Monday, November 21, 2011

Interfaith Initiative - Part 1 of 2

The highlight for me at the Interfaith Conference at Northeastern Illinois University on Nov. 17 was the first event of the program, “Peacemaking in the Classroom.” Although it was geared towards educators in citing real-life cases of conflict resolution that teachers encounter with students, parents and fellow teachers, the principles could apply to any interpersonal conflict. The co-presenters referred to each other as devout men of faith – Tom Masters, a Christian (his book on spirituality in education is pictured here) and Ron Ramer, a Jew. Their approach to classroom conflict resolution was based on the work of Chiara Lubich (1920-2008), an Italian woman who brought the Focolare (“hearth”) movement to educators throughout the world.

One of Lubich’s principles was “Be the first to love.” Although in an earlier posting to this blog, I said the word “love” has a negative meaning (possessiveness, self-serving attachment) in Buddhism, the presenters interpreted the word to mean “acknowledge the dignity of the other person,” to humble yourself (“speak from a level one-down”) and let go of your assumptions and any sense of power over them. To that I can’t help but say “Namu Amida Butsu.”

In the second event of the conference, a round table discussion, I was seated next to one of the speakers, Sanjay Mehrotra, an engineering professor from Northwestern University who spoke of the deep spiritual resonance he receives from Hinduism. He shared that resonance with us by chanting “Om—peace…” I wanted just to be a listener, but then a Jain student in the audience requested that all of us join in the chant with Prof. Mehrotra.

I’m not the glad-handing type, in contrast to the Caucasian religious leaders who easily greet each other and strike up conversations. But I felt I should make contact with someone at that venue, so I spoke to Prof. Mehrotra after the discussion and asked for his information, saying I’d like him or someone from the Hindu community to speak at our temple. I realized that if Jews and Christians can work together, Buddhists should reach out to Hindus and learn more about them. We should “be the first to love” – to let go of negative assumptions and our sense of superiority. We need to get to a place of respectful sharing instead of being stuck in the brutal bashing that Stephen Asma does in his Why I Am a Buddhist (myself and others have been just as guilty).

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