Global Ethics and Good Governance
Dr. Abdurrahman Wahid
I think good governance should be based on global ethics. And the global ethics will be based on several items concerning the values believed to be in people’s interest. So, in this respect we, as Muslims, should go by what’s given by the Islamic canonical law. It said that the policies and actions taken by a leader on behalf of the people he or she leads should be related directly to the interests of the people under him or her. It is clear that, in Islam, the public interest, the interest of mankind or person-kind is paramount.
But I note with sadness that Muslims sometimes or often times forget what is said by the holy book, the Koran, namely “There should be a group among you that brings goodness to people and upholds righteousness.” I think it is bringing goodness, which is very important. This belief totally negates what we call the central interest acting on behalf of the public interest in general.
I think that if Global Ethics are based on this precept, that of the interests of the people, then the interests of the rulers will be second in line. In a sense then, global ethics as I see it, should be based on that, on that proposition to do goodness. Goodness can come in very, very different varieties. According to the law books of the past, taking dangerous things from the streets or the roads, in order that the passers by will not step on it, or public health and so forth are all examples. So the important thing is to base our deeds and our actions on the belief that they will be beneficial for people. I think in this interest then, the global ethics will be a lively one and based on that, good governance will come.
In this aspect, I think of Islam as a religion of the law. The most important thing is to uphold the sovereignty of the law. Despite the fact that the prophet always gave injunctions to follow the letter of the law, sovereignty of the law is something alien in the Islamic world, and we have to establish that from now on. The laws themselves should be accompanied by equal treatment of all citizens, regardless of their origins, of cultural, language or ethical differences, so that the differences between the Muslims and others shall be bridged by those considerations of the plurality of human beings.
I think that, in the name of Islam, we can search for points derived from those fields; and based on that, the Muslims will be able to establish Global Ethics. And from that we can develop Good Governance based on viable values and injunctions. Then we will be blessed by Islam; otherwise, no blessing. Thank you very much.
We Buddhists, whenever we do something meritorious, we say ‘merit making’, we have a benediction, not a prayer, but a wish, and the wish goes like this: “May the rain fall in season so that the crops develop. May the people be prosperous, and may the ruler, the Raja, be righteous.” Long years ago the word Raja meant a king, but today, when we say Raja, we mean everybody right up to the last person, down the administrative line, who has something to do with governance of a country, governance of a district, village or whatever organization. The ruler must be righteous.
The Buddha was himself the son of a ruler. He left his household life at the age of 29, and accordingly he had some idea of how a republic was run, because his father was a leader of a republican regime, where the people made decisions in common. And this is what Buddhism reflects on very often whenever the question of governance comes in.
There are ten qualities of a ruler listed in many Buddhist works. The first quality is giving. A ruler had to be generous and giving. So he had to establish various charities, because this was in an age where the ruler had all in his hands to give to others.
The second quality is morality. The ruler had himself to be virtuous and observe the basic principles. We have a resolution or a suggestion that was passed at the Cape Town Parliament of World Religions where the Global Ethics were described as having four elements, namely avoiding killing, steeling, lying and sexual impropriety. If you added to those four one more, namely that of not abusing liquor and drugs, that would be the basic principals of good values and morality as taught by the Buddha. And a king was supposed to be a paradigm of such good qualities.
The third quality is generosity. A king also had to be one who sacrifices, the one who is so liberal as to give his time and energy to the people so that he is not someone who is selfish.
The fourth quality is honesty.
A very important quality that is always emphasized in Buddhism, is “do not be rough,” whether in words or whether in action, because words can be as violent as action. And so gentleness is the fifth quality.
The sixth quality is self-control. The ruler should not be somebody who is taken away by anger or by any kind of emotion, but can control himself.
The seventh quality is to have a pleasant temperament, and in fact it is called non-anger. The king is not supposed to loose his temper at the shortest notice.
The eight is non-violence, Ahimsa, to which reference has been made already yesterday.
The ninth is forgiveness or forbearance. It was emphasized that a king has to be magnanimous. And the tenth was a very interesting one. It was non-opposition. Don’t be confrontational, be accommodating.
So, this is the ideal of a ruler in whatever capacity, and that is therefore the ideal of good governance in the Buddhist ethical system. Furthermore, a king was also advised to avoid three things. First, avoid falsehood. Don’t lie to your people. That is very important. Second, avoid getting angry; and third, avoid derisive laughter, do not laugh derisively. A king may never make use of irony or sarcasm.
Perhaps these are qualities that the Buddha found absolutely necessary to keep the nation happy or any part of the nation happy. But on one occasion, the Buddha went into great detail and gave a seven-point program for good governance. To me, these seven points are very important, because they color everything. What I try to do every time I have an opportunity to talk about the concept of government, was to give those in Buddha’s own words and also interpret them as they would be applicable to this century and in different parts of the world. Very interestingly, this seven-step program for good government, which the Buddha calls “the program for development”, is worded in the negative as “a program to avoid deterioration”.
The first is to meet frequently in harmony, to discuss in harmony and disperse in harmony. In today’s terms it simply means to participate fully in public life and affairs, to observe the democratic principals of consultation, and to preserve harmony in spite of differences.
The second is not to introduce revolutionary laws. Do not break the established law, and abide by the old time norm. And what that means in today’s terms is to make a balance between the traditional and the modern, to make changes slowly and cautiously, not drastically.
The third is to honor, revere, esteem and worship the elders, and deem them worthy of listening to. That is to recognize the value and relevance of class, generation and wisdom.
The fourth is to safeguard the women from foes, abduction and harassment. That is to recognize the importance of women and their need for protection.
The fifth is to honor, esteem and worship both inner and outer shrines. That is to protect the cultural and spiritual heritage.
The sixth is not neglecting the customary offerings, so that customary, spiritual and other practices of the nation continue. That is, to safeguard the practices of religion.
The seventh is very important in today’s context of discussing good governance. It is to ensure that saints have access to advanced territory, and having entered, dwell there pleasantly. And that is to be open to all religions and spiritual influences in a spirit of tolerance; and to open the door to all religions in your territory.
This, to the Buddha, was the program by which a country could govern itself and look after all aspects of office, culture and spirituality. The women, the senior citizens, everybody has been brought into this, so good governance certainly has to cover all of this.
But Buddha was not out to have some kind of social legislation. He was preaching a way of salvation. But still it was from time to time necessary for him to react to certain situations. For example, in the course of a discussion that he had with a very learned person of the time, he talked about the question of crime. He said that if the king thinks it is very simple to control crime, because all you have to do is to get hold of the rascals, kill them, put them in prison, and crime will be solved, he is very mistaken. The more you do that, the more crime will come, because there will be people who will take the place of the rascals. And there will be their children, relatives, who will want to avenge them. And therefore, this cycle, the chain reaction to suppressing crime with violence, will only continue. So the Brahmin asked the Buddha what he suggests instead. He said: “If there are people who are doing agriculture, give them the planting material. Subsidize that cultural work. If there are people who need capital to develop their industries, develop their various activities, provide them the capital. Subsidize their activities. And as regards government servants, pay them good salaries.” So he used to make these kind of comments.
We not only go to the teachings of Buddha to find out what the Buddhist attitude toward good government is, but we go down the history. And we find there was one ruler nearly two hundred years after the Buddha that tried to practice Buddha’s way of life. And that is Emperor Ashoka, who ruled one of the greatest, largest empires that the Indian subcontinent had ever seen. And for the major part of his thirty-seven year rule, he did it on the principals of virtue, on the principals of Dharma, and without the use of military force.
He knew that war could be avoided. But at the same time, he knew that war couldn’t be abolished. And he advised his children, and his children’s children and their children, saying: “May your conquests be conquests by righteousness. But, if you ever have to meet a situation of a war with weapons, please remember two things. Let your punishment be very light, and may you exercise forbearance and forgiveness.”
Having said that, he wanted the people to have a kind of universal ethic in which you first and foremost obey your elders, obey your parents, pay respect to the elders, treat all life as sacred. He was a vegetarian himself, and one of his inscriptions says, “In my kitchens, thousands of animals were killed daily. But from today, after this, there will only be two peacocks and one deer killed in the kitchen.” And later he said, “even that, I have stopped.” He was a man who thought that people must be impartial in their administration of law. He told his judges to be impartial, and later went on to say that if you are too tired, you might not be able to be fair in your judgments. So, even there, be fair to the people to the extent that you listen to cases only when you can give them the fullest attention.
Speaking to an audience like this on interfaith, the most important thing that I can refer to are the twelve edicts of Ashoka, in which he says: “I treat all religions alike, and I wish to see that happen throughout the kingdom.” Do not criticize another’s religion out of place, and even if you have to criticize in place, be very cautious in the language that you use. Be moderate in language. Inter-religious relations depend on the restraint of language. The restraint of language is the foundation of tolerance, foundation of interfaith understanding, interfaith cooperation and interfaith collaboration.
Then Ashoka goes further and says: “If you think you are glorifying your religion by attacking or talking disparagingly of another’s religion, no, you are not glorifying your religion. On the contrary, you are putting your own religion down.” And his advice is to learn about each other’s religions, and to come together often. The coming together of various religions is commendable. And these are the kind of lessons that we are receiving through our cannon, the Buddha’s own words, through the example of Ashoka, as well as through the example of many other kings.
I want to give just one reference to the Buddha’s attitude towards war for example. His own relatives were about to have a big quarrel, their battle lines were ready and they were about to start the war. Suddenly, the Buddha walked in and sat right in-between them. And the leaders of both sides went to him and said: “We have some urgent business to settle, will you please leave us.” And the Buddha said, “No, I came here to ask you a question. What is more valuable, a drop of water which you cannot divide and therefore are going to fight over (the quarrel was about the water rights), or a drop of human blood?”
Of course we all have a built in cruise control system. We have a way of reacting to a situation like that, because our inner consciousness has the answer. We can have ethics, rules, regulations coming from outside, but our own inner cruise control tells us what is correct. So, the answer was that a drop of human blood was many times more precious that a drop of water.
We have two examples, one coming from Sri Lanka and the other from Thailand, where two rulers avoided war in a most interesting manner. When they were confronted with an enemy – in one case, an invader from south India and in the other, invaders from Burma – the ruler on the other side, a king in the case of Sri Lanka, and a crown prince in the case of Thailand, told the other person: “Why should our solders die for us? Let the two of us fight, and whoever wins this combat can be the ruler”. And that’s how they did it, saving many lives.
And one more story about war from the history of Sri Lanka, where a king was destroying an old traditional Buddhist monastery, because he was supporting some other aspect of Buddhism that came from India at that time. His chief minister himself had decided to wage war against him because of this. So again, they were ready for the battle, which would have started the following morning. But then, the minister found that the dinner that was served to him that very night was a curry which was both his favorite and the king’s favorite. In spite of the danger to his own body, he walked through the enemy lines, carrying his dinner to share with the king. And they sat down and talked all night, and in the morning, the war was not necessary. How many of these examples can we put into effect? How much inspiration can we derive out of this? It is a question of how much we build into our educational system, or power systems, our public education.
I am restricted to these because I have only limited time, but our books are full of examples, and the more that we share them, the more we talk about them, the more we will find that there are ways and means of avoiding violence. And good governance is governance where anger, greed, ignorance, violence, none of these has any place. Thank you very much.
In the name of God, the clement, the compassionate. I am the youngest here at this table, so my speech will be much wanting in wisdom. Besides, in the hope of bringing a constructive, creative dialogue, if I may say so, I’d rather discuss controversial subjects than subjects emphasizing convergence, not only between Islam and Buddhism, but regarding the whole of humankind. I think that all religions, all philosophies may include, or actually include nearly all the elements of convergence mentioned in the previous speeches. But in this Buddhist-Muslim dialogue, there are both religious and political stakes, some of which I would like to discuss.
For Muslims, including myself, pluralism of religions is not a notion which comes easily. For a couple of decades, we have been living in a new global geopolitical environment. I think that we cannot speak of dialogue or collaboration between Islam and Buddhism without keeping in mind this present economical, political, cultural evolution that we generally call “globalization”.
What is the meaning of religious dialogue in our times of globalization? We cannot discuss that question only within the context of tradition and heritage, because new things are happening now which are not favorable to dialogue, and in the long run, not favorable to humankind. Behind the word globalization, behind this world of modernism, of communication, of science, we find the reality of Occidentalism. Most of the world does not participate in economic evolution, it is imposed upon it. Just take a glance at inequalities in economic, cultural, informational exchanges, and it becomes immediately clear that decisions in matters of economy, culture, technology and science are made in the Western world, the United States or Europe.
We must realize that the need to discuss about globalization, about the ethics of thereof and even about good governance, is an imposition of typically occidental issues on the rest of the world. Nevertheless, leaders of the “Southern world” are asked to address these issues and to participate in their resolution. So here we have something that seems to be global, but is in truth merely occidental.
Of course, I don’t mean to dismiss entirely the contribution of the Western world to the global debate, but I must insist that most of globalization is actually Occidentalism. Economic globalization is nothing more than occidental economics extended on a global scale. This notion has been expressed by Stephen Wallenstein, a renown American economist. If we accidentally or voluntarily ignore this situation, the future consequences of which may be enormous, our debate about interfaith dialogue will miss the point.
What meaning has a discussion about dialogue between Islam and Buddhism at a time when the GATS is being discussed? The GATS is an accord which will define the future lines of the WTO politics, and will very likely help bringing a worldwide privatization of public services. What is the meaning of a debate about interfaith dialogue when economic and judicial programs leading toward “global merchandizing” are being implemented? Global merchandising stems from the belief that economic laws, because they are valid in the economic realm, are to be applied in other domains as well: culture, education, spirituality and environment.
Dr. Ananda Guruge mentioned the problem of water distribution in his previous speech. We know that water is the next frontier. It is no longer a public global resource, it is already merchandise secured by a number of commercial entities. I am not trying here to escape the subject of our conference, the dialogue between Islam and Buddhism, but I believe that it is necessary to insist on those realities of our present world. I believe also that we must read cautiously those commandments written in vague words in our religious texts asking us to do “good things.” Even if I definitely don’t reject them, I assume my faith, but we must be cautious. It is a fact that the Qur`an exhorts the believers to do good things and keep away from evil. But I think of a French proverb which is not a rebuttal, but rather an interpretation of this commandment: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The endeavor to do the good things may sometimes make matters worse.
I will cite an example. In the seventies, in Bangladesh, one of the most important Muslim countries in this part of Asia, UNICEF and the World Bank were concerned about the many health problems stemming from the local habit to drink water from rivers. So UNICEF and the World Bank decided to do the right thing and dig wells in Bangladesh. In about thirty years, 4 millions well were dug, disregarding a local tradition that well water is “the devil’s water”, not fit for human consumption. But this belief, at odds with rational thinking of UNICEF and the World Bank was dismissed as archaic and superstitious. Actually, the epidemiological studies to assess the sanitary quality of well water, an essential part of the process, had been skipped.
In 1993, it was discovered that Bangladeshi underground was rich in arsenic, one of the most potent toxics known in the world, and WHO is now reporting a catastrophic situation: 75 millions of people might be intoxicated in what is called the “Arsenic well scandal.” On the WB and WHO sites you can check out how an endeavor to do good may end in catastrophe. The effects of contamination may take thirty years to express themselves. It all began in the early seventies, and in the last three, four years, cases of death by contamination have begun to turn on in local hospitals. Some months before, the World Bank, the instigator and main actor of the well project, issued a message stating: “We will help Bangladesh to solve its problem.” Does that story fits under the title of “Global Ethics and Good Governance”? I don’t know and I personally distrust projects which totally ignore anthropological background and cultural reality.
Besides, we are now discussing interfaith dialogue in relation to global ethics and good governance, and at the same time globalization is changing the very meaning of sovereignty. This morning, we discussed the qualities required of a good leader and a good governance, but has this discussion a meaning now, when sovereignty is no longer detained solely by countries, governments? We could have the best leader and still not be sure that the cultural, economical, social policies of the country will be in accordance with principles of goodwill, harmony and compassion.
Sovereignty in the countries of the Southern world is jeopardized. I even believe that discussion of good governance helps destroy sovereignty in those regions of the world. Implementing so called international programs, which in truth are essentially occidental, is a techinque to present the social substance of those countries as a part of what may be called the “transnational civil society”, a theoretical entity, sum of the societies of our world. But there is no such thing as a “transnational society”. There is a civilian, lay occidental society on one side, and then there are different societies in the Southern world where the decolonization process is yet not fully completed. So what is at stake in these programs differs depending on the country, Northern or Southern.
A discussion about global ethics cannot ignore the fact that North – South relations still define politics, economics and culture. We cannot always assign the responsibility of problems plaguing these countries – 80% of the global population – to bad leadership, corruption, to the lack of the beautiful qualities we mentioned above in their leaders. This inequality in North/South relations is frequently ignored. I’m not saying that this is the only reason for the problems of Southern countries, but it cannot be ignored. Ignoring it leads to a neocolonialist attitude. This refuses to recognize the tremendous influence that the inequality between North and South, center and periphery, has on shaping the Southern world crisis.
In the case of dialogue between Islam and Buddhism, it is very important that we don’t only use beautiful, generous, pious words; that we don’t only say that Islam and Buddhism promote respect of other religions. I’d rather learn, for instance, if Islam has a specific message to Buddhism. I don’t believe in a general interfaith dialogue. Each dialogue is defined by the reality of those religions dialoguing and by the present situation.
I am an Algerian and will stay one; I am part of the Arab world. When I mention to friends a possible dialogue between Islam and Buddhism, they ask me: what relation does that bear with our present situation? So my position may differ from those co-religionists from countries where Buddhism, Dharma, is very present. There are no Buddhists in Arab countries; hence few people there have interest in this dialogue. Actually, even my own concern in this matter is essentially to make sure that the historical-cultural frontier between Islam and Buddhism will not become a future frontier between fighting zones. That’s what concerns me. I don’t want to see a reenactment of the warfare between orthodox Christianity and Islam as it is being waged from the Balkans into central Asia. So there is a geo-political issue connected with that dialogue, which concerns not only the Muslim world, but the whole planet.
I think it is important to revitalize the non-alignment movement. I hope this Buddhist-Muslim dialogue will be a good example of modern non-alignment, different from the 50’s – 70’s movement, because it will be metaphysical. Nasser, Neru, Sukharto fought for economical and political freedom. I hope we will go further. The 50’s, 60’s were times of decolonization; hence the emphasis on economics and politics. It was linked to a strife for independence, and so this non-alignment, this “Afro-Asiatic” belonged to the economic, the political realm. Nowadays, sovereignty is not so much linked with economics, politics or law. It has become anthropological, cultural, spiritual; hence the necessity of a metaphysical non-alignment. There is a battle for symbolic sovereignty. Without this symbolic sovereignty, leaders of the Southern world cannot resist the steamroller of globalization, which is actually craftily disguised Occidentalism. I believe that symbolic sovereignty will be a defining issue in the years to come.
Two images of man are in competition in the presently ongoing disputes, and wars stem from this competition. To end disputes and wars, we need to choose the right model for humankind. One model is capitalist, not Karl Marx’s but Max Weber’s. According to Weber, the known sociologist, exploitation is not what defines Marxism. Exploitation has always been present since Neolithic times. Disenchantment of the world is the core nature of capitalism. It is the core of the mercantilism society.
An interfaith or intercultural dialogue which is not a resistance to disenchantment cannot escape from the merchant logic, from the consumer society which has been in control of the world those last three hundred years. The capitalist man is “homo economicus”, a flat figure devoid of inner life, deprived of his “inner sanctuaries,” as someone before me aptly said. He has been reduced to the sole function of producer or consumer. In the 60’s, Marcuse already criticized that situation and coined the expression “one-dimensional man”. Homo economics, the one-dimensional man, is the embodiment of modern capitalism. It is the model that modern capitalism tries to diffuse all over the world. Maybe I must precise here that to me, globalization means the present reality of it, as it progresses along the lines defined by the WTO and GATS, bringing to us privatization of national archives, of environmental resources and of primary education. It is not the idealist vision some have of globalization.
Interfaith dialogue must propose another model for humankind. According to the Muslim tradition, it would be the total human being, the “perfect man”, the manifestation of God among humans. The total man is, if I dare say so, the face of God, and at the same time, along the Aristotelian logic, he is the face that men show to God, he is a reunion of opposites. An ideal has been harbored since centuries by all sorts of mystics: the third party must be reunited, not excluded; we must go beyond Dualism, beyond “this or that and no other choice.” The perfect man of Islam is one of those numerous versions of reunited opposites, of which “homo universalis” in European Renaissance is another example.
So, let’s reject the “one-dimensional man” and adopt “homo universalis” as a model. Nevertheless, the universality of “homo universalis” is not a geographic one. I frequently hear people say in international conferences that Southern countries must reach to the universal, but does this have a meaning?
The universal is not a spatial frontier, the last step of a progression: local to national to continental to global and so forth. Universality is in the quality. The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, The Prophet by Khalil Gilbran attain to universality because of their quality, not because of the geographical repartition of their readers. A work read by only fifteen persons may still reach a universal dimension. So you don’t need to open your frontiers to universality. This opinion is a way to persuade countries to open themselves to the Western world.
I choose to see this Buddhist-Muslim dialogue as a purely Southern affair, because we desperately need those dialogues between Southern countries. It would not be held against the Occident, against Europe, against the United States, for according to the metaphysics and the spirituality of our religions, geographical cleavage is not valid, nor is a cleavage between religious denominations. Significant cleavages are to be found inside a religion or a country; the two opposite poles are inside us. Let me give two examples. From a cultural, anthropological, an historical point of view, there are two United States: One is the frontier spirit, a re-actualization of the fight of the Hebrews for the Holy Land, that part of America which is in control of globalization. The other part is the fight for independence. These two parts shape different countries and have different goals.
We see a similar cleavage in Islam: Afghan Buddha destroying Islam against interfaith dialoguing Islam. Christian missions in colonial lands, Asia, China or Latin America are in the same way opposed to Master Eckhart’s Christianity, likened by some to the thought of Shankara or Ibn Arabi. So significant cleavages occur inside each of our realms.
The last issue that I want to mention is the question about the intellectual, theological attitude for a productive interfaith dialogue. There are three possible attitudes: exclusion – only my religion is right and other are saved only if they convert. Worse, we have inclusion: I am in possession of the whole truth, and others, Buddhists, Shamans, Hindus, etc. have some elements of this truth, because of the great kindness of my God who bestowed some of his wisdom upon them. Actually, both attitudes are a refusal to fully accept others. The inclusion attitude is prominent in international interfaith dialogues, and leads to a “soft” consensus, reminiscent in my opinion of the Washington consensus linked to the destruction of cultural heritage and societies of Southern countries. The third choice is pluralism, which veritably accepts the other as he is, with all his differences and not only for his similitude with us. The other is accepted as, theologically speaking, a theophany of the absolute, one of the faces of the faceless principle. Thank you.
Politics necessarily entail relations with others. For example, do politics promote a dialogue between us and them? Do they emulate differences; do they imply respect, trust, innocence, humility? For example, in a terrorist offence, politics are an ethical problem. And visa versa. Ethics, in other words must be of the social engaged kind requiring collective action. So to be truly religious is not to reject society, but to work for social justice and change. Religion is at the heart of social change. And social change is a sense of religion.
In the case of my religious tradition, Buddhism, as a friend of mine has observed, “we will see change when Buddhists have gotten up off their cushions, recognizing that the collective resources of suffering in the world must be addressed by collective action”.
In my view, if politics affirmatively addressed the sources of suffering, then we might be able to talk about good governance. Good governance is thus non-violence. And non-violence is not merely ethical or political; the economic dimension must be addressed as well. We must also talk about structured violence, about the massive income disparity between the rich and the poor, especially poor non-white working class, women, famine, international debt problems, the IMF structure adjustment program, the so called ‘free trade’ which is not fair, deforestation and the like.
If I had to summarize Buddhism in one word, it would be Non-violence; Non-violence towards the self as well as non-violence towards the others. Non-violence is like the master precept in Buddhism. But other precepts are also useful in talking about global ethics and good governance. Any discussion of global ethics and good governance may begin with the common denominators shared by all religions. The Buddhist five precepts are so common that they may not even require any faith, and could therefore provide a good starting point in drafting the global ethic. The five precepts must be re-interpreted to suit the modern world, to address the predicaments of modern life.
We live in the age of extreme modernism. For instance, science and industrial technology are very much in the hands of corporations. Capitalism, state power, nuclear weapons of mass destruction, mass communication systems as well as main stream education raise some big questions. This is because main stream education only addresses the head, not the heart. No goodness whatsoever is coming through modern education.
Women, youth and the aged are just examples of what we have to address seriously. The five precepts must carefully address these features of modern life. We may begin with war, asking whether or not there is such a thing as a just war and look at how war is related to domestic violence.
We should address the impacts of globalization, the force of poverty and environmental destruction, both of which kill, international corporations that plunder natural resources and waste the natural environment. And we should address the rich who steal from the poor, greed and consumerism, and how wealth and resources must be redistributed for the sake of the bad and short lives in the world. And we should address the lies and propaganda promoted by mainstream mass media, as well as the numerous ‘isms’ that force the division, hostility and aggression.
We should address the uncritical faith in the so-called objectivity of science and technology. Is science multi-cultural may we ask? Are other forms of knowledge possible? We may need cognitive diversity. Some modes of thinking may be better to get us to the moon, while others may be more useful for sustainable development. And what about coarse medical experiments conducted at the expense of the less fortunate, whether they be Guinea pigs, monkeys, gibbons or members of the inferior races? We must talk about creating a culture of peace and promoting education for liberation. These and many more issues must be addressed with compassion, and in the spirit of non-violence. Seeds of peace must be cultivated simultaneously inside and outside our bodies. I need not point out that even Mr. Bush and Blair deserve our compassion.
Lastly, and equally important, in the form of global ethics and good governance, we must not only address and attempt to understand the new face of evil, but must also try to come up with a notion of the good, which I will leave for all of us to think about and discuss. In other words, we can not merely come up with a list of prohibitions, for the good can not arise from the evil, however, evil could be translated or transformed into good. Thank you.
Dharma Master Hsin Tao
In the course of the last century we have processed many lessons from history and developed a more mature attitude of life, and in this context the concept of a Global Ethic has emerged as a new topic for discussion. However, to engage in a meaningful discussion, we must penetrate deeply into the issue of egoism, which is at the root all problems. At the same time we must revive our confidence and faith in rebuilding a “Global Family for Peace and Love”.
The most difficult challenge in addressing all the problems mentioned by the previous speakers appears to be the paradigm shift required within ourselves. We are normally scared and paralyzed by the difficulties and challenges that we face in dealing with global problems of these proportions. Nevertheless, once we have started the process of self-reflection, we will become one part of the critical mass that will create a holistic transformation. Of course, we should then synchronize our inspirations and practical actions.
Market trends, economic control by capitalists, and the development of information technology have brought tremendous impact on the individual, community and national level. Due to a lack of proactive awareness, we often realize the seriousness of problems only after calamities occur. We should, therefore, change from being reactive to being more proactive, and reconcile advances of science and humanism, materialism and spirituality, in order to strike a balance and to bring positive transformation into our lives. What we discuss here is not merely a theory, but the practical responsibility to respond to the world with self-reflective awareness, and to build up the common ground as a basis for all religions.
Religion is the mother of all civilization; spirituality is the source of all life.
Religion inspires the innate loving-kindness within every one of us, which transcends the limitation of materialism. Spirituality brings concern and love to all beings, which will ultimately bring forth the ultimate awakening of life.
Facing a pluralistic and multidimensional world of modern technology, we can only find refuge and liberation by returning to the very homeland of religion, from where we should rethink our models for global development by using ‘concern for life’ and ‘spiritual values’ as our two main visions. There are two issues to which we should pay particular attention:
1) What are the present trends in globalization?
2) How can we realize the concepts and beliefs of a Global Ethic?
In reviewing the 1993 Manifesto for a Global Ethics, we observe that the main causes for the collapse of civilizations are the real crises of the world. It is only through self-transformation of our attitudes and values that we can stop the world from deteriorating further. At the dawn of the new millennium, our main duty is to the transform the various challenges that we face into opportunities for growth and peace, and to realize the ideas of a practical Global Ethic.
It was shortly after the announcement of the 1993 Manifesto for a Global Ethics that I came to the end of my meditative retreat and started preparations to establish a Museum of World Religions. Our vision envisages Mother Earth as our global family, and promotes tolerance, respect and love as the only way to stay in harmony with each other. The basis of interfaith dialogue is the sharing of life’s experience, and our sincere friendship here is really a miracle of my life.
I would like to share my experience of life based on four major concepts of Buddhism:
- Return to a simple and innocent way of life;
- Contemplation of selflessness, letting go of all attachment and defilements;
- Love and protection of all living beings with an attitude of loving-kindness and compassion;
- Perfection of interdependency and unity of all beings through harmonious co-existence.
Global Ethics must be based on the universal law of Cause and Effect. The “Good Governance” practices of the political and economical entities should be evaluated by using this principle. We have wasted much effort on military weapons, but are still stuck with numerous environmental and human problems. How should we reconcile the use of military competition under the excuse of national security with the holistic safety and well being of Mother Earth? This, it seems to me, is not an easy problem to be solved by simply applying a principle of common ethics. We need a comprehensive approach in dealing with this issue. We need a paradigm shift to save our Mother Earth and global family!
In short, we need more care and love in dealing with the crises of the new millennium. Peace is not a coincidence that will happen by itself but a possible reality that can definitely be realized through our powerful mind! May the power of the truth bring forth the peaceful world of Good Governance!
There is an ethical principle which transcends the four ethical directives we are concerned about, namely, do not kill; do not steal; do not lie; and do not indulge in sexual immorality. And what is that ethical principle? Do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you. Or to put it in more positive language: Do to others what you want others to do to you. This is the Golden Rule of Life.
The Golden Rule of Life is found in all the religions. In Islam, it is expressed in the following manner: “No one of you is a believer until you desire for your neighbor that which you desire for yourself.” Buddhism asks us to “Treat all creatures as you would like to be treated.” Hinduism reiterates: “This is the essence of morality: “Do not do to others which if done to you would cause you pain.” In Christianity it is said that “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Sikhism advises us: “Do as you desire goodness for yourself as you cannot expect tasty fruits if you sow thorny trees.” Judaism puts it plainly: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor – that is the basic law, all the rest is commentary.” And in the Bahai Faith it is stated: “If your eyes be turned towards justice, choose for your neighbor that which you would choose for yourself.”
It is because the Golden Rule is such a vital principle of living that the German philosopher, Hans Küng, gave it the emphasis it deserves in his exposition of the ‘Global Ethic’. Unfortunately, the international community has yet to recognize and appreciate the significance of this principle.
How does the Golden Rule operate in the different spheres of life? Its role in inter-personal relations is so obvious that it requires little elucidation. If you are hypocritical towards your friend, don’t expect him to be sincere towards you. The same would apply to gender relations. To expect love from one’s partner, one should express affection towards her. In multi-ethnic societies, the Golden Rule would demand that there is a reciprocal relationship of trust between communities. Just as the rule is valid for relations at the societal level, so is it critical in the relations between governors and governed. In all our religious traditions, rulers are expected to be just to their subjects. The subjects, in turn, are expected to show allegiance to their rulers. Conversely, if a ruler is cruel to his people, he should not be surprised if they, in turn, show contempt for him. This is what happened to the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, when he was ousted in the recent Iraq war. Television images of his people smashing one of his countless statues in Baghdad was ‘just retribution’ for his tyrannical actions against them.
This reciprocal factor also works in international politics and global governance. If we want other nations and peoples to respect our sovereignty, our integrity and our rights, we should also respect their sovereignty, their integrity and their rights. To understand this let us reflect on September 11. A lot of ordinary Americans were shocked and bewildered by September 11. Why should anyone want to kill us? Why do people hate America? What wrong have we done to others to deserve this, they asked perplexedly. Most American citizens do not know that millions and millions of innocent men, women and children from Latin America to the Middle East to Southeast Asia have been killed either directly or indirectly by American military power since the Second World War in order to sustain and perpetuate Pax Americana.
The overbearing dominance of American imperialism has caused so much pain, anger and outrage amongst its victims that there are fringe elements in many parts of the world today who are prepared to become suicide bombers so that they can teach the power-that-be in Washington a lesson. September 11 was, from that perspective, an act of revenge, an attempt to retaliate for all the wrongs that the US (or rather Washington) had done to the rest of the world.
This is why, if the powers-that-be in Washington and the American people do not want September 11 to occur in the future, they should uphold the Golden Rule. They should not do to others what they do not want others to do to them. This is what I emphasized in my open letter to President George Bush four days after September 11. However, to put the golden rule into practice in international relations, we must be prepared to overcome major structural and attitudinal obstacles. We cannot expect a nation to treat another as an equal, to respect its integrity and sovereignty if there is a total lack of symmetry in power in global affairs.
The US is much, much more powerful than other countries in the world today — especially in military terms. Its capacity for violence, its ability to kill and maim others, to inflict pain and suffering upon the rest of humankind is so immense, that all other nations and peoples have no choice but to tremble in fear before the only hyper power of our time. The hyper power’s dominant might is reflected in other spheres as well, albeit on a lower scale.
In politics and diplomacy, in economics and finance, in information and culture, in science and technology, in sports and entertainment, the US is the pre-eminent world power. It is because it is so pre-eminent; it feels it can do what it wants to others while others have no right to seek redress. It is preponderant power that has made Washington so arrogant. It is unfettered power that has tempted Washington time and again to violate the Golden Rule of life.
Gross disparities in the possession and execution of power have promoted others — and not just Washington — to transgress the Golden Rule. In recent history, a number of big countries have broken the rule in their relations with their neighbors — from Russia to India to Indonesia. Within individual nation states, when the elite command too much power and are not accountable to the people, they tend to abuse their authority. There are numerous examples of this all over the world. In gender relations, masculine power conditioned by physical, cultural and historical factors has been the bane of the so-called weaker sex, which has suffered all sorts of injustices at the hands of patriarchal societies right through history.
More egalitarian power structures at all levels and in all spheres of society are essential if we want to bring the Golden Rule into fruition. Since I am focusing upon the Golden Rule as a global ethic, I would advocate the radical reform of global institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary System (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a way of checking the unfettered power of Washington. More specifically, global institutions should be transformed in such a manner that nations big and small would be able to relate to one another in a spirit of egalitarian fraternity. Of course, the bigger and stronger will always exercise more influence in international affairs than the smaller and weaker ones, but there is no reason why the big and strong should not also submit to international laws, rules and norms. Only if this happens, will all nation-states be able to enjoy equal rights and fulfill equal responsibilities in the international arena. Only then will human dignity — the dignity of each and every human being on earth — which is a cherished idea in the UN Charter have some meaning.
Reforming global institutions of governance in a more egalitarian direction will be no easy task. Powerful states will oppose any such endeavor, as we have seen in the last eight years when each and every proposal to make the UN more democratic and more equitable from the point of view of the majority of its members has been sidelined through the clever manipulation and maneuvering of the US, Britain, France, Russia and others. Nonetheless, global civil society should continue to campaign with all the energy and resources at its disposal for a more just international system.
Even if we succeed to introduce major structural changes at the global level, we will still have to work towards attitudinal transformations at the individual level, which can help sustain the new, more equitable institutions. Indeed, the Golden Rule can only flourish in global governance if we as human beings become less power-centered, less wealth-centered, less prestige-centered and less status-centered. To put it differently, how will we grant the ‘other’ state, or community, or person what we want for ourselves, if we continue to be selfish and greedy and avaricious? The Golden Rule can only succeed if human beings as a whole become more caring, more sharing and more giving in their attitudes.
Those of us who are committed to the Golden Rule should try to instill these ‘other’ oriented attitudes of caring, sharing and giving through the family, the school, the media and other channels that often help to shape social values. We may make some progress. But it is going to be tough. How do we change fundamental values and attitudes which are so deeply ingrained in people — selfishness which is an outgrowth of one of the most natural attributes of the human being, namely self-interest — when the entire environment militates against us, when the environment itself promotes and propagates selfishness and greed?
The environment we are talking about is the global environment shaped by corporate, casino, consumerist (3C) capitalism. 3C capitalism which allows mega mergers of mega corporations, which encourages speculative capital to rule the roost; which glorifies conspicuous consumption as a deity; is predicated on crass acquisition and unending accumulation. And acquisition and accumulation in capitalist culture is driven by greed and selfishness. There is perhaps no evidence that is more compelling of the real character of 3C capitalism than the fact that the incomes of the 3 wealthiest men on earth exceed the gross domestic product of 48 of the least developed countries!
More than half of humankind live on less than two US dollars a day. The amount of money spent on a cow in the European Union in a month is more than what a citizen of sub-Saharan Africa earns in a year. The situation is getting worse by the day. In 1960, the top 20 per cent of the world earned 30 times what the bottom 20 per cent earned; by 1997, it had become 85 times! If humankind is able to live with these vast iniquities, it is because selfishness wears the mask of respectability and greed has acquired legitimacy today. It is — I repeat — 3C capitalism that has made this possible. Indeed, it has made acquiring and accumulating wealth a glorious virtue — at least in the eyes of the shakers and movers of the global system.
Can anything challenge this system? Perhaps the values and principles embodied in religion — religion that gave birth to the golden rule — offer a glimmer of hope. Right through history, it is spiritual awareness, an awakening of the soul that has sometimes transformed individuals and even whole communities. The great emperor, Ashoka, became a different person, a humane and just ruler, after the battle of Kalinga, when he converted to Buddhism. The Arabs of Medina and Mecca were transformed into a people with strong ethical principles willing to sacrifice for God and the larger good after they embraced Islam. It was this moral transformation under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad, which eventually enabled Muslims to build a splendid civilization guided by values such as justice and equality between the 8th and 14th centuries.
There is a religious resurgence taking place in various parts of the world. Even in Europe, which has moved away from institutionalized religion over the last two centuries, spiritual consciousness expressing itself through a newfound attachment to the Transcendent and the Sacred, is beginning to surface again. Is the world moving towards a new spirituality? Perhaps it is within this new spiritual ethos that the greatest moral principle of all — Do to others what you want others to do to you — will find a new birth.
I would like to say that this meeting comes at the right time in the embarrassing moroseness of the world in which we live in this moment, and at the dawn of a new Millennium, and at this beginning of the 21st century. It comes at the right moment to say that the men and the women of goodwill, now more than ever, will have to speak, to meet, to dialogue. It is a pressing and vital need, if we want to prevent the planetary vessel, in which we all are travelling, from becoming a damaged boat that does not arrive intact. The meeting between Buddhists and Moslems, in my point of view, constitutes at the same time a challenge, a stake and an opportunity. The challenge is for the Moslems, because in these meetings or spheres of influence of the inter-religious, inter-communitarian, inter-civilizational, inter-cultural dialogues, it is good to widen the horizons. In this regard, we have already achieved a certain experience, thin certainly, in the intra-Abrahamic dialogue or, to put it in other words, in the bosom of the family of Abraham.
It is true that the meetings between our Jewish brothers and our Christian brothers try to smooth away the difficulties, the rough edges which emerge. But, in my opinion, they are tumultuous because it concerns the same family, and if I dare to say, the same family of thought, with impediments, if you allow me this term, something which can encumber a true meeting due to more or less closeness and, at the same time, different theologies. On the other hand, each one of these religious traditions in the Abrahamic bosom, particularly in the dialogue with Buddhism, gives place to this possibility of a major reflection on what is authentically human.
I started by speaking about an embarrassing moroseness of the world which, some people says, is in rupture, which knows fractures everywhere, fissures, wounds; the centres of tension are multiple. And this has plunged many haggard beings in the fog at the edge of the abyss. They don’t know where to go, they don’t know what to do; they are looking for direction. And it is in this situation that the religious traditions remain a first reference for the direction to take. And in this challenge, which concerns the Moslems in particular, from my point of view, there is an occasion to further consolidate a turn that has already been made, a Copernican revolution, where we do not have to consider ourselves anymore as the only holders of the truth, the only agents of the absolute, the only ones in the center, with the others, who are at best tolerated, revolving around us.
Once again, the challenge is to place the mystery in the center. In the Abrahamic family, it has been called the mystery of God, but now I want to call it the mystery of man. All of us, whoever we are, are called to solicitude, to taking into account the interest of the other in the scrupulous respect which exceeds simple tolerance, which is likely to betray a haughty attitude, snooty towards the tolerated. What is required of us is love – a word which perhaps is hackneyed but that we must re-actualize each time, to a theological love, an oblate, powerful, incandescent love, and without return, which is present in our two traditions, in all the traditions. The famous Golden Rule, about which our friend Chandra Muzaffar spoke, is there to testify. The challenge for the Moslems is to let go of a theology that one could qualify – perhaps the term appears excessive – as a theology of domination, which developed at the time when Islam was expanding, not necessarily in a military way, but by way of hearing and believing.
The Islamization of sub-Saharan Africa is there to testify. And the meetings between Hindus and Buddhists on the one hand and the Moslems on the other hand, throughout history, are also here to testify. But it has always been the theologians and scholars of the law, who have created a vision of the world with oneself at the center with everything else at the periphery. But, nowadays, the meeting of others de-centers.
Many friends present here in this room know that we need otherness. I need the glance of the other, even if I dislike this, and I want to add, especially when I perhaps dislike it, because it returns me to myself, to probe the most antiquated layers of my being, why am I not the best, why am I not the most beautiful, and why am I not the only one in His eyes. It probes into the roots of the human ego. And there is nothing better for this than a radical otherness. This is also true for our vision of transcendence.
It is very well that some think there is a non-mechanical origin of being with all the mechanisms, a creative force, a supreme intelligence, a creator and liberator authority, an emancipator of the beings, it is very well. It is also well that others say that there is an absolute in oneself. I would like to have a reading of the Qur`anic verses which allows me to say the truth of our Lord is: “Believe, you who want to believe; don’t believe, you who don’t want to believe,” meaning that belief does not confer any privilege. But the echo of the verses is done in a tradition known as holy, and in this tradition, it is said that God would prefer that one comes to his meeting the day of the last judgement while seeking for him, while believing in him; not while ignoring him. And what is to ignore God, to be unaware of God, other than not to honour him in its icon on earth or in its vicar on Earth, that is, man? I do not intend to make here a late re-appropriation of my tradition, but my vision of the world is that the men and the women here below are icons of God on Earth. I say it with simplicity, friendship and fraternity, including to those which do not profess a personal transcendence. The important thing is that I do not impose this vision of the world to them. The worst of the wrongdoing is a crime of lèse-majesté.
How can one think even a moment that one could force by coercion, by threat, or even by an inquisitor glance that intimate and spontaneous decision inherent in a free act, by a free human being. That which is at stake here is how all of us together, in particular Buddhists and Muslims, will dip into our respective scriptural references, which promote human dignity, universal fraternity, and the authentically human. At stake is also how to mutually open to each other in establishing a common base for ethics, which is the supreme interest of the man, without lapsing into a continuously moralizing or apologetic attitude compared to the two or three Qur`anic verses which I will read to you.
One, I note that, in the Qur`an, there is what is called the mono-genism, the unity of mankind. In verse 13 of sura 49, it is said “Oh you, people,” not “Oh you, believers”: “Oh you, people, we created you of a man and of a woman and we constituted you as people and tribes so that you recognize the noblest and the most pious of yourselves near God.” What does piety mean in this context ?
Piety by no means consists in turning your face toward East or toward West, but true piety is the redemption of the prisoners, to help the poor widow, to give the orphan assistance. These are constants that we find in our religious traditions. Second point, unity of mankind does not mean cloning. We profess the unity of a lenient and merciful God, who is also omnipotent and omniscient. Thus he could have made of us one single community, but he didn’t do it. And for a believer such as me, this diversity of languages, this ethnic diversity, this diversity of the cultures, this diversity of the religions is a sign of God, and it is also a divine project. It is precisely up to us to see to it that this diversity, which can concomitantly be a test, leads to happiness. The test is expressed by the Platonic saying: “Homo Homini Lupus (man is a wolf for man).” And thus, to prepare for peace, we would have to be prepared for war.
Unfortunately, our differences become a source of conflict, of friction and lack of understanding which degenerates in the most complete stupidity and imbecility which slaps the intelligence. We noticed it, when ignorant and uncultivated beings who drive out the birds because they chirp, because they do not like the music, demolished the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan. At that time I had called this a crime against the culture.
And this diversity is an immeasurable source of happiness when, following the practice of the Sufi, one dilates the heart in order to welcome others. There is this beautiful prayer which says: “Lord, dilate my heart in order to welcome all your creatures; or pulverize it, so that thus atomized, each one of them can receive a piece.”
This is what is fundamental, precisely to leave a place for this opening. I agree with Ibn Arabi, who was quoted just before, a man who lived at the hinge of 12th and 13th centuries, when he said: “My heart became able to hold all the forms,” one could even say, all the forces. It became a meadow for the gazelle, a monastery for the monks, a Kabah for the pilgrim, a Torah for the Jews, the leaves of the Qur`an for the Muslim. I profess the profession of love wherever these caravans move to, because the love is my religion and my faith.
One can still find echoes in the Buddhist tradition. There is a common treasure specific to the religious traditions which we must know to underline each time, and I take the opportunity, with all my respect, of paying a strong homage to the organizers who make it possible that, in such a solemn and official place, the men and the women of goodwill can meet. I wish that the meeting it won’t remain solely at the stage of the speeches on the platforms. How then can these meetings embody themselves concretely in the everyday life?
On the Islamic side, we have this motto which is, no community, no group, no nation can change, none of its components can be converted, even if there is the freedom to do it, unless they choose to do it. But how to do it?
Firstly, like for example with the lavishing of alms, one does it out of a pleasing behaviour which is based on a non-Camusean conception of justice. One does not prefer one’s own mother to justice, because there are universal values which transcend all of us and which transcend our cleavage. A fair and lasting peace has for substratum a true, lasting background of justice and equity.
Secondly, if we Muslims want to be up to the task, let us refer to another Qur`anic verse where it is said that: “You are the best community established among men, if and because you order the good and reject the blameful.” As we are in contact with other traditions, other civilizations, we Muslims have to live up to the requirements of our scriptures.
The challenge is how we respond together to what waits for us, to these scandals which are everywhere, all over the world. The biggest, the most poignant, it is that of the famine, where two billion individuals all over the world live with less than one dollar or one euro per day, at the very moment when George Bush asks for a extension of eighty billion dollars to finish his crusade, as he has called it. That thousands of scrawny men and women afflicted with rachitic have to beg for what is one moment to the eyes of those who feast and make merry is scandalous, and we all together have the responsibility to not let this endure.
Alas, the other scandals are those famous hearts of tension all over the world, where the religious element is used as instrument, ideologized, domesticated, handled, to arrive at odds with those who precisely want an ethics that it is either based on a religious tradition or transcends it.
My dear friends, my conclusion is that, through these contacts, we improve and grow together for a common good. Thus we will have given testimony to our own system of reference, which is meant to be coherent, with the only the goal of establishing harmony and happiness for us believers here below before going to a beyond announced as better and lasting. My dear Buddhist brothers, may we arrive together, and may you arrive at the true awakening. Thank you.
Lama Denys Teundroup
I will already go to the heart of the Golden Rule, and I will try not to do to you what I would not like to undergo, a long waiting for the lunch. I will try to be concise. I felt in harmony with much of what I heard and I said myself, namely that if all what is well said is the word of Buddha, then, there are a lot of his expressions here. Doctor Wahid said to us that good governance must be based on a global ethics. We heard their principles. I heard from my Moslem brothers that we share the same fundamental human values, as was said by the Prophet Mohammed. I heard a proposal for a metaphysical non-alignment which, for me, resounds like a vision of Madhyamika teaching, which is beyond the conceptual supports.
We are in dialogue, and I believe it’s important that we answer to each other. I feel myself perfectly at ease to denounce the “homo economicus”, and to propose a new man. It will be necessary to call him “homo ethicus” or “homo spiritualus”, I do not know, but in any case a man who is ethical and spiritual.
What, in my opinion, is more important than to believe, is that which I will willingly quote here in the words of the Dalai Lama who says: “For me, the spiritual revolution that I propose is a conversion of the heart, and it is more important to be good than to believe.” What I would like to underline is the importance of a common denominator, which is in the experience of the heart, in the deep experience, in the experience of the bottom of the bottom. We call this ethical Golden Rule of non-violence, compassion, love, one can say it various ways, karuna. Karuna means compassion and appeals to a quality of empathic opening, of broadmindedness, of opening of the heart. And karuna gave caritas, charity. There is in the depth of our experiences a common denominator which takes root in the heart, in the deep experience.
Beyond this golden rule, we can also put forward the assumption of a universal dimension of spirituality. Let me just mention in passing, that we organize together with my Muslim friends and brothers another meeting in June on Islam-Dharma. There we will consider what is meant by “absolute” and “love,” in order to shed light onto these two terms which, I think, are at the same time convergent and complementary.
Can a Muslim and a Buddhist agree on what we call the absolute? Is God absolute? Is there an absolute in the Dharma and is it the same as the Moslem vision of it? It is certainly not the place here to go into details, but I would simply answer, that the one who would succeed in introducing a cleavage into the absolute would be quite smart.
Mohammed Taleb said to us a few moments ago: “There are cleavages everywhere, in everyone and in all the traditions.” There is the problem. Cleavage is what separates, and that is also called the devil, within the meaning of the separator, the maker of disharmony. It is a language which can easily suit a Buddhist.
A universal dimension of spirituality, inherent in the interrogation, the fundamental quest of direction, know what you are, know yourself, is to be found in Socrates, in the philosophers. This universal dimension of ethics and spirituality is also beyond the cleavage religion/non-religion, believers/non-believers. And what is healthy and good in each person, in each person of goodwill, as I heard previously, draws from the same roots. The golden rule, some pointed out, is not particularly religious, it is at the bottom of all humanisms, it animates any person who lives an authentic compassion.
The universal dimension of spirituality, the intelligence beyond the concepts, of the representations, an experience of presence, presence of absence, as some mystics expressed it on both sides, is also universal. It is what defies any of the definitions I could have. And there is the metaphysical non-alignment of the Madhyamika, which sets down a base that I propose to call agnostic. There are the theists and the atheists whom we can return back to back, like each one believing on his side, whatever it is blue or red. The agnostic viewpoint is that of metaphysical non-alignment within the meaning of the conceptual not-support, of a kind of radical apophasis, in which names, forms and signs are erased.
If we people of goodwill and experience could weave some footbridges between our traditions, some bridges, to make interfaces, hermeneutical dictionaries, correspondences, for example, between Moslems and those practising the Dharma. I do not like the term of Buddhism. It was born about 1825, but the Dharma is much older. So if we could make footbridges and understand that we basically talk of the same experience, in term of ethics, non-violence or even also in term of absolute.
Anyway, those are subjects that have to be deepened in discussion. Discussion is a difficult term. What I would like to convey, and it will be also my conclusion, is that experiences gather and concepts divide. If we go into the inter-tradition dialogue from the experience of the heart, then we find each other, we gather each other in a content which is common and universal for us, from the nature of what we are. Concepts tend to separate, to divide, categorize, and can become idolatry.
And there is the principle of the unity in diversity, beyond inclusivism, exclusivism and beyond pluralism. It is the basic unit in a diversity of experience, the same ethical and spiritual base which is likely to be translated, expressed in various historical, geographical periods, in various sociolinguistic matrices, in a variety of expressions likely to correspond to mentalities and sensibilities of various people. From there we could consider principles of good governance. Democracy is useful as a means of management of conflicts, as long as it follows the dictum of “a man, a voice, for everyone.” If there is at the same time education and information, and if the three have to function together, which changes couldn’t we see? I think that this principle of unity in diversity applies also to a political vision. The paradigm of European integration is an interesting contemporary example, and it should also be applied in the economic field. To be short, I will finish now and thank you.
Response: Michael v. Brück
Everything starts in the mind. This in not only a Buddhist saying, but also I think we all know that, maybe by intuition, or by cognitive reflection. Thoughts are in the mind, emotions – related very much to our ways of thinking -, intentions, and then out of this, our actions. I think we were very moved this morning in both sessions by the sincerity with which the different speakers expressed their wish to address the problem of global awareness, including ethics and good governance in such a way, as we do not refer only to the beauties of our different pasts, but try to address the present day questions. As Chandra put it, our traditions need to be reformulated to address the real issues today. What does that mean?
First of all, it seems to me, it means a mental clarification, a clarification of our words. Right speech is not only a matter of good and beautiful intentions, although it is rooted there, but right speech, at least today in out present situation, is a matter of cognitive clarity. To give you some examples:
What do we mean by ‘global’ and ‘globalization’? We have seen very much that globalization is just a cover up of domination by a certain type of living.
What do we mean by ‘democracy’? Democracy is endangered because of so much ignorance and wrong distribution of the resources, not only the material, but the cultural and intellectual resources of the world.
What do we mean even by ‘righteousness’? If righteousness is used and has been used so much to dominate one party, one political system, one ideological system over against others, we have to reformulate all our concepts in terms of our present day understanding.
Here we need, as it was said, a cognitive diversity. I think this is very important, because the ways we are looking at things, determines what we actually perceive. It is not only that reality is given objectively, which we preserve, then we make a choice of doing this or that, but the way we are looking at things determines what we perceive and can act upon. Here of course comes in religion and mental clarification in terms of our traditions.
This applies also to other words, such as using the word ‘brother’, which can be problematic. You know that in the book of Genesis, which is dear to Jews, Christians and Muslims, the first two brothers were not very much in accord. In the Cain and Abel story, one brother kills the other. Why does he kill? He kills because of greed, and because of a lack of identity. Even the term ‘family’ is questionable today, because families, as we know, have a lot of strife, often to the point of breaking up.
The question is, ‘What can our resources – I even hesitate to call it religions or traditions – what can the spiritual resources and experiences of the past contribute to overcome this Three C system which was so elaborately put before us, a kind of capitalism which over exceeds itself’? Here, I think, we need to apply one caution. We should not talk about ‘them’ – meaning the Americans, the capitalists and whoever, and ‘us’. They themselves suffer under the system, as everybody knows who has to do with individuals who are in this corporate system of self-exploitation. So let us not put up new enemies or new barriers, but look into the system as it works today as a self-exploitative system.
And I think, and this would be my challenge to both panels, that we as individuals, we as groups, we as friends who share in a concern, are called to form a solidarity of resistance. A solidarity of resistance against a system in which we exploit ourselves in many ways and in all walks of life: in our education, in the way we are looking at the world, in the way we are consuming not only material goods but especially mental goods, that is, the consumption of the media. I think what is really universal today is this type of exploitation. What can religions, or the traditions and the spiritual resources that we have here actually contribute?
And here I would like to make a distinction between religion and spirituality. Religions, as you know, are systems. They are good and bad. They have a history of great achievements and have had a history of great disasters. And some have a history of great disasters even now. Just to give you an incident. When the Dalai Lama visited us recently in Germany, we had the opportunity to talk with him on TV. When he was asked: “Looking at the history of our religions, from where do you take your optimism that religions can make a positive contribution?” he said: “My optimism comes from my experience that we can change. Not from reclaiming the greatness of our past, but from the knowing that the great intentions of the founders of our traditions can inspire us to change right here and now.” But change is not something which we only think of mentally, rather it is something that needs to be embodied in our life right here and now.
If a spiritual practice is truthful to the inspired founders of our traditions, then we can learn a lot from each other, for example how to embody the lofty ideals of the golden rule and so fourth in our daily lives. We will fail all the time. We know how limited we humans are. But nevertheless, we can joyfully encourage each other to go on and on.
What gatherings like this one are all about is that we can encourage each other to resist the forces of reductionism, of one dimensionality, as it was expressed this morning in many ways. We should spell out in very active and concrete terms what our traditions really can mean for educating ourselves, our friends, our youth in the day to day world facing all these problems. We do not know whether all this development of the rational technological sphere is for the good or for the bad of human beings. We do not yet know the end of history – if there even will be any. We will see. But we can contribute to make the course of history a good one.
Globalization was mentioned together with Westernization. Westernization is not even the right word, because it is only a certain trend that has developed in the West, and which is as oppressive in the Western countries as in any other countries of the world. We all have to resist this trend. Where ever there is this kind of exploitation by the three great ‘C’s’, as it was so rightly put, we should resist not so much on the basis of ought, do and do not, but with moral force. We have had a lot of ought and ought not in the history of humankind, and not very much has changed in the last few thousand years that we can historically overlook. As the mystics in all our traditions have found out, it is only an ethics of being that changes things, because who you are determines what you do. It is not what you do that determines who you are. That is, we have to embark on a course of self cultivation, not in a closed and narrow sense of an individual self – because we all know that we are interdependent – but self cultivation in the sense of cultivation of the life flowing through us as humans, whoever we are, whichever language we speak, whichever religion we adhere to, or maybe no religion at all. We must cultivate the whole life, which includes plants and animals as well.
Cherishing this flow of life that goes through us, becoming aware of it gives us a sense of beauty right at this moment. We do not need to develop greed, we do not need to develop identities which are built up against each other, when we really live in the moment and appreciate the moment in a full aesthetic experience of the presence of life. And this is, I think, what we need to cultivate. And this is what we all are called for in this present situation worldwide.
Part 2: Questions and comments
I have a question about how we can arrive at values that are universally acceptable. This morning one of the speakers mentioned how a Global Ethic needs to be founded on values that we share in common. But in order to do so, how can we find a common denominator that is not too narrow? I would like your opinion on a new approach, which is called the principle of negativity. I found this approach interesting because it leaves the freedom to everyone to hold on to the values that they cherish. The principle of negativity is based on the attitude that “we do not know for sure what is good, but we know for sure what is not good, what is not just.” Do you think that the principle of negativity would be a good approach of arriving at common values?
There seems to me quite a bit of sense in this notion of working together on the basis of what is wrong, is unjust. This has been discussed twenty-five years ago by a sociologist, Peter Berger, who, in his Pyramids of Sacrifice, which is quite a well known book, talks about approaching the challenges faced by humankind from this particular perspective. In other words, it’s easier to get everyone to say ‘no’ to certain things, ‘no’ to hunger, homelessness, ‘no’ to abject poverty or corruption, things of that sort which can bring people together. I think this is something that provides a very sound basis for uniting people from different persuasions.
Michael v. Brück
I think that is certainly right, and it is based on the logical principal of falsification as it was worked out by Karl Popper and also applied for governments. But on the other hand, I think we do need a vision about the question of how to live. That is, we need a kind of positive idea of how to live, and here I think it is not sufficient to look into the past, the models, the ideals and so fourth, because our different pasts are often different and extremely ambiguous. Also ambiguous is our meeting each other, the meeting of different religions, culture, civilizations and so on. So I think what matters so much right now is not that we come up with positive statements, but that we need to agree on the rules through which together we might achieve statements. That is to say that it is not sufficient that one reclaims the Buddhist tradition and another one the Muslim or the Christian or any secular tradition. What is important is that we together here are now forming a new body of human beings, a new way of a civilized, I would say, discursive, community, trying to understand how we want to live.
On the other hand, I think we need to know how to educate our children. Sulak mentioned very convincingly that we just prepare our children with some skills to get jobs within the system, but that we do not really reflect on the values, which might be necessary to step out of the system. When I say system, it is not just the economic system, it is not just the political system, it is also the mental system and the emotional system we are usually living in, which is so restricted. So, in order to develop our potential, we need to form a vision of a new life together on the basis of our traditions and upbringings. But when it comes to governance, and concrete political and economic decisions, we should be aware that governing, as Dr. Wahid told us in his key note speech, is not discerning the good from the bad, but that governing is working out the difference between the better and the worse. Otherwise we fall into ideological traps. So I think we need both. And religions could be – usually they are not – the inspiring force for envisioning what the human being actually might, and could, and should be.
Dharma Master Hsin Tao
I think we have first of all to look at what benefits all of us, and without which none of us could live. Seen from the total aspect of things, all benefits bestowed on us are benefits of the Earth. If we have no Earth, we have nothing. We have to care for the ecology of the Earth. We have to care for the protection of the environment. We should all care about this first priority.
If the biotechnological development harms any part of the ecological cycle, if it destroys the plants and ultimately, the ecology, then it destroys the entirety of all benefits! For centuries, the weather had been constant due to the balance and proper rotations between the Arctic and the South Pole. But we all know that the heat of the sun and the ozone hole in the atmospheric shell have caused the extreme changes of the weather, which have caused many disasters. I think we need to think thoroughly about the consequences. The reason why the earth has become like this is the damage caused to the balance of nature by improper development of modern technology and warfare. We need to rediscover the importance of the earth.
One of the most important aspects of ethics is to have a good and just economy. There are certain rules for everyone to follow. With regards to the Earth, we have to think about how the Earth provides the basis of all livelihood. From a religious perspective, our spirituality can only flourish if the basic conditions of life – such as space for living, thinking, and believing- are all ensured. Therefore the stewardship and care of our Earth is of prime importance.
I heard this morning that, if religion has a role to play, then it is that of preserving the Golden Rule. I would like to offer an observation: The Golden Rule of Life is a heritage of a shared DNA: one part comes from the mother, femininity, and the other part comes from the father, virility. The child, which represents the future, combines this double heritage. The physical world is the revelation of the mystery of creation. But here I have to state that women do not participate in the assembly of the sages. This shows the inequality of the word that is offered, of the source that is listened to concerning the social question, concerning tradition, concerning history. I observe the unilateral use of language in its spoken and written form. The transformation of attitudes and values has to start with a change of practice in the practice of language. We women live this reality like an injustice. This inequality originates from the disregard for one fundamental right: the right to peace.
In this regard, I want to pose the following question: “Is there such a thing as a just war?” “Yes, of course- in order to be right.” But love, which is the foundation of religion, never creates being right or being wrong. It creates nothing but itself. All wars are unjust. The culture of war demands a culture of inequality and power relationships between dominator and dominated. War is not compatible with a culture of dignity based on respect of peoples’ sovereignty, of human rights. The first human right is the right to peace. Peace demands all our efforts for the sake of the children yet to be born and for humanity. Religions are required to participate in this process of reconciliation. It seems to me that religion has the role to create the connection between the concrete physical reality of this life and the legitimate aspiration for the spiritual communion of souls through the beating heart. It is urgent that we listen to the heart voice of the feminine.
I would like to say a few things to the issues that have been raised. One was how can we all resort to the Golden Rule of not doing to others what we would not want to be done to ourselves? As Dr. Muzaffar has pointed out, all our religions have this as the fundamental rule. And all the wars, troubles, exploitations and difficulties created by humans for other humans have always had to do with the fact that this rule was not observed. But I am still a very optimistic person. I am asked very often, especially in the USA: “Why are you so optimistic about your peace-work?” And my answer is: “Because I lived a good part of my life in Western Europe.” In the history of mankind, no part of the whole world has seen that degree of violence that Western Europe had seen in a period of a few years – from 1911 to 1918, and again from 1938 to 1945. Today, that same region has taught us that the boundaries can be forgotten. The customs and immigration people need not be there, and then can use one currency. My experience in the West began at a time when we thought that there was no hope at all. But today, what has happened in Western Europe is the greatest lesson to the world. If only we take ourselves seriously and say that we can achieve peace, we can achieve unity, then we can get down to the problems that used to be solved in a battle field in the old days and which, today, get settled at a decent air-conditioned conference table.
I have a question for Prof. Mohammed Taleb. This morning you mentioned the dialogue between Southern countries and the importance of pluralism. Given the remarks that we just heard, I would like to ask what process would you recommend to insure this within governance and within our education systems?
The question of the process requires in fact that one does not reduce peace or ethics to a numerical catalogue, a catalogue of things to do and not to do. There is something which is extremely important and which deserves that we remain a few seconds on it, even though it would require hours and days of discussions. It is a question that, in philosophy, is called axiology. Axiology means the hierarchy of the values. It is not sure that, for the immense majority of the planet, in particular for the people of the South, peace is on the main agenda of their daily and vital requirements.
I am not Marxist, but I remember the dialectic that Marx talked about, the dialectic between the master and the slave, which, on a planetary scale today is the dialectic between the center and the periphery, or between the North and the South. In this dialectic of the master and the slave, the one who wants peace is the master. He wants peace, meaning “leave me alone;” he wants peace, meaning “pacification”. In Algeria at the colonial time, or in Vietnam in the struggle for independence opposed by the United States, pacification was a process which came from the center, from the North, from the colonial system, from those who had the means. Pacification meant “do not change anything,” without listening to the cry of the people of the South. To them, this is not peace, and even less justice. If the peace is not right, if it is not just, and if in spite of this we are satisfied to speak about peace ethics, or education to the peace, then we are still in type of a neo-colonial attitude which has been interiorized.
So, it seems to me that we cannot disconnect the problems of peace and the problems of justice: social justice, economic justice, and environmental justice, on the states` scale as well as on a planetary scale. And thus to speak about the process which we must elaborate so that these requirements are incarnated and do not remain pious letters, it seems to me that one of the most important elements in this process is that we make an analysis of the crisis. If there is peace, it also means that there is a situation of war or tension, or conflict. And, to borrow a term which is sometimes used in medicine or science, the analysis should be the most holistic possible. We need a holistic analysis of the tension by including, by integrating parameters which are not part of our formations, which are not part of our cultures.
As you all know, for various reasons which are related to the history of the French society with a quite specific trajectory of secularism, there is a problem with religion in France. To speak about the sacred, the imaginary, or religion poses a problem in France. However, the analysis must integrate the religious parameter as well as the economic parameter; the analysis must integrate the most possible parameters to be faithful to dynamics which draw from and build reality.
It is extremely dangerous that, after the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989, we in the international enclosures passed from what we call waffle language to another language which is the cotton language; it is less rigid, it is less hard, but in term of operational depth, it is not very effective. What does it mean to speak about social justice if nobody speaks about the World Trade Organization? Today it is the WTO on an international scale which is laying down the economic policies, not only on an international scale, but also inside the countries. In the program of the GCS, you have 166 fields which are the subject of a process not only of jeopardizing but of merchandizing education and the environment.
I agree when we say that our religions have an ecological and cosmic legacy, on which life should be based. But how can we make this legacy pass into the social body? On a country scale like on the international scale, it simply means, for example, to organize fertile, creative junctions with the movements of resistance to the globalisation. Since 1998, a new geography of resistance against the merchandizing of the world, for the safeguarding not only of the environmental biodiversity, but also of the biodiversity of the cultures has come into existence. There are figures in the South which have things to say about ethics, peace, and the spiritual. Aminata Traoré, for example, who was the Minister of Culture of Mali, wrote a splendid work which is called “The Rape of the Imaginary;” Vandana Shiva, who is one of the greatest physicians of the South, enormously stresses the fact that globalization does not only affect the economies of the South, but also the cultural and spiritual personality of the societies of the South; there is also Nicanor Perlas in the Philippines and the developments of the social forum in Porto Allegre, Brazil. I see the impulses of life less in the international enclosures than in the social movements which raise the question of re-enchantment of the world, namely, expressed in the words of Vandana Shiva: “How to join again, how to make solid the human, the divine and the cosmic ?” It is that which appears to me on the agenda. Without it, all our processes are technical, technocratic processes, and Western processes from an epistemological point of view, i.e. in final analysis, processes of death.
Michael v. Brück
I would like to make three comments.
I think that we have to be aware, and most of us are, that these issues of injustice and economic as well as cultural deprivation, which we have especially but not only in the South, and the tremendous social and economic problems in the Western countries, as are all interconnected. The joblessness in the West and the cultural as well as social and individual devastation it brings to our countries is just the other side of the coin of exploitation of the Southern countries. As we said this morning, the whole system is wrong. It serves only a very few people, and probably it doesn’t serve even them. The question is: How do we bring all of these problems together? I think there is a lot to be said for holistic analysis, and for bringing social, economic, cultural and educational problems together. But the question is: How do we really contribute to solving one or the other problems?
Here comes my second comment. We need to talk about all of these aspects from different angles, but our topic is good governance, religion, and ethics. If we look back into the history of our religious traditions, which go back say three thousand or four thousand years, not much more, this is just a very small period in the history of humankind. There are hundreds of thousands of years before, and if we, or the next generation, do not mess up everything, it will go on for two thousand, ten thousand or a hundred thousand years. What is vital and crucial in the appearance of each of the religions, as we know them today, in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, and India, the major centers where about three- or four thousand years ago model civilizations emerged is, that, as cities were formed, new kinds of communities were formed with two aspects, namely with an economic aspect and a religious legal aspect. The emergence of what we today call religions is intrinsically linked with the emergence of a legal system, meaning that law should rule, not just custom; law, which everyone in different ways in different civilizations would be accountable to.
Now, if there is a contribution that religions can make today in terms of governance, both internally in different countries as well as on a world wide scale, I think we should recognize and revisit the history of our traditions as they link laws with metaphysical projections. If today in the international scene, for the first time in human history, something like an international law and international law court emerges, or is emerging and hopefully will come into existence, this is something unheard of before, namely a law court which can be appealed to by individuals, by groups; that even governments, local governments are accountable to. I think that religions could make a major contribution to good governance in the present day world if they were really concerned, outspoken, and supportive of something like international law and its respective institutions. In the same way, religions in pluralistic societies should support governments or political groups that want to solve their problems by law, by the equality of people before the law, and not just by power. I think here we would have a common point and a real agenda, ethics for a good governance also in structural terms.
The third point I would like to make is that, with all the differences that we may express
and have, we are the ones here who basically agree that peace and justice need to
go together, that we need to work for a better world, that we need this kind of solidarity
of resistance against these structures which are not supportive of life and so on. But the
question is: How do we get the message across to all the others who also claim to be
Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Jews and so on who do not share this vision, but who
still believe their view is the right one, and that pushing their way would save the world?
I think here is a big problem, which we should also address, because this has tremendous
political implications. How do we get the message across to others that all the
differences we have are positive, because they will help us to take steps further, to leave
the system of our confined thoughts. How do we communicate? How do we build bridges
of communication, which are stronger than the ones we have at present?
Just two very quick responses, one of them to the lady’s question and comment. She alluded to the question of war and whether there was a just war.
Now, it is very significant that the Iraq war, probably more that some of the other things we have seen in recent times, brought to the fore the very sharp division within the church, both the Catholic Churches and the Protestant Churches. The majority of the Catholic Church both in terms of its clergy and its laity were opposed to the war, which I think, is very important. The Pope for instance played a role, which went way beyond what is known to the general public in campaigning against the war. For instance, it is just being made known that he was a major influence upon Mexico, Chili and the Cameroon in persuading them not to support the resolution that the British and the Americans were looking for towards the end of the period just before the war.
So the point one is making, is that, for the first time, we have this kind of situation where we have had major figures from the Church, people from the Christian religion, taking a very principled stand against the war, and we have had this other group, the so called fundamentalists, especially in the USA, but also in certain other countries supporting the war. And the role of the fundamentalists in supporting the war hasn’t really been highlighted as much as it should be. But I think that this is a very important development for the future.
Are we beginning to see a new dichotomy developing, not only within Christianity, but also within other religions, where you have people supporting the status quo, a certain pattern of dominance, of power, of war and violence, and also others within the same faith tradition, they could be Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or Jews, taking a different position? Is this going to emerge as an important trend in the 21st century? In other words, would one of the most important battles of the future be fought within religions, between people supporting a certain pattern of power and development and others opposed to that particular structure of power and that particular notion of governance? Is this something that is going to happen? I think this is something that is significant.
Now, the second point also raised by the lady is related to peace. I think there are two features about the peace movement, which should have an impact upon our thinking and may shape the future.
Number 1. We have seen perhaps the most multinational, multicultural, multi-religious antiwar movement in history that went on for months and weeks before and even after the war. In some places the protests continued. Now this is very significant, because it transcends all the borders and boundaries that we can think of. And even in the ideological sense, we have people who are very secular banding together with let`s say Muslim fundamentalists, all protesting against the war. It is in that sense a coalition that has no precedent in history. You take the anti-Vietnam war movement for instance; it was no where near the “rainbow coalition”, the anti-Iraq movement was.
Number 2. Let us look at the role played by women in this movement. I know that women have played very significant roles in peace movements, like, for instance, Ireland. But we know that in countries where women have not been that active, their role was very significant in the antiwar protests. So I think that the role of women is also something we should keep in mind in movements of this sort. I am not one of those who subscribes to this view that women are more inclined towards peace than men. I don’t think there is a gender dimension to things of this sort. But nonetheless, the involvement and commitment of women is going to be a critical factor in the coming decade.
Now, can I quickly respond to David’s comment about education and how one could bring about changes in the way in which we look at the world through the education system? This is really one of the things that has always troubled me about the education system and world views associated with the dominant centers of power in the West in general, but especially in the USA. And we highlight the USA, not because we are on some crusade against that country, and we are not talking about the country as such, but about people who shape thinking in that society. I think it’s very unfortunate that you have in the USA an education system that is so insulated from the rest of the world.
And it is not just the education system, but the media as well: it is in politics, it is in almost every major segment of American society. There is so little that a lot of ordinary American people who are well intentioned, people who are noble in so many ways, know about the rest of the world, which I think is just amazing. I raise this point because the role that the USA is playing in the world today is also unprecedented in history. It is a nation that has had such a great impact on the rest of the world. And some of it has been positive, been good, some has been negative. But if you look at the education system, the worldviews, the values, it is just amazing that there is so much insularity. They are just cut off from the rest of the world. Somehow, there is this feeling that they are sufficient in themselves, that they are complete, that they don’t have to know about others. Can you think of any American leader in the last 50 years who has had the sort of empathy and sympathy for the South and its problems, who would be able to equal some- one like Olaf Palme or Willy Brandt? At least in the case of European history, if you think of the last twenty or thirty years, we have had leaders who have some empathy for the South, and whom people of the South could identify with.
But if you look at the USA, there is total dearth of any sort of empathy or sympathy for the South in terms of the attitudes, of the pronouncements, the policies, and so on. This is something that, I think, Americans themselves must try to correct. It is not for us to rectify this situation. But I think that there is a great need for reform within the USA. Of course, we are also hoping that there will be a regime change in Washington in 2004. But leaving that aside, I think that there is a need for a change in values and worldviews.
I think one problem that you were talking about, namely the 18-year isolation of the USA from UNESCO, is on the cards to be rectified this October. And I keep my fingers crossed, because I have been one of those active in trying to get them back. I managed to get them on many programs during my period as Ambassador there, but this isolation will be partially rectified if they do come in October, because the USA cannot afford to be outside UNESCO.
I have two questions. Question number one is: In years back, all religions had much more influence in bringing their values into the service of humankind. I believe this mostly doesn’t exist today. With the exception of a few countries, all those who have been taken by what they call the civil law mostly cut down on the values and good things that religion can bring to the service of humankind or that nation. So what can we do to bring back the values of religion deeply into the service of humankind, even through government services?
Question number two is: What to do next? What are the suggestions you can make to continue this very good dialogue between Islam and Buddhism religion and hopefully between all the religions in the future?
Michael v. Brück
Of course we do live in pluralistic societies in many places of the world. For instance, in France or Germany, or India and so on, the government better stay out of religious affiliation, because otherwise, we would have a tremendous mess-up of religious values and intentions and the pragmatics of politics which needs to balance them out. On the other hand we do need a set of values, and here again I am hesitating to say religions because religions are so organizational and in many ways often corrupt in their institutions. We need the inspirations, which can come from religions, for a deeper education, a deeper penetration of our cultures by real values. How can we reconcile the two sides?
In a very modest way, which concerns the educational level, I will tomorrow propose a model that we are trying in some ways in Germany. But this is certainly not enough. The basic question is: “How do we put this tension into good government?” And there are examples in different parts of the world, where at least to some extent, the coexistence of a pluralistic approach and the neutrality of the government, for instance in India, go together with a fostering and nurturing of awareness of a specific cultural identity and tradition. Sometimes, of course, this can get out of hand and be misused by certain political interests again. But I would say that, in general, we have to make a distinction between the political process and the cultural processes. Religious motivation should influence the cultural process and discourses. But, at least from the experiences that I have had in some eastern and western European countries, as well as India, I think that political processes as such should be different from specific religious bindings in our pluralistic situations.
Summary: Alon Goshen-Gottstein
I have been very excited and enriched by some of today’s conversations. I would like to somehow try to point out the way we have gone to the ideal road map that we charted and also reflect upon where I think the conversation could have gone but didn’t necessarily go.
The issues that we raised yesterday touched upon the different forms and functions of inter-religious dialogue. We spoke about dialogue in terms of getting to know one another, in terms of helping each other to grow, and in terms of how we face common problems. It seems to me that today’s conversation has been almost exclusively devoted to this 3rd component of how we can use the resources of our religions in some way or another to address contemporary problems that are facing all of us. This need not have been the only way to approach our topic, because the subject of good governance could also have allowed us to bring in specific elements from one tradition to another that in some way could enrich each of our traditions. I think the reason that our focus has been so exclusively on the question of how we can contribute to the world stems from some difficulties in defining what it is we are talking about.
I think, for present purposes, it would be helpful to distinguish between what we call universal, global, and globalization. The most important contribution to our theme of Global Ethics and Good Governance was made by Dr. Wahid this morning, when he said that if we have good ethics, we get good governance. It seems that our conversation this morning shifted either to the side of good ethics or good governance, but was not focused on the link between the two. On this aspect, we could have maximized our contributions more. I think this has partly to do with the reason that there is a certain amount of confusion around the term global. A large part of the conversation has assumed that global ethics is part of the problem of globalization. There has been a broad agreement among speakers that globalization is the common “enemy,” and that, therefore, we have to mobilize the resources of our tradition to see how to deal with the problem of globalization. This may well be true, and it may be valid, but I think we have to ask our selves: “What is there in the way of global ethics that can stand independently of the problem of globalization?”
It seems to me that the premise upon which we come together as people of faith is precisely that we have something to talk about as people of faith that may go beyond the question of how immediately contribute to the world’s problems. Do we first of all have a contribution to make from the resource of our own tradition, and do we have where to go beyond the immediate attempt to solve problems? It seems to me that, as a consequence of running too quickly in the direction of problem solving, especially the problem of globalization, we end looking for the broadest common denominator upon which we can agree. This is both good and important, but also in some ways not adequate to the purpose of the dialogue we would like to get going. I think when religious leaders and thinkers get together they need to go beyond the attempt for a common denominator. I by no way wish to minimize the significance of the Golden Rule, but we also need to go beyond distillation, beyond attempts of giving the entire teaching of a religion in a distilled form or answer.
What characterized much of today were negative guidelines, don’t do this, and don’t do the other. And yet, our religious traditions have a lot more to offer than distilled answers. Because what makes them real is not their distilled forms or their basic negative instructions, it is what makes them specific, particular and gives them character. Let me illustrate this with a point Ananda Guruge made. He said that if you look at the five teachings of the Buddha, four of them fit into Hans Küng`s pattern of the Global Ethic, but if you accepted the fifth as well, you would become a Buddhist. Well then, let’s talk about that fifth one. Let’s talk about what is the specific contribution of each of our traditions. What does a Buddhist think that the world has to learn from Buddhism as opposed to recognizing it as a universal?
And here I come back to the point that I made before. I think that there is something very misleading about the term global. Because by assuming global, it doesn’t mean we can use it in terms of addressing a global problem, or in the sense of globalization as being a agreed upon problem. Or you can use it in the sense of global in the sense that we have all agreed upon it, or – this is the sense I think we still need to develop further – as something that each of our traditions can teach that can be relevant or significant for others to hear.
Master Hsin Tao spoke about love, and he was the only one to talk about love. Some of the other speakers spoke about non-violence from a Buddhist perspective. I may have missed it, but I don’t recall in today’s conversations a singular and specific Muslim concept that emerged, about which our Muslim participants think: “This is what we would like to bring to the table.” And it seems to me that our conversations have to go beyond agreeing about the most general, but to say instead: “I am a Buddhist. This is my contribution. How does this value of love and non-violence play in your tradition?” And then we can dissect it in all the important and interesting ways: South-North, different divisions within the traditions etc. But my sense is our inter-religious conversation hasn’t really happened. In a sense we have set the agenda, but we have not started to bring to it what we need to bring to it. Nevertheless, I want to point out some of the important and, I think, universal agreements that have come up.
I think the most important one, that everyone seems to have reflected on and that needs highlighting is the tension between material and spiritual. The spiritual/material divide seems to be something strongly indicative of all the people sitting here and others, and this is something that not only needs to be highlighted, but further developed. Most speakers spoke not only about the tension between ethics and the material world, but between the spiritual and material world. What does that mean? And how do we think that through further? What is the contribution of Buddhism? What is the contribution of Islam to that?
I also want to highlight one more point, which I think is relevant both to an appreciation of what took place and also pointing the way forward beyond what was accomplished this morning. And that goes back to the relationship between individuals and community that we spoke about. To what extent do our solutions pass through the individual? To what extent do they have to go through humanity?
One of the Muslim speakers spoke about the importance from a Muslim perspective of how all the nice ideas have to pass through the person, how the person has to be changed. Lama Denys talked about the importance of religious experience, and asked if mysticism provides us with some kind of basis. I think that, because we were attempting to look so much at the issues of not just what the global importance of our religious message and experience is, but also how to solve world problems, we may have glossed too quickly over the role of the individual, over what the individual can contribute, and how transformations have to pass through society.
I think all of our traditions, in this case, Islam and Buddhism, have something to say about the global field. They all do it somehow through addressing the individual. They do it not only through the negative, or the distilled; rather their unique character comes through with the teaching. I think that, having established a basic agreement on a common problem: contemporary global concerns of society and, secondarily, government; and having established the common ground, the tension between the spiritual and physical, we now have to see what is the unique contribution of each of our traditions? What makes it distinct? What does it have to offer?
In the same way that someone said very helpfully in yesterday’s conversation that the value of honoring the elders may be characteristic of certain societies, and that this may have universal import, I think each of our traditions has something specific to teach us beyond a common understanding. I realize that I am coming off a little bit more critical that I really intend to be, but that is more with the hope of setting the agenda for future conversations. I want to thank everyone for making this rich conversation that allows us to recognize commonalities in our struggle and basic orientations in our world view. And I would also like to express the hope that we can continue to discover each other’s individuality and particularity in such ways that we can learn more of what the specific Buddhist and Muslim contributions to facing these issues are. Finally, I would like to apologize if I have got this anywhere wrong, and, with your permission, recede back into my margins. Thank you.
Part 3: Special Lectures
Lama Denys Teundroup
Prof. Eric Geoffroy
Lama Denys Teundroup: Buddhism in Europe
I would first of all ask a few specific questions, namely, where does Buddhism in Europe come from, and how did it come?
With regards to the far origins, Dr. Guruge spoke to us about the emperor Asoka. This was later followed by the civilization of Gandhara. The origins of the presence of Buddhism in the Occident are indeed to be found very far away, in mutual fecundations of the time of Alexandria, the gymnosophists (wandering Indian ascetics) and the origins of Christian monarchism. This is important to know as we go to the deep spiritual roots. Another origin, which is much closer, is colonialism, with the British in India and the French in Indochina. Today, one percent of the population, about 600.000 people, is Buddhist. The majority of them come from the people of ex-Indochina and their descendants.
Buddhist neologism is born around 1825. Rather than using the word Buddhism however, I prefer to speak about the Dharma – just as we speak about Islam, not Mohammedanism. So let me speak about the Dharma. Among the closest origins of Buddhism in the Occident and Europe is the arrival of Oriental masters from the 1960s on. These are persons like the Venerable Walpola Rahula from Sri Lanka, Taizen Deshimaru Roshi from Japan, Kalu Rinpoche from Tibet and others. The spread of the Dharma in Europe today is more important than sheer numbers would make us think. For historical reasons, Great Britain and France were at the forefront, but in the last twenty years or so, the Dharma it has spread in Germany, in Northern countries, Benelux countries, Spain, Italy, and, since the fall of the wall, in Eastern Europe. The statistics are difficult. But what seems important is the way of spreading through infusion and the change of mentalities without resorting to proselytizing. Inspired by the voice of the Buddha, a sort of new paradise, a new vision of interdependence, non-violence, has come to us.
With regards to the organization of the Dharma today in Europe, there are Buddhist national unions in the majority of countries; there is also a European Buddhist Union. All these institutions are on good terms with each other; there are no theological problems or schisms. In the European Buddhist Union, of which I am the honorary president, we use the principles recognized by all the Buddhist schools as foundation, no matter whether these schools are Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana. The principles are namely the Four Noble Truths, the Three Treasures, and the Threefold Apprenticeship of ethics, profound experience, and understanding. All basically agree on these ones, even though there might be some philosophical differences.
What seems interesting to me is the contribution of the Dharma in the context of today`s world, and its role of being an interface in the dialogue between the religions or traditions. This role is possible because of the suppleness of the Dharma with regards to concepts, because of the understanding that all representations, all expressions are never the very thing which is represented. This understanding is expressed in the warning: “Do not take the finger pointing to the moon for the moon.”
Because of this understanding, which is profoundly rooted in the intelligence of the Dharma, it is possible to have a dialogue that is non doctrinal, non confessional; not a dialogue between theologians or beliefs. A phrase that has often been used in our Christian Buddhist dialogues says that the experience unifies, while concepts divide. And when we have exchanges with monks, nuns or people with spiritual experiences, we meet each other more easily in an experience coming from the heart. There we share the same deep experiential values, even if our systems of representations express them in a different way.
The role of interface also applies to the exchange with the lay world. Dr. Guruge reminded us that the Buddha came from a republican context, and that this was also the order he proposed for his Sangha and community. Republican or democratic values are naturally to be found in the Dharmic spirit of interdependency. There is also an affinity with the occidental scientific vision, because, for the Dharma, the problems are most of all of a cognitive and epistemological nature. To say that everything is matter or everything is spirit – as would a materialist or spiritualist say – necessarily comes back to the same thing. This is namely to talk about an “all” and to fix a label on it, no matter whether it is red or blue. The problem is in the conceptual way of grasping, in the conceptual equipment – whether this is red or blue.
What I am trying to suggest in the approach to the Dharma is a vision, and most of all, a practice, which is in harmony with a universal quest. It is an interrogation about the fundamental questions, such as “Who am I”, “What is”, and an answer that is non-doctrinal, experiential in the transformation of the Self, a voice of liberation from the passions and the illusions. And this explains the interest that many Westerners have for this tradition.
In recent surveys asking young people if they felt closeness to a specific religious tradition, a big portion of them, almost 20 percent – which is enormous in France-mentioned Buddhism. This does not mean that they are Buddhists, but it means that they find themselves in certain values that are transmitted by this tradition. Many of these principles of the Dharma have entered the dialogue. The four precepts were mentioned. The manifesto of the UNESCO of the year 2000 takes up the five precepts as developed by Sulak Sivaraksa. The universal vision and primordial experience of the Golden Rule express an operative philosophy, and create the possibility of meeting each other by transcending religious differences. Its fundamental humanism envisions the human being in his global reality, body, speech and spirit. I think that the culture and context of the Europe of today are congenial for the encounter between the different traditions.
A short while ago, someone asked a question about what can concretely be done. It is a question of education, of transforming the mentalities and habitudes of the economical human being into a spiritual and ethical human being, into the fundamental human being. Is it possible that noble institutions, such as UNESCO, with its purpose of education and science, develop a large communication, because encounters like ours today have a rather limited character? We would like to see a communication like this televised. Why could the European Union not develop an educational channel together with UNESCO in order to promote unifying values within diversity, since this is the motto of Europe?
To finish, I would also like to suggest an initiative, which is underway in order to avoid that religion can be used as a justification for violence. An invitation, coming from Mr. Bawa Jain, who had organized the millennium world summit, and others, is to consider the possibility of a legal international resolution to the effect that, using religion to incite or justify violence, is a form of perverting religion and a crime against humanity. The meaning of violence in this context is, of course, terrorism, war. But as Mohammed Taleb has said, what matters is not the peace of the master. What matters is that the violence should not be economic or human. This can go very far. But, in any case, religions should be a vehicle of non-violence, of non aggression. They should uphold the principle of not to inflicting a violence that I myself do not want to be victimized by on others. They should uphold the freedom to let the other live in his own way, in his own diversity and particularity.
Eric Geoffroy: Islam in Europe
Islam’s presence in Europe began long before the arrival of the first waves of migrants from the Muslim world. The contribution of Islam to the religious and spiritual construction of Europe has been tremendously understated, like any other Arabo-Islamic contribution, actually.
Europe is not, like some would like us to believe, heiress to only Greco-Latin culture and Judeo-Christianism. Hence we must work to exhume the hidden memory of this Islamic “forgotten legacy” (Alain de Libera). Actually, this work has been going on for some decades now, hopefully in a spirit of scientific and cultural open-mindedness, and not in a spirit of religious or communitarian self righteousness. One must remember that Islam’s material presence in Europe is ancient and deeply rooted. The fact that Spain was partially a Muslim country for about eight centuries is well known, but it is not a lone case. Sicily and southern Italy lived under Muslim domination, Sicily for four centuries (there were three hundred mosques in Palermo in the 10th century), southern Italy for a shorter period.
In those regions, the luster of Arabo-Islamic culture did not fade away when the Arabs left; it went on shining for many centuries. Eastern Europe, too, has a long Islamic experience. In the 14th century, Ottoman expansion reached the Balkan region where it took root. Centuries of Ottoman domination left a permanent imprint in the Balkan peninsula at the very heart of Europe, and an Islamic population still lives there today, after many centuries and despite migrations. The population of Kosovo, for instance, is ninety percent Muslim, as are seventy percent of Albanians. Russia was under the influence of Islam early in the 11th century, but we are here reaching the Eastern most limits of Europe, next to the Ural mountains.
Islam’s religious contribution to medieval Europe
The domains where this contribution is the most obvious are theology and philosophy. Muslim scholars such as Avicenna, Ghazâlî and Averroes, the Mu‘tazilits too, exerted a deep influence on Medieval Latin thought. The issue of compatibility or opposition between Greek philosophy and religious dogma which had since early times been widely discussed inside Islam, spread to “European” theologians, Jews such as Maimonides, or Christians such as Saint Thomas Aquinas. The influence of Muslim thought on Christian scholastics gave birth to two schools, Latin Avicennism et Latin Averroism. And we must not forget that Arabic translations reintroduced Greek philosophy to the Christian Western world, most notably Aristotle, Plato and Plotinus.
Muslim scholars were not only vectors of transmission, they brought their own scientific, spiritual and humanistic achievements to Europe. In the 13th century, Frederick II sent his metaphysical Philosophical questions to Ibn Sab‘în, a Sufi from Ceuta. European scholars and literati – from the Latin, Germanic or slave world – began to study Islamic thought and assimilate some of its religious forms. The influence of the popular version of the Prophet’s ascent, The Book of Muhammad’s Ladder on Dante’s Divina Comedia has been clearly shown.
Islam enriched the spiritual and mystical tradition of medieval Europe. If some mystics are nearly forgotten, like Râbi‘a, a Iraki saint, whose embellished story was popular at Saint Louis’s court, the contribution of Sufis to the spiritual doctrine of military orders such as the Order of the Temple is recognized as very important. In the early 20th century, Asin Palacios, a Spanish priest, expressed the opinion that the Maghrebian Sufi tradition influenced Christian mystics such as St John of the Cross and St Theresa of Avila through Jewish spiritual masters. Western non-Muslim scholars even proposed that Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises were influenced by Sufi techniques of initiation. Was not the “Great Master” of Islamic spirituality, Ibn Arabî (d.1240), born in Spain? While he settled later in Damascus, his universalistic teachings have returned in modern times to the Western world to enrich it spiritually. Besides influences and exchanges, it is clear that Jews, Muslims and Christians frequently lived in symbiosis under Muslim domination in the above mentioned regions.
Al-Andalus is the at times idealized archetype of this peaceful and enriching coexistence of the three religions, which we may also find in Asia Minor and the Balkan region, where interfaith relations, especially between monks and dervishes, were sometimes very close. Islam and the Western world met again on a large scale, but in a more confrontational way, during the period of European colonial expansion. France’s presence in the Muslim world, particularly in Algeria, had a determining longtime influence on the French republic’s mode of relation with Islam as a cult on the national territory. As early as the 19th century, France was a “Muslim” country.
If colonialism was a “flow” from Europe to the Muslim world, the “ebb” came soon in the form of migratory waves, most importantly those of the sixties. In the eighties Islam emerged as a collective religious reality, which was no longer only individual or familial. A net of associations was established, and Muslims asked for decent and visible places of worship in European cities. “Re-Islamization” of European Muslims became an important trend in the next decade. Especially for young people, Islam has become the main way of self-affirmation by providing and identity that is both individual and collective. This re-appropriation of one’s religion goes along with the desire to be more active as citizens. Tariq Ramadan, a charismatic personality, for instance, encourages young people in this direction.
Towards the formation of a European Muslim culture
The Muslim population in Western Europe is estimated at about fifteen million persons, out of which more than a third live in France. Hence, France is the largest Muslim country in Europe with regard to the percentage of the population. Despite the original diversity of ethnicities, nationalities, cultural background and rites of the Muslim population, we are now witnessing the birth of a form of Islam autochthonous to Europe, a European Islam. In France, about half of the Muslims are French citizens
We should not forget that Islam is pluralistic. There is no single source of authority, no supreme authority such as the Pope. We find in Islam a plurality of mentalities, running the gamut from quasi-fundamentalism to total open-mindedness: from those who follow the Holy Scripture word by word, without elaboration, such as Saudi Wahhabists, to the most universalistic tendencies such as Sufism, and in between all the reformists who strive to unite tradition and modernity. All these tendencies exert mutual influence upon each other, and there are no clearly definite boundaries.
Since European societies and administrations had felt for many years the need to identify representative entities in the Muslim community, Islam began to organize itself as an institution, while at the same time other European religions were pursuing their movement of deinstitutionalization. Islam as an institution has already some years of experience in Spain and Belgium. In France, for the first time elections were held in May 2003 for the establishment of a French Council of Muslim Cult (CFCM), which was a capital move toward institutionalization. Now Islam may participate in important European projects such as “Giving a Soul to Europe,” and is frequently at the center of debates and discussions.
Islam still has an image problem as that of a “migrant’s religion,” which encourages a colonial, or rather post-colonial, attitude in the administration’s handling of Muslim affairs. So we must mention the existence of converts to Islam. In most of the cases, people convert to Islam to complete their previous religious life, not to renounce it. Presenting itself as the last revealed religion for the present humankind, Islam recognizes the other biblical religions as branches of Adam’s tree. I should also mention that most commentators of the Qur`an identify three allusions to Buddha in the Holy Book (Qur`an 21: 85,38,48; surat 95).
Only twenty years before, people converted to Islam as a way to advance in the study of Sufism. Nearly all converts were intellectuals and artists much influenced by the writings of René Guénon (d. 1951), a French metaphysics scholar who took the name of ‘Abd al-Wâhid Yahyâ and settled in Cairo. His writings, a brilliant testimony to the universality of the Primordial Tradition, are still basic reading for all the “seekers of truth”, particularly also for Western Buddhists. Yet another Sufi metaphysician, Frithjof Schuon (d. 1998), developed the theme of the “Transcendental Unity of Religions”, an interpretation of the wahdat al-adyân doctrine created by Sufis of medieval times. Sufism always played a key role in interfaith dialogue. This is easy to understand if you remember that Sufi masters consider that Muslim saints are heirs to prophets who lived before Muhammad, thanks to the global, synthetic quality of this last prophet, who re-embodies all the previous prophets. Hence such saint will be “Abrahamic”, “Mosaic”, or “Christ-like” for all or part of his life. Some “Mosaic” Sufi saints have been known to hide behind a veil, like Moses when he went down Mount Sinai, to prevent the light emanating from their face from blinding or killing their interlocutors. “Christ-like” saints have been touted to be able to resuscitate dead persons as did Jesus. This prophetic heritage is still alive in today’s Saints; of course the realm of this experience is beyond the reach of outside analysis.
Nowadays, converts may also be “proximity converts”, some living in suburban housing projects, who are attracted to Islam through relationship with Muslim friends, neighbors or colleagues. Interfaith marriages play a role too. In France, more women than men are converting to Islam, and it could be interesting to understand why. Because registration of conversion is not necessary, it is difficult to obtain precise numbers. Moreover, some converts won’t reveal their conversion because of the presence of Islamophobia in some sectors of society. The total number of 200.000 persons was proposed, but I think that 30.000 to 40.000 is a more probable estimate. Exact reasons for conversion are yet to be explored.
Handicaps and assets of European Islam
A European Islamic culture is de facto emerging, but compared to European Buddhism, Islam suffers many handicaps. The religious culture of the first generation of Muslim migrants was not of very good quality, and they were unable to teach their children Islam with a universalistic perspective. Then there is among a number of Muslims a confusion between the Islamic message itself and Arab, Berber, African, Turkish or other properly ethnic traditions. Particularly in France, Islam is under the influence of ideological or ethnical conflicts originating in the Maghreb countries, the Western regions of the Islamic word, to which many Muslim are still linked by nationality or for other reasons. Nevertheless, young Muslims reject their parents` Islam, seen as a boring and formalistic set of rules boiling down to the distinction of halâl (permitted) and harâm (forbidden). Just like other members of society, they feel the need for an authentic spirituality which could bring them awakening and freedom.
Actually, this is an opportunity for the new European Islam to reach directly for the Tawhîd axis, the quest for Unity, a concept of identification process fundamental in Islam. This quest could help European Muslims to break the boundaries of family, ethnicity, nationality, etc… The Sufi doctrine of the “universal man”, al-insân al-kâmil, easily understandable to people of today, should help at least a number of persons to gain inner freedom through spirituality. Emir Abd el-Kader is a good example. This mythic hero was wise enough to understand that the “smaller” jihad of war with France was no longer a valuable pursuit, because it no longer fit into the divine scheme, and that one should engage in a “greater” jihâd of liberation from the shackles of passions and illusions.
Logically, a Muslim should feel comfortable everywhere on earth because of Tawhîd, the inner axis mentioned above. As expressed in the Prophet’s saying “The whole earth is an immaculate mosque,” everyone is one’s own Imam when praying. Historically, Islam has always adapted to places and times, and was moreover eager to understand or assimilate the different cultures it came in contact with.
To regain its wholeness, the psyche of European Islam must be open to the universal, and have a quasi-metaphysical vision of the world to put an end to the pernicious tension created by a dualist, schizophrenic vision of the world as cleaved in oppositions: West and East, North and South of the Mediterranean, Islam and modernity, Islam and secularization, Islam and citizenship, etc…
Actually, the uneasiness of Muslims is shared by other lucid Europeans: the destruction caused by the mechanistic “civilization”, the loss of direction, the disenchantment of the world… Only the united conscience, gift of the Tawhîd experience, may help Muslims of all countries to apprehend all levels of reality with wisdom, according to each level its proper importance and its proper place. That is exactly what the Prophet expected from the men and women beside him.
Part 4: Questions and Answers
Audience (Father Verdier)
Excuse me for raising a question not directly addressed to what the lecturers have just said, but which I had wanted to raise in the context of the earlier discussions. I work in a cultural and inter-spiritual center here in Paris, and I would like to echo some of the things I heard there to spice up our debates a bit.
Some people who run a center in the style of Karl Durkheim have stated the following with a lot of conviction: “The time of religions is finished; we have entered the time of spirituality.” Another lecturer by the name of Bernard Béret, who is well-known in France, said: “It is necessary to leave the religion behind to enter spirituality and wisdom, because all religions are institutional.” According to him, the logic of institutions is conservatory. Because of their institutional character, religions are only out to preserve themselves, which makes them unsuitable for dialogue. I would like to raise this point as a question to the panel.
Also, Brother Martin, who took over the Ashram of Shantivana from Bede Griffith, said: “Religion is a nest. We all need a nest to be born into, but it can turn into a cage. The important thing is to be well in the nest to be able to fly away, because the human being is greater than the religion”. Now, the next question I would like to ask everybody is: In order to enter into a perspective of Global Ethics, is it necessary to remain in the nest or not? Put in other words, is it necessary to leave the religion to reach Global Ethics, or is it necessary to nourish each other in the nest of religion to reach Global Ethics? If it is necessary to leave the religion, what is then the basis of this ethics? Is it possible to found Global Ethics based on immanence without appeal to the transcendent? Thank you.
I know what Durkheim means, what Bede Griffith means, what Bernard Béret means, when they make the distinction between religion and spirituality.
I will deliberately follow their way in a bit provocative manner. In 1997, when we organized a meeting around the Dalai Lama which joined together representatives of the great world religions and also of autochthonous traditions from the five continents, a sentence which struck me and which came from these discussions was: “The world is famished for spirituality but suffers from indigestion caused by religion.” The question is what do we understand by religion? There are sociological definitions, such as what joins together the tribe, the humans. Then there is the spiritual definition, namely what connects us to the absolute. Here I would like to point out that for us, according to the tradition of the Buddha, religion is synonymous with yoga, union, communion with the ultimate nature or with the deepest of the deep.
This is unfortunately not what is usually understood by religion. We use the word in the common sense of adhesion to a belief, a dogma, to formalism; and this is precisely what disqualifies it. I recommend the revalorization of the ethical and spiritual dimension of the religion. If we talk about ethics and spirituality, it seems to me that religion is implied, even without using the word. Religions, both in their universality and difference with regards to what is authentic and fundamental, promote ethics and spirituality in its universal dimension.
To finish, a small word about immanence and transcendence, about basing universal and global ethics on immanence and thereby forgetting transcendence. Which transcendence are we talking about? The understanding of a sort of supernatural transcendence seems useless to me. From an Eastern and Buddhist point of view, transcendence means transcendence of the ego, of the egoistic hold on things, also transcendence of concepts, names and forms. Here we are back to this metaphysical non-alignment, to this vision of Madhyamaka that the qualities of the universal man, of the primordial Adamic state, naturally and spontaneously live in the transcendence of the small ego, of the old man. This is just to put this debate about immanence/transcendence back into its context. Thank you.
I often say that right now is the time of spirituality, and that religions have often failed in their mission. But in Islam, rites are seen as a vessel of blessing. I think that if we give up the rites, no matter in which religion, we give up a protective framework. So to me, the rites at their very least are a protection, and that their very most, a means of enlightenment. Of course, everybody suffers from religious formalism; it creates tensions between different fractions within Islam, for example between the literalists – the scholars of law – and spiritual Muslims – the Sufi or Shiites. But the Sufi or Shiites have never met into question the usefulness of rites as help for spiritual realization.
A second point. A Global Ethic or spirituality without the voice of religion: According to the prophet Mohammed, humanity has recognized one hundred and twenty four thousand prophets. These prophets were sent out to make people who had strayed from the path listen to the voice. Maybe we are in a new Messianistic age – which is spoken about a lot in Islam and also in a certain form of Christianity – so maybe all the traditional circumstances have changed. But we risk to fall into a New Age mentality, which is seductive in many ways. But I want to mention here that Sufi masters – I speak about that tradition simply because I know it best- that medieval masters like Rumi or Ibn Arabi had a universal consciousness. When Rumi said: “I am neither a Christian nor a Jew or Muslim,” he wanted to shock the good conscience of the believers of that time. Every enlightened spirit has had to rattle the conscience of his contemporaries. But does this mean that we have to now take our recourse now to the stars of the New Age movement?
My question is addressed to Prof. Geoffroy. You had mentioned the attachment of the French Muslims to their background, to their culture. It could be religious, or tradition. These Arabs – most of them come from the African countries, and most of them have been here for centuries – what happened that they could not detach themselves of certain types of Islamic thoughts and traditions?
To say that Africans or Maghrebians have been French for centuries is a little bit excessive. We should rather say that, since the first waves of immigration as result of the colonial phase date from the years 1920-1930, and consisted mainly of people who belonged to one or the other of the Sufi brotherhoods. Those people became quite well assimilated. So the presence of the immigrants is not even a century old. The biggest phase of immigration has taken place only from the Sixties on.
I think the problem is especially cultural and social. It concerns people from the working class who could not find jobs in their own countries, people who came from countryside or from rather disadvantaged social classes which left to try their luck here. Thus, these people naturally did not have, unfortunately, the intellectual, cultural and social means to easily adapt to the European context, and to make the immediate link between the Islamic and the Western values.
This link was mainly established when the students came in years 1960-70. In the study circles, there were a certain number of very interesting interactions. People rediscovered their Islam here in Europe. For example, you now have Sufi brotherhoods headed by Europeans, and these converted people re-fertilize the Muslim world in the sense that they spread their way of Sufism. For the last ten years or so, we have seen Muslim Sufis, Westerners, re-islamize or re-inject a dose of spirituality into the Muslim world. Already, the return is being done.
But, once again, concerning the first generations, they were workers; and it is similar with the first Turkish immigrants. I live in Alsace where there are many Turks coming from Germany. It is the same thing. These people do not come from Istanbul, Ankara, or Izmir; they come from the Anatolian countryside, bringing their culture with them. They are Muslim, but they also have in themselves a lot of substrates, a lot of heritages, local, ethnic, religious, which are not Muslim. But they impute those things to Islam, and this weighs on their social and family life.
In Alsace, for example, I saw many Turkish women who wear the veil. However, people said to me that these women do not pray. Why then do they wear the veil? They do it because of the social pressure, because of the pressure to conform to Turkish or African customs. The solution to this precisely comes from the melting pot, from the fact that Europe and the West are places of exchange, and that all of it is moving every five years, which we can see on a sociological level. I remember how, about ten to fifteen years ago, the Turks in France were on one side, and the Moroccans and Algerians on the other. But since less than ten years, we have now mixed marriages between Turkish and Arabic people in France, and mosques are managed by Turks and Maghrebians together. It is a new phenomenon.
This is an example of how societies learn again to go beyond national cleavages. Turkish people are often very chauvinistic in their manner, and so are the Maghrebians. But the West enables them to reorganize all that, and to go beyond that. This is the hope, this opening to the universal, because we cannot reach the “spiritual” universal without first going through cultural universal. That goes together. When I, as a Moslem of French origin, listen to a cantata of Bach, it is for me like a form of dhikr, a form of divine invocation, but I am not sure that someone else coming through immigration will makes this link. We will reach it, I think, but, you can see, there is still a little time so that these cultural contributions, these interferences manage to interact together. I don’t know if I answered completely. Thank you.