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Transcending Diversity
(from the January 1997 internet discussion forum entitled "Pluralism and Spirituality in America")

from the internet discussion forum entitled
"Pluralism and Spirituality in America"

Date: Tue, 7 Jan 1997
From: Audrey Kitagawa
Subject: Self-Introduction

Hello, Happy new year to everyone, and welcome to 1997: I wish to thank Professor Elizabeth Kunimoto for helping to make this forum available. Our topic for this month is PLURALISM AND SPIRITUALITY IN AMERICA.

My name is Audrey Kitagawa. I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. My father was a Nisei, and my mother a Sansei. My father passed away in 1985. My mother is well at 78. My parents, like many Japanese people, were practicing Buddhists and Shintoists. In their home is a Buddhist altar ("butsudan") for the daily lighting of incense, offering of the first morning rice, prayer for the ancestors, and the remembrance of Lord Buddha in the chanting of the holy sutras. There is also a Shinto altar which takes center stage primarily during the New Year where rice cakes, tangerines, cuttlefish and the symbols of various gods are decoratively displayed.

Every Sunday my siblings and I were sent to the Christian church across the street from where we lived in Kakaako. My parents attended that church once a year to see their children participate in the annual Christmas play. Throughout the year, however, they supported the Christian church by giving us the weekly offering which we obediently placed in the offering plates that were passed around at the end of the service. They also filled with coins the little ceramic acorn jars that were the centerpieces of the church's annual fund raising drive. Portions of our allowance were to be deposited weekly into this little brown acorn, but I do not recall that the children were very charitable in this regard, and we relied primarily on our parents to make the contributions.

In the 1950's my parents sent my brother, Hiram, to Iolani, an Episcopalian school. For a few semesters they sent my sister Sumi and my brother Eric to Chaminade University, a Catholic school. They then sent me to Boston College for law school, which is run by the Jesuits of the Catholic church.

Such a diverse exposure to different religions in one family! However, I do not believe that my family is unique. In free America, where we have a country of many immigrant populations bringing with them religious beliefs from all over the world, as well as the indigenous populations with their native beliefs, it is appropriate that so many pathways to God coexist. American history recognizes as our founding fathers those who fled their mother country in search of religious freedom. Americans have optimal opportunities in this fertile environment to experience various approaches to the Divine.

I appreciate the openness with which I was raised because this gave me a facile perspective which sees the beauty in the diversity as well as the similarity of many things. It was, therefore, quite natural for me to embrace as my Chosen Ideal, the Avatar, Sri Ramakrishna, who taught universal tolerance of all religions.

As was succinctly proclaimed by Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna's first disciple, at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, quoting from a hymn, `As the different streams, having their sources in different places, all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.'

Spirituality ultimately transcends religions, dogmas and creeds. One's spiritual nature speaks to the soul, and the Divine Love that is God which resides there. It is intimate and personal, and simultaneously, universal and infinite. The sacred journey that each person undertakes to come back home to the heart, the God Self, is imbued with great beauty, and must be deeply respected. In his speech before the assembly, Swami Vivekananda, quoting from the Bhagavad Gita said, `Whoesoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him. All men are struggling through paths which in the end, lead to Me.'

All the different paths, leading to the one great God of us all.  How grand!

Om, peace, peace, peace
Audrey Kitagawa



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