Holy Shift

Djaloki’s trail through the fulfillment of the Ancient Prophecies.

Yoghurt and Railroads

Posted by djaloki on April 10, 2008

Honor and Respect to you!

As I was meditating on various ways to approach the subject of interfaith in my sermon, I heard two things, in very different situations, which I would like to share today. The first one is something my sister told me on the phone from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she just moved a few days ago. The second one I heard on the news on an international radio station, about something that just happened between North and South Korea.

I gave a title to each of these little stories. The first story is titled:

The fresh yoghurt inside the container

My sister and I were talking about the different calendar and time system that is used in Ethiopia. While the year 2007 is reaching its end on the Gregorian calendar, it is the beginning of the year 2000 in the Ethiopian calendar.

Commenting on the coexistence of the two calendars in the country, my sister said: “It is sometimes confusing to read the expiration date on the yoghurt containers”. I went on envisioning a container with a 7-year-old expiration date with perfectly fresh yoghurt inside. But if someone does not go past the difference between the Gregorian and the Ethiopian calendars, or is not willing to test the yoghurt itself, they will mistakenly believe that they cannot consume it. As a matter of fact, all the yoghurt sold in the shop is fresh and good for consumption, in spite of the various expiration dates, including those that look outdated.

I see the image of the fresh yoghurt inside the container with an apparently expired date as a metaphor of the interfaith approach. The different calendar systems represent the different cultures and faiths among people around the world. The expiration dates are the different languages, customs and rituals among people of various faiths. The fresh yoghurt, tasty and healthy when consumed, is we humans, in need of recognition, appreciation and deep relationships. Although all yoghurts are not identical, they are all ready to be consumed and to nourish their consumer. And although the container and the expiration date within a given calendar system are necessary to ensure the good state of the yoghurt, the consumers have to reach beyond them in order to access the yoghurt itself, especially if their own calendar is different. Similarly, we need our culture, our language and our faith to function properly, but if we want to connect and engage with people of different cultures and faiths, we need to go past the external differences that make us mistakenly believe other people are incompatible with us, or unfit to engage in relationships with us. People of different cultures and faiths are fresh yoghurt inside containers with expiration dates expressed in different calendars. We need the yoghurt to nourish us and the interfaith approach is one that will give us access to it.

The title of my second little story is:

The train between North and South Korea

As I was listening to the news on an international radio station, I heard that a railroad had been opened between North and South Korea. The speaker explained that a regular freight service was already in operation between the two countries, ending a period of fifty-six years of complete separation during which South Korea had been functioning like an island, with no land communication with any other country of the continent it is a part of. The speaker also added that it was the first step toward the potential reestablishment of peaceful relationships between the two countries.

Here is another image for an aspect of the interfaith approach. People from different cultures and faiths are often like North and South Korea, coexisting shoulder-to-shoulder and unable or unwilling to engage in relationships for whatever reasons. Fear, ignorance, arrogance, greed, selfishness, prejudice, chauvinism, thirst for power or other separating feelings and attitudes prevent us from reaching out to our neighbors of different cultures and faiths, thus maintaining us isolated from the riches we can share with each other and from the wonders of the world in general.

In order to engage in mutually enriching exchanges, we must open our personal border and establish a railroad with regular freight service. In other words, we must engage in interfaith approaches and establish connections with people of different cultural and spiritual backgrounds through respectful dialogue and sharing. This means being willing to drive our trains to their territory and allow them to drive their trains to our territory. Chances are we will remember that we were all Koreans from the beginning, or fresh yoghurt for that matter.

The “Inter” of Interfaith

In the two little stories symbolizing the interfaith approach, the “faith” part of interfaith is represented respectively by the calendar system in the case of the yoghurt and by the Northern or Southern geographic position in the case of the two Koreas. In both cases, the interfaith approach, which is a movement of outreach, involves stepping out of one’s faith and crossing over the possible obstacles of the other’s faith. Interfaith is an attempt to establish ways of connection and communication between cultures and faiths. The cultures and faiths have been in existence for a long time. What is somewhat newer in this approach is about the “Inter” of Interfaith.

In my dictionary:

Inter (as a prefix) =
1. With each other, together
2. Mutual, mutually
3. Between or among the units signified
4. Occurring or situated between

The first two meanings of the “Inter” of interfaith evoke the fresh yoghurt that we can all recognize in each other and share together, while the two last ones evoke the railroads that we need to build between each others in order to have access to our respective yoghurts.

The importance of the “inter” of interfaith may remind us that interfaith is not just about faith. Interfaith is also about being intercultural, interlinguistic, international, interpretation, interchange, intertwining, interlacing, interconnectedness, intercommunication, even internet… All these words carry a notion of relationships, which are a faculty and a need all humans have in common.

The dictionary also provides a definition of “inter” as a verb:
To place a corpse in a grave or tomb, typically with funeral rites…

which may raise the question whether we need to throw away our faith and bury it if we want to be interfaith…

This is perhaps a theme for another sermon, but at least, we can say that on one hand a sincere interfaith approach may lead to challenge or bypass specific traditions that promote separateness or contempt toward other cultures and faiths, while, on the other hand, a solid grounding in one’s traditional teachings and values is often the best starting point for an interfaith outreach, because of the striking convergence of the underlying principles behind all the great cultural and spiritual traditions of the world. And besides, one’s faith would still be needed in order to define the funeral rites…

The Vietnamese Zen Master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh has founded the Order of Interbeing. Let us listen to his words:

When we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. You cannot point out one thing that is not here – time, space, the Earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything coexists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word “inter-be” should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.
(Thich Nhat Hanh, from “The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra”, 1988.)

Yoghurt and railroads in old and new faiths

In the modern Western culture, honesty and loyalty in one-to-one relationships (romantic, family, friends) are highly valued. A huge number of books, films, musics, web sites, seminars, therapy sessions, artwork, rituals and prayers focus mainly on how to create and maintain deep healthy fulfilling relationships with people around us, including those we have chosen and that we like as well as those we have not chosen and that we may not like.

Opening as many efficient railroads as possible between our own equivalents of North and South Koreas is considered paramount to integral balance and wellbeing. In spite of the feeling that modern society at large may not be completely manifesting this ideal yet, a huge amount of energy, focus and resources is dedicated to the healing of the pathological patterns preventing more symbolical railroads to be opened. I personally believe that more and more people in the modern Western world aspire to reach out and establish more respectful and loving relationships with others, even people of different faiths. One may believe that this new tendency is rooted in the traditional value of relationships in the Western culture.

Most African and Afro-Creole cultures value the concept of Ubuntu, though not under the same name. Often defined as the traditional African belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity, Ubuntu is the Bantu concept of the deep connectedness and relationship between Muntu (humans) as foundational to their essence: “I belong, therefore I exist”.  In this paradigm, humankind is seen as a unified primordial and generative entity of which individual humans are particular manifestations, while in the European paradigm, the individual human is the defining unit of humankind, which is seen as the collection of all individuals.

The African Ubuntu encompasses both the fresh yoghurt inside the container and the train between North and South Korea. It is an interfaith concept that has been ingrained in African religions almost forever. It is available and accessible to anyone, even non-Africans, who want to build railroads to transport yoghurt containers or, in other words, to engage in global interfaith relationships.

In the religion of Rastafari, the pronouns “we”, “us”, “you and me”, and sometimes even “I”, are replaced with the expression “I and I”, which expresses the unique Divine essence at the core of any (dignified) human being. The “I” is the fresh yoghurt inside the container, related to another “I” through the little word “and”, which is the train between North and South Korea. This very young religion, rooted in old African, Jewish and early Christian traditions, as well as modern Caribbean culture, is manifesting this deep interfaith concept in the everyday language of its adepts. Designed and primarily acting as a movement for the liberation and progress of the Black people, Rastafari is articulated around universal concepts of broad kinship, the Divine within and life’s positive energy. Many globally conscious non-African people feel its intercultural appeal and embrace it to manifest their ideal of international respect, justice and peace through the recognition of the sacred energy of I and I.

In the Kreyòl language of Ayiti, the word Moun, usually – and incompletely – translated by “a person”, probably derives from Muntu, a Bantu word with which it shares a similar meaning. Muntu describes a dignified human being (manifesting Ubuntu), incarnate or not, exuding and honoring Divine Oneness manifest in all things visible and invisible. In Ayiti, real Moun are known to relate to each other with honor and respect. The fresh yoghurt in the container and the train between North and South Korea are described in proverbs such as:

– Tout Moun se Moun, commonly translated by “All People are Human Beings”, but meaning more precisely “Because of the spiritual essence of all people (the fresh yoghurt), there can be no secondary human”;
– Vwazinaj se Fanmi, or “Neighbors are Relatives”, meaning, “There is a natural relationship and strong ties of solidarity between neighbors” (the train).

Visitors to Ayiti are often struck by the sense of community and relationships among people, as well as by the enthusiastic welcome offered to strangers, even by people living in economically impoverished conditions. Some visitors have said that their heart and mind have been opened to a greater awareness and acceptance for different people after having spent just a couple days in Ayiti.

In the language of the Lakota Sioux, Mitakuye Oyasin stands for “All my Relations”, or “We are all related”. It is a profound prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life. Mitakuye Oyasin honors the sacredness of each person’s individual spiritual path and acknowledges the sacredness of all life (human, animal, plant, planet earth…) It recognizes the already existing network of intimate interrelationships between all living beings and invites humans to honor them in total awareness and deep reverence. Here again, both the fresh yoghurt inside the container and the train between North and South Korea are immensely valued. The seeds of interfaith are strong in the Native American culture, as manifest in the common practice of adoption of people of other nations and the prophecies announcing the rise of the Rainbow tribe composed of people coming from the four corners of the world.

The Indian greeting Namaste and the reverential bow accompanying it literally means, “I bow before you”. The message it carries translates into “The Divine in me meets the Divine in you”. One could also add, “Through the Divine within, we are connected. In the Divine, we are one.” Originally used by Hindus and Buddhists, Namaste is now widely used in Asia, Europe and North America, by people of all faiths, embracing its full meaning. It is a simple yet powerful way to acknowledge the fresh yoghurt inside the container and to manifest the intention to establish a railroad between North and South Korea. It is also a beautiful way to bring the old seeds of global interfaith, which has been a part of the human soul forever, though dormant sometimes, into the expanding awareness of our eternal unity.

Send your train and look at the yoghurt inside the container

I would like to conclude with a brief reflection on the etymological meaning of the word “respect”.

This word derives from the Latin roots Re and Spectare. Re means, “again”, Spectare means, “to look”. So “respect” means, “look again”. In other words, when you just look at the date on the yoghurt container, you are not respecting the yoghurt inside yet. Only when you send your train on the railroad across the border and past the container to take a second and deeper look at the yoghurt itself, may you realize that it is fresh.

Next time you see a strange-looking expiration date, or strange-looking people, or an adept of a strange-looking faith, I invite you to remember the fresh yoghurt inside the container and the train between North and South Korea. I invite you to look again at each other, to respect and connect with each other. I invite you to Inter-be with each other.

I bow in reverence to you.

2 Responses to “Yoghurt and Railroads”

  1. Reuven said

    Much respect!

    It is hard to find people with this kind of mind. Add my email. ivrityisrael@yahoo.com

    You are right!

    InI are One!

    -Peace love & Unity!

  2. Plus que jamais nous avons besoin de ces parolles sages qui servent à nous rapprocher, à nous unir les uns aux autres, Merci, Dja. Tu es l’une des lumières que notre Père/Mère Eternel(le) nous a envoyé pour guider nos pas incertains ces jours de détresse universelle. Je te remercie. Honeur et Respect

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