May 28, 2017

High Holy Days and Sand Mandala at Pico Union Project

March 19 2014 The Ten Commandments Photo iNote: I wrote this letter to Craig Taubman at Pico Union Project hoping to get a response on my concerns about his invitation to Tibetan lamas to build a sand mandala during the High Holy Days. I also expressed my objections to the questionable interfaith model he is building and desires to see reproduced across the nation.

Sincerely,

James Stephens
September 20, 2015
___________________________________

September 17, 2015

Dear Craig,

My name is James Stephens. I came across your website recently and was quite interested in your efforts to restore Sinai Synagogue, the historic site of Los Angeles’ first Synagogue. At the same time, I was quite dismayed to hear that you had invited Tibetan Buddhist lamas to build a sand mandala in the midst of the High Holy Days.

Why might you ask? As a former devout Buddhist of fourteen years and now a follower of Yeshua Ha’Moshiach and a Torah observant believer, I found myself grieved knowing much about the intent of the lama’s ritual having thoroughly studied it for over 25 years.

First of all, I do believe in the command to love one’s neighbor as thyself. To genuinely love one’s neighbor, one must be truthful. You have children. You know that they venture into areas which can cause them great harm. We tell them, “Don’t touch the oven. You’ll get burned. It’s hot.” As they grow older, they make their own decisions and often reap the blessings or pay the consequences for their poor choices.

I love the lyrics composed by Paul Simon, “Fools,” said I, “you do not know, Silence like a cancer grows/ Hear my words that I might teach you/Take my arms that I might reach you” /But my words like silent raindrops fell/ And echoed in the wells of silence./ And the people bowed and prayed/to the Neon god they made/and the sign flashed out its warning/in the words that it was forming/and the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls/And tenement halls/And whispered in the sound of silence.”

Etched over the arch of one of the entries to LA City Hall the words of King Solomon remind us like those prophets, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Matthew Henry commenting on this wisdom said, “An upright man will venture the displeasure of the greatest to bring truth to light.”

Personally, I know little about your life story except that which I gleaned after visiting your site. I did read that you like to hear others stories. As a former Buddhist and graduate of a Buddhist institution, married to a Messianic Jewish wife whose father was a holocaust survivor, I clearly recognize the barriers that exist between human beings because of their ethnic and religious make-up. I also recognize that it takes courage and time to get to know one’s neighbor, neighbors that often come from very different backgrounds.

In 1993, I attended the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in order to get a face to face perspective on other’s beliefs and a sense of who they were, what their story was. For ten days, I intently listened and asked questions about their beliefs. While talking with a Burmese Buddhist monk, we quickly cleared the air about the use of politically correct religious speech and agreed that it was often harmful to genuine understanding. We agreed that Buddhism and Christianity both held to exclusive religious points of view and were diametrically opposed to one another. With clear boundaries established, we could respect one another and talk about our fundamental issues as human beings.

One Buddhist monk at Wat Thai Temple in North Hollywood invited me inside the temple and asked me to “tell him the story of creation.” He even asked me to read the Scriptures to him in between his interaction with worshippers in his context.

During the Ten Days of Awe, I pulled out an old sermon entitled, “The Necessity of Self-Examination” by Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s greatest theologians. It was based upon his meditations on Psalm 139 verses 23-24. “Search me O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I love King David, a man of God’s own heart, a shepherd boy who listened intently to God, and as any human is capable of, ended up making some very tragic choices. His adultery and pre-meditated murder of his loyal commander Uriah was the first time I wept reading the Bible. I was grieved. Our spiritual leaders are supposed to hold to the highest standards, and here he falls. He confesses, “Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.”

Edwards shines the looking glass on our hearts and observes, “Many are very careful that they do not proceed in mistakes, where their temporal interest is concerned. They will be strictly careful that they be not led on blindfold in the bargains which they make: in their traffic one with another, they are careful to have their eyes about them and to see that they go safely in these cases; and why not, where the interest of their soul is concerned?”

“Good fences make good neighbors.” Old proverbs are the currency of years of experience. When the young King Rehoboam went his own way, neglecting the counsel of his elders and just listening to those in his new inner circle, he went astray. He did not finish well. One quote of Rabbi David Wolpe resonated with me when I read Ellul’s Jewels, “Our darkness and sins are part of us, stitched into our soul.” Jeremiah the prophet wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

When I was at the Parliament, there were many experimental exercises in Interfaith worship. Exercises that I as a former Buddhist knew intimately and now as a follower of Yeshua Ha’Moshiach (Jesus Christ) could not embrace. I witnessed persons from other faiths who chose not to be involved as well because of their religious convictions. They were respectful, but they also were in a temporary venue which had established certain ground rules. Unfortunately, even then participants were encouraged to sign “The Declaration of a Global Ethic” which read that “we embrace the practices of all the world’s religions.” From my extensive past experience of all sorts of religious practices, I could not sign it as a follower of Yeshua Ha’Moshiach.

All ground is not holy ground. When a Tibetan Buddhist builds a sand mandala, they conduct rituals to bind demons from entering them and subjugate all other gods under their dominion. It is a religious portal, a palace, home to 722 deities depending on the type of mandala. Deities we would call fallen angels. In the dissolution ceremony the sand that is given to others carries with it the incantations of the Lamas. In the past, the sand mandalas were constructed with the blood of human sacrifices. According to John Huntington from Ohio State University and curator of the Himalayan Art Collection, “the most efficacious skull used in the mandalas were the skull of a sixteen year old virgin.” These are not my opinions, but are based upon interviews with Lamas at Pacific Asia Museum who construct the mandalas and from extensive reading of Buddhist documents as well. To the public the mandalas are intriguing works of art. Is what I say true?

As a watchman, someone who has knowledge of various practices, it is my duty to warn others, especially leaders, lest the blood be on my own hands (Ezekiel 33). I do not want to displease Hashem in anyway. Tibetans are often cheerful and amiable people. I have hosted Tibetan Christians in our home and have also been asked by Tibetan Buddhists for the Scriptures and even went as far as I delivering a copy to Kopan Gompa, a Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Kathmandu, Nepal.

You were quoted as saying that you wanted to create, “neutral ground in which to work on interfaith connections and collaboration between Jews, Christians, Muslims and others without any limitation or ground rules.” That sounds like a prescription for a dangerous fall. One must ask oneself, “What am I seeking to accomplish when I assimilate other religion’s practices into my daily life?” While God has given man free will, Is it just to take others on your own personal quest? It is certain that teachers bear greater judgment.

Boundaries are critical. When an epidemic is being treated, the one treating the disease must be careful lest he become a victim. You were quoted in an article for JTA as saying, “You can’t expect the world to love each other if you can’t model it in your houses of worship. At such point in time that our houses of worship become more open, on that day, God will be one and God’s name will be one. It’s only at that point that it can happen.”

My opinion is not what is important here in response. God said through His prophet Isaiah, “I am the LORD, that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:8). “God does not tolerate rivals (Nahum 1:2) Jamieson-Faucet and Brown comment, “We are jealous only of those we love: a husband, of a wife; a king of his subject’s loyalty. God is jealous of men because He loves them. God will not bear a rival in His claims on them.”

The most important question to be answered is “What does the LORD require of me? “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Leviticus 19:33-34). You were quoted as saying, “Let people model it in their own houses of worship.” My question is, “Why bring into one place every religious practice and belief?” The LORD said, “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, be very careful not to imitate the detestable customs of the nations living there” (Deuteronomy 18:9). King Solomon said, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is death.” Even then, being the wisest man on earth, did he not fall because he took on so many wives and accommodated their religious practices, building high places and idols for each of them to practice their faith? It may be that it is time to remember what Moses was given by Adonai on Mount Sinai, the original gathering place lest we replace Him with our own modern day version of the Golden Calf.

“For they went and served other gods and worshipped them, gods that they did not know and that He had not given to them. And the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger, in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 29:26).

“Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of a craftsman, and set it up in secret. And all the people shall say, Amen.” (Deuteronomy 27:15).

And yet if we repent, He waits for us to return to Him and promises,

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Shoplifting at Nordstrom

20150908_145904 (1)The other day, I was trying on some clothing at Nordstrom’s Rack and noticed their warning sign about shoplifting. I think it’s interesting that they begin with “Don’t steal” which is an abbreviated form of the eighth commandment “You shall not steal” found in Exodus 20:15. They follow that with “It’s bad karma” an assimilated concept of karma that Buddhists would define as “action driven by intention which leads to future consequences” which yield good or bad fruit in this life or the next depending on the deed. In the Judaeo-Christian faith, which holds to the fact that we have just one life and then comes the judgment, the Apostle Paul, said “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7-8;Leviticus 25:3-5). The Nordstrom’s sign ends by stating, “Plus, shoplifters will be prosecuted.” Evidently, whoever put together this warning is weak on their understanding of the Buddhist concept of Karma and simply can’t wait til karma catches up with the thief. If they really believed in their religion/philosophy wouldn’t they just say, “It’s bad karma to take articles without paying for them?” So, they lean on the Law that tries and prosecutes the shoplifter in this life. I guess they just can’t wait. It affects their bottom line.

When you analyze the sign, it’s quite a confusing and mixed bag of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism. An example of the collision and intermingling of religious language and terminology. And if we in Christian circles think we can get away with using pop terms, we need to think again. I recall sitting in a large well known evangelical church where the college pastor, commenting on how great their summer camp was saying, “I thought I died and went to Nirvana.” Language has meaning, a fact that is not lost on those who are attempting to hijack true love and introduce their own abominations to the mainstream who often simply haven’t a clue.