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Faith representatives share similarities and differences

As part of the recent Buddhist Relics exhibit at Unity Church of Truth, five faith leaders engaged in dialogue on understandings of peace based on kindness, compassion and forgiveness.

Barbara McDaniel of the Sravasti Abbey Buddhist monastic community in Newport, Wash., moderated the discussion.  The panelists were Andrea (Andy) CastroLang of Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ, Kristine Bear of the Baha’i Faith, Deidre Ashmore of Unity, Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron of Sravasti Abbey and Gary Fox, an American Indian spiritual leader.

Interfaith Dialogue
Gary Fox, Thubten Chodron, Deidre Ashmore, Kristine Bear and Andrea CastroLang

Summarized basic values

As the “foundational teaching” of Christianity, Andy said Jesus considered the greatest commandment is to love God “with all your heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

“While we are to love, serve and know God, all humanity and all creation,” she said, “Christianity is a house divided.”

Kristine said the Baha’i Faith, founded 160 years ago by Baha’u’llah, believes in progressive revelation—each messenger brings knowledge and awareness in the call for the unity of all faiths.

“As leaves on one tree, we are to unite as one world,” she said.  “We have the capacity to live on this planet as one body. 

“That does not mean we are the same.  We recognize our uniqueness and the individuality of each person as gifts of God.  We are to be kind to each other, listening and understanding so we can live without war, eliminate poverty and do marvelous things even though we have differing beliefs,” she said.

Deidre said that in 2003 Unity Church developed a statement of peace, which calls for peace in the presence of conflict and love in the presence of hate.

“We honor the many paths to God,” she said.  “We ask all nations, all people to pursue peace, not war.  Unity stands for peace in our lifetime.”

Chodron said Buddhists believe happiness and suffering come from people’s minds, not outside.

“Our minds are fickle.  What we like one day, we do not like the next,” she said. 

So Buddhists look inside themselves to see how their thoughts create their experiences.

“If there is anger in us, we find something to hate.  If there is peace, we see others’ good qualities.  We seek to purify our wrongful assumptions so we can become fully enlightened beings.

“People are to develop their potential and aid others in developing their paths to compassion and wisdom,” she said.

Gary said American Indians hold traditional values passed down for thousands of years.

“The spiritual road is harder to follow than the religious.  It is a commitment to do right by serving all, no matter what color people are,” he said, noting that Indians still experience oppression because of their beliefs and race.

“Recently, someone told me to go back to my country.  I laughed as I stepped forward and back,” Gary said.  “Then I said:  ‘Now it’s your turn.’”

He said he forgives people who say something like that, deflecting and challenging it with humor.

“There is only one Father of us all, even though we have different rites of passage,” Gary said.

Role of compassion and forgiveness in peace

Gary noted:  “Humor, for us, is compassion.”

He believes people must forgive themselves before they can forgive others.  He said he starts the day with a morning prayer for all people who may have left home with a broken heart.  “High noon is the harvest time to speak directly to the Creator.  For afternoon and evening prayers we face North where the purity of snow is, following over the North to the South where there is spring.”

Chodron said that in the Buddhist perspective when people hold onto hate and grudges, they suffer and experience pain.

“To release the pain in our hearts does not mean saying that what the other person does is right,” she said.  “It means letting go of the anger.  If we vow not to speak to someone forever, we suffer before others suffer.”

She said forgiveness releases anger in individuals and groups.  Even for those who have been persecuted, forgiveness helps us heal.

“Everyone feels persecuted, that life is not good to them and they are entitled to better,” she said.  “Suffering originates in the heart and must be released as we seek happiness.  We need to differentiate the person from the action so we can see that person’s Buddha nature.”

Deidre said Unity has five basic principles:  1) There is one presence, one Power, one God who is good and omnipotent.  2) The spark of the divine, God, is in each of us.  3) Our thoughts create our reality.  4) We can change our consciousness to align with God through prayer and meditation.  5) We are to apply and act on these principles.  Forgiveness is not from God but from us, so we do not want to project our unhealed consciousness, but rather heal ourselves through prayer and meditation.

“Love is forgiving.  We pass it on to someone who has hurt us.  To be unforgiving is like holding a hot coal in our hand, thinking it will hurt others.  It just hurts us,” Deidre said.  “That does not mean we forget, but forgiveness frees us from emotional bondage.”

Kristine said, “Ditto!” because those values are also in Baha’i faith:  “When we look at each other, we need to see we all have black pupils, red blood, yellow marrow and white bones.  God created us that way so we would remember we are related.”

For her, the Lord’s Prayer speaks of living on earth as it is in heaven, expressing that God intends for everyone to live on the planet together.

“That requires forgiveness and compassion—caring for others, feeding hungry children and challenging war’s atrocities,” she said. 

“We may belong to different faiths, but we need to put our faith principles into practice,” Kristine said.  “If we do that, we can change the world.

“We should choose least harmful options—such as nuclear fusion over fission—thinking of the people who will come after us.  In the face of atrocities, we need to forgive, continue, let go and move forward.”

Kristine believes civilization is advancing with technologies that help people be more human.

Andy said “the hunger for sex, money and power” lies beneath the surface, making people fear they will not have enough and fear people who are different.

“Jesus showed we do not need to fear because of our faith, gender or status.  We need to welcome all, especially those who are hungry, lonely or frightened,” she said.

Andy asserted that people are not self sufficient:  “As we live different values, we are to open our doors and hearts to make healing and compassion manifest,” she said.  “This work is not yet done, but we try day-by-day to confront the forces we fear.”

For her, Jesus models a life-giving path of compassion, healing and walking with everyone and all creation.

Responses to questions

Kristine said she believes “we are on the same path, so we need to work together and join in more interfaith gatherings.”

Gary disagreed that all are following the same path:  “We follow a different road as American Indians.  People who say they follow organized religions often turn their backs.

“As American Indians, we come with nothing.  Many Indians in Spokane are hungry.  We thank God for food banks and ministries that help people, but our path is not worldly.  I have no computer or cell phone.  We live in another world,” he said, pointing out that much of the American Indian spiritual tradition is in the language.

Chodron believes the heart of most faiths is love, compassion, ethical conduct, forgiveness and finding hope.

“As the Dalai Lama said in an interfaith dialogue, ‘My religion is kindness.’  We do not need the same beliefs to understand each other.  He acknowledges diverse beliefs,” she said.  “We can disagree about theology, but what is important is how we live our lives.  Human beings want happiness, not suffering.  If we relate with each other, we will be better off.”

Andy said that too often differences become the basis for divisions rather than allowing teachings of the different faiths to draw people together.  She added that “we tear apart lives arguing theology in Christianity, but the ultimate judgment of the nations is based on whether we feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner or comfort the sick.”

Kristine believes that all faiths have the Golden Rule, “not judging until we have walked in someone else’s shoes, treating others as we would like to be treated, and regardless of how we are treated, not judging others.”

Gary said asked his mother why so many people fear so many things. She asked him to spell fear in English: F-E-A-R. She said, “Take away the F, and you have E-A-R. What people hear frees them from what they fear.”

Barbara summarized what she heard:  “We need to expand our hearts, listen and examine obstacles to compassion.  We need to forgive ourselves, see where we hold grudges and let go.  Imagine spreading the positive energy from this event to everyone in the city, region and planet.”

Andy added:  “Peace means fearlessness.”

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