Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Respect all religions and no preference ..."

New Thought News Service photographers Ariane Davis and Wes Yarborough photographed His Holiness the Dalai Lama from their front-row seats at the closing ceremony. At right, Joy Wandin Murphy, a senior Aboriginal woman of the Wurundjeri people, greets the Dalai Lama following chanting by the Gyuto monks. At lower right, the  
Dalai Lama takes in cellist Michael Fitzpatrick's solo, "Invocation for World Peace." At left, His Holiness reminds a rapt audience of the call to honor all spiritual paths. "All carry the same message, same sort of practices," he said. "We practice same sort of idea." Contradictions within and between the religious traditions, the Dalai Lama said, meet the needs of people with different dispositions. "It is necessary to have a variety of different religious traditions."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The challenge to Parliament participants: "Pay more attention"

New Thought News Service

Climate change, discrimination, the protection of sacred places, cultures, languages, human remains and artifacts, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the doctrine of Christian discovery.
These were top concerns among leaders of the world's indigenous people, who gathered for a first-ever, day-long international indigenous assembly held as part of the Parliament activities this week.
Nearly two dozen of the leaders appeared on stage during the closing ceremony to present a statement regarding their role as traditional stewards of land and resources and to support action out of the Copenhagen climate change summit.

Issues facing indigenous people were a strong and consistent theme throughout Parliament talks and presentations this week. Aboriginal, Native American and other indigenous populations were represented in workshops, performances and the large ceremonies that took place each evening.
"They have gained energy" by coming together, Joy Murphy Wandin, a Wurundjeri elder, told attendees at the closing ceremony Wednesday afternoon.
Bob Randall, an Aboriginal elder taken from his parents during a period of Australia's heaviest discriminatory action against its indigenous population, advised attendees at the closing ceremony to practice right and environmentally sound living.
"You are walking the wrong way" otherwise, he said. "I'm asking you to reassess."
The note sounded by the indigenous leaders was echoed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
"If we are relying for some answer on material things ... you can't solve these problems," he said. "We are facing some moral crisis."
All of the spiritual traditions represented at the Parliament have answers for the world, he said, drawing laughs when he noted that his Christian friends consider him a good Christian while he thinks of them as good Buddhists.

And the issues raised by the indigenous leaders want attention, he said.
"Now, I have some small feeling you should take a more active role ... You should pay more attention after this meeting."
Here's the Parliament by the numbers drawn from the closing ceremony talks:

  • More than 16,000: years the Aboriginal people have lived in the area of what is now known as Melbourne
  • 2014: the year of the next Parliament; the location hasn't yet been determined
  • More than 1,500: number of presenters at the Parliament
  • 662: programs presented
  • 550: volunteers who staffed booths, answered questions and helped with workshops and programs
  • 248: nations represented among Melbourne's residents
  • 235: languages among the city's residents

"Let there be peace behind you, peace before you, peace all around you," Wandin said, blessing Parliament attendees at the close of the event. "May we walk in peace."

Samoan dancers take part in a workshop during the Parliament. New Thought News Service photos.

Living sacraments: a conversation with Lisa Ferraro and Erika Luckett

By Katie Dutcher
New Thought News Service

The minute Erika Luckett steps up to the microphone, you can tell that something magical is about to happen. 
She pauses for a moment, eyes closed, and you get the impression that she's listening for something. 
Then all of a sudden, the hands that have been frozen on the guitar come to life, and the music that pours forth has a spark and an energy to it that is absolutely unmistakable. A moment later, Erika's deep, rich alto voice is joined by Lisa Ferarro's almost ephemeral mezzo-soprano; the voices blend together so beautifully that at first you might not realize that a second voice has come in.
The sound they create is rich, textured, and complex, and more than any other duo I have ever heard, they sound and sing as one.
 Erika and Lisa have been writing and performing together for a little over three years. They met as solo artists in 2006, but it wasn't until the 2007 United Centers for Spiritual Gathering that they first created music together. The chant they sang together awakened something in both of them; they realized right away that "something was wanting to come through." 
As a duo, they are recognized for their presence, inspiring songs and musical renditions of the poetry of Rumi, sacred, powerful chants and songs that bring the words of one of Sufism's most beloved mystics to life. Below, their thoughts on their music and the human sacrament – which a talk with them reveals are two sides of the same coin.

On songwriting

(Songwriting) is about being open. When you're open, thoughts will come together in ways they normally wouldn't. For us, writing is a process of deep listening – listening with our entire body. Feeling what wisdom is trying to come through us. Ideas, they're not something that you create. They're already there, all around you, all the time – you just need to listen and pick up on them. When we write songs, we sometimes feel like we're walking into ideas … When we're open to what ideas are trying to emerge, whether it's the key, the beat, the rhythm, the lyrics, things just arrange themselves. Music has been our greatest teacher in the lesson of surrendering. To think that we are conjuring this music, that it's coming from us, is absurd – and the quick path to writer's block. The music comes through us. We're just vessels.

On the human sacrament

What we try to do with our music, and in our lives, is to be an awake citizen on the planet in the highest capacity we can. Just to embody living in a place of connection with everyone else. Transmitting that (sense of) connection is a human sacrament. We see our role as reminding everybody of that sacrament. The radio of God is on all the time. It's up to us to keep our connection to it clear … It's about being willing. That word, willing – it concerns the will. Where are we directing our will? We're always directing it somewhere, even if we're not aware of it. We're using our will in every moment. Where do we choose to direct our will?... We can be so asleep to our magnificence sometimes. We are the Creator. We are masterfully creating a work of art that is our life. We are reflections of the Divine – it's just about how much we step into that. It's our choice to imbue our lives with divinity, and become magnifiers of the divine.

On their music

Music (is something that) speaks to our heart and to both sides of our mind. With music, sometimes people can't handle it, because they feel something. Music can make you feel out of control. It opens you up in ways that other things can't … We try to keep subtlety in our music and work. We try not to tell you what we're doing. What we like to do is create the opportunity for (someone to have) an experience. We want to meet you where you are; we have no attachment to how (our music) is supposed to be experienced. Our highest intention is to create a space for someone to wake up to something … Music is the way God speaks to us most clearly. It's such a blessing to be here, to do this work with each other, and become co-creators with the Divine. It's such a blessing. We're so grateful.

Rastafari's ancient future, foretold by a believer

By Susana Wolds
New Thought News Service

Rastafari made an appearance on the world's stage this week.  
In the spotlight was Yasus Afari, the Rasta ambassador to the Melbourne Parliament. Emphasizing the individual's connection to all of creation and to Jah, the divine, in a workshop on the philosophy, Afari explained how the human family must usher in the future by honoring the past.
"Humanity is the temple of the most high," Afari said in discussing human spiritual identity. "We say 'I and I' to invoke our oneness with God as our true essence.
"This reminds us who we are," he said, pointing to the bundle of locks atop his head.  
Afari explained family as a sacred expression as well. 
"If we are the children of Jah, then Jah must have a wife."  Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, the representation of God for Rastafari believers, desired that the empress be recognized with the same pageantry as he was, Afari noted, which reminded Selassie's people that God is both masculine and feminine.
"Religions are fingers on the hand of the Almighty," Afari said. "Our spirituality is to be used as a tool for liberation and enlightenment."
Alluding to holy scripture, Afari said humanity will witness the Genesis of a new era when "international morality and the rule of conscience" cure the shared plagues of hunger, war, disease and ignorance.  
Rastafari envisions a future in which we blend the best of ancient traditions with the best of contemporary reality.
"Don't forget your roots," Afari advised his audience. "Don't lose your knowledge of the land, of food and of the herbs. We need this knowledge for the future." 

In the photo above, Afari gives his audience a moment to take it all in. "Let's take a breather," he says, and plays Bob Marley's "Exodus" as people relax and begin to move to the rhythm. Marley's music carries the vision of Rastafari: one human family marching towards an ancient future, a movement of the people. Photo by Susana Wolds.

A Jain's life of service, on display at the Parliament

By Olivia Ware
New Thought News Service

Jainism is a faith deeply rooted in nonviolence. Followers of the Jain faith take care in the simple act of breathing so as not to harm bacteria or the most miniscule insect. For Jain adherent Asha Mehendra Mehta, "healing the earth means nonviolence." Compassion is at the center of everything that is Jainism. 
Asha Mehta wants to show the world what Jainism is through good acts and the "art of enlightenment," and participated in the Parliament with that in mind. A collection of her paintings, embodying Jainist tenets, was on exhibition throughout the event. In addition to her art, Asha Mehta is immersed in numerous goodwill efforts, including a project that has supplied more than 25,000 disabled and hearing-impaired people with wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, crutches, hearing machines and more for free. The group is funded by friends and corporations devoted to causes aligned with Jain principles. 
She is also involved with Food for Education, an organization that feeds children who attend school and helps those affected by disasters.
Why has Asha Mehta done all of this?
"Service to humanity is service to God," she explained simply.