Interfaith Work

Hello, Dalai

Sorry about the bad joke there, I couldn't resist this as a headline for the closing day of the Parliament. Of course, one has to be of a certain age for that to make sense.

This was the closing day of the Parliament, which is shorter than the other ones. We were at a morning session giving us a centering time to celebrate and share sacred land sanctuary experiences among us. The Parliament Crystal from Circle Sanctuary was part of the altar for this celebration. Following this, Sylvia sat in on a session of Aboriginal Elders, and how women can help heal the land, while I sat in on a report from the first ever Indigenous Assembly, which was held as part of the Parliament. This was an opportunity for indigenous elders from Australia and the Americas, and draft a statement of shared concerns. The statement is still in draft form, and there is a consensus to include the indigenous peoples of Asia and Africa as well. I had an opportunity to chat with a priest of Japan's indigenous Ainu community, and express that our Pagan community, with its European indigenous roots, has common ground with them.

There was a session on the pre-Christian Indigenous traditions, in which both Andras Corban-Arthen of the Earth Spirit community, and Joseph Trinkunas of the Lithuanian Romuva tradition had opportunities to speak about both of their paths. According to Trinkunas, the original Romuva religion was the dominant one in Lithuania, and was the official one up through the 14th century. King Gediminas decreed Lithuania to be Religiously Tolerant, according to a decree in 1323, in which was stated "Let everyone worship their own gods in Lithuania". Christian Missionaries, along with military backing, managed to make Lithuania a Christian nation, though supposedly in name only. The country folk would observe all their celebrations, and then go in to the church once a week, and say a prayer or two to keep the Catholic Priest happy.

The contemporary Romuva movement started in 1967, was suppressed and persecuted by the Soviets in 1971, and then after the fall of the Soviet Union, was officially registered as a religion in 1992. He showed pictures of contemporary celebrations of Rasa, the Summer Solstice, complete with parades out to the woods, and festivals centered about bonfires.

In addition to the work in restoring Romuva as a religion, the Lithuanians have been instrumental in organizing the World Congress of Ethnic Religions, which was formed in Vilnius in 1998. It is now consisting of 20 movements from all European countries.

Andras Corban-Arthen spoke about the traditional religion which he was trained in, rooted in the Gaelic speaking parts of Scotland. He expressed the concerns that the traditional keepers of the old faith are primarily concerned with the survival of the traditions, and are not interested in academic recognition. He stressed that it is a way of life, with a supporting culture that reinforced the spiritual and religious context. It is difficult for a modern urban Pagan to have the same level of connection with a culture, thus modern Paganism tends to be a religion only, disconnected from the contemporary culture.

That ended up being the last of the sessions that we attended. We had a lunch, followed by the closing Plenary session. There was keen interest in the Plenary, due to the fact that the Dalai Lama was the keynote speaker. Security was very high, and there was screening with metal detectors at all entrances to the Convention Center. There were closing music performances and talks, a handoff of power in the Board of Trustees to the new chairman, and the official kick-off for the new Parliament Social Network site, PeaceNext.org. This is intended to provide connection during the five years between the Parliaments. The Dalai Lama spoke for the need for all religions to get together, for all religions to have freedom to observe, and for non-believers to have freedom as well. We are all called to the path that we are on, we cannot force everyone onto the same path.

The plenary closed with a parade of musical performers out to a pedestrian footbridge over the Yarra river, with all the rest of us attendees following. This was to allow taking group photos of the Parliament. We all stuck around, taking photos, saying our goodbyes, and exchanging hugs and handshakes and promises to meet at the next Parliament. Sylvia was setting up her camera to frame up a group photo of a group of Sikhs, and was quite surprised to see me in the group. I have pictures of Sylvia with the Buddhist Dancing Lions, and she has pictures of me with some Scottish Sikhs.

Our last meeting with Parliament attendees was with a Pagan group, both Australian and US, going out to dinner. We stayed until we got kicked out of the restaurant, and left with the impression that this even truly ignited a fire under the Australian Pagan community.

- Dave