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Hello, everyone. You know, 20 years ago I was preparing to become an actor. I was thinking of how to make the world a better place by acting. An actor is a person who stirs up the feelings of their audience, tells them the truth and provokes a catharsis. And the next day these people will work for a better world. At the height of my acting career, I went on stage at the National Theatre. And you know what my role was? I played the role of a pile of snow. At the end of the famous play, Tragedy of Man, there is the Eskimo scene. According to the director's idea, we were covered with a huge white blanket. We had to stay still for about 20 minutes. I was very convincing, shining like a star... Still, after the 30th performance, I started to think. Is this really the best way for me to change the world? Having been disappointed by acting and being a disappointment myself I went on to study cultural anthropology. This discipline studies ancient and modern civilisations, comparing and contrasting them. My main interest has been their intellectual background: what conceptions people have of themselves and the world at large. I am convinced that their basic set of values and their outlook on life pervade all segments of their culture. They way people think at a particular time and place about the great issues of life (eg. what is good and bad, how one should behave) will influence their everyday life, politics, arts, sciences etc. This underlying set of values, or its deficiencies will be manifested everywhere. If we want to understand the malady of our culture, and I think this is the case now, we have to dig deep into these foundations. Of course, we do not like it when our morals are challenged. In a free society people want to live as they like. Still, I think the problems of our civilisations are so great that we have to ask some tough questions. During my studies, I acquainted myself with the teachings of various religions and now I teach them as well. Although in the news religions are reported as a source of conflict among civilizations, countries and ethnicities, I have personally concluded that if the followers of religions properly understood the teachings of their own creed, and saw the common principles underlying them, religions could become a source of solution, not of conflict. In this way, not only interreligious problems could be solved but also others the society is faced with. We hear about crises every day: economic crisis, ecological crisis. But there is also a crisis of moral values. As I see it, the crisis of values is not just one of many; it is THE underlying crisis. Historically, this crisis is not something new, but it has been aggravated. As the material culture is but an imprint of the intellectual values of society, we can say that if there are problems on the surface, then there must be something wrong deep down. What can religions do about this? If we can find some common principles, common ideas in religions, we'll have at hand some common cultural treasure of mankind that we can use to provide solutions. This could be the common spiritual treasure of mankind that could be used as a solution. I am not the only one to reflect on whether religions have a common denominator. I am glad to inform you that a whole Parliament of Religions has been assembled to work on this. The Parliament of World Religions is organised every few years. The one in Chicago was organised set the goal of finding out what are the common moral values, shared by all religions. What amazed me most was that this effort was successful! The Parliament had more than 6,500 participants, representing several hundred, practically all, spiritual traditions existing on the globe. At the end of the conference, they released a statement, signed by all religious leaders present, expressing: Yes, these principles are truly essential elements of my own religion, too. The Parliament identified four common principles that connect religions through ages and continents. I will give you a brief overview. The first principle: respect for all living beings. In other words, non-violence or compassion. This is clearly present in all traditions. Regarding this, let me call your attention to a TED initiative, called Charter for Compassion. Started by Karen Armstrong, it also identifies this point as fundamental to all religions. It refers to the idea that you will find everywhere: Do not do to others what you do not want to be done to yourself. Or, to put it positively: relate to others as you want others to relate to you. This is a minimal ethical criterion. But clearly, respect for life cannot be restricted to not doing any harm. It is not only a passive emotion or attitude, but also an endeavour to actively relieve others' suffering, and to help others in any way we can, socially and spiritually alike. However, what do we see in the real world? This principle of respect and compassion is violated continually. People will do everything they can to harm each other. The Parliament of World Religions has pointed out this is not only about human relationships. It is also about humans' attitude to nature, animals, and plants. We see that these living beings are often regarded as mere raw material to serve our consumption and whimsical needs. The second principle is: moderation. One should consume only as much as is absolutely needed, and should show solidarity with others with similar needs. What we find, however, is an ever-increasing global greed. If we want to identify one cause of the global economic crisis, then no doubt, it is greed. An uncontrolled drive to accumulate, to consume, to gratify the senses. This greed entails the exploitation of others, the Earth, the living world. This greed violates the principle of moderation and creates difficulties in many respects. The third principle identified by the Parliament is honesty. This means respecting the law, telling the truth, being righteous. However, what we see in the world is crime, corruption, dishonesty and telling lies. The fourth principle identified by the Parliament is gender equality and mutual respect of the sexes. In practice, this principle is undermined by licentiousness, adultery, prostitution and harrasment of children. To put it positively, the core principles are: respect for life, moderation, honesty and equality. All world religions agree that these four pillars are the foundation of peaceful coexistence. If we cultivate these virtues and build our society on them, people will be peaceful and relatively satisfied. However, if we ignore these principles, it will lead to far-reaching consequences. The society will be destabilised, people will be dissatisfied. See, we have a broad consensus here. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt said in his talk: . we are born with certain moral principles in our minds. People are not the same but some basic moral principles are ingrained in our hearts. Religions agree with psychology. In spite of their theological differences, they hold that there are essential common norms. This also makes common sense. If we disregard these rules of the game, it is easy to see that the global society cannot function peacefully. Now, I have a question for you: IF WE KNOW THESE PRINCIPLES, WHY DON'T WE FOLLOW THEM? I'm not going to ask you to fill in a questionnaire right now, but if we look into our hearts, we have to acknowledge that in some cases, we do not firmly adhere to these principles. Although we know collective and divine wisdom tells us how to live we are unable to follow it. Why? You can give your own answers to this question. My answer is we lack spiritual strength. Moral values are nice and attractive. Everyone agrees: this would be nice, this is how we should live. In practice, however, we often stumble. I think what religions can offer humanity is: spiritual strength. This is also my experience. During the past 15 years, I have lived the life of a monk. I get up at 4 a.m., I meditate for two hours every day. I am a vegetarian and follow some other rules you may not want to hear about. What is interesting is not that I can make it. There is a more general message here: if someone is fully aware of their moral values and is able to follow them at all costs, this brings them a sense of satisfaction, good conscience and great peace of mind. For me, this gives genuine pleasure. As we know from psychology, such happiness may be on a higher level than superficial sense enjoyment. This pleasure is not momentary; it is lasting satisfaction. Where does spiritual strength come from? I can only think of the spiritual practices that various religions recommend. For example, saying prayers and mantras, doing meditations that evoke inner, higher powers. It enables the individual to follow what they know is good anyway. How does this work? Each of us has negative drives: selfishness, greed, envy, anger, hate. These compel us to do things we do not ""officially"" agree with. The spiritual practices help to cleanse the mind of these mental impurities. They help us become pure, be our real self and act according to our core identity. Thus, religions have this dual mission: give moral guidelines and provide a means of spiritual uplifting. As a bonus, whatever is good for spiritual growth is also good for social peace. Furthermore, religions suggest that making this world better is not the ultimate goal. We should and can make this world a better place, and I am also committed to this cause myself. We should try to move in this direction. But this world will never become perfect, though we should try to make it better. As a closing remark, let me add a few beneficial ideas from the spiritual tradition I follow, Vaishnavism, which is part of the Hindu world religion. According to this, we are all eternal spirit souls. Enmity is, therefore, pointless, because we are all tiny sparks from the same supreme fire we all come from and towards whom we all go. Religions are no other than the messages of this Supreme Being to humankind. They are so similar because they come from the same source and they have the same goal. I have only one question left. Please give it a little thought. Couldn't this way of thinking help to make sure that people harm each other less? Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Video Details

Duration: 18 minutes and 40 seconds
Year: 2010
Country: Hungary
Language: Hungarian
Genre: None
Views: 119
Posted by: hage on Mar 3, 2010

TEDx Danubia Talk: Where Religions Connect – István Tasi (Budapest, 27 January 2010)

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