I am sitting in my hotel room watching Sunday's football highlights [thank you, God, for ESPN in Australia], and I just heard Drew Brees say, "I believe in karma--what goes around comes around; maybe now it's our turn." Funny.
Before I get into my day, I want to make sure to thank John Spangler, who, while he was helping me with fonts and things via email, made the mistake of saying that if I had "a picture or two" that I wanted to post, I could send it to him and he would post it for me. Well, that was all the camel needed to get her nose under the tent [as my grandmother used to say--what a great image!]--and since then, I have emailed John multiple pictures & he has dutifully posted every one. So, if you have appreciated the pictures, thank Pastor Spangler!!
I think that one of the most common perceptions of Buddhism in the West is that it is a thorough-going non-violent religion. Many people, I think, who become enamored of Buddhism do so because, unlike Islam or Christianity, for example, Buddhism does not seem to have periods of violence in its history. Certainly, there is a large measure of truth in that statement, but I heard a presentation today that persuasively challenged that conventional wisdom. The presentation was on "Religious Conflict and Persecution: The Cases of Myanmar, Thailand and Iran." It was the first speaker, Dr. Helen James, who spoke about Myanmar and Thailand, arguing that Buddhism is the de facto state religion in both countries; and that, contrary to the perception in the West, both governments are oppressive, both governments use Buddhism to legitimize their own ends, and historically, Buddhists in both countries have been associated with violence, particularly against the minority Muslim populations--either directly or indirectly.
One of the really enlightening, enjoyable things about this Parliament is the way it has created space for people to dialogue on both sides of religious issues--and mostly, I am happy to say, this has been done very politely, even if intently. This happened in the Q & A time this morning, when a man from Iran stood up to challenge Dr. Mobini-Kesheh, arguing, first, that Bahá'í is not a real religion, because Bahá'u'lláh was not a genuine prophet [That is very interesting in and of itself, right? Who gets to say whether a religion is genuine or not?]; and second, Bahá'ís simply have not experienced oppression in Iran--those claims are false. This raises the issue of whose testimony is trustworthy, and whose stories get to be told. He questioned her respectfully, and she answered respectfully.
By the way, if you don't know what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is, you should. [It has been referred to here more times than I can count.] It was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948, and among the many relevant articles for people of faith working for peace and justice in the world, Article 18 is of particular importance. It reads, "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
I ended my day, as has become my custom, with an Indian artistic performance, again rooted in the worship of Hindu deities. Today, it was two different performances: the first was an ensemble that featured the classical vocalist Manjiri Kelkar, her harmonium player, Suyog Kundalkar [who was introduced as "the best harmonium player in India], and her tabla player, Milind Hingane. She sang sacred music from north India. This is a picture of the trio, and another picture of me and Mr. Kundalkar. The second was the flautist Dr. Natesan Ramani, his son, the flautist Thiagarajan, and the mridangam player, Ramadas. They played Carnatac music, which comes from south India. Both performances were gorgeous--extraordinarily skillful and technical, very different from anything you hear in the West.
Kristin Johnston Largen