Monday, September 29, 2014

Non-interference is key to harmonious co-existence between multiple unrelated Sathya Sai trusts/organizations

Last updated on October 6th 2014

While I do not believe in the claims made by some person(s) of being able to interact with subtle form of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and therefore act as a medium between devotees and Bhagawan, I think what is undeniable is that some Sathya Sai devotees have belief in some of these person(s) and are associating with the activities done by organizations/trusts led by these person(s) and/or their close associates. I wish them well, and I am quite sure most Sathya Sai devotees would wish them well, in their efforts to spread as well as practice Bhagawan's teachings through these organizations/trusts.

However, I believe there are some strange situations where some individual(s) associated with Sathya Sai trust/organization A (including, perhaps, some senior administrative position holder(s), at least in the past, immediately after Bhagawan's Mahasamadhi) take guidance/instructions from leaders/spiritual masters associated with Sathya Sai trust/organization B (with B being totally unrelated organizationally to A)! Now, if this guidance is for personal matters that would be OK, I guess. But if this guidance is for organizational/institutional matters then this is a clear case of conflict of interest, IMHO.

It does not matter whether the concerned office-holder is honorary (free service or on some honorarium) or salaried person on regular pay scales (like sixth pay commission). The office-holder has to be loyal and accountable to the leadership of the organization/trust that has given him that office.

Non-interference in each others' matters is the key to harmonious co-existence between multiple unrelated Sathya Sai trusts/organizations, IMHO. Leaders/spiritual masters of one Sathya Sai trust/organization should not provide instructions/guidance related to organizational matters to office-holders/members of another unrelated Sathya Sai trust/organization. Further, any person receiving such instructions/guidance from leader(s)/spiritual master(s) of other unrelated trusts should politely refuse to accept/follow it.

Dharma Sankat (Ethical Dilemma) when given instructions not in tune with Bhagawan's vision & teachings

Now, at times, a person associated with a Sathya Sai organization may form the view that the leadership of the department he serves in and/or of the organization itself is not in tune with the vision of the founder, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. That view could be a valid or invalid view. But if the person holding that view feels it very strongly then it is best for him to disassociate from that department/organization, rather than stay in that department/organization and muddle through, sometimes taking guidance/instructions from spiritual master type persons who are in another unrelated Sathya Sai organization. The latter can create a lot of confusion, doubt and discord.

[In this context, I would like to mention that in 2011-12, after Bhagawan's Mahasamadhi, I formed the opinion, right or wrong, that the leadership of the department of a Sathya Sai institution in which I was serving (free service for over 8 years then) seemed to be out of tune with the vision of the founder of the institution, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. When I found that me raising these matters were not being appreciated by higher-ups in the institution, and I was told to simply do what the dept. head says, I disassociated myself from the department and institution. That's a clean break. That's how I resolved my Dharma Sankat. No confusion or doubt, though there was anguish & trauma for me personally, and there was a certain amount of discord as I considered it necessary to publicise the matter within my circle of then-colleagues and friends.]

----------------------------------------------------------------

An update with the exchange I had on the above contents (with some minor changes), over email with two correspondents (sharing approved by them).

Correspondent 1 wrote:

Very well written !! Both the points are valid !!
I responded (extract of response): 
Thanks a ton for your approval - that means a lot to me.
-----

Correspondent 2 wrote:

Here is my 2c!

Firstly, it is unfortunate and undesirable, although perfectly democratic in the free world we live in, to have more than one prominent institute/organization wedded to the vision/philosophy of the creator/inspirer. However, if at all such multiple prominent institutes/organizations (not talking about insignificant localized ones) do come up, then the office bearers should be loyal to the institute/organization he/she is part of and represent. Your suggestion to have a clean break for the dubious ones make perfect sense. The approach you took, given your circumstances, was was the right one, IMHO.

It seems, as happens in many spiritual organizations, to be a struggle between the subjective understanding/aspirations of the devotees for the individual spiritual development and the objective framework meant to sustain/support the spiritual development of the mass. This struggle is more noisy in the initial days after the physical departure of the creator/inspirer, but eventually things do settle down, and devotees find their way best suited to them. The noise of this struggle, for right or wrong, can be minimized, if the creator/inspirer publicly designate the official heir (institute/organization) and ask the followers to follow the leadership of only and only that heir, upfront before the physical departure, IMHO.

End of my 2c!
I responded:
Thanks for your valuable view.
My view, nearly three and a half years after the Mahasamadhi of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, is that anointing a single individual as successor-head of his movement would not have worked out as people would have expected the single successor-head to even have Swami's awesome mystical powers! Instead Swami had set up a very strong organization with various top-members directly appointed by him, including the main trust of Puttaparthi, the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust. So it was clear to all concerned that the designated successor of the Puttaparthi setup was the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust body.
Despite that, some important people who were associated with the Puttaparthi based trust and institutions, moved away and formed their own Sathya Sai trusts and institutions. I guess they felt they could do better spiritual and service activities if they moved away and formed their own setup.
And I moved away to do my individual spiritual and service activities :). C'est la vie! (That's life!)

[Ravi: There was a further exchange with the correspondent but as that exchange touched upon some sensitive points I felt it was best not to share it on this blog.]

--- end extracts of exchanges with correspondents ---


Ravi: I would like to add that when I initiated my move away to do individual spiritual and service activities I had made a LinkedIn entry in my work experience titled, "Individual Service to Society", in Sept. 2011. Over the past few days I received congratulations from three of my LinkedIn contacts on my third work anniversary for "Individual Service to Society"! I did not realize that so much time has passed since I broke away on my own (though I continued to visit the previous Sathya Sai institution that I was associated with, for an average of just an hour a week to help out an M.Tech. student on his project work, till Feb./Mar. 2012 when I parted ways formally from it). I guess I am quite experienced now in individual service to society (operating out of one's home/flat), and may perhaps be in a position to advise others on the same :).

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Somewhat short account of history of early Christianity based on Wikipedia

Last updated on October 28th 2014

This short account of history of early Christianity is a mix of wikipedia links (including some small extracts), and comments of mine. The main wiki page for this topic is Wikipedia's History of early Christianity, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_early_Christianity (as of Sept. 2014).

1) Prior to and during the advent of Jesus Christ, Jerusalem, the centre of the Jewish faith, was under foreign (Roman) rule. The Jews (at least some of them) expected a 'messiah' who would eject the foreigners and resurrect a Jewish state (centred in Jerusalem). Judaism (religion of the Jews) was divided into sects like the Pharisees and Saducees. Those who sought to incite the people to rebel against the Roman empire and expel it from the Jewish lands by force were referred to as Zealots, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zealots_(Judea).

2) Judea (containing Jerusalem), Samaria and Galilee are three important regions of Palestine/Israel at the time of Jesus, http://www.bible-history.com/maps/Map-Palestine-New-Testament-Times.gif

3) Ministry of Jesus: "According to the Gospel writers, Jesus preached for a period of one to three years when he was in his early 30s, in the early 1st century AD.", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_early_Christianity#Ministry_of_Jesus. What is striking is that Jesus' ministry was a maximum of only three years (according to scholars of early Christianity)! Yet, what an impact he made on the world!

"His ministry of teaching, healing the sick and disabled and performing various miracles culminated in his execution at the hands of the Roman authorities in Jerusalem (but see also Responsibility for the death of Jesus). Shortly thereafter, a strong belief in Jesus' bodily resurrection spread rapidly through Jerusalem, beginning with his closest disciples, which led up to the traditional Day of Pentecost. This event provoked the Apostles to embark on a number of missionary campaigns to spread the "Good News", following the Great Commission handed down by Jesus.", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_early_Christianity#Ministry_of_Jesus

[Ravi: When Jesus was crucified the apostles and other followers would have been utterly devastated. Peter, the foremost apostle of Jesus, himself denied Jesus thrice before the rooster crowed on the day & night of the crucifixion (as foretold by Jesus), http://biblehub.com/matthew/26-34.htm & http://biblehub.com/matthew/26-75.htm. In the days following the crucifixion, who would have expected the apostles and followers of Jesus to go forth and spread Jesus' teachings, and create a great world religion that is very much alive two thousand years after the crucifixion of Jesus! IMHO, unless there were some great events like the resurrection and the day of the Pentecost (given below), the apostles and followers would not have had the spiritual force and motivation to spread the faith.]

3a - The day of Pentecost is when the Holy spirit descended on the Apostles and other followers of Jesus (after crucifixion of Jesus). For more, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentecost and the Acts extract below.

From Acts 2:1–6:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. ”

3b - Great Commission: From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Commission: "The Great Commission of Christianity is the instruction of the resurrected Jesus Christ to his disciples that they spread his teachings to all the nations of the world. It has become a tenet in Christian theology emphasizing ministry, missionary work, evangelism, and baptism. The Apostles are said to have dispersed from Jerusalem and founded the Apostolic Sees."

From https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew%2028:16-28:20&version=ESV:

Matthew 28:16-20 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Great Commission
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

----

4) Apostolic Age: "This period, roughly dated between the years 30 and 100 AD, produced writings traditionally attributed to the direct followers of Jesus Christ (the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers collections) and is thus associated with the apostles and their contemporaries.", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_early_Christianity#Apostolic_Age. The following comments relates to additional material of the Apostolic Age section in the wiki link just mentioned.

[Ravi: So initially the teachings of Jesus/Christianity was limited to Jewish converts, and Jewish traditions continued to be followed. Paul, who was not one of the apostles who had been with the bodily-living Jesus (but is still viewed as an apostle in the sense that he was one of the most important preachers of Christianity), reached out to Gentiles (non Jews). The Gentile converts were not willing to follow some Jewish traditions and that resulted in some big issues. The year 50 mentioned in the link above in the context of the circumcision controversy would have been around 20 years after the crucifixion of Jesus.]
...
[Ravi: The important thing to note is that there were Jewish communities in Rome at the time of Jesus Christ. The provinces of Palestine (Judea (including Jerusalem), Samaria and Galilee) at the time of Jesus Christ were under Roman rule. (Jerusalem was connected to Rome via a Mediterranean Sea route as shown by this map of Paul's journey to Rome, http://burmesebible.com/document/paul/paulrome.gif).

So some Christian preachers would have gone to Jewish communities in Rome, the centre of the Roman empire, within a few decades, if not years, of Jesus' crucifixion. (The wiki page states that Christianity had been spread by the apostles to Rome within 10 years of Jesus' (crucifixion)). That would have been the beginning of the Christian following in Rome. According to the above, the emperor Nerva around the year 98 officially differentiated between Jews (Rabbinic Judaism) and Christians. Till that time perhaps there was limited persecution of Christians in Rome. Of course, both Peter, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Peter#Martyrdom, and Paul, who was a Roman citizen, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_the_Apostle#His_final_days_spent_in_Rome, are said to have been martyred in Rome around year 60 (in the reign of Emperor Nero). That is around three decades after crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But perhaps only the leaders were persecuted prior to the official differentiation between Jews and Christians in Rome around the year 98.]

5) Post-apostolic period: "Christianity throughout the 2nd and 3rd centuries have generally been less studied than the periods that came before and after it. This is reflected in that it is usually referred to in terms of the adjacent periods with names as such "post-apostolic" (after the period of 1st century formative Christianity) and "ante-Nicene" (before the First Council of Nicaea). However, the 2nd and 3rd centuries are quite important in the development of Christianity. ", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_early_Christianity#Post-apostolic_period. The following comments relates to additional material of the Apostolic Age section in the wiki link just mentioned.

[Ravi: In the apostolic age (till year 100) the apostles and other preachers spread the faith and created a sizeable set of Christian communities. Then came a sort-of consolidation phase where these Christian communities agreed on a "basic list of writings that would serve as their canon". The development of an organizational structure of these communities with a bishop heading a city community is also fascinating. A good part of this work was done by the year 160, which is a hundred years after the (reported) martyrdom of Peter and Paul, the two major apostles of the apostolic age. And by 160 there was the first documented synod to discuss doctrinal issues! I really enjoyed reading and understanding this flowering of the Christian church in its early days.]
...
[Ravi: Could it have been a combination of faith in Jesus Christ/Divinity which responds to earnest prayer (interventionist God), along with improved quality of life of adherents of Christianity due to following teachings like loving neighbours and generally being helpful to others, that led Christianity to attract people from other faiths like paganism? Anyway, the Christian faith spread far and wide in the Roman empire when it was not the official religion of the Roman empire (and was even persecuted at times and in some places). That is a great and wonderful achievement of the Christian faith.]

6) From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_early_Christianity: "The history of early Christianity covers Christianity from its origins to the First Council of Nicaea in 325."

[Ravi: It seems that the first council of Nicaea strongly established Christianity as a recognised & accepted, if not favoured, religion, in the Roman empire, with full support from Roman emperor Constantine. Further growth in Christianity after this strong support from the Roman emperor himself would have been easier perhaps. So Jesus Christ who was crucified on orders of the Roman governor of Jerusalem (even if the governor was reluctant but was forced to do so by some Jewish leaders of Jerusalem) around the year 30, spiritually conquered the Roman empire around 3 centuries later with the Roman empire embracing Christianity as a state religion! What an awesome spiritual conquest!]

As the early history of Christianity is considered to end at the first council of Nicaea, readers may want to read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Nicaea.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bangalore to Puttaparthi road driving directions/route

Last updated on 30th Sept. 2014

This is a miscellaneous post and not a spiritual one :). Recently I dug up some info. and added some of my own, and got some clarifications/corrections from correspondents, on Bangalore to Puttaparthi road driving directions, to pass on to folks who plan to visit me by driving from Bangalore to Puttaparthi.

From http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/route-travel-queries/34714-bangalore-puttaparthi-route-advice.html in early 2008

The route is Hebbal - Yelahanka - Devanahalli - Chikkaballapur - Bagepalli (KA RTO Checkpost) - Kodikonda (AP RTO Checkpost) - Thummalakunta

Thummalakunta is about 9 km from the KA - AP border and identified by a sharp S curve just after an IBP bunk on the left and an IOC bunk on the right. Turn right here for Puttaparthi ...

-------- end team-bhp.com post extract -----------------

24th Sept. 2014

Ravi: What is given below is based on Google Maps route, a correspondent's recent input on the matter, and what I recall from my road trips (usually bus, but at least once by car) between Puttaparthi and Bangalore over 5 years ago.

From Bangalore to Puttaparthi, the initial and large part of the trip is on NH7, a national highway. So that part of the trip is quite standard stuff. But once one gets off NH7 on the route to Puttaparthi, the roads may not be in great condition and one needs to be careful while driving. For people not familiar with these roads, night driving is certainly not recommended on these roads.

1) The first major turn (highway exit) is from NH7 onto the road to Gorantla. Google Maps for Bangalore to Puttaparthi shows this turn clearly in its recommended route (in blue), https://www.google.co.in/maps/dir/Bengaluru,+Karnataka/Puttaparthi,+Andhra+Pradesh/. A correspondent wrote about this turn/highway exit (slightly edited): "After you pass Kodikonda check-post (Kodikonda is 10km after Bagepalli junction and is prominent with a large number of stationed trucks), travel 5 km and you will reach Budili/Kodur junction which is where you get off the NH7 by taking a right. This where the river Chitravathi crosses NH7. You can see it on the Google Maps. There is clear signage indicating Puttaparthi Road. If you search for directions on Google Maps, this is the route shown."

2) The next important junction is the Gorantla junction (on the outskirts of Gorantla town). The correspondent added the following (slightly edited) about driving directions at this junction: "Heading along this road, you come to the Gorantla junction, entering it from the South. The left (West) is the road to Hindupur(route 87). The right (East) leads you to Gorantla town. You need to head straight(North) from here to reach Puttaparthi."

3) The turn after that is a right turn at Mammilakunta cross to go to Puttaparthi town. I think there is a circle structure put up at this cross. If one goes straight missing this turn then one will shortly pass Sri Sathya Sai Prasanthi Nilayam railway station on the left. That should let one know that one has missed the turn. [If one misses spotting the railway station on the left one will then get into the town Kothacheruvu which one cannot miss, and thereby know that one has to turn back (though there is another way too from Kothacheruvu to Puttaparthi)]

4) The next turn is at Yenumulapalli cross where there is a circle structure. It is a T junction where one takes left to go to Puttaparthi town and most of the traffic goes left. The right turn at this cross leads to Yenumulapalli village with the road being a smaller road. Also this turn has big signboards welcoming people to Puttaparthi.

5) You know you are in Puttaparthi town proper when you cross the music college/campus, student hostels, a planetarium (space theater), a sports complex, the school and college campuses and then a welcoming arch, all in very quick succession. Actually the welcoming arch is a rectangle-type shape. Here is its image on wikipedia, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Puttaparthi.jpg. In quick succession again, you will cross the bus station on the right, and the main ashram (foot) entrance on the left, and come across a right turn to the narrow Chitravathi road (very short road segment). The ashram main vehicle entrance is just a little further down the main road on which you entered Puttaparthi town (not Chitravathi road). The main road itself turns left, immediately after which you have the main ashram vehicle entrance on the left.

Devanahalli bypass note

An email correspondent wrote in response to the above route, on Sept. 25th 2014, the following:

Note: Devanahalli is not a stop between Yelahanka and Chikballapur. Its now a bypass. Just stay on the highway. Do not get into Devanahalli or Chikballapur or Bagepalli. You need to get off the highway to get into these towns which you don't need to.  Just stick to NH7 and get off only at Budili/Kodur.

Alternative but possibly longer route

1) The turn (highway exit) from NH7 that Andhra Pradesh & Karnataka state transport buses used to take over 5 years ago when I used them for my trips between Bangalore and Puttaparthi was not at Budili/Kodur but further ahead on NH7 at or near Palasamudram (if I recall correctly). Google Maps clearly shows NH7 intersection with route 87 at Palasamudram. Route 87 would be taken till one approaches Gorantla (outskirts of Gorantla town).

2) The next turn is when one approaches Gorantla. If I recall correctly one comes to a T junction with the left turn heading to Puttaparthi and the right turn to Gorantla town. As it is a T junction one is forced to turn left or right and so one cannot miss this turn.

A correspondent remarked about the above route:

"In the directions you have highlighted, you get off NH7 at Palasamudram, taking a right into Hindupur-Gorantla road(route 87). You then reach the Gorantla junction from the West and you take a left(North) to Puttaparthi. This route is around 30km longer. Also, it is not the one most frequently used for Bangalore-Puttaparthi transit."


Google Maps link for Bangalore to Puttaparthi road map: https://www.google.co.in/maps/dir/Bengaluru,+Karnataka/Puttaparthi,+Andhra+Pradesh/

Some notes related to the above map:

1) NH7 is also marked as AH43 on this map. It is also named as the Bangalore-Hyderabad highway.

2) Kodikonda is shown only at high zoom but Bagepalli which is the big town on the Karnataka side of the border is shown at lower zoom levels. Kodikonda seems to be at the junction of NH7 with Lepakshi road (shown in yellow on the map and to the left of NH7).

3) The Budili/Kodur right turn (highway exit) from NH7 is not clearly labelled (though Kodur is shown as the label of a larger area close to this turn/exit, at higher zoom levels). Thummalakunta, mentioned in above team-bhp.com post extract, is not shown - is Thummalakunta the same as Budili? Palasamudram is clearly shown on the map.

4) Palasamudram to Gorantla is named as route no. 87. The left turn/fork before Gorantla town (to get to Puttaparthi) is clearly shown.

5) Mamillakunta gets shown on the road towards Kothacheruvu, when the map is zoomed in enough. This road is shown in yellow. At Mamillakunta you can see a right turn leading to a white road labelled on the map as Puttaparthi Main Road.

6) The left turn near Yenumullapalli also gets shown when the map is zoomed in enough, and this left turn is shown leading to Puttaparthi town. Zooming in Puttaparthi town shows the student hostels, planetarium (space theatre), school and university campuses as well as Chitravathi Road (a very short road segment) and the 80 feet Bypass road (at which Chitravathi road ends). The map also shows the Chitravathi river in blue but most of the time, in reality, it is a dry river bed.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Update on 30th Sept. 2014

My folks drove down yesterday from Bangalore to Puttaparthi (and went back to Bangalore in the evening). They took the first major right turn (highway exit) from NH7 (must be the Budili/Kodur one), and did not face any trouble in getting from Bangalore to Puttaparthi. As they started from near Yeshwantpur in Bangalore, they had a smaller distance to cover, and were able to make the trip in around two and a quarter hours.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Harvard Pluralism Project: What is (religious) pluralism?

This article, dated Sept. 20th 2014, Three Cheers for Pluralism Over Separatism, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/21/opinion/sunday/thomas-l-friedman-three-cheers-for-pluralism-over-separatism.html, by Thomas Friedman quotes views/understanding of Harvard's (religious) pluralism project. However, Friedman uses these views in a more political/social/ethnic pluralism context rather than religious pluralism, IMHO.

Harvard Prof. Diana L. Eck crisply defines her (and the Harvard pluralism project's) view of (religious) pluralism here: http://www.pluralism.org/pluralism/what_is_pluralism. I have copy-pasted the contents below along with some comments of mine:

What is Pluralism?

The plurality of religious traditions and cultures has come to characterize every part of the world today. But what is pluralism? Here are four points to begin our thinking:

First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.

[Ravi: That's very well said.]

Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.

[Ravi: I think the far more deeply interconnected and interdependent than ever before, world of today very much needs a deeper understanding of the beliefs and practices of different religious groups, including atheist & agnostic groups, in the world.]

Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.

[Ravi: I did not understand this point well. What exactly is meant by commitment in this context? Maybe I need an example which may be available somewhere else on the website.]

Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table -- with one’s commitments.

[Ravi: I fully support the dialogue part.]

—Diana L. Eck

--- end what_is_pluralism contents ---

Somewhere down the line I hope to read more about the Harvard pluralism project which seems to primarily deal with religious pluralism in the USA. Some of its initiatives, insights and experiences may be applicable, in a modified form perhaps, to other countries including India.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Importance of Comparative Religion field; Aug. 2013 talks on Faith based community initiatives by USA Secretary of State, John Kerry & others

I came across this very interesting short speech by USA Secretary of State, John Kerry, at the launch of the (USA) Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives on Aug. 7th 2013, http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2013/08/212781.htm

Here are some excerpts from his speech which I found to be very interesting, and some comments of mine:

As Secretary of State, and before that as a senator for 29 years, I have met with faith-based leaders all across the world, had the privilege, obviously, of running for President of the United States, met with many members of our faith-based community here in our country, and I have met with people of all religions and of all life philosophies and belief systems. And that experience has only reaffirmed my belief that there is much more that unites us, and should unite us, than divides us.

Gandhi called the world’s religions beautiful flowers from the same garden ... And there is common ground between the Abrahamic faiths, and, in fact, between the Abrahamic faiths and all religions and philosophies, whether you’re talking about Hindu or Confucianism or any other of the many of the world’s different approaches to our existence here on the planet and to our relationship with a supreme being.

All of these faiths are virtuous and they are in fact, most of them, tied together by the golden rule, as well as fundamental concerns about the human condition, about poverty, about relationships between people, our responsibilities each to each other. And they all come from the same human heart.

[Ravi: From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule

The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim, ethical code or morality that essentially states either of the following:
* One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. (Directive form.)
* One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (Cautionary form, also known as the Silver Rule).

--- end wiki extract ---

Ravi: I am very happy to know that a powerful USA political leader has such a nice view of religions.]

...

So we need to recognize that in a world where people of all faiths are migrating and mingling like never before, where we are this global community, which we always talk about, we ignore the global impact of religion, in my judgment, at our peril. And I have talked at length with people like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, or even King Abdullah, Prince Ghazi of Jordan, and others who are engaged in interfaith efforts, all of whom recognize that their religion, Islam, has to a large measure been hijacked by people who have no real depth with respect to what the faith in fact preaches, but who interpret it in ways that lead people to conflict and even to violence.

So it’s not really enough just to talk about a better dialogue. I think we have to stand up and deliver one. And that’s why I am very proud today to announce the creation of the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives here at the State Department. Its mission is as clear as it is compelling: It is to engage more closely with faith communities around the world, with the belief that we need to partner with them to solve global challenges, and there is an enormous partnership, I believe, there for the asking.

[Ravi: Very interesting.]
...

Engagement – the engagement that I’m talking about is a two-way street. Our job at the State Department is not just to proclaim or to stand up and pontificate about the things that we want. We have to listen to people about the things that they want. And everybody here today has played a valuable role in promoting the development of countries or preventing conflict, advancing human dignity all across the globe. So we launch this office with a clear intent to keep our door open and to work as cooperatively as possible with all of you.

I am genuinely excited about the possibilities of this. Around the world, from Egypt to Ethiopia, from Peru to Pakistan, religious leaders every day are taking on some of the toughest challenges that we face. They’re healing communities. They’re providing counsel to families. They’re working in partnership with governments for the enduring health of our planet and its people.

...

... if I went back to college today, I think I would probably major in comparative religion, because that’s how integrated it is in everything that we are working on and deciding and thinking about in life today.

[Ravi: That is some recognition of the importance today of the academic field of comparative religion.]

...

And I want to emphasize this to everybody because I know the question will be out there: Is this sort of a departure from the norm? No. We approach this with the full recognition and understanding of – Thomas Jefferson’s understanding and admonition about the wall of separation between church and state. But what we are doing is guided by the conviction that we have to find ways to translate our faiths into efforts that unify for the greater good. That can be done without crossing any lines whatsoever.

One of my favorite passages from the Scripture sums up what Shaun and I think this effort is really all about. It’s a familiar Gospel of Mark in which Jesus says to his disciples, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the many.”

[Ravi: I think the universally recognized sign of true spiritual men & women is that they serve and are not keen in being served. There is something truly noble, truly heart-melting about those who serve that is easily felt by sensitive people no matter what be their religion or even if they are atheists/agnostics.]

...

No one would sit here today, or anywhere else, and suggest that we’re doing such a good job everywhere that we don’t need to bring more people to the table. It is clear, with the numbers of failed states and failing states and growing youthful populations around the world who feel disenfranchised and disconnected and unable to find jobs or get the education they need, we have work to do together and we need everybody at the table. And that’s what this is about.

--- end extracts & comments of USA Secretary of State, John Kerry ---

This is followed by short speeches of two others. I have given below interesting extracts from their speeches too.

Extracts from Dr. Shaun Casey's speech:

Mr. Secretary, several years ago, you and I started a conversation about the rich, diverse, and complicated public implications of religious belief and practice. At that time, some were claiming that religion poisons everything, while others were saying that religion would save and solve everything. You knew, however, that the reality was somewhere in between.

I remember thinking at the time how unusual it was for a public figure to see the potential in and the power of religious groups tackling extreme poverty, convincing people to combat global climate change, fighting for global human rights, mitigating conflict and building peace, even at a time when others focused on those religious folk who committed acts of violent extremism, perversely claiming justice in the name of their own faith. From that day forward, I admired your willingness to defy the conventional wisdom that dictated religion was a purely private, personal choice, and thus communities bounded by faith must be entirely left outside of discussions of policy. That is why, today, engaging these communities in the context of policy has always struck me as being a matter of very great and deep importance.

...

Extracts from Ms. Melissa Rogers' speech:

For millions of people, here in the United States and in countries around the world, faith is a fundamental part of their identity. It shapes who they are and how they understand the world around them. It provides a sense of community and a network of support.

[Ravi: So well said. As somebody who became a man of faith after having been an agnostic for most of my adult youth (till around 30) I can testify to how fundamental faith is as part of one's identity for the faithful. Prior to me being blessed with faith in the divine it was quite a different life (not a bad life but certainly a different life).]

We have seen the power of religion throughout human history. In our own country, for example, we’ve seen religious leaders join with others in championing causes like abolition, civil rights, and the eradication of poverty. In so doing, these advocates have often led our nation to heed the better angels of its nature. Similarly, around the world, on issues ranging from health to education to conflict prevention, religious and other civil society leaders are tackling some of our most pressing challenges. They help create more peaceful and secure communities. Of course, as we know all too well, there are also times when religion is abused to promote violence and destabilize communities.

...

The second objective is advancing pluralism and human rights, including the protection of religious freedom. Our engagement with religious and other civil society leaders should strive to promote pluralism and respect for the human rights of all people, including members of minority or marginalized groups. Now, we understand that sometimes civil society leaders and institutions may disagree with our positions on certain issues, but we’re committed to having the conversation. Increasing our engagement with a diverse spectrum of religious as well as secular communities will help us to underscore the universality of these critical rights. And here, the new office, of course, will work closely with the Office of International Religious Freedom, among many other State Department offices.

[Ravi: I really like the "advancing pluralism and human rights, including the protection of religious freedom" part. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_pluralism: "Religious pluralism is an attitude or policy regarding the diversity of religious belief systems co-existing in society. It can indicate one or more of the following:
As the name of the worldview according to which one's religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth, and thus the acknowledgement that at least some truths and true values exist in other religions. ..."]

The third objective is preventing, mitigating, and resolving violent conflict to enhance local and regional stability and security. While it is critical to understand the ways in which religion can be manipulated to exacerbate conflict, religion is not an inherent source of conflict or violent extremism. Strategic engagement with religious leaders can help us to break cycles of violent conflict.

Now, as Shaun and Secretary Kerry have said, a guiding principle for all of this work will be that our actions must be consistent with the United States Constitution. Employees of our government can and should engage faith-based leaders and communities on US policy priorities just as they do other civil society leaders and communities. At the same time, our precious religious freedom guarantees of the First Amendment mean that we must observe some special rules when we engage religious actors and matters, such as ensuring governmental neutrality toward faith.

[Ravi: Interesting to note the care taken to avoid any issues related to US constitution. I guess it will be somewhat similar in India when it comes to government engaging religious groups.]

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

India Today July 2014 article praises Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust for smooth running of 'Eternal Empire of the Living God'

I was not aware of this July 18th 2014 article in India Today, Eternal Empire of the Living God, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/sri-satya-sai-baba-mission-crisis-of-credibility-his-death-three-years-ago/1/372954. It was brought to my notice by a mail I received today. In early August (2014) I had come across an article in the Daily Bhaskar praising the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust about which I put up a post here: http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2014/08/media-article-praises-sri-sathya-sai.html.

This India Today article carries the sub-title "Sri Sathya Sai Baba's mission surmounts the crisis of credibility arising from his death over three years ago". The article states (He in the quote that follows refers to Sri Sathya Sai Baba), "He's no longer around but the vast network of institutions he built over five decades continues to flourish, managed and guided by an all-powerful caucus, the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (SSSCT). It's to SSSCT's credit that it has ensured the empire runs smoothly even without its charismatic leader, from the daily prayer schedule and handling of devotees to the management of assets and institutions."
and
"SSSCT has surmounted the crisis of credibility-of being a headless entity- by focusing on transparency."

The article ends with the sentence, "The miracle man may be no more but his mission carries on."

Ravi: I am overjoyed to note that one of the leading news magazines of India has written such a positive article appreciating the tremendous achievement of the Sathya Sai fraternity in general, and the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust in particular, of ensuring that even if Bhagawan is not present in his physical form now, "his mission carries on".