What I Learned Teaching the World's Great Traditions

As I think about teaching the world's great traditions again this fall, I reflect upon what I learned most from each.

Hinduism: The interconnectivity of everything, infused with the divine that sustains and animates us all, reminds us that we are not a universe in ourselves, but are part of a large, expansive universe.

Buddhism: The power of the mind to change yourself through enlightened thinking is an antidote to the powerlessness that can be felt when trying to change the world. 'Be the change' is more than just a mantra. It may be the only realistic first step out there.

Confucianism: Ritual isn't bad. It's good. If we live 'as if' (or, as I like to say: fake it 'til you make it) we slowly become. It's not hypocritical to live as you'd like to be.

Taoism: The wisdom of wu wei, or allowing oneself, like water, to flow with life rather than trying to force life to conform to your will. Simultaneously, 'the Way', or the very essence of being, isn't something you necessarily find, but is something you can create.

Judaism: Tikkun olam, or repairing the world, is central to religious identity, yet this identity is difficult to maintain. The Jewish people have navigated the tension of seeing themselves as the Abrahamic blessing to the world, yet as we see in festivals like Purim and Hannukah, sometimes you must survive as a people in the world before you can bless that world.

Christianity: The human of humans, the one called 'Son of God', rises to his place of preeminence after living his life as a marginalized, homeless, Jewish prophet living under the occupation of the greatest empire of his day, The true 'Lord', Jesus, was the one executed by the state, not the head of the state. It's this one who is called 'the firstfruits of the resurrection'.

Islam: The Prophet Muhammad begins orphaned, marries a widowed woman, then launches a universalizing religion that advocates the unity of humanity under God in the midst of a tribal culture. This universalizing religion demands Zakat (or financial care for the less fortunate) as one of its central pillars.