For ordained minister Bennett, familiarity breeds wisdom. She examines eight of the world's great faith traditions, mining them for transcendent practices and forms applicable to any spiritual discipline. Prior to a culminating multifaith chapter on service, Bennett explores Hinduism's home altars; Buddhism's meditation practices; Islam's rewards of surrendering in a daily cascade of prayers; Judaism's observance of the Sabbath to keep relationships with friends and family intact; Christianity's rich legacy of forgiveness; Native American spirituality's nature insights; Taoism's trust in the processes of life; and New Thought's application of "visioning" to discern calling and course. Each chapter uses broad brush strokes to cover the elements of each tradition, as well as the author's running personal narrative to reveal how this approach has unfolded in her own life and teaching. Bennett's thrust is always on seeing how other traditions can support, not erode or supplant, an existing faith. Practical application steps and stories of how her students reacted to and integrated these gifts further serve to make this a lively, honest and substantive conduit toward meaningful conversation in the explosive arena of religion. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Wisdom Walk: Nine Practices for Creating Peace and Balance from the World's Spiritual Traditionsby Sage Bennet
After experiencing her own crisis of faith, Sage Bennet developed an eclectic spiritual life, borrowing rituals from many religions and traditions. In Wisdom Walk she outlines some of the most powerful of those practices, making them accessible to contemporary readers without diminishing or disrespecting their subtle nuances. Drawing from Hinduism, she/i>
After experiencing her own crisis of faith, Sage Bennet developed an eclectic spiritual life, borrowing rituals from many religions and traditions. In Wisdom Walk she outlines some of the most powerful of those practices, making them accessible to contemporary readers without diminishing or disrespecting their subtle nuances. Drawing from Hinduism, she explains how to create a home altar as a reminder of a larger spiritual presence. She explores how Buddhist meditation helps one find peace. From Islam comes surrendering to prayer, and from Christianity the practice of forgiveness. There's even Native American spirituality in the form of a chapter on letting nature be one’s teacher. A final, summarizing chapter, brings together all the traditions, demonstrates their fundamental unity, and discusses the importance of offering oneself in service to others. Wisdom Walk provides a simple, easy-to-follow guide for bringing the world’s spiritual traditions into one’s life through practical, powerful rituals.
Bennet has borrowed from many traditions to shape her rich and varied spiritual life.
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Nine Practices for Creating Peace and Balance from the World's Spiritual Traditions
By Sage Bennet
New World LibraryCopyright © 2007 Sage Bennet
All rights reserved.
HINDUISM: Create a Home Altar
Build a temple in your heart. Install the Lord Krishna in it; Offer him a flower of love.
— PERIYALYAR, EIGHTH-CENTURY POET
In the spring of 2002, I attended an eight-day retreat in Kauai facilitated by Brugh Joy. As part of our spiritual explorations, we visited a Hindu temple one balmy afternoon in March. Kumar, a witty monk dressed in a traditional saffron robe, told us, "When making our vows, monks receive three things: an orange robe, a cell phone, and a laptop." Our small group laughed at this enigma of ancient and modern blending. We could see a cell phone in plain sight on his waistband. "In Hinduism," he continued, "we also believe in one God or Presence, and that every person and thing in this world is sacred. That goes for someone even like Bin Laden. In Hinduism we believe in reincarnation and that people take more than one lifetime to realize certain lessons to discover the light within. It is as if each person is a furnace and his or her job is to keep the surface clean so the light can shine through — and this is the responsibility of each person. If someone's furnace is black on the outside, it appears dark and absent of light. But the light is still there just the same. Also we believe that everyone must work on cleansing the outside of the furnace. You cannot do this for another person. If you put your hand in someone else's furnace, you will get burned. We also believe that hell is a state of mind, and you can get out, or stay in, as you choose."
After the tour ended I approached Kumar, who was standing outside the main temple getting ready for another group. His brown face glowed against his orange robe, revealing almost perfectly formed white teeth. I looked into his brown eyes. They reminded me of a patch of earth in a forest where I'd feel comfortable taking off my shoes and walking barefoot. "What wisdom message from Hinduism would you recommend to those who wanted to take one practice with them from this tradition?" I asked.
He answered quickly, "Tell them to create a home altar."
As I walked back to rejoin my group I thought, Yes, that would be a wonderful place to begin our wisdom walk — setting up a home altar, a place where we could begin creating a connection with the divine and our own inner sanctuary.
* * *
We begin our wisdom walk by establishing a sanctuary within our homes and also within our hearts. Here we can learn the art of devotion, which opens us to an inner peace and better acquaintance with ourselves.
The predominant religion of India, Hinduism is one of the oldest known spiritual philosophies, dating back more than six thousand years, preceding recorded history. The beginning of Hinduism does not rely on a single founder. Rather, a variety of sacred texts written by enlightened teachers makes up the rich and sacred history of Hindus' many millennia of spiritual traditions.
Students in Wisdom Walk classes are surprised to learn that many contemporary teachers and movements they've heard of are Hindu: Yogananda and the Self-Realization Fellowship, Sai Baba, Maharishi Yogi and Transcendental Meditation (TM), A. C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada and the Hare Krishna movement, Gurumayi and the Siddha Yoga movement, Sri Aurobindo and the East-West Cultural Center, and the widely known Deepak Chopra, who has popularized Ayurvedic medicine.
Getting Our Bearings: Hinduism
NATURE OF THE DEITY. Early Hindus worshipped gods that represented powers in nature, such as the sun and rain. Over time Hindus believed that, although these divinities appeared in separate form, they were part of the universal spirit called Brahman. Many divinities make up Brahman, the most important of which are Brahma, creator of the universe; Vishnu, its preserver; and Shiva, its destroyer. Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation, and destruction.
RELATIONSHIP OF INDIVIDUAL TO THE DIVINE. Brahman, the one all-pervasive Supreme or Absolute, is not only within each being and each object in the universe, but transcends them as well. The divine within each individual is called the atman presence. The many forms of worship, ritual, and meditation in Hinduism are intended to lead the soul toward direct experience of God. Four paths are available to the seeker — through love and adoration, work and service, the mind and study, or a combination of these, including psycho-spiritual exercises.
HOW TO WORSHIP. When followers worship in temples, they do so as individuals rather than as congregations. Most Hindu temples have many shrines, each of which is devoted to a particular divinity. Home is also an important site of worship, centered around a home altar.
ETHICAL BELIEFS. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which individuals create their destiny through thoughts, words, and deeds. The law of karma states that every action influences how the soul will be reborn in the next incarnation. Hindus believe in the necessity of having a guru, or enlightened teacher, in order to awaken to the absolute truth. They also believe that all life is sacred and is to be loved and revered; therefore they practice ahimsa, or nonviolence, in action, word, and deed. Hindus believe that no one religion teaches the way to salvation above all others; each spiritual path deserves tolerance and understanding.
THE SOUL AND BELIEFS ABOUT DEATH. The essence of each soul is divine, and the purpose of life is to become aware of that divine essence. All souls are evolving toward liberation, or moksha. Hindus believe that the soul never dies. When the body dies, the soul is reborn, or reincarnated. When all karmas are resolved and moksha is attained, all beings are guaranteed the destiny of liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
What Is a Home Altar?
Ancient Hindus designated a sacred place in every home as a sanctuary, a place where home dwellers could rise in the early morning and commune with the divine. This center of spiritual force, devatarchanam, is the "place for honoring divinity." The home shrine provides a fortress of purity for the family and sets a sacred tone for the home. Every prominent devout Hindu home has a holy shrine room, which, like a miniature temple, radiates blessings throughout the home dwelling and the community.
At the center of the shrine is the altar, an area designated for the sacred act of devotion. As in the temple, images and icons of divinities are the central focus of the altar. An icon is more than a clay or metal ornament; its image is seen as actually embodying the God in one's own home. All icons possess one of the following qualities:
Anthropomorphic, meaning human in appearance
Theriomorphic, having animal characteristics, like Lord Hanuman, the monkey god, or Ganesh, the elephant god
Aniconic, meaning without representational likeness, such as the element of fire or the smooth Shaligrama stone worshipped as Vishnu
A home altar in the Hindu tradition may include a replica of a deity, prayer beads to count while praying, and spiritual literature intended for inspiration, all of which create a sacred context for common spiritual practices at home altars: meditating, chanting, burning incense, and offering flowers and food to the deity or teacher to whom one is devoted.
Creating and using home altars is a tradition that anyone can follow, regardless of spiritual orientation. Altars can serve many functions. They bring a sense of the sacred into our living spaces and provide a focus for our communication with inner and spiritual realms. A home altar can assist us in our own healing or transformational journey as well as provide a starting point for cultivating spiritual practice. Altars can also strengthen family relationships when activities such as holidays, seasonal changes, birthdays, and graduations are observed in this sacred space.
Creating Sacred Space
Even if we don't claim the Hindu tradition as our own, we can still enjoy the benefits of creating a home altar. This sanctuary within our own home acts as a meeting place for us to rendezvous with ourselves as well as the divine, however we may conceive of it.
Let's start with ourselves. Many of us may not know the sense of peace that is at our center. We may be scurrying about at a fast pace throughout most of the day, unaware of the bands of gold hidden beneath the surface self. The home altar gives us a chance to sit down and greet this peaceful, inner center. As we continue to sit we may find our way to a larger sense of ourselves, the part of us that is connected to the infinite.
How do we create the sacred space of the home altar? First, what we mean by sacred space is an environment that is peaceful, beautiful, and reflective of the spiritual, unseen reality that imbues all things.
FINDING A LOCATION. You may not have the luxury of an entire room that can be devoted to your altar, but you can find a place within a room where you can go regularly every morning, afternoon, or evening to be quiet and contemplative. You can select a corner of a bedroom or living room, and set up a separate table or cover an existing one with colored fabric that you enjoy. You can set up your sacred home shrine on a patio overlooking a yard, or even near the bathtub, where you can light several candles and soak in peace.
PURIFICATION. It is best to prepare the altar space with sparkling cleanliness. Sweep the floors, wipe surfaces, and burn incense or smudge with sage to purify the altar space. It is also important to prepare ourselves by coming to our sacred space with fresh clothes and clear thoughts. We may also use sage or water to create a ceremonial purification, for example, spraying our face and hands with fresh water or brushing the smoke of sage around our head, arms, torso, and feet with a feather.
WHAT TO PUT ON THE ALTAR. A great way to start creating your altar is to drape the surface of the area you have designated. This covering might be a cranberry-velvet cloth, antique white lace, earth-toned scarves, or whatever pleases you. You may prefer to not have a cloth but rather keep the altar on a wooden or glass surface. Candles are another favorite item for altar building, as they are not only a source of light but a powerful symbol of spirit. Other possibilities include sandalwood incense, fresh daffodils, photos of loved ones, shells, and feathers. Additionally, icons from various spiritual traditions can form a wonderful central focus for the altar. The Hindu gods Ganesh or Hanuman, or the goddess Sarasvati, may offer you a rich experience. You may also choose a statue from another spiritual tradition that is meaningful to you.
MAKING AN OFFERING. An offering is a way to acknowledge and honor the deity by presenting a gift — usually food and flowers — as an act of worship or sacrifice. The word sacrifice, meaning "to make holy," indicates that it is a holy act to make offerings at the altar. You may choose to bring an offering of fresh flowers to your altar or place bowls filled with water as a symbol of gratitude for the fullness of your life.
CREATING A RITUAL. Developing a ritual that you can repeat allows you to have a regular way to enter the state of consciousness that an altar provides: a peaceful, receptive place where you can begin your spiritual practice. The ritual you create may be as simple as lighting a candle and placing a rose on your altar. The act of cleaning your altar may provide a daily ritual and will allow you to preserve its freshness and your awareness of the honored guest you have invited into your home. Another activity that is common at altars is reading inspirational literature. Keep some pages next to you that uplift your spirit and inspire peace and balance.
PORTABLE ALTARS. When you travel away from home you can take a portable altar with you. A red candle in a votive glass surrounded by a necklace, a small statue of the Buddha, or a picture of Mary placed on a small piece of silk can begin to transform any tabletop into a sacred space. Whether arriving at a hotel room in an unfamiliar city, visiting a relative, or moving your work space outside, a portable altar can open the portal to the sacred wherever you go.
Even though we may desire to create an altar, have already chosen a location, and even have gathered some objects to place upon the altar, we may still feel awkward actually doing so. We may even feel a slight aversion to creating an altar. At least, this was the case for me. Since walking through my own resistance led to such a satisfying experience with creating altars, I offer my story.
The Art of Devotion
For Hindus, the home altar and shrine room involve the entire family, who gather, often in the early morning but also in the afternoon and evening, through the devotional act of puja, meaning "adoration" or "worship." Many people believe the best time for puja is before dawn. To prepare, the whole family bathes and dresses in clean clothing. In presenting oneself before the deity, one wants to look and be one's best. At other times the altar is covered.
It is common to not eat anything for at least an hour or more before the puja. Each worshipper brings an offering of flowers or fruit, which is prepared before the bath. Worship rites can be as simple as placing a flower at the deity's feet or lighting a lamp. Or they can be more elaborate, with many Sanskrit chants and offerings. The food for the deity is called prasad.
The essential aspect to any puja is devotion. For Hindus, altars are not only a place of tranquil beauty that inspires recognition of divinity, but also the ritual location where individuals actually communicate with the deity. Developing a relationship with the deity is considered a great blessing and continues throughout one's lifetime.
I once previewed a film from the library about a Hindu family gathering in worship at their home shrine to celebrate the birthday of Ganesh, the elephant-headed deity, remover of obstacles. The young boy in the film spoke of his worship experience with such excitement you'd think it was his birthday and he'd received a pony he'd always wanted. I was so struck by the devotion of such a young one speaking about a spiritual experience that I felt inspired to write his story.
Challenges and Progress on the Path
I've often taught Wisdom Walk as a ten-week class in a college or spiritual center, although sometimes I've taught a portion of the material as an afternoon workshop. In one Wisdom Walk series, we spent a couple of sessions on creating altars. One night I removed the usual seminar table, assembled an altar in the middle of the circle, and invited people to come in for our customary meditation. This particular altar was a low, round tabletop draped with crimson fabric and covered with different shells that I had gathered on my journeys to the islands of Hawaii and Tahiti. I lit some candles, then placed them around a statue of the goddess Sarasvati, goddess of voice and knowledge. This goddess is the protector of art and is credited with the invention of writing. She is also the goddess of speech, the power through which knowledge expresses itself in action. She is always pictured as an extremely beautiful woman with a milk-white complexion, often sitting on a water lily and playing a lute. We meditated in candlelight with music playing behind us.
As the meditation concluded, I invited people back into an open-eyed posture and asked them to gaze upon the altar and to give me some reactions. Judy, a woman in her sixties, with thin, gray hair cropped close to her scalp and large tortoise glasses, had her arms folded across her chest. She raised her thumb as a sign that she had something to say. "I feel a little irritated with all of this altar business. What am I supposed to get looking at a clay replica of somebody I don't even know? In my tradition, we don't think that God is outside of ourselves in a clay statue. We believe that God is within, so I feel that making me look at a statue on an altar is a violation of what I believe."
I told Judy that her comments were welcome and that I understood that this particular wisdom practice might not appeal to her at this time. I suggested to Judy that the icon on the table was not meant to violate anyone's beliefs; rather the experience of the altar was an invitation to open to the wisdom associated with Sarasvati. Could the altar induct us into the mystery she represented: inspiration for the sacred arts of writing, music, and other such expressions? The blessings of these qualities were available to us in this meditation. I then asked other people to comment.
Chris was the next to speak, his blond hair falling over one eye, his elbow leaning on a pair of jeans torn at the knee. "I don't know quite how to explain this," he said, "but when I walked into the room, I felt this change come upon me because this picture of Sarasvati was so beautiful that somehow it just spoke to a part of myself that was not in my control. I felt drawn into the beauty and this somehow changed and deepened my meditation. Something was coming through the arrangement of the statue and altar and candlelight. I can't explain it."
Excerpted from Wisdom Walk by Sage Bennet. Copyright © 2007 Sage Bennet. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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