Interfaith Dialogue

Interpath Dialogue vs Interfaith Bullying and Persecution

In memory of William Gohlman, Associate Professor of History, SUNY Geneseo, 1974-2010


J. R. Worsley (1923-2003), Master of Classical Five Element Acupuncture.

Chinese symbol

The oldest seeker of immortality, Gilgamesh:

Abstract.  Two lenses, Western and Eastern science, can be used to understand the universe.  Interpath Dialogue is a more inclusive term than Interfaith Dialogue, which involves six related topics:  1) our shared cultural past; 2) the importance of architectural space; 3) the true meaning of civilization; 4) the Four Cosmopolitan Ages; 5) the pivotal role of tolerance in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Taoism;  and 6) five remedies for Interfaith Bullying and Persecution:

a. learning how to heal trauma,

b. meeting with one another,

c. sharing related practices, such as forms of prayer, fasting, and chanting,

d. celebrating our unity in silence as well as in dance, music, poetry, and festivals,

e. working in harmony with the Five Phase Cycle--Planning and Deciding (Spring-Wood), Budding and Connecting (Summer-Fire), Harvesting and Distributing (Late Summer-Earth), Detaching and Transmuting (Autumn-Metal), Storing and Enduring (Winter-Water),.


Interpath Dialogue is best understood in the context of the mystery and vastness of the Universe.  Understanding the Big Picture is important, rather than being caught up with insignificant details.

outer space

The Big Picture, according to Western science, is composed of two interconnected worlds--matter and energy--most of which are invisible (NASA, SETI, Feng, et al., Chopra). 

According to recent findings in astrophysics,

  • about 70% of the universe contains a form of energy that is mysterious in nature.  This energy can only be inferred, and it appears to be expanding continuously, taking all of the visible universe with it to some unknown boundary--if there is any boundary at all.  This energy is called Dark Energy because its origin is unknown.  This mysterious energy could be

    • some form of gravity that we do not yet understand

    • a dynamic fluid, or

    • a property of space.

  • it is possible that there might be "a fifth mysterious force that goes beyond the four fundamental forces that we already know about — gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces"--connecting it with dark matter (Feng, et. al).

  • about 26% of the universe contains particles that cannot be identified.  These particles are collectively called Dark Matter, because its origin is unknown.  Dark Matter, it is hypothesized, could be composed of

    •      Massive Compact Halo Objects (MACHOs) or

    •      Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs).

  • about 4% of the universe has atomic structure, inside which is an indeterminate quantum world of overlapping dimensions.

    •      99.99% of the atomic universe is dispersed as cosmic dust, and

    •      .01% of the atomic universe is manifest as galaxies and nebulae (NASA, Chopra).

  • In the visible universe, it is estimated that there are more than 100 billion galaxies (NASA).

  • In 100 billion galaxies, it is estimated that there are 11 billion planets that could support life as we know it (NASA).

  • It is likely that human beings could live on other planets in the universe (SETI).

  • Successful human civilizations are long-lived, having  reduced their odds of self-destruction.  Like a healthy individual or society, they have a high degree of social cohesion (SETI).

  • Our species shares the planet with about 9 million other species.

  • Success occurs when all species interact synergistically with each other on all levels and dynamics, following natural cycles (SETI).

The Big Picture, according to Eastern Intuitive science, consists of three interconnected worlds--Mind, Energy, and Matter--not two, as in Western science  (Anandamurti, Chopra). 

  • Mind and Energy flow outward to form matter, from which life evolves. Sentient forms of life continue to evolve and then return to Source in a great circle called Brahmacakra.  Universe is consciousness in various stages of transformation.

  • Spiritual masters claim that most of the universe lies quiescent in an Ocean of Consciousness--Source, which lies beyond time and space.  Its nature is Blissful Awareness of Truth (Satchitananda).

  • Creation is a tiny island within this vast Ocean of Consciousness.

  • Human beings are situated more than halfway around this circle, poised to complete their journey back to Source.

  • Intuitional science does not contradict Western science and its theories of matter and energy.  Rather, it incorporates them.

  • Human birth is very rare.  Human beings can progress or regress, depending on their actions and their degree of awareness.  Karma--reaping the fruit of one's actions, cause and effect--is integral to the workings of the universe.

  • Source expresses itself as Cosmic Mind and Cosmic Energy, from which matter is created through a subtle transformation process.  Matter is not only "bottled up" Energy--the Western view.   It is also "bottled up" Consciousness--a very significant point.

  • In a congenial environment such as planet Earth, life evolves in greater and greater degrees of complexity and awareness, until it reaches its apex--a fully developed human being.

  • Human beings are faced with three struggles--to survive, to thrive, and to attain the Bliss of Source.  Human beings must struggle against many external and internal bondages to reach Source--variously called God, YHWH, Allah, Brahma, Tao, Ground, etc.  

  • Human beings play a pivotal role in the universe.  They can use their reason to cooperate with natural cycles or to thwart them, fulfilling the lives of other species or destroying themselves and all other species in their wake.  Their noblest role is to become the steward of creation (Anandamurti, de Chardin, et al.).  To do so, they must overcome geo-sentiment, socio-sentiment, and human sentiment (attachment to a region, a social group, and humanity itself) and focus on all species and life itself (neo-humanistic sentiment).

  • There are many approaches to Source, depending on time, place, and person.  All are valid.  Freedom of choice in one's spiritual path should be honored.

  • Grace is essential in any spiritual path.  This grace is open to all, without distinction of gender, age, race, creed, color, or status.

  • At least one advanced human civilization of high intuitive development is claimed to exist on a planet in the Sirius star system (Devashish, Chapter XV).

  • Below is pictured the Chinese Tantric symbol of the Tao--representing the way things are, their cycles, and the cycle of all cycles.  It represents a person of elevated consciousness climbing uphill on a road of discovery and virtue.  The Tao is always challenging, leaving comfortable half-truths for more comprehensive and universal truths that unfold with time, often after overcoming great resistance.  This symbol speaks for all human beings who are expanding on all levels.

Chinese symbol

A better term for Interfaith Dialogue is Interpath Dialogue.  There are so many paths--aboriginal, traditional, orthodox, reformed, liberal, skeptic, agnostic, atheistic, radical, eclectic, feminist, and mystic.  All people deserve to be heard and understood, not just those of the Abrahamic family of religions (Jew, Christian, Muslim) or those of the other world religions (Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Shinto, Bahai, et al.). 


One illustration of the permeable borders that have developed recently in the field of Interpath Dialogue is a student group that identifies itself as the Alternative Spiritual Humanists, a discussion group situated at Nazareth College, Rochester, New York.  The group's title indicates the spacious awareness that created this kind of inquiry.  It is "devoted to open spiritual dialogues where all human beings with all perspectives are welcome to share their spiritual views in an accepting and peaceful environment" (nazed.spirituality).  Their logo, which includes a prominently-placed  question mark, reinforces the importance of questioning.


Building on this kind of awareness, three kinds of dialogue have been recognized, with different degrees of understanding and connection ((Interfaith Dialogue, Wikipedia):

  1. "In the dialogue of the head, we mentally reach out to the other to learn from those who think differently from us.

  2. In the dialogue of the hands, we work together to make the world a better place in which we must all live together.

  3. In the dialogue of the heart, we share the experience of the emotions of those different from us"    (Interfaith Dialogue, Wikipedia).

There is also a fourth kind of dialogue.  In the dialogue of the spirit, we know each other by the Light that we share.


In addition to these forms of dialogue, six topics are important to consider:

1) our shared cultural past,

2) architectural space,

3) the true meaning of civilization,

4) the Four Cosmopolitan Ages,

5) the pivotal role of Hinuism, Islam, and Taoism,

6) remedies for Interpath Bullying and Persecution.

1.  Our Shared Past

The graphic below maps out the origins of humanity's spiritual journey (Davies).  You can see at a glance that there are many different traditions that have emerged from a common source.  If you look deeply into each tradition, you will find that it has been formed by the ones prior to it.  Reformulations of ancient teachings are common.  The three threads that connect all of these traditions are acknowledging and loving the Source, developing compassion, and serving others. 

tree of religion
This chart indicates that all of the world’s religious traditions have a common origin spanning back about 100,000 years—the same point in time that geneticists believe that our first common female ancestor lived.  To quote from the attached legend of this graphic, “A proposed common language, Proto-Nostratic, originating in Eurasia about 15,000 years ago, unites the majority of the world’s languages.  It is speculated that the people who spoke this ancient language were practitioners of shamanism, a belief in a spirit world that animates all nature.  This graphic illustrates how the Nostratic language may have spread out across the continents, following the path of human migration and evolving into the multitude of religious faiths that we know today.”

Notice seven colored branches—Green for Proto-European, Yellow for Middle Eastern, Orange for Central Indian, Red for East and South Asian, Pink for Scandinavian and Artic, Purple for Paleo American, and Lime for Oceanic—all originating from an African matrix (Brown), the homeland of present-day humanity.

This graphic is invaluable for several reasons.  First, it illustrates how diversity springs from an ancient common source, which itself had many tributaries.  Second, it is important to become familiar with all of the seven major branches of our family, rather than just one or two branches, to have a comprehensive view of our shared heritage.  Third, it shows that we have too much in common with each other to ever hate one another.  As Native Americans say, "No tree is foolish enough to allow its branches to fight against one another."  We are a fabulously diverse and unique family whose distinctive features should be honored, studied, and preserved.  One Light shines through all.


Here is a proposed program of dance, chanting, and poetry through which we can appreciate each of the 8 branches of the World Tree--and then, for a few minutes, become the World Tree ourselves. 

Celebration of Unity

The Voices of each of the 8 Branches

African                     Drum, Chant, Dances

European                 Celtic Harp, Poetry, Dances

Middle Eastern       Jewish, Christian, Muslim readings and dances

Indo-Aryan               Classical Indian Dance; Poems of Hafez

S & N Asian              Poems from Tao Te Ching, Korean & Japanese dances

Scandinavian            Folktales, Songs

Paleo-American        Native American - Drum, Chant, Dances

Oceanic                     Polynesian Creation Story and Dances

The Motion of All of the Branches Together

Group Dances        Universal Dances of Peace

Human civilization is not one flower, but a beautiful garden with innumerable flowers of so many scents and so many varieties.  We should take proper care of this garden of civilization--we must take proper care of each and every flower.   Shrii Shrii Anandamurti




2.  Architectural Space

Various settings have been created to embody the goals of Interfaith Dialogue--from "the reconciliation of competing truth claims (Hick, 2004) to Kung's advocacy of a Cosmic Spirituality" (Grubiack, 2014).  Consider Eero Sarinen's MIT Interfaith Chapel, dedicated in 1955.    

room with chairs

The chapel is a theological statement of Cosmic Spirituality. This spirituality embraces all of creation, not just humanity.  The chapel is composed of light, water, stone, wood, and metal, an expression of the Five Elements.  It  is filled with soft natural light that enters through a skylight. This light pours down over reflecting metallic filaments to touch the white stone altar below.  Light also arises from floor-level windows that open up to an exterior moat.  The shower of central light, symbolizing the sacred connection of the Cosmos with the Earth, is enhanced by surrounding waves of reflected light. The combined effect of all these elements creates a feeling of awe, peace, and transcendence. 

Part of this effect is also created by the shape of the chapel itself, which replicates the experience of the paleolithic cave, where our first ancestors chose to express their inklings of the numinous (Campbell, 1959).  This shape creates deep feelings of awe and wonder.  It also suggests both the womb of the earth and the vault of the night sky, where stars twinkle at night in a swirling, dynamic order.

Some contemporary architects have taken their inspiration from Sarinen.  Instead of creating large, majestic cathedrals, mosques, and temples for one particular faith, they are creating sacred spaces that fit in modestly within surrounding secular culture (Grubiack, 2014).  This space is for all--not just for people of faith.  The theological implications of this architectural movement are enormous, since it is more inclusive than most realize, and since it relies on an archetypal language that is both immediate and deep.

Space shapes us--and our relationships--more than we imagine.  There are spaces where discord, selfishness, and aggression disappear within the human heart--and where their opposites--harmony, transcendence, and love--arise and flourish.  The MIT Chapel is one such place.

Sarinen placed his Interfaith Chapel at the center of an internationally known institute of mathematics and science--both languages in their own right, and approximations of cosmic intelligence.  This, too, is worthy of consideration, for mathematics and science have fluid borders, touching and leading us into aesthetics and spirituality.  Without intelligent, far-seeing sponsors who support innovation, artists cannot express themselves, nor can we receive their valuable messages.

3. The True Meaning of Civilization

Defined as "highly developed culture," civilization is usually contrasted to "primitive" or "savage" culture.  But how correct is this definition, especially when we find that some primitive cultures are more humane than many so-called "highly developed" cultures?  Civilization can be defined in four ways--as developed culture, as degenerate culture, as inclusive culture, and as non-violent culture.  We will look at the characteristics of each definition and then explore how an advanced civilization--one that is developed, inclusive, and non-violent--could possibly emerge on this planet.

DEFINITION 1.  Civilization is usually defined "as a developed form of culture," marked by an advanced stage of evolution in the arts and sciences as well as in social and political organization (Greer, 1992. p. 6).   According to this definition, civilization is manifest in the advanced cultures of the Middle East (Sumer, Babylon), Africa (Egypt), Asia (India, China), Europe (Greece, Rome), the Pacific Islands (Indonesia, Polynesia), and the Americas (Maya, Inca).  While the origin, development, and culmination of all these cultures are worthy of study, and while they do to a certain extent illustrate civilization as it is ordinarily understood, they also exhibit two characteristics that contradict the very spirit of civilization.  These two characteristics are exploitation and violence, unleashed against three targets:  conquered peoples, domestic populations, and the environment.  To cite but one example:  the Roman Empire at its height provided its citizens with a refined language, international jurisprudence, civil service, a postal service, excellent roads, public inns, abundant water, splendid municipal architecture, and free entertainment.  At the same time, it also condemned thousands of slaves to brutal labor in the mines of Asia Minor; threw countless enemies of the state into public arenas to fight against armed gladiators or ferocious wild animals for the amusement of on-lookers; denuded the extensive forests of the Mediterranean shore, leaving the barren desert that remains today; and hunted into extinction hundreds of species of wild animals.  Rome, despite its considerable material and administrative achievement, never rose above the barbarism that it claimed to conquer.

Developed cultures can be ranked by the amount of energy a civilization ican use for communication (Kardeshev Scale, Wikipedia).  This scale has three designated categories:

  • Type I Civilization--also called a planetary civilization – can use and store energy which reaches its planet from the neighboring star.

  • Type II Civilization can harness the total energy of its planet's parent star.

  • Type III Civilization can control energy on the scale of its entire host galaxy.

DEFINITION 2.  Cultures that are materially developed can be morally degenerate.  Imperial Rome is a case in point.  Unlike the Early Republic, which was known for its high standards of private and public virtue, Imperial Rome not only tolerated vice but also fostered it as well.  As Rome's moralists, Horace and Suetonius, recorded in their writings, Imperial Rome was ruled by vanity, egotism, bigotry, promiscuity, duplicity, intrigue, fraud, addiction, cruelty, sadism, and murder.  Henry Miller has captured this sense of degeneracy into which civilization can fall when he wrote:  "Civilization is drugs, alcohol, engines of war, prostitution, and insanity" (1939).  In this sense, civilization is degenerate culture, the enemy of virtue, not its champion or friend.  What is supposed to elevate, seduces; what is supposed to ennoble, corrupts; and what is supposed to refine, brutalizes.  Almost every culture known to history has entered this degenerate stage as it ages and declines.  Few cultures ever regain their vigor and justice without going through some radical kind of death or transformation.  Hence, in this sense of the term, civilization is an evil that moral, courageous people confront and transform.

DEFINITION 3.  The verb "civilize" means "to bring out of a primitive or savage state, to educate or enlighten, or to refine" (American Heritage Dictionary).   Many cultures have attained degrees of civilization, illustrated, for example, in the rise of lyric poetry during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt; in the approval of Confucian teaching during the Han Dynasty of China; in the popularity of women writers during the Heian period of Japan; in the creation of "the songs to rejoice the forest" by the Mbuti Pygmies of Central Africa; in the quest for the Holy Grail and the cult of the Virgin Mary during the later Middle Ages; in the formation of the Peace-Keeping Confederacy of the Iroquois; in the rise of the Tea Ceremony of Tokugawa Japan; in the ideal of the gentleman during the Italian Renaissance; in the growth of Sufism during the Mogul Period of India; in the protest against slavery during early American history; and in the creation of soul music during Afro-American history.  But no culture has ever effectively embraced all of humanity in a well-knit and inclusive society, which eliminates the gap between "the rulers and the ruled, the haves and the have-nots."  This quest for a just social order lies at the heart of civilization.  The brilliant historian, Arnold Toynbee, wrote at the conclusion of his study of human history:  "civilization is the endeavor to create a state of society in which the whole of Mankind will be able to live together in harmony, as members of a single all-inclusive family--the goal at which all civilizations so far known have been aiming, unconsciously, if not consciously" (Toynbee, 1972, p. 44).   Though no culture in recorded history has ever attained this state of civilization, some scholars speculate that it was the intention of some pre-historic matriarchal societies (Gimbutas, 1990).

DEFINITION 4.  Fair and inclusive as Toynbee's definition of civilization is, it must be extended to mean a peaceful and non-violent culture.  For civilization includes not only Mankind, but Womankind as well--and Children, Animals, Plants, and the entire Earth--all overlooked by every empire to date.  P. R. Sarkar, a contemporary social philosopher, maintains that a true civilization nurtures and promotes the well-being of all planetary creatures, of which human beings are only a small part.  We are a single species in a community of 1.1 billion species.   According to this view, civilization is characterized by its ability to safeguard the well-being of all creatures, not a powerful elite; by its ability to protect the dumb and the inarticulate, not the wealthy and enfranchised.  Civilization can be measured by the degree to which it protects the vulnerable, by the degree to which it nurtures all creatures in one universal family (Sarkar, 1983, Neo-humanism).

4.  The Four Cosmopolitan Ages

Throughout human history, there have been Four Cosmopolitan Ages, where official policies of tolerance created four developed, inclusive, non-violent civilizations that mark the pinnacle of human achievement (Britannica; Count, 1963).

The First Cosmopolitan Age, spanning the Hellenistic and Roman Empires (323 BCE - 380 CE), united Western Europe, Northern Africa, Asia Minor, Persia, and India in a rich synthesis of very ancient cultures with more recent Greek and Roman culture.  Christianity began as a small minority movement at the middle of this Age.  At first, it was persecuted. Then it gained official recognition under Emperor Constantine in 323, after which it was assimilated and synthesized with Greek and Roman philosophy by Clement of Alexandria and his students.  This great synthesis was short-lived.  In 380, Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the sole religion of the Roman Empire.  All other religions were considered heretical and were persecuted.  This is but one historical of example of the "persecuted becoming the persecutor."  On Theodosius' bidding, the Roman Catholic Church destroyed most of the classical heritage of the ancient world and initiated a cataclysm.  Thousands of classical manuscripts were burned, many schools of philosophy were shut down and destroyed, and thousands of people were tortured and murdered in an attempt to establish "doctrinal purity."  In the wake of this edict, there followed a thousand year period of inquisition, torture, and death--all in the name of Christ, the prophet of righteousness, love, and forgiveness.  His Gospel of Mercy was transformed into a grotesque form of hatred and oppression that took centuries to check and humanize (Freke and Gandy, 1999).

The Second Cosmopolitan Age, the Age of Baghdad (830 - 1150 CE), flourished when Islamic princes and scholars retrieved, translated, expanded, and disseminated ancient Greek, Roman, Christian, and Jewish manuscripts and learning, in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, physical science, medicine, literature, music, theology, and philosophy.  Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars lived side together in a spirit of tolerance and respect, working in a common effort to retrieve and interpret the lost classical heritage of Greece and Rome--and then to extend its sphere of learning.  This brilliant age was brought to a tragic close by the Crusades, which were initiated by a succession of European Popes and Kings greedy for empire and spoil (Britannica, 2002).  Humanity has still not recovered from this trauma.

The Third Cosmopolitan Age flourished in Muslim Spain (711 - 1492 CE).  Following the teaching of the Prophet Mohammed, the Muslim rulers of Al-andalus tolerated people of all faiths.  Even more, they created a culture of harmonious cooperation.  The Muslim rulers invited Christian and Jewish scholars to help them find and translate ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts, so they could create a truly civilized culture on the Iberian Peninsula.  It is here in Andalusia that the European Renaissance truly began--not in Italy, as is commonly thought.  Cordoba, Seville, and Granada were known as the "cities of light," since these cities lit their streets at night with gas lamps and had spacious courtyards and gardens in their homes.  They became the centers of civilization throughout all Europe.  They had an abundant supply of fresh running water, which was used not only for public sanitation but also for lush, beautiful public gardens.  The Muslim princes also erected gorgeous mosques made from the marble of Greek and Roman ruins.  There was a plentiful food supply from abundant gardens and fields.  Medicine reached its pinnacle, and princes from all over Europe sought out Andalusian physicians to heal them.  In this age of high culture, Christians, Muslims, and Jews married their sons and daughters to each other--and lived in peace.  Unfortunately, this remarkable age was tragically destroyed in two stages--first by Muslim in-fighting, and second by external attacks from militant Christians.  Andalusian culture was given its deathblow by the Ferdinand and Isabella, who expelled Jews and Muslims from Spain and then created the rigid, intolerant culture of exploitation by which they colonized the "New World" (Gardner, 2007).

The Fourth Cosmopolitan Age occurred during the Mogul Empire (1206 - 1405 CE), the largest contiguous land empire in human history, comprising over 30 million square miles and including a population of over 100 million people (Wikipedia).  After the period of initial conquest, the Mogul Empire fostered a long period of international peace and tolerance.  There was a flourishing exchange among many countries in trade goods, rare spices, works of art, silk, jewelry, and technology.  Manuscripts with scientific, philosophical, and religious ideas were disseminated with great interest and at high price.  Knowledge and trade were more highly prized than war and conquest.  The main artery of this international exchange was the Silk Road, which connected Xian in China with Damascus in the Middle East.  This age was brought to a close by succession difficulties within the ruling Mogul family as well as by the Black Death, which was transmitted by the very road that connected it (Wikipedia).

A Fifth Cosmopolitan Age has fitfully begun with the European Enlightenment (1750 - 1790 CE), whose radical ideas of liberty sparked revolutions in politics, religion, science, and culture in America, France, Russia, China, Africa, and Latin America.  Since ignorance, hatred, and intolerance thrive in most populations, this Cosmopolitan Age is still waiting to be fulfilled.  This has been the bloodiest period of human history.  This Age entered is first Global Phase after World War II (1939 - 1945 CE).  We are now in its second phase.  Humanity is now attempting to overcome its sentimental attachments to territory, a social group, and even itself, so that it becomes the steward of all life, to which it is inextricably linked.  It is also attempting to forge a peaceful cooperative world order--one created by and for people, protected by a world government that guarantees individual liberty, regional autonomy, ethnic and religious diversity, meaningful employment, a sustainable economy, and environmental integrity (Sarkar, Neo-Humanism, 1955).

History demonstrates that religion is one of the primary weapons used by intolerant groups to achieve their separatist aims--not only within faiths (Suni-Shia; Protestant-Catholic; Mahayana-Hinayana; Reform-Conservative) but also between and among them  (Christian-Jewish; Muslim-Hindu; Confucian-Buddhist; Shinto-Taoist, and so on).  Unfortunately, words become deadly weapons that are shot between warring religious factions as well as between warring religions.

The best antidote to this battle of words is an educated populace that sees through this hateful, divisive rhetoric and is not taken in by it.  Downplaying differences and connecting with each other on a human and spiritual level--sharing histories, accessing common values,and enjoying  conversation, food, music, and dance--is a workable and trusted path for Interpath understanding.

5.  The Pivotal Role of Tolerance in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Taoism

Hinduism is a wide set of beliefs and practices based upon the Vedas, Upanishads, Sutras, Shastras, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, and Puranas as interpreted by various authorities.  One of Hinduism's foundational truths is that there are as many paths to the same goal as there are seekers, and that all should be respected without interference.

All human beings share a similar dharma--to expand on all levels (vistara), to join with cosmic flow (rasa), to serve other creatures (seva), and then to become established in all of these three attributes, until they are second nature (tad stithih).  All human beings are essentially the same.

Only small people discriminate, saying "This one is a relative; the other is a stranger."

For those who live magnanimously, the entire world constitutes but one family.

                                               Maha Upanishad, Chapter 6, Verse 72

Tolerance can be negative in the sense of putting up with characteristics that are considered to be disagreeable or objectionable.  This is not true tolerance. 

True tolerance is positive and affirms differences with acceptance and love.

Hinduism also teaches that some ideas, events, and persons should not be tolerated.  The central teaching of the Bhagavad Gita is that one must not tolerate any violation of dharma or righteousness. Any intention or force that threatens the life, property, or wealth of any person should be opposed vigorously, until it is defeated (  The Bhagavad Gita is a textbook for all of the martial arts, whose fundamental teaching is ahimsa--minimizing injury in so far as is possible, according to time, place, and person. One should not inflict injury on any creature unnecessarily. Nor should one accept unnecessary injury on oneself or others without vigorous and adequate defense.  The main stipulation of the Bhagavad Gita is that one must not be clouded by anger or revenge.  Instead, one must avoid the confusion of both passive indecision and blood lust and see in one's opponent the same same Supreme Spirit that resides in all creatures. This is the inner discipline of all warriors of all ages--men and women, young and old.

Kill therefore with the sword of wisdom the doubt born of ignorance that lies in thy heart.  Be one in self-harmony, in Yoga, and arise, great warrior, arise!

                                                 Bhagavad Gita 4:42

Buddhist teaching is centered on the practice of tolerance--and more than that.  When a student asked the Dalai Lama how long he had practiced Buddhism, he replied:

I don't practice Buddhism. I practice kindness.

The Buddhist ruler Asoka (304 -26- BCE) advised his subjects:

The king honors both the ascetics and the lay followers of all religions, and he gives them gifts.  But the king does not value gifts as much as he values this--that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. This can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one's own religion or condeming the religion of others with good cause.

And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way.

But it is better to honor other religions for this reason--by doing so, one's own religion benefits, and so do the other religions.  Therefore contact between the religions is good.

One should listen to and respect the doctrine professed by others.  The king desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrine of other religions.

Asoka's advice arises from Buddha's teaching (Karnaniya Metta Sutta):

Radiate boundless love towards the entire world.

outer space


The teaching of Islam (Arabic, "peace that comes through submission") is founded on the life and teaching of Mohammed (Arabic, "highly praised").  Mohammed, called the Seal of the Prophets, had a tumultuous life.  Six months before he was born, his father died.  Then, at the age of six, his mother died, after which he became an orphan.  For the next two years, he was raised by his grandfather, who then died.  After this, his uncle raised him and offered him the only career open to orphans--working as a caravan trader and merchant.  Legend says that when he was nine or ten years old, he met a Christian monk on one of his trips across the Syrian desert.  The monk foretold that Mohammed would be a prophet of God (Wikipedia 2014).  From his youth, Mohammed was known to be upright, honest, and trustworthy. Because of these traits, he was often selected to arbitrate disputes between various parties.  He was honored for his fair-mindedness as well as his gentleness and sense of mercy.  When he was twenty five, he accepted the marriage proposal of his employer, Khadija, a wealthy widow who was forty years old.  The marriage was a happy one, according to tradition. 

Highly introverted, Mohammed was in the habit of retiring for several weeks at a time every year to pray in a cave near his home in Mecca.  During one of these vigils, he heard "the voice of the Angel Gabriel" speaking to him.  According to some historical records, this inner experience shook him to the core.  He did not know what to make of it, and he feared that others would say he was "possessed" if they heard about it.  His wife, however, comforted him and encouraged him to believe in his experience.  She advised him to remain open to what might be further revealed.  After a three-year period of silence, the angelic messages returned and grew in intensity.  They charged Mohammed to preach them to the world.  Surprised by this, yet willing to obey, Mohammed began to do so.  His wife, Khadija, became his first convert.  Soon he had a small band of devoted followers, including his uncle's son, Ali, who would later marry his daughter, Fatima.

The core teaching that Mohammed received from the Angel Gabriel is that the Divine Presence is One and that It alone deserves respect and devotion.  In Arabic, this Divine Presence is known as Allah (Arabic, al-ilah), literally, THE GOD--there is no other.  In the polytheistic city of Mecca, Mohammed's message was unwelcome, so a coalition of opponents set about to silence him.  Mohammed's public preaching was also considered offensive to his family, since his tribe protected the Kaaba, allegedly built by Abraham thousands of years ago as humanity's first temple to worship God.  The Kaaba at that time contained 360 statues of gods and goddesses believed to rule each day of the year (Armstong, Wikipedia, 2014).  Mohammed's resolute stand against his polytheistic opponents set the stage for his life-long conflict against them.

When Mohammed discovered that his opponents were plotting against his life, he escaped by night across the desert to the city of Medina. This escape is known as the Hejra (Arabic, migration).  At Medina, Mohammed was accepted as a peacemaker among various groups, including Christian, Jewish, and Bedouin factions.  His policy of toleration and astute political alliances helped him stave off an attack on the city from Meccan forces.  After several years of skirmishes, Mohammed raised a confederacy of 10,000 soldiers to retake Mecca.  It is important to note that there was little bloodshed in this last victorious battle, which marked the turning point of Mohammed's fortunes.  After this battle, Islam was triumphant.  Mohammed forgave many of those who had tried to kill him in the past, illustrating that he not only understood the importance of mercy but practiced it.  After the battle, Mohammed destroyed all of the statues around the Kaaba and declared the city to be monotheistic.  Opposition immediately rose against him from other outlying tribes in the region.  Mohammed resisted them and fought to maintain his hold on Mecca.  After several years of battle, he subdued the entire Arabian Peninsula.  In 632, he took his final pilgrimage to Mecca, after which he died.

Mohammed had designated his cousin and son in law, Ali, to become caliph (Arabic, khalifa, leader, successor, deputy--the term used in the Koran for Adam's role to represent God on Earth).  It is clear why Mohammed chose Ali.  He was Mohammed's first male convert to Islam and the leader of the Shia (Arabic, Shiatu, "followers").  According to Madelung (1997, p. 309), "Ali was respected for his courage, knowledge, belief, honesty, unbending devotion to Islam, deep loyalty to Mohammed, equal treatment of all Muslims, and generosity in forgiving his defeated enemies."  In spite of all these qualities, Ali's leadership was contested.  Soon after he became caliph, the atmosphere grew acrimonious.  When he was performing his morning prayers, he was fatally stabbed.  He hung on to life for three days before he died.  Since that time, there have been sharp and bloody divisions among the several Islamic sects that have struggled for the caliphate.

Mohammed's Teaching.  Unlike Christians, who believed in Jesus' miraculous birth and healings, Mohammed claimed that the Koran itself is the real miracle, since it gives in precise terms the clearest expression of God's will for all of humanity.  According to Mohammed, the previous divine revelations--given to Adam, Noah, Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus--have all been corrupted through time and mistranslation, so God's will has been obscured.  Unlike other scriptures, most of which are anonymous and which have been compiled over centuries by various scribal schools, the Koran is linked to one man's life--Mohammed--and is claimed to be perfect, without error or distortion.  Perhaps the distinguishing feature that marks those who follow Mohammed's path is their deep respect not only for their Prophet but also for the Koran.  This respect is indicated by the admonition, "Wash your hands before opening the pages of this book."  While the script of Arabic is very beautiful to behold in itslef, Muslims maintain that the Koran must be heard in Arabic to be fully appreciated.

The teachings of the Koran, along with the profound influence of Mohammed's life and teaching, were codified by his disciples into a teaching called the Five Pillars, adherence to which, many Muslims claim, is the essence of Islam.  These pillars are as follows:

a) Creed should be recited:  "There is no god but Allah."  The importance of this is to emphasize the presence and authority of the Divine Presence everywhere and at all times.
b) Prayer is to be performed five times a day, facing Mecca, remembering that God is Great (Allah Akbar) and that human thought is meaningless unless aligned to Allah.
c) Charity should be performed, giving a part of one's wages to the poor and needy.
d) Ramadan should be observed. This is a lunar month fast, from daybreak to sunset, in remembrance of Mohammed's commission as Prophet and his Flight to Medina.
e) Pilgrimage should be performed, if possible, at least once during a lifetime.  This is a journey to Mecca, during which one refrains from gambling, drinking, and eating pork, and during which one re-dedicates oneself to the "Straight Path, from which all mercies flow."

Heritage.  For many centuries, Islam was the most tolerant of all Middle Eastern religions.  Islamic scholars preserved, translated, interpreted, and transmitted ancient culture, especially Greek culture, to the West, and it created a rich store of literary, artistic, medical, mathematical, and philosophical wisdom, in a cultural synthesis that extended for centuries from Spain to India. At the same time, it should be observed that there are earlier and later sayings in the Koran that give contradictory messages about tolerance and conversion.  For example,

Qur’an 2:256   "There must be no compulsion in religion.  Truly the right way [Islam] is clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in Satan and believes in Allah has laid hold of the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing."

Qur’an 8:39 “So fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief by non-Muslims), fight them, until all submit to the religion of Allah alone."

Educational style.   Islam pedagogy is characterized by rote memorization of the Koran; detailed exegesis of scriptural passages, with attention to historical, moral, and spiritual contexts; a synthetic approach to knowledge, drawing on Jewish, Christian, Greek, Roman, and Arabic thought; and honoring those scholars who offer new and striking interpretations and applications of the canon, in individual, social, and political life (Rorty, 1998).

Mystical Interpretation.  The Sufi movement began at the end of Mohammed's life as a reaction to the worldliness and legalism of the Umayyad period of the early eighth century CE (Britannica, 2000).  Sufis (Arabic, suf, wool) took their name from the simple woolen garments that Mohammed and his early disciples wore, emphasizing the importance of simplicity and asceticism in spiritual life.  Sufis, as all mystics, are single-minded in their effort to find Divine Love and knowledge through direct personal experience (marifah, interior knowledge), as opposed to the "learned ignorance" of university scholars.  The Sufi path (tariqah) is to merge with True Reality (haqiqah)--through an intuitive, all-encompassing approach that avoids all kinds of narrow mindedness, especially literal adherence to formal rules and codes.  Though Sufism has spawned a number of divergent sects, their central practice is zikr, constant remembrance of God's presence, compassion, and justice, through the chanting of phrases, ecstatic dance (especially emphasized in dervish orders), stirring music, and silent meditation.  All of these spiritual practices are designed to defeat the downward pull of the ego (nafs), to lift the soul upwards, and to satisfy the soul's natural inclination to merge with the Divine.  Insight and love are achieved through stages of purification under the guidance of a spiritual master or counselor (sheik).  The eclectic nature of Sufi sects, many of which openly embrace the teachings and practices of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, has led some to assert that Sufism is not Muslim--an issue that is still debated today, as it was for centuries, when Sufi apologists tried to assuage the doubts of their more orthodox Muslim brothers that they had not strayed too far afield (Sufism, 2000).  A great Sufi mystic, Rabiah, a woman who lived in Basra during the ninth century, taught that the essence of Sufism--Essential Islam--is that the disciple should be purely disinterested, neither desiring Paradise nor fearing Hell, for trust in and submission to God is sufficient (Britannica, 2002). 

 The following poem by Rumi, a Sufi mystic, illustrates the mystical depth of this approach:

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen.  Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the Ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal,
not composed of elements at all.  I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or the next,
am not descended from Adam or Eve or any
origin story.  My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless.  Neither body nor soul,
I belong to the Beloved, have seen the two
worlds as One and that One call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

Jalalaldin Rumi (Barks, 1995, p. 32)

A Key Term.  The word jihad, meaning "struggle or resistance," has both inner and outer meanings.  The inner meaning, which is usually considered more important, refers to the struggle for self-improvement.  Jihad  begins with the realization that we are often our own worst enemy and that others can entice us to do things that we later regret.  We need to struggle against certain failings that keep us from attaining our goal.  Jihad in this sense means self-reformation.   In a Muslim context, jihad includes the following:
    1) teaching the soul to submit to Allah;
    2) training the soul to become quiet--still, peaceful--in the Presence of Allah;
    3) subduing the ego, so that it is obedient to the will of Allah;
    4) following a simple and pure life, ridding oneself of all kinds of weaknesses and addictions, so that one can enjoy the blessing of a righteous life;
    5) resisting the temptations of the world--lust, greed, indulgence, hatred, pride, and materialism--so the soul may become free and stay free.
The outer meaning of jihad refers to "the physical struggle against the enemies of Islam" (Alazzam, 2014).  Javed Ghamidi, a well-known contemporary Muslim theologian, states that "there is consensus amongst Islamic scholars that the concept of outer jihad will always include armed struggle against wrong doers" (Wikipedia, 2014).  The outer meaning of jihad is identical to the word crusade.  As R.P. Clark (2002) points out:  "The word “crusade” comes from the Latin word “crux” which means “cross.” A crusade is a war fought under the sign of the cross.  Make no mistake about it:  “Crusade” is the Christian synonym for “jihad,” the Islamic concept of holy war. To the ears of Moslems, the word “crusade” carries over a thousand years of traumatic history.

The Christian Crusade against the "Muslim Infidels" began in 1095 CE and continued for centuries. It is one of the most conspicuous violations of the teaching of Jesus in the history of the world and is comparable to the Holocaust (Clark, 2002).  For Christians, Muslims were considered "Infidels"--literally, "not of the faith."  Muslims understandably responded to these attacks with jihad--resistance against Christian "Infidels."  It is important to note that this Muslim resistance is consistent with the Christian doctrine of "Just War."

"The Just War doctrine of the Catholic Church lists four strict conditions for "legitimate defense by military force":

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain [the Crusader attacks were lasting, grave, and certain];

  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective [Christian Popes and Kings refused to honor Muslim peace offers];

  • there must be serious prospects of success [Muslim prospects for military success were generally good and were often materialized];

  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated [Muslim resistance was often less severe than Christian butchery].                                                                                                                                                                                                               (Wikipedia, 2014)

Islamic law (shariah) states that jihad "should occur only for self-defense, strengthening Islam, protecting the freedom of Muslims to practice their faith, and protecting Muslims against oppression.  This could include overthrowing a tyrannical ruler, punishing an enemy who breaks an oath, and making right a wrong.  The intention of jihad is not to force people to convert to Islam or to conquer other nations to colonize them" (Alazzam, 2014).

Taoism.  Taoism is a Chinese form of early Tantric teaching. This can be traced in the word itself.  The Sanskrit word  Tantra became Taota in Early Chinese which then became Tao in later Chinese (Sarkar, 1982).  The teachings of Taoism were developed for centuries, along with the arts of Chi Kung and Kung Fu.  It became part of the Scholar Warrior tradition and the Six Arts, which included Classical Five Element Acupuncture.  Its teachings were partly codified in the literary and philosophic classic known as the Tao Te Ching.  It's monistic metaphysics, along with its non-violent ethics, recapitulate, with infinite grace, the teachings of the anonymous Masters of Light (Sarkar, 1982).  Taoist teachings infilrated Chinese thought and were influential in moderating the persecutions of Buddhism (574, 577, 945 CE).   A main tenet of Taoist teaching is that words are severely limited and therefore lead to misunderstanding.  Verbal exchanges, including theological discourse, cannot bridge the gap between people of the same faith let along those of other faiths.  Living simply, attaining peace within, and accepting others for what they are the basis of interfaith harmony.

The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn't create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn't hold on to them.
Since it is merged with all things
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
It isn't aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.

Tao Te Ching 34 (Mitchell, 1988 ).

6.  Remedies for Interpath Bullying and Persecution

The famous Disputation of Barcelona in Aragon in 1263 is an excellent example of how Interfaith Dialogue can degenerate into Interfaith bullying and persecution.  The disputation will be presented as a five act play, after which psychological, medical, philosophical, theological, and political commentary is provided.  This commentary is not an attack on Christianity.  Rather, it is an analysis of a great spiritual tradition that was distorted for a period of time by a handful of powerful people who lacked vision and compassion.

Setting – the historical background.  The Disputation occurred well before the traumatic expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.  One hundred and fifty years before, at the time of King James I of Aragon, the Jewish people enjoyed considerable autonomy, both in Muslim and Christian Spain.  The Jews were prominent not only in medicine, law, philosophy, agriculture, business, trade, and the arts in many kingdoms. They were also important advisors to officials at many royal courts, including the court of King James I of Aragon (Caputo, Nahmanides in Medieval Catalonia, University of Notre Dame). 

The famous disputation occurred well towards the end of the life of Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (Nahmanides)—a life known for its simplicity, ardor, piety, scholarship, and gentleness. 

man with beard cartoon

He was often asked to mediate disputes between antagonistic parties within the Jewish community.  His tolerant, accommodating attitude was not unusual, since it mirrored the wider cultural ethos of the time, thanks to the example set by the neighboring land to the east—especially Al Andalus, famed even unto this day for its tolerance as well as its scientific and cultural achievements in Cordova and Seville, the Cities of Light.

Though King James I of Aragon had been mentored by the militant Knights Templar as a young man, to protect him from his father’s heresy, for which James’ father was killed, James was raised as a cosmopolitan. He was gracious in his attitude towards his subjects, and especially so towards Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, who was a respected physician, philosopher, exegete, and cabalist.

But beneath this tolerant surface of early Spanish culture lay a more sinister layer, the bitter thousand-year controversy—theological, cultural, economic, and political—between the Jews and Christians.  It was the Christians who were bent on converting all outsiders to their faith.  Nahmanides complained of this in a letter to King James I, well before the disputation. He noted that he--and all Jews generally--were never left alone to live their lives without interference.  The Christians instigated heresy hunts for those whom they suspected of unorthodox views.  Freedom of thought was prohibited, within the faith, or outside of it.  They aggressively attempted to convert all  people of faith to Christianity, with the ostensible purpose of saving their souls from damnation.

The bad blood between the Christian hierarchy and the Jewish, evident in the gospels, had festered and grown worse for a thousand years.  The Christian insistence that the Jews were wrong about Jesus’s status as the Messiah was unrelenting.  The Jews, on the other hand, were much more self-contained in their attitude.  They believed in "live and let live" and did not attempt to convert anyone.  But the Christians believed that only when the Jews had converted and accepted Jesus as the Messiah would the rift between the two faiths be healed.  

Act I. Scene 1.  The Origins of the Disputation of 1263.  The story begins with Saul, a Jewish man who married a Jewish woman and fathered several children by her.  He then converted to Christianity, left his wife, and took his children with him.  He studied for holy orders, became an ordained Dominican monk a few years later, and assumed the name of Pablo Christiani.  He became a zealot for his new-found faith and especially targeted Jews in his conversion efforts (Christiani, Wikipedia).

Act I. Scene 2.  The Trigger.  Friar Christiani admitted to his Dominican Superior that he was having trouble converting any Jewish people to his new faith and was upset with his lack of success.  So a disputation was decided upon as a cure for the problem.  Disputations were popular public events at the time and valued as high entertainment.  But the real purpose of the debate was to sharpen Friar Christiani’s rhetorical skills, so he could learn how to be more successful at winning over "the stubborn Jews.”  Unlike genuine interfaith dialogue, there was no interest in bringing to light the common ground and shared experience between the two faiths. This was understood as a win-lose battle between the two faiths.

As a historical note—medieval disputations between the Christians and Jews were often connected with burnings of the Talmud, burnings at the stake, confiscation of property, and personal violence against Jews (Novikoff, Medieval Culture, 2013).

Act I. Scene 3.  Upping the Ante - one David and Three Goliaths.  Friar Christiani appealed to King James of Aragon to allow him to have a commanding position in the debate, since he wanted firsthand experience in debating the acknowledged Jewish master of the day--Nahmanides.  King James readily agreed.  Although the king respected Nahmanides and knew him to be a great scholar, he insisted that Nahmanides not only debate against Friar Christiani, but also against two other friars as well. The odds were set to be one against three—asymmetry with a vengeance.

Act I. Scene 4.  Get Ready, Set, Go….  So Nahmanides had three formidable Dominican opponents who were eager to pounce on his every word, with the king eagerly looking on as arbiter, hoping for "a good Christian victory."  In the background, watching closely, was the King's wife, who was aware of his long-standing affair with a courtesan, against whom she would pressure the King to repent and to support the Catholic Church.  This is the fourth Goliath that Nahmanides had to face, even though it was behind the curtain.

Act I. Scene 5.  Wait a Minute.  Knowing that the odds were stacked against him, Nahmanides refused to enter the disputation, for he wisely feared for his life.  When King James insisted that he enter the debate, the rabbi agreed on one condition—that he be allowed to speak freely.  The king granted his request.  One might speculate that it is amazing that Nahmanides took the king at his word.  But then Nahmanides really had no choice--the fifth Goliath behind the curtain.

Act I. Scene 6.  One More to Go.  The asymmetry of this famous debate does not end here.  The rabbi had to argue about the validity of Christian doctrine, not about what he knew, the doctrines of his own Jewish faith, as would be logical in a more civilized culture—the tradition observed in former ages, as, for example, by the Buddhist king, Akbar the Great, as well as others before him, where the true spirit of Interfaith Dialogue was known and observed.  No, Nahmanides had to disprove doctrines of a faith that he did not even hold.  In particular, he was ordered to disprove three key tenets of Christian dogma—

1. whether the Messiah had appeared or not,

2. whether, according to scripture, the Messiah is a divine being or not,

3. whether the Jews or Christians held the true faith.

Act II.  David and three more Goliaths.  The dispute was a four-day ordeal, from July 20th to July 24th, 1263.  All parties agree that Nahmanides had the upper hand from the beginning.  He never fell behind and outflanked his opponents at every step.  The rabbi, like David, more than held his ground against the three Goliaths whom he faced—the Christian friars, the Dominican order, and the King of Aragon.  He confounded his opponents at every step with his rigorous Aristotelian logic as well as his persuasive counter-questioning.  His manner was forthright, compelling, and concise.  The king was astonished at his prowess.  It was not long before the king realized that he would have to rule in favor of this simple, pious man who argued like a wizard.

Act III.  Wise Warning Blocked.  The Jews of Barcelona saw the situation for what it was.  They feared the resentment of the Dominicans should Nahmanides win. They pleaded with Nahmanides to stop the disputation at once, before it formally ended.  If he won, they argued, he would never be forgiven.  But King James, aware of this sentiment, would have none of it.  He forced the contestants to continue the debate to the bitter end.     

Act IV.  First Victory.  The disputation proceeded, to the point where everyone concluded, including King James, that Nahmanides had achieved a complete victory.  After a few days, King James attended Nahmanides’ temple in Barcelona and praised him in glowing terms—stating that Nahmanides was a man "rare in courtesy, intellect, and wisdom."  As a small token of his respect, he gave Nahmanides a gift of three hundred ducats of gold.  (A ducat contained 3.5 grams of gold, worth, in today's price of $1250.00/oz,  $1,312,500.00.)  The king said that he had “never encountered a man who, while yet being wrong, argued so well for his position” (Disputation of Barcelona, Wikipedia).  Clearly, the king was capable of insight, compassion, and gentle irony—traits lacking in his Christian counterparts.

Act V. Scene 1.  Back step.  The Dominicans, resentful of their defeat, tried to claim victory.  They obliged Nahmanides to publish the text of his defense, so they could see his arguments in explicit form.  Nahmanides agreed and published his defense in Hebrew.  Friar Christiani then extracted some of Nahmanides’ words, misconstrued them, and claimed that they were blasphemous.  The Dominicans then lodged a formal complaint against Nahmanides and charged him with the death penalty.

Act V.  Scene 2.  Outnumbered.  The king, a professed Christian, felt obliged to accept the charge against Nahmanides.  But, mistrusting the Dominicans, and wanting to be fair, he appointed an extraordinary secular court to judge the case again, hoping to place it on fairer ground.  The king also insisted that the higher court proceed only in his royal presence, to prevent foul play.

Act V. Scene 3.  Second Victory.  The justness of his defense was recognized by the King and the higher court.  Nahmanides was exonerated again.  At this final hearing, Nahmanides admitted that he had stated many things that were against Christianity, but he had written nothing which he had not used in his disputation in the presence of the King, who had granted him freedom of speech. 

Act V. Scene 4.  Two Back steps.  But the Dominicans, livid with anger and stung by their second defeat, insisted that King James fine Nahmanides, burn his pamphlet, and exile him for two years.  It is recorded that a friend or family member paid Nahmanides' fine.  The king, now under more pressure than before, buckled under the wishes of the Dominicans as well as his wife and exiled Nahmanides for two years.

The Dominicans then replied that a two-year exile was too mild of a punishment. They appealed to Pope Clement in Rome to increase the penalty.  The Pope acquiesced and sealed Nahmanides’ fate with perpetual exile.

Act V. Scene 5.  Final Years.  A week after the disputation was closed, Nahmanides left Barcelona with a heavy heart and traveled for three years on the Iberian Peninsula, seeking refuge in other neighboring Muslim and Christian states. He then set sail for Palestine and settled in Jerusalem.  There he established a synagogue in the Old City that lasted for a thousand years. Though it was destroyed in the Arab War of 1948, it was rebuilt. It still exists today.

Nahmanides then settled in the nearby city of Acre and attracted many pupils from the Middle East.  Crowds gathered to hear him explain in simple language the meaning of the Torah—his life's  work.  His circle of students created a history of the world, with each letter of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet representing an important phase of history (Jewish Encyclopedia).  

Last Words.  Although surrounded by friends and pupils, Nahmanides keenly felt the pangs of his exile. His final letter stated, "I left my family, and I forsook my house.  I also left my soul there, with my sons and daughters, the sweet, dear children whom I brought up at my knees.  My heart and my eyes will dwell with them forever" (Nahmanides, Catholic Encyclopedia).

Nahmanides passed away at the age of 76.  A street in Jerusalem still bears his name.  His final resting place is unknown, though it is conjectured to be in Hebron or Jerusalem.

During his stay in Palestine, Nahmanides corresponded with his children.  He hoped to bring about a closer connection between Judea and Spain. Shortly after his arrival in Jerusalem, "he addressed a letter to his son Nahman, in which he described the desolation of the Holy City, where there were at that time only two Jewish inhabitants — two brothers, dyers by trade. In a later letter from Acre, he counseled his son to cultivate humility, which he considered to be the first of virtues. In another letter, addressed to his second son, who occupied an official position at the Castilian court, Nahmanides recommended the recitation of the daily prayers and warned above all against immorality” (Wikipedia).

This is not the first wise person who spent his life in exile.  Here is a man who lived with ease and virtue most of his life, until a fateful and unexpected event at the end of his life thrust him into the limelight from which he could not withdraw.  Yet, even here, he handled himself gracefully.  His fortunes reversed—but not his character.  It was his wisdom that signaled him out for the unfair challenge that he was forced to meet.  

Epilogue.  What about Friar Christiani?   The Disputation of 1263 failed to convert any Jews to Christianity.  Quite the opposite.  It confirmed Jewish and Muslim suspicious of Christian malevolence.  With letters of protection from King James, Friar Christiani travelled throughout Europe on missionary journeys, “compelling Jews everywhere to listen to his speeches and to answer his questions, both in synagogues and at wherever else he pleased.  He even required his audiences to defray the expenses of his missions” (Wikipedia).  Not surprisingly, he was dogged by failure.  He then turned to Pope Clement IV and asked for his assistance to “purge the Talmud” from passages suspected to be derogatory of Jesus and Mary.  The Papacy supported his futile work until he died.

Psychological Commentary

Friar Christiani and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church demonstrate a common personality disorder stemming from “the need to substitute power for value” (Beware of Being Right).  It is important to note that unjust power relations can become ingrained in organizations as well as in people, making organizations Big Bullies (Beware: Bullying).  This disorder, often passed on to the individuals who serve it, is “more common in competitive cultures” (Beware)--a trait of Western Europe since the Middle Ages.  It surfaces when those who seek to be dominant make themselves right “by making others wrong” (Beware of Being Right).  What lies behind their assertion of being right “is the illusion of certainty.”

This illusion defies atomic reality, not to speak of psychological reality.  In the structure of molecules, scientists have posited the existence of Resonance Structures.  Valance Bond Theory suggests that there are “two or more possible structures that can represent a particular molecule” (Resonance, Wikipedia).  If this is true for physical reality, then it is even truer for a complex psychological subject with differing opinions.  Two or more opinions of the same subject are not only valid.  They are helpful in understanding its complex nature.  The Dominican world view was incapable of embracing this kind of complexity that is necessary for Interfaith Dialogue.

Contemporary research shows that the disorder of "being right by making others wrong" appears in many divorce proceedings, where “criticism, stonewalling, defensiveness, and contempt demonstrate the inability to see more than one perspective at once” (Beware of Being Right).  The common name for this disorder is bigotry.

Why is it so important for some people and institutions to insist that they are right?  According to Allison Schwartz, being right “inflates bullies’ self-worth.”  Being right requires that the victim submit.  It is also important to note that bullying often occurs in gangs, which, in this case, and at this time, clearly refers to the Holy Roman Catholic Church (Sharma, V.).

Transactional analysis, developed by Eric Berne, confirms this psychological analysis, but from a slightly different angle.  According to Berne, a game involves a setup that is cleverly reversed for an unexpected payoff.

Berne's formula for a game is

C + G > R + S + X > P

What this means is that a Con Artist (C) offers a Gimmick (G) to a Respondent or Dummy (R).  Then the Con Artist pulls off a Switch (S), which creates a Cross up (X), which then leads to a Payoff (P).

Seen in this light, the Disputation of 1263 is a classic game.  The Dominican Order is the Con Artist.  It offers the opening Gimmick--an fair and open debate where free speech will be honored.  The Respondent, Nahmanides, is no Dummy and refuses to take the bait, but the king forces him to enter the game.  After the first day of the disputation, it is obvious to everyone that Nahmandies will be victorious. He is declared the winner, twice. The Dominicans then instigate a Switch—their demand that Nahmanides publish his defense. This allows the Dominicans to continue with their Cross up—the charge of heresy—which is backed up by the Pope, who is only too happy to comply.  This leads to the Payoff—the Dominicans “win” (they are OK), and Nahmanides "loses" (he is not OK).  His banishment and exile are justified.  The Dominicans (and the Holy Roman Catholic Church) are "right" because Nahmanides is "wrong." 

According to Berne, sick people create games of this kind.  The purpose of these elaborate behaviors is to avoid intimacy, the goal of human relationship. 

The Disputation of 1263 is a good example of Trauma, which is repeated injury, to the point where it leaves a lasting impression of pain and sensitivity.  Its repeated nature is what makes it so difficult to bear.  Not only was Nahmanides traumatized by the Dominican order.  So were the Jewish people.  And humanity has been traumatized by thousands of years of aggression and religious bigotry, to the point where no one can escape its reach.  All suffer from the prior sins of more than seven times seven generations. The sins repeat like stones skipping across water.  When the stones sink, they bring down everyone in their wake.  This is part of the universal bondage of humanity—the “load" or "weight” that homeopathic physicians try to address with counseling and specific remedies.  It is the task of all educators—secular and religious—to study the phenomenon of trauma—which many overlook—as the first step in learning how to heal it.  According to well-known psychiatrist Daniel Amen (2012), trauma is healed by

  • proper nutrition;

  • psychiatric care;

  • ethical assessment and meditation;

  • proper rest and exercise;

  • compassionate listening;

  • confronting what actually happened without distortion or erasure;

  • recalling one’s spirit;

  • establishing a support group;

  • mixing in healthy society;

  • moving forward with a well-conceived plan;

  • living in the present;

  • serving others;

  • cultivating hope for the future.

Healing also comes from Truth and Reconciliation—for past and present traumas—and from a sense of Solidarity, illustrated by the Danish people in World War II, who rescued 99% of the Danish Jews from Nazi deportation by arranging for over 7000 Swedish visas in a matter of days, and then ferrying the Danish Jews over the sea to Sweden to safety.  This impromptu rescue occurred a few days before the Gestapo attempted to round up the Danish Jews and deport them to concentration camps.  The Gestapo were prevented, thanks to German informers who alerted the Danes, Danish and Swedish diplomats, and hundreds of Danish citizens, resistance fighters, and fishermen.  This was an incredible collective victory over evil, for which Denmark has been memorialized at Yad Vashem (Memorial to Holocaust Victims) as one of the “Righteous of the Nations” (Wikipedia).  In the same way, good people of all faiths and paths must band together to save minorities who are being threatened or persecuted.

Medical Commentary - Classical Five Element Acupuncture

five elements

From the point of view of Classical Five Element Acupuncture, all interactions, inner and outer, individual and collective, can be seen as part of a natural cycle that unfolds in five succeeding phases (Worsley, 1998).  In a human being, these phases circulate universal energy (chi) into visible form through the Twelve Officials, which are functions in the continuum of body-mind-spirit.  Once this cycle is understood, it can be used as a reference point to understand the energy flow of individuals, organizations, and cultures at a given point in time.  Since energy is constantly changing, we can only approximate its flow, blockages, and disruptions, especially in historical settings, where much is not known.  But approximations can be useful and enlightening.  After we have explained the five phases and the Twelve Officials, we will use them to analyze the Disputation of 1263.

The Five-Phase Cycle begins with the Wood Phase, which represents the arousing energy of Spring (Worsley, 1998).  This energy does not flow in a random way but follows an innate blueprint or plan from within.  This plan is shaped by the successes and failures of the preceding cycle as well as by its vision of the future.  Summer is the Fire Phase where life bursts forth with warmth, connection, and joy.  Many of the seeds of spring have broken open and taken root in the surrounding soil.  They grow quickly into healthy plants. After the plants are pollinated, buds are set for the coming fruit.  Late Summer, the Earth Phase, is the phase of ripening and harvest, the fulfillment of the previous two phases.  The harvest provides nourishment that is distributed throughout the whole body.  Autumn, the Metal Phase, is the time of surrendering the desire to hold on to what has been harvested.  It is qualitatively different from the preceding three phases, which are more visible and tangible.  Autumn signals eliminating, withering, falling to the ground, and rotting.  This is the difficult phase of searching for the hidden essence of the entire cycle. This essence is linked to Heaven and the invisible Father.  Winter. the Water Phase, is the last phase of the cycle—devoted to storing up reserves in new seeds for the next cycle.  It is also the time for building up reserves.  This requires the will to endure the coming difficulties of cold, isolation, and possible despair.

According to Worsley, each phase is assisted by two or more officials.  When the cycle functions as a creative, nourishing flow (Sheng Cycle), human beings, institutions, and cultures

  • initiate good, far-reaching plans that are carried out with clarity and precision (Liver and Gall Bladder Officials);

  • bring these plans forward, to the point of separating what is valuable from what cannot be used (Small Intestine Official);

  • maintain all round warmth and connection (Triple Heater Official);

  • protect the inner integrity and purpose of the individual (Pericardium Official);

  • maintain an innate sense of order, composure, and devotion (Heart Official);

  • create healthy joyous connections, within oneself and with others (Circulation Sex Official);

  • store resources and then distribute them (Stomach and Spleen Officials);

  • maintain a deep connection with vitalizing universal energy (chi) and eliminate waste in all its forms, including egotism, which attempts to take undue credit for the gifts that are implicit in the cycle (Lung and Large Intestine Officials);

  • maintain fluidity, balance, and resilience (Bladder Official);

  • contact deep spiritual reserves for difficult times ahead, and develop the will to endure (Kidney Official).

Example of the Sheng Cycle.  During the Second and Third Cosmopolitan Ages, tolerant and far-seeing Muslim kings worked with the natural flow of this cycle and created two remarkable periods of human history. Their plan was to reclaim the lost treasures of classical antiquity by working collaboratively—Muslim, Jew, and Christian—in medicine, philosophy, mathematics, literature, jurisprudence, geography, and the arts (Liver and Gall Bladder Officials). They did this by sorting through many ancient manuscripts, translating them, and then applying what was useful to their cultures (Small Intestine Official).  All maintained a good balance of warmth and connection, protecting their own and each other’s integrity, working with devotion, and maintaining respectful and joyful connections.  Intermarriage among these three groups was encouraged and occurred frequently (Triple Warmer, Circulation Sex, and Heart Officials). They stored their wisdom in libraries and distributed manuscripts worldwide (Stomach and Spleen Officials).  All groups worked together without egotism or self-aggrandizement, maintaining resilience and connection with humanity’s deepest spiritual reserves—the Torah, Bible, Gospels, and Koran, as well as the rich scientific and artistic library of antiquity that had been retrieved, translated, and digested (Lung, Large Intestine, and Kidney Officials).

The Ke Cycle.  The Disputation 1263 reveals an obstructive cycle (Ke Cycle), where the phases work against each other and block each other's energy, resulting in disorder, frustration, and chaos.  According to Five Element Acupuncture, the Ke Cycle is triggered when a constitutionally weak phase interrupts the natural flow of energy in all of the other four phases.  This weak phase is called the Causative Factor.  When stress is applied, internally or externally, this phase weakens and then causes imbalance in the remaining phases.  Therapy addresses all of the imbalanced phases mainly through the phase where the causative factor lies.

Looking at both the Dominican Order and the court of James I of Aragon during the Disputation of 1263, it appears that the causative factor lies in the Wood Phase.  Evidence for this comes from the emotion that the Dominicans expressed during and after the trial--anger, the emotion associated with the Wood Phase and not incidentally one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  With weakened Wood, the planning and decision-making functions of the Dominicans were affected.  They decided on self-justification and self-aggrandizement as their strategy, not mutual cooperation, the precedent of the prior Cosmopolitan ages.  They thought that they could get away with trying to be right by making others wrong (Weakened Liver and Gall Bladder Officials).  Nahmanides, on the other hand, retained his sense of integrity and purpose and soundly defeated his opponents.  He kept his vision and decision-making faculties intact throughout the debate, as well as later, when he went to Palestine to carry on his work.  Nahmanides is the long-range winner in this contest.  He was one many against many--and he was victorious (Strong Liver and Gall Bladder Officials).

  • Wood attacks Earth.  The Dominicans fed themselves a steady diet of hatred, deceit, and treachery (Weakened Stomach Official), until they could no longer see how corrupt they had become.  They dispersed their ill-will not only against an innocent sage, Nahmanides, but also against all the Jews and Muslims of Europe (Weakened Spleen Official.)

  • Weakened Earth (Mother) affects Metal (Son).  The Dominicans failed to keep their deep connection with the universal Life Force or Spirit (Weakened Lung Official) and fouled themselves with their own waste, all the while pretending that they were the purest of the pure .  They demanded respect that they did not deserve, since they failed to respect their opponents (Weakened Large Intestine Official).

  • Weakened Wood (Mother) affects Fire (Son).  James I submitted to the narrow designs of the Dominican order and forfeited his honor.  His adultery with his mistress--and his agonizing guilt over it--indicates that he had already lost his integrity and self-respect.  He had only one way to fall--into the hands of the Dominicans (Weakened Heart Protector Official).  The Dominicans refused to accept defeat--twice, also forfeiting their honor and integrity (Weakened Heart Official).  Instead of separating the wheat from the chaff, the Dominicans discarded the wheat--truth, honor, love, scholarship, Nahmanides, and all of Jewish learning, wisdom, and spirituality--and kept the chaff, their unpalatable doctrine (Weakened Small Intestine Official).  Instead of maintaining balance, warmth, and connection, the Dominicans violated their own (and Christ's) integrity, stood compassion on its head, and spewed forth hatred on their fragile opponent, and then his people, then the Muslims, and then the "heretics within the fold"  (Weakened Triple Warmer Official).

  • Weakened Wood (Son) insults Water (Mother).  Instead of being guided by the spirit of forgiveness and compassion--the essence of the Christian tradition--the Dominicans wasted their spiritual reserves (Weakened Kidney Official).  The Dominicans compromised both themselves and the Christian legacy.  They became rigid, lost their balance, and set history awash in evil for centuries.  It is not surprising that pederasty and sodomy surfaced centuries later, bringing the Church to its knees (Weakened Bladder and Kidney Officials).

Hypothetical Question.  Could Classical Five Element Acupuncture have changed both the process and outcome of the Disputation of 1263?  Yes, it is possible that it could have altered both, had it been possible to diagnose and treat the key players of the disputation--King James I, the Superiors of the Dominican order, the Pope, and Nahmanides.  But treatment works only when people realize that they have a problem that they cannot solve by themselves.  And they must seek help freely, without compulsion.  These conditions could not have been met, so the answer to the question is no.  The only exception might be Nahmanides, who, as a physician, would probably have welcomed any support offered to him by an objective third party.

In the present day, where expanded awareness of healing, Five Element Acupuncture, administered to key individuals within any dysfunctional organization, can provide profound and long lasting remedies, by putting those individuals more in touch with themselves and the organizations that they serve.  Healing is never mechanical or imposed, but spontaneous and natural.

Philosophical Commentary

According to Tantric philosophy, there are three kinds of people.  According to Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, “We find varieties of creatures.  There are

  • brute creatures in human structure;

  • men and women in human framework; and

  • gods in human framework.

In our social life, all the problems are created by brutes in human structure; those problems are experienced by men and women in human structure; and those problems are solved by gods in human structure.

So a spiritual aspirant is to solve the problems of the society; he or she is not to create fresh problems.”

Clearly, those who created problems in the Disputation of Barcelona were Friar Christiani, the Dominicans, and the Pope—animals in human form.

The man who suffered these problems is Nahmanides—a man in human form.

And those who brought insight and healing to these problems, which have been repeated thousands of times throughout history, are people with insight, courage, compassion, and perseverance who step up to any difficult task and get the job done—gods in human form.

Tantra also illuminates the Disputation in terms of the kind of intellect that was used.  Tantra claims there are three kinds of intellect (Bhagavad Gita, chapter 17):

Sentient intellect.  Nahmanides life and work represent sentient intellect, which is subtle, focused, non-violent, intuitive, and mystical. Yoga Masters state that the sentient force is 100,000 times stronger than rajasic and tamasic force (see below).  Hence Nahmanides’ relative ease in not only defeating his opponents, but in staying calm while doing so—like a Tai Chi master, who moves deftly without show and applies just enough force to disarm his opponent.  Developing this kind of intellect is the goal of all education.

Rajasic intellect.  King James represents rajasic intellect, which is active and noble in character but also showy, inconstant, and immoral—borne out at the end of the Disputation of 1263 by his refusal to maintain his support for Nahmanides as well as by the many ethical lapses of his personal life.

Tamasic intellect.  The Dominicans and Pope represent this kind of intellect, which is heavy, dark, narrow, cunning, cruel, punitive, and sadistic—the opposite of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, Nahmanides, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Shiva, Krsna, and many other Masters of Light.

Theological Commentary

The cruelty of the Dominican approach was partially thwarted by the revolt of thinking people during the Protestant Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and the Enlightenment, which focused on textual evidence, ethics, and the rights and freedoms of all of humanity, not the privileges of a special group.  The Counter-Reformation marked the rise of the Jesuits, who studied other religions with great attention, not to understand the people of other faiths, but to learn how to convert them.  The growth of Comparative Religion was a positive outcome of this work, and it enhanced the prospects for Interfaith Dialogue—a recent movement that has paved the way for mutual understanding among people of all faiths and paths.

The Disputation also provides

Political Commentary 

The Jews in Aragon were torn between being confident of their place and identity in medieval Spain and being fearful for their lives.  Eventually, with their expulsion in 1492, they came to understand the stark reality of their situation.  They would never be accepted in European society, even after attempts during the Enlightenment (Scharma, S.).  Their only place was in safer countries like the United States or in Isreal, after it had been formed.  

To see a dramatization of this debate,

Summary.  More is unknown than known.  Planetary life is rare and precious--and human life even more so.  Human success and happiness are bound up with the success and happiness of all life forms.  The teachers of Cosmic spirituality have given us the seeds of intuitive science, which is rational, all-encompassing, natural, and non-violent.

Interpath Dialogue is a more fitting term than Interfaith Dialogue, since it is more inclusive and transcends the simplistic division between "religious and non-religious people." There are four kinds of Interpath Dialogue--intellectual, actionable, emotional, and spiritual.  Interpath Dialogue involves six related topics:  1) our shared cultural past; 2) the importance of architectural space; 3) the true meaning of civilization; 4) the Four Cosmopolitan Ages; 5) the pivotal role of Hinduism, Islam, and Taoism; and 6) the remedies for Interfaith Bullying and Persecution.  Bullying and persecution arise from the aggressive psychological stance of "I am OK" (Right) and "You are not OK" (Wrong).  Remedies become evident after analyzing the Disputation of 1263, which pitted Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (Nahmanides) against three Dominican friars.  Psychological, medical, philosophical, theological, and political commentary reveal an ancient paradigm for healthy individuals and societies--the Sheng Cycle of Classical Five Element Theory.

Knowing this theory and how to apply it, humanity can both avoid the pitfalls of history—the traumas of interpath bullying and persecution—and replicate its great achievements—new cosmopolitan eras where true civilization flourishes. True civilization is developed, inclusive, and non-violent, so that all creatures--and the planet itself--can thrive.  Enlightened people of all paths follow the example of former cosmopolitan eras. They are open to each other and celebrate both their unity and their diversity with new forms of activity and worship.  Inspired by the grace that flows through all traditions and paths, they work with their heads, hands, hearts, and spirit, to create a society free from manipulation that evolves naturally.  They are guided by the natural cycle of five phases and make intelligent adjustments according to time, place and person. The first phase (Wood) visualizes a comprehensive design that benefits all creatures of the planet.  This comprehensive design is a cooperative plan, not imposed from above, but supported by and from its multiple bases. The second phase (Fire) promotes growth and sifts out what is valuable from what is invaluable. The third phase (Earth) brings the plan to harvest and distributes its benefits to all. The fourth phase (Metal) transitions to a higher phase, searches for the essence of the previous phases, and lets go of what is impermanent.  The fifth phase (Water) stores what has been achieved, creates seeds for the next phase, and develops the stamina to endure whatever hardships may come.



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chinese symbol