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Panel Discussion on "How do we live our faith?" - Thursday November 8th 2012

SAIF met for what has become its annual panel discussion meeting, drawing on these occasions on its own resources as its members lead the debate. The topic was How do we live our faith?

Philip Morris described his childhood and life as a member of the Society of Friends, the Quakers, growing up in Birmingham and Cheltenham and schooling at the Quaker school at Sibford. He was registered as a conscientious objector during the war, and told us of his support for human rights organisations like Amnesty International, ethical investments, living sustainably in a threatened planet, and declining to take part in raffles, tombolas etc, though always contributing to the cause being promoted.

Mark Humphries (Mahatmadas) told us how he rises at 5am for two hours of chanting the Sanskrit names of God on a kind of rosary, so removing areas of stress and opening up the possibility of spiritual experiences. This is followed by arti, a service of worship, and breakfast. He may spend several hours handing out books about God, or CDs of meditation in the streets, but finds that 90% are not interested. A vegetarian diet is very important, with all food being offered back to God who gave it; so it an honest life and one free from drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Sex is for the procreation of children and not self-indulgence, so homosexuality is forbidden. The task of life is to purify ourselves.

David Izen spoke of his 25 years as a Nichiren Buddhist. The movement is also known as Soka Gakkai International (SGI), and is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism, from the later teaching of the Buddha. Nichiren was a 13th century Japanese monk of the Sakyamuni tradition, who taught that the Lotus Sutra was the greatest of the Buddhist scriptures. SGI has no holy places, retreats or codes of practice, and no hierarchy of leaders, but insists on the responsibility of each person to understand the fundamental law of cause and effect and work to achieve a happy, balanced life, fully engaged with the world. He chants passages from the Lotus Sutra morning and evening, and prays for solutions to problems.

After our three friends had spoken there was an immediate discussion on what David had meant by prayer, since he had been clear that he did not address any supreme being, but was referring rather to a kind of meditation. Both he and Mark were questioned about using a language (Japanese or Sanskrit) which they did not necessarily understand. Mark noted that you do not have to know what ‘Mayday’ means to use it as a call for help in distress. [Doesn’t it come from the French m’aidez! Meaning ‘help me!’?]

There was much more discussion about spiritual resources for times of crisis, and how the speakers’ spiritual lives related to their occupation. Philip Morris had been a craftsman and a silversmith, but began to be anxious about the way that silver was mined and traded, so left the business to teach craft. Mark was an IT consultant, and David was engaged in property sales.

A well-attended meeting thanked the three speakers for their lucid and stimulating contributions.

Christopher Lamb

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