Thursday, March 23, 2017

Buddhist Principles for the Promotion of Inter-Religious Harmony


The religion represents a system of beliefs that leads to the wellbeing and happiness of the beings in both mundane and super mundane. However, it should be something concerning much about spirituality that has to be gained through wise and rational pattern of thinking rather than materialistic achievements and irrational thinking pattern.

In the Buddha’s time, it is said that there were nearly 62 views that presented different perspectives in India and this is mentioned in Brahmajala sutta of Diga nikaya. 

The Buddha proposed a way of living in order to minimize inter-religious conflicts and establish inter-religious harmony. These teachings can be seen throughout Buddhist canon.
However, in the present world also people believe in different religions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism etc… and usually, children used to follow what their parents or society believe as their religion. Therefore, they think religion is something they have inherited by their birth. This is the point that arising the seed of religious discrimination and where they lose their rational thinking. 

Therefore, who are born in Buddhist society are labeled as “Buddhists” and those are born in Christian community are labeled as “Christians”, those born in a Muslim community labeled as “Muslims”. Consequently, religious competition/ race starts to defeat each other. At the end ignorance followers justify wars to kill their own species in the name of the religion. 

Thus, pure and holly teachings of religions are polluted and impure by ignorance followers. They do not concern whether they are saved by the religion or religion is saved by them. Absolutely, religion is to save the follower. As long as the follower practice what is taught by the religion, that religion exists last long and this is the ethical and rational path to be a real follower of a religion and it is the path to save the religion while saving oneself. By violating teachings of the religion, and making conflicts with others no one can be a good religious follower and it is not the path to save the religion. This is the ignorance more religious followers have. In order to save religion being violence is not the way and real follower save religion and oneself by practicing the teaching of it.

But it is difficult to say this process is rational as long as individual investigates for the rightness and wrongness of what he believes in and comes to a conclusion through what his inherited religion teaches. If not every religious follower thinks only their religion is right. On account of this, conflicts arise and sometimes these conflicts lead even to woeful wars which kill millions of innocent people in the name of religion.

Is war or conflicting a religious practice? If the teaching leads its followers to make a war, can it be called as religion?

It’s true that, the every teachings of each religion is not 100% equal to other religions. Therefore, each religion has its own traditions, rights, customs and practices. Most of conflicts in the present world have been arising on account of this variety of religious practices, since the religious practices of a religion does not match with the theories and practices of the other religions. Lacking of religious tolerance, not respecting to other religions, being extremists in one’s own religion, are leading to make conflicts and inter-religious issues in the name of the religion. Finally, small conflict become a great issue in the society.
Following a religion religion is not a war which kills lives but it is a blessing which saves lives. Religion never should teach to kill or torture others but to become killed or tortured for others happiness. Religion is for ceasing wars, not for making wars.  Religion is the mirror which shows the meaning of the life and that meaning never can achieve by making conflicts or violent revolutions in the name of the religion. On the other hand religious teaching should direct its followers to develop wisdom and rationality but not ignorance and stupidity. At the same time it directs the follower to be happy by caring and making others happy by sacrificing oneself, not destroying others happiness. Religion never leads to an ethical degradation.

Religious teaching should never lead to an invasion

The major reason for religious issues is, mistaken of the religious teaching by its followers. Almost all followers who make conflicts against other religions have forgotten their original religious practices and instead of that they have taken a polluted and ignorance path which can be called religious revolution. On the other hand religion leads the follower to have a spiritual achievements rather than material possessions.
There is a big difference between religious leader and invader. Religious leaders never lead their community to kill or torcher anyone in the name of the religion. If a person called religious leader leads his followers towards violent revolution which hurts others, the most suitable term to introduce such a person should be invader rather than giving him the word “religious leader”.

The main characteristic of an invader is being partial and taking evil extremes to take care of his native or relative community or followers. But a religious leader leads his community to develop a meaningful life which brings blessings to all the beings including their enemies.

You can see and feel the beauty of the moon but you cannot take that into your home. If you are going to fight with others for the moon, how ignorance you are. No one can change the moon. Therefore, just feel the beauty of the moon and give a space to see the beauty of the moon to others too.

In the same manner religion is to see the reality and the meaning of the life, and it is not for clinging and fighting with others. If the teaching in the religion is true, no one can change that truth. Try to see the noble and extra ordinary beauty in the religion by giving up rods and weapons, and give a space to others to see what the glory in the religion you believe in.

A real religion shows the universal low or the nature, then how can followers say that religion owned to them? This is the point that followers have mistaken. Religion is the path to see the reality. You are just a walker, not the owner of the path. If you take religion as your own, you will conflict and fight for it.
The Buddha says;

“Kullūpamaŋ vo bhikkave dhammaŋ desissāmi, nittaranatthāya na gahanatthāya”

Monks I will deliver the doctrine comparing to a canoe, which is for crossing not for grasping.

Buddhist Principles for the Promotion of Inter-Religious Harmony

Buddhism arose as new religious movement, in the context diversity of religious sects, it is evident from our familiarity with Indian literature including Buddhist. Jainsim, in their texts too, references are made to diversity of views that can be considered religious vies at that time. We find mention in the Brahmajana Sutta of 62 philosophical views or religious approaches to life. There was religious uprising in the context in which Buddhism came to being. So 5th century BCE witnessed competing religions, even hostility has been expressed against each other, such as verbal debates and public confrontations.

We can find in Pali Canon references to which Buddha responded to this situation. There were Brahmins teachers who were sometimes very offensive, they show their offense for contradicting their theories of life. Some Brahmins take to debates with Buddha on these issues, they try to prevent other people from coming under influence of the Buddha. They considered the Buddha someone who destructs the social order established by Brahmins. At early career of Buddha, they accused him of making women widows,

In such situation, how did Buddha respond? There were also conspiracies recorded in the Buddhist literature regarding how other religious movement attach against the Buddha and his monastic order. We see that the situation during the Buddha’s time, the Religious pluralism was not very different from the situations in the present days. There is no doubt, there as largely similar religious hostility, arm conflicts in the world based on religious identity. What Buddhism has to contribute regarding religious conflict, identity would be very relevant to the current situation.

Now Where religious Pluuralism, Buddha appeals to human goodness. He never imposed any ideaology on the people. He consistently refrain doctrinal practice on others. We can see the Buddha as an exemplar of the ethics of inter-religious harmony. There are so many instances in the Buddhist literature that show Buddhas attitude towards other religious believes, also his attitude regarding those who express hostile reactions to his own movement. Hostility was not uncommon during Buddha’s time.

The first such Stutta has someomethign that is very important regarding Buddhist attitude towards religious difference. In the Brahjham Sutta, where these different dittis among the 62 are mentioned, Buddha pointes that dogmatic grasping of any views is not conductive to the religious goal he was prescribing. In the sutta, he was not committed to founding one more sectarian dogma. The emphasis in the sutta is on transformation of the persons, the development of the inner nature of the person, a kind of very evident  change in the experience of the concern, not just the theory. The Buddha was challenged maybe by the religious group referened as Palipagajas. They sometimes confronted sometime with the Buddha. In such situation. Buddha emphasized not just winning the argument, so he was not even willing to engage in such situation. In Pasura Sutta, Parura came to challenge the Buddha. Buddha refused to participate, saying that I don’t’ cling to a view, and I don’t like to engage with person who is deflied with anger and hatred. He says, with the person whose mind is free from defliments and those who are not can not move together.

The ten philosophical issues at the time were very much hotly debated during Buddha’s time. Sometimes people came to challenge to argue these issues, and Buddha refuses to participate in any conversation regarding these issues.

Suppiya, a wonder recluse, on a certain occasion when the Buddha was travelling with large community of disciples, from Rajagaha to Nanlanda. Suppia was also following Buddha and his disciples. The wondering ascetics Suppiya was accusing and amusing the teaching throughout Buddha’s journey. At the end, Buddha learned about this situation, and he said if Bhikhus, others speak in displace of me, or the displace of dhamma, or the sanga, you should give away to resentment or displeasure or any disharmony in your heart, for if you get upset in these situations, you will only create. When you are getting angry or upset, youwon’dnt be albe to judge if the speech is correct or wrong. If Bhidhis, when other popel speak in displace of me, dhamma, and sanga, you should understand what is false, for such and such reason, point out this is false and this is true. Then if it is the case that those critisims were reasonable critisim, the Bhidkhus should change their own behavior accordingly.

One common way to promote inter-religious harmony is by admitting every religion is true. Buddhism does not maintain that view. Buddha clearly maintains that teachers of other religions talk about certain values. He agree with them, the morality, or ethics he. But in other situations, he disagreed. So agreement or disagreement is not problem. The Buddha opening points out the false of other.

In other sutta, the Buddhist term for religious community, was Samanas and Brahmas. There were people who has studies diverse religious theories at that time, so they are refered to as “those who have studies the theories of other religions”. what the Buddha found to be disturbing is the demolishing values of other religions is the attitude of anger, the study of other religions mainly is for demolishing their theories. These agreements. Buddha points that the attitude when you enter the dialogue matters. The idea is not just win the point, but understand things realably.

Buddhism & Inter-religious harmony

Buiddha disapproves strong grasping of the views as true without having open mind, this alone is true and everything else is false. That attitude is not considered as very healthy. It’s an attitude actually draws people to conflict. You can’t avoid conflict if you have that attitude. The wise person possesses the attitude which shows concerns with truth only as far as truth is conforming in experience, that is what is true cannot be true for only particular person. Such truth Buddha calls “Individual Truth” (pacceka sacca), it is very subjective. Others in their experience can not find that being true.

This distinction is made, of course the position can be objected by saying what Budha experiences is not experiences by common people. But the difference we can see is that Buddha does not demand absolute faith in him, if you can’t experience, don’t accept. So he sometimes even encourages kind of skeptical approach if one does not necessary information to see that certain propositions are confirmed in experience. He just leaves that to the investigator to further investigate and find out. This is the approach which in explain in very important sutta called Minor Sutta on the Elephant Footprints. Here it says that person who goes into forest inhabited by elephants looking for the footprints of elephants should not come to conclusion immediately that there is elephant living in the forest, just by saying the footprint. One should follow that, investigate it further.

The wise sage does not grasp anything and claims to be absolute truth. The Buddha in Akitavata, showed that a liberated person does not have ditti, dogmatical view, at all, he may have insights. Those things seen by him are to be seen by others as well.

When the three kinds of craving are abandoned: craving for destruction craving for sensual desire and craving for wrong views. Person who has eradicated these cravings are freed from the three rules that bound person to suffering: greed, hatred and delusion. This is testable proposition, it can be observed. “By using your eyes, you can observe how I behave physically, by using your ears, you can observe what I speak, and you can always judge whether my speech is derived from confused mind”. in that sense, it is something that can be confirmed in experience. It’s very much psychological, like psychological testing. Buddhism of course is not confined to observable behaviors only, like the Behavior psychology, it also recognizes introspection and cognitive quality within inner mind states.

Cullavedalla and Mahavedalla sutta where Buddha shows how ridiculous it is that only one and oneself is right, and looking down upon others is foo. If by clinging to one point of view, one becomes wise, then everyone must be wise….everyone must be a fool. This can apply to any field in which people adopt very fanatic approach regarding to the theory they embrace.

So it is for this reason that Buddhism in its history, I could say that it is difficult to find instances in which Buddhist society trying to impose belief system b force. It is always through intellectual convertion. Buddha set expame, even when people ready to accept his teaching, he always request them to think more deeply, without rushing to conclusion. He did not want people to join his movement, merely for the sake of increasing the numbers, that was not considered important. Example Udumbarikasihanada Sutta of DN:
Buddhism cannot be instrumental in causing inter-religious conflict. This is really expressed in the Smiles of Snake Sutta.

Buddhisa is refered to Baisaja Gure (the medicine guru). That is why the Buddhism is so relevant with psycho-therapy.

In Madhupindika Sutta, someone comes to ask him, what theory do you adopt/ he may have expected some abstract metaphysical theories as most of times teacher of his time contested with theory against one another. But the Buddha says: his teaching is not presenting in abstract theory about the world, but a practical teaching, which enables the people to live in the world without conflict. “My teaching enables people to stay in this world without coming into conflict into anyone”.

The only method Buddhism encourages to resolve conflict is education because Buddhism trusts in human’s capacity of performing good deeds. So it is voluntary to follow this method to appealing to people’s understanding, requesting people to look and see.

Education doesn’t mean just learning related to the cultivation of some professional expertise, a kind of training giving one skills. That’s kind of learning associated with the intellectual knowledge. But outside the professional spheres, there is a wider ethical sense attached to each profession. (professor gave example of being a good doctor means beyond medical knowledge but a common characteristics of good person). Ethical issues are important. It’s a different pattern of reasoning solving the medical issues. The good or harm that can follow as consequences of human actions. And this is in this respect that Buddhism thinks education is very importdant, understanding right and wrong, what ought or not to be done. Wehre ethical concern is lacking, medicine can go wrong, all scientific or technological advancement can be self-defeating.

Science and technology does not investigate the ethical value of one’s desires and wants, they meet them. Without concern of ethical assessment, it is dangerous and science and technology can be misused for undesirable wants to fulfill human desires that go contrary to human well-being. If there is no ethical reflection regarding life, many things can go wrong in this way that appear to be the source of contemporary problems. That’s the underlying cause of modern society’ world. Maybe the Buddhist thinking is even more relevant today than in his time. Because we have developed so many technologies that could be misused bringing destructive outcome. That is why the ethical way of thinking, the Dhamma, is extremely important.

There are very rare instances where Buddhist society has used religion to coming into conflict with other religious group, or the idea of forcible conversion, that is not the characteristics of Buddhist tradition. During the time of Dutch rule, they persecuted the Christians in Sri Lanka. It was the Buddhist King who protected the Christians under persecution.

Even in contemporary world, Buddhism becomes known in foreign countries not through military or economic power, but the appealing to one’s logic and reasoning of one’s own well-being.


The most common problem in inter-religious dialogue is disagreement on perspectives of Truth. But disagreement is not the real problem if there is mutual agreement to disagree. The true problems arise from insisting to others that one’s disparaging view of their religion is correct, and the imposing upon them that one’s own religion is the only true one worth following.
There is nothing wrong though, with sincere personal belief that one’s faith is the best. That would be “making peace” with oneself. However, when one insists others to agree likewise, that would be “making war” with others. Asoka, the great Buddhist emperor (circa 304 B.C.) had this to say:
“Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one’s own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honour other religions for this [or that worthy] reason. By so doing, one’s own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one’s own religion and the religions of others.”
There is a diversity of religious beliefs in our world simply because there is a corresponding diversity of mindsets. Even two random adherents of the same faith are unlikely to have totally identical views. We need to respect this worldly reality – before arguing on any spiritual reality. If not, there would be no harmony but only conflict. Surely, a religion that is pro-conflict is not one we need. What if it is a central tenet of a religion that it cannot agree to disagree with others? Thankfully, there is no such religion in practice today, or there would be inter-religious chaos. With all orthodox religions advocating peace, this implies that those who cannot agree to disagree might not really be religious at heart.


Guruge Layanal, (2007) Conflict Resolution and Buddha Dhamma.
Ray Parchelo.  (2008) A MIND TO FIGHT: CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND BUDDHIST PRACTICESLoy, David R.; (2003). The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory; Wisdom Publications. Loy, David R; (2008). Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution; Wisdom Publications.Salzberg , Sharon; (2002). Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness; Shambhala

Ven. Sumiththa T.
Sri Lankan Buddhist Cultural Centre - Hong Kong 
3F, 27 Sheung Heung Road, To Kwa Wan, 
Kowloon, Hong Kong

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