- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

Our world family has suffered a terrible blow. Confirmed deaths from the South Asian tsunami exceed 150,000 with thousands still unaccounted for, millions homeless, and dehydration and disease threatening to raise the terrifying death count. Firsthand accounts of incomprehensible devastation sear our hearts.

Pledges for history’s largest-ever relief effort have topped $4 billion. Nations have shown great generosity. Former U.S. presidents came together in a bipartisan effort to spur private giving.

Governments, the United Nations and relief agencies have responded with remarkable speed and are coordinating delivery despite enormous complexity and difficulty.

Religions also responded quickly. Prominent leaders spoke out and religious groups gathered huge amounts of money. Sadly however, though the disaster engraved knowledge of our oneness onto our hearts, religions still spoke from a fractured ground, generally isolated from one another. Small interfaith services have sprung up here and there but are far from the norm. A D.C. interfaith meeting of just 100 believers attracted major media. Aren’t there religious and spiritual guidelines that address us as a single human family?

In the days after the disaster, millions became experts on suboceanic geology. But how many in that same period learned more clearly about life and death?

This sudden transition from temporal life to eternal life by such a great number affects us all. The two communities hardest-hit are the victims, who find themselves forced to deal with eternal life suddenly and without time to prepare, and “survivors,” who just as suddenly, lost loved ones. We of the global family must care for their spiritual needs just as we care for them physically.

How are we as a family to support our brothers and sisters who are starting their new life in the spiritual world? What spiritual support can we give those who similarly must suddenly make a new start in life without precious loved ones?

There is guidance from the world’s religions for times such as these. Such shocks are times to pray, reflect and repent.

Of course, every person needs the wisdom and comfort of his “home tradition.” But as we look to God for compassion, peace and understanding, it is most natural we do so as one.

The Muslim, hearing of a life lost, is required to recite the short statement, “From Almighty God we come and to Him is our return.” With perfect clarity, the Qur’an insists: “Do not say, ‘They are dead’ about one who dies for God’s sake. Rather they are living, even though you do not notice it.” (Qur’an 2.154)

Catholic Christians are guided to pray: “Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

Jews and Christians know from Ecclesiastes 12.7 “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” In the New Testament, Christians are reminded to be “always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight…. We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 4.16-5.10)

Unification followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon recite a prayer to God each day, saying “Our family, centered on true love, pledges to strive for greater unity between the spiritual world and the physical world.”

The I Ching, in the Great Commentary 1.4.2 reminds us: “Birth and death form one recurring cycle, like the alternation of the seasons. Spirit comes from the invisible realms to the visible, then returns to the invisible realms again.”

Hinduism says, “As a man passes from dream to wakefulness, so does he pass at death from this life to the next.” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.11-14, 35).

Buddhists have peace in the knowledge that “Man’s real nature is primarily spiritual life, which weaves its threads of mind to build a cocoon of flesh … the physical body is not man but merely man’s cocoon. Just as the silkworm will break out of its cocoon and fly free, So, too, will man break out of his body-cocoon and ascend to the spiritual world when his time is come. Never think that the death of the physical body is the death of man.” (Seicho-no-ie. Nectarean Shower of Holy Doctrines.)

In an increasingly modern and secular world, many question the need for religion. Yet nowhere can we find what is most needed to comfort, encourage and uplift both the survivors and those who have passed. All traditions insist loved ones retain an active, ongoing life with God after leaving this world. In this most important of all matters, we have no need for despair. Teachings from the loving God are abundant in every tradition.

But religions should seize this opportunity to begin forging an alliance that will allow them to speak to the human family from a more unified place, especially in times of need. Let our prayers and compassion help dissolve our last divisions.

FRANK KAUFMANN

Mr. Kaufmann is the director of the Office for Interreligious Relations of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace.

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