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Home > Approaching Buddhism > Buddhism in the World Today > Religious Harmony, Compassion, and Islam

Religious Harmony, Compassion,
and Islam

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
Milan, Italy, 9 December 2007
Transcribed and lightly edited by Alexander Berzin

I would like to say something concerning religious harmony. Sometimes, conflicts involve religious faiths. For instance, previously in Northern Ireland, although the conflict was basically a political issue, it quickly became a religious issue. This was very unfortunate. Today, followers of Shia and Sunni are also sometimes fighting each other. This too is very unfortunate. In Sri Lanka as well, although the conflict there is also political, yet in some cases one gets the impression that the conflict is between Hindus and Buddhists. This is really terrible. In ancient times, followers of different religions were mostly isolated from each other. But now they are in much closer contact and so we need to make special efforts to promote religious harmony.

On the first anniversary of September 11, a memorial prayer ceremony was held at the Washington National Cathedral. I was at that meeting and I mentioned in my talk that nowadays, unfortunately, some people create the impression that because of a few mischievous Muslims, all Muslims are militant and violent. They then speak of a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. This is unrealistic.

It is absolutely wrong to characterize a whole religion as bad because of a few mischievous people. This is true regarding Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism all alike. For example, some followers of the protector Shugden killed three people near my residence. One of them was a good teacher who was critical of Shugden and he received sixteen knife wounds. The other two were his students. Those killers were really mischievous. But because of that, to say that all of Tibetan Buddhism is militant – no one would believe this. At Buddha’s time as well, there were also some mischievous people there – nothing special.

Since September 11, although I’m a Buddhist, an outsider to­ Islam, nevertheless I have been voluntarily making efforts as a defender of Great Islam. Many of my Muslim brothers – very few sisters – explain to me that if anyone creates bloodshed, this is not Islam. The reason is that a true Muslim, a true follower of Islam, should have love toward entire creation the same as he or she has love toward Allah. All creatures are created by Allah. If one respects and loves Allah, one must love all His creatures.

One reporter friend of mine spent time in Tehran at the time of Ayatollah Khomeini. Later, he told me how the mullah there collected money from wealthy families and distributed it to poorer people to help with education and poverty. This is the real socialist process. In Muslim countries, bank interest is discouraged. So, if we know Islam and we see how followers of Islam implement it sincerely, then like all other religions, it is truly wonderful. In general if we know others’ religions, we can develop mutual respect, admiration, and enrichment. Therefore, we need constant effort to promote religious interfaith understanding.

In Lisbon recently, I attended an interfaith meeting in a mosque. That was the first time that an interfaith meeting was held in a mosque. After the meeting, we all went into the main hall and did silent meditation. It was really wonderful. Therefore, always make effort for interfaith harmony.

Some say God, some say no God – that is not important. What is important is the law of causality. This is the same in all religions – don’t practice killing, stealing, sexual abuse, lying. The different religions may use different methods, but they all have the same purpose. Look at the results, not at the causes. When you go to a restaurant, just enjoy all the different foods, rather than argue that this food’s ingredients come from this or that. It’s better to just eat and enjoy.

So, those different religions – rather than argue that your philosophy is bad or good, see that they all teach compassion as their purpose and goal, and that they all are good. Using different methods is realistic for different people. We must adopt a realistic approach and view.

Inner peace is related with compassion. All major religions have the same message – love, compassion, forgiveness. We need a secular way to promote compassion. For those people who have religion and who are sincere and serious in it, one’s own religion has great potential to further increase our compassion. As for nonbelievers – those who have no particular religious interest or some who even hate religion – sometimes they also have no interest in compassion, since they think that compassion is a religious matter. This is fully wrong. If you want to look at religion as something negative, that is your right. But there is no point in having a negative attitude toward compassion.

Firstly, we come from our mothers. Other people and animals too come from mothers and survive by their mothers’ care. There is a certain biological factor that brings us together. That is a biological factor. My own mother, for instance, was very kind. So today, the first seed of my compassion came from my mother, not from Buddhism. After studying Buddhism, it merely increased. If I didn’t have that kind of kind mother or if my parents had abused me, then today maybe it would be difficult for me to practice compassion. Therefore, the seed of compassion is a biological factor. We need it for survival.

Affection is an essential factor for proper upbringing. Scientists have experimented with baby monkeys. Those with a mother were always playful and only on a few occasions were they fighting. Those separated from their mothers were often tense, unhappy and had a lot of fighting. Therefore, growth is connected with others’ affection. According to medical scientists, they found that the more we practice compassion, the less stress and anxiety and the more peace of mind we have. We have better blood circulation and it lowers our blood pressure. In some cases, the immune system gets stronger. But constant anger and hatred eats our immune system. Therefore, compassion and forgiveness are very helpful for health and long life.

This we can teach people from kindergarten as part of health care. Therefore, we need proper promotion of human values, not just through religion, but through secular education. Modern education does not pay enough attention to warm-heartedness.  This is lacking. Some universities are carrying on research on how to introduce the importance of warm-heartedness into the modern education system.  This is very good.

We need a secular way to promote secular ethics. Secular does not mean to be against religion or to have disrespect for religion. When I say “secular,” it is like in the Indian constitution. Gandhi emphasized secular religion: he did prayers from all religions. “Secular” means no preference of one religion over another, but to have respect for all religions, including for nonbelievers. Therefore, we need secular ethics through secular ways, on the basis of education about common experience and scientific evidence.

Question: We have so much materialism in the world today. What about materialistic people? How do we deal with this?

His Holiness: Material things only provide physical comfort, not mental comfort. A materialistic person’s brain and our brain are the same. Therefore, we both experience mental pain, loneliness, fear, doubt, jealousy. They disturb anyone’s mind. To remove these with money – that’s impossible. Some people with disturbed minds, with too much stress, take some medicines. They temporarily reduce stress, but bring many side effects. You can’t possibly buy peace of mind. No one sells it, but everyone wants peace of mind. So many people take tranquilizers, but the real medicine for a stressed mind is compassion. Therefore, materialistic people need compassion.

Peace of mind is the best medicine for good health. It brings more balance to the physical elements. The same is true with getting enough sleep. If we sleep with peace of mind, then there are no disturbances and we do not need to take sleeping pills. So many people take care about having a beautiful face. But if you are angry, no matter how much color you put on your face, it won’t help. You are still ugly. But if you have no anger, but smile, then your face becomes attractive, more smart-looking.

If we make a strong effort in compassion, then when anger comes, it is just for a short while. It is like having a strong immune system. When a virus comes, there is not much trouble. Therefore, we need a holistic view and compassion. Then, through familiarization and analysis of the interconnectedness of everyone, we will get more strength.

We all have the same potential for goodness. So look at yourself. See all the positive potentials. Negative ones are also there, but the potential for good things is there too. The basic human nature is more positive than negative. Our life starts with compassion. Therefore, the seed of compassion is stronger than the seed of anger. Therefore, look at yourself more positively. This will bring a more tranquil mood. Then when problems come, it will be easier.

A great Indian Buddhist master, Shantideva, wrote that when we are about to face a problem, if we analyze and see a way to avoid it or to overcome it, there is no need to worry. And if we can’t overcome it, then there is no help from worrying. Accept reality.

So, if you are interested in what I say, then experiment by yourself. If you have no interest, then leave it. I leave tomorrow, but your problems will stay with you.