BEYOND RIGHT AND WRONG: A New Way of Seeing Ethical Behavior

“Seek good and not evil, that you may live, and so God will be a part of you. Hate evil, love good; and establish justice in the gate. …I hate, I despise your feasts; I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Take away from me the noise of your songs, to the melody of your harps I will not listen.  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everlasting stream.”
-Amos, Old Testament, Science and Spirituality, page 387

The above quotation from the Book of Amos in the Christian Old Testament gives a clear statement about the traditional idea of good and evil.  We are to seek good and to overcome evil.  Justice and righteousness are to be sought, and the paths of carousing and ignoring of these virtues are to be shunned.  There is much to be said in behalf of these teachings, and yet there is more.  It seems that in the “more” is where we are getting lost today as we remain addicted to war and violence.

The recently created DVD called “Beyond Right and Wrong” does a good job of presenting an alternative view of justice and forgiveness, brought forward in stories throughout this important presentation.  We were to see the short version of this DVD at Peace Sunday, but circumstances changed the picture and it did not get shown.  I wanted to bring it to your attention and to invite you to see the film for yourself.

Some years ago there was a family in this area of the United States whose daughter wanted to go to Africa to see the countryside and to help with some of that continent’s problems.  She was in her late teens, and she went by herself.  During her stay she was attacked and killed by a group of older men, who for some reason felt that she was a threat to their continent.

Her mother and father were very concerned about what had happened, but instead of being angry and resentful, they also went to Africa to find out more about what had happened.  They eventually found the men who had killed their daughter, and they spoke with them about the crime they had committed.  The men realized how wrong they were to have killed the young woman, and they got to know the mother and father; eventually the two parents ended up staying with the killers, and a whole new relationship was built.

Some of you may have heard a statement from the poet Rumi, where he said that somewhere there is a field which is beyond right and wrong, and that he would meet others there.  It is the same idea expressed in a somewhat different way.  We are not saying that there should be no penalty for wrongdoing, but that beyond the penalty there are the human relationships to be considered.  When Mahatma Gandhi was killed, he forgave the man who had killed him.  When Nelson Mandela was kept in prison for twenty-seven years because of South Africa’s policy of apartheid (keeping blacks and whites separate in an obvious commitment to the superiority of the white population), Mandela forgave his captors and went on to become South Africa’s first black president.

Today we are being called upon to have a major shift in consciousness and to apply the practices of nonviolence to replace war and violence, to re-establish the sacredness of life, and to find diplomatic ways of solving the many problems facing the emerging global community.  War is now obsolete, and it is time to stop engaging in its destructive ways.  It is time to wage peace using nonviolent means, so that moral and spiritual values can once again be in the forefront of our awareness.

The United Nations can help in that process, since its original purpose was to “eliminate the scourge of war”.  Now is an especially good time to get the U.N. to be more active in pursuing that purpose, since next year is its seventieth anniversary.

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THE CALL OF SPIRITUAL ACTIVISM

“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For those who are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who observe their natural faces in a mirror; they observe themselves and go away, at once forgetting what they were like.”
–  Christian New Testament, World Scriptures, page 431

Pitirim Sorokin, a Sociology Professor at Harvard University, often said that in a crisis, the Law of Polarization is in operation.  As the crisis deepens, which is happening around the world at this time, the effect of the crisis is to produce more and more people who see beyond the crisis and work to overcome its conflicts.  At our annual Peace Sunday this past July, 2014, one woman had an organization called Restoration Generation.  She pointed out that we are the ones whose job it is to restore balance to our world.  It is not enough just to be aware of the problems we face.  It is our turn to seek solutions to these many problems.  This is not an easy task, and it is likely to take longer than our lifetime, but at least we need to do our part to the fullest extent possible.

We have a special heritage in this regard, since we are aware of our moral and spiritual nature and have been taught the importance of coming from that place in our relations with others.  Whether we are on the streets protesting something that needs to be changed, or whether we are working in an office, an educational institution, or a religious center, we need to cultivate our nonviolent approach and carry it out in our actions.  It is not enough just to take one side of an issue and campaign for its acceptance.  Peacemakers are people who attempt to see both sides of an issue and seek to reconcile the differences involved.

Spiritual activism is a way of working in the world that comes from a moral and spiritual position.  It comes from a concern for the well-being of all, therefore it is nonviolent and patient to reach meaningful and lasting solutions.   From the perspective of the Unity-and-Diversity World Council, our task is to build interfaith and intergroup cooperation so as to increase the power and effectiveness of our actions.  Our work is to help create a global equivalent of the United Nations as related to individuals, groups, and networks.  The major task of the United Nations is to work with nations and to undertake tasks that are possible only through international cooperation.

The work of the UDC, on the other hand, is to gather together the resources of interfaith and intergroup cooperation and, in turn, work with the U.N. and the nations of the world as needed.  The strength of democracy begins with people.and it is strengthened by the cooperation among individuals, groups, and networks.  This kind of organizing is difficult because of the three levels of participation.  Nevertheless, it is possible to do and needs to be kept in mind as the organizational model is developed.

I would like to suggest a way of moving in this direction that has not fully succeeded as yet.  It is calling upon the United Nations to take on the major tasks for which it was formed in 1945.  That is, to “eliminate the scourge of war”.  The U.N. should be the body that is handling the conflicts in the Middle East and around the world.  The United States is one of the nations, and it certainly should not be in the position of having to carry out an ongoing state of war with the other nations.  The U.N. needs to use its powers of working with the different nations to bring them to the negotiating table and keeping them there until nonviolent solutions are found.  We need to stop bypassing the U.N. and get it to do its job.  When the U.S. engages in wars with other countries, it in effect takes over the U.N.’s job, and in that role it is not doing very well.  It is time to let the U.N. do the job for which it was created.

May Spirit guide our every action!

   “No one who really has knowledge fails to practice it.  Knowledge without practice should be interpreted as lack of knowledge.  Sages and virtuous ones teach others to know how to act, because they wish them to reflect and let this suffice.
   We must certainly have experienced pain before we can know what it is, and to understand hunger one must have been hungry.  How, then, can knowledge and practice be separated?  The sage instructs us that we must practice before we may be said to have understanding.   If we fail to practice, we will not fully understand.  True knowledge is   the beginning of practice; doing is the completion of knowing.” 

– Wang Zang-Ming, Science and Spirituality, page 127

Spiritually aware people generally think more in terms of some form of service, rather than social action in terms of standing up for one or more social issues.  Many such people consciously avoid dealing with social issues, partly because they are not very aware of social issues and all the implications involved.

Today our society is faced with a huge number of important social issues, and it is most of all up to people of faith to lead in dealing with the resolution of those issues.  People in the interfaith movement are being called upon to handle these issues, because they have been able to cross the lines of a single faith to recognize the importance of the many faiths and are learning how to work together.

One example of how the interfaith movement helped was when a Buddhist temple was being built in North Hollywood.  The community initially showed some resistance to the new temple, so from the Interreligious Council of So. Calif. several faith leaders went to the community and spoke out in favor of the Buddhist temple and its value to the community.  The impact of that action cleared the way of the completion of the temple, and today it is an important element in the North Hollywood area.

Beyond the role of faiths in helping each other, there are questions of war and peace, environmental sustainability, immigration reform, and a host of other issues.  No one faith group or interfaith alliance can handle all of these issues, but by combining their energies a much greater impact can be felt.

The next phase of cooperation, especially on a global level, is the establishment of a non-governmental body of individuals, groups, and networks devoted to maintaining world peace and helping with all of the other issues before the human race.  What it will be called, and where it will be centered, is yet to be determined.  My sense is that it will be centered in Los Angeles, and that it will have an increasingly significant global impact. The Unity-and-Diversity World Council is preparing to take a leadership role in this effort.

May peace prevail on earth!!!