Peace between religions
Venerable Parawahera CHANDARATANA
Buddhism is a realistic teaching that recognizes the values of other teachings. Antiquity,
Buddha’s time, was a flourishing epoch of human thought: there was a multitude of different
beliefs, as it is the case today too. Before his Awakening, the prince Siddhattha had spent
many years studying all contemporary philosophical systems of India. He wasn’t satisfied of
everything that he had studied, but he respected the knowledge of the masters.
From now on, regrettably, followers of different doctrines don’t always have the necessary tolerance the ones towards others. Our European society for instance maintains the detrimental tradition of quarrels between Roman Catholics and Protestants, historic quarrel that furthers up some violence nowadays in North Ireland. Yet these two conflicting communities adore the same Christ who taught us love and brotherhood.
In my native land violent actions between Tamil terrorists and Sinhalese armed forces are exactly of the same absurd nature. Tamils are Hindus, still Hindu religion considers Buddha as an incarnation of the god Vishnu. Sinhalese are Buddhists, yet they respect Hindu gods. In spite of this mutual acceptance between both denominational communities, the struggle between armed groups is still going on since decades on political grounds. But genuine Hindus and real disciples of Buddha are all non-violent, as « avihimsa » is a spiritual goal in each of these two religions, then true lay disciples refrain from such disagreements. For example, during the 1983 fights, some Hindu families, who were persecuted by the crowd, had found asylum in some Buddhist monasteries of Colombo.
In fact, it sometimes happens that religious fanaticism makes some votaries of such and such faith forget the very precepts of their own religion. The Qur-an writes that there is no constraint to be found in religion. And what happens today in Algeria? Those are innocent children and adults who pay of their life, without reason, for some so-called religious fanaticism. Yet tolerance and freedom of thought are essential conditions for any conviction of consciousness.
Buddha taught us tolerance towards other religions through the example of his own life. It happened to him once that a rich head of household named Upâli, [lay disciple of Nigantha Nâthaputta, founder of Jainism], paid him a visit in order to vanquish him in a debate on the theory of Kamma. The Buddhist way to conceive Kamma is very different from the one of Jainism. During the discussion with Buddha, Upâli changed his mind after having listened to Buddha’s arguments. He asked from Buddha that the latter accepts him as lay disciple, and he declared that he longer wanted to support Nigantha Nâthaputta. Buddha advised him not to be too much in a hurry, and to keep on supporting his old master.
Asoka, the great Buddhist emperor of India, had practiced tolerance in political and administrative practice. He wrote in his edicts engraved on the rock: « We don’t honor only our own religion and we do not condemn other religions. By behaving so we help our own religion to grow and we also serve the one of others. » The rock has been a material well chosen by the emperor –proselytes nowadays who spread their faith while blaming others’ faith could always study this precious message inherited from Indian antiquity.
The freedom of thought very clearly advocated for by Buddha has found an admirable expression in the Kesamuttisutta :
« Lord, from time to time, different masters come to our village and give us various teachings. One day one of them teaches us something; the day after another teaches us something else, completely different, even the opposite. These different masters come day after day in our village, teach us various things that sow in us the seeds of doubt and confusion. We cannot discriminate between what is true and what is false. We are perplexed and we ask you to guide us on the right path and to take us away from the perverted one. » Buddha answered:
« It is quite natural that you have doubts as you have heard contradictory teachings; such situations certainly cause confusion to arise. However, I tell you this: don’t believe in something simply because it has been transmitted to you through a tradition. Don’t believe in something simply because you can trace it out on books. Sometimes, in books, there could be correct or false things, how to find out? Don’t blindly believe what a spiritual master, your guru, teaches you, because he himself too could do mistakes from time to time. Don’t believe either what you hear here or there through rumors. And, even what I teach, don’t believe in it. Whatever you hear, taste it, try to experience it. When you taste it, when you experience it and you come to know that it is beneficial, then you understand that it is good for you. »
We, as Buddhists, who live here in Europe more than two thousand five hundred years after Buddha, we should respect masters and teachings and votaries of other religious denominations with whom we live together in France. Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Moslems or agnostics – these are tokens that do not impart to us right information about the quality of man. Among the followers of other faiths, there could be some very good Buddhists, who, without even be aware of it, perfectly well practice compassion, benevolent love and all other precepts of my religion. Let’s take a rose for instance: its smell embalms our garden, its beauty delights us. We can give other names to this rose, but the pleasant smell will remain anyway the same.
The different religions should cooperate together for a more peaceful world. If we try to understand the genuine message of the various founders of religions, we will find out that it is our duty prescribed by each of our holy scriptures. Allow me to recite some passages of a Sutta of my denomination as a Buddhist proof of it:
« mâtâ yathâ niyam puttam
âyusâ ekaputtam anurakkhe
evampi sabba bhùtesu
mânasam bhâvaye aparimânam »
“In the same as a mother, risking her own life,
Watches and protects her unique child,
Thus with a mind without hindrances
Should we cherish all living things.”