My post on Huffington Post 8/21/2016
Many people are not aware of the fact that they pray. They may never open a prayer book or attend a house of worship, and yet they do things or have thoughts or feelings that are a form of prayer.
Many people, when they find out that I am a rabbi, become defensive. They seem to have guilt feelings about not praying or not following the laws of their faith. Quite often they would say to me, I don’t find those things necessary. I do what I can to be a good person, which I believe is all that matters.
For years, I used to think their attitude was a cop-out. Naturally, it is expected of all of us to be good people. But what about our inner life? What about our relationship with that cosmic reality greater than ourselves?
Now, in my mature years, I have greatly modified my thinking. I have come to learn that no organized religion has a monopoly on prayer, and no one can tell another person what to believe or how to pray. Since I retired ten years ago, I have spent most of my time at sea as a cruise clergy. I sailed the seven seas and everywhere I went I saw people pray in their houses of worship, either alone or communally. I learned a great deal about praying from observing people, much more so than from all the books I had read on the subject over the years.
First, I learned that people pray all over the world—millions of them. Even in countries where prayer was suppressed for decades, such as Russian and China. In a country like Myanmar (Burma), I saw practically an entire country praying in countless Buddhist temples From Mandalay in the north to Yangon in the south.
Second, it became clear to me that while outwardly such belief systems as, say, Hinduism and Judaism, seem entirely different, in reality all belief systems around the world are interrelated, and prayer (or in the case of Eastern religions, meditation) is universal.
Thirdly, and, for me, the most important revelation of all, has been that prayer is not restricted to a text handed down throughout time which we find in prayer books. Each faith has its sacred texts which are essential for the prayer life of its followers. But all the major faiths realize that reciting those texts is not the end all and be all of prayer. It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to infuse the sacred texts with personal meaning that in turn validates the written words and makes them a living reality for us and for those whose lives we touch.
How is this done?
Here is where we come back to the idea of being a good person. Those people over the years who did not engage in formal prayer and said to me in their defense that what was most important to them was being a good person, were not so wrong after all. Any act of love and kindness is a form or prayer, or, if you will, the kind of behavior which sincere prayer is expected to elicit. Without it, prayer is of no value. In other words, more important than professing to believe in God, or praying to God, is doing God’s will, which was best expressed by the prophet Micah who said,
It has been told you, O man,
What is good, and
What your God wants of you,
But to do justice, and love mercy,
And walk humbly with your God.
(To read more about this subject, I refer you to my new book, Why People Pray.)
The Perfect Prayer for Our Time
The two most urgent problems of our time are human violence and violence against nature. The following prayer from the Jain religion in India is the best expression I have found anywhere for making us aware of our destructive tendencies and actions, and to approach life with reverence and humility. I quote it in my new book, Why People Pray, in a chapter titled “A New Language of Prayer.”
May you, O Revered One! Voluntarily permit me. I would like to confess my sinful acts committed while walking. I honor your permission. I desire to absolve myself of the sinful acts by confessing them. I seek forgiveness from all those living beings which I may have tortured while walking, coming and going, treading on living organism, seeds, green grass, dew drops, ant hills, moss, live water, live earth, spider web and others. I seek forgiveness from all these living beings, be they—one sensed, two sensed, three sensed, four sensed or five sensed. Which I may have kicked, covered with dust, rubbed with ground, collided with other, turned upside down, tormented, frightened, shifted from one place to another or killed and deprived them of their lives. (By confessing) may I be absolved of all these sins.
War does not solve anything, it only creates more wars.
How do we put an end to war?
By praying for peace in one voice.
There are many religions and many races, but there is only one God.
No matter what name you use or do not use, there is only one humanity and only one source of life.
Let us pray to the one Source of Life, and let us sanctify life.
And let us pray for all people, not only for ourselves.
And let us do all within our power to leave our children and children’s children a world at peace.
Peace, paix, paz, salaam, shalom.
By Mordecai Schreiber, author of the new book WHY PEOPLE PRAY: THE UNIVERSAL POWER OF PRAYER.
Our five-week cruise to the Far East and Southeast Asia ended in Singapore, where we took the plane back to the States. We visited seven countries: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, China, the Philippines, and Burnei, which were covered in my previous three blogs.
Now that I start looking back, it is clear to me we had covered a vast portion of the world in a rather short time, and many of our impressions may be superficial. But some things stand out, and in this concluding blog I would like to point them out and highlight a few things.
Koreans eating at an open market in Busan (formerly Pusan), South Korea
We only spent one day in South Korea, which the locals simply call Korea, since they do not recognize North Korea as a separate country. Here we see Koreans eating their lunch at an open market in Busan. The menu in the Far East countries is similar yet different, which is true about everything else there. It takes getting used to for foreigners, since the Western versions are quite different.
Like China and Japan, South Korea is industrialized and has the super-rich and the super-poor. In China, which is only nominally communistic, there are reported to be more billionaires than in the U.S.
Men at mosque courtyard in Bandar Seri Begawan, Burnei’s capital
How many people have been to Burnei or know where it is? It is a small Muslim country in the northwestern corner of the island of Borneo ruled by a sultan who is one of the richest people in the world (if not the richest), since his family has ruled this benign sultanate for centuries and it now has oil and natural gas resources far exceeding the needs of its population.
Marina Bay Sands resort complex, designed by Moshe Safdie
Speaking of the world’s richest people, here is a view from our hotel room in Singapore of the Marina Bay Sands resort complex, designed by famed Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, and owned by Jewish American mogul Sheldon Edelstein. It is one of the world’s architectural wonders. Perched on three huge buildings (only two show here), some 60-storey up in the air it holds up a structure resembling a ship, with world-class restaurants and a park complete with palm trees. We had dinner there as guests of a couple who is good friends of Edelstein the night before departing for the States.
Statue of General Douglas MacArthur on Corregidor Island In the Philippines.
Not nearly as prosperous as the three industrial giants of the Far East, the Philippines are a close ally of the U.S., and one of the best proofs is Corregidor Island at the mouth of Manila Bay, which has been converted into one of the most impressive and elaborate memorials of World War II. Here the boys of both nations fought and died under the legendary general, Douglas MacArthur, who eventually broke the back of the Japanese invaders and, with the help of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ended the war which the Japanese were prepared to carry on indefinitely.
Has the world learned the lessons of the bloodiest conflict in world history? The jury is still out on this one.
Monument at Nagasaki’s peace garden in memory of the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945.
We end with Japan because of the incredibly moving peace park in Nagasaki, dominated by the above statue, and containing sculptures from many countries with one message: let there be peace on earth.
After visiting Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and China, we sailed to the Philippines.
The heart of the Philippines is Manila, a sprawling city that does not rival cities like Shanghai or Hong Kong, because it lacks the economic power of China. Yet we found the local people to be charming and resilient. Better yet, their history in the past 100 years is closely linked to the United States, and they were happy to see us.
Our cruise line, the Seabourn, had started a great gesture to the many Filipino crew members, by inviting their families to the pier for a festive lunch in white tents erected on the pier. When the ship sailed away, the families came back to say goodbye with music and dance, and many a passenger wiped a tear from his or her eye.
We visited the island of Corregidor, which guards the bay of Manila. The name Corregidor is seared in the collective memory of the Filipino and the American people, because of their common stand against the invading Japanese during World War II. The entire island is a memorial to those who fought here and gave their lives to keep their countries and the rest of the world free from tyranny.
The Spanish, who ruled the Philippines for three centuries, are not remembered fondly here. They did little to improve the lot of the native population. They do, however, speak fondly of the U.S., who came here a century ago and whose national destiny became intertwined with that of the Filipinos.
Manila gives us the big welcome
Japan and China, March-April 2016
After leaving Taiwan we spent five days in Japan, one in South Korea, and three in China. Everywhere we went we saw people praying. What China and Japan have in common is Buddhism and cherry blossoms, which have just started to peak. Otherwise, they are two very different societies. Japan is very polite and it is one of the cleanest countries I have ever seen. China, on the other hand, where masses of people can be seen everywhere, is loud and pushy. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “China is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” For a so-called communist country, it has given rise to a super-rich class of people we drive some of the world’s most expensive cars.
What made a deep impact on our group were the memorials in Hirhosima and Nagasaki to the victims of the the atomic bombs dropped in the middle of those cities in 1945, ending World War Two. Also in Nagasaki, the memorial to Madama Butterfly in her neighborhood on the slope of the hill overlooking the harbor was very touching.
Hong Kong: a fantasy land
A woman praying in Hualien, Taiwan
Chiang Kai Shek memorial in Taipei, Taiwan
Welcome to the Far East. This is my first blog from our 35-day cruise of the Far East.
We boarded the ship in Hong Kong and after a day at sea arrived in Taiwan. Actually there are three different Chinas: Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China. They are totally different from one another. Hong Kong is rich. Taiwan is what is left of the old China. The Mainland is a communist-turned-capitalist giant. In Hong Kong Mammon, or money, is god. In Taiwan they have a memorial to a failed dictator, bigger than the Lincoln Memorial. But in the Taiwanese countryside I ran into a woman praying at a humble Buddhist temple. It was there that I felt the presence of God.
A footnote: It is estimated that there are today in Mainland China 100 million Christians. There are only 85 million members of the communist party in a population of 1.2 billion. It seems to me that religion continues to be the most powerful ideology around the world and needs to be reckoned with.