Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Helping people form a beneficial connection to Buddhism through interfaith and intercultural dialogue - The Vanguard Discussions series

“Commandments or expressions like ‘must’ or ‘have to’ no longer motivate people in this day and age,” SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says. “This is a time in which no one will act unless they are truly convinced in their hearts. . . . For this reason, fruitful conferences and discussions are becoming all the more important, while one-to-one dialogue is becoming tremendously vital.” (Faith into Action, pages 181-182)

Dialogue is a primary activity in the practice of SGI Nichiren Buddhism, to not only deepen our understanding of our own spiritual practice, but to build bridges with people of other spiritual and cultural perspectives. The Vanguard Discussion series, which I introduced you to last week, is a great example of such bridge-building dialogue. Carolyn Ferrari created the Vanguard Discussion series to serve as “public forums that allow artists to address community and societal issues from their unique perspectives, and share how their art informs change, and presents concepts that challenge the status quo.”

Last week I talked about my and Kathryn Grabowski’s presentations, and now I’ll share with you some highlights from the presentations of musician and sound engineer James Beber, and multi-media artist Daniel Moen.

After starting his music career as part of a rock band, James Beber decided to find additional ways to use music to bring people together. He began learning audio engineering, and is currently developing his own recording studio and label, where he will produce not only his own but other people’s music. “Art and culture are pretty much inseparable,” Beber pointed out, and his “final goal in this endeavor is to throw art festivals around the world, and show actual proof of the humanistic power of Nichiren Buddhism.”

What he means by this is to use the principles of Buddhist humanism—including the ideas that everyone is capable of attaining enlightenment, and that we (rather than an external force) have the power to shape our own world and our future—to both empower and unite people from different cultures and perspectives to work together and enrich each other’s experience.

Like dialogue, the idea of art and cultural festivals is also part of the SGI’s legacy. The SGI emphasizes the value of our diversity, and encourages its members to branch out and form bridges with people who are unlike us to enrich and strengthen the range of our human experience, rather than to make us all more like each other. Regarding propagation, Daisaku Ikeda’s emphasis in his interfaith dialogues and other peacemaking efforts is on helping people “form a beneficial connection with Buddhism,” rather than on “converting” people to become Buddhist.

The fourth panelist was musician, graphic designer, and photographer Daniel Moen, who also happens to have been my best friend since late 2010. Dan, like me, has always been interested in Buddhism, and has been on a lifelong quest to continuously diversify both his cultural and his spiritual perspective by studying different philosophies, and then building as many bridges as he can between people of these different philosophies. He incorporated chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo into his spiritual practice, and has participated with the SGI community enough to be considered part of it, without having made the decision to “officially” become Buddhist.

Dan’s work is inspired by his love of culture, which grew out of his interest in exploring his own heritage and being inspired by the heritage of people around him. He was born in the Philippines and adopted by an American family, and grew up in a community with almost no ethnic or cultural diversity. (He and his sister were “the darkest people in our school,” as he put it). His art—which includes freelance photography, themed photographic compositing, painting, performing in the Elf Ensemble at Michigan’s Renaissance Festival, and playing a wide variety of instruments from around the world—reflects his passion for interfaith and intercultural bridge-building, as well as social justice. I’ll discuss more about Dan’s insights—and his upcoming concert—in my next post. 

“Everybody is an artist, even people who say they are not,” Dan expressed. He then elaborated on this with something profound he read on Facebook: “What I mean by that is that your soul is the paint brush, and the canvas is your life.”

Whoever wrote that on Facebook sounds like they’d fit right into the conversation that followed our presentations, which I’ll write about next week. Please stay tuned, and thank you for reading. Namaste.


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Image: "Elemental Ashiko" by Karla Joy Huber, 2011; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, white-out pen, highlighter

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