The Shepparton Interfaith Network observes Christmas and welcomes the giving of compassion to the needy in this region. In this message, we reflect on the many divine incarnations that have come to serve as guide-posts for humanity. We also look to celebrations and observances in the different religions at this time.
The Madonna and Child or The Virgin and Child is often the name of a work of art which shows the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus. The word Madonna means “My Lady” in Italian. Artworks of the Christ Child and his mother Mary are part of the Roman Catholic tradition in many parts of the world including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, South America and the Philippines. Paintings known as icons are also an important tradition of the Orthodox Church and often show the Mary and the Christ Child. They are found particularly in Eastern Europe, Russia, Egypt, the Middle East and India.
The Madonna in Glory with Saints (above) is a painting by the Italian Renaissance painter Pietro Perugino, dating to c. 1500–1501. It is housed in the Pinacoteca Nazionale of Bologna, Italy. It was originally located in the Scarani Chapel of the church of San Giovanni in Monte. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The Divine Messengers
Through the exemplary life on Earth of those whom we know are divine descents, God demonstrates to the humans what one’s innate true characteristics are and how one should be. For example, Lord Rama exemplified as the very embodiment of Truth and Right Conduct. This was 11,000 years ago. Lord Krishna emphasised the virtues of Peace in Love in the humanity. This was 5,000 year ago. 2,000 years ago, Jesus epitomised compassion and forgiveness. A little later came Mohammed demonstrated surrender to God, Mahavira preached non-violence, Buddha showed the need of enlightenment to end the suffering and so on.
All divine incarnations such as Jesus, Buddha, Rama, Krishna, and prophets such as Moses, Mohammad and Bahá’u’lláh serve as guide posts and have preached virtues which have to be fostered by humanity by demonstrating them in their lives. They have always preached while practising them, never simply limiting themselves to preaching alone. The purpose of their descent itself is to uplift the mankind and it is pre-determined. Even their birth is pre-decided and divinely directed. Even before the birth of Jesus Christ, it is known that angel Gabriel had indicated the descent of the power of the God as Jesus Christ.
When we study the life of Jesus, though He was an incarnation, initially, He was revealed as a messenger of God. This demonstrated to the world that it is the first stage in the spiritual journey of a person. This is the stage where the master-servant relationship between the God and the spiritual aspirant has to be established with all humility and obedience of the aspirant. Secondly, we all know that Jesus proclaimed Himself as the Son of God. This is the stage where the love for God suffuses the entire being of the aspirant and it forms the basis of the life. Thirdly, “I and my Father are One and the same” tells there is no difference between the God and Jesus, all that the Father has is given to the Son, and all that the Son has is given to the Father in love. This is the meaning of the Divine Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas.
Observances at this time …
Tailang Swami Jayanti (29 December)
411st Birth Anniversary of Tailang Swami
Tailang Swami (1607-1887 C.E.) was a great Hindu Yogi who has divine powers. For most of his life Tailang Swami stayed in Varanasi, India. It is believed that Tailang Swami was an incarnation of Lord Shiva due to which few disciples referred him as The Walking Shiva of Varanasi. Tailang Swami lived a very long life of around 280 years. Tailang Swami was also known as Telang Swami and Trailanga Swami.
Tailang Swami was born in Holia at Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh. His parents, the devotees of Lord Shiva, named him Shivarama. His parents died when he was 40 years old. After death of his parents he renounced the society and did spiritual practice for twenty years. Later he went on a pilgrimage. It is believed that he reached Prayag in 1733 and got settled down in Varanasi in the year 1737.
His birth anniversary is celebrated as per Hindu lunar calendar and falls on Ekadashi Tithi in the month of Pausha during Shukla Paksha. The day of his birth anniversary coincides with Pausha Putrada Ekadashi.
Vaikuntha Ekadashi (29 December)
2017 Vaikuntha Ekadashi – The Gates of Heaven are Open
Vaikuntha Ekadashi is also known as Mukkoti Ekadashi. It is believed that Vaikuntha Dwaram or the gate of Lord’s inner sanctum is opened on this day and devotees who observe fast on Vaikuntha Ekadashi attain salvation by going to Heaven. (Ekadasi means the 11th day.)
Vaikunta Ekadashi is a festival of Lord Vishnu (the sustainer, the one who holds all creation together in proper organisation) is observed with all solemnity in the temples of Lord Vishnu. It was on this day that during the churning of the Ocean of Milk took plac and the sacred amrit (nectar) emerged out of the ocean and was distributed to the demigods. The Hindus consider this day very auspicious and it is believed that those who die on this day are freed from the rounds of birth and death; they directly reach Vaikunta, the abode of Lord Vishnu (or Heaven).
All the gods headed by Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva assemble on this day in Vaikunta, the Divine and Holy Abode of Lord Vishnu. Hence this Ekadashi is called as Vaikunta Ekadashi or Mukkoti (Mukkoti = 3 crore) Ekadashi.
In this Kali Yuga, even if just one Ekadashi is observed with dispassion, faith and devotion, and if the mind is wholly fixed on the Divine, one is freed from the rounds of birth and death. The scriptures give us their assurance on this point.
Guru Gobind Singh Jayanti
(26 December or 5 January … )
Guru Gobind Singh Ji was the 10th Sikh Guru of Nanak. He was born at Patna, Bihar, India, on December 22, 1666. His birthday sometimes falls either in December or January or even both months in the Gregorian calendar. The annual celebration of the Guru’s birthday is based on the Nanakshahi calendar.
Guru Gobind Singh was the son of Guru Tegh Bahadur, who gave his life to protect religious freedom. He succeeded his father when he became a Guru at nine years of age. Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s teachings have a big impact on Sikhs. In his lifetime, he stood against the Mughal Rulers and fought against injustice. In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh Ji took five men from the lower caste of society and baptized them as His Five Beloveds, endowing them with great courage and a devotion to God. It was his dedication to God, his fearlessness and his desire to protect the people from being oppressed that led Guru Gobind Singh Ji to establish the Khalsa, a military force of saint-soldiers which he baptized.
Under Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s guidance and inspiration, the Khalsa followed a strict moral code and spiritual discipline. It was through his courage that the people rose against the oppression of the Mughal ruler in India at the time. Aside from being a spiritual and a military leader Guru Gobind Singh Ji was also a gifted writer who penned a large body of literary work. Before his death in 1708, he declared the Guru Granth Sahib, which is Sikhism’s Holy Scripture to be the permanent Sikh Guru.
Mary, Mother of God,
New Year’s Day – Christianity
The Christian Church commences the New Year with a solemn celebration of the Motherhood of Mary. Devotion to Mary is popular among Christians and there are many festivals, feast days, many titles and many rosaries and novenas to the Mother of Jesus. There are sanctaries and Shrines for the Vigin Mary at Lourdes, Guadalepe, Fatima, Knock, La Salette and Manaoag. Mary object of many devotions and receives the highest honours the Church can bestow.
In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium“, the title, “Mother of God” appears 13 times in Chapter 8, which explains that, “The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer. Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. … At the same time, however, because she belongs to the offspring of Adam she is one with all those who are to be saved. … Wherefore she is hailed as a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar in faith and charity. The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honors her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved mother.” (Second Vatican Council, 1964)
Mahayana New Year (Buddhist)
Tuesday 2 January to Thursday 4 January 2018
Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant faith of Northern and Eastern parts of Asia including China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia and Tibet. Among the key traditions include Zen, Tiantai, Korean Seon, Chinese Chan, Pure Land and Nichiren.
Similar with all other cultures and traditions, New Year is a vital celebration for Buddhists although calendar dates for each country/tradition are different. Many Mahayana Buddhists celebrate it on December 31st or January 1 together with the rest of the world while others wait for the first full moon which usually falls mid-January.
Honouring and praying to their deities particularly Buddha is the most important activity for the New Year. On New Year’s Day, every Buddhist visits a nearby temple to light up candles which is considered to bring happiness and good luck for the coming year. Statues of Buddha are also bathed as a show of respect. Religious songs are also offered to the deities.
Most Buddhists also meditate and reflect on their life situation in previous years trying to identify some of the faults and wrong decisions they have made in the past. Making things right is often a New Year’s resolution. Buddhists believe that buying new items, cleaning and redecorating the home and giving gifts can bring good luck. Sweets are never absent during feasting and of course, fireworks at midnight.
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