Wisdom Newsletter January 2022

Tributes to Great Religious Leaders and Thinkers
  1. Thich Nhat Hanh Remembrance
  2. Yahya Cholil Staquf continues the work of Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur)
  3. Passing of Sikh Scholar, Rahuldeep Singh Gill
  4. Praying Together in Jerusalem
Thich Nhat Hanh Remembrance
Source: Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation

This past week, the world lost one of the great religious leaders of our time. Professor Sallie King remembers a man who brought mindfulness and engaged Buddhism to the West.

Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022) was a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master, poet, prolific author and peacemaker. With his death, the Buddhist world has lost one of its most important and influential global leaders. However, with the over 100 books he wrote, translated into 40 languages, and the energetic new Buddhist monastic and lay community he founded, the Order of Interbeing (Tiep Hien), his influence certainly lives on.

Thay, meaning “teacher,” as he was affectionately called, first came to be known for his advocacy of socially and politically activist Engaged Buddhism during the war in Vietnam. He founded the School of Youth for Social Service, which trained young people to go into the villages of the war-torn countryside, helping the poor, the injured and orphans. More than any other, he voiced the position of the Vietnamese Buddhist community that they were not on the side of the North, nor on the side of the South, but only on the side of life. To him, there was no enemy. After the war he worked extensively in the healing of the psychological and spiritual wounds of the veterans of all sides. He wrote his most famous poem, “Please Call Me By My True Names,” in response to the plight of the Vietnamese “boat people” fleeing Vietnam after the war. It articulates a perspective based in compassion and awareness of the inter-connectedness of all things, which he called interbeing. In this perspective, as in Gandhi, one condemns the deed that causes suffering, but not the doer of the deed. Thay’s social and political activism was an expression of his spirituality; indeed, they were two sides of a single coin. He especially advocated the view that peacemakers need to “be peace” in order to make peace.

Thay also was tremendously influential through his advocacy of mindfulness, i.e., non-judgmental, non-reactive awareness of the present moment in the present moment. He often pointed out that many of us spend little time in the present moment, as we often live mentally in the past and the future, yet the present moment is the only thing that is real. If we live more and more out of mindfulness, he said, not only may we be happier and free of stress, but we will also be able to see reality as it is, and perhaps to touch reality in its profoundest depths. In this way, he brought forward a spirituality that is ecumenical and non-dogmatic, based in experience, and available to people of any background, and he offered simple, accessible practices, such as walking meditation, to nurture that spirituality. He will be sorely missed.
Sallie King has written an essay on Thich Nhat Hahn as an interreligious hero, in the recently published "Interreligious Heroes: Role Models and Spiritual Exemplars for Interfaith Practice". (As you can see, Thich Nhat Hahn is featured on the book's cover). 
King's essay, along with those of 40 other scholars and leaders, are available at half price now, by ordering at Wipf and Stock and using coupon code ELIJAHINTERFAITH.
On December 24, 2021 member of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders, Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, was elected General Chairman of the world’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, with a mandate to promote Humanitarian Islam on the global stage — “in order to foster the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order, founded upon respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being.”

In a speech delivered shortly after his election, Staquf outlined two primary agendas he will pursue as Chairman of the 90-million-member organization: “The first is to develop self-sufficiency and autonomy for all Indonesian citizens, and the second is to heighten Nahdlatul Ulama’s role in the struggle to foster world peace.”

A disciple of long-time NU Chairman and Indonesian president H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid (“Gus Dur”), Staquf seeks to revive the humanitarian spirit of Gus Dur and place it at the center of Nahdlatul Ulama’s agenda.
Gus Dur was a founding member of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders. In 2003, when he was in Jerusalem, he was among the Elijah leaders who signed the historic anti-Terrorism statement.

His legacy lives on not only in Indonesia but through the many interfaith initiatives of which he was part.

In 2017, Elijah hosted Indonesian religious leaders visiting Jerusalem in honour of Gus Dur and shortly before the pandemic struck, in January 2020, another group of Indonesian religious leaders visited. Once again, Elijah hosted them for a session of joint learning and prayer in honour of their former leader

We extend our congratulations to Yahya Staquf and pray that he is successful in promoting the values of his predecessor.
Passing of Sikh Scholar, Rahuldeep Singh Gill
Source: Saint John’s University
With great sadness, we share with you that our friend, colleague and teacher, Rahuldeep Singh Gill, passed away last month.

He was the author of the Chapter in our publication “Memory and Hope” in the Interreligious Reflections series and a member of the Elijah Academy. 

To honour his memory, we wish to share with you a video of an interview he generously gave us in preparation for the Elijah Summer School of 2017. 
His topic was “Memory in Sikhism” and in discussing the topic, he provides many insights into his own religious community as well as the human condition in general.

Rahuldeep begins with saying that in Sikhism there are two major types of “memory”. The first is reflected in the daily prayers, when Sikhs remember the 10 gurus who founded their religion, their lives and tribulations. The second type of memory is not about the past: it is focusing on the wonder of G-d – remembering G-d’s gifts – which motivates one to action. He describes this second kind of memory as “revelation” or “inspiration.”

Sikhs “remember” the ongoing communication between G-d and humans and also how G-d has acted in history. This “memory” should be constantly in our hearts and minds:  acknowledging ongoing revelation has the power to shift the human mind.

He also explained that Sikhs share the belief that G-d also remembers us.
Returning to the first type of memory – memory of events in history – he explained that the meta-narrative of the first Guru, Guru Nanak, is retold to reflect on his divine mission – to solve the problem of religious conflict, to solve selfishness, and to replace them with wisdom.

Sikhs struggle with some difficult historical moments and Rahuldeep explained how these memories can be transformed.  The memorialisation of martyrdom is a case in point. Rather than focus on assassination, which might put the perpetrator in the centre of the memory, the emphasis is on the martyrdom of the victim – and the ritual of distributing sweets is about transforming pain into sweetness.

He acknowledged the challenge of passing on the meta-narrative to younger generations and also acknowledged that Sikhism, as a young religion, is still in the process of selecting the primary stories it wishes to tell.
This led him to consider the relationship between history and identity, memory and identity. All religions, he said, are “not remembering history, but are remembering memory.”

In summary, he said that for him, the most important thing about memory is ethical impetus it provides. The stories one tells must be the guide to our values, actions, engagements and, most importantly, our service to others.
Rahuldeep Singh Gill lived a life of service, imbued with the values of his faith. May his memory be a blessing.
Praying Together in Jerusalem
Join us for this month's gathering of Praying Together in Jerusalem:
Interreligious Heroes: Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi,
presented by Or Rose, with responses by Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric (Muslim) and Clare Amos (Christian).

Continuing our series on role-models for interreligious engagement and dialogue, we look at the example of 20th Century American Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi.

Followed by prayers from Jerusalem, including special prayers for peace for Ukraine.

Thursday, February 3rd at 5:00 pm Jerusalem time.
10 am ET time
8 am Pacific time
3 pm UK time
4 pm Central European time
5 pm Israel time
8:30 pm India time

This meeting will be on Zoom only (no in-person option.)
Sign up here
About our teachers:
Rabbi Or Rose, US
Rabbi Or Rose is the founding director of the Center for Global Judaism at Boston’s Hebrew College, which provides educational programming and resources on issues of contemporary Jewish spirituality, Israel-Diaspora relations, religious pluralism and environmental responsibility. Or studied at Yeshiva University, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Brandeis University, and for private rabbinic ordination with Rabbis Arthur Green and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Or also serves as co-director of the Center for Interreligious and Community Leadership Education. 
Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, Bosnia
Grand Mufti Dr. Mustafa Ceric is the Reis-ul-Ulema – President of the Council of Ulema – in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He graduated from Al-Azhar University in Cairo and afterwards accepted the position of Imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in the United States. During his tenure at the Center, he earned a Ph.D. in Islamic Theology at the University of Chicago. In 1987, he returned to his homeland and became a practicing Imam in a learning center in Zabreb. Ceric is also a member of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders.
Dr Clare Amos, UK
Dr Clare Amos is a biblical scholar by background

and currenctly serves as a Director and Trustee for The Jerusalem and the Middle East Church Association. She has recently retired from the staff of the World Council of Churches where she was responsible for the WCC's programme for interreligious dialogue, with a particular focus on relations with Judaism and Islam. Prior to starting work at the World Council of Churches in 2011, Clare worked for 10 years for the Anglican Communion Office taking charge of work in theological education and interreligious concerns. 
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