Monday, November 30, 2009
Hinduism is unique, because unlike the other major religions, it has no single founder, no single scripture, no single deity, no single prophet, no strict priesthood, and no single way to reach salvation. Because Hinduism has numerous sages as spokespersons, scores of religious books for open discussion and various paths available for enlightenment, it is liberal, tolerant of differences, accepting of other faiths, inclusive and secular in orientation.
What gives unity to Hinduism is the belief that it is based upon eternal principles, which are explicitly stated in the Hindu sacred texts of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Yoga Sutra. The quintessence of Hinduism is affirmed in the ancient text of the Rig Veda as follows: "There is one reality, the wise call it by many names; there is one truth, reached by many paths." This statement becomes the starting point of Hinduism and the Hindu way of life.
The Hindu mindset views the sacred books of all religions including its own, as nothing more than limited human perspectives on the unlimited reality. Though each perspective captures an aspect of this truth, no single perspective is capable to conveying it totally. The ancient Indian story of seven blind men and their limited perspectives on the elephant epitomizes this attitude. This is a clear example of Hinduism's tolerance of differences and acceptance of other faiths.
Hinduism uses the term Brahman for this single reality. Since Brahman is the source of everything, the plurality and divisions are only on the surface. Brahman permeates every aspect of existence ranging from inorganic objects to organic things, from plants to insects, and from animals to humans. As our unique bodily cells, while contributing to the development and sustenance of the various parts, are organically connected to the entire body, so are the different aspects of existence as cells connected to the body of Brahman. Though no single description of Brahman is capable of capturing its nature totally, Hinduism gives a partial account by identifying it with infinite blissful consciousness.
In Hinduism, the notion of a personal god is subservient to the notion of Brahman. A personal god is nothing more than the human attempt at conceptualizing what cannot be captured through the limited categories of the limited minds. Since no single concept of god can confine the infinite spiritual depth of Brahman, which is the boundless ocean of cosmic consciousness, Hinduism has no problem accepting many gods and goddesses (polytheism), a single almighty god (monotheism) and a single non-personal spiritual principle (monism). These deities are nothing more than limited attempts of the human mind at revealing the innumerable qualities of the one all-encompassing cosmic consciousness. Moreover, these deities are mere personal pathways through which one comes in contact with one of the manifestations of Brahman.
Brahman is unlike the creator in the Western religions. It is not an artist or a sculptor that creates a painting or sculpts a statue and remains separate from its creation. Rather Brahman is a cosmic dancer where the dance and the dancer are indissolubly connected. The creator and its creation are non-separable from each other because there is no creator without the creation and no creation without the creator.
Brahman has been creating, continuously and joyfully the varied forms of the entire universe. Brahman as cosmic consciousness is like an infinite circle whereas each object, animal and human being is a concrete center of it. Each human being is a miniature fountain of creativity just like the blissful creative consciousness of Brahman. Hinduism asserts unambiguously that all life is a gift of the divine consciousness. The birth of a human being is an opportunity to get in touch with this joyful-creative-force that resides within.
Hinduism believes that this joyful-creative force is the divine spark in each human being. It resides in each of us as our conscience, which can act as our spiritual mentor. This divine conscience is our inner sacred spiritual space. Through the regular practice of meditation, one can gain access to one's conscience and can live a divine life on earth.
Moreover, this cosmic consciousness is available to anyone who approaches it with openness and without malice. Through meditation, this joyful creative force can be made to descend into oneself to nurture and revive the conscience within and could be used for cosmic transformation of oneself and others. Mahatma Gandhi, the Buddha and Mother Theresa were transformed by it and they expressed it through "serving everybody, feeding everyone, and educating every individual."
By Ashok Kumar Malhotra
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Supporters of this decision should remain vigilant against a possible reactionary backlash. After all, this sort of thing has been tried in Europe before. The Nazis (generally considered more brutal in their methods than secular progressives) began removing crucifixes from Bavarian schools in 1937. The reactionary Catholic Bavarians (generally considered less temperamental than Italians) finally had enough in 1941, when in one town a crowd of over 500 confronted the mayor, relieved him of the contraband crucifixes, and, in a fit of religious intolerance, put the crucifixes back up in the local school. The lesson to be learned from this unfortunate incident is, obviously, that the Italian crucifixes should be destroyed immediately upon removal from the schools so that such mob violence can not be repeated.
Speaking of Nazis, they were also alluded to at a PTO meeting in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, in which town the PTO has banned any Christmas items from being sold at its holiday gift shop at the Byam [elementary] School. Banned items include red and green wrapping paper, which looks too “Christmasy”. As usual, some reactionary parents complained at a PTO meeting, but one of the parents present sensibly commented to the effect of, “But what if someone wanted to bring in swastikas to sell. Would that be OK, too?”
The local school Superintendent bravely supported the PTO. He stated that the PTO was taking a “conservative” position regarding the separation of church and state and that it was working well. He was apparently not asked to define “conservative.”
These two cases simply confirm that the West is post-Christian, which, in my view, indicates that we are in the extremely late stage of Western Civilization.
By W. Reed Smith
P.S. MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Friday, November 20, 2009
Taoism considers our life on this earth to be a wonderful gift given to us by the original creative force called the Tao. Each one of us is born with a mark of the Tao called the Te. This Te is our nature or the natural ability. It is unique and singular and yet it is the force that connects us to other forms of life and the universe. To use the scientific terminology of the "big bang," theory of the creation of the universe, we are fashioned by the same source that created the entire universe of galaxies, solar systems, and planets including our earth. This "stardust" that is the life force within us is the Te of the Taoists.
Human life is an extraordinary opportunity accorded to us to express this inner force in harmony with the natural processes. Whether you are a child, man or woman, student or teacher, musician or tennis player, or whatever may be your occupation, the more you express your natural ability in conducting your daily life, the more content, happy and fulfilled you will be. Your family, society and its institutions might not be functioning in tune with nature. When you grow up within a cultural milieu that goes against the natural flow of events, the result will be your forgetfulness of your inner nature.
You will spend your entire life being trapped in pursuing goals that others have picked for you without regard to your inner nature (Te). This may lead to the ultimate disaster where one day you might "wake up to find that you are dead." This rude awakening will be a warning that you have not been in touch with your natural ability and thus have been unhappy and stressed out. But before this happens, you should wake up and get in touch with your inner force.
Taoists suggest that the nature of the Tao is peace, contentment and serenity. Continuous absorption in it leads to happiness and fulfillment. There are two ways to grasp this sageliness within or inner harmony. Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, suggests that this inner harmony can be learned through the contemplation of nature. Nature is the most exciting book of wisdom. It is always open to any one who approaches it. Every part of it is sending messages of wisdom. Anywhere you look, see, smell, hear, taste or touch, there is a pearl of wisdom waiting to be picked and enjoyed. The flight of the birds, the running water in the brook, the dewdrop, the majestic hills, the wandering cloud, the brilliant rainbow, the clear blue sky, the ever giving earth and the sun are there to offer profound wisdom. Our life should be modeled after that of a child who sees the universe with innocent eyes where everything is new and exciting, intriguing and pleasing. By observing harmony in nature, we might be able to internalize it within to attain serenity.
Another Taoist, Chuang Tzu believes that one can experience this harmony by taking the inward journey of contemplation by going beyond sensations, feelings, emotions, ideas and ego. This accord that resides in our inner being can also be experienced through idleness. Here one becomes forgetful of the external world by letting the Tao to reveal itself through one's inner being. Idleness should not be confused with laziness. Unlike laziness where a person is dull and unaware, in idleness, an individual is fully alert to the reality within and without.
Since the goal is to be happy, content and fulfilled, such a life could be achieved through the contemplation of nature and the practice of idleness on a regular basis. The Taoists suggest the following life style to achieve it: live a simple life; prefer obscurity; regard all values as human creations and thus relative; eliminate the fear of death; abandon the need to win; develop cosmic humility, and center your being on the Tao rather than on yourself.
At the societal scale, these ideas have resonance as well. What, for example, happens to a society when it "goes against the natural flow of events," such that it own destroys its ecological bases? What is the fate of societies that get "trapped in pursuing goals that others have picked...without regard to their inner nature" -- when a society loses its sovereignty or has its economy controlled from without? What does it do to the individual citizen living in such a society? Does it twist one's entire subjective and intersubjective life?
Your thoughts on these questions are most welcome!
By Ashok Kumar Malhotra
One of the most important aspects required in participatory government is literacy-and not just the literacy of the men, but the women as well. A literate woman will have literate sons and daughters whereas a literate man might not be as concerned with this. In traditional societies, men often specifically bar women from school precisely because they want no interference with their control over them. Afghanistan’s Taliban makes this a specific issue, which they demonstrate by destroying schools and throwing acid on little girl students and their teachers.
But even literacy should be reexamined. If we are not looking at what people read-what they study in school-we really do not appreciate that many such people are still abysmally ignorant even though they have gone to school.
Even the United States falls short in its effort to educate all its youth. Our own educational system is sometimes spotty-ranging from superb to inadequate, but the superb do provide for us.
What should we expect of an educational system? Being able to read and comprehend at least at daily newspaper level; knowing enough math for use in daily life in commerce and budget management; knowing enough history to put contemporary events in perspective; knowing enough science and technology to keep up with the rapid changes in these areas; and knowing the basics of our system of government. This is basic. Added to this would be inculcating a sense of eagerness to create a life-long learner and a critical thinker. In our culture’s past, everybody who was schooled (and that was never everybody) pretty much passed muster on all of the above. Consider the schooling available to President Abraham Lincoln-and yet remember how he could write!
But now comes the really critical issue. The Economist (October 17, 2009) had an article on “Education in the Arab World - Laggards Trying to Catch Up” that spelled out the problem of assuming that schooling or literacy are enough to consider the populations “educated.” They say that “one reason that too many Arabs are poor is rotten education.” For an example, the American journal Science printed articles about the newly discovered 4.4 million-year-old hominid species whose discovery helps us to understand more about human evolution.
This article was picked up and covered in the Arab world as a debunking of Darwin, which it was not. Such an analysis delighted letter writers from all over the Arab world as a blow to Western materialism and a triumph for Islam. This is not surprising since surveys in Egypt, the biggest if not most literate Arab Muslim country, show that barely one third of Egyptian adults have even heard of Charles Darwin and even science teachers teach evolution to dispute it. How do you produce world class scientists with such education? You don’t.
With all the money that Saudis spend on education, why have they so few competent modern professionals? They devote 31% of classroom time to religion and only 20% to math and science. More Saudi graduate students get degrees in Islamic Studies rather than in engineering, medicine, and science put together.
Such policies carry a cost that goes far beyond the classroom. Arab countries spend more today (says the Economist) than the world average and have eradicated illiteracy-but have not eradicated ignorance and incompetence in modern professional disciplines. This accounts for the high rate of youth unemployment and why these governments cannot lift populations out of poverty.
Is there any wonder that we have an enormous clash of civilizations with the Muslim world? This is a problem that will not easily yield to fixing until Islam is dislodged from governance and education. As one Harvard philosophy professor noted, they do not need a Luther to reform Islam; they need an Adam Smith to reform governments and economics.
By Laina Farhat-Holzman
Thursday, November 19, 2009
In April of 2005, the Federal Government of then-Prime Minister Paul Martin authorized $100 million towards the establishment of The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and two years later current Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced it would be first national museum to be built outside of the National Capital Region in Ontario. Now under construction in Winnipeg, the Museum promises to become a "a centre of learning where Canadians and people from around the world can engage in discussion and commit to taking action against hate and
However, Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin's disturbing allegations that bureaucrats and other officials in the the Harper government -- perhaps even the Prime Minister's office itself -- may be complicit in torture and war crimes, threaten to expose as fraudulent Canada's commitment to human rights in general and its newest museum in particular.
The allegations are shocking: that Canadian troops turned over all of their prisoners to Afghan security forces for whom torture was "standard operating procedure." Moreover, Canadian troops were widely known for capturing many times more prisoners than their American counterparts, and that many of these were not "high-value" combatants but rather, according to Colvin, "just local people: farmers; truck drivers; tailors, peasants – random human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time...In other words, we detained, and handed over for severe torture, a lot of innocent people." The Globe and Mail article, interestingly, omits Colvin's concluding statement: "Complicity in torture is a war crime."
That Canadian government officials would ignore, discourage and apparently seek to cover up Canadian complicity in torture and other human rights abuses is appalling and shameful. If those being accused of these crimes are not soundly and convincingly cleared of these allegations, or else appropriately punished, they will have undermined every positive thing Canada has declared itself committed to in Afghanistan and will probably destroy much of whatever trust
remains in our forces there. They will also certainly embolden the Taliban and place our soldiers in greater danger.
However, this episode could have an even more lasting and shameful legacy. At this moment, the foundations of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights are being constructed at the Forks; in 2012 this fabulous building and the inspiring institution it contains will be operational. Yet in the eyes of the world Canada will have been exposed as a committer of war crimes, an abbettor to torture and atrocity. Regardless of official statements and millions of dollars in support of the Museum, our country will have shown itself to be unfit to build such a noble institution.
The only way we as a nation can show ourselves worthy of the Museum is to follow Colvin's accusations wherever they lead, investigate them to the full extent of our abilities and hold those responsible to justice. As citizens of this nation, we too must hold our elected leaders accountable; to dismiss this as another mere "scandal" that will eventually go away to be replaced by another will not do. To do anything less than a full accounting makes as all culpable as Canadians for what has been committed in our name.
For Winnipeg to truly become a Geneva for the 21st Century, all of us -- Winnipeggers and Canadians alike -- must face these allegations honestly. Only then can we prove to ourselves and the world that we are in fact civilized enough to warrant being home to a Museum for Human Rights.If not, then in the eyes of the world the Museum will likely be seen as a monument to our hypocrisy.
By Michael Dudley
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Simply stated, the question is: “Is the historically non-Western world Westernizing or not?” In my view, the question can be restated as follows: “Is the United States the universal state of the historical West or of the entire world?” The West, including most importantly the U.S., is of two conflicting minds on this question. The U.S. in particular seems to want to be the leader of the world political system and is utterly confounded when some other country decides to march to its own tune. Therefore, I refer to the problem as the Schizophrenia Issue.
The Schizophrenia Issue is an old problem which was considered by Spengler. Predictably pessimistic, Spengler feared that the besotted, post-industrial West would be overcome by the non-Western “coloured races” once they mastered Western technology. Thus, Spengler’s view was essentially that the West was the historical West (Europe from the Atlantic to Poland and the Baltic countries, the Americas, and Australia-New Zealand), and that the rest of the world could and would adopt Western technology without Westernizing.
Toynbee, of course, was more optimistic. He believed that it was clear that the entire world was Westernizing along the lines of Japan. As late as 1962 Toynbee stated: “So far, at any rate, the non-Western peoples have used their recovered political freedom not to repudiate the Western way of life, but to embrace it.” (America and the World Revolution, p. 37).
Integrally related to the Schizophrenia Issue is the question “What does Westernization mean?” At one level it might mean that the rest of the world would need to become ethnically European and religiously Latin Christian. The more accepting, culturally less defined view asserted by Toynbee is that Westernization means something like using Western political processes and modernizing.
In The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington went to great lengths to show that societies are in fact modernizing while refusing to Westernize. Huntington also seriously doubted whether nations could switch their civilizational membership, which view presumes that such nations are already established members of civilizations.
In my view, the West is old and decrepit; and it is questionable whether the West is robust enough to assimilate---or even to want to assimilate---all peoples or nations, even those still emerging from what Toynbee referred to as "barbarism."
So who was right? Should we fear the vengeful “coloured races” becoming technologically adept a la Spengler, or should we buy the world a Coke, hold hands, and sing “Kumbaya”, a la Toynbee? One’s mindset regarding the Schizophrenia Issue has far-reaching implications. Consider the following examples:
1) Russia. Whether Russia has been part of the West or not for the last two hundred or so years was a question considered by both Spengler and Toynbee. If the fall of communism means that Russia is Westernizing or continuing her Westernization, then we have little to fear from a militarily resurgent Russia, because Russia will be fully integrated (or re-integrated) into Europe. However, if Russia intends to lead an Orthodox Christian Civilization separate and distinct from the West, we can expect conflicts along the lines of the disintegration of Yugoslavia.
2) China. Why worry about the Chinese making everything, including a nuclear-armed navy, and controlling the U.S. national debt if the Chinese communists are going to become upstanding members of Western Society? So, grant China MFN status, let her join the WTO, return Hong Kong, etc.
3) Immigration. Implicit in Western acceptance of mass non-Western immigration is that the immigrants intend to and are able to Westernize, a view which is increasingly being called into question, especially but not exclusively with regard to Muslim immigrants. But if the whole world is Western, these concerns are ill-founded.
4) Islam. One would think that the West’s present conflict with radical Islam is the archetypical “Clash of Civilizations” which would have thrown a wrench into the gears of the minds of those who think that the whole world is Westernizing. On the other hand, Toynbee said that the world was Westernizing, not that there would not be setbacks and not that it would happen overnight.
One could go on with many more examples, but the point is that the Schizophrenia Issue affects one’s entire worldview. My own view is that the non-Western peoples of the world will act in what they believe are their own respective interests, which undoubtedly in some cases will mean cooperating with a dying but militarily still powerful West. It does not mean that the rest of the world will Westernize.
Therefore, we Westerners had better view the world realistically and objectively, cast off our hubris, accept that there are other peoples and cultures that are not going to Westernize, and act accordingly in our relations with them, including in matters of immigration and defense.
By W. Reed Smith
Monday, November 9, 2009
Since "How to Expand Love" epitomizes the quintessence of religion, love and spirituality, all of us can learn a great deal from this book. For the Dalai Lama religion means, "being motivated by compassion and love respecting the rights of others. Serving others rather than dominating them is the core of religion." We are not born for the sole purpose of acquiring wealth but to contribute something meaningful that is aimed at the welfare of humanity as a whole. Spirituality, in true sense of the term, implies that our responsibility is not just limited to our selves but extends to all human beings.
At the heart of religion is "Compassionate Humanism." It thrives on one's kind nature that wants to express compassion by serving others. The Dalai Lama emphasizes that mind's real nature is to be pure and empty. It is comparable to the blue sky. Clouds may envelop it temporarily but it remains untouched. Similar to the clouds, anger, hatred and jealousy might pollute the purity but the religious mind remains untouched by them. Since the core of the pure mind is love and compassion, it expresses itself through the intense desire to serve others by alleviating their suffering.
One can train the mind to develop love and compassion for others through certain techniques practiced by the Buddhist monks for centuries. The first consists of visualization aimed at getting rid of enmity. Visualize a friend, an enemy and a neutral person. Reflect on what attracts you, repels you and keeps you neutral of feelings. Envision treating all three equally as human beings. Tell yourself that each one seeks happiness and avoids pain. Focus on this realization intensely. Let it descend into your heart and become a seed that grows into love for all and malice towards none. Moreover, imagine each of them to change by becoming its opposite like the one you hate becomes the one you love; the one you love becomes the one towards whom you are neutral and the neutral becomes the one you love. Decide not to single out any one for any singular kind of treatment. This visualization is a good starting point. However, the following seven steps are recommended for a complete development of compassion: create a positive attitude toward others; recognize the kindness friends and family had shown to us; develop kindness towards others; acknowledge how people suffer by learning to love and to become friends of all; cultivate compassion by developing a deep desire to release others of suffering; become fully committed to altruism; and show love towards all beings!
In these turbulent times of uncertainty and stress where people are confused about the worth of religion and its genuine purpose, reading "How to Expand Love?" was a breath of fresh air. The religious books of the various faiths were created to bring diverse people together in order that they could live a meaningful life. If we follow the basic premise of the Abrahamic religions that we are born of Adam and Eve, then we are not only neighbors but also brothers and sisters. The same blood rushes through our veins. Those who believe in the "big bang" theory that it all began with a "dot" of energy creating all the universes, galaxies, solar systems, planets, our earth and all of its creatures including human beings, can come to a similar conclusion, which is that all of us are the children of the same star-dust and thus are related to each other through it.
We might look different, speak different languages, understand the almighty in our own unique ways through the books we have read and discourses we have heard, but remember that we are carved from the same spiritual block and painted with the same brush. The Dalai Lama might have a message for all of us: "We are born not just to acquire wealth but also to serve others because the real meaning of religion and religious life is hidden in the secret of compassionate service."
By Ashok Kumar Malhotra
Monday, November 2, 2009
The conference brought together scholars from almost a dozen countries to revisit the works of Chikuro Hiroike and to consider the current state of moral and character education in various parts of the world. The discussion included contributions from representatives from a large variety of disciplines, including philosophy, religious studies, history, and education, and smooth discourse was ensured by full simultaneous interpreting services in Japanese and English throughout the three days of the event. The presence of scholars involved directly in educational fields in regions as diverse as Japan, India, Burundi, the United Kingdom, and the United States made for an especially lively and memorable discussion, as the circumstances in different countries necessitate their own practical and theoretical approaches. The works of Chikuro Hiroike provided a suitable focus and reference point for channeling discussion, much of which centered on the necessity and relevance of such a trans-civilizational project and viewpoint in the current global age. The papers and proceedings from the 2009 conference are currently in the process of being revised by the contributors in light of the discussions that took place, and will hopefully be available early next year.
In addition to acting as a major sponsor for the Second International Conference on Moral Science, the ISCSC has also agreed to act as a co-sponsor for a symposium to be held at Reitaku University on November 14th to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the birth of Arnold J. Toynbee. The main organizer of this event is the Research Center for Comparative Civilizations and Cultures at Reitaku University, and central themes to be discussed in a series of presentations will be the idea of Toynbee as the “conscience of the twentieth century” and the continued relevance of his thought in the present day.
Another event in November will be the 27th annual conference of the Japan Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (JSCSC), to be held at Rikkyo University in Tokyo on the 28th and 29th of the month. The theme for this year’s conference is “From Exploitative Civilization to Refluxive Civilization.” Although a wide variety of sub-themes are included on the agenda, the central focus of this conference will be the reexamination of the “Modern Civilization” that has dominated the last five hundred years, and which has been argued to have a strong exploitative component with regard to its treatment of natural resources and the environment. Instead, some presenters will argue for the possibility of an alternative paradigm of a “Refluxive Civilization” that incorporates the increasing awareness of environmental concerns and the depletion of the planet’s resources.