not handed down from headquarters. Instead, it is discovered in locales around the world. At least seven people of three or more religious/spiritual traditions sit together until it becomes clear as to their unique and inspired agenda. The question is always, “What should we do together? What is to be our common vocation in the local community? Where does a still, small voice direct us in finding a common vocation for the good of all life?”


All options are self-generated and all of them are tested by the participants. There is no book of objectives to choose from. Each CC is on its own to weigh the possibilities. To sit quietly together and pay attention to the still small voice that matters ultimately. And, once there is agreement, action commences.


The 14th Principle of the URI Charter states: “We have the right to organize in any manner, at any scale, in any area, and around any issue or activity which is relevant to and consistent with this Preface, Purpose and Principles (of the URI).” The entire enterprise holds together in trusting each other’s discernment of this tiny body’s primary focus. Something special happens when peoples of different faith traditions map out their specific destinies together. Today we are witnessing a burst of energy globally as new Cooperation Circles come into being daily and the world begins to change in an interfaith direction.


Interesting enough, after 9/11, people around the world began to turn to the URI in hope. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, URI volunteers flooded the South. After the 2005 tsunami URI CC’s all around the Indian Ocean began to respond to the devastation and are still hard at their tasks today.


The genius of the Elijah story would say that the will of God could not be recognized in the crashing airplanes or in the howling winds or in the rising, rushing water. But afterwards, in the still small part of the heart, the conscience, the exposed soul, a voice was heard. That voice collects people together and propels them in a clear, good direction. Paying attention to the still small voice is, in my opinion, at the center of the URI. It is the essential context in which we discover our core authority and find our mutuality. We never make a noise unless we are silent.

The Power of Prayer




by Mother Mangalam (spiritual leader of the Pure Life Society in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)



Prayer is an invisible power generated by pure thought force, directed by our will to the object of our love. The purer the thought the more powerful becomes our prayer― more so if it comes from the depths of silence within us.

In the depths of silence lies dormant the creative energy that gives shape to the trillions of objects that we behold with our naked eye. The manifestation of that creative energy or force becomes a reality sooner or later depending much on pure thought force stemming from the elements of sincerity and faith in the individual. Of course, the force of will has to come into play. And if the human will merges into Divine Will there need be no doubt of its materialization.

Prayer that has its root on pure thought-force exudes positive energy and gains momentum, and its velocity increases as the earth rotates and consequently has a boomerang effect on the individual who says the prayer. Therefore, it behoves on the individual to nurture pure thoughts at all times. The world and all its creatures benefit through the generation of this positive energy. The Cultivation of Inner Silence is the slogan that can bring forth miracles through the power of prayer.

URI-SEAP Regional E-Newsletter Vol. II No. 1 (Jan - Mar 2007)

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF:
Dr. Amir Farid bin Dato Isahak

MANAGING EDITOR:
Shakuntala Moorjani-Vaswani

PUBLISHERS:
URI SEAsia-Pacific Regional Office & The Peacemakers' Circle

CONTRIBUTORS:
Rev. Charles Gibbs
Dr. Shakun Vaswani
Ms. Marites Africa
Mother A. Mangalam
Mr. Bob Guerrero
Mr. Alfred Tay
Mr. Orlan de Guzman, Jr
Mr. Mike Alar
Ms. Michelle Sia

URI SEAsia-Pacific 3rd Annual Regional Meeting 2007 held in Malaysia

The 3rd Annual Meeting of the URI Southeast Asia-Pacific (SEAP) Regional Trustees and leaders of Cooperation Circles on the theme, Moving forward in solidarity to build cultures of peace in the region, took place in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia from March 14-16, 2007. This was the first regional meeting held outside Manila- the seat of the regional office.

The Regional Meeting was hosted by the Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship (INSaF) URI KL CC—chaired by Regional Trustee Dr. Amir Farid Isahak; and its mother organization, The Pure Life Society. The URISEAP 3rd Regional Meeting had the special and rare privilege of having the presence of the URI Executive Director, Rev. Charles Gibbs; and two other staff from the URI hub in San Francisco, Ms. Sally Mahe’ (URI Director for Organizational Development) and Ms. Barbara Hartford (URI Director for the Peacebuilding Program and HR). The three of them flew in together with the Philippine delegation right after their second 5-day seminar-workshop on the URI Moral Imagination Peacebuilding Training Program which was held in Manila (March 8-12). Also gracing the occasion was URI Global Council Chairperson, Ms. Yoland Trevino who flew in all the way from the US…

EDITORIAL: A Passion for Peace

by Dr. Amir Farid Bin Dato Isahak, URI SE Asia-Pacific Regional Trustee

Dearly beloved co-workers of the URI,

After many years of being active in Islamic and Interfaith activities, striving to bring peace among the peoples of various religions in my multi-racial and multi-religious country, and in the last few years also at the regional and global level, I have come to realize that peace is very elusive.

While there are possibly hundreds of thousands of us who are working on the ground in various ways and through various channels and organizations trying to prevent and resolve conflicts between the myriad groups that make up our society, and humanity as a whole, there are also many others who are busy sowing the seeds of discontent and disharmony among the peoples, and even among nations. While human history is replete with conflicts, wars, genocides and all forms of atrocities which continue until now, we are also comforted by the good deeds of peacemakers and benevolent, compassionate and munificent individuals, leaders and luminaries of the past and present.

A casual survey of the state of the world will reveal that almost every country has ongoing internal conflicts between various factions of its populace. These may have arisen from differences in their political or religious beliefs, racial interests, economic or business considerations, or just plain attitude problems. There are indeed people who are pathological trouble-makers. Then there are many ongoing conflicts between nations, with a superpower taking it upon itself to become the global police and initiated or got involved in so many wars, and threatening to start several more. In addition, we are faced with sufferings from natural disasters, famines, diseases, accidents and other calamities. Life is indeed stressful!

After thousands of years since Man first walked on this earth, we have never had complete peace. Followers of the Abrahamic faiths (Jews, Christians and Muslims) are reminded that a son of father Adam had murdered his brother out of jealousy. And humans have never stopped quarreling and killing one another since then! I wonder if the other religions also have similar stories about the first human beings.

So, is peace just an elusive dream? Are we wasting our time in pursuing this unachievable goal?

While we humans are doing all sorts of mischief on this earth, GOD is ever watching and in complete control of what is happening. Why then does GOD not give us peace? Why doesn’t HE wipe out evil from this earth, and from our lives? I will share the perspective of a Muslim, which I am sure will be similar to the understanding of many other faiths.

GOD wants us to be at peace with HIM, by knowing and understanding HIM, and obeying HIS advice, guidance and commandments. By doing so, we will also be at peace within ourselves, with all the people in our lives, and with the world at large. The commandment is that we start with ourselves. Then we are to bring as much goodness, happiness, and peace around our lives, as is humanly possible.

As the story of the wise man goes, we cannot change the world, but we can certainly change ourselves, and the world around us will start changing. Likewise, Ghandi said that we must be the change we want to see in the world.

GOD does not necessarily look at results only. HE is more interested in the best and most sincere efforts. The outcome is HIS to decide. Who deserves and who does not deserve peace are beyond our knowledge and wisdom, as we do not know what goes in the hearts and minds of other people. We should continue our peace-efforts regardless of the outcomes, as peace itself is not our ultimate aim, but it is to obey and please our Creator. If indeed HE gives us peace in the world, then we should be most thankful. If HE does not, we should still be thankful to HIM for giving us the wisdom to understand that HE has good reasons for denying it. And we should be thankful to HIM for giving us peace within, in spite of all the unrest around us.

It is for this reason that I will continue my peace-work with commitment, determination and passion, and I hope you will also continue with the same vigor.

On the good side, both Christians and Muslims are waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ (Prophet Isa, peace be upon him, to the Muslims) who will wipe out evil and start an era of total peace (again, I wonder what other religions predict about the future). But until that happens, we will have to continue our peace-work with passion and conviction, in order to serve GOD, and to serve humanity.

May Peace prevail on Earth!

With loving Greetings,

DR AMIR FARID ISAHAK

REFLECTION: What role religion?


A Reflection by Mother Mangalam* from the Pure Life Society in Malaysia



Countless schools of thought have emerged to this day about Man, his relationship with nature or with the Unseen Power that charges us almost everyday in our sleep in order to enable us to get up refreshed to face another day. This Unseen Entity has been given a name and some have given It a form. The result is we countless books published on religious topics. How? Why did this happen? You must ask Man’s mind. And, people say that Man’s mind is linked with the Cosmic mind. Part and parcel of the Cosmic Mind! But what is the Cosmic Mind?

Now let us take the word “religion”. The origin of this word has its roots in the Latin word re-ligare which means “to bind back”. To bind back to what?

Let’s consider the individual mind. the nature of the mind is to wander. The more it wanders, the more confused it becomes—becomes very insecure, just like a child without parents, going about in fear, making blunders. There is something that has been said by a certain writer: “The human-soul was sent into the world to see the show of life and thus to gain the needed experience. But when it came here it became completely absorbed in the show and lost all recollection of the Lord, like a child who goes out to see a fair, holding on to his father’s hand, but lets go the father’s hand and is soon lost in the crowd. He is then no longer able to enjoy the fair nor can he find his father. As a result he wanders from place to place, lost and filled with fear and misery.”

This feeling of insecurity is something that almost every being suffers from. It is this feeling of insecurity that makes a young man or a young girl seek a mate. It is this feeling of insecurity that makes the parents get attached to the children with the hope that they may at some time be a source from which they can obtain security.

But once Man realizes that the feeling of security is something to develop from “within” him he stops looking “without” for this. But this realization comes in very late in life or sometimes never at all. Therefore, individuals who feel this deficiency go in search of dynamic beings who act as spiritual guides. Such guides of vibrant dynamism are known as Avatars in Hindu parlance. And the Voice that guides is recorded and becomes a religious text of scripture.

Those of us who are born in a century where such vibrant dynamic beings are not seen, have to rely on religious scriptures or their interpreters for consolation and guidance. Therefore, as long as man is weak in spirit he needs something to nourish it so that he can pick up those loose ends of his life and find himself a place in society. It is here we have the Guru and disciple relationship. By Guru I mean spiritual Guru who is a reflection of God’s light on earth.

Vivekananda in one of his talks said: “In all living beings there are three sorts of instruments of knowledge. The first is instinct which you find highly developed in animals, the second instrument of knowledge is reasoning. You find it highly developed in man and the third instrument is inspiration. So instinct, reason and inspiration are three instruments of knowledge. Instinct belongs to animals, reason to man and inspiration to God-Men.”

All the three, of course are found in every man in different proportions according to each man’s inner development.

Amongst the three, the reasoning mind can sometimes go off at a tangent and lead us to destructive ways. This is where the inspired sayings contained in religious texts show us the way.

*Mother Mangalam is the president and spiritual leader of The Pure Life Society. For comments or questions you can e-mail her at: info@purelife.org.my

InterSPECT (Interfaith Perspectives): THE STORY OF CREATION

This section features central themes and subject matters viewed from the perspective of the different religions and faith traditions.

Beliefs and ideas concerning the origin of the earth and human beings are an important part of the belief system in religions. Many of these stories are not intended to be factual but are intended for literary interpretation. They are symbolic or true to some extent only in a spiritual sense.



CREATION FROM ISLAM

It is God who has created the heavens and the earth, and all between them, in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority): ye have none, besides Him, to protect or intercede (for you): will ye not then receive admonition? He rules )all) affairs from the heavens to the earth: in the end will (all affairs) go up to Him, on a Day, the space whereof would be (as) a thousand years of your reckoning. Such is He, the Knower of all things, hidden and open, the Exalted (in power), the Merciful; He who has made everything which He has created most good: He began the creation of man with (nothing more than) clay, and made His progeny from quintessence of the nature of a fluid despised; But He fashioned him in due proportion and breathed into him something of His spirit. And He gave you (the faculties of) hearing and sight and feeling (and understanding); little thanks do ye give!

- Qur'an 32.4-9



CONFUCIANISM

The Great Primal Beginning (t'ai chi) generates... the two primary forces [yang and yin]. The two primary forces generate the four images. The four images generate the eight trigrams. The eight trigrams determine good fortune and misfortune. Good fortune and misfortune create the great field of action.

- I Ching, Great Commentary 1.11.5-6



CREATION FROM HINDUISM

This universe existed in the shape of darkness, unperceived, destitute of distinctive marks, unattainable by reasoning, unknowable, wholly immersed, as it were, in deep sleep.

Then the Divine Self-existent, himself indiscernible but making all this, the great elements and the rest, discernible, appeared with irresistible power, dispelling the darkness.

He who can be perceived by the internal organ alone, who is subtle, indiscernible, and eternal, who contains all created beings and is inconceivable, shone forth of his own will.

He, desiring to produce beings of many kinds from his own body, first with a thought created the waters, and placed his seed in them.

That seed became a golden egg, in brilliancy equal to the sun; in that egg he himself was born as Brahma, the progenitor of the whole world....

The Divine One resided in that egg during a whole year, then he himself by his thought divided it into two halves;

And out of those two halves he formed heaven and earth, between them the middle sphere, the eight points of the horizon, and the eternal abode of the waters.

From himself he also drew forth the mind, which is both real and unreal, likewise from the mind ego, which possesses the function of self-consciousness and is lordly.

Moreover, the great one, the soul, and all products affected by the three qualities, and, in their order, the five organs which perceive the objects of sensation.

But, joining minute particles even of those six, which possess measureless power, with particles of himself, he created all beings.

- Laws of Manu 1.5-16



CREATION FROM JUDAISM & CHRISTIANITY

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.

And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, "let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

And God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth." And it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens." So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds, cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so.

And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.

- Bible, Genesis 1.1-2.3




THE INDIGENOUS (FILIPINO) IDEA OF CREATION


"To create" is commonly understood as "to produce something out of nothing." When God said, "Let there be light," and there was light, he created light out of nothing. Before that there was only darkness and no material existed out of which the light was made.


Creation out of nothing is called a "first creation," and is found principally in the Judaeo-Christian-Moslem tradition. It requires as creator a perfectly omnipotent being, thoroughly self-sufficient and capable of producing his own creation independent of any other power.


Creation as conceived of by early Filipinos is more in the nature of a "second creation," therefore the making of a particular object out of some underlying material.


We find this in all Philippine creation stories. The creator makes a specific object: the world, the tree or man. Before the creation, the world, the tree or man were nonexistent; a sub-stratum is used to form them- such as wood, clay or rock. In many traditions these substances were always there, from the very beginning. Creation simply formed them into specific objects (Demetrio 1978). Thus Melu, the Bagobo creator, used the leavings of his body skin, which he constatnly scrubbed off, in order to fashion the earth. In the Bikol account, after their unsuccessful rebellion against their grandfather, Langit the sky, the copper body of Bulan became the moon, and the golden body of Aldao became the sun (Bonto, undated).


In other native traditions, not of the Philippines, a ready world was simply lifted up with a fish hook from the bottom of the primordial ocean by the creator. Or, as with the Native Americans, the swimming animals brought up slime from the bottom of the sea, spread it over the back of another animal and it grew into the world (Kirtley 1957).


In many of our indigenous creation myths, the creator has a "brother," who is envious, short of imagination, and who is responsible for the defects and imperfections of the resulting creation. Thus in the Bagobo myth, after Melu had almost finished making figures of the first people, his brother Fun Tao Tana came up from his dwelling place in the lowest tier of the underworld, and demanded that the making of the noses be left to him. Melu, to avoid strife, agreed just before he left for his home in the sky. But Fun Tao Tana placed them upside down. As a result when the rains came, the first people almost drowned because the water flowing from their heads entered their wide-open nostrils. Seeing their plight, Melu came down form his place in the sky and reset the noses.


In a Manuvu myth, Manama's mirror image, the evil Ogassi, envious of the figures the good god had set out to dry, managed to incorporate a few white abaca strands into the clay. Hence the creatures became immortal no longer. They were doomed to grow white hair, get old and die.


The Bukidnons of the Central Highlands of Mindanao have one of the riches troves of oral literature. In their myth of creation, Magbabaya's bad brother, Mangilala, interfered with his clay figures of humans by giving them thin skins and breathing into them. Luckily, Magbabaya covered the extremities of their fingers and toes with superior material from the sky. These became their nails. But sometimes, humans are tempted to do evil - thanks to Mangilala's breath (Cole 1956).


What the motif of the "bad brother" may be saying is that the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, life and death are intertwined in life. One is not possible without the other.


(Source: "The Soul Book" Demetrio et al, GCF Books, 1991, Quezon City, Philippines)







LISTENING TO THE OTHER

UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM: A Progressive Faith for Today's World

by Bob Guerrero*

Can one be religious without doctrine? Can someone form his/her own theology and yet be in a community with others who may have different views? Can someone have a faith that welcomes questions and doubts?


Unitarian Universalism (UU) answers ‘yes” to every question. UU is a liberal, progressive religious tradition that is an alternative to more rigid, conservative, dogmatic forms of religion. It is a worldwide movement with a presence in every continent and about 400,000 adherents around the globe.


UU has no dogma because every individual is encouraged to use his own reason and experience to help grapple with questions about God and ethical matters. It has been said that UUs have a “trinity” composed of freedom, reason and tolerance.


The closest thing in UU to a doctrine are the 7 principles that UU congregations in the United States have agreed to affirm:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;


Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;


Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;


A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;


The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;


The goal of world community with peace, liberty & justice for all;


Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.


There are many different points of view in Unitarian Universalism. UU has its roots in Christianity, and many UUs still consider themselves Christian. But Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, and even secular humanists and agnostics who question the very existence of God have found a home in UU. All UUs agree to respect one another’s individual’s beliefs and personal theologies.


UUs affirm that all the great religions have worth and afford wisdom to all. Not surprisingly, Unitarian Universalists are deeply involved in interfaith activities all over the world.


UUs believe that the concept of God is vast and in a sense, incomprehensible. No one man or religion can ever understand God fully. That is why UUs concern themselves not with set answers but with the continuous search for truth and meaning. UUs affirm that “revelation is not sealed.” That God is always revealing Himself to us, not only through scripture but through history, society, the voices of prophetic men and women, and through open, honest discussion.


Unitarians were first organized in Europe 500 years ago. They were called Unitarians because of their traditional denial of the concept of the trinity. They flourished in Hungary, Romania, Poland, and eventually spread to the United Kingdom and The United States.


In 1961 the Unitarian Church in the U.S. merged with the Universalist Church, another liberal Church that denied the doctrine of hell, believing instead that a loving God would save all of His creatures. Thus Unitarian Universalism was born.


UU worships resemble Christian services but draw inspiration from the world’s religions. UUs believe that life on this earth is more important than life after death, which is why they are active in issues of social justice, environmental protection, and poverty alleviation. UUs have a long history of combating oppression, slavery, and injustice.


Being an inclusive faith, UUs is one of the most welcoming denominations for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgenders, with many LGBTs active both as laypeople and ministers.


Throughout history there have been many prominent UUs who have made significant contributions to society. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Darwin were all Unitarians. Five U.S. Presidents were Unitarian, including William Howard Taft, who served as governor of the Philippines. The most famous UU of modern times is probably Robert Fulghum, a UU minister, whose book “All I Needed to Know I Learned In Kindergarten” has become a modern classic.


UU has been in the Philippines for over fifty years now established in 1955 by a former Pentecostal minister, Toribio Quimada, in the island of Negros. But since 2005 there has been a UU presence in Metro Manila as well, with two small congregations in Bicutan and Valenzuela. An emerging community has also sprung up in Quezon City.


To know more about UU in the Philippines, click on http://www.uuphilippines.org/. You may also view their Friendster site at www.friendster.com/uumanila. For inquires email uumetromanila@gmail.com or text Bob at 0917 532 4785.


*Bob Guerrero is an advertising writer, sports commentator, and lay leader of the Unitarian Universalists in Metro Manila.

URI Statement on the Crisis in the Middle East

(Approved by the Standing Committee on behalf of the Global Council of
the United Religions Initiative)

As trustees of the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, we write to urge an immediate and complete ceasefire of violence that is currently happening in the Middle East, and a commitment by all parties, including the international community and the world's religions, to find the will to complete, implement and invest in a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We write as leaders of the URI, a global interfaith organization active in 70 countries, through the work of 400 member Cooperation Circles. URI's purpose is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. We have many members in the Middle East, including Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians. The URI has consultative status at the UN through ECOSOC.

As leaders of an interfaith organization dedicated to resolving conflict without resorting to violence, we recognize and laud the heroic work of Palestinians, Israelis and peace advocates all over the world who are dedicated to rising above the violence and working for peace, justice and healing.

We believe that a new day is possible when a comprehensive, just peace will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We call on all involved - Israelis and Palestinians, people of other nations, international bodies, religions, and grassroots groups working heroically for peace - to take the following steps to speed the dawning of that day:

* To stop the violence immediately.

* To supply immediate humanitarian aid to address urgent suffering and long-term aid to rebuild.

* To commit to negotiate, invest in and implement a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

* To invest in every means possible to weave a fabric of genuine, mutually honoring community among Palestinians and Israelis at the grassroots level.

* To invest less in armaments and more in social and economic infrastructure.

We commit to do all we are able, beginning with support for URI member Cooperation Circles in Israel and Palestine, and engaging our members around the world to help these steps be fulfilled.

And we commit to pray and meditate that violence will cease, peace prevail and a life of hope be restored to the long-suffering people of this region.


URI Global Youth CC Statement on the current situation in Gaza.

We, the members of the Global Youth Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative, wish to express our concern at the current situation in Gaza. Conflict creates hardship and fear for people on both sides and takes its toll on civilians, both young and old, and the livelihood of communities and economies.


As a youth network we sympathise with our fellows, the young people who are caught up in the crisis, in both Gaza and in the Israeli communities that live in fear of rocket attacks. Young people are the future of any community and we feel that they should not have to live amidst a cycle of violence and hardship. In order for young people to make meaningful and healthy contributions to society, it is imperative that they grow and develop within a space of security and integrity.


We are also concerned about those who are vulnerable in these times, such as the elderly and the sick. They need access to medical resources and clean, safe environments. In times of crisis these people suffer the most because basic facilities are less accessible.


They also need to live without the fear created by constant attacks. This situation is robbing people on both sides of basic human rights that are theirs by international law.


We implore both sides to pursue the path of peace and reconciliation and reduce hostilities so that aid and supplies can reach the people of Gaza to alleviate their suffering and so the Israeli people can live without fear. It is our hope that both sides can cooperate in order to achieve a lasting peace and quality of life for all people. Our goal, as members of a global interfaith community, is to achieve this all over the world.