An exploding Taiwan experience by Yann Lovelock

Fireworks shoot up from the eight pagodas lining the main avenue of the Buddha Memorial Center. When they burst in a myriad white sparks, the full moon is almost lost behind their light. It is a fortnight after the start of the Chinese New Year and this is the culminating day of the Lantern Festival. More than a thousand people have processed down the new drive from Fo Guang Shan monastery above, some in traditional dress, some wearing headgear or lapels that flash on and off, mixed in between the floats and the uniformed marching band. More thousands have been awaiting our arrival.

I’m there for a mixture of motives, most of them childish. It’s more fun to be part of the procession and it lasts longer too, giving you time to savour the experience. Then again, those in the procession are given one of the best positions to view the fireworks. But beyond that, I joined in because of the kindness of a devotee I had met the evening before in the company of one of the monks. She had a flashing lantern that I admired and asked for a demonstration of how it worked. Next afternoon, the monk called me to see him and said that the lady had asked him to give it to me. They’re generous like that if you say you like something in Taiwan.

Putting the gift to use by joining the procession on two consecutive evenings was one way of repaying the obligation. But another is to share the happiness you’re given, so as we went up the avenue I swung the light at every child I saw, colouring a line of delighted faces in red and blue, or swung it over the heads of the smaller ones, to their parents’ amusement. All my life, people have been kind to me and it is seldom that I have been able to repay them directly. Passing on their kindness to others is the best return.

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Reflection on Christians Aware Conference 11 – 13 January 2013 by Ramona Kauth

At the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire:   Peace, Justice and Reconciliation

I was invited by Barbara Butler to participate in the conference as a seminar leader to talk about His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tibet. This was to address how the Dalai Lama manages to relate to China over Tibet in the light of Buddhist principles of compassion and loving kindness. 

Among other visiting seminar leaders topics addressed were Burma, Egypt, Croatia and Serbia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The one I would have gone to if I weren’t in my own seminar would have been Geoff Weaver’s seminar about songs of liberation.

I arrived in time to hear Marigold Bentley of the Quaker Peace and Social Witness group talking about the way that Quakers approach issues of concern. I was struck by how like the Buddhist attitude it is: that one sits in silence holding the issue in one’s mind and waiting for a kind of realisation or discernment process to work its way through in order to make a decision about whether to act or not; and if to act, how to act.  This doesn’t always mean that a whole group or meeting will come to the same conclusion. Each person must come to their own decision regarding what, if any, action will be taken.

I also enjoyed meeting some of the participants of the conference over lunch.

I enjoyed the whole atmosphere of the conference. It was fairly large but very friendly. Christians Aware runs conferences, workshops and activities that foster social concern and build knowledge and awareness. There is a Summer School being held 15 – 20 July 2013 addressing “Grass Roots Food Security”, with particular focus on Sri-Lanka and Mongolia among others: to be held in Skipton, North Yorkshire.

 

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Pope Benedict and Catholic inter-religious relations in Birmingham by William Ozanne

Catholics in Birmingham has been loyal members of the Birmingham Council of Faiths, as Patron (Archbishops) sometimes as Executive members but mostly as ordinary members. This would not have happened without the changes that John XXIII , Paul VI and John Paul II, and yes Benedict XVI, implemented and developed after the decisions of the Second Vatican Council. The Popes lead (sometimes people say they are dominated by) the departments of the Vatican called the Curia, one of which in 1965 became the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. This mainly produces norms for behaviour and also thinking documents and resources to persuade and underpin Catholic lay and clergy in their relations with other religions. These are more like guidelines than orders. The Popes supported these developments by word and example. In the case of Pope Benedict, his published guidelines have tended to be cautionary, strengthening the underlying principles and theology and correcting some of the enthusiasms. By example, he continued to visit, host and talk with leaders of the major religions and to hold his own Peace Prayer meeting in Assisi with leaders of world religions. The lead he gave is well illustrated by a quotation:

 

To the Youth in Lebanon in 2012 during his visit there:

Together with the young Christians, you are the future of this fine country and of the Middle East in general. Seek to build it up together!

And when you are older, continue to live in unity and harmony with Christians. For the beauty of Lebanon is found in this fine symbiosis.

It is vital that the Middle East in general, looking at you, should understand that Muslims and Christians, Islam and Christianity, can live side by side without hatred, with respect for the beliefs of each person, so as to build together a free and humane society.”

 

For the future: the norms and inspirations of The Second Vatican will continue to direct Catholic thought and behaviour whoever becomes the next Pope. The wealth of relationships that have been built in Birmingham (and elsewhere|) between the religions will not go away: the Vatican II Document “Nostra Aetate”  in our day and age] describes the future like this:

 “One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extends to all men, until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light.

  I am sure that the Birmingham Council of Faiths will continue to play a key role in this “eschatological” growth through friendship and dialogue

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The Pope’s resignation by William Ozanne

This does have some precedents, though the reason for Benedict’s resignation is clear in view of his declining physical health and mental stamina. The duty he owed to the Church and the world could not be carried out with these impediments. Why now? I can only speculate. If one has seen the Easter ceremonies in Rome on the TV, they are only the tip of the tip of the iceberg of duties that are demanded of the Pope. The thought of that alone would make one feel faint. er. To resign at the start of Lent seems to me to be appropriate as the Cardinals and bishops will be thinking of fasting and prayer and our Muslim friends know well how these clarify and focus the mind on essentials. The normal process of election of a successor will take place after 8 p.m. on February 28th. It seems likely that Benedict will retire to a small convent within the Vatican buildings and work on writing and prayer.

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Of Hinduism and Interfaith Dialogue by Ravi Ladva

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For those that do not know of Swami Vivekananda he was a Hindu monk. He was a key figure in the introduction of Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the western world and was credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion in the late 19th century.

 He is perhaps best known for his inspiring speech beginning with “Sisters and Brothers of America,” through which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893.

 2013 is the 150 Birth Centenary of Swami Vivekananda, I take inspiration as it coincides as my term as chair of the Birmingham Council of Faiths. Opening new dialogues and strengthening old ones is something i wish to prioritize. Every religion has something to offer the confinement of Gods to books is one debate but communities shouldn’t feel closed off or isolated. 

 That is the beauty of Interfaith to find bridges and paths to open up peoples hearts and minds. To share in conversation over a cup of tea, delicious meal or even a music gig. That is why i encourage young people of faith and non faith to at the very least share a cup of tea and have a good chat. 

 In the words of Swami Vivekananda “As different streams having different sources all mingle their waters in the sea, so different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to God.”

Swami Vivekananda

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A Buddhist Christmas by Yann Lovelock

I spent Christmas day celebrating the first anniversary of the opening of the Buddha Memorial Centre out in the sunshine, here at Fo Guang Shan monastery in Taiwan. A feature of these open-air ceremonies is a procession of monks and nuns up the central avenue to a shrine erected in the great square at the top. The seniors, with red robes over orange, line up facing the large audience, while other rows of monastics line up in front, facing each other with palms joined. 

I was glad to see, right at the head of the columns, the three monks from Congo (Brazaville), their black faces forming a strong contrast with the yellowish-brown of those of Chinese ethnicity. I was glad because there is a tendency among some Taiwanese to refuse to have these monks attend family ceremonies because they don’t fit the stereotype. It’s the same in England, where some think white-skinned monks can’t be proper Buddhists. So the message Fo Guang Shan was sending by placing those African monks at the forefront was the same that the Buddha emphasized centuries ago in caste-ridden India. That it is not a person’s birth but their spiritual and moral qualities that give them worth. Human prejudice does not change over the centuries, and the teachings of our religious founders need constantly to be restated in the new circumstances of wherever they have spread.

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About BCF

Originally founded in 1974, Birmingham Council of Faiths’ objective is to promote knowledge and mutual understanding of the beliefs and practices of the city’s many religious faiths, sects and denominations. Its belief is that through greater understanding of each other, a more harmonious and cohesive society can be created.

In furtherance of the above BCF’s aims as stated in its constitution are to:

a) promote awareness of all faiths so that the followers of one faith may have a better understanding of the others;

b) maintain harmonious relations and promote dialogue between the followers of the different faiths within the city;
               

c) be alert to issues of peace, justice, equality and diversity and act as a public voice on matters of mutual concern to the followers of Birmingham’s different faiths;
               

d) interface with interested bodies in fulfilling these objectives.

BCF’s additional strategy, adopted early in 2007, is to act as an interfaith hub, networking between the diverse umbrella, inter- and multi-faith organisations in the city and to serve as a focal point for information about their activities.

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