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Dispelling Ignorance and Developing Harmony

Sister Joan Kirby

In July 2011, Yogaville, an Ashram founded by Gurudev Satchidananda, celebrated the 25th Anniversary of its LOTUS temple with a gathering called “One in Spirit.” The following was a response offered by Sister Joan Kirby, RSCJ, of the Temple of Understanding, to the panel topic, “Dispelling Ignorance and Developing Harmony.”

What ignorance are we addressing here? I am considering ignorance here from the point of view of a westerner. We live in the global village, we share the same roof, we are interdependent and co-responsible for care of the Earth. And yet, we still think of ourselves, and our religion, as separate, distinct, and unique. We see the world as dualistic, as I/Thou—I am separate from you, the exterior world is separate from me. We continue to think of doing things, hearing sounds, seeing things outside of our subjective self, and we remain separate. The suffering of the world is out there, over there and does not necessarily touch me. Further, our practice is to reason things logically, rationally. We are a subject observing an object. Our direct experience is less important than syllogistic reasoning drawing us into self-reflective thought. Is this ignorance? I believe so. To live harmoniously as one universal family we will have to dispel this ignorance.

Dispelling Ignorance

We westerners should reflect as well on the Euro-centrism of our culture. A perhaps distorted reading of our sacred writings instructs man to dominate the Earth. But the message to use the Earth for our purposes sets up a dualistic hierarchy. This, as well as greed, has brought us to the exhaustion of the Earth’s resources that we face today. Notice also that it is man who is the highest creation. Today women struggle for equality with men.

Separate from the Earth, it follows that we are separate from other humans. European culture is indebted to a Greek heritage of the matter/spirit separation. Brilliant as they were, the Greeks taught of a dualistic world where we are separate from the other and from the world in which we live and move. Our fascination with this static universe has fostered the effort to impose assimilation, sometimes using bullying tactics based on a so-called superior civilization. This led to a haughty mentality and a falsely arrogant position with neo-colonialist attitudes. A hierarchical position places one above others exacting an attitude of submission.

Finally, as Christianity spread it was seen as the One True Revelation, the one true Church. In fact, many religions proclaim this uniqueness. In past centuries we westerners traveled to other continents with explicit missionary proselytizing in mind. The concept of the “one true religion” has directed much of Christian activity. The grave danger here is that if there is only “one true religion” we will never see all the others as equal—Christians will always be superior. Many traditions, particularly the religions of the Book, consider themselves to be the “one true faith,” and some make every effort to bring all of humanity into the fold. Is this based in ignorance? Perhaps. However the many people who cherish their own belief system while humbly seeking to recognize the truth in other systems seem to escape this ignorance.

Educated to this world-view, we find it difficult to go beyond our customary frame of reference. Yes, it is probably strong education that has shaped our western mind. But as we look to develop harmony, our educational philosophy has to reflect a different awareness of reality if we are to address the brokenness, violence, and disunity of our world. To develop harmony, we have much to do.

Developing Harmony

Faced today with exhausted resources on the Earth, we are questioning our use and manipulation of the planet. Are we master of or partners with the Earth? Bolivians at the United Nations have re-introduced the concept of Mother Earth. A recently formed partnership among NGOs at the United Nations, the Interfaith Coalition for Ecological Civilization, is working toward a transformation of consciousness that recognizes our interdependence with the universe. Because we are in grave danger of leaving an uninhabitable Earth to the next generation, a life in dynamic relationship with the Earth, our mother, is a universal calling today. I believe there is a new revelation here.

If we are one with the Earth, then we are not separate from other humans. Our whole epistemology has to be transformed. Instead of considering ourselves as separate, we can learn from the eastern understanding of interconnectedness and oneness. “Not One, Not Two.” When there is difference, not separation, harmony becomes possible.

As we place ourselves on an equal, respectful, and friendly footing with others, we learn to respect differences and to love diversity. This is not limited to educational philosophy—its application is wider and demands a way of being that cherishes collaboration and reciprocity.

I want to quote here a passage from my Religious Society’s documents on this subject:
•    Collaboration is recognition of the dignity of persons and of peoples; it implies welcoming and sharing what each one is and offers.
•    It requires attitudes of trust and mutual support, vulnerability and openness.
•    It recognizes the need to learn from others and it requires flexibility and imagination in discovering new possibilities together.

How will the richness of many cultures and spiritual traditions enlarge our experience of God and the ways of God’s actions in ourselves and our world? As we travel the globe encountering many different cultures and religious traditions, our hearts are opened to understand the vastness of creation and the appropriateness of different traditions for varied and rich cultures quite other than our own. God, Holy Spirit present in every corner of creation, has opened many paths to Godself. God births us at every moment and there is no separation from the Creative Spirit given us by God. The cosmic Christ is present, not in a subject/object relationship, not as an I and Thou, but as one with all creation through His Spirit. This way of openness makes possible new growth for us Christians.

I believe this way of life is not an option. It is the opportunity and responsibility of our age. The future of humanity depends on our dedication to establishing harmony.


To our credit, many are recognizing the beauty, intelligence, and inspiration in the different cultures we encounter. If we claim to recognize and respect human rights we are compelled to go beyond social differences and acknowledge legitimate religious differences. Seeking the face of the One Holy God, manifested in many forms, we are compelled to go beyond our traditional, historical understanding to the depth of the mystery of diversity.

Contemporary insights into the ever-changing, dynamic universe raise the question: Is revelation finished? Or are we at a truly new moment? Is this a time when our presence in the universe is holistic, not dualistic—when consciousness is being transformed from self-consciousness to an ecological consciousness?

It is a wake-up call from the universe—a call for all, not just a few insightful ones. As an act of justice we are called to recognize universal unity, a radical unity in diversity.
This is the great opportunity, our duty to the future.

Sister Joan Kirby is the Temple of Understanding’s representative to the United Nations and a member of the Sacred Heart Order.

Read more about Sister Joan Kirby

Comments (1)
  • Thank you for such a wonderfully insightful article.

    — Dan Shelton Ph.D on February 24, 2012

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10 October 2011

Tagged Under
mysticism, interspirituality, revelation, Earth, unity, ecology, interfaith, community, Christianity, global spiritual practice, humanity,
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