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Today the word “interfaith” has enormous influence in the world. We are asked to move from a parochial way of viewing the world and ourselves in it to widely consider a more global view. We can no longer in the interest of planet survival take a solipsistic view of the world in which we think of ourselves as the sole purveyors of religious or spiritual belief, or the dominant religion to which all persons must adhere. One need only look to the violence in the name of holding to one’s spiritual or religious belief as the only truth to see the danger of holding such views. As we gaze out at the enormous global problems of starvation, violence and ignorance proliferating in the world, we must have a philosophy of interfaith that acts as an umbrella under which all religions and spiritual beliefs may gather. Seeking the diversity of cultures, mores, religions and beliefs can only enrich us with an interfaith view.

What is interfaith? Interfaith allows members of all religions and spiritual teachings to reach out across barriers to understand and communicate with each other. Interfaith affirms and supports the true goodness of each person as we set about to heal the planet. While there is not an effort to homogenize religious differences, one is asked to honor and respect religious differences, recognizing that we are each individual and unique. As such, with interfaith, we have the freedom to choose whatever fits us in our desire to lead spiritual or religious lives. What is most important during these times is that we begin an interfaith dialogue that supports the common ground on which we meet and that we recognize not only our differences, but affirm our sameness in attempting to do good in this life. Interfaith dialogue is very important at this juncture. When there is dialogue, then there is a desire to promote acceptance of difference and in that acceptance, one achieves the pinnacle of interfaith philosophy.

In the Jew in the Lotus, one is treated to an extraordinary experience of a Jewish man as he encounters Buddhism at Dharmasala for a Jewish/Tibetan Buddhist interfaith dialogue. This interfaith get together was inspired by not only Jews who had become Buddhists but the Dalai Lama’s perception of Jews as experts in exile and preservation of faith and practice.Some of those attending aa the group were surprised by the similarities between these two beliefs, both in how they coped spiritually and how they resonated in service to mankind. These interfaith discussions shed an important light on the similarities rather than differences in all religious and spiritual belief. When seen through the door of “sameness,” one can only see the vista that interfaith dialogue provides to the world. Kameneth approaches these weighty matters with skill, personality, and a wonderful sense of humor.

Kashi Ashram is noted for its promotion of interfaith dialogue. In all of its projects including “feeding the hungry,” and its affordable living facility By the River, it promotes and welcomes interfaith discussion and philosophy. In fact, it is a contributing member of the Parliament of World Religions whose mission is to sustain the interfaith view. This beautiful sterling silver Interfaith Necklace with sterling silver chain was designed by artists at Kashi and depicts the symbols of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Islam, Hinduism and Taoism. Not only an interfaith statement you are making when wearing this necklace, but you might consider this an interfaith amulet that will bring the world peace and interfaith dialogue.

When one thinks of interfaith, one thinks of the similarities of messages and exhortations to do good in all religions. In the book Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Lao Tzu one sees the similarity in the message of service and doing good to others that reaches across all religions and transcends religious differences. As one contemplates the teachings of Christ, juxtaposed with those of Buddha, Krishna and Lao Tzu, one witnesses the true parallels and similarities in their most integral teachings. This book is a wonderful seminal book for those interested in conducting an interfaith discussion with others in an effort to point out humanity’s similarities rather than their differences, thus promoting interfaith cooperation and cohesion rather than divisiveness and disharmony.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

If one were to think of an American spiritual spokeswoman and advocate for kindheartedness and compassion, one would have to look to Pema Chodron. A long time devotee of the great Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron has found her own voice and place in our hearts as we grapple with the everyday problems of being human while still trying to lead a spiritual life. Coming from a place of humility and every-day ordinariness, Pema Chodron is not ordinary at all, but a true illuminator and clarifier of the complexity of life. She has managed however to compress and simplify complex dharmic Buddhist proscriptions to simple, but never mundane, maxims for us to live and by which to be nourished. Pema Chodron at once illuminates, expounds, clarifies and expresses in true humor the wisdom of Buddhism. Pema Chodron also “walks the walk” as she pokes fun at her own attempts at leading a spiritual life. Pema Chodron is at once readable and profound.

Many of us who practice spirituality in these times cannot help but be overwhelmed and saddened at the ever-present and increasing violence. In Practicing Peace in Times of War, Pema Chodron in her usual clarity explores the origins of this violence and lays the responsibility for it at our feet. Pema Chodron tells us that while we may not be directly responsible for such aggression, that when we too practice a violent way of responding we are contributing to this culture. Pema Chodron further admonishes and instructs us how to respond in these times with compassion and open-heartedness and gives us techniques to forward that purpose. From this book one realizes that the true place of power comes from extending compassion to those who engage in this type of violence and our endeavoring to practice non-violence or ahimsa in our daily lives.

Pema Chodron’s book The Wisdom of No Escape is truly a balm for the tortured soul. While admitting the “no exit” place to which our suffering leads us, she speaks of how it can serve as a vehicle for our awakening into consciousness. When we don’t “escape” from the “messy” situations of our lives, we sometimes fall into the delight that awaits us. Pema Chodron encourages us to open up to the challenges in our lives and develop a soft heart as we encounter them. Taking refuge in the Buddha for Pema Chodron is about reconnecting with our wakefulness and removing the heart armor that covers our wisdom. Pema Chodron gave the talks in this book during a one-month practice at Gampo Abbey.

Pema Children is well known for encouraging us to look at our pain and suffering and not to run from it, but she does not leave us without tools to encounter painful or difficult times. In fact, as we confront our suffering, loneliness and despair, from which we cannot escape, we may encounter a fundamental happiness that lies beneath our fear. In the book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Pema Chodron has written a manual of instructions for those of us who aspire to maintain an open heart and become compassionate warriors in our life.

Again with a wonderful title, The Places that Scare You, to which we as ordinary people can relate, Pema Chodron welcomes us all into the path of her what can only be termed kind and compassionate Buddhism. She teaches that at the heart of our painful moments in life, we have a nugget of spiritual awareness to extract and that it is ours if we are brave enough to witness our pain and the places of vulnerability that frighten us. Again Pema Chodron reminds us of the basic goodness within us, how humility is our strong suit and why our vulnerability and “soft spots” awaken us. Pema Chodron is truly a spokeswoman of realism, compassion and simplicity in this age of complexity.

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Bells have been used for centuries to call people to worship, to announce both good news and bad, to proclaim the births of children, to celebrate the end of wars.

Significantly for us, bells are an essential complement to meditation. As one sits for meditation in preparation to attune to the inner world, it is not uncommon to first ring a bell. The sound of the bell serves to elevate the vibrational level within the room and call forth something deeply within our souls. As the sound of the bell vibrates within the room, it has the power to still the mind and the senses within a moment.

Typically used in Tibetan Buddhism to call forth the silence before meditation is a Brass Bell with Dorje. The dorje, known as the “thunderbolt,” and the bell, are inseparable ritual objects during religious ceremonies in Tibetan Buddhism. The bell held in the left hand, represents the female aspect as wisdom; the dorje, or male aspect is held in the right hand. Together, they represent union of wisdom and method, or the attainment of enlightenment. 

Tingshas are spherical bells hand cast by Tibetan artisans using methods passed down from generation to generation. When the two pieces strike each other they produce deep and lasting sound used to focus the mind before and after meditation. Tingshas can be used for space clearing to remove negative energies. Tingshas are also very popular for feng shui practitioners who desire to expand and clarify living spaces. Clarity of a bell or tingsha is particularly important because of its power to clear a room of negative vibrations. These Tingsha Cymbals with Om design retain length and clarity of sound after striking. 

Setting aside a particular table or altar for your pujas or worship is consistent with practitioners in spiritual life, placing their sacred and familiar objects upon it. A beautiful adornment on any spiritual altar or table is the Zen Mantra Table Chime Tingsha, which has on its face the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum (Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus). It comes complete with wooden ringer and as the chime tingsha is struck, the mind comes immediately into spiritual focus.

Another recommendation for placement upon an altar or table is this attractive Altar Bell complete with striker in a very attractive, contrasting black and green color combination, favorite Tibetan colors. Because of its placement over an attractive wooden base, the tingsha rings long and free. 

Happy meditations!


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