Theology


Professor Tariq Ramadan holds MA in Philosophy and French literature and PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva. In Cairo, Egypt he received one-on-one intensive training in classic Islamic scholarship from Al-Azhar University scholars. 
Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University (Oriental Institute, St Antony’s College ). He is also teaching at the Faculty of Theology at Oxford. He is at the same time a Visiting Professor in Qatar (Faculty of Islamic Studies) and in Morocco (Mundiapolis) and a Senior Research Fellow at Doshisha University(Kyoto, Japan). http://www.tariqramadan.com/spip.php?lang=en

I was surprised to see that, in the day following the conference, more mention was made of Professor Ramadan than of the Dalaï-Lama. Apparently he is a quite controversial speaker of the Muslim faith. He was indeed a fascinating speaker, but I did not identify anything remarkably shocking or controversial in his speech, other than being passionate about Islam, which may be sufficient in today’s world to be viewed as controversial. He was an absolutely fascinating speaker and here are a few of the things he shared with us.
Our lives and our faith have to be grounded in a positive discipline. To speak of peace, we have to be able to speak of violence. We have to go back to our traditions and scriptures to see what they say about violence. Conferences on world peace have been going on for decades. The truth is that those who attend are all rather privileged and already sold to the idea of world peace. So the questions we have to ask ourselves is How do we deal with violence? How do we deal with poverty? How do we deal with injustice? Only then do we know how to work for peace.
There are four things we need to pass on to our children to achieve peace:

1)      History. We need to know where we came from, what mistakes we made and what great things we accomplished.

2)      Philosophy: Children need to know how to answer the great questions of our existence.

3)      Religion: To continue a practice that connects us to a greater source

4)      Art: To continue to develop imagination, esthetics and to take time to create

There are some fundamental rights that are common to all religions. Each person should have the right to set up a sacred site from where to practice their religion, no matter where they live in the world.
As a religious person, each one of us has the duty to take position against the injustice and corruption within their own religion. Islamic scriptures do not support the degradation of women. If, as a Muslim, you hear someone use Islam to support the oppression of women, it is your duty to take a stand against it. Same thing goes for all other religions. If as a Jew killing your neighbor is against the Law, then you have to speak up against the conflict in Palestine. Or as a Christian, you must denounce hatred towards minorities and those who are marginalized. This is a sacred duty.

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I was priviledged to hear an exceptional speech by Dr. Robert Thurman at the conference on Wednesday. My few words really don’t do justic to his passion and humor. He is the embodiment of the ultimate professor. You know, the one you really want to have. For more on Dr. Thurman, please visit his site: http://www.bobthurman.com/

 Robert A.F. Thurman is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, and co-founder and President of Tibet House US. He writes and lectures frequently on Buddhism, Asian history, and critical philosophy. A personal friend of the Dalai Lama for over 40 years, his latest book is Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet and the World.

 Words from Dr. Robert Thurman

Religion has long been identified as a cause of conflict and war. It is important to understand that it is not religion itself that causes war, but the misuse of it. All religions are united by what Dr. Thurman calls ‘The religious experience’. This religious experience is composed of three things:

1)     An experience of the transcendent

2)     Tangible fruit of this experience, known as love, compassion, truth and so forth

3)     A belief in the immortality of the soul

It is the purpose of all humans (including atheists and agnostics) to find that religious experience and spread the feeling to others. We become citizens of the universe by sharing this religious experience that transcends our own culture and tradition.

 On the subject of interfaith dialogue, the Dalaï-Lama considers two things. First, he aknowledges his own personal excludism in that he has chosen his own personal religion at the exclusion of all others. He believes in the wisdom teachings of his religion and ascribes to its practices. Secondly, he promotes social pluralism. While each person walks within the beliefs of his own chosen religion, there should be a common understanding that each religion upholds the same truth and should be respected and honored. This leads to many traditions walking side by side, instead of having one universal, non-denominational human spirituality devoid of inner complexity and challenge. Our religious tradition is the one best suited to our disposition and the most likely to lead us to that religious experience which unites us all.

An awe-inspiring, soul building day yesterday. I attended the 2nd annual conference on peace through world religions, held in my home town of Montreal.  (http://gcwr2011.org/) Imagine. In one room, a multitude of religions and cultures coming together for one purpose: making the world better.

The guest of honor was his holiness the Dalaï-Lama who graced us with a morning filled with wisdom and laughter. The afternoon was reserved to a talk by well-known author Deepak Chopra and a panel discussion by fantastic speakers from different religious backgrounds. I’d like to share a bit of the wisdom that I received yesterday. Please pass it on! 

Words of wisdom by His Holiness the Dalaï-Lama

The Dalai Lama - Sa Sainteté Le Dalaï-Lama

Religion is supposed to be a source of moral ethic. There are only 2 ways that it can become a source of conflict:

1)      When religion is mixed with the quest for power and economic interest.

2)      When you espouse the belief that there is only one truth expressed through one religion.

The first example is pretty self-explanatory and we have multiple examples of this occurring throughout history.

In today’s world, it is simply impossible to continue to espouse the attitude that there is only one truth expressed by one religion. Back in the day when people lived in isolation, this was possible. We cannot dispute the fact is that there are multiple religions. The Dalaï-Lama gave the example of India and its rather peaceful co-existence of most of the world’s religions. What we need is to come together and express ourselves on our own religions and to learn the value of other religions as well. We have to start talking to each other to discover that we are pretty much all aspiring to the same things.

Rather than thinking in terms of one truth-one religion, we have to come to the understanding of a same truth being expressed by all religions. All religions have the same message and potential. All religion teach truth, honesty, compassion, love. Being religious is living a practice of love and compassion, meditating on selflessness and having faith in God the Creator.  There are people of all religions who do this.

Why did God create so many teachers? You cannot call God ignorant for doing that. Students of Buddha would criticize him for giving contradictory teachings. They would ask him: ‘How can you say this when you just said that?’ To this Buddha would answer that even among followers of one teacher, there are many dispositions. Contradictions can suit people of different dispositions and bring them to enlightenment. It is the same with different religions.

We all need 2 levels of spirituality: we need a general humanism to reach out to others and fight inequity. We also need a religious faith that guides our practice. All religions have good things. Practice includes the reduction of self-centered arrogance and the upholding of moral ethics. If you believe and pray to God, you cannot support corruption, lying, cheating. If you pray, you have to be serious in your belief. When you practice love, honesty and compassion, you pass it on to your family, and they pass it on to theirs and love keeps growing.  To grow in peace, we have to reach out to others and understand what they believe.

A young boy asked the Dalaï-Lama: ‘What do you have to do to save the world?’

You have to work on the individual. You have to make your mind peaceful and keep negative feelings fleeting. You have to train yourself in compassion and selflessness and find opportunities for altruism. There are always troublemakers. We ourselves can be troublemakers sometimes. We have to remember that these troublemakers are also created by God. We have to create inner peace and share with others.

Our journey into the world of traditional teachings continued Friday with the presentation of the pilot project for the Cree traditional health program. We were honored with the presence of Tulshi Sen, who is working together with the Elders and the Cree Health Board to set up this program that promotes teachings of the Elders and empowerment of the youth.

Tulshi Sen is a world acclaimed writer and speaker and his wisdom and journeys radiate from his very being. A hindu boy from Calcutta, as he describes himself, he was classically trained through a Jesuit education. He then traveled the world, gathering wisdom from Elders and masters, stories that he shares with humor and passion.

He opened the day with this story:

He was doing humanitarian work in Nepal when he joined a group gathered around an elder. The elder said, ” Son, you are well-versed in scripture, is that so?” He answered that he indeed was. The elder then asked, “Then, can you tell me why God called Adam and Eve by those names. Why not Jack and Jill or some other name?” Tulshi admitted that he had no idea. The elder scoffed at his lack of knowledge and sent him away without another look.

Tulshi tossed and turned all night. At the break of dawn, he rushed to the elder’s hut, who was waiting for him. He asked the elder, “Can you please tell me the answer?”

“In Hebrew, A- means ‘No’ and Dam means ‘breath’. Adam is the one with no breath. He has no life. And so, God breathes life into his nostrils. Every breath you take in, is that breath of God, of the universe that fills you and gives you life.

Eve, from the word Hawa, means breath. She is the mother of all living things.

What is Adam’s main function? He is the namer of things. He is the vision that brings things into being. But without the breath, without Life, these things are empty. Only when Adam and Eve combine do we have creation. If you have vision for it, Eve will produce it.

So, in his original state, Adam could only name things he could see. So he complained to the snake saying: “I see things and I ask ‘Why?’. To this, the snake answered: “I see things that never were and I ask ‘Why not?'”

So in consuming the apple (which was in fact a pomegranate), they became like God, able to create from the void that which did not yet exist. Theirs was the gift of imagination, to create something new, combining vision and divine breath. Adam and Eve.”

Tulshi ended with a smile. ‘That is why I am Adam and I am Eve.’

At the end of the session, I approached Tulshi to ask for his permission to pass on this teaching. He said, “By all means, pass it on to as many people as you can.”

And so I pass it on to all of you.

I am still riding the wave that was Gaia gathering, the Canadian Pagan conference held in Montreal a couple of weeks ago.

I could write about all that I learned over those two days, about the workshop on Voodoo, the workshop on the eight paths of magic and the various panels on gnosis, Pagan history and liturgy. But I am not going to. It would not give justice to the buoyant feeling that is still in me some two weeks later. I can summarize the experience in one sentence:

It reminded me of why I am walking the Pagan path. 

During these 2 days, I met wonderful people. I was familiar with only a small portion of the Montreal Pagan landscape. At Gaia, I was privileged to meet people from other places  in Canada who had different experiences of Pagan practice. There were older men and women who have been in the movement since the late ’60’s, people who remember what it was like when there were no books and when passing on of knowledge was done in complete secrecy. These people who link back to icons of the Pagan movement like Z. Budapest and Gerald Gardner. They are already the elders of our clans. I have met people of extraordinary instruction: university and college professors, PhD’s, scientists and full-time witches who dedicate their lives to the teaching and furthering of the Craft. My co-panelists on Canadian Pagan authors were such people. Sable Aradia became a full-time witch to live her passion for the Craft. Her vibrant energy and passion and her generosity of character make her a truly exceptional woman. I have also had the honor to share the panel with Brendan Myers, philosopher and author of several books, who can weave humor and philosophy so effortlessly that it is a true pleasure to listen to. It brought home the fact that Pagan philosophy and theology exists in its own right. It is not a wacky unregimented practice. It has a core, a soul and a history.

Above all, above the philosophizing and theologizing, it brought back the essence of what I looked for when I chose this path. Everywhere I looked, I saw the passion of its people. I saw the joy of living a life of celebration. I saw that primal need to create and to connect to all that is. A circle within a circle, ever flowing and never ending. It was indeed a return to Gaia.

Today, I did something good for myself. I spent my 15 minute break attending mass with the residents of our centre. Others go smoke. Why couldn’t I go to mass instead, right? I also went to receive the ashes. As the priest drew the cross on my forehead, he said (in French): ‘Convert and believe in the good news.’

The exact English translation of this passage in Mark 1:15 is ‘Repent and believe in the good news’ As I’ve pointed out before in another blog, I am always fascinated by the subtleties in translation. Even in this simple example, I think it is quite striking that the French and the English convey a different connotation in using ‘Convert’ instead of ‘Repent’. These are the first words Jesus preached when he came out of his forty days in the desert, so I think they are worth pondering over a little. As I sat writing my charts after mass, I couldn’t help but think these things over.

First of all, what was I supposed to convert from? And to what?

Most people would just assume that it means to convert to Christianity and to Jesus. It made me smile that I was even asking these questions. But it just shows me how much my faith has changed over the years. My tradition is built around Jesus first and foremost. Not a Church, not a religion, not an establishment. So when I ponder these words, I wonder what Jesus meant when he said this. He couldn’t have meant to convert to Christianity or to the Church. Those things didn’t even exist. Did he mean to bestow all our faith in him. I don’t think so either. If that’s what he wanted, I think he would have simply said ‘I am the son of God and you should put all your faith in me.’ God honors too much our free will to demand our blind faith in him. So when he says ‘Convert’ or ‘Repent’, I think he is telling us that it is time to change. He says: Look inside. See what’s there. Go to that place and become something new.

The next question I asked is ‘What’s the good news?’ I almost laughed aloud when the question popped into my head. People throw around the ‘Good News’ left and right. Do they actually stop to wonder what that good news is? So what is it? Is it that Jesus comes to take our faults and rise from the dead? Well, in the present context, it has not yet happened. He is just coming out of his baptism and starting to preach to the masses. The Resurrection couldn’t be the good news he refers to right there. Coupled to that first induction to convert, it seems to me that this good news is that we are about to change. We can go within and find that sacred place. We are able to change ourselves. We are no longer bound by social conventions or religious rule or even our own physicality. We can witness God because he is among us, with us and in us. That is the good news Jesus announces. What a marvelous thing!

I believe that Our Lord reveals himself in different ways to different people. When you ask questions, he answers them in a way that we may understand. That is what I understood today. He may bless you with a different understanding, a different vision or story. Please feel free to share your own insights and your own good news.

I got a recent question on Facebook about angels and I wanted to address that here. Turns out that what appeared to be a simple technical question became a major theological issue, so I wanted time to ponder and do a little background research (remember, I’m juggling here. Oh, to be a full-time student of the mysteries… but I digress)

Someone pointed out that in my book, I ascribe the Archangels as follows:
Raphael in the North for Earth
Gabriel in the East for Air
Michael in the South for Fire
Uriel in the West for water.

But, this person pointed out that most others ascribe the angels to following quarters:
Earth Uriel
Air Raphael
Fire Michael
Water Gabriel

A friend of mine also pointed out that that is how she was taught. To be honest, I had never stopped to think that it could be any other way than the way I listed them. So I looked things up in ‘A Dictionary of Angels’ by Gustav Davidson, which is pretty exhaustive in all matters related to Angels.

Angelology is extremely complex because different sources will list things differently. You end up with literally lists of angel names, pages and pages, with their correspondences. Basically, there is an angel name assigned to every possible thing you can imagine, including season, planet, sign of the zodiac, day of the week, cardinal point, hour of the day… Also, ‘Heaven’ has a complex geography, with many levels and orders of angels. Angelology, as such, is a system like that used in ceremonial magic, where emphasis is put on words of power, on calculated ritual, on power symbols, on numerology and letters. Rituals must be done to the letter with no deviation to the prescribed form. It is very technical. That is why there are so many correspondences using angel names. These angels become representations that are sequenced to produce a desired effect. I know very little about ceremonial magic. If there is someone out there who is more knowledgeable than I am, please correct and enlighten me. It is not my craft. I raise energy and send it out on a whim. I try to read the signs of the earth and balance what needs to be balanced. It is a different practice.

In the question that interests us here, there are two different elements here: cardinal points and elements. Davidson talks about the Archangels assigned to the four winds: Uriel in the south, Micheal east, Raphael west and Gabriel north. This interpretation differs from the two that we have so far. His Angel of Fire notes both Gabriel and Uriel (again different) and Michael for water (again different). For the cardinal points, Davidson mentions Micheal in the East (Rising sun), Uriel in the North, Raphael in the South and Gabriel in the West. None of these systems coincide perfectly with one another.

So, where do we go from here?

The reason I needed to ponder all this is because of a (maybe) controversial point: that of internal coherence. My whole practice is based on this and that is what appeals to many and what many may also criticize. A spiritual practice must make sense within itself and its elements must fit together in a cohesive whole. It doesn’t matter so much which symbols and associations you choose as long as the elements do not create discordance between each other. For example, my spiritual practice (other than my Christian upbringing, of course) started within a Wiccan framework. In this system, North is the quarter of Earth, East of Air, South of Fire and West of Water. Each element has its attributes and representations which we all know in detail by now, right? So when I look at each Archangel, I look at their attributes and they find their own place on my circle. Raphael is the healer and as such, he belongs with Earth. Gabriel is the messenger. Can he go anywhere but with the element of Air, guardian of inspiration and communication? And Michael, the Warrior. He is the embodiment of the courage and fury of Fire. His place is in the South. If I had chosen to place the Archangels according to a Kabbalistic tradition, then I would have placed them differently, but since my framework is primarily Wiccan, it would have felt awkward . But I can still decide to change my system if I decide to study Kabbalah more in depth and that the system makes sense to me.

You ask: ‘ So nothing really matters? Everyone can do whatever he or she wants?’ That’s the question that I am asking myself. I’d like to say yes, but something nudges me to think that that devalues everything we do. I’d also like to think that we are all still connected somehow and that the symbols will just align themselves to create systems that are still intimately connected.

The Angels are here with us. They are tangibly here. You are already inviting them in every time you cast your circle. Ask them what they think.

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