By BK Sister Mary Friedland
We interfaith people have shared and appreciated the sacred rituals and traditions of many religions. Yet, those same religions are often blamed for torture, ridicule and war. One interfaith mission is to present the authentically positive side of religion. How can we challenge media images depicting religions as agents of ignorance and abuse?
Traditionally, religion has been depicted as a special kind of light that dispels darkness. As the media focuses more on the dark side of religion, perhaps interfaith people need to make maximum use of this special light. How can we better tap into the light within our own religious traditions and share that light with others?
I see three streams of light within our religions: principles, practices, and power. Collectively, we can strengthen our connections with the streams of light within our own religions. This is a kind of grassroots interfaith action because it uses religion to serve the world.
Our religions give us principles to live by that are related to truth, righteousness, and a higher authority. When faced with challenges, our religions prescribe principled responses. Mahatma Gandhi pursued political independence without combat because nonviolence is a core principle of Hinduism. Nelson Mandela chose to forgive his oppressors, following principles laid out by Christ. The Dalai Lama calls the Chinese Communists “my friends, the enemy” because his religion prescribes loving kindness. Other political leaders might feel justified in violating their principles for the sake of achieving success. But for Gandhi, Mandela and the Dalai Lama, adherence to religious principles was and is their measure of success. To collectively apply our own religion’s principles in daily life is also a form of interfaith action.
I belong to the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. A core principle of my religion is om shanti, which means “I am a peaceful soul.” Before I joined the Brahma Kumaris (BKs), I engaged in political activism, which was always about being against something – against some war, some injustice, some human rights violation. Never, ever did any political action that I engaged in actually end what I was against. How can a bunch of angry people create peace?
Shortly after I became a “surrendered BK sister,” that is, after dedicating my life to serving God and humanity, the opportunity came to do a big event at the San Francisco BK center, where I resided. All the residents of the center met to make a plan for it. A few people presented ideas, and we then got into a passionate debate about whose idea was best.
Sister Chandru, the director of the Center, listened quietly for a while, and then calmly said, “We’re all experts; everyone’s idea is good. Now, what are we going to do?” Her peaceful demeanor quieted the clamor. We all became silent. At that moment I understood the meaning of “surrendered”: to remain peaceful within myself and within any community, all the time, no matter what.
I’ve lost my peace many times since then. But the principle remains dear to my heart. To the extent that I remain peaceful inside, my religion, and religion in general, is serving the world.
Our interfaith activities employ respect and cooperation, not as the means to an end, but because our religions tell us that this is the best way to be. In a world of big egos, respect and cooperation are big lights reflecting the special light of our religions.
Universal Peace Hall at Mount Abu, India, headquarters of the Brahma Kumaris. From principles, practices flow. We sometimes follow our religion’s practices routinely because they are “good for us.” But when we do this, we may miss the secrets these practices hold. Take, for example, the secret of happiness.
One Brahma Kumari practice is to sit in meditation at 4:00 am and again at 7:00 pm, every day, including holidays. We eat only vegetarian food that has been prepared by BKs who cook in remembrance of God. We practice celibacy. These practices may sound Draconian to people who have never tried them, and I myself, in the beginning, was not attracted to this level of regimentation.
For about eight years, I ignored any restrictions on my lifestyle. But, though I loved meditation, I didn’t feel like I was progressing spiritually. One day I decided to give the BK practices a fair shot. I promised myself that I would follow all principles 100 percent, with enthusiasm, for six months. Then I would decide if this path was for me. In less than one week I noticed myself feeling light and free, and my mind had become quiet. Yes, my lifestyle had to change. But the changes unblocked inner reservoirs of happiness that I did not even know were there, and that energy then started to flow.
As interfaith ambassadors, we need to deeply experience our religious practices, to gain the full scope of love, freedom, connectedness, and whatever intangibles the religious practices offer.
Most of our religions refer us to a Supreme Being, Spirit, or Source of power and benevolence. This special power helps make good things happen that we could not otherwise accomplish.
The tasks of interfaith and the needs that interfaith addresses are huge. How can we each within our own religions make better use of our Higher Power?
The Brahma Kumaris consider God to be an incorporeal Supreme Soul, a Point of Light. While I accepted this view of God, it was a little abstract for me, and I needed this “Being” to be more real. So I made a pact with God: At times when I needed help, I would ask His advice. Whatever response I received, I would follow it to the letter.
This led to several months of anxiety, posing my difficult questions and expecting to be hit with whatever I most dreaded. On the contrary, however, the advice I received was always sweet – a simple, doable pathway to something I deeply desired. Over the years I have discovered in these messages a God who is pure love and infinite wisdom. And somehow, along with the directions, always comes the power to follow them.
Each religion offers a path to a special source of power. How, according to my religion, does this power flow? How can I increase my supply? Exploring this is a way of serving the world through religion.
As religion’s violence intensifies, the need increases for interfaith people to find within our own religions the secrets of light. What does my religion say about sharing resources? Keeping peace? Our lives, like Gandhi’s, can be experiments in truth. As our love for our religious principles, practices and source of power grows, that special light guides our every step. We are small lights, but let us be the brightest lights possible, and let us always, always shine.