Interfaith panel offers perspectives of faiths on care of water
Leaders from Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian and Baha'i faiths shared in an interfaith panel on their faith perspectives on water during the Hope for Creation Conference at the Cathedral of St. John in Spokane on Earth Day.
The following are excerpts from their discussion.
Naghmana Sherazi, of Muslims for Community Action and Support (MCAS), a nonprofit that educates on refugees and Islam, and The Lands Council staff, spoke on video because the event was during Eid-al-Fitr, the end of the Ramadan month of fasting.
"In Islam, water is life. Humans are 70 percent water. As one of the most important elements in nature, water is required for all life," she said. "Rain waters crops to provide food."
With water essential for life, those who lack and desperately need it pray for it, while most in the U.S. access it at faucets in their homes, she pointed out.
"It is easy to take water for granted, and not realize how much we waste on a daily basis if we let water run as we wash dishes, brush our teeth or take a shower," Naghmana said.
In Islam, it is a charitable act to give water to another living thing—humans, animals or plants. That act is rewarded—30 percent in this life and 70 percent in the afterlife, she said. Giving water is highly rewarded.
At the Lands Council, Naghmana works to preserve area forests, water and wildlife to express her faith's care for the environment: "We work to remove toxins in the river. They accumulate in fish and pose a threat to those who eat fish," she said. "We champion regulating water in the summer to keep our aquifer healthy."
Muslims use water ritually in their ablutions before they pray five times a day, but only use as much as needed, because "there is a penance if we waste water," she said.
"My relationship with my neighbors depends on my relationship with water," Naghmana said.
Link to Naghmana Sherazi statement on Youtube
Sreedharani Nandagopal of the Spokane Hindu community said she was born on the banks of the Divine River Cauvery.
"Our rivers embody all that is divine and noble," she explained. "My parents told us not to forget the values from the River Cauvery, which carries life-sustaining and cleansing waters."
When a guest—viewed as a divine person—comes, the first thing a family does is offer water. Before entering temples, Hindus wash their feet with water to clean off the dirt. In a temple, they are offered "fragrant water from the Divine," said Sreedharani.
"Water has a special place in our lives. Rivers are sacred. Temple tanks bestow blessings," she said.
Varuna, the Lord of Waters, an ancient Hindu deity, is the king of gods, the keeper of moral water. Varuna rituals use water to bring rain and prosperity to farmers.
According to grandmothers, giving water to the thirsty earns instant "punya" or merit, Sreedharani said. Clay pots filled with water are set beside roads for people traveling across India. Now there are water coolers.
"Water is one of the five prime elements along with earth, air, fire and sky," she said. "Water is the key nurturer. Without it, most life, including human life, cannot survive."
In India, anyone who nurtures others is a Devata, a deity worthy of worship. So, every source of water is revered and prayed to—oceans, rivers, ponds, wells and lakes, human-made stepwells and temple tanks, Sreedharani commented.
She said one hymn praises rivers for nurturing the land of Bharata (India), and many rivers have their own songs.
Even though India's water-rich culture treats water with reverence, water is declining, and rivers are polluted with toxic waste, she added.
"India's reverence for water extends from rivers to every drop of rain. In summer, people wait for clouds. The abundant rains come in four months—Chaturmas—and bring joy," she said.
Sreedharani said pilgrims take a dip in holy waters of places they visit and also bathe in nearby holy rivers.
She challenged those who buy water in plastic bottles. Her husband worked 38 years with the city water department, and knows that Spokane's tap water is good and clean.
Link to Sreedharani Nandagopal statement on Youtube
Venerable Thubten Semkye of Sravasti Abbey in Newport invited participants to join in a meditation to be aware of "how we are inter-connected with water, internally and externally.
"Water has a precious place in our lives and bodies," she said. "All beings depend on water."
She guided people to be aware of water in their bodies—saliva in their mouths, mucus in their noses, blood in their bodies, moisture they exhale, urine in their bladders, the wetness of their eyes and in their spinal fluid and fat.
"Moisture is healing," Thubten Semkye said, noting that water transfers toxins out of cells and delivers oxygen to them. "Water permeates and surrounds every cell in our bodies."
Water is outside in oceans, streams and lakes, in plants and animals, she said, adding "all water in our bodies is part of us, but borrowed from outside, flowing through us, not owned by us. There is no 'me' water or 'other' water.
"Our existence is impermanent as it depends on water flowing in and out, but never owned by us," she said, concerned that people are self-centered and focus on "me, my and mine."
"We need to see we are all connected, and all we do has an impact on others," Thubten Semkhye said. "To have clean water and a safe environment, we need to humble ourselves and commit to the bigger picture."
Link to the statement by Venerable Thubten Semkye
Rabbi Tamar Malino of Temple Beth Shalom and Congregation Emanu-el in Spokane said the Jewish teaching is that water is a divine blessing.
Israel's climate is a desert dependent on precious seasonal rains, celebrated in Jewish holidays. In the dry summer, people conserve and pray for water. Then Sukkot expresses joy as winds blow and rains begin to fall in fall, winter and spring
"We pray God will give life as part of the life cycle of death, resurrection and regrowth in spring," she pointed out.
"In Passover, we pray for water in the growing season," she said. "Water is a blessing when it is in balance, and we are responsible for the balance, so we are not destroyed by too much (floods) or too little (drought)."
With water part of cleansing and blessing, when someone converts, they are immersed in water, Tamar added.
"Water contains life and is identified with God," she said, "Water is also a metaphor for the Torah, for divine wisdom. We say, 'Let justice roll down like a mighty stream,' tying humans and nature."
A Jewish midrash says that as God was showing Adam and Eve around the Garden of Eden, God instructed them that it is their responsibility to care for the earth.
"Every day we are responsible to repair the world," Tamar said.
Link to statement by Rabbi Tamar Malino
Ikani Fakasiieiki, a member of Liberty Park United Methodist Church who grew up in Tonga, said Christian understandings of water are like Jewish understandings.
"Water is the source of life. Clean water is a basic need," he said.
Ikani said that according to the first creation story in Genesis 1, water was already there.
"For me, water pre-existing signifies that it is divine," Ikani said.
"Jesus refers to himself as a source of living water," he said. "In baptism, water represents many things like life, death, renewal, cleansing and resurrection."
Ikani grew up on an island surrounded by the Pacific Ocean: "Water connected us. In our tradition, we are children of Moana, the deep ocean. We are of different races and cultures, wear different clothes and eat different food, but we all need clean water."
In the U.S., Ikani observes that sprinklers run in yards and on farms even if it is raining.
"Water is a gift of God, but many run sprinklers on programmed times. When we program things at a certain time, we may miss God's gift of providing us the water we need to live," he said.
Link to Statement by Ikani Fakasiieiki.
Daniel Pschaida, who teaches about religious diversity at Gonzaga University Religious Studies, shared from his Baha'i tradition.
"Our teachings on water are like those of the other religions," he said.
April 21 to May 2 is Ridvan, when Baha'is commemorate the 12 days when Bahu'u'llah was in Ridvan garden in Baghdad, Iraq, on the banks of the Tigris River. There he proclaimed his mission as God's messenger to unite earth and religions and he founded Baha'i. He received and gave God's message that "we are to care for all the earth and for each other, that we are all one and we are to have justice for all."
Daniel spoke of all walking humbly on earth, not taking water for granted and assuring that all have water, which is 70 percent of the earth and 70 percent of human bodies.
"Water is the fountain of life," he said. "Water is significant for God's mercy and sovereignty."
Link to the statement by Daniel Pschaida
The link to the Fig Tree YouTube channel Playlist