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Monday, September 29, 2008

The Spirit of Rosh Hashanah

Shalom,

Rabbi Haas of Temple Shalom joined me in sharing the essence of Judaism every month on my Radio Talk show here in Dallas. The daily one hour show was called "Wisdom of Religion, all the beautiful Religions". Next year, Insha Allah, God willing, I will write the essence of Rosh Hashanah to the common person and how each one of these beautiful festivals add to the goodwill and community building. This year, I am borrowing from a beautiful write up by Jacqueline O' Sullivan. Wish you all the best on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

Leshana tova tikateiv v'techateim." and "Leshana tova tikateivi veti
Wish ya'll the best on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah
Joy and Judgement
Jacqueline O' Sullivan explains the annual celebration.

The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) takes place in the month of Tishri (September and October on the Gregorian calendar) and commemorates the anniversary of Creation. It is on this day that G-d opens the Book of Life and observes his creatures, deciding their fate for the coming year.

It is a time of restricted rejoicing because, even though it celebrates HaShem's kingship, the celebrations are muted in acknowledgement of the great judgment taking place.

As is customary in Jewish festivals, observance begins on nightfall the day before Rosh Hashanah. Celebrants prepare by bathing, receiving haircuts, donning special clothes and giving treats to children.

Certain types of work are forbidden, though there are some exceptions. Food preparation and the carrying, transferring or increasing of the fire is all permitted. Women of the household light commemorative candles before sunset of the first night and a half-hour before sunset on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, reciting blessings over them.

Though G-d opens the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah the judgment is not final. The book is 'sealed' on Yom Kippur, ten days later. The time between these two festivals is known as Shabbat Shuva (The Shabbat of Returning). This is a period for self-reflection in which to justify your existence to G-d. Rosh Hashanah is the only Jewish celebration that lasts for two days, signifying the importance of this date in the calendar.

Prayers play an important part in the proceedings. Intense and lengthy devotions on Rosh Hashanah vary from those normally uttered on Sabbath with even the familiar prayers containing subtle differences. Following the evening prayer people will wish each other a Good New Year. There are also specific greetings for each sex. A man is wished, "Leshana tova tikateiv v'techateim." A woman is bid, "Leshana tova tikateivi vetichatemi." . The Yiddish equivalent is a "gut yoar."

Following lunch on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the ritual of the Casting is performed. Crumbs of bread are tossed into water after the Torah verse, "And you will cast all their sins into the depth of the sea." The hems of the worshippers' garments are shaken alluding to the fact that sins are being cast away.

One of the essential elements of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar. The shofar is made from an animal's horn, preferably a ram. The cow's horn is not acceptable, nor is any animal horn that's a solid piece.

The horn is blown 100 times every day of Rosh Hashanah upon the command of HaShem with different meanings attached to the varying sounds. The Tekiah is one long 'blast' with a clear tone. The Skevarium is a 'broken' sighing sound of three short calls. The Teruah is the 'alarm' of a rapid series of nine or more quick short notes.

The command to blow the shofar comes from the Torah, but no explanation is attached. Rabbis have provided different reasons. It acts as a reminder for the soul to enter into repentance. It is also a warning to the Jewish people not to fall into temptation. It calls to mind the blasts blown by Moses when he ascended from Mount Sinai for the second time, after pleading with G-d for mercy for the Jews who had worshipped at the alter of a false God.

The shofar blower recites two blessings - the community must listen to the blessings and respond 'Amen' to both. It is forbidden to speak once the first blast is sounded until the last one is blown.

The Jewish New Year takes place around September/October, and is considered one of the most important and serious holidays (or High Holy Days) in the Jewish calendar. As well as being a time for celebration it is also a time for reflection and repentance for sins committed in the previous year. In synagogue, people pray to God to forgive them for their wrongdoings and to give them a good year - during the service a Shofar, or ram's horn, is blown, to alert congregants to the seriousness of the festival and the fact that God is deciding their fates for the coming year - which will be sealed on the Day Of Atonement ten days later. This period is known as The Ten Days Of Repentance and is traditionally a solemn time.

However, Rosh Hashanah is also a time for celebration - other traditions include eating apples dipped in honey in the hope that this will lead to a sweet year.

The Spirit of Navaratri

Among the popular festivals celebrated in India, Navaratri is among the longest.

Like the other festivals of India, Navaratri is rich in meaning. At one level, Navaratri signifies the progress of a spiritual aspirant.During this spiritual journey, the aspirant has to pass three stages
personified by Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Then, he or she enters into the realm of the infinite, wherein one realises one's Self. Navaratri, which literally means 'nine nights,' dedicates three days each to worshipping the Divine in the forms of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The tenth day, though, is the most important; it is known as Vijayadashami, the 'tenth day of victory.'
The reason behind the worshipping of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati lies rooted in the philosophy that the attributeless absolute can only be known through the world of attributes—the journey is from the known to the unknown. Hence it is said that Shiva, who symbolizes pure consciousness, can only be known through Shakti, who represents divine energy. That is why people worship Shakti, also known as Devi, in Her various manifestations.

Inner Meaning of Navaratri Worship

The different stages of spiritual progress are reflected in the sequence of celebrations during Navaratri. During the first three days, Durga is worshipped. She personifies that aspect of shakti
which destroys our negative tendencies. The process of trying to control our senses is akin to a war for the mind which resists all attempts at control. So the stories in the Puranas symbolically
depict Devi in the form of Durga as waging war and destroying the asuras.

However, getting temporary relief from the clutches of vasanas does not guarantee permanent liberation from them. The seeds of the vasanas will remain within in latent form. Therefore, we should supplant them with positive qualities. The Bhagavad Gita refers to these qualities as daivi-sampat, literally "Divine wealth." Correspondingly, we worship Lakshmi during the next three days. Lakshmi is not just the giver of gross wealth or prosperity; She is the Mother who gives according to the needs of Her children. Only one endowed with daivi-sampat is fit to receive the knowledge of the Supreme. Accordingly, the last three days of Navaratri are dedicated to worshipping Saraswati, the embodiment of Knowledge. She is depicted as wearing a pure-white sari, which symbolises the illumination of the Supreme Truth.

The tenth day is Vijaya Dashami, or the festival of victory, symbolising the moment when Truth dawns within. Significance of Navaratri for Householders However, Navaratri is not only significant for spiritual aspirants; it has a message for those who lead a worldly life as well. They
should invoke Durga's help to surmount obstacles, pray to Lakshmi to bestow peace and prosperity, and contemplate upon Saraswati in order to gain knowledge. These three ingredients are just as necessary for a full and complete worldly life. In reality, when we pray like this, we are but invoking the Shakti that is within ourselves.

Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are not different entities, but different facets of the singular Divinity. Some of the spiritual practices associated with Navaratri include fruit and milk fasts, japa (mantra chanting), chanting of hymns dedicated to Devi in Her different forms, prayer, meditation and recitation of sacred texts including the Devi Mahatmya, Sri Lalita Sahasranama and the Durga Saptashati.

Navaratri, Dussehra and the Ramayana Navaratri highlights the principles elucidated by the Ramayana. This is hinted at in the other name by which Vijaya Dashami is known in India, Dussehra. "Dussehra" is derived from "Dasha-hara," which means "victory over the ten-faced one." This ten-faced being ("Dashamukha") is none other than Ravana, Lord Rama's adversary. His ten heads symbolise the ten senses (five of perception and five of action). Ravana's manifest extrovertedness stands in contrast to Dasharatha, Lord Rama's father, whose name can be taken to mean "one who has controlled his ten senses." That he is father to a Divine Incarnation suggests that only when one is able to subdue all ten senses can one realise the divinity within.

In similar allegorical fashion, Sita, Rama's consort, represents the mind. As long as the mind remains wedded to the Self within, so long will bliss ensue. That is why Rama and Sita are depicted as enjoying a harmonious and satisfying relationship, both amidst palatial comforts and the privations of the forest. As soon as the mind withdraws from the Self and turns outwards to worldly objects, bliss ceases, and sorrow follows. In the Ramayana, Sita becomes distracted
by a golden deer, actually an asura (demon) in disguise, and starts coveting it. Rama counsels her on its true nature, but Sita remains deaf to his words of wisdom, and insists that he captures it for her. Rama orders Lakshmana to remain with Sita and protect her from danger, while He pursues the deer. As soon as Rama hunts it down, the magical deer treacherously calls out, in Rama's voice, to Lakshmana and Sita for help. Hearing this, Sita is convinced that Rama's life is in danger and tells Lakshmana to hurry to Rama's rescue. Lakshmana, who represents tapas (austerity), recognises that the situation is a trap and tries to advise Sita accordingly. Sita arrogantly rebuffs his explanations and orders him to leave at once. Seeing no other way out, Lakshmana leaves in search of his brother. Before leaving, he draws a line on the ground and warns Sita not to cross the line. This line, the Lakshman rekha, marks the limits of morally permissible behaviour. Because Sita trespasses into forbidden territory, she has to suffer the consequences: she is taken captive by Ravana. Only after this ten-headed egoist gets destroyed, only after the ten senses are controlled, is Sita reunited with Rama. The story of the Ramayana is relevant to us as well. If we wish to progress spiritually, we have to first make efforts to control the negative tendencies. Only then can we cultivate the positive ones. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna enumerates the signs of a Jnani (one who has realised the Self), not because an ordinary person can recognise such signs, but so that we may cultivate those qualities. Likewise, Amma says that we should read stories about Lord Rama so that we may become Rama Himself, that is, imbibe His noble qualities.

Navaratri

A deeper meaning of the festival Navaratri suggests the spiritual growth of a person, where one needs courage to stand up for others and protect the weaker and be able to fight the evil and their temptations. This is the first requirement of spiritual growth - to take a firm against the evil and for the good. The second requirement is to fulfill one's needs, treat the guests and help the poor. For this one needs money and the next three days of Navratri are dedicated to the worship of Lakshmi so that she would bless us with the necessary money to be put to good use. Learning virtues and good qualities and upholding one's responsibility as a sacred duty is the next requirement to the spiritual growth. Finally, Goddess Saraswati is worshipped so that she blesses us with power of knowledge and helps us to attain spiritual enlightenment.

The 9 nights festival of Navratri begins on the first day of Ashwin of the bright fortnight. The festival comes to an end on the tenth day of Vjay Dashmi or Dussehra, when the idols of the Goddess Shakti are immersed in the river. Dussehra, is thus, considered auspicious for beginning mantra incantation and renouncing the world as 'Sanyasi'. However, Navaratri has a message for people who lead worldly life too. It teaches us to surmount obstacles with the help of Durga, thank and pray to Lakshmi for her blessings and gain knowledge with the blessings of Saraswati. This done, we can find Shakti (power) within ourselves. We must also understand that Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are different facets of a single entity, thus, representing that Mother Goddess bestow us with wealth, prosperity and knowledge and protect us too.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Spirit, rituals and politics of Ramadan

The Spirit, rituals and politics of Ramadan
Mike Ghouse, Dallas, Texas

The Spiritual masters have captured the human gravity for rituals and have molded it with the art and science of self-discipline in their respective religion. The noble purpose of each one of them was to bring a balance in our lives and a balance with things that surround us; life and environment. Every faith is composed of a set of unique rituals to bring discipline and peace to human life. Fasting is one of the five key rituals that Muslims around the world observe.

Continued at: http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/Articles/The-spirit-rituals-and-politics-of-Ramadan.asp

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

All religious paths are valid

"I hear you saying all paths are equally valid, how do we know?” This question came from David Campbell.

Let's look at the end result of all the pathways from Mr. Spock's perspective; He is not conditioned to favor one over the other, he is an objective person.

Each path exists (designed randomly, consciously, divinely or a combination of several elements) to contain the mess in society - robbing others belongings, invading others space, grabbing others food, hurting the loved ones, beating up others and all those acts that takes away peace of the other, which in turn takes away one's own security. The self developed laws of the civic society or the knowledge of a higher being that will reward or punish the individual will cut down most of the ills of the society.

Moses saw his society going berserk and injustices were piling up, individuals were not secure and at peace, the powerful got away with his ways and the weak ones suffered, but sitting with the idea of getting even when they get their opportunity. One cannot live in constant fear; no one is secure with those attitudes and actions. Jesus saw how the religion was turned into business without justness, Mohammad saw the corruptness that was eating away the peace of the society and Krishna said whenever there is "unrighteousness" in a given society, he will appear as one of them and bring some sense and righteousness back into practice. Buddha saw the misery and sufferings of humans and he set out on research to find the causes and solutions for it. Guru Nanak saw the difference between two groups of people creating tension and he came with his own divinely inspired formula. I hope you can see where it is going, you will find that every spiritual master's sole purpose was to bring justice, peace and security to the society. Isn't each path valid?

If Jesus, Mohammad, Krishna and every spiritual master had multi-media and the monopolized TV at their disposal, the probably would have reached to one and all. However it probably would not have worked, as the nature is intentionally diverse in its make up. Aramaic, Arabic, Sanskrit, Latin, Hebrew, Mayan or Pali would not have been understood by one and all, the education system was not in place for such a reach. The clothing, food or culture would have been different for others to relate with them, the way each one worshipped would have been difficult. It needed time to see another point of view.

The second most evil (that which messes the justice and balance) in the world emanates from Arrogance, as people forgot the essence of each faith and focused on the outward identifications, the rituals of that religion were de-linked from the essence. The insecure men always found a false sense of security in dividing people and creating classes of good, bad and ugly to suit their deranged emotional needs and started frightening the masses that you are either with us or face the extinction with our brute force or frightening people with terror and massive deaths. These are the people who lost the religion; we need a Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha or a Krishna to come back and re-orient us with the essence of religion; that is to bring justice and balance with humility and not affiliations and grouping with arrogance.

It is not the path, but it is the outcome of that path we need to focus on. When Jesus said follow me, Allah says submit to my will or Krishna says surrender to me, our focus ought not to be the words, rather what becoming those words mean to one. Peace.

Continued from: http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2008/09/pluralism-conversation-ghouse-campbell.html

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker and a Writer. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He is the founding president of World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website www.MikeGhouse.net. Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town. He can be reached at MikeGhouse@gmail.com

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pluralism conversation - Ghouse-Campbell

A Converssation on Pluralism

Between Mike Ghouse & David Campbell


Mike,

I hope you had a great weekend and I hope you and your family was safe from the Hurricane and devestation along the Texas coast. I want to say thank you for the kind wishes and comments on my facebook. Not sure yet what I think of facebook whether it is a useful tool to stay connected to people or a time waster. I guess time will tell.

I had a couple of questions I was pondering and thought I would ask your perspective. These questions are more from a pluralistic perspective vs. an Islamic perspective. As you know I am not a pluralist, but it certainly does help in understanding where others are coming from. So if you will further indulge me, I would appreciate it.

1) I am assuming that a Pluralist holds that there are many paths to God. Is that correct?

2) Can you be a pluralist and believe in one True God. Or better stated, that there is only one God? From my understanding a pluralist would believe that there would be many paths to that one God. Is that a correct understanding?

3) As a pluralist, is ther any room for absolutes? For instance, is there any room to say that there is something always true regardless of time and other factors? Can something be universally true?

Just curious,

David Campbell

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David,

Thanks for the email, here are the responses for your questions

1) I am assuming that a Pluralist holds that there are many paths to God. Is that correct?
Yes, each path is divine to the believer

2) Can you be a pluralist and believe in one True God. Or better stated, that there is only one God? From my understanding a pluralist would believe that there would be many paths to that one God. Is that a correct understanding?

David, Pluralism is an attitude of accepting other forms and other beliefs, as one accepts his or her own. The ultimate source of all cause and creation is one - the term "True God" bothers me, as though there is a false God. You are right, a pluralist Muslim, a pluralist Jews, a Pluralist Christian would honor other ways of worshipping the creator, and will not be arrogant to believe his is the only way.

3) As a pluralist, is there any room for absolutes? For instance, is there any room to say that there is something always true regardless of time and other factors? Can something be universally true?

Yes matter is universally true, there is a room for absolutes as much as there is a room for abstracts. However abstracts and beliefs are one's perspectives that work for the believer.

The natural tendency of anything life or matter is to seek balance. All religions consciously, divinely, mysteriously or deliberately are designed for that to bring a balance to the individual and balance with what surrounds him/her - life and matter. To believe one is superior or true is denying the other his or her right to believe and living with imbalance.

Hope this answers some of your questions

Mike Ghouse

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Mike

Yes they do answer my questions, but perhaps raise others in their place. I, on the other hand am bothered if there is not a 'false god.' It would be of grave concern to me if I was worshipping 'a figment of my imagination.' If there was not a God who created all that exists and sustains that creation, I would kind of feel left adrift. If my goal is not offend another's beliefs then I have no problem with pluralism as a whole. But my goal is to worship and follow the God who does exist. If He does exist, then how does the creature have the right to tell the Creator what is and is not fair?

I guess I have a problem with being left to me being the one who choses what is right for me or not. Where does one determine that it is ok to determine what works best for one's self? That sounds really good until you factor in the fact that there is a God who created the world. There is a universe that operates with a preciseness and exactness yet holds tremendous mystery. Just like in order for me to EXIST there has to be the possibility that I can NOT exist. Likewise with God if He exists then there is the possibility that He NOT exist. Therefore there can be a True God and by contrast a False God--or more plainly a non-god (a god that does not exist).

So if there is a True God and also a god(s) that does not exist, would it not be possible to worship that which does not exist?

oh BTW, I think I have stated it but incase I did not. I am not really interested in telling another they are wrong or right or whatever, I believe that is left to God who makes that judgement. I am just curious how one operates in pluralism and how it affects the rest of life. As a Christian I cannot reason a person to God, it is God who makes that determination and it is God who woos a person to Himself. As a Christian I am to relfect His nature, His Character, and speak the truth in love, and proclaim his excellencies--the rest is up to Him. As I have said before, all men and women were created in the image of God and therefore by that fact alone are afforded the benefits of mutual dignity and respect. I believe that He gives purpose and He gives life and that apart from Him one cannot truly have life.

David Campbell

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David,
Worshipping is a ritual embedded in religion. Feeling the presence of a higher power and understanding that every thing finds its own balance is spiritual. It is the freedom you feel when you feel you have a grasp of the nature and takes away your fears, even though you do not have complete answers to your fears and doubts.


The problem with most of us is giving a shape, a body, a physical presence to this “higher power”. Higher in this context is something that is beyond our understanding and has been around before we were aware of our existence and will continue to exist when we are gone.
If you see this power labeled as God in some comprehensible form, then you would be worshipping the figment of your imagination. Every religion emanates from the same fountain of wisdom, but I do know that Hindu, Jewish and Islamic scriptures do not give a form, shape, color, time or any sense of a being to that power. However, some people are pre-disposed to imagining “that power” in our own image, as the Bible points that God created us in his own image.


God does not have to be anything; God can be viewed as the energy that causes everything to be in place, sustain it and bring about a balance.


Prayers are an expression of gratitude to such a thing; they are legitimate sentiments and produce a balance in you, as much as repentance and forgiveness lifts you up.
The act of ‘balancing it out’ is your own, as there are 7 billion other acts performed simultaneously. Feel confident that you are in balance, free from hate, jealousy, anger, and ill-will and loaded with goodwill, charity and kindness towards other. This is what every religion does to us, each way is legitimate and none is wrong.


Let me take a step further, the animist, Wiccan, the pagans and others are as right as the Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahai’s, Sikhs or any one is. It is arrogant of us to believe that they worship false God; it is not to them, even if you consider that they worship an idol. The act of worship is a self balancing act. Each one of the system does the same to allay human confusion and give hope and sense of security that everything is going to be alright.
Please ponder over this. No one has to be wrong for you or me to be right. We are wrong only when we deflect that balance; rob from others what is legitimately theirs, forcibly taking others space, grabbing others food and hurting the loved ones. Again, God is about balance in life and it can hit your imagination the way you are conditioned.


I reiterate that my path, Islam is a familiar path to me to keep my balance and it works for me, as your path works for you. Neither is superior or inferior, it is just a different faith bud.
Mike Ghouse

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Center for Interfaith Inquiry


At a time in human history where extremism seeks to reign and divide us, it is paramount for the intellectual and spiritual world to meet together to devote time and energy to learning about shared religious values that promote peaceful coexistence. The Center exists to foster the shared human values that unite us, not divide us. Continued

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