Shocked and saddened by 8 HK tourists losing their lives, and 1 is critically injured, now still in the ICU. So close to us HKers, as many of us travel occasionally and the Philippines is among our popular destinations. www.uuhk.org has changed its look, and a thread is added to the forum, for mourning. May the dead rest in peace. May the injured recover soon. May the families be comforted and supported.
Let us reserve a minute of silence to remember the dead, the injured, and their families! We are star dust, yet so precious and valuable. Let us reflect seriously on our short and fragile being. Let us treasure our only life and feel deeply with our only body. Let us live life to the full, to actualize ourselves. Give thanks to Nature for our existence, and use our life wisely to love and help our fellow Humans.
Share with you a UU way to mourn.
Listen to Spirit of Life here
Spirit of Life, come unto me
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea,
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close,
Wings set me free,
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.
The age of artificial life has come. The universe, including life, continues to be demystified. Is life divinely created by God or just another physical structure subject to human manipulation? God continues to shrink. Paul Tillich's idea of God as "ground of being" perhaps in effect announces that science has chased God to His final refuge of a thin film of mystical "ground" under the feet of everything.
I often consider my life to be a journey of Truth-seeking. As such, I explore a wide range of worldviews, including various world religions and atheism. With Unitarian Universalists Hong Kong (UUHK), I have paid eye-opening visits to the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Bahai community in HK. This time, on May 8, 2010, we visited the Zoroastrian community.
Because of the impending visit to a stranger religion, I have done a little homework. To my surprise, members of this little-known religion have made major contributions to the British colony in her early days. More surprisingly still, this small ancient religion has a profound influence on a hugely popular religion in the West, namely, Christianity. Some biblical scholars maintain that, in the Gospel of Matthew, the magi from the east visiting the baby Jesus were Zoroastrian priests. The reason, they say, for inclusion into the narrative the then prestigeous Zoroastrian priests is to enhance the creditability of Jesus as the Messiah. Also, the Bible is full of Zoroastrian concepts: God/Satan, Heaven/Hell, Angels/Archangels, Judgment, and Bodily Resurrection. (1)
On the day of visit, when I arrived at the Zoroastrian Building in Causeway Bay, I could spot the symbol of Faravahar on the outer wall (figure 2). The soft-spoken and very friendly priest Homyar explained to us the basics of his religion. The founder was Zoroaster (628-551 BCE); his name appeared in Nietzsche’s famous “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” Zoroastrianism was the national religion of Persia and the most influential religion in the Middle East at the time of Jesus. Its main God is Ahura Mazda, “Ahura” means creator, “Mazda” wisdom. Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds are her three basic principles. The scripture is Avesta, mainly accounting the life and teachings of Zoroaster. Fire is believed to be the earliest creature, symbolizing God’s eternity and mercy; therefore, all their temples have an ever-lite sacred fire.
Regarding adherents’ current religious practices, every member will wear the symbol of Faravahar, the guardian angel, as a necklace. They don’t smoke, for smoking blasphemes the fire. Every youth will pass through an adult ceremony, in which (s)he will start wearing a white underwear with a small pocket in the middle of the collar (figure 3), a symbol of keeping good deeds done every day. The religious identity is inherited and they do not accept converts. Their children are encouraged to marry within the religion. Women married to outsiders will be considered as leaving the religion, men marrying outsiders have not this problem. Priesthood is also inherited, passing only to sons. Homyar joked that he has a daughter and so his line of prienthood has been cut off.
The origin of HK Zoroastrians can be traced back to the 17th century, when Muslims conquered Persia. Some Persian Zoroastrians fleed to Mumbai, India, where they were called “Parsee,” meaning a people from Persia. After the Opium War, they followed the British colonists to Hong Kong. More famous figures included Sir Hormusjee Naorojee Mody, a co-founder of the University of Hong Kong. The Mody Road in Tsim Sha Tsui was named after him. Jehangir Hormujee Ruttonjee was the founder of the Ruttonjee Hospital. The Star Ferry was started by Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala. Parsees also helped establish the HSBC Bank and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
After the introductory lecture, Homyar guided us to visit the prayer hall, the center of which is the sacred fire fed by sandalwood (figure 1). Homyar stressed that they worship not the fire, but God through the fire. Afterwards, we took a fifteen minutes walk to the Parsee Cemetery in Happy Valley, which was built as early as 1852. Celebrities’ names such as Sir Hormusjee Naorojee Mody and Jehangir Hormujee Ruttonjee can be found there. At present, however, there are only about 200 Zoroastrians in Hong Kong (only about 210 000 in the whole world) and they have been largely forgotten by the rest of Hong Kong.
This visit added an important piece to the jigsaw puzzle of my life, linking together fragments such as the Star Ferry, the University of Hong Kong, the HSBC, and Christianity. It forced me to reflect deeply whether Christianity is really that special and sacred, as many of her core symbols were merely borrowed from earlier religions.
Articles related to Zoroastrianism from Universalist Herald:
拜訪當天，來到銅鑼灣善樂施大廈（外語名稱正是 Zoroastrian Building），在外牆已看見祆教的標誌 Faravahar（圖 二）。招待我們的祭司 Homyar 向我們講解該教之基本。祆教的始創人是瑣羅亞斯德（又譯查拉圖斯特拉，公元前628－551年）。尼采名著《查拉圖斯特拉如是說》就是用了他的名字。這宗教是波斯的國教，亦是耶穌時代中東一帶最具影響力之宗教。它的主神是阿胡拉·瑪茲達（Ahura Mazda，Ahura 意即「創造者」、Mazda意「智慧」）。祆教的三大基本教條是：好的思想、好的話語、好的行為。該教的主要經典是《阿維斯陀》，主要記述瑣羅亞斯德的生平及教訓。他們認為火是神最早的創造，象徵著神的絕對和至善，所以神廟必有長期點燃的聖火。
說到他們的宗教生活，祆教標誌 Faravahar 可說是守護天使，每個教徒都會作頸鍊帶在身上。他們不吸煙，因為褻瀆火。教徒一代傳一代，基本上不接受外人信教。青年在成人禮時會穿上一件白色短袖內衣 （圖三），胸前有一小袋子，象徵盛載每天的好行為。家庭鼓勵子女教內通婚，女子嫁給教外人便算離教，男子娶教外人則無問題。祭司制度是世襲的，只傳男子，Homyar 笑言他有一個女，所以斷絕了承繼。
講解後，Homyar 帶我們參觀祈禱禮堂，內有檀香木聖火（圖 一），這個火，可說是崇拜的中心。但 Homyar 強調他們並非拜火，而是透過火敬拜神。之後，祭司帶領我們步行十五分鐘到達位於跑馬地的巴斯人墓園。該墓園早於一八五二年建成，可以找到一些香港開埠名人如麼地和律敦治家族的墳墓。但時至今日，香港現有祆教教徒只有約二百多人（世界祆教教徒亦只有約廿一萬），在社會上幾乎已被人遺忘。
1 Ken Vincent, ‘The Zoroastrians,’ Universalist Herald, Nov/Dec 2009, p. 21. (download "zoroastrians.jpg" below)
Easter again. The problem of historicity of Jesus' Resurrection is encountered again. Here are some excerpts from sermons and articles in the latest issue (April 2010) of UU CLF's newsletter Quest. In my opinion, of all historically Christian churches in the world, only the post-Christian church UU fully respects atheists and disbelievers of resurrection!
But some of you are thinking—there she goes again, using that word God, and I don't believe in God. If you are feeling that way, I think you'll be more comfortable if you understand that when I use the word God, I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. For me, God is a word for the Mystery in which we exist...
Whether you are a UU Christian, Jew, Buddhist, agnostic, or hard-core atheist, I'd like to invite you to join me as we talk about the Easter story, a story that has meaning for every one of us.
The resurrected Jesus tells his disciples that they have a mission—"As my Father has sent me, so send I you." They are to witness to the power of love, to let people know of a love that is more lasting than any earthly kingdom, that is more powerful even than death. They are frightened, and they feel grossly ill-prepared, but there is something about this risen Jesus that has changed them, that has given them strength and purpose and a kind of clarity that they never had before. They are not naïve—they know the dangers they will face, but they know why they are living, and they are willing to die that others might know the power of this love and might be delivered from bondage—the bondage of the flesh, the bondage of desire, the bondage of ego.
So what is the real miracle here? Somebody coming back from the dead? I don't think so--the real miracle is what happened to the disciples. They were delivered from their preoccupation with self, from their egotistical plans, and gave themselves to Love.
I don't need a corpse rising from the dead to believe in the miracle of Easter. I see lives changing—I see it all the time. I see love doing absolutely amazing things. It comes about, I think, through both intentionality and grace—it comes when we are willing, and when we enter into a partnership with the Holy, and we say, "I just want to do some good in this world, to be some good in this world." Intentionality on our part, and grace from the universe, freely given. Jesus came not to do magic tricks and have us worship him as God--he came to show us that we are of God—and that therefore these miracles of love are possible in our own lives.
---Marilyn Sewell in Why Easter?
Easter is the time of year when all nature responds, and people, as children of nature, cannot but do likewise. Who or what can stop the trees and shrubs from budding, the birds from singing, the beehive from awakening, and the animals from mating? And humans, endowed with at least five senses and with the intelligence to appreciate them, must react to the vernal resurrection of Nature.
---Munroe Husbands in There Will Always Be an Easter
I am my father's daughter—all our arguments and misunderstandings notwithstanding, that is who I am. And, though he is dead, he lives on in me—in my memory and in my gestures, in the things with which I struggle, in my collections of small wonders, and in my enjoyment of poetry and music, even in my voice, this aging soprano sweetness that his tenor genes, combined with my mother’s alto genes, passed on to me.
If this is not resurrection, I do not know what is. Bodies do not survive death. If minds and souls do, I do not know where they gather. But I know that love is stronger than the grave. It survives, and it abides, and all the dead rise again and again in us, giving themselves to us for as long as we will receive them. Happy Easter—may it arrive, and you know it truly.
---Barbara Pescan in Resurrections
In an age when science is regarded as the best method to learn about reality, the most suitable comprehensive approach to life (i.e., religious stance) is the one which is based on Nature as understood by science. That is Religious Naturalism. The following Minimal Statement defines Religious Naturalism for us.
More on Religious Naturalism:
Religious Naturalism: www.religiousnaturalism.org
Religious Naturalism blog: www.sacredriver.org (see "Spiritual Practice" for real-life practice)
UU Religious Naturalists: www.uurn.org
Minimal Statement on Religious Naturalism
Religious Naturalism is a spiritual and philosophical orientation arising from profound responses to the wonder and mystery of Nature and its emergent manifestations in human creativity and culture. Its views of Nature are embodied in the Epic of Evolution and informed by scientific inquiry, without reference to supernatural explanations. It emphasizes reverence and gratitude for Nature and a deep regard for all life; it recognizes the imperative of planetary sustainability. It supports efforts that honor ecological and cultural diversity, that promote social justice and free inquiry, and that create a more compassionate, rational world where humans and non-humans alike can thrive.
宗教自然主義博客： www.sacredriver.org （關於實修，可閱 "Spiritual Practice" 頁）
UU 宗教自然主義者： www.uurn.org
（譯自 www.rnstatement.com ）
On January 11, Unitarian Universalists Hong Kong (UUHK) becomes a Partner Church of the Community UU Church (CUUC) of Plano, Texas, thanks to the UU Partner Church Council (UUPCC). On Sunday, January 24, CUUC celebrated our Partner Church relationship with a special Sunday service. See pictures here: www.communityuuchurch.org/pages/HongKong . I am very excited, feeling a sense of lively connection with a vibrant UU community on the other side of the globe. We can concern, support, and co-operate with each other. How wonderful and warm it is to be a part of the world UU community!
於本年一月十一日，尋道會與美國德州 Plano UU 社區教會在 UU 伙伴教會評議會之下結成「伙伴教會」。在上星期日該教會的一個特別崇拜聚會中，他們慶祝與我們的「伙伴教會」關係。我感到非常興奮。看到此處的聚會圖片，我感到很奇妙，能與地球另一邊的一個活生生的 UU 群體連起來，互相記念、支持、合作。我們是世界 UU 群體的一份子，何等奇妙與溫暖！
Prayer and Nonduality
by Jay Michaelson
Tikkun November/December 2009
Jay Michaelson is the author of Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism, from which this article was adapted. Michaelson advocates nonduality---God and us, everything indeed, are one. But prayer (we pray to God) clearly assumes duality (the twoness of God and us). This article addresses this problem of conflict between nonduality and prayer. The following quotes highlight the main points:
God does not exist---but is Existence itself.
"All is one."
Logically, if God is infinite, then everything is God.
Nonduality...But if there is no self, what is there?
A Buddhist would say everything is an empty play of conditions: ...genetics, ...learned behaviours, and so on. A nondual Jew or Christian uses the word "God" to refer to those conditions.
Not just the language of prayer but its fundamental assumptions are rigorously personalistic and dualistic; it implies, and sometimes actually states, that "I" am here and you, God, are there, and I am asking you to do things in the world.
...ready nondualistic answers to the traditional theological problem of prayer:
(1) In the contemplative mode: prayer fills the mind with salutary reflections on beneficence and grace, circumscribing the selfish inclination;
(2) ecstatic practice: prayer as uniting with God magically by means of words, song, movement...
But all this seems to miss the point of why we pray in the first place. Transforming prayer into meditation or magic or self-reflection turns it into something other than prayer, which has to do with the yearnings of the heart. ...prayer is, at its core, devotionalistic in nature. ...a time for the heart to open. ...Devotion implies a devoted-to. It implies duality.
...traditional prayer is intellectually incoherent. If everything happens as it must, rather than as it should, then what is the point of wishing really hard for it to be otherwise?
Ironically, when nondual contemplation actually succeeds...dualistic prayer language suddenly flows much freer...illusion of separation drops away. So too do inhibition and the pretension of knowledge. A great "I don't know" replaces the arrogant claims to metaphysical certainty. It is the negative theology of the Cloud of Unknowing, the limits of reason according to Kant, the limits of language according to Wittgenstein, the mystery of Being according to Hegel and Heidegger. The "I don't know" is the absurdity of Zen, the transrational of Ken Wilber...And so prayer flows from surrender---chiefly the surrender of "I." ...It is a Divine role play, ...This is nondual prayer...
"Prayer and Nonduality" 一文載於前進派 (progressive) 猶太教期刊 Tikkun。作者 Jay Michaelson 著有《一切皆是神：非二元猶太教的激進路徑》。他倡議非二元猶太教，即視神與人為一、一切為一。在非二元論之下，祈禱構成很大的問題，因為人向神祈禱明顯假設我、神二分之二元論。這篇文章就是要解決這個問題。
My wife is expecting a baby boy on 8 Febuary 2010. So I must brush up my baby-rearing skills. A great source of information for nurturing a young baby's potential is The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia. The Institutes have been serving brain-injured children since 1955. Their experience eventually resulted in a series of books and materials for enhancing normal children's brain growth. I am reading the Institutes’ founder Glenn Doman's "How Smart is Your Baby?" which is essentially a guide to enriching a baby's first year of life. Surprisingly, a passage of the book touches on the philosophical debate between physicalism and idealism* regarding the nature of the mind. The book clearly favours physicalism. Page 21 of the book reads:
"It is very important to remember that when we speak of the human brain we are speaking of that physical organ that occupies the skull and the spinal column and weighs three to four pounds.
"We are not speaking of that nebulous thing called 'the mind.' The confusion between the organ called 'the brain' and the idea called 'the mind' has created problems in the past.
"The mind has defied any agreed upon definition of what it is or what it is not. The brain, however, is material. It is easier to study. We can see it, feel it, and smell it. We can even taste it if we are inclined to do so.
"The brain is a nice, clean orderly organ whose job is to take in data and process that data in such a way that its owner can relate to his environment appropriately at all times."
Here, the idea is simple. "Mind" is vague and cannot be defined clearly. We are simply unable to study it. The brain, on the other hand, is something which we are able to study. For something that cannot be defined and we are unable to study, like "mind" and "God," all we can do is to remain silent. Only for something that we are able to understand, like all physical entities, that we can study and obtain meaningful knowledge of them.
Ancient Chinese wisdom echoes here. Confucius said, "Respect ghosts and gods, and stay away from them." Also, "We know so little about this life, how can we know anything about after death?" Confucius teaches to be reserved and remain silent for vague and unknown things. Physicalism might not be the only explanation, but physicalism is the only explanation we can understand and handle. I am a physicalist because I am only able to understand the physicalist universe.
*Physicalists argue that only the entities postulated by physical theory exist, and that the mind will eventually be explained in terms of these entities as physical theory continues to evolve. Idealists maintain that the mind is all that exists and that the external world is either mental itself, or an illusion created by the mind.
Hundreds of people sing "Silent Night" to the glow of candles at a Christmas Eve service at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Francisco. The song, lit strictly by the candles, is a traditional highlight of the early evening service. (San Francisco Chronicle picture from Christmas 2008)
In this video, the narrator uses the seven-stage model of psychological transition put forward by Sugarman in her book "Life-Span Development" to explore the emotional side of personal transition from Christian to Atheist. It is very useful for SafeHouse, a resting place and support group for people in transition of religious faith. The SafeHouse can watch this video and discuss.
這套 YouTube 短片以心理發展的七個階段模型理解由基督徒過渡到無神論者的情緒轉變。看來十分適合「心靈休息室」觀看及討論。（「心靈休息室」是一個為宗教信仰轉變者而設的互助小組。）
Alex from UUHK