I’ve been asked to say a few words for the event, and here’s my first draft for you – feedback is compassionately welcomed!
There is a huge heart that lies behind the Charter for Compassion.
Karen Armstrong has launched this movement from her own long and painful spiritual journey. Her experience as a Catholic nun was deeply traumatic, and this pain can be sensed in her writings. But for her this pain was not an excuse to give up religion, but to inquire more deeply, to see where the essence of true religion lies, and how this has become twisted by the forces of history. Now she seeks, not the ending of religion, but a renewal based on ‘the greatest idea humanity has ever had’ – the Golden Rule.
For too long our religions have neglected their spiritual and moral inspiration. The Golden Rule is forgotten. The messages of religious founders – radical and challenging voices – have been imprisoned in narrow and sectarian dogmas. Churches, temples, mosques have become, not houses of God, but prisons for the spirit.
In Australia we can witness the mainstream religious groups standing against a Charter of Rights for Australian people. These religious groups currently enjoy the privileged status of being able to discriminate against others on the basis of gender, sexuality, and belief. This shows their failure to practice the Golden Rule, to be able to truly and deeply experience the suffering of those different than ourselves.
I am a Buddhist monk, and I speak to you today as one deeply ashamed and embarrassed. Just two weeks ago my teacher, Ajahn Brahm of Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, was expelled from his tradition for the crime of performing full ordination for women. Buddhism has enjoyed its reputation as the gentlest and kindest of religions, but now we can see that Buddhists, too, often fail in compassion, fail at the Golden Rule.
I have read of the sufferings that Karen Armstrong experienced in her life as a nun, and I have seen the same kinds of suffering in the lives of Buddhist women who wish nothing more than to practice their faith in its fullest. Just as Karen Armstrong has transformed her suffering to become a potent force for religious understanding, I hope that Buddhism, like all the religions represented here today, can rise to the challenge of the Golden Rule and transform their suffering into wisdom.
To do this we will need to critically re-examine our scriptures; re-evaluate our history; reform our institutions; reject narrow legalisms; and steadfastly dissent from any aspect of our tradition that does not fully manifest the Golden Rule. I can see no other way to live a religious life with integrity in our time.