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How Important Is Knowledge In Your Belief System?

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by spnadmin, May 28, 2010.

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    How important is knowledge in your belief syste

    RADHIKA SEKAR holds a PhD in Religious Studies and taught Hinduism courses at Carleton and University of Ottawa. An aspiring Vedantin, she is a devotee of the Sri Ramakrishna Mission.

    Knowledge is very highly regarded by Hindus and is seen as a blessing bestowed by divine grace. Many Hindu children begin their school day by praying to Sarasvati, goddess of speech and learning, to grant them the ability to learn and master their studies, and teachers are highly respected.

    Vedanta distinguishes between two types of knowledge: learning derived from books and other external sources, and knowledge that arises intuitively from experience. Both are important in their own sphere. The first type of knowledge, which relates to the material environment, is important to the understanding of external realities. However Vedanta perceives these as ever changing illusions, impermanent and therefore unreal. But it does not discourage the scientific pursuit of such knowledge so long as it is in harmony with ones spiritual aims.

    The second type of knowledge arises from the growth of spiritual experience. Of all categories this is the highest. Knowledge of the natural sciences, of arts, crafts, literature, music, and every conceivable type of worldly knowledge do not bring peace or bliss, unless rooted in Atma Jnana — the knowledge of the Self.

    Atma-Jnana is an intuitive realization and not a theoretical understanding, that arises from personal experience. In Buddhism, it refers to pure awareness that is free of conceptual encumbrances. In Vedanta, it means true knowledge, the realization that one’s self (atman) is identical with the Brahman. Both traditions see the cause of all human misery as avidya (ignorance) of this essential unity.

    In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Prince Arjuna that “having attained this knowledge you will never again be deluded. You will see yourself in all creatures, and all creatures in Me (the Lord)(Chapter 4:35).

    Rev. KEVIN FLYNN is an Anglican priest and director of the Anglican Studies Program at Saint Paul University.

    Knowledge is not everything there is to the Christian life, but we all have the duty of thinking out the meaning of our faith. This is both an individual and a corporate responsibility. The Church is “the People of God.” A people is not just a random group, or a crowd, still less a mob. A people has a certain unity that comes in part from a self-understanding. Theology is the people’s understanding of its own raison d’être. Such knowledge is not the preserve of a few scholars or clergy. It is related to the interests and life situations of all mature, intelligent Christians.

    It is true that we know God only in part in this life (1 Corinthians 13:9), but God has given us the gift of God’s own self-disclosure or revelation. This means that we know enough of God to enter into a genuine relationship with God. So we are able to love and serve God and our neighbour. Bad or lazy thinking can produce much harm. Sometimes Christianity is thought to require belief in an arbitrary old man in the clouds who makes impossible demands on everyone and would damn them for their failures but whose vindictive sadism was satisfied by the crucifixion of his own son. This is only one version of the slipshod thinking that sometimes passes for belief. The other end of the spectrum of lazy thinking favours a wash of sentimentality, respectability, childishness and mental timidity.

    Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th century, famously spoke of “faith seeking understanding.” Christian faith is basically trust in the gracious God made known in Jesus. Faith is not a sedative. It makes us question unexamined assumptions about God, ourselves and the world. Faith has nothing to fear from inquiry. It keeps on seeking and asking.

    REV. GEOFFREY KERSLAKE is a priest of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Ottawa.

    As Catholic Christians we are not trying to learn more about God but rather we are seeking to know Him more intimately. The Catechism reminds us that “... it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom (they have) put (their) faith and to better understand what He has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love” (CCC .158). In any meaningful relationship, we want to know as much about our friend or beloved as we can: the more we discover about them, the more we love them and respond in love to them. Of course, God knows us fully and He is even more present to us than we are to ourselves. On our part, with the help of the gifts of faith and God’s grace, we seek to grow in our knowledge of Him and His ongoing presence and action in the world. St. Edith Stein is an example of a highly educated person in the 20th century who lived a combination of reason and faith. She was a pioneer advocate for women’s education and she, like many millions of people, died in the Holocaust. St. Edith once described her spiritual journey in these words: “My longing for truth was a single prayer.” We believe that faith and reason work together: they are not opposite poles of a spectrum. The Church has a long tradition of holy, inspired, and intelligent women and men who, with faith and reason, unveiled more the mystery of who God is and how He acts in history and in our lives.

    KEVIN SMITH is on the board of directors for the Centre of Inquiry, Canada’s premier venue for humanists, skeptics and freethinkers.

    For all of us, in regards to belief in gods, the middle ground is agnosticism; without knowledge. No one has absolute knowledge. It is a process; a journey with two possible roads to travel. One is marked by faith, tradition and custom; while, for me, the right direction is composed of coherence, consistency and science.

    Thank “God” for science. It enables us to collect evidence, which can be tested and verified. It explains the unexplainable. Without science, we would still think the Earth is flat. Everything that makes the world go around has a natural explanation — matter, energy and the laws of physics.

    The scientific method allows our understanding of the world to advance — to the best of our knowledge. If we were to include the supernatural in the mix then every atom and molecule; everything that we have ever known would be of no value. The natural and supernatural are immiscible — like oil and water.

    There is also a path to knowledge through reason; the process of thinking without emotion. Blind faith is a roadblock to reason. Thomas Jefferson’s thought provoking statement; “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear”, is a directive for all who seek knowledge.

    In the beginning, for tens of thousands of years, before The Enlightenment, everything knowable was already known, through ancient writings and dogma, dictated by rulers and holy men — or so humans thought. It was during the scientific revolution, this Age of Reason, where the most rapid advances and key discoveries about us and our place in the universe came to light. Call it the “big bang” of knowledge.

    I arrive, with confidence, at my belief of non-belief in gods — through science and reason. This would be a temporary stay, however, if a future Einstein was to prove me wrong. Facts over faith lead us to the truth.

    RAY INNEN PARCHELO is a novice Tendai priest and founder of the Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern Ontario.

    Buddhism distinguishes two categories of knowledge — ordinary and sacred. Ordinary knowledge encompasses what we in the West call knowledge, that is the humanities, arts and sciences. Sacred knowledge or “prajna” is the awareness that comes when one gains penetrating and liberating insight into the nature of how things are. Such knowledge comes through non-deductive, intuitive practices, most notably meditation, and leads to the end of the suffering that defines human life.

    Conventional knowledge does have value for Buddhists. Science, humanities, the practice of the arts, are all encouraged by most schools. We need to understand our lives and world. For example, the Dalai Lama has promoted scientific research, especially in psychology and mind-brain studies, which has informed our sacred knowledge and practice. The two kinds of knowledge are not opposites, nor in competition, they simply apply to different aspects of our experience. Secular understanding allows us to form a view of our world, which can inform what sacred wisdom we may possess.

    The fundamental teaching of the Buddha is the Eight-fold Path and one of the three categories of this path is “wholesome knowledge”, comprising both understanding and viewpoint. Further, we are taught the Ten Perfections (paramitas), which are those qualities that will lead us to our own awareness of Truth. One of these paramitas is, of course, this “prajna”.
    Sacred knowledge, as mentioned, comes with practices like meditation; however, this is not the sole source (except in Zen Buddhism, where this can be the case.). Countless teachers have come to deep understanding of the Truth and have offered us their teachings, usually in a written form.
    Often such inherited teaching acts as a kind of borrowed sacred knowledge when our own understanding may not be sufficiently developed. The teaching of the generations of masters becomes a map to guide us in our own quest. Ultimately, full spiritual knowledge is for us to unfold. Finally, Buddhism affirms that there is a necessary balance between knowledge and compassion. Knowledge without compassion is just information, compassion without knowledge, mere sentiment.

    ABDUL RASHID is a member of the Ottawa Muslim community, the Christian-Muslim Dialogue and the Capital Region Interfaith Council.

    A human being is born without any knowledge but with an intense curiosity. He seeks answers to what, where, why, who, when, how, and on and on. It is also the Divine tradition that our Creator provides us with the means to satisfy our needs. To quench this fundamental thirst for knowledge, God Almighty endowed us with the faculties of hearing, seeing and intellect (Holy Koran, 16:78). If we analyse the nature of these three faculties, we will find that all human knowledge is the result of their use.

    At the same time, God blessed us with “the Book and wisdom (4:113). The first revelation to the Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him, consisted of five verses (96:1-5). Four words in this short passage comprise reading, teaching, writing and learning. The entire store of human knowledge and progress is the result of these four elements. This shows the fundamental importance attached to knowledge in Islam.

    The Holy Prophet laid great emphasis on knowledge throughout his life. He stressed its importance again and again. For example, he said: “Seeking knowledge is obligatory on all Muslim men and women”; “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”; “Become a scholar or a student or a listener or a lover (of knowledge) and do not be the fifth, as it will destroy you”; “The ink used by the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr”; “The pen is more powerful than the sword, and that one hour’s contemplation is better than a year’s worship.”

    Knowledge and learning occupy a very high place in Islam. The Islamic view is that knowledge is sacred since the source of all knowledge is Divine. We are asked to pray, “O my Lord, grant me increase in knowledge” (20:14).
    RABBI REUVEN BULKA is head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and host of Sunday night with Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA.

    There is a famous statement in the Talmud that impacts on your question. It goes like this — an ignorant person cannot be pious. Piety is more than a generic term for being serious and dedicated to faith. Piety demands knowledge concerning the obligations that one is attempting to fulfil piously.

    In Judaism, even the most elementary of regulations has rules upon rules. The simple act of tithing one’s income has so many nuances that full volumes have been written on this topic. And the same goes for every obligation or prohibition — that books can be, and often are, written about these responsibilities.

    In order to know what to do, one needs to know — to have the requisite knowledge. In Judaism, highest value is placed on knowledge, not merely abstract knowledge, but knowledge that leads to action.

    But there is significant value even in abstract knowledge. Study of Torah (literally, showing the way) is of paramount importance, and understandably so. The Torah is God’s word, and treating God’s word with the veneration that underlines study is a profound act of faith.

    We are dealing here not with study for an exam. We are dealing with study for its own sake. Those who take study seriously will grab every available moment to delve into the sacred texts, including the Bible, the Prophets, the Scriptures, the Talmud and additional commentaries. They will study even matters that do not impact on their lives, but are full of transcending wisdom. The study connects them to God by embracing God’s words.

    Finally, knowledge in other areas, such as mathematics, astronomy, geography, biology, etc., brings with it a greater appreciation of the magnificent world we live in. That too is vital to belief.

    JACK MCLEAN is a Baha’i scholar, teacher, essayist and poet published in the fields of spirituality, Baha’i theology and poetry.

    My first response is that knowledge is only the half of religious or spiritual life. The other half is action or doing, that is, putting the belief system into practice through deeds or service. Without observing this vital imperative, any religion runs the risk of becoming a mere set of hollow doctrines or ritualistic ceremonies and loses all credibility. Whoever says knowledge must also say love because love, along with knowledge, is the foundation of all the world’s religions.

    The type of knowledge that is vital to one’s belief system is, of course, the knowledge of God, the divine knowledge that God reveals to humanity. For a Bahá’í, this knowledge is transmitted to humanity from age to age through a sequence of Divine Messengers or Prophets who bring a divinely revealed holy book. The knowledge of the Book refers to: (1) The correct ethical (moral) or spiritual guidance that determines the orientation of a human being’s actions while she is living in the world. (2) The knowledge of those principles or teachings that are necessary for discovering fundamental meaning to riddling questions and answers of human existence. (3) Those progressive social teachings that are best suited to humanity’s needs today in order to carry forward “an ever-advancing civilization.”

    Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Divine Messenger for this age, referred to the love and knowledge of God as being the generating impulse behind all creation: “Having created the world and all that liveth and moveth therein, He, through the direct operation of His unconstrained and sovereign Will, chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him — a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation” (Gleanings, p. 65).

    In my view, it is false to dichotomize faith from knowledge as is sometimes done by reference to “blind faith.” ‘Abdu’-Bahá (1844-1921), the son of Bahá’u’lláh, the appointed interpreter of his teachings, said in a memorable statement: “By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds” (Bahá’í World Faith, p. 382).

    FATHER JOHN JILLIONS is a professor in the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University.

    It means everything, and it means nothing.

    Christianity is a revealed religion that rests on claims about what God himself has said and done in history. Everything we believe ultimately rests on knowledge of this revelation and how it has been interpreted and applied from generation to generation.

    Christian thought is a body of knowledge that has been accumulated at a high cost over 2,000 years (5,000 years if you consider its roots in Judaism). I teach at a university named after Saint Paul, one of Christianity’s founding thinkers. The SPU library (the biggest theological library in Canada, by the way) is a treasury of this knowledge, and one can explore it at university level from BA to MA to PhD. All of us who teach there are actively engaged in deepening our own understanding of the areas in which we specialize, and none of us has any illusions about being able to master even these highly specialized realms of knowledge.

    But there is another side. Paul himself had profound knowledge of the scriptures, Jewish tradition and Greek learning, but he understood that intellectual knowledge on its own is meaningless. Worse, it can be a dangerous source of pride that prevents discovery of a much deeper form of knowledge: love. “Knowledge puffs up, love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Puffed-up knowledge also shuts out vast realms of mystery. “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2). Even our best spiritual knowledge is imperfect and will pass away (1 Corinthians 13:9).

    Whatever the limitations of our present knowledge, we human beings are called to make the best of it, and for Paul there was no more powerful demonstration of God’s love than the crucified and risen Jesus. “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).” Crucified love eclipses every other form of knowledge.

    AJIT SINGH SAHOTA is a founding member of of the Sikh National Archives of Canada; he was president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada from 2001 to 2005.

    The word “Sikh” literally means student and so the Sikh faith is centred on learning and knowledge. The source of this knowledge is the “Guru” or spiritual teacher, which is the word of the Gurus as enshrined in the Sikh scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The question of course is what the nature of true knowledge is? In Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh approach to knowledge is clearly spelled out: “Prays Nanak, what is a knowledgeable person like? He recognizes the self and understands God” (Sri Guru Granth Sahib 25).

    One could be very learned and have acquired great worldly knowledge, but if such an individual is not happy and has not recognized God within the self and within creation, that knowledge has not been of any great benefit to the learner. On the other hand, one may have very little worldly knowledge but if such a person is living a spiritual life, having recognized God within, then such a person is successful and truly wise.The spiritual knowledge that leads one to love The Supreme Reality with Guru’s Grace is the purpose of life for a Sikh.

    The Sikh Gurus greatly stressed the importance of acquiring knowledge, but knowledge within the context of a spiritual lifestyle. The Gurus established schools and encouraged education and literacy for all Sikhs and were themselves great scholars. The variety and complexity of languages along with the musical ragas in Sri Guru Granth Sahib is astounding. Knowledge acquired in the pursuit of a spiritual lifestyle, while understanding that God-realization is life’s true goal, is laudable. That having been said, the Gurus were clear that without spiritual wisdom, worldly knowledge is not enough. Without the foundation of spiritual guidance, worldly knowledge can become a source of pride and ego, which in turn leads to delusion and pain.
    Ask the Religion Experts is compiled by Stephanie Murphy. Write to Ask the Religion Experts, c/o The Ottawa Citizen, 1101 Baxter Rd., Ottawa, Ont., K2C 3M4. E-mail submissions to experts@thecitizen.canwest.com
    © Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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