The Role of Buddhism in Inter-religious Dialogue
Duri9nhg tyhe present century the World has witnessed a huge change caused by the advance in science and tenhnology. On one hand, it has helped human beings live a much happier Life than ever before; on the other, it has created tremendous devastating effects upon mankind.
There is no other period in our history that the people of the World are treatened by total annihilation of human race such as that which could come directly through a nuclear War, or indirectly through many destructive changes in our environment, not to mention the quick decay of Morality, especially among younger generations, and the progressive break down of family units in modern societies.
During the past recent years there have been demonstrations after demonstrations in western countries demanding peace, nuclear disarmament, and protections of the enveronment. Nevertheless, many of these movements has created a further conflict within the societies, and sadly many of them have led to more violence and agony. Nowadays, many people in the West are living in despair and turmoil, many have given up hope for the future of the World; bur many still are searching for a new solution from other cultures, specially from the East.
There are some who came across the message of the Buddhas which soon give them a different aspect of the explanation of Life and reality in particular, the Meditative tradition. Many spend a long time in Buddhist countries learning Buddhism and live a contemplative Life. Soon this ancient religious gains more and more popularity among Western people.
Although there are many forms of Buddhism in the World, which came abort through different developments of the Religion in various Asian countries. There are some qualities shared among all of schools of Buddhists, which do not exist in other religions: the Balance between Morality and Power, and the Balance between the cultivation of sentiment and the cultivation intelligence.
Because the Religion is not based upon beliefs of all kinds but on experience in Meditation and logical analysis, the philosophy of which is very similar to that of science and modern technology, Buddhism is standing in the most suitable position to guide and enriched the Spiritual aspect for men in modern time; the position which cannot be found in Western religious societies.
It did not take a long time for Western religious organization to learn about this Spiritual tradition Form the East, though Western academic tradition. As a result of this, there have been many changes in their ways of approach to other religions. Some of them, have completely abandon their method of Conversion the people of the native countries into their own Faith, and use the technique of "Dialogue" as their main mission.
During the past few years, the trend towards " the Inter-religious Dialogue" is increasing very strongly in all parts of the World It has now become a popular subject of discussion between religious persons of different faiths. It has opened up the World of Western religions to a new dimension which demands not only tolerance of all religions, but also an intimate conformation of one's own Faith in order to search for the Metaphysical Truth.
There are already religious organization for inter-religious dialogue, founded by various Western religious groups. They are working very actively as special units of their order to work and share things with the people of other religions. This creates a very positive image of their own Faith both in their own societies and around the World.
If we approach the method of the modern inter-religious dialogue in a slightly critical manner, we may see that it is a very effective social technique for the organizer of the dialoguing process to preserve their original value in their native culture. By generating a pacific atmosphere for all Spiritual faiths and the process could bring some aspects from other religions which do not exist in theirs, as their means of achievement. The countries where they have their missionaries working, Inter-religious dialogue can use the religions of native people as an effective means to explain their own faiths, which might be entirely alien to the culture of the receipients, especially in the countries where the standard of education, or the Knowledge of Western religions is very low. The native religions including Buddhism, can easily be dissolved, and completely lose their identities within the warm embracement of the inter-religious dialogue. The situation like this is taking place right now in many countries.
What role Buddhist should take in the Inter-religious Dialogue?
The first and formost thing is to study our own Religion carefully, especially, about the technique used by The Buddha in establishing his Religion in Brahmanical culture which has entirely different values. One might be surprised to find out that the very technique that The Buddha used in his days was also Inter-religious Dialogue.
Before Socratis, Plato, Aristotle ...etc, and all those Helenistic philosophical tradition, to was The Buddha who introduced the Art of dialogue of the World. He explained his Doctrine be using the terminology of the Vedic culture.
Although there are numerous disagreements between Buddhism and the Religion of the Veda, but The Buddha never rejected the Brahmanical values ort right. he put himself as a teacher of Brahmins who was capable to show the way of a Brahmin born in the society to be a real Brahmin. There are many technical terms in Buddhism which have been converted from Brahmanical terminology, but all their meanings have been revalued, suitable for Buddhist Philosophy.
The Buddha has also strongly emphasised that his Religion must not be spread by means of violence of all kinds, but through the practice of Morality alone. His teaching, there fore, makes Buddhism a dialoguing Religion by nature.
But this does not mean that there is nothing we can co for our Religion. As we have also learned from history that it was the similar Form a dialogue used by Brahmins 1,000 years after the Death of The Buddha which made Buddhism lose its strength and identity in its own home land.
Buddhism can take a leading role in our modern societies, not only to supplement the advance of science and technology with its own Spiritual values enriched with Intellectual treasure, and keep them in Balance, but also can provide the people of the Western countries the profound and practical Meditation enabling them to experience " the Real Peace" without touching their own religious Faith.
To achieve this goal, Buddhist of all schools should have a dialogue among themselves inorder to learn about each other, share among each other, and work closely together for the sake of all mankind, regardless of nationality, race or religious belief.
The last thing that I may suggest here is that we Buddhist from all different countries should have a single ligitimate organization for inter-religious dialoque, not only to participate with other religions, but also to preserve our own identity. This should be done as soon as possible.
As the deligate from the Dhammakaya Foundation in Thailand, may I take this opportunity to express our sincere wish for the success of this meeting, and may the spirit of it last forever in our hearts and brings us forward to a profound understanding and close cooperation among us to create a happy and peaceful World for all mankind.
Venerable Mattanando Bhikkhu: Department of International Relations Dhammakaya Foundation, Thailand