The Dharmic traditions - Hinduism Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism- share much in common, notwithstanding a number of variations among them. In all these traditions the scriptures, writings, and practices hold compassion as an integral and a supreme virtue. This collection of essays by leading scholars from different disciplines aptly captures the essence of the religious spiritual aspects of these traditions as they relate to compassion. Most of the authors are practitioner-scholars and are experts in own disciplines, including sciences humanities, social sciences, law, and religion.
The experts met in September 20 Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado for two days of lively deliberations under for auspices of the Uberoi Foundation Religious Studies, which was establish spread awareness and promote understanding of the Dharmic traditions throughout North America.
After addressing the 'central and fundamental' knowledge of these traditions and the common features and interaction among them, the essays here discuss compassion from various perspectives, as relationship with the natural world and the environment, selfless service, and the treatment of animals. A final set of essays sheds light on the significance of compassion in each ofthese Dharmic traditions.
As a comparative study, this is a u collection from which a clear picture err: of the central theme of moral compassionate conduct in the Dharmic traditions.
Ved P. Nanda is John Evans Distinguished University Professor and Thompson G. Marsh Professor of Law at the University of Denver, where he founded the International Legal Studies Program in 1972 and now directs the Ved Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law, established in his honor by alumni and friends. He has received Honorary Doctorates of Law from Soka University, Tokyo, Japan, and Bundel khand University, Jhansi, India.
Professor Nanda holds leadership positions in the global international law community, including the World Jurist Association, American Society of International Law, International Law Association, American Law Institute, and the American Bar Association's Human Rights Center and Section of International Law. He is an officer and board member in several international and national NGOs, especially those serving the Indian diaspora and concerned with India-US relations. He is the Chair of the Uberoi Foundation for Religious Studies.
He has received numerous national and international awards, has authored or co-authored 24 books and over 225 chapters and law review articles in international and comparative law, writes a column for the Denver Post, and is a regular commentator in both the electronic and print media.
Students of comparative religion will find that the Dharmic traditions share much in common, despite a number of variations and divergences among them, both in theory and practice. The papers in this unique collection attest to this reality. Uberoi Foundation for Religious Studies gathered a number of experts in the autumn of 2014 at Naropa University in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. They deliberated on the common features among these traditions, especially addressing how the religious and spiritual aspects of these traditions relate to compassion. The authors shed light for the reader on selected aspects of this special trait termed compassion, a virtue that ennobles life and brings happiness to those practicing it. The editor and the contributors are indeed grateful to the Uberoi Foundation.
The four Indic traditions-Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism-have Dharma as their source. Although Dharma is hard to translate into English, in essence it encompasses foundational principles and laws that are universal in nature and uphold our very existence. To name a few selected common features of these traditions, they all agree that there is an Ultimate Reality and that we as human beings are capable of experiencing it in our daily lives. They have the common goal for humankind to attain the state of enlightenment and total liberation. Toward this end, they all recommend the practice of some form of meditation. One aspect of Dharma to which all these traditions subscribe is the principle of ahimsa (non-violence). Another principle held by all four is that they do not believe in their superiority over others, nor in exclusivity in the sense that their faith is the only way to liberation of the individual, and hence they do not engage in proselytization, which sets these four traditions apart from the Abrahamic religions. Another integral part of these traditions is the virtue of compassion.
The opening set of papers collected here addresses the common features of these Dharmic traditions and interactions among them. The three essays are by Professors Evan Finkelstein, Yashwant Malaiya, and Henry Walker.
Evan Finkelstein, a professor of Comparative Religion and Maharishi Vedic Science at Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa, notes in his essay, "The Dharma Traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism in Light of their Universal, Common Ground," that in these traditions "to do no harm is not limited to causing physical harm, but also includes not hurting any being mentally, emotionally, financially, or socially." He adds that "it is not deemed sufficient by these traditions to only refrain from doing harm, but rather everyone is strongly encouraged to be helpful, empathetic, compassionate and loving to all beings: to provide selfless service, or Seva, to uplift and improve the life conditions of all beings." He cites authorities from all these traditions to illustrate this aspect.
Professor Finkelstein studies extensively what he calls "the central and foundational knowledge" in each of these traditions, quoting scriptures and teachings "in light of fundamental principles of what has been called the 'Perennial Philosophy.'"
Yashwant K. Malaiya, professor of Computer Science at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, and a noted author of Jain history, examines historical records to study the relationships among the Dharmic traditions in "Interactions Among the Dharmic Traditions." He "acknowledges the need for each tradition to assert its uniqueness, while acknowledging the shared background and the mutual influence." Malaiya asserts that while it is taken for granted that all these traditions are mutually incompatible and that "choosing one necessitates rejection of everything" that the others offer, "this view does not reflect the realities of either Indian history or contemporary society." After an extensive study of the literature and historical evidence, he concludes:
As Indians interact with people in the rest of the world, they find the need to explain their views using the perspective of Abrahamic religions .... The followers of the dharmic traditions are thus compelled to take an exclusivist view. Devout activists in the four traditions increasingly reject what is shared .... However, a careful look at all the sources of Indian history brings out the fact that there has been a remarkable degree of mutual acceptance among different traditions .... This paper shows that the four traditions share much more than what is often thought, and have influenced each other sometimes in ways that have not been noticed.
Henry Walker, a professor of Classical and Medieval Studies at Bates College, is a student of Sanskrit, with special interest in the interaction between India and the ancient Greco-Roman world, which is the focus of his essay, "Inter-Religious Dialogue in the. Greco-Roman World". He considers compassion "an essential element of any real religious dialogue, any genuine interaction among different religions." Thus, he says, "[W]e must accept the fact that people are diverse and religions are different, but we must join in their experience both because of this difference and in spite of it." He calls for the adoption of "a compassionate internationalism that bases interaction on the existence of different nations, and on respect for that diversity."
Walker discusses inter-religious dialogue by citing the case of Pythagoras and Hinduism, suggesting that "[i] f two religious systems are very open, if they can enter into a free discussion with each other, they can have a very rich and productive relationship." He next considers the topic of the dialogue between Greco-Roman paganism and Hinduism by relating the story of Appollonius of Tyana, a Greek follower of Pythagoras, who visited India in the first century from what is now Turkey. He visited India and learned that "India is the source of the teaching of Pythagoras and that it was also brought to Egypt by the Ethiopians, who had originally lived in India." By the time he returned to Greece, Appollonius regarded himself as an Indian thinker.
Walker concludes with this caution:
We cannot manipulate other people's minds and cause them mental harm so that they will abandon their religion. We cannot calculate ways of obliterating a religion from the face of the earth. We must therefore accept the polytheistic views that there is more than one path to God, there is more than one road to the Great Mystery, because if we continue to pursue the monotheistic path of mutual destruction, we will inevitably come to a point when there will be nobody left on this earth to worship god in the ‘right’ way or the ‘wrong’ way.
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