Introduction of Participants
Conducting the Lesson
NOTE TO TEACHER/ DIALOGUE LEADER:
Each lesson plan contains the transcript of the video. The transcript is intended to assist teachers/leaders to revise with students what they have seen and heard and to identify those parts of the Forum discussion that are relevant to suggested discussion questions. A colour system is employed, to match sections of the transcript to the questions asked.
Lesson 1 – Leaders’ guide.
Allow participants to introduce themselves and say what interest they have in religion/ what role religion plays in their lives.
Discussion (prior to viewing): Do religious people have something in common, regardless of the particular religion they follow? What makes a person ‘religious’? Is that the same as ‘spiritual’? Are religious people different? If so, does religion make them different or did ‘being different’ attract them to religion? Is there such a thing as a ‘spiritual personality’ with which some people are born, or into which a person is transformed in a moment of crisis, or can individuals cultivate spirituality within themselves?
Note the various points of view on the board and ask participants to see if their preconceptions are supported as the members of the Hermes Forum introduce themselves.
Before playing the video, ask participants to watch closely, so that in addition to seeing responses to their ideas from the preceding discussion, they can also note the concerns that Forum participants express – what is foremost on each of their minds as they begin their meeting.
After viewing, list the concerns:
1. Can religious people find a common language (with each other)?
2. The difficulties for women in the religious world
3. The conflict between the world of the university (academic/ intellectual/ disinterested) and the religious way of thinking. Bridging the intellectual and the spiritual
4. Good and evil
5. Healing the world
6. Understanding the world
7. Becoming a better person
8. Facing the current crises – economic and social
9. Finding alternatives to violence
11. Finding the sacred – finding the Divine
Text study – Brother Laurence introduced the topic ‘Poverty of the Spirit’. The source provided discusses this concept. Do you think that it can apply to each of the participants in the Forum in the way they introduced themselves? In what way?
Rabbi Dr Alon Goshen-Gottstein: This is an inter-religious conversation, where people from different religions can learn, share and be inspired. Because we are all on a spiritual path, being enclosed in our own little boxes can be detrimental to our spiritual health and if we really want to grow as religious people, each in our own tradition, we need the other to grow.
In what way do we face the world differently? And that question is a direct consequence of the implied assumption of our gathering – and that is that mysticism and spirituality do provide common ground; because they provide common ground they allow religions to develop alternative models to those of confrontation; and we have to put to the test what is still a hypothesis – namely, that mysticism makes you more tolerant, spirituality makes you more dialogical, and mysticism and spirituality will lead to a better world.
We bring together people from different disciplines and different religions, people who are religious leaders and people who are scholars, addressing some kind of a conventional language that we may be able to agree upon; and then with that common language, we ask ourselves how we are able to talk to each other better by virtue of having this common language.
Mr Simon Xavier Hermes: It is a real pleasure for me to be hosting you here. In fact, this place where you are was built with the idea that I would be able use this house for the purpose of other than just enjoyment – I do both.
I was born with faith. I’ve always had this incredible good fortune to believe that God was an essential part of my life.
I had the chance or the good fortune to have been in an accident where normally I should not be here and the miracle of this accident was that it changed my life from this to there. I was very unhappy for good reason. I arrived from intensive care, I was in my bed and I was still .. and suddenly I heard this wonderful voice that said, ‘You are damn lucky to be alive’. And it was like everything had changed and I was a new man.
Dr Piotr Sikora: I see my role as a philosopher; I see my model as Socrates, who had the ability to pose very right questions, to help people to realize what is already in their minds. I just published a book in Polish on Apophatic Christology and the main idea came from my eldest son, from one sentence he told me when he was three-years old.
Dr Haviva Pedaya: I was educated since I was a child by my grandfather, who taught me Jewish mysticism, since I was a child. He himself was the son of one of the great Jewish Kabbalists of the Twentieth Century , Rabbi Yehuda Fetaya, who wrote may commentaries about Kabbalah, about Jewish mysticism.
It was very hard for me to decide what I wanted to be; then I went to the university – since it very hard for a Jewish woman to be Orthodox, and a mystical person and a Rabbi or guide or even a leader. So that is why I found myself at last in the university, studying and teaching Jewish mysticism.
Rabbi Dr Elliot Ginsburg: So, I teach at the University of Michigan. I’m a Rabbi but came to that actually after I became an academic, in part because I could no longer deny that the spiritual was at the core of my being. I have wrestled with the relationship with being in a university, which is often ostensibly a place where one cannot easily speak of the Divine.
I wonder what it means to be a seeker, a practitioner, someone who also stands sometimes in critical relationship to the tradition of which I am heir to and I feel there are many gateways, many doors, many languages and we are in need of a multiplicity of languages.
Professor Phillip Sheldrake: I come from mixed background – 100 percent English – but religiously mixed. My father, Protestant, military, Freemason, all the classical British upper middle-class background; my mother, conservative Roman Catholic. So, that was a good start, at a time when we had to negotiate very complicated boundaries between established religion and that group which identified itself as a persecuted minority, but felt that it was the truth.
And from being a Benedictine monk, I also picked up a particular kind of approach to spirituality, through being a Jesuit, particularly its emphasis on the inter-connectedness of the spiritual and the mystical, and the Christian version of Aristotle’s practical wisdom, (phronesis), discernment, discretio – how you learn to distinguish between the forces of good and the forces of evil in the everyday world – so spirituality very much embedded in how to make sense of the practices of everyday life.
Sheikh Muhammed Isham Kabbani: There are two kinds of knowledge – (Arabic terms) ‘knowledge of papers’ and the ‘knowledge of taste’. So knowledge of taste is what you taste the water when I describe that this is nice water, so if I give you the water, then you taste. So all this that we are trying to do here is leading us from the knowledge of paper to the knowledge of taste, in order to come out with something that everyone can benefit from. In every one religion there are things that you can taste through the teachings.
Dr Hedieh Mirahmadi: In Sufism we have this ability, to have these, if you are lucky, to have these out-of-body experiences when you feel your soul and spirit leave and travel; and I hope we can have these experiences together but when you played the clarinet I immediately felt my spirit leave my body. It was an amazing experience – it was exactly what I came for.
Professor Ruben Habito: I come from the Christian, Catholic tradition and it continues to inform me and my self-understanding. But since my early 20s this encounter with the Zen tradition has also informed and transformed my life and I continue to be grateful to it. And I have been given the privilege of being appointed by my own teacher to help others in the path.
I came here with the hope of being moved in touching what touches each and every one of us here, as participants, and from there to be able to think and reflect further on what all of that means for our broken world. Our world is broken in so many ways and it hurting, it is being racked and torn in pieces, and those of us who may have that grace of touching those depths cannot but feel that also. And now the question is: that dimension that nourishes us and gives us a sense of inner joy and gratitude cannot remain there. It calls to be expressed outside ourselves and to be an instrument in healing this broken world.
Geshe Tashi Tsering: Since I was 13, I have been a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and my role is to lead Tibetan Buddhist traditions, mainly in the Western countries. When I lead classes, the people who come to the classes are mainly Westerners, not Tibetans. Spirituality and mysticism is something very interesting for me because in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition there is a strong academic study of Buddhism as well as there is the strong mysticism element – because in Tibetan Buddhism there is the practice of Vajrayana, or Tantrayana, which has a mystical element.
Swamiji Atmapriyanda: ‘Swami’ is the title given to the monks in the [Hindu] tradition. When I was in my teens, I read Ramakrishna’s one saying. Ramakrishna, as you know, was one of the latest Hindu mystics, an avatar of Rama Krishna. The statement was: ‘He is born in vain who, having given the privilege of being born a human being, does not realize God in his life’
That is something in my heart.
I was trained as a theoretical physicist because somehow I had a great fascination for different theoretical things, because I tried to find out the secrets of nature, that affected me in a profound way; but particularly, Einstein’s idea of unified field really fascinated me.
Metropolitan Nikitas Lulias: I am a Greek Orthodox clergyman, a Metropolitan which is like a Cardinal. After my studies in the United States, I went to Greece to the University of Thessalonika. I also visited Mount Athos and one time I was speaking to one of the elders about some of the studies and research I was doing about the sacramental confession and he said to me, ‘Why are you wasting your time? It is worthless knowledge. Cultivate your soul and become a pilgrim’. And those lines have puzzled me for years: trying to cultivate my soul and always trying to be a pilgrim, because all of life is a pilgrimage, and a sacred one.
And in the Orthodox tradition, we don’t actually use the terms ‘Spirituality’ and ‘Mysticism’. We do not use them as nouns because they are finite, they have an end. We use them as adjectives: ‘the spiritual journey’, ‘the mystical experience’, and trying to become a ‘spiritual’ person.
Father Laurence Freeman: Dialogue has many aspects: pilgrimage, spiritual practice, intellectual exchange and also collaboration for the good – for the common good.
And so we try to follow the spirit and go where we feel we can make some small contribution. We brought the Dalai Lama to Belfast on two occasions to show that if Buddhists and Christians can be friends, why can’t Catholics and Protestant be friends? But in other ways in Haiti, in Indonesia, in Pakistan and in Sarajevo.
I am very concerned and our community is very concerned at the moment, I think, about meeting the social, the financial and the environmental crisis we are facing at the moment, by seeing different kinds of poverty: there is material poverty and there is social poverty; but there is also another good kind of poverty, which is poverty of spirit.
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal: The spiritual dimension of what we are trying to do is coloured with the reality of the world in which we are living; and the most dominant colour of that world is red. And most of the red is spread around the Muslims today. So one of my most fundamental concerns today is with that blood that is spread around our all our lands – ironically, the lands that should be full of peace from Islam, where that nation is that very word.
And the second most abiding concern is with authenticity. What we do, what we say, what we experience, needs to be authentic if we are really serious about our lives.
Dr Anantanand Rampachan: I chose to work in a Christian institution of higher learning, something that I am often questioned about as a Hindu: why do you teach in a Lutheran institution? The reason is that this is a place that takes the study of religion seriously. This is a place where religious commitment and religious enquiry is understood and has meaning.
I have found a very hospitable place at my college, where I can be who I am, authentically. The Christian community understands the significance of religious commitment. They also respect the commitment of one who does not come from the Christian tradition
This gives me a place where I can do my work and also be enriched by my students and my colleagues.
Rabbi Daniel Kohn:
The very first revelation to our great teacher, Moses, was at a burning bush and there is a very  touching story. It says that Moses was walking in the desert, tending the flock. There was a bush that was burning and he saw the bush. And then it says ‘and he turned aside to see it’.
And you look at that and you say, ‘It already said that he saw it, so why tell me that he turned aside?’
And it says that ‘And God saw that he had turned aside’; and only after that God speaks to him.
I love that – the narrative in the middle is really what life is. The narrative in the middle is turning aside, stepping off being sensitive to emotion that pushes us away from where we are.
And then looking to see something on fire that is forever changing and forever revealing itself
Ms Therese Andrevon: Coming from a Protestant family, through the Catholic Church, and then embracing the tradition of Judaism. So I see my life like a stream: with a stream you have a source and the water runs in the same path, but the landscape can change and you continue to the goal.
I have a studied a Master of Theology; before that I have a Master of Social Work and after, a Master of Ecumenical Theology. So for me it was an opportunity to open myself to the unity of Church, and the others in the Church and others’ traditions, and also Judaism. And now I am writing a Doctorate about the relationships between Christianity and Judaism.
Rabbi Dr Alon Goshen-Gottstein: As my work has broadened from purely Jewish intellectual and spiritual involvement to interreligious work; where there again, I have always, because of what drives me deep down inside, which is my own spiritual life, attempted to not just engage in interreligious work by way of political or diplomatic work, or even peace work, which is noble and obviously informs my interests as well, but to also ask the bigger question: which is, where does this drive us spiritually? What is the testimony that we can learn and receive from each other? And in the same way that I have been impacted and inspired spiritually by encounter with members of all religious traditions, how can I take the experience that I have had, make it a model for others, create platforms from it, create multiplication effects? So that [we can build] what I know in my own life, as far as the possibility goes for bridging the intellectual and spiritual.