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Inter-faith dialogue
September 29th, 2013

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Inter-faith dialogue

Some people have been confused by my inter-faith dialogue, and my lack of sectarianism. A dharma friend recently decided to cut off the contact, because I'm not sticking to Buddhism enough in his view… So I'll try to present my stance clearly.

Is the teaching of Emptiness, or the noble eightfold path, equivalent to the salvation through Christ?

Forms are not equivalent, but forms are not  what matters!

I look at the consequences… Christianity has blood on its hands, but Buddhism too, in spite of its Épinal imagery… I couldn't care less about what the teachings say as long as they help someone to access Wisdom! Thus the question becomes about which teachings are appropriate to which person!

In buddhist terms?
« Dharma gates are innumerable; I vow to master them all. »

I'm happy to quote the Qur'an to my Muslims friends if it supports them to act wholesomely. I'm happy to quote the Bible to my Christian friends if it supports them to act wholesomely. I'm happy to quote science or atheist philosophers to my atheist friends if it supports them to act wholesomely.

« Dharma gates are innumerable; I vow to master them all »
is not « I vow to master only the 'buddhist' ones »!

Wholesome acts will lead to wholesome consequences, and some of these will provide a favourable environment for the (impermanent) views of everyone to evolve constructively.

Moreover, it's time to consider that we all agree: atheists strongly argue that morality doesn't require a God or a final judgement. Most buddhists would agree with this, and atheists and buddhists all start morality with "refrain from killing"…
The correspondence between the five 'precepts' for lay buddhists, and Mark 10:19 is striking: « You know the commandments: 'You must not murder [1st precept]. You must not commit adultery [3rd]. You must not steal [2nd]. You must not testify falsely [4th]. You must not cheat anyone [2nd,4th]. Honour your father and mother'.»

From my perspective, what matters is the actualisation of nirvāṇa (cessation of ignorance, lust and aversion), through whatever "dharma gate" one uses… what does not  matter are the 'views' about cessation!

The buddhist views are a philosophical 'gate', appropriate for some people, not necessarily for all.

I well know the eightfold path starts with "right views", but they arise from practice… No one is expected to have realised impermanence, selflnessness or dukha before starting the path! The path is one of cultivation: selflessness is realised e.g. through generosity, and since most spiritual traditions insist on generosity, most spiritual traditions offer a gate into selflessness, even if they use other words!

« Dharma gates are innumerable; I vow to master them all »

When I state that I couldn't care less about what the teachings say as long as they help someone to access Wisdom, one might be tempted to ask "what is Wisdom?"

I don't believe there's a permanent, fixed, inherent definition of it; this is why the "Ultimate Truth" cannot be described as a "Conventional Truth".

I tend to use the notion of "appropriate response to what the situation at hand requires", but of course 'appropriate' is very loosely defined here… and such a definition insists on context-dependence, so it's hard to go much further in 'general' terms.
To consider 'causality' is accurate, but it cannot be expressed in details when sticking to generalities, without looking at a specific context.

Under such a definition of wisdom, many spiritual traditions are valid.

And it would be a major mistake to confuse 'buddhist' with 'enlightened'… Buddhists make mistakes, and many don't realise (yet) selflessness, impermanence, etc.
If I can accept that some people are buddhists although they're not free from ignorance, why would I arbitrarily tell others they're wrong any more than I'd tell buddhists?
My job with buddhists is to support the cessation of ignorance, not to criticise them. It is exactly the same with people from other traditions: support, not criticism.

Recently, +Meg Tufano wrote about the weird situation of being in a country with much reference to the Bible but a collective behaviour often at the antipode ( She beautifully defined what 'Christian' meant to her: « everyone  else deserves my attention and my main "job" is to help the people put in front of me, to help with whatever I've got. »
This is what Buddhist means to me.

So I struggle when a buddhist writes to me:
« I find it hard to see how the insight into the four noble truths, impermanence, interdependent origination, non-self and emptiness (Paññā pāramī) could be achieved well with your Muslim friends by teaching Shaháda (ie, there is no god but Allah) and so on.  Surely this is a clear Buddhist teaching - no? »

It is a clear Buddhist teaching, yes, but dharma gates are innumerable…  A key point is that I do not project permanency on the beliefs of my friends! Impermanence is a clear Buddhist teaching, no?

Their beliefs will evolve, one way or another. Mine too. I focus on what we share and is wholesome, I then trust that the experience of wholesomeness and causality will support us all in our learning.

I don't presume where their evolution should take them, which doesn't mean I won't share what I understand! But I accept they might have a different experience and since we're meant to enquire into our experience, how am I to tell them their experience is 'wrong'? I can ask questions, sure! But they're the ones learning the lessons and learning how to discriminate what's wholesome and what's not.
I cannot promote 'enquiry', but then ask them to believe me blindly, let alone pretend that I know for sure what the Buddha meant and that the Buddha was perfect, and so forth!
I thus have to nurture their growth from where they're at, to bring food for thought, though always respectful that they're the ones drawing the lessons.

I basically focus on the fact that we all learn from experience, so I use the vocabulary and beliefs of my friends to lead them to the most wholesome experiences we can get to together, and then I trust we all learn our lessons.

Let's say that I 'remember' that I was not always a Buddhist in previous lives (or in a moment-to-moment interpretation of rebirth, I wasn't even a buddhist at birth in this life!) but this didn't prevent me from (re)becoming one. We learn! I can support my friends from other religions to get to wholesome learning contexts, and that's how I embody the qualities of my tradition in practical terms.

In Buddhist terms, practical intentions are how one builds a better karma, and the eightfold path is not limited to just "right views".
I see it as perfectly valid to support them, so they practice "right action", "right speech", "right livelihood", "right effort", "right concentration", or even "right mindfulness"… I see it as perfectly valid to support the practice of the precepts, regardless of whether they've been said by the Buddha or by Jesus! The intention not to kill, not to steal, not to lie, is what counts and what actually supports realising the three marks of existence!

If my friends cannot practice a few spokes of the Dharma wheel given their current conditions and circumstances, should I withdraw my support of the other qualities? I think that would be an unwholesome intention, and I couldn't really call myself a buddhist on the ground of rejecting other people (simply because I don't share the justifications of precepts we have in common? How mad would this be?).

I understand other teachers might want to be more assertive than I am, but I value the acceptance of where people are at,  and I believe the most nurturing dialogue is not achieved when starting with "I'm right, you're wrong."

So I focus on what we agree on, then work on practical examples for lessons (for all of us) to arise. I basically keep in mind that the cessation of suffering is tied to the preceding arising of an experience of suffering!

I believe such an acceptance of other paths is in line with true understanding that "we all have buddha-nature"!  Buddhism is a method among others, and no one (be they believers in God or not) is inherently separate from buddhahood! We 'just' have to cease ignorance, lust and aversion. Buddhism helps doing so, but it is not the only way: "nirvana is unconditioned"  (in particular, it is not conditioned by a particular spiritual tradition).

This being said, of course, I write about Buddhism! I don't think my posts are confusing the Buddhist path with other traditions. I'm not saying forms don't matter at all either: some teachings do support some people better than others! It's about adequacy, "appropriate response to what the situation requires".

I write about Buddhism because the first noble truth "(samsaric) life is unsatisfactory"  rings true to me, and that I believe we might as well be happy, since we're here!
I write about Buddhism because I found this doctrine / method useful, and want to share it with others who might benefit from it too.

But, all in all, the precepts are guidance for ourselves, not criteria to judge others ( Similarly, in my view, Buddhism is about embodying a wholesome contribution to the world, not about rejecting other traditions!
"I'm right, you're wrong" is not conducive to progress. Deeds and views can be wholesome or unwholesome, but can the ignorant doer 'be' wrong? Selflessness is a clear Buddhist teaching, no?

#Buddhism #interfaith