MANATEE — Unity Church in the Woods has launched a spiritual education forum, where spiritual teachers from different religions share their traditions.

The first forum’s topic on Monday was “Thanksgiving,” and it produced an interplay of ideas from three ambassadors for their faiths, including Thomas Peacock of the Native American Ojibwa Tribe, Gen Kelsang Demo from Kadampa Buddhist Center and Harvey Garver of the Baha’i Faith.

Future topics of the monthly series include “Life After Death,” “The Founders,” “Heaven and Hell,” “Prayer and Meditation,” “Fasting” and others, church members said.

One theme that seemed to come through was that although the three faiths are different, they are also alike in some ways.

Peacock, whose tribe hails from northern Minnesota, said the Ojibwa story of creation, when translated, is very close to the Book of Genesis, from the Bible.

He read the opening lines from the Ojibwa story of creation:

“The creator had a vision in which he saw all the things of the universe, stars and star clusters, galaxies, moons, planets and earth. On the earth he saw oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, meadows, grasses, flowers, mountains, deserts and forests, all filled with many kinds of trees, plants and animals. He witnessed the birth, growth and end of things. At the same time he saw other things live on. Amidst change there was constancy. He heard songs, wailings, stories. He touched the wind and rain. He felt love and hate, fear and courage, joy and sadness.”

Demo said that Buddhists don’t use the word “God” but do look up to enlightened beings who have attributes that are similar to what God may have in other faiths.

“We turn to Buddha or other enlightened beings,” Demo said. “We think there are many Buddhas and enlightened beings in this world or in other worlds.”

Enlightened beings are all-knowing but not all-powerful, she said. “Enlightened beings give unconditional love, universal compassion and they have perfected patience, care giving and protection,” Demo said.

Buddhism, which is roughly 2,500 years old and started in ancient India, holds with using meditation and other techniques to train the mind, Demo said.

“We train our minds to overcome the mental states that cause us suffering,” she added.

In the Baha’i faith, it is believed that God is the all-powerful creator of the universe and is unknowable.

“We cannot know the essence of God,” Garver said. “We know him by his attributes, his love for us, his kindness, his forgiving. We learn about God when God sends a mentor to earth to teach human beings.”

Within all are latent virtues, roughly 300 of them, that are each person’s responsibility to try to develop, Garver said.

Baha’is believe that their role on earth is to prepare their soul for the afterlife.

“My soul goes on to live in the spiritual worlds of God when my body dies,” Garver said. “Through my efforts, the efforts of others and God’s grace my soul will come closer to God.”

Peacock said in Ojibwa thinking, God is most often referred to as “the mystery.”

“That would be the best interpretation I could come up with,” he said. “The creator is everywhere and in all things.”

When humans were created, each was given some of the essence of the mystery of the creator, Peacock said.

“If we follow the good path and recognize these essences, then we honor the creator by honoring our elders, honoring women and honoring our elder brothers,” Peacock said.

Unity Church in the Woods’ Rev. Allan Bazzy narrated the roughly 90-minute event.

“I am just so thrilled to be here with you and I feel your spirituality,” Bazzy said at one point. “I am blessed by your presence and I am drinking from this moment.”

The forum, which is monthly, continues at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 28 with Rabbi Harold Caminker of Temple Beth El, Russ Ferdinand of Summit Dharma Center, and Imam Sadif of the Islamic Society of Sarasota-Bradenton discussing the founders of their faiths.

Unity Church in the Woods is at 4200 32nd St. W., Bradenton.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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