Dialogue on the global challenge of Islamophobia

I am deeply concerned about the global challenge of the spread of Islamophobia. There is a compelling need for the international community to understand and meet this challenge, just as surely as it would need to combat any epidemic that threatens the well-being of humanity.

PRR_QandA_MoroccoRecently, I was invited to speak about religious conflict in today’s world at one of Morocco’s leading universities. This place of higher learning, Al Akhawayn University, belongs to the same international network, the Council of Independent Colleges, as Naropa University.

It is an independent, public, coeducational university established by Royal Decree to promote “the values of human solidarity and tolerance”. So it was a truly appropriate setting in which to talk about religious hatred.

I spoke from the perspective of two leadership positions I hold. I am the Chair of the International Working Group on Sri Lanka. It that works working for a just, peaceful and equitable resolution to the continuing conflicts in that country. In the last two years there have been more than 300 attacks on mosques, businesses and homes of Sri Lanka’s Muslim population – as well as attacks on other religious minorities. It deeply saddens me to say that these have been led, in many cases, by Buddhist monks and carried out in the name of Buddhism.

There have been similar outrages in Myanmar (Burma) where Buddhist attacks have forced 100,000 Rohingya Muslims, many of them women and children, into impoverished refugee camps.

These horrific developments have a particular resonance for me as the President of Shambhala. We are one of the largest international Buddhist-inspired organizations in the western world with communities on all five continents. The name “Shambhala”  itself is derived from a legendary kingdom famed for being an enlightened society. It is said that Shambhala was located at the western part of the Orient and the eastern part of the Occident—the confluence of the Asian, European, and Arabic worlds, thus embodying a spirit of universality.

With the blessings of The Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche, I am endeavouring to examine the worldwide incidence of Islamophobia and explore possible strategies to counter it. It must not be left to Muslims alone to defend themselves against this blight; this is a responsibility of all who care deeply for the shared values and dignity of humanity.

The International Working Group on Sri Lanka has engaged on this issue with representatives of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which brings together the Islamic nations within the United Nations. The most recent report of the OIC’s Observatory, covering October 2012 to September 2013, documents incidents in 18 nations involving attacks on mosques, desecration of Muslim graves, political and social campaigns against Islam and Muslims, intolerance directed against Islam and its sacred symbols, discrimination against Muslims in educational institutions, workplaces and airports, and other related phenomena.

These incidents not only target Islam. They are part of a larger and deeply disturbing tendency worldwide to denigrate, demonize and unleash assaults, often with extreme cruelty, on entire groups of people, victimizing them for their identity. Like all forms of religious, ethnic or cultural hatred, what is happening is a direct threat to the principles of co-existence that are essential if people of different faiths and traditions are to live and flourish together.

To quote the Secretary General of the OIC, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, “In the present globalized world, peaceful and harmonious co-existence among diverse religions and cultures is not an option but the only means to enduring human cohabitation … It has always been my firm belief that like apartheid, the challenge for the international community is to dismantle Islamophobia completely and prevent its spread before it gets out of hand and jeopardizes global peace and security … The sanctity of freedom of expression and freedom of religion cannot be allowed to be endangered by those few radical extremists who are determined to create unrest and divisions in our present day world.”

The argument is put forward that Islamophobia as a whole is justified by the atrocities carried out by extremists in the name of their faith, thereby casting suspicion on the hundreds of millions who belong to the same broad tradition but who have nothing whatsoever to do with these outrages. If the logic of this mass demonization were to be applied universally, the curse of suspicion would fall like a shadow across most of humanity. The historical record shows that few of us can claim that no one has ever committed harm in the name of our faiths, our cultures or our people.

I believe a deep-seated approach is needed to understand and heal what is happening across the globe. It will not end simply by denouncing it and seeking to suppress it. It will continue to burn. If there is to be an effective international roadmap for constructive action, it needs to be grounded in a far more profound dialogue, based on the enduring, noble and transcendent values of our respective traditions.

Many people have written to me since my lecture was live streamed by the university and by Shambhala Online. The full text with slides is linked from my previous post.

Seeds of War, Seeds of Peace: Religious Conflict in Today’s World

I was invited to lecture on Buddhism at Al-Akhawayn University in Morocco yesterday, and to give a public talk on a topic of current international importance. I spoke on religious conflict around the world, and the deeper forces that may be driving that. It was an opportunity to share deep concerns about buddhist violence in South and South East Asia, global Islamophobia, the sharp rise in anti-semitism and other manifestations of human hatred, as well as to examine the influence of spirituality in the search for peace.

The video recording is posted on the Shambhala Times, along with a bit more information about the event.

If you prefer to read it, here is the full text I used in my presentation, interwoven with the images from the slides I paired with it.

The world of email

This is the sixth and final filmette in my new series of short excerpts on key points from the Six Ways of Ruling – taking on what can feel like “a horrific trail of karma that often I can never clear up!”

I hope you have enjoyed all six of these new videos! Don’t forget that you can engage more deeply with these unique teachings, and all of the information about how to do that is posted on this page of my blog.

New Teachings on the Six Ways of Ruling

Last year I launched a multilingual study programme on the Six Ways of Ruling, and I am delighted that many of you have begun to study these important and unique teachings – online, in your centre or group, or on your own.

I have recorded six new and short “filmettes” on six key points from the Six Ways of Ruling, and I will be posting them on my blog one by one over the next week. I hope you enjoy them!

Riots in Sri Lanka Spark Agitation for Peace

This Buddhist nation was recently rocked by severe communal riots. I was there in my capacity as Chair of the International Working Group on Sri Lanka. I talked to many community leaders in an effort to understand what’s happening, since many people are asking “How could this happen in a Buddhist country?”

“The evidence of goodwill is abundant at the community level wherever inter-religious gatherings take place,” says Jehan Perera, Director of the National Peace Council. “This is especially the case in areas where ethnically mixed populations live in close proximity. Small groups of extremists can create disturbances in these areas. But the ethos of the larger majority is to live in peace and harmony.”

A number of the country’s Buddhist monks and prominent lay teachers – who have themselves faced attacks and intimidation from the Buddhist Power Force — have also been active in stressing that violence and hatred are incompatible with the core teachings of the Buddha.

“What we are seeing is not Buddhism,” said Dr. A.T. Ariyaratane, founder of the country’s Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement which promotes rural development. “Buddhism does not believe it putting labels on ourselves or each other, but rather seeing all beings as part of the interdependence of life, and caring for all of them.”

Read the rest on my Huffington Post blog.

Announcing the President’s Draw Shambhala campaign!

Did you know that there are more than ten thousand members and friends of Shambhala on six continents? Our mandala includes the Sakyong, online communities, more than 200 Shambhala centres and groups, as well as individual members, located in major cities, towns, and in rural settings in over 50 different countries.

One of the great strengths of our community is that we are a global, multicultural and multilingual family. We would like to find ways of visually expressing this key message.

Shambhala Map 1Many people have expressed enthusiasm for having a map of our Shambhala world. There are a gazillion ways of doing this. As part of the work I have been leading relating to the Unified Giving view of the interdependence of every part of our global community, I am delighted to launch the “President’s Draw Shambhala Campaign”: you are invited to create and submit drawings or visual graphics showing “The Shambhala World,” however that looks to you! Two examples are shown here.

Shambhala Map 2

The video I made for Shambhala Day, “Countless Points of Light,” is another!

The best entries will be added to our international Shambhala webpages so that people can see different creative ways of presenting our global community. To submit an entry or get more information, please email Anna Weinstein.


Philippines: “We Can Stop This Madness”

Can we be hopeful about the future, with devastating events like Typhoon Yolanda in the news every day?

Speaking about the devastation in The Philippines, [Naderev “Yeb” Sano, the Philippines’ Climate Commissioner] acknowledged that it is always hard to attribute a single weather event to climate change, but, he said, “We know that the science is also clear that climate change will mean more intense typhoons. My country refuses to accept a future where super-typhoons will become a regular feature.”

This brought up to memory an interaction at Awake in the World earlier this autumn – read my full article about it on the Huffington Post.

Syria Crisis: How Much Shock and Awe Will it Take to Wake Us Up?

The article below is copied from the Huffington Post UK, and is my final piece leading up to Awake in the World.

The debate about bombing Syria is, in part, about the shock-and-awe policy of politics: most of us remember the shock-and-awe blitzkrieg unleashed over Baghdad as a curtain raiser to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Shock-and-awe, known in military parlance as Rapid Dominance, is a doctrine developed at The National Defense University of the United States in1996.

Although now used as a technical military planning term, the fundamental idea is not new.

It is based on the age-old notion that using overwhelming force against your opponents, those who threaten you or who you want to eliminate, is an effective way of subduing them, disarming them or exterminating large numbers of them – and thus accomplishing a range of political purposes.

It can also be a kind of apocalyptic lashing out. Think of the people jumping hand-in-hand from the blazing, collapsing towers of the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11. Think of the 7,000 men and boys massacred in a single day in Srebrenica. Remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it has never been possible to know exactly how many died in the incandescent heat and radiation.

As you start to trace events like this back through history – including long, drawn-out campaigns of conquest and genocide – the mind boggles. You begin to wonder what has been accomplished, apart from an almost inconceivable self-slaughter of our own species over the centuries and a spiral of addictive recourse to armed might, terror and revenge.

I was pondering all this this past week at a meditation retreat. It might seem a bizarre, even macabre, subject to contemplate while supposedly calming the mind. But dealing with the seeds of war and peace is at the heart of working with our own minds.

You could say that a little shock-and-awe (of a different kind) goes a long way when it comes to contemplating ourselves.

Whether we are simply reflecting on how we lead our lives, or whether we are engaging in deeper purification practices, we can have shocking moments. For example, we might find we are at war within ourselves, swept away by a current of aggression. At another time, in the mirror of the mind, we might see our habits of self-centredness, fear, anger and impatience.

There are also startling moments when we are struck by the natural, underlying health and resilience of the mind.

It becomes clear that there is a seamless connection between these seeds of war and peace in our own lives and the challenges of war and peace in the world around us.

In the same way that we feel the need to wake up from the misunderstandings, pain and conflict in our own lives; I wonder what it will take, as a species, to wake up from our larger, collective habits of inflicting harm on others and our planet.

This is the inspiration for the Awake in the World festival that kicks off at the University of London in a few days’ time. I’ll be leading one of the panels and introducing the international meditation master, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, whose recent book, The Shambhala Principle, opens with the warning, “We humans have come to a crossroads in our history: we can either destroy the world or create a good future.”

It’s a wake-up call worth meditating on, and a conversation worth being a part of.

Back to School: Whatever Happened to a Good Education?

As schools across England and Wales return from their summer holidays – with thousands entering the education system for the first time in their young lives – I am reminded of the words of a wonderful Sri Lankan friend of mine.

“All this killing is being led and supported by extremely well educated and highly cultured people,” he said.

He was not taking sides in his country’s war. He was bearing witness to a society being dismembered despite having some of the highest social indicators, including education, anywhere in Asia.

His words have haunted me. Education in itself is not necessarily a guarantee of civilization.

Click here to read the rest of this next article in my series for Huffington Post UK, leading up to Awake in the World in London. The festival begins September 12!

Mental Health and Meditation in the House of Commons

Earlier this year, one of the more unusual speeches in the House of Commons began by outlining the disturbing portrait of mental health in the UK: in the past ten years, the number of prescriptions for antidepressants has risen five-fold, from nine million to 46 million.

Yet this was not a report from the Ministry of Health. It was an intervention by a politician, about the value of mindfulness. He was talking passionately about the ancient system of meditation – dating back more than 2,000 years, to well before the time of the Buddha – in preventing and dealing with the breakdown of society.

Read the rest of my latest article on the Huffington Post UK, in advance of the upcoming Awake in the World event in London.

Invitation to a Global Conversation

In the opening pages of The Shambhala Principle, Sakyong Mipham invites us to a global conversation about the future of humanity. He writes: “We may never before have considered human nature, but in order to move forward as a global community, it is vital that we do it now.”

“If a more enlightened society is to come about, it must be based on a global conversation,” he suggests.

Acharya Noel McLellan made a suggestion to me: Let’s get more and more people contemplating this – why don’t we come up with a graphic presentation of this message on film?

I invited Marguerite Drescher, one of the leading graphic artists in our community, to do the graphics. I filmed her as she worked. I also invited Sophie Leger, our new Director of Multilingual Development and a professional actress, to record the accompanying text. It is based on 14 sentences from The Shambhala Principle.

Please consider this videographic offering both an invitation to a global conversation and also an invitation to anyone else who would like to make artistic or other offerings to share the inspiration of The Shambhala Principle with others!

What is the Kalapa Governance model based on, and how does it fit into the big picture of our mandala?

In fall 2012, we conducted a survey of leaders throughout Shambhala about their experience to date of working with the Kalapa Governance model. I have written up some thoughts about some of the most pressing and fundamental questions related to the model itself that emerged in the responses. I will post these thoughts over the next few weeks, to help generate further conversation about these themes! I look forward to your contributions in the comments section.

The Kalapa Governance model is based on three things. First, the Three Pillar Model, which was introduced by the Druk Sakyong (Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche) as the overall governance structure for the Kingdom of Shambhala. Second, the current Sakyong’s wish to have much stronger links between all local centres and the centre of the mandala. Third, the contemporary Policy Governance model, which is highly recommended for the effective governance of organizations like ours. So it is really a fusion of the vision and aspiration of our lineage with a clear model for the effective conduct of business!