Karen Armstrong awed and inspired hundreds at the day long Student Conference on Compassion in Religion held by the Iona Pacific Inter-religious Centre March 29. She was joined by an impressive array of high profile story tellers representing First Nations, Sikh, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Bahai, Jewish and Buddhist religious backgrounds. Karen, who won the 2008 TED Prize, urged conference attendees to leave the conference and act on the lessons and values discussed throughout the day.
Karen created The Charter for Compassion which aims to rid the world of ideologies that breed hatred and contempt and is endorsed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. She stressed that this is not just a, “superficial love-in,” and encouraged everyone to, “release compassion from the junk room at the back of your head where it has been relegated.”
After hearing a story on compassion from each faith, the conference split into breakout groups to discuss the concept of compassion, their own stories of compassion and what inspired them throughout the day.
One common theme that came up during these discussions was the concept of public transit. Whether it was the simple concept of giving a seat to those who need it more, regardless of age or disability or trying to come up with a way to help alleviate homelessness while bussing through Canada’s poorest postal code in the downtown Eastside every day, transit seemed to inspire.
The concept of being in transit related to a bigger theme that Karen addressed, the theme of ‘sacred spaces.’ The distinguished leader of the Nisga’a Nation, Joseph Arthur Gosnell spoke of the horror felt by his community when missionaries burnt a pile of Nisga’a sacred object in the 1800s. We need to be aware, Karen taught, of where we are and need to be careful to respect the sacred spaces of others.
She drew on the biblical story of Jacob where he falls asleep on a Canaanite shrine and has a religious vision of angels going up and down a ladder from heaven. He erects a rock to mark the place as holy despite the fact that he is Jewish. Like Jacob, we need to honor, rather than trample the spaces that are sacred to others and be open to the fact that our own religions and beliefs can be enhanced by being open to those of others.
Rabbi Dr. Robert Daum and his team at Iona Pacific did an incredible job at bringing together and inspiring people from all ages, faiths and backgrounds at this day long conference.
One of the attendees noted that it takes three generations of Monarch butterflies to travel from British Columbia to Mexico. Like the Monarch, we need to use education and small acts of kindness to make the world a better place even if our efforts only realize in two generation. Karen hopes that Vancouver will become a signatory of Charter for Compassion soon. More information can be found here: http://charterforcompassion.org