by Dr. Hema Pokharna
This article was originally published on December 23, 2007 by HereNow4U
What Is Interfaith Dialogue?
William Isaacs, author of Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together shares – Dialogue is a conversation in which people think together in relationship. Thinking together implies that you no longer take your own position as final. You relax your grip on certainty and listen to the possibilities that result simply from being in a relationship with others – possibilities that might not otherwise have occurred. “Most of us believe at some level that we must fix things or change people in order to make them reachable. Dialogue does not call for such behavior. Rather, it asks us to listen for an already existing wholeness, and to create a new kind of association in which we listen deeply to all the views that people may express. It asks that we create a quality of listening and attention that can include — but is larger than — any single view.”
Interfaith dialogue involves people of different religious faiths coming together to have a conversation. Interfaith dialogue is not intended to be a debate but it is aimed at mutual understanding, not competing; at mutual problem solving, not proselytizing.
Jainism more than being a religion, is a way of living with a set of values, attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflicts. Jains have a responsibility to share and model this way of life by helping the world tackle with the root causes of violence and to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation among individuals, groups and nations. The 3 fundamentals of Jainism — Enlightened worldview, Enlightened knowledge and Enlightened action — can be key in facilitating the interfaith dialogues. Jain participation can facilitate and demonstrate deeds of reconciliation which are usually much more effective than engaging in conversation. Jains can truly participate with the understanding and action that the underlying feature of interfaith dialogue is reverence for life, the shared devotion to high ideals. Reverence will enable participants from different faith traditions to jointly affirm transcendent ideals such as honor, justice, compassion, forgiveness, and freedom.
It is time for Jains to step forward and share with the world their central principle of Ahinsa as a positive force to make each casual encounter heartfelt, empathic connection, a relationship that creates a deep sense of the fundamental humanity of the other. The Jain doctrine of Anekantavada (the theory of multiple perspectives, ‘non-one sidedness’), which is all encompassing and based on equality and friendliness. Based on these principles Jains need to actively participate in interreligious dialogue and mediate actively to promote hospitality towards other religions, interfaith harmony and mutual co-operation. What the world needs at this point is what Jainism has addressed thousands of years ago – to be at ease with the mystery and the ambiguity that invariably comes with globalization and its complexity. Jains can bring this ease and share it with the world in unified practical ways, where religious leaders can dialogically address the pressing need to establish common values. This could be achieved by finding ways of promoting openly, the process of interfaith appreciation where the quiet study of our common humanity is stimulated. For me the greatest gifts of participating in the interfaith work through the Parliament of World Religions and learning to be open hearted is the gratitude of being part of the human family, a sense of joy in its variety of expressions of awe, love, and the sacred.
Jain leadership through interfaith dialogue is necessary to bring forth a shared vision rather than to articulate their own and expect others to follow. Simple occasions to share meals together with a few friends and colleagues of different faiths can provide the nourishment for body and spirit that comes from a combination of good food and good conversation – conversation that gives perspective, heals, and helps us resume an attitude of gratitude. And music can help us hold it all together – the suffering and the wonder of life itself – in a way that anchors and re-invigorates the soul. How we are together and what feeds our souls is what finally makes the difference in a world hungry for hope. Gratitude- this spiritual element of Jainism can encourage looking beyond one’s personal interests toward a greater good.
Interfaith dialogue has shown to provide a way to serve peaceful goals within the context of religious faith. Interfaith dialogue can unlock the power of religious traditions and provide the inspiration, guidance, and validation necessary for populations to move toward non-violent means of conflict resolution. Such dialogues have already become an increasingly important tool for those who seek to end violent conflict worldwide. Through interfaith dialogue, each faith group can make its unique contribution to the common cause of creative co-existence. But this is far easier said than done, and the Jain doctrine of Anekantavada (the theory of multiple perspectives, ‘non-one sidedness’) can truly play an important role in facilitating such dialogues with ease. The primary approach would be to reach out as a neutral third party to religious leaders in areas of conflict and thereby facilitate interfaith communication and provide feedback to determine how to maximize their efforts and resources.
Guidelines that can make interfaith dialogue valuable have much in common with those that lead to success in mediation. Leonard Swidler of Temple University in Philadelphia has written The Dialogue Decalogue: Ground Rules for Interreligious Dialogue. Here is an adaptation for secular peace building contexts:
The primary purpose of dialogue is to change and grow in the perception and understanding of each other’s reality and then to act accordingly.
Dialogue, to benefit the entire community, must ultimately be a project involving all perspectives.
Each participant must come to the dialogue with the fullest possible honesty and sincerity.
Each participant must assume a similar commitment to honesty and sincerity in the other partners.
Each participant must define him/herself.
Each participant must come to the dialogue with no hard-and-fast assumptions as to where the points of disagreement are.
Dialogue can take place only when each person’s contribution is given equal value.
Dialogue can take place only on the basis of mutual trust.
Persons entering into dialogue must be at least minimally willing to be critical of their own positions.
Each participant eventually must attempt to experience his/her partner-in-dialogue’s perspective “from within.”
For thousands of years Jains have been active in enhancing and preserving the sanctity of life and human dignity through their daily behavior and steady efforts. Now they must actively participate in interfaith dialogue expanding its culture of peace to the world and help deepen and strengthen the global civilization. Even with handful of Jains leading the way, we will be able to transform the present culture of war, and foster and nurture energy toward the creation of a century of peace by simply sharing and participating in a mode of empathie listening in every interaction one encounters.
Resources to learn more about dialogue:
United Nations Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations http://www.un.org/Dialogue/
UNESCO Celebrates the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations http://www.unesco.org/dialogue2001/
Global Dialogue Institute — http://global-dialogue.com/
The Dialogue to Action Initiative — http://thataway.org/dialogue/
How-to Resources” to Help You Get a Dialogue Started http://wwwt.hataway.org/dialogue/res/res3.htm
Learn More About the Dialogue Movement & Process http:www.thataway.org/dialogue/res/res5.htm
Peace Through Dialogue: A Time to Talk — Thoughts on a Culture of Peace, 2000 Peace Proposal by Daisaku Ikeda http://www.sgi.org/english/sgi president/works/peace/ peaceOO.htm
Published with the author’s permission.
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