Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Good Start

In a world increasingly dominated by a secular and materialistic mentality, there is a real need for the world’s faith communities to stand solidly together. Common Ground Between Islam and Buddhism participates in promoting such a stance. As the “logos” or revealed Word in the Islamic tradition is the Qur’an, Muslims abide by doctrines therein and have taken care to avoid what is not stated clearly in their own scripture. As the name of the Buddha was not specifically listed among the prophets sent by God which are mentioned in the Qur’an, and because Muslims have assumed Buddhists to be atheistic, there has hitherto not been much dialogue between these two august traditions. This volume represents a historic change of course. After a number of meetings in Jordan between HH the 14th Dalai Lama and HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, a true and profound “Common Ground” between Islam and Buddhism has been formally recognized. This follows a previous initiative by Prince Ghazi, entitled A Common Word, which has entailed meetings and conferences between a large number of Islamic clerics with the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and gatherings held at both Yale and Georgetown Universities over the last two years. These gatherings have become the basis for a new educational effort in both the Christian and Muslim world. But now we have this groundbreaking publication, authored by Reza Shah-Kazemi, introduced by contributions from the Dalai Lama and Prince Ghazi, and the renowned Islamic scholar, Professor Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali. The opening words by the Dalai Lama set the stage:
"This is an important and pioneering book, which seeks to find a common ground between the teachings of Islam and of Buddhism. It is my hope that on the basis of this common ground, followers of each tradition may come to appreciate the spiritual truths their different paths entail and from this develop a basis for respect for each others' practice and beliefs. This may not have occurred very often before, because there has been so little opportunity for real understanding between these two great traditions. This book attempts to set that right...From a Buddhist point of view, the practice of Islam is evidently a spiritual path of salvation".
From here the respected Islamic scholars go on to make an earnest attempt to help Muslims to see Buddhism as a true religion, or dīn, and Buddhists to see Islam as an authentic dharma. Although Buddhism is clearly non-theistic, the ultimate Reality affirmed by Buddhist thought, and the supreme goal sought by it, is proposed to correspond closely with the Essence (al-Dhāt) of God in Islam. Seemingly divergent issues are resolved in terms of the underlying principial realm. For example, one would imagine that the Buddhist doctrine of Karma/Reincarnation is irreconcilable with the Abrahamic Judgment Day. But, as Dr Shah-Kazemi explains:
Nonetheless, the incompatibility between the two perspectives pertains to the operation of the principle of accountability, and not to the principle itself. In fact, one observes within Islam both modes of operation. The theistically conceived ‘Judge’ can be seen, from a Buddhist point of view, as one way of expressing the objectivity of the principle of cosmic recompense; while karma can be conceived, from a Muslim point of view, as one way of expressing the principle according to which the Judge evaluates all deeds. Moreover, as will be seen in the section on compassion, in both traditions there is a principle which transcends the cosmic chain of cause and effect, and this is divine mercy.”
Common Ground between Islam and Buddhism presents a series of reflections attempting to interpret some “central principles of Buddhism in the light of Islamic spirituality, doing so in a manner which we hope will nourish a spirit of mutual understanding and enriching dialogue between the adherents of the two faiths”.
From a review by Elena Lloyd-Sidle, Yale Divinity School in Parabola Magazine,2010


Kurt said...

I really hope this won't be an attempt to convince everyone that all religions are really the same at heart. Some of the quotes from Dr. Shah-Kazemi make me a bit suspicious. I do think religious dialogue is important, and I'm glad that we are beginning to see more dialogue between Buddhists and Muslims, but as you yourself have pointed out, Bhante, true religious tolerance is about respecting differences - not pretending that they don't exist.

Ken and Visakha said...

I'm personally delighted by this, since both Buddhism and Islam are much maligned by conservative Christians (for lack of a politer qualifier). Having lived and worked with Muslims in the Philippines, I feel confident that Muslims pretty much know who they are and what they believe. I can't think there's any great danger of practicing Muslims ever thinking that religious differences between their religion and ours don't exist or aren't important.

If there is amazing ignorance about Buddhism in the west (especially the US?) there is even more ignorance about Islam. Despite not knowing much about Buddhism, many Americans have positive (fuzzy) feelings about it. Despite not knowing much about Islam, many Americans detest and fear it, mainly because of conservative propaganda churned out 24x7 which is politically useful to those who covet oil and crave war.

Let's hear it for tolerance and mutual respect based on knowledge and understanding!

Alessandro S. said...

I must admit my first reaction was "I'm afraid they've set us a trap and are trying to lure us in it". Italy is not much different from the US as far as the nurturing of the xenophobic culture is concerned, expecially as far as Islam is concerned. But the Buddha, our Master and teacher, among the rest tought us not to be governed by fear, lust, ill-will and false doctrines. And He also tought us to understand the causes of dukkha and to avoid them, and to discern the sources of good and to develop them.
I too am scared and disgusted when I read some of the gory details of what is supposed to happen to non believers in the supposedly God inspired Holy Scriptures, both the Islamic and the Christian and Jewish ones. But then I remember of the many people of all religions I met who were very humane and pleasant to spend some time with, and that I though absurd to consider dangerous enemies. I do believe monotheistic religions to be prone to totalitarianism, still I strongly believe that fighting people based on their religious label is the fruit of a misguidedf mind and totally adhammic. Buddhism is the religion of selfcontrol, understanding and of the cultivation of the wisdom that stems from knowledge, and it rejects all hatred and violence no matter what:

«"Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: 'Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.' That's how you should train yourselves.» (Kakacupama Sutta: The Simile of the Saw; MN 21).

How beautiful would it be if Buddhists could show the way of friendliness and peace with those who are hated and feared by so many, how well would they be serving their Master and Doctrine and Community were they able to lead the world in showing the benefits of non-hatred and refrain from violence, ill-will and a slanderous talk! It is a daunting task, but surely a very noble and thoroughly dhammic one, worthy to dedicate one's life to.
I am very grateful to read here that some of the most respected Buddhists agree that the fact representatives of Islam and Buddhism are meeting and holding conferences together is a good start and delightful news.
However, I do have to ask Bhante a question. I read that «because Muslims have assumed Buddhists to be atheistic, there has hitherto not been much dialogue between these two august traditions.» In I read: «Buddhism has a simple, easy to understand and many people would say, an obvious, answer to this question that does not require convoluted theological arguments. And that answer is ‘Because God does not exist.’». Does Bhante think a common ground can be found with religions that state in their Holy Scriptures that heathens are detestful sinners that are going to be dammned for all time to the torments of Hell and that they are for this reason evil and pervert? Will this common ground be solid enough to be able to prevent in the future violence directed against the unbelievers?
Of course I do believe that any attempt at this must be tried and given all the possible positive energy and sincere effort to succeed, and I'm sure it will do good to some, or even many individuals. Alas, I still do not think it will manage much as far as the peoples are concerned, and that little of the future of mankind depends on such meetings and conferences.

reasonable said...

Alessandro wrote:
"Does Bhante think a common ground can be found with religions that state in their Holy Scriptures that heathens are detestful sinners that are going to be dammned for all time to the torments of Hell and that they are for this reason evil and pervert?"

There are Christian theologians who think that the Christian New Testament does not teach that "heathens are detestful sinners that are going to be damned for all time to the torments of Hell...". Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew taught that many of those who accepted Jesus as their Lord and did exorcisms and healings in the name of Jesus would be rejected by God. Hence according to such a teaching, the dividing line between those accepted by God and those rejected by God does not lie in religious identification (be it Christian or non-Christian). Jesus' story about the Judge's welcoming those who offer drink to the thirsty, those who offer clothes to the naked and so on, while rejecting those who failed to care for the needy would point to the idea that:

the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart!


From a Christian here who supported the "old guards" to take back AWARE from the group of church ladies, who was there to listen to your speech against those church ladies (Bhante invented the terms unChristian Christians & Christian Christians) during that AWARE EOGM. High chance we will meet face to face one day :). Perhaps when we meet one day we can talk more about the idea of non-Christians being accepted by God without them having to be Christians before their death [if the Christian worldview is true].

reasonable said...

I just realised the last part of my previous post may cause a misunderstanding. My mentioning of Bhante inventing the term unChristian Christians & Christian Christians may mislead people to think that I was referring to Bhante speaking at the EOGM which was not the case. I was referring to Alessandro speaking at that EOGM. Bhante's invented terms was found at one of Bhante's blogs regarding the AWARE incident. Sorry for any confusion caused.

Alessandro S. said...

Sorry reasonable, you must be mistaking me for somebody else, as I've never been in Singapore.

reasonable said...

oops! Sorry