This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Interfaith service showcases religious diversity

Program features readings, prayers from variety of spiritual traditions

Published: September 21, 2006


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In the first appearance of his three-day visit to UB, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama participated in an interfaith service on Monday in Alumni Arena that showcased the religious diversity of Western New York, featuring spiritual traditions ranging from Sikh to Baha'i to Roman Catholicism.


The Dalai Lama speaks to a crowd of 6,000 during the interfaith service on Monday in Alumni Arena.

Through a series of readings, prayers and chants from these many traditions, the service demonstrated to the audience of 6,000 that whatever signs, symbols and practices distinguish them, all spiritual traditions offer different dimensions of the same sacred experience.

In brief remarks during the service, the Dalai Lama called for harmony among religious faiths, and noted that religious traditions and spirituality play an important role in these times of materialism, competition, stress and injustice.

"In the past, different religions, different traditions had very little contact with each other," His Holiness said. "But now the whole world is becoming smaller, so we're bound to come across more connections. Therefore, religious harmony is extremely important—harmony based on mutual respect, mutual admiration and sometimes mutual learning," he said, noting that meeting others from different traditions "has enriched my own thinking."

"All different traditions carry the same message," the Dalai Lama said. "We must respect all traditions."

Interfaith services such as the one at UB are helpful in promoting religious harmony, he added.

The service began with a silence broken by the otherworldly strains of an ancient bamboo flute—a blessing performed by master flutist and former Tibetan monk Nawang Khechong.

Those sitting on the dais, including His Holiness and representatives of the Muslim, Jewish, Unitarian, Protestant, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Catholic faiths, formed a procession to the stage in their eloquent and colorful ritual attire. They were greeted by young children of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds from the university's Early Childhood Research Center.

The religious dignitaries were welcomed by costumed members of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederation, the region's earliest settlers, with a traditional ritual dance and chant performed by Bill Crouse Sr., John Block, Lynn George, Kory Dowdy, and Sarah and Blaine Tallchief.

The religious leaders presented prayers, poetry or readings—often in two languages—written by notable spiritual personages.

The Native American passage was one from Lakota Sioux spiritual leader and prophet John Fire Lame Deer.

"We are all from the same roots, but the leaves are all different," the reading continued. "We all come from one great spirit, but we are all different and unique. Each person has a purpose and reason why they are on earth.

"Just like every leaf on a tree is different, each one is needed to make the tree look as it does," it noted. "No leaf is better or worse than the others. All leaves are of equal worth and belong on the tree.

"It is the same with human beings. We each belong here and do things that will affect the great whole. Great Spirit today, let me see myself as a valuable contributor to the whole."

The Muslim verse from the Qur'an 49:13 was read in Arabic by Sawsan Tabbaa; her son, Hassan Shibly, recited the verse in English.

"In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful, all humankind we have created you from a pair—male and female—and made you into nations and tribes, that you may learn from another," Shibly said. "Not that you may hate another. Verily, the best amongst you, in the sight of God, are the most righteous. And God is all knowing, all aware."

A Sikh commentary on the Guru Granth Sahib, that faith's magnificent compendium of the religious, mystical and metaphysical poetry written over five centuries, also was offered at the service, as was a prayer written by Abdu'l-Bah?, son of the prophet-founder of the Baha'i faith and a great spiritual leader in his own right.

Other presentations included a Unitarian Universalist poem "The Oversoul" by transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, St. Francis of Assisi's "Prayer of Peace," the chant Metta Sutta, or "Buddha's Words on Kindness," and a contemporary Jewish song of peace.

As each reading or presentation ended, lights rose on a company of approximately two dozen dance students distributed along the catwalk surrounding the arena. In each case, they performed a brief interlude of music and movement, incorporating sacred gestures in keeping with the mood and solemnity of the readings.

His Holiness' good humor was evident in his enjoyment of his religious colleagues' colorful and varied ritual finery. He said that although he has participated in interfaith ceremonies throughout the world, he was much entertained by the incorporation of music and dance into the UB service. Laughing frequently, he indicated that, during the service, he hardly knew where to look next and that it made the event unique.

Following the Dalai Lama's remarks, participants observed three minutes of reflective silence, initiated by the striking of the keisu, a bowl-shaped Japanese monastic bell.

Two additional strikes of the keisu ended the silence and the audience was invited to participate in a responsive reading in celebration of peace led by several of the assembled religious representatives.

Saffron-colored strings had been handed out with the programs, and audience members followed the Buddhist practice of tying them around one another's wrists as a gesture of mutuality and good faith.

The recessional of the Dalai Lama and fellow celebrants was accompanied by a choral incantation by the Nu Revelation Choir of True Bethel Baptist Church of Buffalo.

The interfaith service was coordinated by a planning committee co-chaired by the Rev. Msgr. J. Patrick Keleher, director of the Newman Center at UB, and Jeannette M. Ludwig, associate professor of romance languages and literatures, who also teaches Buddhism at the university. Additional guidance and assistance was provided by the Rev. G. Stanford Bratton and the Rev. Francis X. Mazur, both of the Network of Religious Communities.