Multi-faith dialogue for a harmonious world

From:Voice of Longquan     Author:Ven. Master Xuecheng     Time:2015-03-15 09:36:20
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Through the joint efforts of billions of religious followers, ancient religious traditions will further develop in a harmonious atmosphere, the common ethic wisdom originated from the major religions will gain more and more recognition, and a tranquil and harmonious world will not be far away any more.

First of all, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Muslim World League on behalf of the Buddhist Association of China for inviting the Chinese Buddhist circle to this Conference. I am very pleased and honored to discuss the important topic of multi-faith dialogue and world peace with you all in Madrid, a renowned historic European city. At the just concluded International Islamic Conference for Dialogue held by the Muslim World League in Makkah, His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia initiated the proposal of strengthening multi-faith dialogue, especially among oriental religions, which has won widespread acceptance and appreciation. As proposed by the religious leaders and scholars at the Makkah Conference, His Majesty again called for convening a World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, Spain. We heartily applaud this initiative and believe that the Conference will have a profound and far-reaching impact on enhancing the relationship among religions, building a harmonious world, protecting the ecological environment and promoting the role of religions in building happy families and a harmonious society.

The 21st century has brought humanity into an era of information, globalization and integration as a result of the enormous sophistication of the means of transport, the universal adoption of market mechanism, and the revolution of information transmission technology. In today's "global village," interpersonal relationships have become unprecedentedly close, and opportunities for communications and interactions among different countries, ethnicities, religions and cultures have been growing. As such opportunities of interaction increase, the world could become a beautiful garden with a hundred flowers vying for glories and beauty. On the other hand, there is growing potential of confrontations and conflicts among different ethnic groups and religious groups. Of the six billion and more people in the world, nearly five billion have a religious belief, and each major traditional religion has hundreds of millions of devout adherents. Therefore, dialogue and harmony among religions play a significant role in maintaining world peace and the orderly development of human civilization, and are highly valued by religious figures and scholars in different countries.

Leonard Swidler, one of the advocates of inter-religious dialogue and global ethics, classifies inter-religious dialogue into three levels: the dialogue of the head, of the hands, and of the heart. The dialogue of the head is at the level of philosophy, reason and knowledge; the dialogue of the heart is based on emotions and their expressions; and the dialogue of the hands is at the level of concrete actions and ethical practices (Liang 2007). Some other scholars divided inter-religious dialogue into two levels, namely, "religious belief" and "religious culture." The former encompasses the eternal significance and the transcending elements in religion while the latter is the realization of religious eternal significance in a secular world and time (Duan 2002). In our opinion, it is easier to have a comprehensive understanding of the feasibility and the possible forms of inter-religious dialogue if we distinguish it into three levels: religious faith, cultural bond and ethical practice.

As to the basic attitude towards other religions, John Hick, an English religious philosopher who actively advocates inter-religious dialogue, takes Christianity as an example and classifies the attitude into exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism based on ultimate faith (Hick 2000). Exclusivism firmly believes that the holy subjects and scriptures worshipped by their own religions are the only means towards the ultimate truth and transcendence of life. This is an attitude commonly held by the adherents of traditional religions. Inclusivism takes a different attitude that all religions serve as pathways for the holy subjects of one religion to save different peoples, as exemplified by the Second Vatican Council. But Hick's pluralism deems there is an "ultimate reality," of which all religions have different cognitions but all can play a redemptive role to a certain extent.

Hick's religious pluralism has aroused attention as well as criticism from many people. Those who are critical hold that pluralism may reduce the particularities of different religions. As a matter of fact, major traditional religions around the world do differ substantially at the level of ultimate belief. For instance, Christianity believes that "the Word became flesh and God revealed in Jesus Christ." Muslims believe in one God, Allah and they believe that Muhammad is the last and the most important prophet. In Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta, the identity of the Self with Brahman, is deemed as the supreme goal of liberation. Buddhism regards Emptiness and Dependent Origination as the universal truth and believes in the Buddha as an enlightened being with omniscience. An ideal of trying to eliminate the differences at the level of philosophy, though admirable and inspirational, tends to be over-optimistic and idealistic, and therefore is not easily accepted by most adherents of major religions.  

However, the fact that each religion has a different and unique ultimate belief does not mean a religion must be closed, exclusive or even opposed towards other religions. The more we know about other religions and cultures, the more understanding we will be, thus avoiding much disharmony arising from religious issues. This is especially true in our era of globalization. For example, some people simply mistook the abuse of "Jihad" by a few terrorists for the true meaning of Islamic doctrine, owing to a lack of complete and correct understanding of the word "Jihad." Consequently they made negative comments that provoked strong reactions throughout the Muslim world. In fact, the real meaning of "Jihad" is "to struggle in the way of Allah." Although the struggle may take the form of fighting, the Quran requires that the fighting be based entirely on self-defense and strictly prohibits indiscriminate killing of the innocent. A correct understanding of the fundamental doctrines of the major world religions will help us realize that they all embody the ultimate concern for human beings, and they all advocate such good morals as devotion, peace and kindness. A true religious believer should fully understand, respect and even appreciate other religious beliefs. For example, Buddhism encourages a rejoicing attitude towards any living being if there's any merit in their thoughts or actions, even more so towards the major religions which contain so vast and deep wisdom.TheFlower Adornment Sutrastates, "As for all the different types of beings in the six paths and the four kinds of birth in every world in the ten directions, I follow along with and rejoice in their merit and virtue as well, even if it is as small as a mote of dust."

In respect of differences in fundamental religious doctrines, we should espouse understanding and tolerance. In addition we can also draw on the practice of oriental traditions which encourage face-to-face communication with peaceful means and an open mind. For example, in ancient India, there were regular exchanges and peaceful competition among different religions, which were sound and wise, so that different religions were able to draw on religious philosophical thoughts from others and organized discussions and public debates. In this way, religions would not resort to violence or despicable conspiracies to resolve their conflicts. Moreover, truths could be gleaned from debates and different religions had the opportunities to show the wisdom and excellence of their doctrines, and religious talents were cultivated and the development of different religious thoughts was promoted. Nalanda, a famous ancient Buddhist academic center is a paragon of open learning and communication. The same peaceful communication and competition also existed in ancient China, known as "letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend." This allowed many doctrines including Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism to constantly develop through mutual learning, discussion, debate and confrontation while basically maintaining harmonious coexistence. The world is a different place now and today religions don't have to blindly copy ancient forms of philosophical or religious inter-faith dialogue, although the open-mindedness, the spirit of non-violence and peace and respect for truth in the Eastern traditional beliefs are still worth learning.

Should there exist considerable difficulty for direct dialogues at the level of philosophy and faith due to doctrinal differences, it would be much more feasible to communicate through cultural exchanges. Since culture is rich in content, religious culture at least include religious art, relevant religious rituals and religious spirit. For instance, religious art, through music, fine arts, architecture can not only facilitate exchange among different religions, but also showcase the charm of religious culture to non-believers because art itself is a language that transcends national boundaries, races and religions. Compared with secular art, religious art has an unworldly beauty which helps the viewers to get spiritual elevation and purification and religious identification by appreciating the true, the good and the beautiful. Many important works of famous European musicians were about religion and some masterpieces are religious music, which have gone beyond religions and are appreciated by music lovers worldwide. In recent years, many Buddhist orchestras from the mainland of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan gave performances in Europe and the United States, which have won extensive praises and made a commendable contribution to the exchange between Eastern and Western religious cultures.

Over thousands of years, the major traditional religions around the world have developed their own religious systems and relating cultures, including the way to obtain religious experiences, the religious rituals and ceremonies, the education and organization of clerical personnel, and the disciplines to be obeyed in daily life. As all the religions transcend secular life and emphasize the veneration of the sacred subjects of their faiths, religions' systems and cultures share many similarities. Especially since the modern era, due to the impact of material civilization, all the major religions are facing the problem of how to accommodate their traditional religious system with modernity. This is an issue that different religions can very well discuss with and learn from each other. For example, the meditation and contemplation practices in Buddhism and Hinduism from the oriental religions have outstanding characteristics, which have influenced Christian mysticism in modern times. We believe that they will also provide inspirations to other religions in terms of the methods to acquire religious experiences. Islam has kept its traditional religious rituals and system relatively intact. Traditions like praying five times a day, Ramadan and even the pilgrimages to Makkah are still commonly revered by Muslims. In response to modernization, Judaism undertook reforms in Germany in the 19th century, reforms which developed further in the United States in the 20th century. Through years of reform, on the one hand, the Jewish people accepted science and substantially modernized their system; on the other hand, they maintained the traditional spiritual culture and faith quite successfully. This experience of reconciling tradition with modernity is very valuable. In contrast, modern Christianity has placed even greater emphasis on social service, actively engaging in charity and welfare activities.

Although the ethical practices of the major religions can be regarded as a part of religious culture, we will still devote some paragraphs to this topic in view of their particular importance to the development of human society and inter-religious dialogue itself. Just as Paul Knitter said inOne Earth Many Religions:Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility, "Interreligious conversations must take as their most pressing agenda the ethical issues behind the mounting sufferings of humans and Earth… Suffering has a universality and immediacy that makes it the most suitable, and necessary site for establishing common ground for interreligious encounter." (Knitter 2003) Similarly, in his Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic Hans Kung described profoundly the tribulations that humans and the earth were suffering from and appealed for dialogues among different religions, joint efforts in ethical practice and global ethics (Kung 2002). Actually, in the process of modernization, the development of material civilization has, on the one hand, brought enormous wealth and conveniences; it has, on the other hand, caused tremendous disasters and sufferings. Human beings' predatory exploitation of nature has resulted in severe ecological imbalance, environmental deterioration and gradual energy depletion. Among these the most worrying is the global climate change caused by human activities. Excessive material pursuit has led to the vulgarization of many people's spiritual world and growing moral depravity. Those who have lost their spiritual homeland would turn to drugs to numb their minds. From the rising divorce rate and crime rate around the world to the spread of AIDS, from the wealth polarization to the spreading of terrorism, and from the increasing danger of nuclear proliferation to the shadow of regional wars, all of these are relentlessly depriving human beings of happiness and peace. Even an ordinary global citizen cannot turn a blind eye to all these sufferings and problems, let alone each and every religion whose purpose is to give meaning to life and bring ultimate happiness to human beings.

Up to now, many people of insight have fully realized the seriousness of various crises that humans are facing and are appealing earnestly or taking actions to solve them. However, as every crisis that humans are facing is global in nature, no ethnic groups or countries, or religions, standing alone or in small groups, can undertake to resolve the crises on their own. It requires the concerted cooperation and joint efforts of all the human beings to mitigate and dispel these crises. For example, as the global ecosystem is an integral and organic structure, the ecological crisis will have a worldwide impact. Hence, even if a country makes great efforts to reduce air pollution, the actual result may be greatly reduced if the pollution sources are in the neighboring countries or even more distant countries. Now take economic crises as a further example. In today's world of global economic integration, an economic crisis originated in a country or a region will affect other countries or regions, even the whole world, and may further cause social unrest, turmoil and even political crisis in these countries or regions. Likewise, the culture of a country or an ethnicity can also go further than its ethnicity and region to spread around the globe and have a wide influence; it may also interact, integrate or even collide or clash with other cultures. In the era of globalization, human beings have never been so knitted together. It's as imperative as ever for human beings to shoulder global responsibilities and conform to global ethics. In this process, the participation of different religions has become indispensable. As Hans Kung maintains, "The kind of global ethics necessary for sustained global action cannot be achieved without the contribution of religion." (Kung 2002)

As the great treasury of human wisdom, the world's major traditional religions have many great teachings on ethical practice that are of ever-fresh and eternal value for human beings. Mohammed instructs, "Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself, that you may be a believer; Treat well as a neighbour the one who lives near you, that you may be a Muslim." "Whatever you abhor for yourself, abhor it also for others, and whatever you desire for yourself desire also for others." (Rost 2000) The Gospel of Matthew 7:12 (New International Version) teaches people, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. "Hit-opadesain Hinduism states as follows: The final mark of Duty, Righteousness,/Legal and moral Lawfulness, is this—/That what ye holdas dear and good for self/And which your inner higher self approves, /Ye hold as dear and good for others too;/And what ye may not like for your own self,/For others like it not, in the same way,/Whofeelethas his ownthe joys and sorrows/Of others, he is the true yogi,/he Hath truly 'joined' his own soul with all souls. (Rost 2000)Buddha not only educates us "what I don't like is as others, I shouldn't impose it upon others." (Samyutta NikayaV,353,35-342,2), but also advocates the positive altruistic spirits of "unconditional kindness," "great compassion based on sameness in essence" and "to be friends of all living beings voluntarily." In fact, all the great religions, be it Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam or Bahaism, have great teachings that guide human beings to live with others in harmony and treat others with equality, understanding, tolerance, compassion and love. The world's major religions all share the Golden Rule, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." This is not only a moral and ethical norm for the members of a group, a religion, an ethnicity, or a country, but is also the basis of a global ethic that constitutes the base necessary for solving today's global issues.

Each major religion's doctrines contain rich resources of ethics which fully embody wisdom and resonate with that of other religions. To make these vital principles about harmonious inter-personal relationship become global ethics for all so as to bring everlasting harmony and peace to the world, it is crucial for major religions to make efforts regarding ethical practice, especially to realize harmony and peace among the religions of the world. As Hans Kung pointed out that there will be no survival of our globe without a global ethic; there will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions; there will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions. (Kung 2002) Therefore all the religions of the world should engage in exchanges and dialogues with tolerance, friendliness, compassion and equality, and promote religious tolerance and harmony as indispensable qualities of a contemporary religious believer. The major religions should aim at human beings' common welfare, turn away from narrow-mindedness and prejudice, avoid hostility and hatred, understand and communicate with each other, appreciate and tolerate each other, making harmony and peace among religions and their adherents become the model of relationships between individuals and between groups. At the same time, different religions should cooperate with each other on the basis of dialogue, face up to the sufferings and problems of humanity together, jointly seek feasible solutions and put them into practice step by step. The religions in the 21st century should not only encourage followers to pursue the ultimate happiness and take this ultimate concern as the basis of moral ethics, but also encourage followers to pay close attention to the society and the actual sufferings and the sufferers, thus integrally linking the dedication to society of temporality with the pursuit of ultimate happiness. Actually, be it the social welfare cause to "glorify God and serve fellow human beings" actively carried out by modern Christianity, the theory and practice of Humanistic Buddhism in contemporary Buddhism which is on the upswing, or the excellent tradition of "honor in both this world and the Hereafter while fulfilling this life" in Islam, all of them are purported to serve the society and contribute to people's wellbeing. Thus, they should be vigorously promoted and religions should cooperate through all kinds of channels. Each believer should go beyond worshipping the sacred subjects and bear in mind the great instructions from the sages of his religion, actualizing in real life such moral and ethical spirit as "love others as yourself" in Christianity, "be compassionate and serve the world" in Buddhism, and "be generous and help the needy" in Islam through concrete actions. Through the joint efforts of billions of religious followers, ancient religious traditions will further develop in a harmonious atmosphere, the common ethic wisdom originated from the major religions will gain more and more recognition, and a tranquil and harmonious world will not be far away any more.

Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the World Conference on Dialogue, Madrid, Spain on July 17, 2008.



Editor:Li Jing
Tags:multi-faith dialogue harmonious world

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