Interfaith Panel Considers Religion and Creation



From left to right-Rabbi Dana Magat / Rev. Margo Tenold
/ Sheikh Alaeddin   Albakiri / Venerable JianHu (photos: Sunnyvale Zen Center)



(October 28,2009, 1:50 PM / San Jose Interfaith Examiner / D. Andrew Kille)  


      Of all God’s creation, only human beings have the power to disrupt creation,” said Rabbi Dana Magat of San Jose’s Temple Emanu-El at the Green Day conference held at the Sunnyvale Zen Center last Saturday. According to Jewish tradition, human beings are created in the image of God and thus bear particular qualities of infinite value, equality, and uniqueness.” They are called upon to exercise their god-like qualities of “power, consciousness, relationship, will, freedom, and life” to be wise stewards of creation, maintaining the order of creation even as they are permitted to use it, within limits.

       Rabbi Magat appeared on a panel with three other religious leaders: Rev. Margo Tenold of the Council of Churches of Santa Clara County, Shaikh Alaeddin Albakiri of the Saratoga Masjid, and the Abbot of the Zen Center, Venerable JianHu, to discuss “Religion's Approach to Environmental Ethics and Responsibility.” This was part of a Green Action Day gathering sponsored by the Zen Center. The Center itself has installed solar panels on the roof of the facility. The 35-kilowatt Photovoltaic (PV) System employs 223 solar panels and will supplies 90% to 100% of the Center’s electricity.

       The Rabbi described how the Hebrew Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning, God created,” and so the Jewish tradition is firmly embedded in the created world. Human beings are created from the “ground;” “humanity and the earth come from the same `stuff.’” A story relates that when God created human beings, he showed them all of creation, and said to them, “For your sake I created them all, see to it that you do not spoil and destroy my world, for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”

       Rev. Tenold traced the Celtic tradition within Christianity, which began when previously nature-based traditions encountered Christianity and  “found ways to merge their reverence for nature with the new Christian teaching.” The stone crosses raised by Celtic Christians often had scripture on one side and nature imagery on the other. In place of the figure of Jesus commonly found on crosses in the Roman tradition, “Celtic crosses have a circle where the vertical and horizontal arms join.” There are various interpretations for this circle— as a symbol of eternity, the oneness of all creation binding together the four corners of the world, or even the sun, which was revered by the Druids. However it is interpreted, this “circle tells us that this Christianity finds meaning in the oneness of creation.”

       There are two forms of revelation, she said, recalling Johannes Scotus Eriugena, a ninth-century Irish theologian—the book of scripture and the book of creation. Jesus called on his followers to care for “the least,” and this includes everything in the world around.

       Sheikh Albakiri described that the Qur’an says that God made all of creation for human beings, and, like a CEO at the top position in a company, humanity’s position at the top of creation entails a responsibility to care for all the rest. The creation depends on God. The one who God loves most in this creation is “the one who is good to the rest of the creation.”

      One of the Five Pillars of Islam is the Shahada- the “witness.” How is it that Muslims have come to know the God to whom they bear witness? Through scripture, through creation, and through their own experience. “Take away creation, there would be no Shahada; no Shahada, no Islam.” In much the same way as in Christianity, Muslim tradition has referred to two kinds of scripture: the “open book” of nature, and the “written book” of the Qur’an.

       The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) modeled a simple life. The goal, he taught, was to give the most and the live with the least, or at the minimum, in moderation. The palm tree is an emblem for the believer—it is evergreen, and when you throw rocks at it, it returns dates.

       “If one of you has a tree in his hand, and he wants to plant it, but he looks at the universe and he can see that the day of judgment is dancing on the world,” the Prophet said, “Even if you see that the end of the world is coming, plant it, for maybe God, out of mercy for that tree will delay the day of judgment.”

      Venerable JianHu described the Buddhist principle of “dependent origination.” “This is here because that is there; when this does not exist, that doesn’t exist.” Everything in creation exists interdependently, and only ignorance and greed lead us to believe we can do anything we want without consequences.

      The Abbot used the image of the honeybee to describe a goal for living. “The honeybee takes the nectar from the flower without damaging its fragrance and beauty.” When we take resources from the environment, we should seek to do so without damaging it. We respect the world for what it is.

      The honeybee not only exercises care in gathering for its needs; it also advances life by cross-pollinating the plants. Along with sustainability, we must consider how we can live in ways that prove mutually beneficial.

      JianHu Shifu invited those present to consider a pledge to eat vegetarian one day a week. If one person goes veggie one day a week, in one year, he or she can help save the equivalent of 84, 000 gallons of water, 7,700 acres of rain forest, 15 gallons of gasoline, and 245 pounds of feeds to the livestock along with 400 pounds of animal excrement.  “Going Veggie one day a week is a simple measure we can take to do our shares in reversing Global Warming.”  

      We can live a life that is “simple, sufficient, and sustainable,” the Abbot said. Smiling, he noted it was a way to live out the “3 H’s-- Healthy, Happy, and (w)Hole.”


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