Looking Beyond: Spirituality in the Face of Death

l-r: Mustafa Cenap Aydin, Svamini Shuddananda Giri, Guidalberto Bormolini, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, Joseph Levi, Silvia Bianchi and moderator Gino Vitiello. Photo by Matteo Maglietti

l-r: Mustafa Cenap Aydin, Svamini Shuddananda Giri, Guidalberto Bormolini, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, Joseph Levi, Silvia Bianchi and moderator Gino Vitiello. Photo by Matteo Maglietti

On Sunday, July 3, 2016, a meeting between different religions on the subject of death entitled ‘Looking Beyond: Spirituality in the Face of Death in Various Religions’ was held at Merigar West in Tuscany, Italy. I believe it was the first time an event of this type has been held at our Gar.

One may, often rightly, have many doubts about the usefulness meetings between different religions may have, but the feeling at the end of the morning’s work was very positive.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu opened the meeting with a short speech that immediately touched on an essential aspect: all beings want the same thing, to be happy. The basis of happiness and peace cannot, however, be found in relationship to any ideology or religion, but only through evolution of the individual.

Then the different speakers gave their speeches, following an order starting from the Far East and moving to those closest to us, and according to the chronological development of the various religions.

Svamini Shuddananda Giri, a young Hindu nun, was the first to speak, and with great simplicity and freshness explained how, in the complex universe of this religion, death is still seen as a fundamental tool to recognize the meaning and the strength of the life cycle of creation and destruction.

This was followed by a speech by Silvia Bianchi, teacher of Buddhism and Mindfulness at the Lama Tsong Kapa Institute in Pomaia. Her talk was centered on how Buddhism offers extremely effective tools to work on our self, and how this is just an aggregate that is inseparable from the world in which we live. According to this view, for a practitioner, the death of the material body allows consciousness to “return home”, not easy as long as we are conditioned by the material dimension.

Photo by Emanuele Assini

Photo by Emanuele Assini

The word then passed to the representatives of the three great monotheistic religions, beginning with the oldest, the Jewish one.

Joseph Levi, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of Florence, gave a speech ranging from Talmudic doctrine to Greek philosophy, emphasizing that every life is a unique opportunity to learn about the divine, outside and within oneself. His explanation of how the deep meaning of the Jewish Sabbath is the silence of human action in order to fully devote oneself to listening to God was very interesting.

Guidalberto Bormolini, monk and professor of master ‘End Life’ studies at the University of Padua spoke for Christianity. In his report he highlighted how close Christian teaching is with the Buddhist view and how both of these paths have a common foundation of love and compassion towards all beings. From his intervention we learned that the concept of the “body of light” also exists in Christian doctrine.

Finally Mustafa Cenap Aydin, a researcher at the Gregorian University engaged in intercultural and interfaith dialogue, spoke for Islam. His talk was centered mainly on Sufism and on the vision of an open and tolerant Islam, where death emerges as an opportunity to remind us not dwell on material aspects and to turn our minds to the divine.

The impression felt during the talks and after, in the informal situations among the speakers, was that all of them seemed really interested in finding the points of affinity with others and not in asserting their own separate identity.

The opening words of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu were auspicious and he seemed so pleased that he proposed a continuation of these meetings in the next few years.

Gino Vitiello