Thursday, November 20, 2008

Interfaith Dialogue - A Vedic Hindu -Tamil episode

19 November 2008

In 2004 i met Jasmin Nordien, a friend from South Africa, a peace builder, a compassionate human, spiritually evolved person, also a Kroc Alumni, introduced herself thus:

"My work is an expression of my spirituality." That is the key that she brought for me from South Africa. Since then the concept began to take roots in me. She had cautioned about the inner work that is required, the healing that is required, the justice that needs to be experienced, the need to be in touch with realities of past, present and future and take sufficient risks to bring about change within and around.

Che and I began talking about this as our starting point of the journey we were about to take. Working on papers, doing writing and all that comes with that was far from what we could do. I knew Che since 2000. He had accompanied Jubita (another women scholar-practitioner also from Manipur) to a peace workshop. He ended up becoming one of the most active participant/resource person in the workshop on Inter-group conflicts. But after my interaction with Jasmin in 2004, my relationship with Che deepened spiritually. I found in him someone i can trust, confide, and a willing companion on a spiritual journey that can be deemed inter-faith. Che was most familiar and insightful on the wisdom one could gain from Vedic-Hindu spiritual texts, Shiva and Vaishnava aspects of later day Hinduism, the indigenous spiritual traditions such as Maibi culture among Meitei, as well deeper understandings of richness of other religions and insights he had gained from friendships with people of different paths.

"Perspectives", "Insights", " - in Action" were some of the key conceptual and practice work that Che was much interested in. We both agreed to adopt the most preferred approach in this inter-faith journey. It had to help us practically. It is something that we must do and then analyze. We had gained sufficient real friendship and brotherhood that we could carry on the quest for over 3 years. We met over 10 times sometimes in Hyderabad, mostly in Manipur. We had also taken some pilgrimages together, each with ones one belief, plus nourished by insights gained from sharing and listening to the other. We had common interest in Shiva. So we journeyed to sites where ancient temples across India. Sometimes the journeys would be seperate but we would always bring it up for sharing every time we met. He was most interested in talking about Atma Lingas.

He was also interested in knowing about the Thamizh/Tamil spirituality related to Shiva and Muruga representations of God. He was also very keen in listening to a subject that I began to explore more after my interactions with him. I later figured out that i began to get more thirsty and more often thirsty to drink from the spiritual rivers that were flowing in this part of the world. Each time we met it was like bringing to a friend some gifts one was able to dig out from a culture one is familiar with and has some experience/practice in. Among the insights he shared was " - in action" concept. "-" would be somethings like - Love, Compassion, Wisdom, Justice, Non-Judgmentality, Observer, Yearning, Freedom etc.

So the path he had walked made him realize that unless an "action" was applied to a concept, it was fruitless endeavor. This was the key he provided to the journey that i began into collecting wisdom from Tamil sources. The Siddhar tradition of Tamil land had firmly believed that "Justice" was the concept associated with the Third-Eye of Shiva, the other two being Devotion and Wisdom. It was because of this that legend has it that when Shiva/Sivan opens his third eye - injustice is punished, burning to ashes those who have walked the unjust path for too long, making many others suffer under their tyranny or due to their wayward indulgences. The practice of Devotion, Wisdom and Justice is what we both agreed to do. And we decided to practice these using our Freedom, Liberty and Creativity. Let me explain the Creative part. We both felt that we can do mediocre, average and get along or opt to do intensive, in-depth work and get-ahead, not of others, but ourselves. It is we who have to create an Opportunity out of daily work life.

Deeper level dialogue would include sharing what one has discovered about Self, as a result of applying the wisdom we found in Jasmin's words - "My work is an expression of my spirituality". Che and i found that since both of us were self-proclaimed workaholics, the best option was to consider our work as the area in which we would practice our spirituality, that way would get close to 8-10 hours of practice. We were clear that there would be a significant chunck of time during working that we may not be aware or conscious about the journey we had set out on, and that insights may be gained also through hindsight that comes upon rest or reflection amd that there may be abundant times to be consciously applying "- in action" process in day to day work. In doing this, I began working with my team of peace builders with whom i work month after month - openly sharing that the concept shared by Jasmin and Che would be the standard or norm by which i would like to function while working.

So sometimes it would be "compassion in action", "empathy in action", "fairness in action" "loyalty in action", "participation in action", "visioning in action", strategic in action", "observation in action", "understanding in action", "guiding in action", "facilitation in action", "reaching-out in action", "listening in action", "embracing in action", "introspection in action", "healing in action", "non-judgmentality in action", "respect in action", perspective-sharing in action", "capacity-building in action" etc. My practitioner-scholar approach got strengthened through this process. Che's later artistic works too, began to offer great insights, perspectives, standpoints, illustrations, illuminations, on justice, peace, freedom, life and connections between life forms, connection between human and God, connection between life and Earth, and the complexities that have come about.

We would also talk about how difficult it is to take some values seriously and struggles we face in walking the paths we chose to walk. It was like a walk in to the world. The turning inward process helped us both to see that what was out in the world is within us as well. All the glory and all the filth, the treasures and the trash. In walking this path we had to literally be aware of the mind and body most of the work time and live as much as possible by a code that we called "When in doubt, Do the Right thing".

We did acknowledge that there were times when there was no doubting. Certainty also leads us to make errors and misjudgments, we agreed. We had to face out inner Mara, the character Buddha describes as the one that offered allurements, seductions, power, empire and wealth to make Buddha give up the path towards Enlightenment. These were not abstract concepts to either of us and we were able to see in small dosages the practical and real challenges one faces if one decides to act their spirituality out. It can be a very threatening experience to confront the inner and it might take a lot of energy to process, sort, and trash, as well as require lots of courage and risk to integrate spiritual insights into work area, especially a work that involves co-creating a saner, fairer, peaceful and just society.

The more we talked and listened, we felt we were moving towards a river that nourishes and fills our souls. But we also felt that the fortress has pores and the nourishment sometimes drains away, leaving the soul vulnerable. But each time we shared we felt that we were emboldening the other to continue to walk the path and continue to be of support to each other. "Man this path is not a easy one", was often the opening remark when we met. "And how rich it is, when it happens", would invariably be the next remark.

Che lived well and died early. But he remains one of the sparks that ignited something in me, as i walk the inter-faith dialogue/relations path. I am almost tempted to say this, "With friends like Che and Jasmin, who needs Gurus."