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!!!

PEACE SUNDAY FESTIVAL 2014

 

peace sunday

The annual Peace Sunday, this year being called “Peace Sunday Festival”, is scheduled for September 21st, just four weeks from today.  It will be held at the IMAN Cultural Center, 3376 Motor Ave., Los Angeles 90034.  This year’s theme will be “Every human being has a right to peace”.   Please note that the United Nations International Day of Peace is on Sunday this year, and it is the same day as our Peace Sunday Festival.  The website is www.peacesunday.org  For information call 424-228-2087, 310-396-8205, or 310-200-3598.  The email is udcworld@gmail.com.

Peace Sunday Festival 2014 is convened by the Unity-and-Diversity World Council, and there are twenty sponsoring organizations.  Sponsors are responsible to help plan the event, and this year’s Steering Committee is a most outstanding one.  We also have co-sponsors, who help publicize the event.  So far there are about twenty-five co-sponsors, and that number will considerably increase between now and the event.

Now is a most unstable and violent time in the world, which gives every reason for having a Peace Sunday Festival.  This year’s event will not only present an outstanding program, but several new features will be part of it.  First of all, we will have several different youth activities: a schools project focused on “What is Peace?”, which includes essays, poetry, and artwork, led by Diane Burton and Ron Klemp.  There will be 20’x20’ booth with youth activities, led by Barbara Tebyani.  Gayle Gale will have a booth to develop her “Kids for Peace”.  Diane Tillman of the Brahma Kumaris will have a session during the afternoon program for youth focused on “Living Values”.

The trailer of “Beyond Right and Wrong” will be shown, which is a popular film helping to reconcile victims and perpetrators from acts of violence.  Conflicts in various parts of the world could learn much about how to reconcile their difficulties from the teachings in this film.

Peace Sunday will likewise focus on action following up on this event.  Three areas of action are being included: (1) Preparing for the 2015 Peace Sunday Festival celebrating the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and the 50th anniversary of Unity-and-Diversity World Council.  (2) Beginning a second year of the Culture of Peace Series.  (3)  Forming an ongoing body of organizations and individuals similar to the Security Council of the United Nations, which will take action on specific areas of need as are within our possibility of making a positive difference in our communities and/or the world.

There will be tables and booths in the IMAN Center parking lot throughout the day by various participating organizations.  An interfaith service will be held from 10 a.m. till noon, ending with participation in a worldwide one-minute meditation.  After lunch the program will be held from 2-5 p.m.  It will feature spiritually and politically involved Marianne Williamson as a keynote speaker, songs from the International Peace Choir, musician Yuval Ron and fellow musicians, singer/songwriter Stephen L. Fiske, and the World Peace Prayer and Flag Ceremony.  A second keynote speaker and a surprise element are being planned.

On Saturday, September 20th, 6-9 p.m., there will be a Recognition Celebration concluding the first Peace Convergence and the monthly Culture of Peace Series.  Honored will be the sector facilitators from the Convergence, the presenters from the Culture of Peace Series, and the people who attended the majority of the monthly Series.

The evening will begin with a potluck supper at 6 p.m. in the small auditorium at the IMAN Center.

About two weeks after the Peace Sunday Festival the special meeting will be held to begin the ongoing body of organizations and individuals who choose to form a “Security Council” to take cooperative actions as needed during the coming year.

 

May peace prevail on earth!!!

BEGINNING THE SUMMER OF PEACE

 

 

“Yet so shall it be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come.”

                   Baha’i Faith, Science and Spirituality, page 171

 

June 21st was the date of the summer solstice, and for the Shift Network it was the beginning time of the Summer of Peace, which continues until the 21st of September, the International Day of Peace as well as the fall equinox.  On Saturday, June 21st, the Shift Network held a sacred ceremony on a conference call which included an opening prayer by Native American leader Arvol Looking-Horse, prayers by several evolutionary leaders introduced by Shift Network CEO Stephen Dinan, and a spiritual deepening by the founder of Pathways to Peace, Avon Mattison.

 

Following these words of prayer and a couple of silences, Fumi Stewart of the World Peace Prayer Society led a version of the prayer ritual known as “May Peace Prevail on Earth” that mentions the countries of the world one by one in groups – Europe, Middle East, Asia, North and South America, and Africa – followed in each group by “May peace prevail on earth”.

 

Having experienced this deeply sacred gathering, I was most impressed with the feeling of inner and outer peace that was created.  It is most reassuring to know the power of prayer and meditation that can be created on a conference call, and to be aware of the number of people who participated in this meaningful occasion.  This event was held under the auspices of the Shift Network, with the special participation of Pathways to Peace and the World Peace Prayer Society.  Fumi Stewart and others of the World Peace Prayer Society have taken part several times over the years in Peace Sunday and its predecessor, the International Cooperation Festival.

 

This year the Unity-and-Diversity World Council will convene the Peace Sunday Festival in cooperation with a large number or sponsors and co-sponsors, held with its host, the IMAN Cultural Center in West Los Angeles.  This year there will be a large youth segment, including an essay/poetry/art project in various schools.  In addition there will be a booth with young people’s activities.  Another youth program is also being proposed.

 

It is especially important to be aware that next year, 2015, is the 70thanniversary of the United Nations and the 50th anniversary of the Unity-and-Diversity World Council.  The plan is to hold a much larger event at that time and to invite direct participation of the United Nations.  Every ten years since the founding of the U.N. in 1945 in San Francisco the U.N. has sent a delegation to San Francisco to participate in its anniversary celebration – 1955, 1965…1995, 2005, and now 2015.  Each year has had some special aspect of its celebration.  In 1955 a Festival of Faith was held in the Cow Palace the night before the U.N. sessions, with 16,000 people participating.  In 1995 the interfaith celebration at Grace Cathedral gave birth to the United Religions Initiative (URI), which now has cooperation circles throughout the world in about sixty countries.

 

It is our hope that the United Nations will choose also to be represented in Los Angeles at the time of the U.N. International Day of Peace.

 

May peace prevail on earth!!!

MEDITATION, ACTION, AND ENJOYMENT

 We should at various times and in various ways draw from all other paths of life, but give no one our exclusive allegiance.  At one moment one of them is the more appropriate; at another moment    a different path is the more appropriate.  Life  should contain meditation, action, and enjoyment  in almost equal amounts.  When any aspect is  carried to extremes we lose something important  for our life.  So we must cultivate flexibility, admit diversity in ourselves, accept the tension this                      diversity produces, find a place for meditation in the midst of activity and enjoyment, and so in the dynamic interaction of the various paths of life.  One should use all of them in building a life, and no one alone.

                                   Charles Morris, Varieties of Human Value, page 17

 

When I was studying at Harvard Divinity School, I also studied in the Social Relations Department, and it was through this exposure that I found Charles Morris,   Dr. Morris was teaching at Harvard for three spring semesters, and I was fortunate to be able to study with him.  Although he was a philosopher, he was the one who did the scientific research on human values and how the different value patterns relate to each other.  His book, Paths of Life: Preface to a World Religion,  was a real eye-opener for me as to how science and religion come together in seeking the different choices we can make in shaping a life in the new world.

Let’s take each of these components separately and look at their uniqueness and also how they fit together.  If we are to be effectively active in the world, we first need to develop a meditation and/or prayer practice in order to keep our balance and make it possible to handle challenge and stress.  Peacemakers are often so convinced of a particular point of view that they don’t listen to other views and often get caught in some form of violence.  Such onesidedness can easily cause wars.  Meditation helps us be in touch with our higher nature and to act from center rather than from prejudice and misunderstanding.

What concerns me about many spiritual people is that they avoid dealing with social concerns and feel that everything can be resolved through prayer or meditation.  Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King are two good examples of people who knew that social change does not come easily, and that we must be willing to be involved in following through with what we know to be right.  Action is part of the whole self, though the forms of action can vary widely.  Street demonstrations are sometimes the only way to bring an issue out into the open and get it resolved, but there are many other ways of taking action that are more positive.  I confess that I often assume that some other individual or group will take the action to solve a problem, and that all I need to do is to point out the problem.  It is true that we cannot solve all problems, but we can act to make change on something we know about and that is close to our heart.

Enjoyment also is part of life.  It is good to be able to laugh at ourselves, and to relax when we have completed an action.  Getting to know people better is often aided by a laugh in common or just a chance to have a meal and share informally.  Looking at pictures of family or vacation sights can also be healing.  Families having at least one meal together every day is very important in helping to keep the family together.  Going on a trip can also produce bonding.  I often hear people talk about the importance of people having fun with what they are doing.  One of the challenges of good teaching is finding a way of making something that could be boring into a task that contains an element of fun  .

For many years I have talked about our central task as being the creation of a peoples’ equivalent of the United Nations.  The U.N.’s primary task is to work with nations and to get the various nations to work cooperatively with each other.  Attached to the U.N. is the Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO’s), which consist of profit and nonprofit organizations fulfilling various tasks that are more suited to groups rather than nations.  The NGO’s are part of the U.N. and are at least to some extent under the control of the United Nations.  A separate organization is needed that works with individuals, groups, and networks and which has its own goals and methodologies.  There are a huge number of such organizations in existence today, but the challenge is to get them to join together and set out to take care of the problems of the human race, the environment, and the major issues that continue to plague everyone’s existence.

As an example, Bill Moyers, who regularly brings up issues that need attention, recently mentioned the problem of charter schools.  Originally, charter schools were supposed to be supportive of public schools and to act as a supplement when needed.  More recently they have become a source of moneymaking and a threat to the public schools.  In our democracy we do need outstanding public schools, and they needed to be understood and supported by the people.  A weakened public school system is a loss to democracy and needs to be improved.  A society centered around the dollar sign is not a strength but a weakness in a robust democracy.  Values must come before money or we are in trouble.  That is our current condition and desperately needs our attention.

I’d like to end my message by pointing out that a new form of human interaction is emerging.  It is called “collaboration”.  People are starting to come together not just to listen to a speaker or a panel, but to share with each other and to build their strength in order to handle issues that need attention.  May our coming together on Sunday mornings help to build our capacity to collaborate and to work for the well-being of all.

May peace prevail on earth!!!