The Buddhist View
toward Other Religions
Revised excerpt from
Berzin, Alexander and Chodron, Thubten.
Glimpse of Reality.
Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999.
Question: How does Buddhism view the existence of other religions?
Answer: Because not everyone has the same inclinations and interests, Buddha taught various methods to different people. Citing this example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that it is wonderful that so many different religions exist in the world. Just as one food will not appeal to everybody, one religion or one set of beliefs will not satisfy everyone's needs. Therefore, it is extremely beneficial that a variety of different religions is available from which to choose. He welcomes and rejoices at this.
Nowadays, there is a growing dialogue, based on mutual respect, between Buddhist masters and leaders of other religions. The Dalai Lama, for example, meets the Pope frequently. In Assisi, Italy, in October 1986, the Pope invited the leaders of all the world religions to a large assembly. About one hundred and fifty representatives were there. The Dalai Lama was seated next to the Pope and was given the honor of making the first speech. At the conference, the spiritual leaders discussed topics that are common in all religions, such as morality, love and compassion. People were very encouraged by the cooperation, harmony and mutual respect that the various religious leaders felt for each other.
Of course, if we discuss metaphysics and theology, there are differences. There is no way to get around the differences. However, that does not mean that we need to argue with the attitude of "My daddy is stronger than your daddy." That is very childish. It is more beneficial to look at the things that are in common. All the world religions are seeking to improve the situation of humanity and to make life better by teaching people to follow ethical behavior. They all teach people not to become totally caught up in the material side of life, but at least to strike a balance between seeking material progress and spiritual progress.
It is very helpful if all religions work together to improve the situation of the world. We need not only material progress, but spiritual progress as well. If we only emphasize the material aspect of life, then to make a better bomb to kill everyone would be a desirable goal. If, on the other hand, we think in a humanistic or spiritual way, we are aware of the fear and other problems that come from the further buildup of weapons of mass destruction. If we only develop spiritually and do not take care of the material side then people go hungry, and that is not very good either. We need a balance.
One aspect of the interaction between the world religions is that they are sharing with each other some of their specialties. Consider, for instance, the interaction between the Buddhists and Christians. Many Christian contemplatives are interested to learn methods for concentration and meditation from Buddhism. Numerous Catholic priests, abbots, monks and nuns have come to Dharamsala, India, to learn these skills in order to bring these back to their own traditions. Several Buddhists have taught in Catholic seminaries. I, too, have occasionally been invited to teach there on how to meditate, how to develop concentration, and how to develop love. Christianity teaches us to love everybody, but it does not explain in detail how to do it. Buddhism is rich in methods for developing love. The Christian religion on its highest level is open to learning these methods from Buddhism. It does not mean that Christians are all going to become Buddhists – nobody is converting anyone else. These methods can be adapted within their own religion to help them to be better Christians.
Likewise, many Buddhists are interested in learning social service from Christianity. Many Christian traditions emphasize that their monks and nuns be involved in teaching, in hospital work, caring for the elderly, for orphans, and so on. Although some Buddhist countries have developed these social services, not all of them have, for various social and geographical reasons. Buddhists can learn social service from the Christians. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is very open to this. It does not mean that the Buddhists are becoming Christians. Rather, there are certain aspects from the Christians' experience that Buddhists can learn from; there are also things from the Buddhists' experience that Christians can learn from. In this way, there is an open forum among the world religions, based on mutual respect.
Often the interaction among religions is at the highest level, where the people are open and do not have prejudices. It is at lower levels that people become insecure and develop a football team mentality: "This is my football team and the other religions are opposing football teams!" With such an attitude, we compete and fight. This is very sad, whether it occurs among religions or among various Buddhist traditions. Buddha taught many varied methods and they all work harmoniously to help a wide spectrum of different types of people. Therefore, it is important to respect all traditions, both within Buddhism and among the world religions.
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