Enlightenment & Ethical Conduct

Saturday, September 22, 2012  (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.)

@Dominican University of California, San Rafael (Creekside Room, Caleruega Hall)

Enlightenment & Ethical Conduct – Report

Understanding the inherent dignity within the human heart – that seeks to serve, remains compassionate, and searches for clarity and illumination to commit to moral deeds – is deeply rooted in religion and spirituality. The focus of this program was on understanding how we become enlightened and find our way in the realm of moral action.

Speaking to an audience which filled the room to capacity, each of the presenters expressed gratitude for the ongoing Building Bridges of Understanding series, which has established a tradition of education, service, and community building. This program provided the opportunity to spend a few hours together exploring the teachings of different faiths on deep questions of humankind. Understanding the challenges of enlightenment and ethical conduct in the twenty-first century, the speakers appreciated being both teachers and students for the day.

Swami Vedananda, member of the Building Bridges of Understanding Program Committee, opened the day with a brief meditation, encouraging everyone to concentrate attention in their hearts, the center of that which does not change, and to be conscious of the reality which is always within us.

Dr. Nahid Angha, Co-founder and Co-director of the International Association of Sufism, welcomed everyone on behalf of the Building Bridges of Understanding Program Committee. She recognized and acknowledged Program Committee members, and emphasized the importance of this gathering to recall our spiritual teachings in a time of disturbance and unrest in the world.

Prabha Duneja, founder and President of Geeta Society, shared the Hindu belief that the search for illumination and the desire for service and ethical conduct are in the inherent Divine nature of human beings. The root cause of loneliness, insecurity, and confusion in modern progressive societies is the lack of alignment with the source and guidance, as we tend to pursue spirituality only after the achievement of economic security. She defined spirituality as “learning to live in the awareness of the indwelling spirit,” which is accomplished through daily prayers and meditation. The alignment with the indwelling spirit is the foundation of ethical conduct, and Hinduism is a way of life that helps the individual to stay aligned.

Duneja explained that the word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root meaning “to combine or join together the mind, body, and spirit in order to experience union.” Each of the eight yogic disciplines has a role in this process leading to inner peace, a prerequisite for a life of peace and harmony with others. The meditation associated with yoga is attending to the thoughts with attention and intention, leading to silence of the soul. For Hindus, worship of gods and goddesses such as Lord Vishnu, Sri Lakshmi, and Sri Ganesha contributes to enlightenment and ethical living. Hindu practice in addition to yoga, meditation, and worship includes special rituals, or Samskaras, for various stages of life and rites of passage.

Most important from human beings is to remember the great gift of life, and to use this opportunity for self-analysis and self-realization by striving to stay aligned with the pure and luminous soul.

Khodadad Pashutanizadeh introduced the Zoroastrian teachings. He explained that Zarathustra, or Zorastra, was a pioneer of monotheism, and the first to preach the equality of all, regardless of race, gender, class, or nationality. Zoroastrian Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, developed the first human rights charter, a replica of which is kept in the United Nations. Zorastra, meaning “golden star,” also sowed the seeds of democracy, proclaiming that a leader must be chosen by the people, and he was one of the first environmentalists, teaching that human beings can learn what is good by studying nature. The Holy book contains songs which are basically mantras guiding right thinking to move to a clear, straight road. These teachings of 4000 years ago are still applicable to modern society – universal and ever fresh, they do not provide step-by-step guidance for daily life, which would become out-of-date or inapplicable in other times and places.

The steps outlined for human beings include the affirmation that humans are endowed with a good mind, which leads to righteousness and truth, and to good thoughts, good words, good deeds. Humankind is exhorted to work for an ideal social order, then for self-realization, and the path culminates in immortality. Pashutanizadeh described the influence of the Zoroastrian community in India on the foundation of the Boy Scouts in 1907 by British Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell, as one of the key principles is that Scouts are to be clean in thought, word, and deed.

Zorastra taught that the Universe was created good and that mankind is endowed with freedom of thought, word, and deed, and a mind which can distinguish between good and bad. Prayers to experience Divine love can be made alone or in company of others, and can be silent or aloud, in prose or poetry. Individuals, communities, and the whole of humanity should be united and bound together by love and wisdom.

Rev. Heng Sure, Ph.D., director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, began his presentation by teaching the audience a mantra to counter greed, which he cited as the dominant paradigm in our culture. Whereas greed arises from a belief that we are not enough, ancient teachings tell us that we are sufficient, and the best response is gratitude and a willingness to share from our bounty. Rev. Sure noted that enlightenment has become a buzzword with uncertain meaning, and going back to its root source, the Sanskrit “bodi,” he described the meaning as awakening or waking up.

In sharing his own experience of learning about Buddhism in the 1960s, filtered through the works of Jack Kerouac and others of the Beat Generation, Rev. Sure pointed out that this teaching came through Japan, where the ethical component of Buddhism had been lost. The three steps of character, concentration, and insight need to come in sequence. The study of character, which had been eliminated in Japan, is the first step in waking up.

Buddhism teaches that to be a good person, the way is to walk the path of humanity to its end, doing nothing that offends your conscience – not killing, lying, stealing – teachings that are found in major systems of ethical belief. This allows the mind to be still in meditation or other practice so insight to the self and the oneness of all can arise, and from that comes compassion.

Demonstrating the benefit and reward of living an ethical life, Rev. Sure shared the analogy of an unpruned human life to berry vines which become brambles if not nurtured, watered, and pruned, resulting in small, hard, green berries with no sweetness.


Returning after lunch for a general discussion, the three speakers sat together on a panel to address questions from audience members, who utilized this opportunity to bring up thoughts that had not been addressed earlier. In explaining why Zoroastarianism is not widespread, Pashutanizadeh was greeted with laughter and applause when he pointed out that a large number of people follow the teaching of good thoughts, words, and deeds, but are not aware that they are Zoroastarians. All of the presenters agreed that it is possible for even a convicted felon, who has committed a great sin, to become enlightened. Duneja explained that the word “mantra” means liberating the mind, and Rev. Sure listed among the benefits of repeating mantras: protection, subduing evil, creating a safe space, healing illness, and creating auspiciousness. All three presenters noted the important contribution of spirituality in directing and using scientific developments in such a manner that they will responsibly benefit humankind.

Rev. Heng Sure led contemplative songs in a call-and-response format that engaged the entire audience in a soulful spirit, accompanied by his twelve-string guitar. He shared his reflection on the day that the most important application of ethical conduct in modern life is in the relationships between and among human beings, and felt it was most important to honor the feminine and develop a strong, gentle model of masculinity. He closed the program with a Dedication of Merit, a sung tradition of Buddhists in which the energy from a meritorious event is dedicated and sent out into the world. He noted that the Building Bridges of Understanding program surely qualifies as a meritorious event, and sang: “may all become compassionate and wise.”


Hinduism: Prabha Duneja

Born in India, and a graduate of the Sanskrit University of Kurukshetra, Prabha Duneja is the founder and President of Geeta Society and an active member of the Tri-Valley Interfaith Council, the Women’s Federation for World Peace, and the United Nations Association U.S.A. She is also a recipient of the Global Citizen award, given by UNA-USA East Bay, for her tireless efforts on behalf of schools and orphanages in India and Mozambique, and for promotion of world peace through her educational activities in California. She is the author of many books and producer of many CDs.

Buddhism: Rev. Heng Sure 

An American Buddhist monk born and ordained in the United States, Rev. Heng Sure is a senior disciple of the late Venerable Master Hsuan Hua and is currently the director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, a branch monastery of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association. He is probably best known for a pilgrimage he made for two years and six months from 1977-1979. Rev. Heng Sure gives lectures in Berkeley as well as around the world on various subjects, such as the sutras and veganism, and is also an accomplished musician and guitarist.

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Zorastrian: Khodadad Pashutanizadeh

Born in Tehran, Iran, Khodadad Pashutanizadeh studied Sociology and has a Masters degree in political science from Gujarat University, India. He has pursued his doctorate degree with a focus on the Role of the Zoroastrian Community in Indian Politics.

Building Bridges of Understanding Series

A cooperative program of the International Association of Sufism and the Dominican University of California Humanities and Cultural Studies Department. Sponsored by and cooperation with Marin faith communities. Partial funding from Marin Community Foundation.

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