Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, October 15-19, 2015
Join others from our region who will attend the 2015 Parliament of World Religions at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, UT, October 15-19, 2015. Register before March 31 and receive a 40% discount, plus Parliament rates at nearby hotels. 10,000 people from 80 nations and 50 faiths are expected to participate. Nobel Laureates, religious leaders, master trainers and activists will share their expertise in panels, workshops, and plenaries on these issues. You also will be able to access training in dialogue, interfaith activism, fundraising, and organizing. There will be world-class sacred music, films, exhibits and performances, and an enormous market where ethnic, international, and religious books and objects will be available. For more invitation, visit http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/index.cfm?n=35&sn=1.
(Photo) Vimala Bhikkhuni, left, and Tyler Lewke pose for a photo in the Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple, 221 Dean Street, in Woodstock Ill., on Sept. 2. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)
John Keilman (Chicago Tribune)
At first glance, the basement gathering in downtown Woodstock seemed just like one of the 12-step meetings that take place thousands of times a day across America. Ten people dealing with alcoholism, drug addiction and other issues sat on stackable chairs and talked about how they were trying to keep their lives together.
But when the participants closed their eyes to meditate, it was clear that this was something different.
"Imagine covering the world with … positive thoughts," said Bhikkhuni Vimala, a Buddhist nun wrapped in the maroon robe of Woodstock's Blue Lotus Temple. "Send compassion to north and south, east and west. Radiate an open heart and fearless mind to all beings in existence — those above and below, the seen and the unseen, those being born and those dying."
Such astral contemplations are the hallmark of Refuge Recovery, a self-help program that uses Buddhist teachings to guide adherents toward sobriety. It's one of several recovery movements undergirded by the philosophy, and some who have tried it say it has helped in ways traditional programs have not.
"I had worked all the 12 steps and felt like I had all these pieces to the puzzle, but some pieces were missing and I didn't know where they were," said a 31-year-old attendee named Matt, who has struggled with heroin and other addictions. "For me, meditation and being able to learn about other religions has brought me to a greater understanding of spirituality and made me a better person."
The classic 12-step model of sobriety, in which addiction is banished by a spiritual awakening, was introduced in the 1930s, but in recent years it has been subjected to steady criticism. A psychiatrist concluded that no more than 8 percent of people who try the program maintain their sobriety for longer than one year, while a comparative analysis of treatment programs found that Alcoholics Anonymous was only the 38th most effective method for people with drinking problems.
A hunger for alternatives has led to new approaches such as SMART Recovery, which aims to use rational thinking instead of a higher power to conquer substance abuse. Buddhist philosophy keeps the spirituality but takes it in a different direction.
"Feeding an addiction is like scratching an itch," said Peter McLaughlin, who for several years has led a group called Heart of Recovery at Chicago's Shambhala Meditation Center. "The practice of meditation might slow us down enough that we actually don't need to do that. We see it, we experience it, we feel the pain of the wound, but we don't immediately start scratching away at it."
Stephen Asma, a philosophy professor at Columbia College and the author of "Buddha for Beginners," said addiction treatment is a natural extension of Buddhism.
"Other religions and philosophies are worried about how the universe began, and whether we have an immortal soul, but Buddha said we should forget about that stuff and learn to control our desires through meditation," he said. "The use of Buddhism to treat addiction is an old tradition in the sense that everyone is a potential addict according to Buddha — because craving is the natural human default psychology."
Meditation techniques separated from the context of Buddhism are catching on, too. Researchers have looked at a practice called "mindfulness meditation" — in which people focus without judgment on their thoughts and emotions — and concluded that it can be an effective way to prevent relapse.
"It's awareness and also building our tolerance for things that are uncomfortable," said Neha Chawla, a psychologist who founded the Seattle Mindfulness Center. "That gets to the heart of it, especially the self-medication part. You learn to recognize when there is discomfort so you're not jumping to fix it or reacting automatically."
Refuge Recovery is a relatively new program, created seven years ago by Noah Levine, a Buddhist teacher and author from California who was unfulfilled by what he regarded as the 12 steps' Judeo-Christian slant. Levine said he does not see Refuge Recovery as a challenger to 12-step meetings — many participate in both programs — but rather an approach for people looking for another path.
"The Buddha himself was almost like a psychologist," Levine said. "His own understanding was that suffering is the repetitive craving for pleasure, and that is the cause of all human unhappiness. This craving is what people who are addicted experience in a very heightened way. The challenge is to figure out a way to relate to pleasure with a nonattached attitude."
His program aims to cultivate that attitude through meditation, which takes up a portion of each Refuge Recovery meeting. At the recent Woodstock meeting, Bhikkhuni Vimala read one dealing with compassion, directing the participants to close their eyes, relax, focus on their breathing and ponder three phrases:
May I learn to care about suffering and confusion.
May I respond with mercy and empathy to pain.
May I be filled with compassion.
That led to a discussion about building compassion for oneself as well as for others, and about how people can practice that in their own lives. Bhikkhuni, a Texas native known as Judy Franklin until she was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 2007, said such insights are what make Buddhism a natural fit with recovery programs.
"Addiction is a suffering; it's something we create ourselves because our desire for something is stronger than our ability to relinquish it," said Bhikkhuni, who has used Refuge Recovery to help with her own issues of overeating. "Letting go of those attachments that become suffering — that's what we're always working with."
Though Woodstock appears to have Illinois' only Refuge Recovery meeting, two regulars hope to start another soon in Des Plaines. Meanwhile, some say its techniques are starting to bleed over into more traditional programs.
"I'm very active in the 12-step world, and I hear very regularly about meditation," said Tyler Lewke, who co-founded the Woodstock program. "I did not hear that 10 years ago. Back then, hard-core prayer was part of the package. ... I'm overwhelmed by how much I'm hearing now about mindfulness and meditation as part of people's program of recovery."
Global Citizenship Immersion:
Building Skills and Knowledge for a Diverse World
Each year, the Brian and Jean Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue invites high school students to a week-long summer workshop at Nazareth College to explore world religions and interfaith dialogue.
The Next Generation: Living Together in a Multi-Religious Society, Youth Interfaith Encounter program includes seminars, interactive workshop sessions, group discussions, site visits to local places of worship, and a community service element.
When: August 10-14, 2015 ( both days included)
Where: Golisano Academic Center at Nazareth College, Rochester, New York
These seminars include lectures by experts from Nazareth College faculty and community leaders on different aspects of a variety of world religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. These events allow students an opportunity to expand the depth of their understanding of these religious traditions, learning from an insider’s perspective and having the opportunity to directly engage our speakers and ask the questions that most intrigue them.
Workshop sessions address skill-building needs and instruct students in the proper language and methods of dialogue. Interfaith leaders in the community provide models for respectful engagement of those outside one’s own tradition, and the ways in which such contact can enrich communities and foster greater peace and cooperation. Guiding principles for interfaith dialogue are shared, as well as sessions on conflict transformation and resolution. After this instruction, students are put into groups formed with an eye toward diversity in order to experience interfaith dialogue firsthand, thoughtfully reflecting upon and discussing their own experiences of faith, intolerance, and acceptance in today’s pluralistic world.
Visits to local centers of worship allow students to see these religious traditions as they are lived. A member of that tradition guides the group through an exploration of the site, providing explanations for the structure of the building, the symbols used, and the way in which religious services are conducted. In this way, learning goes beyond the classroom, providing the unique opportunity of an inside look at the sacred spaces of these religions.
Carrying forward the themes of interfaith cooperation in the community, participants spend one afternoon of the program engaging in a group community service activity. Previously, students have visited Mary’s Place Outreach, a refugee outreach center in Rochester, New York. Students worked in the gardens, helped prepare and serve a community meal, and organized play activities and games for the refugee children. This is a hands-on experience of people working together with those in need across faith boundaries to better our shared world.
For more information, please visit https://www2.naz.edu/interfaith/programs/workshops-training/next-generation/
'Yoni Ki Baat' ("Talks of the Vagina" in Sanskrit) is a play loosely inspired by "The Vagina Monologues". Hindu educator Promila Kumar seeks to heighten the awareness of the South Asian community by sharing stories that are considered "taboo" in South Asian culture. They includes struggles and truths of growing up as a South Asian woman, but also topics that are rarely talked about in South Asian culture. This play will bring you to tears and laughter as you witness personal stories come to life. Ms. Kumar says that "some are just funny things that South Asian women go through, but some relate to issues seen within our community..." Tickets will go on sale August 1 (see https://www.facebook.com/events/496690197151857/).
The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago will host a "Prayers for Peace" service in Daley Plaza on July 31st, 2015 from Noon to 1:00 pm. With so much violence and tragedy in our world, this service will be an opportunity for people of all faith communities to come together and offer up prayers for greater peace and love in our world. The program will include Prayers for Peace from our many religious traditions.
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, July 19-22, 2015
Restoring Spirit Through Sacred Listening
Join FaithBridge members who will travel to Regina, Canada, July 19-22, 2015, to participate in a conference - called a Connect - that brings together people of faith and non-faith, members of religious communities, academics, teachers, students, people who work in social development, health care professionals, people from the volunteer sector, and other members of the local community and from across Canada, the United States, and Mexico who are interested in social justice issues and cultural awareness. Hear from people on issues of local, national, and international importance with the goal of restoring spirit through sacred listening. Members of Regina Multifaith Forum, First Nations University of Canada, Multifaith Saskatchewan, Luther College, Campion College, the University of Regina, and the Cultural, Community, and Diversity Unit of the Regina Police Service have come together to organize an extraordinary event. For more information and to register, visit https://www.luthercollege.edu/university/alumni-friends/events/north-american-interfaith-network-nain-2015.
By Parliament Staff
The Parliament of the World’s Religions stands in awe over the collaborations of faith communities in helping the people of Nepal. Our prayers are with the nation now and always.
In the aftermath of the devastating April 25th, 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, faith communities are stepping up to coordinate relief efforts. Stories emerging on the first days of recovery illustrate the possibility of human compassion on a mass scale.
Nepalese member of the Parliament’s Ambassador program, Dadhiram Khanal, reports by e-mail that his community is safe after one week without electricity. Over the past few days, Khanal and his family have been collecting relief funds through Alliance for Peace, Education and Development (APED) around the country and elsewhere.
News of faith communities uniting demonstrate how widespread the service of religion can be in times of disaster; Kathamandu’s Buddhist nuns are gaining international attention for employing ‘kung-fu’ to salvage monastic grounds, while Vatican Radio reports that Nepal’s religions are “united for earthquake victims” and exemplifying interfaith values:
The Venerable Renchen, representative of the Buddhist community, and Manohar Prasad Sah of the Hindu community said: ‘We are doing our best, and when religions come together they can meet the basic needs of the people. Solidarity, peace and charity are concepts shared by all.
Love and Assistance Pours in from Global Faith Neighbors
Providing meals to those unable to secure food and water continues pose a significant challenge. To aid earthquake victims, Sikh leaders from The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India are distributing one hundred thousand food packets. Taiwan’s Buddhist leaders have donated food, blankets, and other items to those displaced by the disaster. Meanwhile, Singapore masjids are collecting money to send to Nepal and Iran’s Red Crescent Society is sending 40 tons of relief supplies including tents, blankets, dishware, and moquette to the region. Lutheran World Relief,Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Catholic Relief Services, and Gospel for Asia have sent volunteers to assist crews on the ground in Nepal while World Jewish Relief has announced an emergency appeal campaign for survivors.
The United States government has already pledged $10 million in relief. Nonprofit organizations like Save the Children, The American Red Cross, and others continue their appeal for more donations to send to the region.
At this stage of response, workers of municipal agencies are attempting to recover as many ancient sacred artifacts as possible from the rubble of leveled temples and World Heritage sites in the region, NPR reports.
The disaster is garnering global support, with both faith-based and secular organizations making major strides in providing aid for survivors. The outpouring of monetary donations, relief supplies, and on-the-ground rescue volunteers demonstrates the compassion embedded in all faiths. These efforts represent only the initial steps in providing necessary relief to Nepalese communities, giving a glimpse at what the coming months will hold as the nation moves forward in rebuilding after the tragedy.
Parliament Communications Staff Nafia Khan contributed to this article.
This year's MLK prayer breakfast will include the winners of the Faithbridge essay contest, music and prayers from a variety of traditions, a delicious vegetarian breakfast buffet, conversation with our neighbors of all faiths, and a keynote speech by Ernest Brooks III, on the topic "Trouble in the WorldHouse: Progressive Responses to Persistent Problems."
Tickets are $20 and are available at many area faith communities, by emailing Faithbridge, or online via Paypal by clicking the link below.
Approximately 160 people attended the Sixth Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Prayer Breakfast sponsored by FaithBridge, a consortium of faith communities in the northwestern collar counties of greater Chicago. Rev. Ernest A. Brooks, III gave the keynote address, Trouble in the World House: Progressive Responses to Persistent Problems. View The Northwest Herald's article, video and photo gallery at: