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Notes on Karen Armstrongs talk - Jakarta, June 14, 2013

Thank you very much for the wonderful welcome. I know Mizan has been trying to get me to come here for many years and I am delighted and honored to be with you here tonight. In 2008, I have acquired a prize. Every year, TED gives prizes to the people who they think have made a difference in the world, but with their help could make more of an impact. They give you a wish for a better world. I knew almost immediately what it was that I wanted. Because its frustration to me that religion which should be making a major contribution to one of the chief tasks of our time is often seen as one of the problems. Surely one of our greatest duties in this time is to create a global community, where people of all ethnicities and all ideologies can live together in peace and mutual respect. If we dont achieve that, I dont think we will have a viable world. I go around sometimes giving a lecture called Compassion: A nice idea or an urgent global imperative. I think there is an urgency here. Yet very often when religious people come together, I am sure this does not happen in Indonesia, you dont hear much about compassion. You hear a lot of bishops get together. They are talking about some doctrines or condemning something. But you are not hearing this word, which is what we are needing in this time. Because in my study of religion, I have discovered that every single one of the major world faiths and of course all religions has at its heart the ethics of compassion. Everyone of them has developed their own version of whats often called the golden rule: Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourselves. But it is said that this, not belief on a certain doctrine or a certain practice, but this, is the test of true spirituality. One of my favorite golden rule stories comes from Hillel, Pharisees, the older contemporary of Jesus. It is said that one day a pagan came to Hillel and said he would convert to Judaism if Hillel can recite the whole of Jewish teaching while he stood on one leg. Hillel stood on one leg and said, That which is hateful to you do not do to your fellow human being, that is the Torah, and everything else is only commentary. Now go and learn. Thats a very deliberately provocative and audacious statement. Many of the things that we associate with Judaism, like the creation of the world in six days, the exodus from Egypt, the promised land, this is all just a gloss, a commentary, on the golden rule. Then Hillel, as a common practice among the rabbis, at the end of his interpretation of the scripture, gives a miqra, a call for action, go and learn it. You go now and read it. You read the scripture and make everything a commentary on the golden rule. Its been clear to me that its not enough for us to practice the ethics in our private life, although that is very important too. Because now it seems to me that unless we learn to implement the golden rule globally, so that we treat all people whoever they are as we would wish to be treated ourselves, the world is going to be a very unsafe place. If this had been done before, and I speak as a British woman, my country has a long history of colonialism, if we had treated the colonialized people as we would wish to be treated,

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then I dont think we would be having so many problems today. Somehow we have to rescue the situation. So I asked TED to help me craft and propagate a Charter for Compassion. It was composed of activists and thinkers representing six of the world major faiths, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. It was a demonstration that, on this, we are all in agreement. At a time when religions are often thought to be chronically at odds with one another, on this, we could all agree. We could reach across the divide and work together for a better world. Perhaps in question time I shall tell you some of the activities we have been doing with the Charter. I have been wonderfully excited to find that so much is going on here. When I go back to London and get in touch with my colleagues in the United States, I shall be so happy to tell them. I entirely agree with your idea of Bali being an island of compassion. I was so excited that I didnt sleep last night. Now my brief today is just to see how world religions one way or another have expressed their ethics. One of the very first people who formulated the golden rule in a form that is actually written down was Confucius, for whom I have a real affection, because Confusius is so easy. He is not so daunting as some of these sages, going off into the dessert, or into the wilderness, and fasting. He likes a good meal, a song, a glass of wine. His way is simple. His disciple asked him, Master, which of your teachings can we put in practice all day and everyday, and whats the central thread that runs through all your teachings and holds them all together? Confusius said, yi, which means likening yourself. Use your own feelings, he said, as a guide to your treatment of others. Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. Look into your heart. Discover what gives you pain and then refuse under any circumstance whatsoever to inflict that pain on anybody else. Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. Thats the central thread, he says. Thats all I am teaching. And notice, he says, all day and everyday. In England, when weve done something nice to somebody, we often have a habit to say, Well thats my good deed of the day. As if we then can return for the next 23 hours to our usual selfishness and unkindness. All day and everyday. Why is this so important? Because you leave yourself behind. The Greeks had a word which slightly has been vulgarized in English, ecstasy, ekstasis, which does not mean necessarily going off to some kind of trance although it can mean that. It means stepping outside. Eks-tasis. Standing outside the self. All the great sages, all the prophets have told us that it is selfishness, it is our egotism that holds us back from enlightenment and the Divine. If you are dethroning yourself from the center of your world, and putting another there constantly in the golden rule, than you are laying ego aside. One of his disciples, his favorite and most talented disciple, described beautifully the experience of living with, as he said, ren. Confusians always refused to translate it, but later confusians often describe it as benevolence or compassion.

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Because he said it is humanity. This is simply how human being should behave. We leave that self behind and we have an ecstatic experience, but it goes all day and everyday. It is just a part of your ordinary life. You are constantly straining ahead towards the benevolence, not to any grade of mortification or beads of meditation, but simply by putting other people first. His disciples ask how we can apply this to political life. Because confusians were very political. They were living, as all these sages were, in a violent and terrifying time, when society seems to be crumbling. Indeed it was crumbling. The old China was crumbling over the period of 200 years called the period of war in state. The sages said we would destroy each other if we continue with this violence. The only ethics is the golden rule. No prince would invade somebody elses territory, if he practices the golden rule, because he would not like his own state to be invaded. How do you apply to political life? This sounds simple when you try to do it. Confusius says You seek to establish yourself, then seek to establish others. You want to turn your merit to account and then make it clear, enable other people to turn their merit to account, never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself. Central political maxim. When you are among the common people, he said, Behave as if you are in the presence of an important guest. Now this is a maxim. How did we in the past, and I am saying this as a western person, when seeking to establish ourselves, also seek to establish others. No, we often impoverished and exploited. This cannot go on. So when people say you have to keep politics and religions separate, this is humanity. This is the only way to move forward. Now Muhammad PBUH, he was also writing, working, and prophetizing at a time of violence. Tribal violence in 7th century Arabia has reached an unprecedented crescendo. It looked as though they were going to tear each other apart. In Mecca itself, that too was torn apart. An infant capitalist economy was verging. The Quran is nothing but, from start to finish, a cry for compassion. The bedrock message of the Quran is not a doctrine, but simply to care for the vulnerable people of society. To share your wealth value. To do the acts of justice. Day by day. Hour by hour. Originally the religion seems to had been known as tazakkah, which can be translated as refinement. But by endlessly living in a community, in an umma, in which you are constantly striving to make everything more fair, more just for everybody, demands that you go beyond the ego. By doing that, day by day, hour by hour, over a lifetime, the ego goes. You stand before God in a state which the sufis called fana. The ego is extinguished and then you get a larger and larger enlightened self, baqa. And the word Rahman is related, ethnologically I believe, to the word womb. That raises the whole issue of the mother love. The icon of the mother and the child is something that everybody likes. It represents us at our best. But mother love is also very hard. A mother has to get up every single night to her crying child no matter how exhausted she is. She has to put her own wants and needs and desires to one side. Watch that child every second of the day, taking total responsibility for him. If he hurts himself, she has to be there, and answers his every need. Then that cute little baby grows up, and can become a horrible disappointment. But the mother has not given up. The mother will always be with the child.

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This links very nicely to an early Buddhist prayer, I believe attributed to the Buddha himself, which says, Let us cherish all creatures, as mother to her only child. We have to have that sense of absolute responsibility for all creatures, all human beings, whoever they are. All these faiths insist that you cannot confine your compassion to your own cozy little group or your own congenial friends. You have to have what the Chinese called concerns for everybody. Love your enemies, said Jesus. Reach out to all tribes and nations. The confusians would say you begin your quest when you are a child in a family. Thats when you learn to relate to people. It can set you up for life or knock you down for life. But you learn the rules. The rule of courtesy of the ancient China is to give anybody in the family a measure of absolute respect. The confusians have the insight to see when you behave towards somebody with absolute respect, they feel it. They feel themselves empowered by that. They feel that they are worthy of respect. That they are sacred; sacred in a sense of precious and invaluable. In Buddhism, the whole idea of compassion is linked to this responsible action. It means you have to take responsibilities for the pain and the work. Pain is something that human being share. All of us, no matter how fortunate and privilege we may be, suffer pain. We will all die. It wont be pleasant. Pain often divides us, because we feel that our pain is so special. We hug it to ourselves. Sometimes we even use our pain to pay back or we think that the world owes us something. This is to lock yourself into pain. The Buddha says you must go out to the world, not hug your enlightenment to yourself or your religion to yourself, and getting a warm glow. But reach out. There are two stories that I think emblematic to how this works in Buddhism. They are called myths. In modern English, the word myth comes to mean something that is not true. But thats a product, an interpretation of our rational age. Previously a myth was something that in some sense happens once, but which also happens all the time. It is talking about timeless truth, the hidden meaning of things. It is a call to action. A program to action. Myths does not come to live for you unless you put it into practice. These myths of the Buddha are telling each Buddhist what he or she must do to achieve their own enlightenment. The first is the story of his going forth of becoming a monk. It is said that when the Buddha was born, his farther held a celebration and asked the local priests to tell the childs fortune. One of these priests predicted that this child would become a Buddha, an enlightened man. He will see four disturbing sights. As a result of that, he would go forth and become a monk, join the renounces, seek enlightenment and find a way for all human beings to attain enlightenment. Well this career option did not satisfy the boys father who has more ambitious plan for the child. So he shut the child up in a palace and surrounded the ground with guards. So that no disturbing sight could come anywhere near this child. The Buddha insisted in this weird state for 29 years until the Gods finally said, this is ridiculous. And sent four of their own disguised as a sick man, an old man, a corpse, and a monk.

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These disturbing sights to a young man who has never seen any suffering before so struck him that he left the home that very night to seek a cure for the pain of the world. This is your going forth to heal pain as well as to achieve your enlightenment. The two are one. Buddhism is a very psychological religion. That image of the ground guarded is a wonderful image of the mind in denial. We all want to think that suffering happens out there, far away. That it does not touch us. We want to keep it at bay. So we hold it at bay and think suffering has nothing to do with us. The pain of the world has nothing to do with me and my privileged little anything. But suffering will always break in. If you allow it to break in and to break your heart, then you are on the road to enlightenment. The story then goes on that the Buddha eventually achieved enlightenment, of course. Afterwards, he was sitting under his boddhi tree and thought, well this is nice. The thought occurred to him that perhaps he should teach his method, and he thought, no I dont want to do that. It is going to be far too depressing, because people dont really want to give up their ego. I am just going to sit here. At this point, Brahma, the highest of the gods gave a terrible cry from his highest of heaven, he came down to earth and knelt. The God kneels before the enlightened man and he says, Lord please preach your teaching, your method. Because the world is lost if you dont. The world will be utterly lost. He said look at the world. And to the Buddha he said, look at the world with an eye of a Buddha, which is not someone impervious. When he sees with his compassionate eyes, he sees a world in pain. For the next 40 years the Buddha tramped the streets of India with his monks, trying to teach them a way of dealing with their pain. That idea of sometimes people just want to hug their religion to themselves is very prevalent in the west at the moment, with new age and stuff. You get a nice warm glow. You dont want to mess up with other peoples stuff. We even have that little bit in the compassion unit. I was asked what is a compassionate city. I said an uncomfortable city. Because it is a city that sees pain and is disturbed by it. There were people who didnt like that at all. They want compassion to make everything lovely. It certainly improves matters, but there must be that little grain of discomfort. It is like the grain of the sand in the oyster that creates the pearl, that irritant that creates the precious pearl. I am finishing now. I wrote a book called the 12 Steps to A Compassionate Life. And you would not anything about it in Indonesia, but there is a program in the west for alcoholics. They wean themselves from their addiction by this twelve steps method, which people who have already done it said it is a really spiritual experience, which means coming to yourself and going out to others. It has to go very deep. I did it quite deliberately. Do it in 12 steps, because I do think we are addicted to our pet hates. We dont know what we do without them. Sometimes I see mutaneous expression on the peoples faces. They say, gosh, cant I again say something unpleasant about my ex-wife, or my boss, or that country with whom we are at war. We depend upon our enemy for our sense of self. They are everything we are not. Often we meditate on their awfulness. It gives us a feeling of righteousness. No, thats not the way to go.

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I am going to quote Jesus now. I havent mentioned Christianity much. Jesus said love thy enemies. Some people scratch their head. The word love in English is often very debased. Oh I love that movie. I love ice cream. etc. Or people just think it is continually an emotion. Compassion is not an emotion, necessarily. Emotions come and go. They depend very much on the state of your digestion or how much sleep you had last night. We know how effabled they are. Sometimes you can be filled with anger to the people closest to you in the world, yet you still love them. Jesus was not talking about that kind of love. He was doing a bit of rabbinic mishnah, an interpretation of the Bible which looks at the Hebrew Bible and then takes it on a bit further. So he is commenting on the Hebrew love your neighbor and Jesus says yes, love your neighbor, but also love your enemy. Take it a bit further. The word love in the Hebrew Bible is chesed. That is a legal term used in treaties, international treatise meant loyalty. Two kings who may have been enemies before was made to promise to love each other, which did not mean that they would fall into each others arms, but that they would look out for one another, give one another practical help, come to their aid in time of trouble, be good allies, responsible allies, even if it meant a short term loss of themselves. This is the kind of love we must have for our enemies, if we want a viable world. I am going to finish, perhaps rather surprisingly with the Greeks. Because we dont often think of the Greeks as religious, but of course they were. All people are religious. At the height of their great rational, renaissance in the fifth century BCE, they devised a new genre, the genre of tragic drama. It was a competition. It was also a religious festival. Every year on the feast of Dionysus, God of Transformation, the whole of Athens would come to the theater to watch a series of plays. Tragic plays that show the human beings in agony, men and women going through some agonizing and strenuous pain. Usually these stories recast one of the ancient Greek myths in the light of something that was preoccupying Athens that year. So it was a commentary. This was a festival that everybody has to attend. They even let out prisoners to see them. It was a civic duty and a civic meditation, where you meditate on the plight of your city, what it is going through, what its problems are at this time. What tragedy did was to put suffering on the stage, instead of putting it behind an array of guards that we put up around ourselves. You put it on the stage. You see this human being suffering. Periodically the leader of the chorus would turn to the audience and say now weep. Weep for the man like Oedipus who had broken every taboo in the book, or weep for Heracles, a man who was driven mad by a goddess and in this frenzy has killed his wife and children. People who have been utterly polluted that we avoid in our ordinary life. And the Greeks did weep. They wept for them. They werent like western men who sort of gulp and wipe an embarrassed tear from the corner of their eye. They wept because they believe weeping together creates a bond between human beings. Because they thought they were no longer alone in their pain. The pain was there and they could share it. They had extended their sympathies. They had moved out of their comfort zone and embraced someone like Oedipus or Heracles.

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Now the very first of these tragedies to come down to us is Aeschylus, The Persians. It was written some seven years after the battle of Salamis, a landmark naval battle of Salamis in which the Greeks part won. But before they achieved this victory, the Persian armies had rampaged through Athens, burned, looted, destroyed, torn down houses, and then went up Acropolis and tore down the brand new beautiful temples there. And now, seven years later, Aeschylus says, weep for the Persians. There is not a hint of triumph or gloating. This is one of the first contacts we had between east and west. The Persians were treated with absolute respect. Xerxes the defeated hero of the battle of Salamis came home from the war. He was escorted with great sympathy to his palace. The Persians are presented as people in mourning. It was a risky thing to do. Because people felt very strongly about this war. Previous plays who had tried to deal with it was booed off the stage. This was not, and it was preserved. What I often say in the west, especially in the United States, is Could you put on a play on broadway that look at 9/11 and the Iraq war and the aftermath with the point of view of the Muslim world and weep for them? And that is a spiritual exercise. This whole idea about pain and the acknowledgement of one anothers pain and the pain of our enemies, which we must acknowledge too, goes right back to Homers Illiad, the 8th century BCE. The Illiad, as you know, is the story of one incident in the 10-year war between the Greeks and the Trojans. In the course of this war, Achilles, the chief warrior on the Greek side, has a quarrel with his king. In the fit of pure egotistic childish pique, he flings off and sulks in his tent. He withdraws all his men from the war. This is absolutely disastrous for the Greek side. There is massive confusion. In the ensuing confusion, unfortunately Achilles beloved friend Patroclus is killed by Hector, who is one of the Trojan princes. Achilles goes absolutely mad with rage and grief. He loses his humanity. He challenges Hector to a duel. The two men fight out before the two armies with Hectors family watching from the city walls. Nobody can beat Achilles. Achilles kills Hector. Then he mutilates the body. He ties the body back of his war chariot and drags the body round and round Patrocluss grave. Then he does a terrible thing. He refuses to give the body back for burial and that means Hector soul will never rest. That it will remain restless, unhappy, distress and uneasy. It is a terrible thing to do if one is denied proper burial. One night, suddenly, into the Greek camp, comes Hectors father, old King Priam, in disguise. He comes right into the enemys territory. He makes his way to Achilless tent. Then he takes off his disguise. Of course, everybody is shocked, here is the king of Troy. The old man falls at Achilles feet. He is begging and begging for the body of his son. He puts his arms around Achilless knees. He is weeping not just for Hector, but for all the other sons of his that Achilles has killed in this war. Achilles then looks at the old man and he remembers his own father. He begins to weep. The two men, the two enemies, weep together. As Homer says, Priam for his son, and

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Achilles, now for his father, now for Patroclus. They are weeping from the heart of their own grief, but weeping together. Then they stop weeping. Achilles goes and fetches Hectors body and brings it and lays it in the arms of the old man, very tenderly, because he is afraid that the weight would be too much for him. There is a moment of luminous silence. Each look at each other and see the other as divine. That, I think, is when we become most god-like. When we realize that our enemy also has pain. Question: If the essence of religion is compassion, why is the message so cryptic that it leads people to commit violence? A very good question. I may have to come back in a couple of years again because my new book is about religion and violence, and what is the relationship, if any, between the two. The idea that religion is somehow something separate from other ordinary life, that it is a separate activity and you confine it to a special part of the day, and you have a special day, perhaps it is Friday or Sunday when you worship, and God forbid it gets mixed up with politics. This is a western idea conceived in the 7th century in Europe, when it is said that religion is the cause of all this violence. If you look at all the violence that they were talking about, religion is there. Religion permeates everything. In Christianity, as it does in Islam. The word din does not mean religion in a special little .. and what is the Quran but cry for the love of God to pervades the whole of life and to build a community. This is a political thing. All state ideologies were religious. So this idea, what were trying to do in the west, in a cocktail, you have gin and then you have other things. What the British was trying to do is to take the gin out of the cocktail. It is almost impossible, with religion, because it permeates everything. It makes little sense to say you cant have religion in politics. Of course, politics is a very dirty business. And a state is a violent state. No state can afford to disband its army. States are built on coercion to a degree. Necessarily religion gets suck in to all that. Its a good idea if religion doesnt get mixed up with state politics. I like the idea of religion, a prophet, standing and saying to the ruler, this is not the way to behave, just as they do in the bible. Thats the shiah idea. Certainly religion can be violent in that degree. But it is also the case that basically people like fighting, I have to say, especially men. If we have physical strength, we would have loved it too. And I cant say any woman prime minister has ever been any more passive than male. In this book that I have been researching for the past 2-3 years, I can see that they absolutely love fighting among the military classes. But if you see the west secularize their state and push the religion out there so that it is not anywhere near, we have had two major world wars, fought not for religion but for secular nationalism. Auschwitz, the concentration camp, the gulag, were not committed in the name of religion, they were atheistic. Similarly, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not destroyed for religion.

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So, in a short life span, secularism has been just as violent. I have forgotten the marvelous remark that I was about to conclude with. Ill think of it in a minute. Certainly in so far as religion gets mixed up in state politics, as it often does, and gets tied in with politicians ego or territorial ambition, then it gets polluted. What religions always does is provide an alternative, to say there is another way of live. I am thinking of umma, for example in Mecca, where you have instead of this grasping capitalistic community, pushing the poor to one side, you have a community that shares its wealth and behaves kindly to one another. This is another way to live, without this violence. The Buddhist sangha, I very much experienced in the early days of Buddha as an alternative to the royal court. The king came to the Buddha once and said you know it is lovely to come to the monastery, because everybody here likes me and they listen to me. At home people in my court interrupted me and shouted at me, but here the monks look at one another with the eyes of the wild deer. This is another gentle way to behave. Our task now is to create a vibrant alternative. So we can see that there is another way to be human. And provide a yardstick by which people can judge the undoubted hideous violence of our time. Question: The number of people with religions has declined. Atheism is growing. And so is the follower of starwars-inspired Jedi religion. What do you think is the reason for the skepticism and the decline in religion followers? Is religion responsible for many conflicts that are happening? I am sorry but the sound is unclear from where I am sitting. The part that I did hear about your question was about the secularism of the west, especially in Britain. Britain is one of the most secular countries. It is one of the worst markets for my book, I have to say. I believe that the poll has said that only six percent of the UK population attend religious service regularly and a large portion of that six percent is Muslim, I am sure. Because they do go to the mosque. I am often asked why is this so. This is question from Europe. It is not so in the United States. United States is a very religious country. Now there are good religions, and not so good religions. Religion can be done stupidly and aggressively, but not all. A lot of Americans thinking is very pluralistic and exciting. When I go to the US, I speak quite differently from the way I speak back home. In Britain, people listen to me and say well this is terribly interesting, as though I talk to them about an ancient tribe in a far distant past with no relevance at all. The American have got tears in their eyes. They get religion. But Europe, I think, it has quite a lot to do with the horror of the 20th century in Europe. Two world wars on our own territory. You can see the World War I has been described as a collective suicide of Europe. A whole army of young men were mowed down for absolutely stupid senseless war of competing nationalism. That gene pool has probably never quite fully recovered. That leads directly to World War II, because the way Germany or Germans were humiliated at the treaty towards the end of the World War I makes Adolf Hitler a possibility.

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Then you have the horror of the concentration camp, in which the churches were implicated. Or people who did nothing and stood by, and who were afraid. It is easy to condemn. I often wonder. Of course I would like to feel that we belong to one of those interpid people who stand up and join them in the camp, but we never know unless we were there what we would be like. All this, and then there is Stalin. 60 million people died in Stalins gulag. It is slaughter in a massive scale. With the classical view of God, which I think is a very limited idea of God, people often ask, How could a god who is All Merciful and All Powerful have allowed this? There is a famous story of Elie Wiesel, one of the concentration camps victims. There was a child being hanged to death slowly in Auschwitz. One of the prisoners was made to watch. One of the prisoners behind him says where is god now. He said He is there. He is hanging there on this gallows. God is dying. They cant think of God anymore. There is a lack of grappling of this issue. People has been falling away, thinking religion is nonsense in the face of that absolute horror. There has not been anyone who is really sort of grasping this theologically and saying how do we encounter evil in the world supposedly created by a good god? What does it mean for creation? Its not the end of the world. There are a lot of possibilities in monotheism, especially in Judaism, for dealing with evil, and somehow God, in the most mysterious way. So I think its maybe about that. Theologians can have very good discussions with atheists. It can refine your theology. I think people are repelled by amazingly inadequate theism. People who just say oh well God was there and it was working out for the best. This does not fly with a lot of people. It is a bit lazy. You really need to go down and grapple with this. Historically, atheism, which has always meant the denial of a particular conception of god. At the beginning at their career, Jews, Christians and Muslims were called atheists by their pagan contemporaries. Not because they had no faith in the Divine but because their thinking of the Divine was so different that it seemed blasphemous and disturbing. The prophets was always told that he wasnt religious because he wasnt observing the rite. The Christians were put to death in the Roman empire for denying their rite. Atheists can mean, if it is principle atheism, a transition to another way of thinking about the Divine. There is a militant form of atheism, by people such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris in the US, and the late Christopher Hitchens, which is very aggressive. They dont like me very much. I tried to explain what God is and Richard Dawkins said in fury, Karen, of course, you are an intelligent woman. Most people are incapable of this way of thinking, which is a great insult to British people. They are accusing, quite rightly, theres been intolerance, that has to be dealt with, and cruelty in religions. These people can be cruel like everybody else, in the name of their faith. But they are attacking religion and religious people so aggressively that they are just as intolerant. It is another form of intolerance. It is not at all rational and not socratic. If you enter into a dialogue, you have to be prepared to be changed, to be able to go to the other side, that somehow the encounter has moved something in you. People has gotten rather tired of them now. They sort of overstep the mark. But I do think some of them, Richard Dawkins particularly, are someone who has been suffered from religion.

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I understand that, because for years after I left my convent, I wanted nothing to do with religion ever again. If I saw people reading religious books on the train or anything I would think uughh. Never thinking one day I will be writing this type of books. This is not my career plan at all. Fell into all this by sheer accident. But I think he looks as though he has had some terrible things that have happened to him. One has to think of that. I also think the British has never really been good at religion. I see religion very much as a kind of an art form. It is a way of finding meaning, beauty and holiness in life, as a painting does or as music does. Some nations are better in some forms of arts than others. Like the Italians have beautiful paintings. The Germans have their music. We dont have much music. We have wonderful literature. Superb literature. But we are never really good at religion and marriage. My friends look at me in astonishment and dismay that I am bothering my head with this discredited stuff and are amazed that I am making a living out if it. But I think we are never really into it. Now the Dutch who was also sort of an atheistic secular country. Holland, that tiny little country, is the second biggest market for my book after the United States. They understand it. They may not want to do it, but they get it, in a sense. Theyd be good at religion. So I think there is something about it, too. These are complex questions. Dont forget that possibility, that atheism can signify a transition to another form of faith. Question: You entered the convent because you believed in the beginning that was the right thing. But, after seven or eight years, I dont know what happened along the way, you went out of the convent. Something happened in the convent. There was this lady who came up to you before she died that you are a good girl. You carry on with that belief that you are a good girl. Can you elaborate on belief? Belief, like myth, is one of those words that have changed its meaning in English. Bileve in medieval English, in middle English and early modern English, means to love, to commit yourself. A knight says to its lady accept my bileve, accept my loyalty, my commitment to your service. So when they translated the Bible into English in the early 17th century. The New Testament is written in Greek. Jesus is asking people to have pistis, which means commitment, loyalty. They translated it bileve. Before that, they translated the Greek into Latin. Instead of pistis, they say credo, which comes from two words cor do, I give my heart. In the late 17th century, that word bileve, belief, started to change its meaning. It was used first in its new sense by scientists. People like Sir Isaac Newton who discovered the solar system. He said in one of his letters: It was my hope when I began this research that I would find a way for considering people to have belief in the deity. So belief is no longer trust and commitment. It is accepting a rather strange idea. Jesus when he is asking for faith or pistis or bileve, he is not asking people to believe that he is the second person in the trinity or the incarnate son of god. He would have been astonished by these ideas. But he is saying have you got commitment. If you read those scriptures, what he is saying is: can you follow me, can you live rough like me, can you give up everything you have to the poor and work with me night and day for the coming of the kingdom here on earth, where rich and poor will sit together at the same table? Can you suffer with me, can you drink from

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the chalice that I have suffered, are you willing to suffer with this, have you got absolute commitment? Religion is not about thinking things. Once people started reading belief, as do you believe I am the son of god, or do you believe in god, it just becomes a head trip. Religion is a practical form of knowledge. It is not something that you arrive at like a mathematical equation. Because God is not immunable to rational report, what we call, God is beyond what we could think and know. You learn by doing. It is like driving or swimming. You cant learn to drive by reading the car manual or the highway code. You have to get into the vehicle and start to manipulate the breaks. The same with swimming. You have got to get into the water and acquire a knack in floating. Once you get it, you cannot imagine how you cannot ever do it. Perhaps a better analogy is dancing or gymnastics. It requires years and years of practice. If you dedicate yourself to it and you have the talent, you can learn to move with such absolutely unearthly grace that is impossible for an untrained body. The religion has found if you behave in a certain way, with meditation for example, or with yoga, which is not believing it, it is doing things with your body. If you work in the umma for a better world, make your prayers, which is a form of yoga, a sense where the body teaches you, the absolute abandonment of the ego that is necessary for the act of islam, surrender. You learn the knack and you acquire different capacities of mind and heart. But if you are just thinking, do you believe in this, it makes no sense. To come back to the question, in my convent, I was praying to God, expecting, not a vision or anything, but at least some little recognition that here I am trying to get in touch, not a word. I have a very immature, childish view of what God is. Then I just thought I dont believe in this god at all. There is no proof. But when you start doing or behaving in a certain different way, compassion is one of the ways. For me its been my studies, which is my form of meditation. I get moments of joy or wonder, ekstasis, little mini seconds. But thats practice. Its doing it that way. We turn commitment to doing things into a head trip that you have to acknowledge an abstract doctrine before you even begin to live the religious life. Then people started to say I dont believe in this, it all becomes non-sensible. I have written all that in my book the Case of God. Bapak Haidar Bagir: Satu menit saja saya ingin tambahkan, di Al Quran dikatakan tidak Kuciptakan jin dan manusia kecuali untuk beribadah (yabudun). Dalam penafsiran Ibn Abbas, yabudunmenghamba atau worshipditerjemahkan sebagai mengenal Tuhan. Jadi ayat itu bisa ditafsirkan: tidak Kuciptakan jin dan manusia kecuali untuk mengenal-Ku. Mengenal Tuhan dalam konsep Islam sama dengan mencintai Tuhan. Tuhan mengatakan, Aku dulu adalah perbendaharaan yang tersembunyi, Aku rindu untuk dikenali, karena itu Aku ciptakan alam/ciptaan, agar Aku dikenali. Jadi mengenal Tuhan itu sama dengan mencintai Tuhan. Sayangnya kita kaum muslimin ini suka diajarkan dengan yang disebut hadits Jibril. Mailaikat Jibril datang kepada Nabi, dia bertanya Islam itu apa, iman itu apa, tapi tidak berhenti pada iman. Dia kemudian bertanya ihsan itu apa.

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Harusnya menjadi seorang muslim itu tidak berhenti pada iman, tapi dia harus mencapai tahap mukhsin, menjadi orang yang karena kecintaannya terhadap segala sesuatu, menjadikan apa yang dia lakukan menjadi kesempurnaan dan keindahan yang timbul dari rasa cinta. Saya ingin kutip ungkapan ulama Indonesia, Syekh Yusuf Al-Makasari Al-Bantani. Dia meringkaskan dengan baik beberapa hadits yang dia gabungkan menjadi satu tentang agama itu apa. Dia bilang agama itu mengenal Tuhan. Mengenal Tuhan itu bahwa Tuhan esensinya adalah cinta, kasih sayang. Tuhan itu tidak lain tidak bukan adalah Cinta. Jadi agama itu mencintai Tuhan. Mencintai Tuhan itu memiliki budi pekerti yang baik. Memiliki budi pekerti yang baik itu selalu menjalin hubungan dengan sesama manusia berdasarkan cinta. Memiliki hubungan berdasarkan cinta adalah memasukkan rasa bahagia ke dalam hati sesama manusia. Jadi agama itu tidak lain tidak bukan adalah memasukkan rasa bahagia ke dalam hati sesama. Pernah Tuhan bertanya kepada Nabi Musa: Musa, mana ibadahmu untuk-Ku? Musa mengatakan: Semua ibadahku ini untuk-Mu, wahai Tuhan. Tuhan bilang: Tidak, semua itu kembali padamu. Musa bertanya: Lalu apa yang bisa kulakukan untuk-Mu, hai Tuhan? Tuhan mengatakan: satu-satunya ibadahmu untuk-Ku adalah memasukkan rasa bahagia ke dalam diri orang yang hancur hatinya. Jadi satu-satunya ibadah kita kepada Tuhan itu adalah memasukkan rasa bahagia ke dalam diri orang yang hancur hatinya. Jadi dalam semua esensi agama, beragama itu tidak lain kecuali adalah mencinta. Itu yang ingin kita coba tampilkan dengan kehadiran Ibu Karen Armstrong. Question: From the early days, we have a local wisdom in living in harmony, ethics, etc. Religion then came to our country and we became separated. Can we conclude that we need to create syncretism, so that we can get together again? I believe that each faith has its own genius. Each has its own difficulties. I have been studying these religions and I cant see any one of them is superior than any of the others. We dont want to lose these geniuses in some kind of conglomerates. We have seen enough conglomerates and mergers in banks and industries. We need to preserve that genius. But these traditions are immensely complex. If I were to say how would I define Christianity. There are so many different branches of it, Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, etc. All really very different. Mysticism thats another thing. A faith has to heed to the personalities and talents of the people who follow it. It changes and diverts. It will be very difficult to say now I can merge Christianity. It would just not work. Lets dig into these traditions, find that compassionate core, and bring that to the fore. And make that compassionate voice of the religion a clear, luminous, dynamic force in our polarized world. I dont believe it is ever just religion that does this. I come back in two years perhaps when I finish my new book. These so-called wars of religion that happened in Europe. If you examine, there was supposed to be Catholics and Protestants fighting one another to death. If you look closely, you find Catholics and Protestants fighting on the same side frequently and they are killing the other side. The second part of the thirty-year war was between Catholic France and Catholic Spain. This is a state building exercise, which brings a lot of violence.

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Nationalism also has its problem. From the very beginning, one of the first nation states was probably revolutionary France, after its French revolution. Two years after they declared national sovereignty and created the first secular nation state, they massacred 400 thousand people living in the west of France, because they dont believe they belong to this nation, they dont like the revolution. This is going on. Hitler was unable to assimilate the Jewish people. Britain are unable for centuries to endure Catholics. Our prime minister Tony Blair became Catholic after he left the prime ministership. Because the head of the British state can be a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, but you cant be Catholic still. Theres a lot of talk about that. Accepting a minority has been a very great problem for a nation state. We all have great difficulty in living with one another. To negotiate this kindly, creatively and compassionately requires a lot of disciplines on our side and all the help we can get from the geniuses of our religions, not diluting it in any sense. Pak Haidar Bagir: Kemarin Ibu Karen menyampaikan terlalu sayang bila orang meninggalkan agamanya atau mau membuat agama baru. Karena sampai abad ke-17, tidak ada sumber bagi artistic works di dunia kecuali itu datang dari agama. Agama menjadi sumber artistic works, keindahan, dan lain sebagainya. Kalau sekarang terjadi konflik, maka penyebabnya bukan agama karena seperti yang Ibu Karen bilang tadi peperangan antara Katolik Perancis dan Katolik Spanyol, bukan karena perbedaan agama. Jadi yang lebih penting adalah menjaga agama yang sudah terbukti selama berabad-abad menjadi sumber keindahan, kebaikan dan lain sebagainya, dan mengembalikan posisinya dengan mengajak semua pengikut agama untuk mengutamakan compassion. Kira-kira begitu yang disampaikan. Quran: In the Quran, there is the seemingly contrasting opinion of the believing few against the unbelieving masses. The two will never meet. The compassionate will be the profession of the view and the hateful will be the profession of the many. That happens wherever, in the entire world and civilization. What is your view of this allegedly eternal contradiction between the believing few and the unbelieving/hateful masses? Can you imagine the limit of our Charter for Compassion movement? The Quran talks about the kafirun, people who are jahiliy. This is not about anything that they are believing. The word kufur, as you know, means ingratitude. Suppose someone gives me this glass of water very kindly and I dash it out of their hands. The Quran has no problem with their belief. In fact the Quran says, as far as I recall, their theology is quite correct. If you ask them do they believe that Allah created the world. They say, certainly, thats perfectly correct. They are not acting on it, thats the thing. Also the word jahiliy means irascible. There are some violent people around. But the idea that there is an eternal gulf separating these people forever, in fact a lot of jahiliy people became Muslims in the last year of the Prophets life and attained very high office in the Muslim state. The Umayya, for example, created the first empire and they had been deeply against the Prophet. The Quran is talking very much about the particular situation in Mecca, but not an eternal gulf. We have much more of eternal gulf in the New Testament, where we do have people cast into outer darkness, and weeping and nashing of teeth sometimes.

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But we dont know, really. The New Testament is a very different scripture from the Quran, written many years after Jesus death. You dont know how much of these were the words of Jesus. There are more tensions there than I have ever found in the Quran. The mercy of God knows no measure. There is a lovely passage in the Quran, where God says to Muhammad PBUH: If we had wish to make you one single umma, we would have done so. But this is not Our will. Religious diversity is part of Gods will. As the people who are outside, dont expect them to come in to the umma. This is perfectly alright. There has, including among the sufis, a very strong outstanding tradition of appreciation of others faith. Id like to share with you this quotation that I found very early in my studies from Ibn Arabi that made a great difference to me after my very corroseal Catholic upbringing. We didnt even think that Protestants was on the page, let alone Jews, Muslims, or Buddhists or anybody. Ibn Arabi says: Do not praise your own faith so exclusively that you disbelief all the rest If you do this, you will miss much good Nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter God the Omnipotent and the Omniscient cannot be confined to any one creed For He says, in the Quran, wheresoever ye turn, there, is the Face of Allah Everybody praises what he knows His god is his own creature And in praising it, he praises himself Consequently he blame the beliefs of others Which he would not do if he were just But his dislike is based on ignorance If you take that to heart in our plural world, where for the first time in history, we are able to learn about ones anothers faith in depth, in a way because of linguistic barriers being broken down, travel so much easier. We are now able to see the profound faith that lies at the heart of all these traditions. Ibn Arabis got it right. Earlier this year, the imam of the Islamic Society of North America, very kindly arranged for me to speak in Washington to a lunch in a group of highly conservative evangelical Christians. One of them said to me, Jesus said no man comes to the Father but through me. Sorry you Muslim, Jews, and all the rest of it, this is it. Mam, what do you think of that? I tried a little biblical criticism on them. That didnt go very well at all. They didnt like biblical criticism. I gave that up. Look at the Gospels. What do the Gospels show us, but a man, Jesus, who is constantly annoying the establishment, who is constantly breaking down the barriers, constantly reaching out to go to the other side, to people who were shunned by the other side, who were regarded as sinners, having dinner with people who were considered impure by the society; constantly knocking down barriers and seen as a highly dangerous anarchic person?

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Would this person, if he could come back today, knowing all we know about the richness of other faiths, having this record of being extremely rebellious and knocking down barriers, would he then said, knowing what we know now which was not possible for anybody to know 2000 years ago, sorry, no one comes to the Father but through me? Absolute nonsense. One of my great heroes who has helped me a great deal in my journey is Wilfred Cantwell Smith, the Harvard professor, comedian professor originally. He was a minister himself. He said with what we know now about other faiths, it could even be blasphemous to say that one tradition has the monopoly of faith. Some people find this challenging, because they feel, oh ours have got to be the best. But think of the Quran O people, We have formed you into tribes and nations, so that you may get to know one another. Real outreach. In tribes or nations, you have to rub off with people you dont like, even in a close-knitted group. This is a rehearsal. The challenging encounter with another. This is one of the great gift. I came back to religion by studying other religious traditions and that help me what my own Catholicism has been trying to do, at its best. There is a kind of embrace. Doesnt mean you have to abandon your own faith. Keep with it if you can, but change your outlook as to how and what religions does you. It is not an exclusive club. Its best to enlarge our heart. Our heart needs enlarging in this polarized world. Pak Haidar Bagir: Saya hanya ingin menggarisbawahi apa yang disampaikan oleh Ibu Karen tadi. Bahwa compassionate city harus menjadi uncomfortable city. Seperti kata Ibu Karen, pasir dalam kerang yang mengubah batu menjadi mutiara. Jadi dalam hati kita yang berada di kota yang compassionate kita harus selalu merasa ada sesuatu yang mengganggu kita dan mendorong kita untuk berbuat. Seperti pasir dalam kerang itu, rasa yang tidak enak di hati kita melihat kesulitan-kesulitan orang itu akan menjadikan hati kita menjadi lembut. Ini penting sekali buat penduduk Jakarta. Ibu Karen would really love to see Jakarta as the compassionate city. Penduduknya, terutama yang punya kelebihan, these privilege few, tidak boleh hidup tenang. Tidak boleh merasa tidak terganggu oleh kenyataan betapa banyak orang susah di Jakarta, betapa banyaknya orang miskin di Jakarta. Syarat menjadi a compassionate city adalah menjadi uncomfortable city. Sebagai penutup, Nabi Muhammad disebut oleh Allah memiliki akhlak yang agung, dan digambarkan oleh Allah telah datang seorang rasul dari kalanganmu sendiri. Terasa berat kesulitan apa-apa yang menimpamu. Jadi sifat nabi itu merasakan bahwa apa-apa yang menimpamu (umatnya) berat. Selalu ingin kamu mendapatkan kebaikan. Nabi mengatakan semua nabi bebannya berat di dalam hati, tapi tidak ada nabi yang bebannya seberat bebanku. Oleh sebab itu, Nabi mengatakan tidak beriman seseorang bila ia bisa tidur nyenyak sementara tetangganya kelaparan. Dan tetangga di zaman internet ini, luas sekali. -oOo-

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