What Might an Interaction with a Non-Christian Religion Look Like? One Bahá’í’s Story

What might an interaction with a non-Christian religion look like? For one learner, the proverbial light bulb went on, a thirty-minute drive followed . . . Let’s let this learner tell his own story.

Stewart Mathison (whom you might know anonymously through his social media and marketing efforts for the U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust) signed up for Buddhism for Deepening and Dialogue 2018. As he worked his way through the course, a simple suggestion prompted action:

One of the activities suggested at some point in the course was to visit a place with Buddhist underpinnings or even a Buddhist temple. It hadn’t dawned on me until that moment that there was a temple about half an hour’s drive away from my home, the Blue Lotus Temple and Meditation Center in Woodstock, Illinois, USA. I attended one of its Sutta study sessions the very next afternoon and, while I haven’t made it back for further Sutta sessions, I am still on that group’s email list and receive very thorough summaries of each of the classes. In addition, I have attended several of the temple’s Saturday morning guided meditation practices and viewed the film Walk With Me about Thich Nhat Hanh and his Plum Village community, followed by a Thai lunch served back at the temple. The latter was, as you’d imagine, a great time to share table and talk with others.

And with a bookstore there, as well, I have purchased several books related to Buddhism for further study and also now have a Buddha statue at home—to remind me to be present to the moment, to sit, to practice meditation daily. I was re-engaging with regular meditation before the course started, but it helped spur me on in that endeavor, for which I am very thankful. My wife and I both have been very impressed with the number and quality of activities offered through the temple and will continue to avail ourselves of them as time and interest permits. Bahá’u’lláh encourages Bahá’ís in the Kitáb-i-Iqán (8:8) to “Meditate profoundly, that the secret of things unseen may be revealed unto you, that you may inhale the sweetness of a spiritual and imperishable fragrance, and that you may acknowledge the truth that from time immemorial even unto eternity the Almighty hath tried, and will continue to try, His servants, so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses from thorns.”

In addition to his personal interactions with the Blue Lotus Temple and Meditation Center, Stewart has found other ways to use what he learned in the Buddhism course:

One of the basic and ongoing ways in which I’ve applied my course learning has been through conversations. First, with members of the Buddhist temple community—including the founding Sri Lankan monk (Theravadan Buddhist)—with whom I have shared that I am a Bahá’í, letting them know that Bahá’ís accept Buddha as a Manifestation of God.

I have also discussed this course and my takeaways from it with fellow Bahá’ís at a Cluster meeting, more or less actually winding up doing a presentation over lunch, as well as just last weekend at a devotional that was attended by a minister from the Free Evangelical Church, who was a neighbor of the host. We engaged in a lively discussion about progressive revelation. The minister, however, couldn’t get past what he saw as the “discontinuity” of the various religions, including how Buddha didn’t teach about God. I was able to point out, from my course, that while that might be the case, Buddha actually never said one way or the other whether there was or there wasn’t a God, as the point of His mission was to teach about suffering and how to overcome it or lessen it in this life, among other things. I hope to have another chance to converse with this minister in the future.

And Stewart is still delving into Buddhism:

I have also read the Dhammapada since completing the course and just recently purchased an ebook version of Buddhism by Huston Smith. Along these lines, my wife and I have just subscribed to an online course offering from Sharon Salzberg and Krishna Das entitled “Power of the Loving Heart,” a 28-lesson course on Buddhism and Bhakti Yoga. As you may gather, I have deepened my appreciation for this faith and wish to continue to study it and integrate what I can into my own spiritual practice.

Finally, Stewart has this advice: “I do think encouraging students to get out and explore or touch base with a Buddhist temple or meditation center in their vicinity, if possible, is a great way to more fully engage in both learning about and understanding this ancient and still actively growing faith tradition.”

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In the spirit of “getting out and exploring” other religions, the Wilmette Institute makes it easy to do just that. During 2019, it is offering two courses on Islam, three on Christianity and one each on Hinduism and Zoroastrianism (the date following each course is the date it starts):

Exploring the Qur’an (February 15, 2019)
Exploring the New Testament (May 25, 2019)
Introduction to Islam (June 1, 2019)
Exploring the Book of Revelation (July 25, 2019)
Hinduism for Deepening and Dialogue (September 10, 2019)
Zoroastrianism for Deepening and Dialogue (December 9, 2019)
Christianity for Deepening and Dialogue (December 15, 2019)

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