TEXAS, April 2011 (My West Texas): Leaders of five different religious backgrounds discussed how their traditions allow them to understand and confront contemporary issues. The religious officials commented from a faith perspective, asked by moderator Russell Meyers.
On the topic of suffering and tragedy in the world, the panelists all acknowledged they could not give a clear answer as to why bad things happen. "I think that suffering and evil are simply brute facts of the world, facts that are as inexplicable as they are undeniable," said the Rev. Jim Liggett of St. Nicholas' Episcopal Church. "It's just the way it is." "Everything happens for a purpose," said Rabbi Sidney Zimelman of the Temple Beth El in Odessa, who called humankind's struggle with suffering and pain "one of the most vexing obstacles to faith".
But Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, the current spiritual leader of the Kauai Hindu Monastery in Hawaii (and publisher of Hinduism Today), said natural disasters are bound to happen while living on a dangerous planet like earth. "God didn't guarantee us a planet free of imperfections," he said. "The fact that it is imperfect goads us on to grow spiritually."
The panelists also were asked to share what they believed to be the ultimate goals in their faith journey. Satguru Veylanswami used the opportunity to explain some of the differences between Hinduism and the other faiths represented on the panel. He said the only way to break through the cycle of reincarnation is to become fully engrossed in God, which comes from truly knowing oneself. "The essence of the soul is the same as God," he said. "If we can find that consciousness within us, then we find that part within us that is identical with God."
The religious leaders also tackled politically charged questions, such as religion's place in politics, abortion and the ability to pray at schools. Though Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami said Hindu scripture is clearly pro-life, abortions still are allowed in India, where roughly 80 percent of the population is Hindu. But in terms of karma, he added, killing an embryo can be likened to killing one's parents.
[HPI note: You can watch videos of the event at Kauai Aadheenam's Youtube channel here.]