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"In the sense that we all know that we belong to a single Cosmos, unity is a reality. Therefore, we share something in common, and just as we are conscious of sharing something in common-the Cosmos-we must also be conscious of the fact that we are already united. Unity has existed from the first moment"


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Home » Features » A Dialogue with Boubacar Traore

Religion and Spirituality in Africa
by Juan Carlos Benegas and Dolly Basch
Translated by Bill Poehner and Michael Danciger

A while back you mentioned a Mandingan proverb. Who are the Mandinga?

The Mandinga are an ethnic group found in West African countries, including the Mali Republic, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Guinea. They live in an area that is very important in West Africa, and they had their "moment of glory" during the Mali Empire. Their name varies from country to country so that in Senegal, for example, they are called "Mandinka," and in Guinea they are referred to as "Malenque."

I would like to say something regarding the sense of time or of death, and it is that the importance of the afterlife does not lie in death but in life itself.

Could you expand on this?

What is fundamental is that death is not something that permits us to reach paradise. Rather, what is important is life. Everything is in life; one has nothing that one did not receive from life. Paradise may be a totally abstract creation and, according to traditional religions, abstract paradise does not hold much weight in comparison to concrete life. This is why they say that the afterlife is not rooted in death but in life itself. This is a fundamental aspect of traditional religions. To say it in another way, one does not live in order to benefit from the gifts of the other world. One lives here and now.

Considering that the cultures and traditions of the world are so varied and that every human being is different, do you believe we could find a truly common basis from which we could work for a true union of humanity? Or is it enough for each group or country to profess its religion and have its beliefs or spiritual concepts? If not, what would be the point of departure for the development of a common spiritual language that transcends the religious history of each country or each human being?

I believe that the idea of unity implicitly carries with it the idea of diversity and that it is important to keep in mind that diversity is part of equilibrium. Many times we think that diversity is a factor contributing to disequilibrium, but the contrary is true; it contributes to equilibrium. To clarify this, we can understand diversity as the way each being appears to other beings. And by "other beings," I mean not just other human beings-and here I believe I am returning to my original point-but all the beings of the Cosmos. Regarding the way each being appears, humans are different from animals, and animals in turn are different from plants. We humans know that we are different, but we also know that the Cosmos is made up of more than just human beings. Therefore, I believe that diversity is the form in which each being appears to others and that this form cannot be denied. I know at this moment that a tree is a tree because of the form in which this tree manifests itself to me. This allows me to be conscious of my being and of the responsibility that I have to the process of building the Cosmos. Now, when we speak of union, we frequently see it as something that should be mechanical in the sense that everyone should orient himself or herself toward that point. I believe there is a certain preoccupation with orienting all these diversities toward a point or in a single direction, and that this undermines what we could call unity.

That would be to ignore differences, and if differences were ignored, harmony would not appear to be possible.

That is precisely what I am getting at. Many times we speak of unity without asking ourselves, "What does unity consist of?" I believe that unity is life itself. It is harmony. That is to say: it is the Cosmos. In the sense that we all know that we belong to a single Cosmos, unity is a reality. Therefore, we share something in common, and just as we are conscious of sharing something in common-the Cosmos-we must also be conscious of the fact that we are already united. Unity has existed from the first moment. But it happens that, when we talk about unity, we don't talk of it in this sense: as life, as the Cosmos. It seems that there is a propensity to create another unity that is not the one that relates to life.

That would be an artificial unity or, as you were saying, a mechanical one.

When I say "mechanical," I mean that frequently one thinks of the development of this unity without keeping in mind the dynamic component, that is, the contributions made by the different sensibilities and by diversity. It is in this sense that I speak of something totally mechanical. From the beginning a unity exists, which in fact is life. But it is not enough to know that unity is life and that we are here for a reason. If we do not stay conscious of this truth, but rather think about a unity that has nothing to do with life, then clearly we are undermining life itself. And life is energy, energy of the being, not only of human beings, but energy of the being-participation. Participation means being part of the Cosmos without putting equilibrium in danger, not only one's own but also that of one's surroundings, the equilibrium of relationship. All of this gives rise to harmony, and harmony is definitely life. I believe that harmony is the most plausible union to which all human beings can aspire. There is no other union that is worthier than harmony.

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