On the 22nd of this month there will be an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Saint James Roman Catholic Church in Chatham, NY. The local sangha is encouraged to attend. As an interfaith service this is very important because it brings together faith communities from the area that otherwise would not meet. We come together as one community from different sectors in a sense of collective gratitude. This annual event has been occurring for over 20 years.
Interfaith activities have become increasingly important in the world over the last 40 plus years. As you may know, following some of the weekly gathering discussions Tendai Buddhism has been involved in interfaith for quite a few years. One might even say that the Tiantai (Tendai) philosophy lends itself to interfaith collaboration.
I belong to and serve on the boards of interfaith organizations, The interfaith Alliance of Upstate New York, The Sidney and Beatrice Albert Interfaith Lectureship Board at the College of St. Rose in Albany, Religions for Peace USA, The Chatham Area Interfaith Council, the Interfaith Antiracism Forum, Rivers & Mountains GreenFaith Circle (John Seakwood is our representative), New York Interfaith Power and Light, and several others. By my active participation in these organizations the sangha becomes a participant, the sangha’s voice is represented and heard. The leaders in these organization are not all clergy; many are lay members who are asked by the clergy to represent their congregations.
Why is this important? Each interfaith group has a different focus and different sets of activities. There are times when the interests of each overlap and they band together in common cause. Gone are the days of interfaith as people getting together to contrast and compare one religion to another. Gone are the groups that gather to make themselves feel virtuous for their diversity and participate in tea and sympathy.
Of great importance is that each of us learns from the other, we celebrate our humanness and offer support, and friendship that can only be achieved by an honest sharing. By coming together, we can have a greater impact in promoting good over evil, light over darkness. Together we are a community of Compassion and Wisdom.
Some of the groups above are involved in social justice issues, advocating for the marginalized and righting wrongs, some in educating the broader community on important issues, others are very focused on specific issues such as the environment or racism, others in providing services to those less fortunate, Then, there is the banding together when one group or another becomes the subject of antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Asian hate, etc. When people, diverse and of different religions comes together in common cause against hatred and lies it is a powerful antidote to the discord that is perpetrated often in the name of a religion.
Religions are a facet of the larger society, more or less a central element. In the past, as we see now, religions are therefore used (or abused) by political players for the purpose of unwholesome desires and hatred. This is manipulation by those who are blinded by their own willful ignorance, unwarranted fears, and desire for power. Do not judge religion writ large by these cases.
Not all religious organizations participate in interfaith activities, in fact, some are adamantly opposed to such cooperation. They often believe that their truth is the only truth with a capital T. To contribute to interfaith activities there must be mutual respect and trust in others personally and in their religious principles. Additionally, we must often set aside differences we may have with another religious group to work together on issues we hold in common. That is not always easy. This requires careful, thoughtful, speech and a recognition that there are legitimate differences. If respect and real compassion is present real progress can be made.
The ability to do this may be a model of how civil society is supposed to work. We can each hold different views, discuss them, agree and disagree, and in the end recognize that the values we hold in common are greater than the differences we may have. Then we put into action those common values with purposeful, positive actions. How this is done varies from one interfaith group to the next. But it is essential.
In October I participated in a panel hosted by the national organization Interfaith Alliance. The podcast is State of Belief, titled ‘Fighting Christian Nationalism, State by State’. Here is a link to that podcast. https://stateofbelief.com/showarchive/2022/october-15-2022-fighting-christian-nationalism-state-by-state/
Tendai Buddhist Institute is now and has always followed the lead of the Tendai school on Mount Hiei, Japan, in participating in and leading interfaith activity. Please show your support by joining us on Tuesday November 22nd in gathering together, ‘United in Love and Gratitude’ at St. James Church in Chatham. If you are not a member of the local sangha, seek out and participate in similar interfaith activities in your local. Let us know what you have done and if and how it has changed your perspective. A basic tenet of Tendai Buddhism is interdependence. This is one way in which we live it.
With Love and Gassho. . . Monshin