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Spirituality and Religion

OUR LONG JOURNEY WITH


MYSTERY
A brief review of six Faith Traditions
Religion and Spirituality

SEPTEMBER, 2015]

Peter Creagh ( 2015)

NOTES
The following reflections are based on a short series of articles for a C of E
Church Magazine in Shropshire, UK. They were written
as a brief
introduction to 6 of the great Faith Traditions .
Religion is fairly recent in the life of humanity's long journey in search of a
spiritual dimension. In addition, all the great Faith Traditions have arisen in
the past 8000 years , in what is termed the Patriarchal period, a period
dominated by masculine ideas and, until fairly recently, a diminution and
suppression of feminine viewpoints. Consequently, although the great Faith
Traditions have much to offer, they tend to be male orientated and,
particularly in the West, dominated by rational thinking. This orientation
towards a male perspective is more marked in the 3 great Western Traditions,
often referred to as ' The People of the Book' .
These reflections begin with a brief introduction and are then followed by
some details on 6 of the major Faith Traditions. These are :
Eastern Traditions
Hinduism
Buddhism
Sikhism
Western Traditions
Judaism
Christianity
Islam
Each Faith Tradition is very briefly examined ( 2 pages) and the reflections
are summarised in the final 2 pages .
NOTE :- Due to the need to only submit a series of short reflections, each
Religion is briefly outlined. In addition, deeper aspects of Contemplative
Spirituality are merely alluded to. If you are interested, then a series of
deeper reflections can be accessed either through the Resources Page of
our local Satsang Website or on our Satsang Blog where you will find over
100 blog posts dealing with a wide variety of Spiritual issues.

Our Long Journey with Mystery Part 1


Reflections on Spirituality and Religion
This is the first in a series of reflections on Spirituality and Religion. It is
based on personal experience and I ascribe no expertise to myself. It is
designed to set the scene on humanitys long journey with spirituality and the
Mystery we call God by so many names and to lead on to a series of
reflections on six of the worlds major Faith Traditions.
We live in a world where science and cosmology is almost daily adding to the
revelation of creation, the cosmos and life itself. We know about the Big
Bang that occurred 14 billion years ago, the formation of the star we call the
Sun followed by the birth of our Blue Planet almost 4 billion years ago.
Creation is proving to be exciting, mysterious and mind boggling.
Human beings arrived approximately 7 million years ago and 200,000 years
ago Homo sapiens, the Wise Ones, appeared. Our species has many
attributes but three very important ones are innovation, creativity and curiosity.
These have fuelled our search for meaning both in the external and internal
worlds. For at least 70, 000 years, doubtlessly much longer, we have
evidence of our search for spiritual meaning. For the next 50 to 60,000 years
we adopted a spirituality focused on creation and the environment, a
spirituality that sensed and used imagination, intuition and ritual to celebrate
the sacredness of all creation. Our ancestors also knew that our world was,
and is, enmeshed in the great web of life.
About 10,000 years ago the Agricultural or Patriarchal Age commenced. It led
to a rapid expansion in our ability to grow crops and to domesticate animals.
It resulted in the rise of kings and warriors and the establishment of kingdoms,
the dominance of the male and a relegation of the female and the feminine.
About 5000 years ago, the first of the great Religions Hinduism- arose
along the Ganges River in North India.
Spirituality is much older than the formal religions. Although we have made
rapid advances in science and technology we have lost some of our intuitive
experience of the Mystery. Arguably our task is to re-discover the true
potential of our humanity, to recognise how every strand of nature is
interconnected and to find a spiritually fulfilling way of living that is
environmentally friendly and one that delivers social justice for all.
Future reflections in this series will explore spirituality and religion as we look
at Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism.

Our Long Journey with Mystery


Part Two :-

Hinduism the Eternal Journey

' We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are


spiritual beings having a human experience'
Humanity has evolved over millions of years and as an innovative, creative
and curious species is fascinated with the mystery and the unknown. This
underpins our spiritual sense of, and quest for, a Presence or Mystery at the
heart of creation. The quote from Teilhard De Chardin above expresses this
fascination and our human story echoes it in many different forms that reflect
cultural and spiritual experiences. These have been recorded and form part of
our inherited Universal Wisdom. One outcome has been the emergence of
the major Religions, the oldest of which is Hinduism. This short article can
only begin to give a 'flavour' of this great spiritual tradition, a ' treasure house'
of wisdom with its emphasis on unity, the oneness of creation and our need
for balance between knowledge and action and sound and silence.
Hinduism is a name given by westerners to a group of beliefs and practices
that emerged in India over 5000 years ago. Our Hindu sisters and brothers
would maintain that it is timeless. A more proper name for Hinduism is
Sanatana Dharma roughly translated as The Eternal Right or Firm Way or
Path . Unlike most of the other major Faith Traditions, Hinduism has no
single founder, scripture, creed nor hierarchical organisation. In fact its priests
mainly carry out the many rituals and its spiritual leaders are the many
women and men who are its sages, holy and wise people. Hence many
devoted Hindus have their own Guru or Master. In addition, it is a rich,
diverse and deeply spiritual faith system noted for its variety, acceptance and
tolerance of all, regardless of race, culture or creed. Gandhi, a devout Hindu,
expressed this by saying ' all religions are paths up the mountain' at whose
summit we find Truth, God, Brahman by whatever name we may call It.
Because of it diversity Hindus do not all believe in the same things or the
same Sadhana (spiritual practices) and it can seem confusing to outsiders.
However, the following are some foundational aspects. It is God Centred
rather than prophet centred and emphasises the importance of personal
experience over rigid belief. It believes in a Source (God) who is both
immanent and transcendent (within and beyond). Contrary to popular
misconception, Hindus DO NOT worship many Gods. They believe in One
God ( Brahman or Ultimate Reality) and the concept of the Tri Murti , the
three aspects of God in one image. These are : Brahma The Creator,
Vishnu The Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer ( of evil) and Re-Generator.
Hindus believe that Vishnu has come to earth , at least ten times, in different
forms that are called Avatars.
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Three of the most famous Avatars are: Rama, who came as a king to show
humans how to rule with justice and to live simply, Krishna, the simple
cowherd loved by humans and animals for his beauty, love of all and his
enjoyment of life and finally Buddha, revered because he taught and
practiced non-violence.
For most Hindus the practice of their religion is based around the concept of
Murtis. These are the many representations ,or attributes, of the Mystery
who is referred to as The God of a Thousand Faces. Following your
dharma is extremely important and the goal of life is to achieve moksha
liberation from the cycle of birth- death and rebirth. In Hinduism there are
many paths to moksha. Three of these are prominent. The first is karma
(action) where positive deeds can eventually lead to liberation. The second is
bhakti (loving devotion). The majority choose the first two. The third is
jhana (knowledge/realisation) and to gain this one needs a Guru or Master.
In this short exposition on Hinduism it is important to finish with a reference to
its wisdom literature. Arguably, the Hindu Scriptures, known as The Vedas
( a rough translation is Wisdom Scripture) contain some of the most succinct,
direct and helpful wisdom sayings and have much to teach us all. The most
famous and helpful of these come as part of the Vedanta ( the end of the
Vedas). These are the Upanishads, which translates as 'a teaching sitting at
the feet of a Master' and the Bhagavad Gita - ' The Song of the Lord' . The
latter is a wonderful story, known and beloved by Hindus. It recounts the story
of a great battle between the forces of Good and Evil , where the Lord
Krishna assists the hero to overcome his doubts and fears and fight fearlessly
in the cause of justice and right and to beware of the seductive nature of the
selfish ego. One of its lovely quotes is ' on the battlefield of life fight with
peace in your heart. ' This is a message that rings true for all situations . With
peace in our hearts we can face the many challenges that our world presents.
The other great literature is the Upanishads. These are teachings from great
spiritual Gurus. The most famous of these is the Isa Upanishad, the shortest
book in the Vedas, only 18 verses. Gandhi once remarked that if somehow
the world lost all of its sacred scriptures and only the 1st verse of the Isa was
left, then we would have enough wisdom to reflect on for our life here in this
body-psyche. The verse is 'Behold the Universe in the glory of God: and all
that lives and moves on earth. Leaving the transient, find Joy in the Eternal:
Set not your heart on anothers possessions.' This underpins the great Hindu
teaching regarding our unity in diversity. To respect and tolerate all living
things and to realise the uniqueness of all humanity and also our underlying
unity. We share far more of the of the Mystery than our ego-differences may
falsely suggest. In essence Hinduism's great teaching is our Unity as a
diverse Human family. The human family desperately needs to recognise this
truth.
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Our Long Journey with Mystery


Part 3 :-

Buddhism the Compassionate Way

'What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday


and present thoughts build our life tomorrow:
our life is the creation of our mind' ( Gautama the Buddha)
Buddhism, the Compassionate Way, is the second of the great Faith
Traditions to come out of the rich fertile spiritual soil of India. Actually, it is not
technically a religion but it is a great spiritual storehouse and tradition. The
Buddha, whose name means 'enlightened one', resolutely refused to discuss
the existence or otherwise of God. The Buddhist Scriptures record his
response when questioned on God as; ' The Buddha kept Noble silence'.
For Buddhism, this is not the right question, it is more about living a life in a
compassionate and right way and thus finding enlightenment.
Buddhism, like Christianity, is founded both on the teachings of a Guru or
Master and trying to follow the example of the Master's life. In addition, both
discouraged any attention directed towards them and pointed their disciples
towards the real Source and purpose of life. In short, both led by example,
were not dominated by the ego and its attachments but rose above or
transcended it. Therefore, some background on the Buddha and his search
for enlightenment will help place the essence of his teaching in a context.
Gautama, the Buddha, was born in the 6th century b.c.e in Northern India. He
was the son of a nobleman and was reputed to have been pampered and
isolated from the rigours of real life such as illness, poverty and death. What
was it that led him towards his 3 great acts of renunciation, enlightenment
and teaching?
Renunciation
Legend suggests that his renunciation began with what is
termed Four passing sights . The first was the sight of an old woman which
led him to question; will I too become old?. The 2nd was an ill elderly man
and he wondered, will I too get ill? The 3rd was seeing a funeral pyre and he
wondered will I too die ? and the 4th was when he saw a sannyasi (holy one)
who had renounced the world. This led him to reflect on these questions and
at 29 he renounced his family, riches and the world to seek the inner truth.
Enlightenment He wandered for 6 years studying with holy men, meditating
and absorbing the wisdom of the sages. He was weak, emaciated and
restless and arrived at Bodh Gaya in Northern India, sat under a Boddhi Tree
(wisdom tree) and entered a deep meditation that lasted 7 days. He awoke
and realised that there was a Middle Way between pleasure and asceticism.
He sat in meditation for a further 7 days and awoke to his true self and
reached enlightenment.
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Teaching Like all truly enlightened people, the Buddha then spend the rest
of his life teaching about The Middle Way with its two essential teachings :
The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Right Path to enlightenment.
Four Truths the first truth is that all life is Dukkha ( suffering). Secondly, the
origins of suffering lie in the root evils of greed, ignorance and hatred. Thirdly,
the end of suffering comes when the fire and desire of these roots are
extinguished, when there is an absence of attachment. Finally, there is a
Eight Fold Marga ( path) that leads to liberation.
Eightfold Path. The eight right elements on the path to liberation are;
Right :- Vision, Purpose/Resolve, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort,
Awareness/Mindfulness, Concentration. Practicing each of these will
slowly burn the 3 roots of greed, ignorance and hatred and dissolve the EgoSelf to reveal the Real Self . Many have heard of the current trend for Right
Mindfulness, film stars and Presidents are said to practice it. However,
Buddhism advises that the eight elements come as a complete package and
cherry picking one or two is merely a starting point. The ego is deep rooted
and particularly attached to the deep roots of greed, ignorance and hatred.
The journey inward and its tasks are to rid the ego of all attachments. To
quote the Buddha ' Who makes unbounded love to become mindful, sees the
attachments all destroyed' . It is important to recognise that the Buddha did
not die to desire but to the attachment to desire.
Like other great Faith Traditions, Buddhism has many 'schools', two major
ones are Theravada 'the way of the elders' and Mahayana ' the great
vehicle' (with many schools or types of Buddhist teachings). Both agree on
the central teachings of the Buddha and their differences are not important in
this short article. However, the latter, particularly the Zen and Tibetan
schools have, arguably, had more influence in the West . Two major
examples are the Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai
Lama. Both have made major contributions in the areas of non-violence and
the quest for World Peace. I would like to end this short article with some
words from the Buddhist Scriptures. It is a parable told by the Buddha, as he
noticed some insects being attracted to the flame of a lamp on a dark night .
'Those insects see the flame and misunderstand it. They think it offers them
happiness but in truth it brings them misery and death. In the same way
human beings see bright flames; the flames of wealth. power, honour and
fame. They rush towards these flames, thinking that they offer life and
happiness - only to find that they bring misery and death. So it is wise turn
away from what you see and hear outside yourselves; and turn inwards
towards your own mind and soul'. Powerful and wise words, that have stood
the test of 2500 years, with which to end these short reflections on Buddhism.
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Our Long Journey with Mystery


Part 4:-

Judaism One God,the Law, Prophets & Wisdom

Then you will begin to seek Yahweh your God, and if you pursue
Him with your heart and soul, you will eventually find Him.Dt4 :29
This series turns its attention to Judaism, the first of 3 Faith Traditions rooted
in the Middle East. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all monotheistic
religions that have their roots in a long line of Patriarchs beginning with
Abraham. They are often referred to as people of the Book. But perhaps
more correctly they are people with a Book. Judaism is the oldest of the 3
religions, founded around 3500 years ago. Its story, scriptures and beliefs are
foundational for Christianity and have relevance for Islam.
Like all other Faith Traditions, Judaism has a complex set of beliefs, traditions,
rules and regulations. These, as in other religions, have led to divisions or
branches. However, there are two great truths or that underpin this great
Religion and these are Love of God' and 'Love of self and others. Their story
is one of a people who gradually grew in understanding of their God and
realised that God is essentially loving, forgiving, and compassionate to all and
enthusiastically on the side of the poor and oppressed. In this very short
reflection, I intend to focus on the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) as this is the story of
their growth in a covenant relationship with, and understanding of, God.
Judaism is arguably one of the most misunderstood, oppressed and
persecuted Faith Traditions and particularly over the past 2 millennia. Much of
this oppression has been caused by ignorance and prejudice, particularly
from Christians, who falsely blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus the
Christ, who paradoxically was a Jew. Jews believe that they are a chosen
people who have a covenant relationship with God. This is firmly rooted in
their scriptures, when God tells them I shall maintain my covenant
between myself and you, and your descendants after you . I shall be
your God and the God of your descendants- Genesis 17.7.
The Hebrew 'Bible' (Tanakh) The Tanakh charts the story of an oppressed
and lowly people as they journey from slavery to liberation. This is both an
inner and outer journey. It has three main parts which represent 3 stages in
the growth of the Jews and their covenant relationship. It is important to
realise that although the Christian Old Testament is basically the Jewish Bible,
its interpretation and reading are different for a Jew. Basically it is their story.
The first stage of the Tanakh is the Torah (Teaching and Law) ' I am who I
am ' (Exodus 3:5), which contains the 5 books of Moses the Prophet. This
focuses on the everlasting Covenant between God and His people, the story
of their Exodus and liberation and the laws to be observed. It charts the
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beginnings of an ego -centric, immature and simple faith and of the people's
need for a set of laws and regulations to provide firm boundaries.
The second stage is the Nevim (The Prophets) ' The Lord hears the cry of
the poor (Psalm 34). The Prophets emerge to challenge the establishment,
i.e. the Kings and Priests, as they 'drift' away from God. It emphasises Gods
preference for the poor, the widows and orphans and stresses the need to
remain focused on the prime message of the Covenant and Gods concern
for the oppressed, the outsider and the outcast. This is a necessary 2nd and
transforming developmental stage both for individuals and all societies.
Otherwise our ego-centric desire for power and control can so easily create
both an unjust society and a God in ones own image! The Prophets always
challenge this tendency towards self-indulgence and self- idolatry.
The third stage is outlined in the Ketuvim (Wisdom Writings) ' Lay aside
immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight (Proverbs 9:6) .This
comprises some of the Psalms and the Books of Wisdom. These focus on the
non-duality of God. By non-duality I mean God is not Either: Or, God is
Mystery and is Both: And. Wisdom literature goes beyond the immaturity of a
rigorous attention to the Law and a literal interpretation of scripture. It also
transcends the patriarchal system with its ego drive for power and control and
its tendency to subjugate women and reserve power and position for men.
Incidentally, Wisdom is often referred to as being feminine.
Today, the UK has the worlds 5th largest Jewish Community. It has been in
Britain since Roman times. Because the Church felt that lending money was
un-Christian, the role was handed over to Jews. The result was a form of
hypocritical prejudice against Jews. Since then there have been many
persecutions of Jews. Judaism is not merely a Faith but is both a way of life
and a communal Faith Tradition. The major split in Judaism, like in some
other faiths, is the Scriptures. Orthodox Jews hold that the Hebrew Scriptures
are sacrosanct and 'unalterable', whereas other forms of Judaism believe in
the Rabbinical Tradition which allows for both a written and oral tradition.
I end with a story about Rabbi Hillel, probably the most famous and revered
Rabbi of all. It demonstrates the inherent wisdom of Judaism and the Jewish
practice of ' Midrash that involves staying with the questions until life itself
reveals the answers. The story goes like this
A certain non-Jewish "know-all" came to the home of Hillel to scoff at the
Torah. He said, "Teach me the Torah while I am standing on one foot." Hillel
responded. "No problem! The main idea of the Torah is 'Love your neighbour
as yourself.' Everything else is commentary. Now, if you're really interested,
go and study the commentary." So impressed with Hillel's response,
according to Jewish Tradition, was the visitor, that he took Hillel up on his
instructions, began to study the Torah seriously, and became a Jew.
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Our Long Journey with Mystery


Part 5:-

Christianity - Love and Transformation for ALL

My command is this; love one another as I have loved you.


'You are my friends if you do as I command John 15: 12, 14
Christianity is founded on the life and teaching of Jesus the Christ. Jesus
was a Jewish Rabbi (Teacher), firmly based in the Jewish Tradition, who
presented a simple and powerful message of Transformation, Compassion
and Love. He stressed the importance of relationships and referred to God as
Abba or Daddy'. He never founded a Church, (arguably it was the Mystic St
Paul who did) had relatively few followers and most of these deserted him in
his hour of need. This short reflection will focus on 4 aspects of Jesus' life.
Christians have formed more denominations than any other Faith Tradition
with a resulting complex set of beliefs, customs, traditions and dogmas.
Critics suggest that the many divisions indicate Christianitys failure to live-out
His teachings. GK Chesterton once wrote It is not that Christianity has been
tried and found wanting. It has never been tried! What has been tried is
Christendom, which began when Constantine made it the official religion of
the Roman Empire. It was then modelled on an earthly and patriarchal
kingdom and not as Christ intended. So who was this Jesus the Christ and
what were the main tenets of his teachings?
Celtic Spirituality forms my roots and its 4 important Ps of Place, Presence,
Pilgrimage and Prayer feed them. These will form my reflections on Jesus
the Christ. But first it is important to note that Christ is not Jesus surname.
Jesus was born in 1st Century Palestine. Christ denotes the Cosmic and
Divine Nature of the Incarnation or the Word (as St John calls it) who existed
before the Big Bang and was Divine! This is the important message of
Christianity. It is one so easily missed by people who relate to Christ merely
an adjunct to Jesus. Thus they can over-focus on Jesus and under-focus on
the Christ. It is through Christ that we all become adopted daughters and
sons of God. This is the wonderful and hopeful message for all humanity.
Place We begin with place as this was very important for Jesus. He seemed
to enjoy, and do His best work, outdoors. He liked nature and friends and
there are many references to lakes, mountain sides, rivers, wells and dining
with outsiders. In fact Jesus very rarely visited formal places of 'worship'. He
prepared for His ministry with a 40-day wilderness experience with the God
He called Abba. Shortly after this He was chased out of a synagogue and
towards the end of His Ministry, He chased others out of the Temple. His
radical message was delivered mainly outdoors and, following a long line of
Prophets, was given to the oppressed (the poor, widows and orphans), the
outcasts (women, shepherds, lepers) and outsiders (the unclean, Samaritans
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and Foreigners). None of these were welcome in the designated ' Holy
Places. Jesus took the Good and radical News to them where they were!
Presence The life of Jesus is imbued with the sense of Presence which
was heightened by His enlightened wilderness experience. So deep was this
sense that it forms a constant backdrop in the Gospels. Jesus felt close to the
Presence of Mystery and referred to God with the intimate term of Daddy.
This was a relationship of total mutuality. For many Jews, the reference to
God as Daddy was radical. This sense of Presence stayed with Jesus to
the very end. For a brief moment on the Cross, He felt it ebbing away My
God , my God why have you forsaken me only for it to return as He said
Into Your hands I commend myself. Before every important decision,
Jesus sought solitude to be more present to the 'Presence of God . This
Relationship of Presence is a model for all and is one of His greatest gifts for
humanity. It models a truly spiritual and mystical mutual I: Thou relationship.
Pilgrimage. The pilgrimage journey is a common theme in most great Faith
Traditions. Jesus spent 3 years wandering around a small part of Palestine
delivering the message of the Kingdom. He began with a call to repentance
which led to Him being chased out of the synagogue. This word repentance
can easily be misinterpreted. It comes from the Greek word metanoia to
change both mind and direction. Jesus was not interested in the narrow
negativity of shameful repentance but in getting us to rethink and re- act in a
more loving inclusive and compassionate way. His Sermon on the Mount, as
Gandhi remarked, lays out His manifesto and the everlasting values of the
Kingdom. He then used the power of parables to further outline these values.
The Parables always focus on the outsider and are critical of the insider and
those in power. They are meant to challenge both our actions and thinking.
Ultimately the parables of Jesus are stories that are calls to true repentance
(metanoia). They are both a challenge and an invitation to re-envision and
transform our life and thus play our part in bringing about the Kingdom.
Prayer This is an essential part of the Jesus story. He regularly withdrew for
solitude and prayer, especially before important points on His journey towards
Jerusalem and death. Its interesting that Jesus tells us Do not be Afraid ,a
quote that appears exactly 365 times in the Bible, one prayer for every day of
the year. Prayer was part of His intimate relationship with Mystery. It was a
companion to His constant sense of Presence and a mindful and everpresent prayer. Both Celtic and Eastern Spiritualities also advise, as Jesus
does, to pray constantly and see every moment (at work, rest or play) as
being a prayer or communion with the Mystery we call God.
Ultimately, the 4 Ps of Jesus life are both a modelling of, and a true call to,
genuine metanoia a truly loving, mature and compassionate transformation.
Behold, I am making all things new ( Rev 21.5).
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Our Long Journey with Mystery


Part 6 ISLAM - Peace & Submission to Allah
There is no other God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger
of God (The Shahada)

The Shahada is a declaration of faith for Muslims who are followers of Islam.
Islam, which means submission and has roots in the word Salaam or peace,
is a faith which encourages believers to submit to the One God Allah the
Merciful. Its emblem of the Crescent Moon and Star symbolises the essence
of Islam contained in this quote let Islam guide you through life as the
stars and the moon guides a traveller over the desert.
It was founded by the prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him (570-632)who lived in Mecca. When he was 40 he was meditating in a cave and
received a message from an angel. After that, and throughout his life, he
received a series of messages from God and these eventually formed the
Muslim Holy Book the Quran. This together with the Sunnah and Hadith
which contain details of the sayings and actions of the Prophet, form the
basis and guidance for all aspects of life for Muslims. Muhammad Peace be
upon him, was persecuted during his life, but his exemplary life and the clarity
of his message build up a considerable body of followers. His followers have
spread the message of Islam to all corners of the world and it is now a truly
great Faith Tradition. A Muslims life and faith is built on the FIVE PILLARS
OF ISLAM and these form a firm basis for life
1. The Shahada - When a Muslim recites this, proclaiming that Allah is the
only God, and that Muhammad is his prophet; they undertake to obey all the
commitments of Islam in their life
2. Salat
These are the obligatory prayers that God ordered Muslims to
pray at five set times of day. These are at; dawn, midday, the late part of the
afternoon, just after sunset and between sunset and midnight
3. Zakat
This is the 3rd Pillar. It is the compulsory giving of a set
proportion(2.5%) of one's wealth to charity. It is a reminder to Muslims of the
importance of obeying and acknowledges that everything comes from Allah
and is merely on loan. It reminds the faithful of their obligation and need to
be compassionate and loving to others as well as themselves.
4. Sawm. This is fasting. Muslims are required to fast during Ramadan, the
ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During the hours of daylight for the 30
days of Ramadan all adult Muslims must give up food or drink of any sort,
smoking and sexual activity. Muslims who are physically or mentally unwell,
those who are under twelve years old, the very old, those who are pregnant,
breast-feeding, menstruating, or travelling are excused.

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5. Hajj For Muslims, the Hajj is the fifth and final Pillar. Once a year,
Muslims of every ethnic group, colour, social status, and culture gather
together in Mecca and stand before the Kaaba in Mecca and praise Allah
together. It is a ritual designed to promote the bonds of Islamic brotherhood
and sisterhood by showing that everyone is equal in the eyes of Allah and to
help Muslims both understand and experience the real importance of life
here on earth, and the afterlife. It strips away all markers of social status,
wealth, and pride. It is the journey that every adult Muslim must undertake at
least once in their lives if they can afford it and are physically able.
Muslims believe in something called "Ummah" or "one community".
Consequently they see fellow Muslims as being part of their family. However,
just like other Faith Traditions there are different groups. The differences
within Islam began in the 7th Century when the Prophet Muhammad (Peace
be upon Him) died. These differences are mainly centred on the succession
and the rule of the Caliphs (successors) of the Prophet and on some writings.
Shia. Some Muslims wanted Muhammad's son in law, Ali, to succeed
Muhammad. This group are known as Shia and are followers of Ali the
fourth caliph. Although they accept the 5 Pillars, they have additional pillars
Sunni. Those who wanted a friend of Muhammad's (called Abu Bakr) to
succeed Muhammad are known as Sunni. The Sunnis comprise about 80%
of the worlds Muslims. Sunnis and Shi'tes have different versions of the
Hadith (the book of Mohammad's sayings.) In turn, this means they have a
slightly different understanding of Islam.
Sufis. This is a relatively small contemplative branch of Islam that conveys
and embodies the mystical tradition of Islam.
Islam has contributed so much to humanity, both as a Faith Tradition and in
architecture, science and art. I end with this short reflection with a story on
humility as told about the Prophet (Peace be upon Him). The Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions landed from their rides
and laid the loads down. It was decided that they would sacrifice a lamb for
dinner. One of the companions volunteered: "I will sacrifice the lamb."
Another: "I will skin it." A third: "I will cook it." and so on. The Prophet (Peace
be upon Him.) said: "I will gather the wood from the desert." The group
responded O Messenger of Allah, it is not becoming of you to discomfort
yourself as such. You rest. We will be honoured to do all this on our own."
The Prophet (Peace be upon Him.) replied: "I know that you are eager to do it
all, but Allah isn't pleased with the servant who distinguishes between himself
and his companions, and considers himself better than others." Then he went
to the desert, and gathered some wood, and brought it to the group.
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Part 7 Sikhism - Ek- Onkar -One God - One Truth


Killing all the temptations of the world, one controls the
uncontrollable and thus gains knowledge and merges into
the Eternal ( Guru Ram Das )
Sikhism, the 5th largest of the worlds religions was founded by Guru Nanak
(1469- 1539) whose basic spiritual teaching is to be found in the most Holy of
Sikh Mantras the Mul Mantra, composed to honour the God he called Sat.
Ek-Onkar (One God) , Sat (Truth) is the name, the Creator, without fear and
hate, Omnipresent, pervading the Universe. Neither born, nor dies to be born
again. Truth is revealed through the grace of the Guru. Before time itself there
was Truth. When time began to runs its course, there was Truth. Even now,
there is Truth and ever more (says Nanak) shall Truth prevail.
The Mantra contains the essence of the Gurus spirituality and teaching about
One God. After a deep spiritual experience, he became critical of many of the
religious practices of his day, particularly about caste, the division of people
and the treatment of women. He set out to offer an alternative path to both
Hinduism and Islam and appointed his successor Guru Angad. Thereafter
each Guru appointed their successor until the 10th Guru (Gobind Singh). He
instituted the Sikh Kalsa (more on this later) and compiled a collection of the
Gurus teaching, including writings from Hinduism and Islam. This forms the
Guru Granth Sahib (or Adi Granth) the Sikh Holy Book. This became the
11th Guru that is central to Sikhism and the focus of worship in the Gurdwara
(Temple), which is Punjabi for the door to the Guru.
The name Sikh means disciple or learner and denotes one who believes in;
One God, the Ten Gurus and the Guru Granth Sahib. In addition, Sikhs
believe that the Gurus represent One Divine Inner Voice, they are all one.
Their forms changed but their lights merged. In other words the Gurus are
vessels for a single spiritual torch. The 5th Guru Arjan built the Golden
Temple at Amritsar, which is the most sacred place for Sikhs. In this short
reflection it is not possible to explore all ten Gurus. We will look at the 10th
Guru Gobind Singh and end with a quote from the founder Guru Nanak.
The Kalsa (Pure Ones) and the Five Ks
Guru
Nanaks
alternative
spirituality and its emphasis on standing up for the marginalised and
oppressed, led to a long period of severe persecution of Sikhs by the Mogul
rulers of Northern India. By the time of the 10th Guru Gobind Singh a
tradition of saint-soldiers had developed. It was during this time that the Guru
created the Kalsa, which essentially created Sikhism as we know it today. He
did so in 1699 with a unique initiation ceremony. Before outlining this, it is
important to read an extract of some of the Gurus words concerning the
ethos of those who become the Kalsa. This comes out of the ethos of those
times in India and proposes an alternative way.
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The one who repeats night and day the name of God, whose enduring light
is unquenchable, is one who bestows not a thought on any but the One God
and who has love and confidence in God and places no confidence, even by
mistake, in fasting, worshipping at tombs, places of cremation or where yogis
meditate. This is one who recognises only One God( Ek Onkar) and cares not
for pilgrimages, alms, penance and austerities. It is one in whose heart the
light of the Perfect One shines and such a one is recognised as a member of
the Kalsa
In 1699, accompanied by his wife, he gathered Sikhs from all over India. He
selected 5 people, one from each of the 4 castes of Hinduism and the 5th an
Untouchable, to be the first to be initiated into the Kalsa. His wife held the cup
of nectar (Amrit) used in the ceremony. It was then that Sikhs adopted the
custom of wearing the 5 ks , so called because each begin with the letter K.
These are; Kes uncut hair (hence the turban), Kara bangle or bracelet,
Kangha - comb, Kirpan dagger and Karcha underpants. All males were
required to take the name Singh and females Kaur (princess). This
ceremony marks the formal birth of Sikhism and is celebrated each year by
Baisaki ( Spring Festival).
Seva (selfless service). Sikhism extols 5 very important virtues. These are
Compassion, Truth, Contentment, Humility and Love. One very important
practice in living out these virtues is the tradition of Seva a central aspect of
Sikhism. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the Langar a kitchen
attached to every Gurdwara. Here, in the spirit of Guru Nanaks teaching, all
are freely welcomed and fed, regardless of gender, race ethnicity or class. As
one of the many non-Sikhs who have been often welcomed into a Langar, I
have been impressed by the spirit of service and hospitality I have received. It
is a positive example and one that other Traditions could benefit from.
Guru Nanak, like other founders of Faith Traditions, was both a mystic and a
deeply spiritual human. His writings exude a spirit of compassion, wisdom
and mysticism. I would like to end this short reflection with one of his
quotations (In Praise of Woman) on the importance of women. I have chosen
this because, in the context of 16th Century India, where women were
considered to have no rights, this demonstrates Guru Nanaks teaching about
equality in a society that was deeply entrenched in caste and male sexism.
Of woman we are conceived, of woman we are born, to woman we are
betrothed and married. It is woman who is your friend and who travels the
road with you. Another woman is sought when the companion dies. Man is
bonded to woman. Why should we consider woman evil. When from woman
kings are born? From woman alone is born a woman. Without woman there
can be no human birth. O Nanak, without woman, only the True One exists.
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Our Long Journey with Mystery


Summary on our Six Faith Traditions
Our duty as men and women is to proceed as if the limits to our ability did not
exist. We are collaborators in Creation Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
This is the last in a series of personal reflections on Spirituality and Religion.
They have looked at six of the worlds major Faith Traditions and set out to
chart the important part that spirituality has played in our human story and
our long journey, over hundreds of thousands of years, in search of the
Mystery that lies at the heart of creation. In this search, we have looked
through the 'lens' of six Faith Traditions; three from the Eastern Tradition
(Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism) and three from the Western Tradition
(Judaism, Christianity and Islam). All six Faith Traditions have arisen in the
past 5 or 6 millennia and are , in a sense, different cultural and historical
attempts to understand, explain and express the Mystery that is beyond all
religions. Each tries to shine a light on the Mystery or Absolute Reality that
existed before time began and is a Reality that is experienced as both
Immanent and Transcendent.
All six Faith Traditions acknowledge this Immanence and Transcendence
but arguably the East focuses more on the Immanent nature and the West
emphasises the Transcendent Nature of God. These aspects of the Mystery
are neither an either-or distinction nor an assertion that one is better than
the other. Such false distinctions are totally man made and can, if not
challenged, lead us to design a God made in our own image. Buddhism and
Daoism warn us about this and remind us that ;' The finger that points at
the moon is not the moon'. All Religions merely attempt to express the
inexpressible nature of God. Each tries to 'highlight' aspects of the God ,
Mystery or Absolute Reality that have been experienced and thus can prove
to be very helpful. The Mystery is way beyond our human understanding but
the Faith Traditions, and their collected universal spiritual inheritance, can be
a useful and helpful support on our journey back to the Source , the Mystery
of all life.
Throughout our long journey, humanity has always pondered some deep
questions, such as : Who made all this? - Who am I ? What is the purpose
of life ? and many others. The mystics and sages, of all Traditions, have
advised us to seek the answers to these questions at a deeper level. This is
a level beyond mere human senses and intellectual knowing. It is one that
requires us to be open to the Presence and the Grace of the Indwelling
Mystery. Those who have experienced God at this level, suggest that there is
a deeper Mystery at the heart, or root, of all creation and that it is wise to
journey inwards in search of this Mystery . If we do, then our human family
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will find a more authentic, safe and surer, peaceful and more joyful
evolutionary path.
For Mystics this is a path that leads towards union with both the Mystery and
each other. It can provide us with a way out of the many current crises that
threaten us, our planet and our soul. One of the root problems is that we
have lost sight of the underlying unity and oneness of our one human family .
We share the same Source and live, in this body psyche, on our small
planet Earth. This sense of unity and oneness is found at the heart of all
Faith Traditions. Perhaps this is best expressed by the following quote from
the Hindu Vedas - the Isa Upanishad ' The one who sees all beings in his
own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear. When a wise one sees
this Great Unity and his own Self has become all beings. What delusion and
what sorrow can ever be near him?'. This sense of oneness is echoed by St
Paul , a Christian Mystic in Galatians. 'There is neither Jew nor Gentile,
neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in
Christ Jesus.'
The great Faith Traditions have so much in common. We are not in
competition with each other. False competition leads us down the path of
discord, disunity and conflict . We are created for co-operation not
competition by the Unity that unites and enfolds all Creation. This Unity is the
Great Mystery, or Great Spirit of the Aboriginal peoples , that the Mystics and
Sages have shown us. Their path leads inwards. This is an ancient path of
contemplation that people of all faiths and none can safely follow. However, it
is a path that requires courage, patience, wisdom and , above all, grace
which is a free gift from God .
I would like to end these reflections with a blessing from the Celtic Christian
tradition, a tradition that underpins my personal journey of Faith. Celtic
Christianity shares much with both Hinduism and Buddhism, it sees and
senses God's Presence in every situation. This is a prayer for 'New
Beginnings' and is adapted from John O Donohue's book ' Benedictus
'In out of the way places of the heart. Where your thoughts never think to
wander.' This beginning has been quietly forming. Waiting until you are ready
to emerge.... Awaken your spirit to adventure; hold nothing back, learn to
find ease in risk; Soon you will be home in a new rhythm. For your soul
senses the world that awaits you'. As Jesus says : 'On that day, you will
know that you are in me and I am in you' . John 14:20.
Our human family stands on the threshold of a new beginning and the Faith
Traditions have so much wisdom to offer us which essentially is:
Be still and know that I am God the Mystery (Psalm 46:10)
Peter Creagh
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