Interfaith Insights speaks about interreligious contact and harmony from an experiential point of view. An anthology of people’s experiences, it draws out common spiritual themes as well as honors the differences among faiths. A rich, lively, and engaging book, it opens windows to learn about our own spiritual inclinations as well as the beliefs and practices of others.
Interfaith Insights fascinating essays include His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking on the value of ethical discipline with Christian monks, while Sister Donald Corcoran and Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron-the former a Benedictine nun, the latter Buddhist nun-discuss their beliefs, practice, and personal experience. Sister Candasiri, A Buddhist nun, tells of her experience visiting an Anglican convent. Rodger Kamenetz, author of The few in Lotus, relates what he learned about Judaism from the Dalai lama, and Peter Aronson describes some of the similarities and differences between Judaism and Buddhism. Alex Berzin discusses his forays into Islamic-Buddhist dialogue, while Kabir Saxena discusses the benefits of his Hindu and Protestant upbringing on his current Buddhist practice.
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, the editor of Interfaith Insights, grew up in a Jewish family in a Christian neighbourhood. Becoming a where she has developed an appreciation of the variety of religion and the value of discussion among practitioners of various faiths. She is currently resident teacher a Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle, USA, and teaches internationally, especially in Singapore, India, and Israel.
Meaningful questions arise and exist within each of us. Religions suggest answers to these questions, but real spiritual practice occurs in the heart of each person. In our spiritual search we see a variety of religions and paths. What can these various traditions offer each other? What do their practitioners have in common? How are they different? By sharing examples interreligious con-tact, Interfaith Insights increases understanding of other religions and encourages harmony among the followers of various faiths. Interfaith Insights could lead to a deepening of the practice of your own faith; or if you have none, it may reactivate your interest in spiritual issues. It may stimulate you to meet and talk with people whose beliefs differ from yours, thus opening windows to new understandings with new friends. In addition, Interfaith Insights gives a glimpse into the monastic life of both Christians and Buddhists, so that people will understand its joys and challenges, as well as what the monastic life offers to those who live it and to society as a whole.
In this book, interreligious sharing is approached from the viewpoint of practitioners. The conferences and writings of theologians and philosophers about interreligious dialogue are valuable, but they are not the purview of this book. Within these pages, heart connections not intellectual similarities are explored. Also, this book emphasizes Buddhists in contact with those of other faiths. This is not to say that other types of interreligious contact do not occur, but that they are not the particular emphasis of this book.
Interfaith Insights contains several examples of interreligious contact. "The Value of a Disciplined Way of Life" is a talk by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to a group of Christian and Buddhist monks, and lay associates at the Monastery of Christ the King (Cockfoster, London) which belongs to the Benedictine Congregation of Monte Oliveto. The talk was given on September 17, 1994, at the conclusion of the John Main seminar, during which H. H. the Dalai Lama had for the first time commented extensively on the Christian gospels. Earlier that morning H. H. the Dalai Lama meditated with the Benedictine monks. The seminar is recorded in the video series "The Good Heart" from Medio Media in Londcn. This article is reprinted with the permission of Shambhala Sun Magazine. "Spiritual Sisters: A Benedictine and a Buddhist Nun in Dialogue" is a talk given by Sister Donald Corcoran and Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron in September 1991, at the chapel of Anabel Taylor Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. It was cosponsored by the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy at Cornell University and the St. Francis Spiritual Renewal Center. Ven. Chodron went to the Transfiguration Monastery, Sister Donald's community in Windsor earlier that day. The two sisters prayed together and then spent many hours in discussion ranging from philosophy to the practical aspects of living in community. The audience at Cornell was diverse—Asians and Americans, Buddhists, Chris-tians and agnostics. Many of them commented after-wards that the example of two women from different spiritual traditions discussing their own and the other's religious traditions with respect and interest was very inspiring. It demonstrated that meaningful dialogue
which enhances each person's understanding of his or her own spiritual tradition could occur. The audio tape of their talk at Cornell is available from Snow Lion Publications.
"Love Unbounded" tells of the three-day visit of Sister Candasiri and Sister Medhanandi, two Theravadin Buddhist nuns from Amaravati Monastery in England, to the Sisters of the Love of God, one of the few Anglican contemplative Orders, at Fairacres, The Convent of the Incarnation, on the outskirts of Oxford. It is reprinted with permission from Sister Candasiri.
"What I Learned About Judaism from the Dalai Lama" recounts Rodger Kamenetz's experience in the Jewish-Buddhist dialogue that look place in Dharamsala, India in October, 1990, and his encounter with the Dalai Lama when he again visited Dharamsala in the spring of 1996. It is reprinted with permission from Reform Judaism. Peter Aronson, a "JuBu"—Jewish-Buddhist—has come to understand Judaism better through practicing Buddhism.
He shares his experience in "Reflections of a Jewish Buddhist." "Islamic-Buddhist Dialogue" tells of Dr. Alex Berzin's groundbreaking work in visiting Muslim countries and speaking with scholars and practitioners of Islam. To my knowledge, these are some of the first dialogues to take place between people of those two religions in modern times, and are especially noteworthy because they occurred in Islamic countries, not in the West or in Asia.
In "Dharma Masala," Kabir Saxena takes a different slant on interreligious contact. He talks of his diverse religious background—Hindu on this father's side and Protestant on his mother's—and how they nourished him as a child and continue to do so as an adult. He shows how we can build upon our childhood religious contacts, taking their positive aspirations and practice into the spiritual path we follow as we mature. In this way our path is enriched, yet we respect each faith that contributed to it, without indiscriminately mixing them together into a religious soup
I would like to thank Sister Donald Corcoran for the many rewarding discussions we shared together and for editing her section of the manuscript. I also appreciate His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Sister Candasiri for giving their permission to reprint their articles. "The Value of a Monastic Way of Life" was reprinted by permission of Shambhala Sun from the May 1995 issue. "Love Unbounded" was reprinted from the Forest Sangha Newsletter by Amaravati Publications. Heartfelt thanks to the many people from Dharma Friendship Founda-tion in Seattle and from Dana Promotion Pte. Ltd. in Singapore who helped with the first, private printing of this book in an abbreviated form. Their hard work and kind sponsorship is greatly appreciated. Many thanks to Shira Lee for her careful proofreading of the manu-script. All errors and omissions are my own. My sincere wish is that Interfaith Insights will encourage spiritual practitioners to learn from each other, thus strengthen-ing the practice of all spiritual traditions, reducing prejudice and enhancing harmony among people.
If someone had told me when I was twenty years old that I would become a Buddhist nun, I would have told them they were crazy. Not only could I not imagine being celibate or curbing my attachment to pleasures of the senses, but also I thought religion was harmful. Having studied history in university, I learned that al-most every generation in Europe had seen a war over religion. Millions of people have been killed in the name of religion throughout history, and I thought, "What use is religion if it causes harm?" Over the years, I have come to understand that the problem is not religion per se, but the disturbing attitudes in the minds of human beings that make them misunderstand the meaning of whatever religion they follow. The holy beings—Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, Moses and others—would be distressed by what beings with limited understanding have done and still do in their name.
One of the chief misunderstandings that we ignorant beings are prone to is "the sports team mentality" towards religion. We identify with one sports team or religion and then, juxtaposing it with another, think that ours has to be the best. We cheer for our religion, and try to convert others to it so that it will have more members. We think that the more people believe in it, the truer it must be. We put down other religions in an attempt to prove to ourselves that ours is supreme. This is a useless pursuit, one that leads to disharmony and even violence in society, and is contrary to the real in-tent of all religions. Born from fear, it is an activity that does not solve our insecurity but instead accentuates it.
This attitude of "religious patriotism cum fundamentalism" misunderstands the purpose of religion, and confuses sincere religious practice with religious institutions. While we can measure the number of people who call themselves Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or Christians, we cannot measure the depth of under-standing and experience of any of those people. Being religious is more than attaching a certain label to our-selves; it is transforming our minds and hearts so that we become better people. Being truly religious occurs in our hearts—no one else can see this with their eyes. Religious institutions, however, can be seen and measured. We must ask ourselves, "What is my purpose? Is it to be religious or to promote a religious institution?" Religions have their source in mystical experience; religious institutions are the creations of imperfect human beings. They are designed to facilitate religious practice, but whether religious institutions are successful in doing this depends on the human beings who are their members. One can be deeply religious and not belong to any religious institution. Similarly, one can promote a religious institution and not have any feeling in one's heart for the lofty principles that religion advocates.
All religions are for the purpose of human happiness. They all teach ethics and compassion and stress harmony among people. Philosophically there are differences, and while recognizing those, we can still appreciate the similarities. His Holiness the Dalai Lama once said that he believes the real religion is compassion. We experience the compassion of others from infancy throughout our lives. Without the kindness and efforts of others, it would be impossible for us to sustain our lives alone. Developing our compassion enables us to live harmoniously with others and eventually to experience a peaceful death. People from all faiths agree with this. We experience compassion naturally simply by being a human being. However, our knowledge of doctrines such as creation or karma is learned later on.
Sometimes people ask, "Wouldn't it be better if there were only one religion in the world and everyone believed in it? Then there would be no fighting among the various faiths." While we may be initially attracted to this idea, from a Buddhist viewpoint the multiplicity of religions is necessary and desirable. First, it would be impossible to make each and every human being believe in the same philosophical or religious tenets. People clearly have different ways of thinking and different tendencies, and there is no way to make all of them hold the same beliefs. Second, it would not be beneficial for only one religious system to exist in our world. Because people have different inclinations and attitudes, a variety of religions is necessary to ensure that each person can find one that serves him or her best. Diverse systems of thought and practice inspire people. As long as a person endeavors to live ethically and harmoniously, which religion he or she follows-if any-is irrelevant.
Are They All One?
We sometimes have difficulty accommodating the fact that there are so many different religions, and find com-fort in thinking that they are all essentially the same—they are like different paths up the same mountain or like surveying many valleys from the same mountain top. Many people believe that the founders of each religion had the same mystical experience of reality. The words describing an experience are never the same as that experience. They are simply approximations, human attempts to convey in words what is by nature inexpressible and inconceivable. Thus many people postulate that the founders of the various religions selected words from their respective cultures to describe mystical experiences which were essentially identical. Later generations, however, focused more on the words than on the experience, and that is the source of philosophical differences among religions. In comparing Christianity and Buddhism, for example, some people speculate that the Trinity in Christianity is another formulation of the three kayas in Buddhism. Others say that God the creator is the equivalent of karma, or that God the ultimate is the equivalent of Dharma—the true path and true cessation of suffering.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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