Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue on Global Ethics – Responses to Violence

Religions Responses to Violence: From Cause to Cure

May, 2003

Part 1: Panel

Panelists:
Simon Xavier Guerrand-Hermes (chair)
Mohammed Kagee
Ven. Dagpo Rinpoche
David Chappell
Ahmet Alibasic
Chirzin Habib
Sulak Sivaraksa (Response)
Alon Goshen-Gottstein (Summary)

Simon Guerrand-Hermes

The theme that will be covered today by the speakers and introduced by myself is Religions’ Responses to Violence: From Cause to Cure. It is an enormous undertaking and a very crucial one at this time.

Violence is inherent to all different forces that make our world. If you start with the world of matter, there are storms, volcanic eruptions and so on. Moreover, there is massive destruction of forestland, both by humans and nature. This is altering our living conditions. If you look at the animal kingdom, for many beasts, violence is a way to survive. Then if you come to the human beings, we are faced today with more violence than we could accept or even understand. As Christians, we call the creator God, but he has many names, and I hold him responsible for creating the diversity of so many religions in order to exemplify the purpose and values of life, and to learn how to deal with the violence. It is our role as humans to act and to solve issues and to believe there is a point of unity between all religions. And to me that is ethic as spirituality.

In the course of history, almost all major religions have become tainted by violence. But I believe that, by now, it has become apparent that the purpose of religion is peace, not war. For me, this is a certainty. That peace starts within oneself, and it is part of an education to that purpose. The mystical dimension that is available in all religions is to bring oneself closer to recognition of the other, to care and love for the entire world. But if I don’t start by myself, why would I want others to do it?

It is here that all those who have faith and can express it can find the inner and outer solution for a world of peace. Concerned humans come together here with deep concerns about the growing violence in the world today. Traditions give us ethical values and offer us a vision of peaceful coexistence, based on justice and harmony, with ourselves, with others, and with the earth. It is obvious that we need to go beyond a discourse influenced by any kind of political, national or economic objective. In our fast moving world today, we must explore concrete ways of action and expression, cooperating within a frame of unity and respect for the others.

Violence is a concept with many faces and nuances. But unfortunately, a concept is not merely a concept, but actions that affect others. Violence is ecological, individual, state sponsored, political, or physical. This complex phenomenon that we are facing puts us on trial while we are trying to identify its roots and intimate its motivations. Deeper understanding and an open feeling are needed in order to find effective ways of dealing with violence. We have to improve the ways in which our traditions have used to regard and deal with it. There are human reasons like greed, hate, poverty, ignorance, lust for power, and disparity. It is here that we must act in improving the religious traditions, making them our recourses for building a world of peace and love. We must work together with our religious communities and increase their roles in bringing together their members in order to prevent and overcome the impulse for violence.

I hope that our discussion today will identify some of the challenges we are facing in our common struggle to deal with violence. We must find the means to transform our world, by looking critically at ourselves, and at our own traditions. All religious traditions offer an alternative understanding that promotes the recognition of our responsibility towards all forms of life. So we must learn how to talk and how to listen, and how to show a deep concern for lives and souls of the other. We also need to find for everyone a positive identity, healing the wounds of our common history. Also, we have to carefully deal with any kind of extremism which may occur as result of that history. Finally, we must prove our love to others by promoting non-violence as one of the ways of solving our life problem as an individual or as a community.

I am looking forward to the presentations of all the speakers, but before that I would like all of you present here to stay silent for a few moments, in order to bring a real commitment at our deepest level for a world of peace and love. Thank you.

Mohammed Kagee

We are living in a far more violent, destructive and scary world today than we were some 20 years ago. During this period the number of democratic nations has increased and tremendous advances have been made in the field of science and technology; we are moving towards a global culture of interdependence in trade, communication, and economics.

Yet, the quest for peace, mutual acceptance, harmony and mutual co-existence eludes us as a human family. There is a major problem in the serious, ominous violence that emanates from what appears to be a semblance of progress and appearance of freedom, democracy and prosperity in our world today.

Muslims in South Africa, as elsewhere, feel frustration and anger. They feel they are victims of American foreign policy. These reactions of anger are now being generalized into hatred of the Christian West as a whole. These feelings are so deep that, in many circles, events of September 11 are now being described as understandable.

Hate sermons against the west and Israel in the mosques are common in Cape Town, South Africa, where I live, as are in many mosques throughout the world. Muslim anger runs so deep that many Muslims have welcomed the Anglo-American attack on Iraq since, it is hoped, that this would be the trigger that the Palestine/Israel situation has failed to be.

Certainly the belligerent environment created by the Bush and Blair administration, has created further polarization. This is creating fertile ground for religious extremism to thrive and allowing a cycle of insane violent retaliation to take root.

This makes the expression of mainstream moderate Islam very difficult, particularly as moderates are increasingly been perceived as being identified with American interests. Terrorists of yesterday are increasingly embraced as freedom fighters. Thanks to the Iraqi invasion, terrorism is beginning to gain legitimacy and justification.

This all serves the widespread perception that Islam is in some special way linked to terrorist violence, and therefore the unprecedented interest by the West in Islam today is no wonder. However, it needs to be understood that the ongoing violence, terrorism, bloodshed and slaughter in the name of God, from whichever quarter, should not be equated with any religion; even though the perpetrators may claim to take inspiration from their faith. Such individuals and groups certainly do not reflect the teachings of the sacred scriptures.

Islam’s position on violence and extremism is quite clear. In Qur’an 2:143, it is stated: “And we have made you a community that is justly balanced (a community of the middle way, avoiding extremism), so that you may bear witness to all humankind as the messenger bore witness to you.”

Elsewhere the Qur’an declares: “If any one killed a person (unless it is for murder or spreading mischief in the land), it would be as if he killed the whole of humankind, and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of humankind.”

Clearly, “mischief in the land” in the 21st century involves the killing of civilians, the spreading of terror, and the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons against innocent human beings.

September 11, 2001 and the Iraqi invasion have changed the lives of people. Most Muslims were appalled at the human tragedy of September 11, as they are now at the invasion of Iraq. Muslim leaders acknowledge that there is a deep crisis within Muslim society. Most Muslims see themselves as victims of American hegemony, yet many embark on a public relations campaign to defend Islam and convince the world that Islam is a religion of peace. Many non-Muslims are baffled at the pious utterances that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, while at the same time they witness the display of violence perpetrated by Muslims.

However, it must be born in mind that no religious community is free from extremists. Religion is used, and its symbols are manipulated by extremists largely for political objectives. This is true today as it was during the middle ages, during the crusades, the wars of reformation, and the colonialist expansion. One only has to look at the loss of life caused by religious persecution in the last century.

However, what are the questions posed by mainstream Muslims?

1. How is it that the extremist elements within the Muslim population have managed to acquire a disproportionately large and dominant position they currently enjoy?

2. How do we counteract this manipulation of the sacred Qur’anic texts by these extremists to further their objectives?

3. How do we amplify the Qur’anic teachings of peace and tolerance, and make it an integral part of Muslim ethos and culture?

Like any other religion, Islam is not monolithic. There are diverse expressions of Islam. At times there are tensions between these rival claims for the authentic voice of Islam as there is in other faiths. These differences of interpretation were evident in Apartheid South Africa, when many Muslim religious leaders were quite happy to go along with an oppressive Apartheid system invoking the Qur’anic text for “law and order”, and appealing to Muslims to “obey those in authority over you”. At the same time other Muslims involved in the struggle to overthrow the Apartheid government were invoking the more revolutionary texts to justify their position, especially during the protest marches. Muslim activists were rebuked for bringing politics into the mosque, and using religion for political ends. It did not occur to them then, that going along with Apartheid was not considered as politics, but opposing it was.

In spite of a dominant traditional worldview in many Muslim countries, Muslim scholars are now appealing for acceptance of different expressions of Islam, in what is being described as “intrinsic pluralism”. This development is indeed a welcome trend for a more tolerant position towards co-religionists, as it is for the other equally valid religious traditions.

Many regard religion as having a predilection for violence, since many draw inspiration for acts of violence from religion. Others have the opposite view; that religion has nothing to do with violence; and that all violence in which religion is implicated, is in conflict with the sacred teachings of religion such as peace, love, and compassion. However, the following needs to be considered:

1. Sacred texts do provide opportunities for violence: Not all religions are pacifist traditions. Some religions do indeed allow for the legitimate use of violence under certain conditions. In this context I remember the vociferous theological debate in my country for the biblical justification of Apartheid by devout Christian leaders. And the Apartheid education policy of separate and unequal education was even implemented as “Christian national education”.

2. Religious violence does not occur in a vacuum; indeed, socio-political and economic conditions are at the root of most religious violence.

3. Subjectivity of the reader: The sacred texts provide possibilities for diverse and subjective interpretations, depending on the baggage of culture, tradition, and class personal history etc. For example, in some Muslim countries where there is a culture of polygamy, it is quite ok to justify polygamy. In South Africa progressive Muslims read the same Qur’anic texts to justify monogamy and promote gender equality.

4. State violence: Many argue that acceptance of state violence as ‘legitimate’ places the onus of explanation for violence on liberation movements, rather than the order from which they struggle. Apartheid South Africa and Palestine are examples where we have been hearing about terrorism, and not ‘state terror’. Many question the ‘unholy alliance’ between mainstream religion and state power, which has resulted in religious establishments unwittingly legitimizing and sanctioning state terror.

The Western World is secularized. The separation of church and state is generally accepted and there is now a separation between secular law and religious law. This is not shared by the Muslim world, because Islam sees itself as more than a faith. The separation between this-worldly and otherworldly matters is foreign to Islam. Scholars distinguish between faith and religion; faith as individual, personal, and private; as a mental acts of placing one’s trust in someone or something. It is also internal to the individual. Islam sees itself as more than faith; as a religion, which is also collective and social; and organizes individuals into a community based upon a single faith.

Islam is not a pacifist faith, but a religion with strong emphasis on social, moral and ethical conduct for human behavior, as well as promoting an egalitarian political and social order in which it operates. The religious promise of heavenly salvation for passivity in the face of earthly injustices and oppression is foreign to Islam. The Qur’an constantly reminds Muslims to “enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong”. For most Muslims, personal piety, faith and morality within the framework of repressive systems without challenging them are of no consequence.

The sacred Qur’anic text postulates the idea of a universe created with justice as its basis. The natural order, according to the Qur’an is one rooted in justice, and any deviation from it, is regarded as “fitna” or disorder. Mahmood Taligha, an important Muslim scholar, describes the Qur’an’s position aptly when he says: “The way to God is that which leads to the well-being of human society as a whole; the way of justice, of human freedom, so that few cannot gain dominance over others, appropriating for themselves the natural resources which God has placed at the disposal of all”. Virtually all rhetoric used by Muslims in the Apartheid struggle from street marches, protests, and mosque sermons appealed to the Qur`an’s demand “to rise as God’s witness to justice” for the oppressed and marginalized. Strangely, though, this call for justice was never used for the liberation of women and promotion of gender equality.

From the above, it should therefore not appear strange that the loudest voices protesting American hegemony, global inequity and International double standards emerge from the Muslim world. Most Muslims see themselves as fighting two battles:

1. Against their own repressive regimes headed by kings, sultans and the military, where political Islam goes underground; as a result it becomes a breeding ground for terrorism, as there is no space for dissent to function outside, there is no free press, nor political parties.

2. Against Western supporters of their tormentors. The USA is seen to support these repressive regimes, to promote authoritarian control in the Muslim world, whose people desire only democracy, human rights and freedom from tyranny as anyone else.

As South Africans who lived through the Apartheid era, we know how the strong and powerful appealed for law and order from the oppressed during our riots and marches, and we too agonized at the misguided peace that was sought by our oppressors.

Islam is, and will remain, by far Christianity’s most important religious rival. Both faith communities encompass nearly half the world’s population. Both communities are present in all parts of the world. Both are growing rapidly. Both adherents make exclusive claims to the absolute truth, and both have missionary objectives.

This is the challenge: moving from exclusivist to pluralist: Many argue that religion is often implicated in violence because of its inherently exclusivist claims. The exclusivist claims to have a monopoly on the truth. The pluralist, while committed to his own faith, accepts the religious other as having an equally valid claim to the truth. Again Islam’s position, in this regard, is clear as the Qur’an stresses that differences in beliefs, views and ideas of humankind are not accidental; that religious diversity is a natural and divine plan of god for human existence. For example, in Qur’an: 11:118 it is said: “And had your Lord so willed, he would surely have made all human beings into a single community (but he willed otherwise, and so) they continue to hold divergent views.” And Qur’an 5:148 states, “And if God so willed, he would have made all of you one community (but he has not), that he may test you in what he has given you. So compete with one another in good actions.”

Therefore, religions are not in competition with each other but are complementary. Religions are not enemies of each other, but face the common enemy of man’s inhumanity to man, and the many humanitarian issues that need to be addressed together. The challenge for religions, therefore, is not only to acknowledge the plurality of religious traditions, but to incorporate, honor and embrace religious diversity for the benefit, not detriment of humankind.

The contemporary global order is by no means a just one. We will not overcome conflict and violence unless a just global order prevails. In particular, vast inequalities of the developed and underdeveloped world need to be urgently addressed. People of faith need to pressure politicians into addressing the social, political injustices and economic imbalances that exist in the world today.

We can learn from the South African experience. In the Apartheid era, as the religious leaders gradually moved away from an accommodation theology of the church, which supported Apartheid, while appealing for passive obedience from its flock, the church gradually started challenging the status quo and declared apartheid a “sin”. This led to the application of liberation theology that sought biblical justification for the support of justice, liberation and freedom from Apartheid.

Contemporary society is operating in a moral vacuum, one driven largely by materialism, individualism and consumerism. The onus is on people of faith to fill the emerging moral and social vacuum with an ethical system that is both contemporary and one which incorporates religious, family and community values.

On a political level, religious leaders need to resist the temptation of being apologists for political authorities, of simply going along with government. They have a duty to challenge government whenever they are failing in their political mandate. In South Africa many religious leaders (after democracy) confessed to the sin of silence in the face of Apartheid’s brutal oppression.

Our South African experience again taught us the significance of religious leaders of different faiths who stood together as comrades in a quest for a just South Africa. The interfaith movement developed in Cape Town, when a number of religious leaders were locked up together in a single prison cell for participating in a protest march against the apartheid regime. They very quickly found each other in common prayer. From that day on all mistrust and suspicion between religions evaporated. This inter-religious solidarity against Apartheid is acknowledged worldwide.

I believe that interfaith solidarity for a just and human world is a far greater requirement than mere interfaith dialogue. If religions of the world could stand together against the common enemy, as in South Africa, if there was a joint commitment to challenge evils, we would have a basis for reaching across our differences. This would go a long way towards establishing peace and harmony in the world.

We would also need to ensure that these interfaith encounters extend to the rank and file of society through community structures so that a sustainable culture of peaceful co-existence takes root at grass roots level. We would also need to find intrinsic reasons from within our own faith commitments for promoting this culture of solidarity, instead of waiting for external factors such as September 11 and Iraq to provide this. We do not have to wait for conflict and violence to overwhelm us before we feel the need to develop healthy inter-religious relationships.

There is a struggle under way for the hearts and minds of Muslims with major implications for world peace. It is a struggle between those for whom Islam is a religion based on peace, tolerance, compassion and humanism, and part of the modern democratic world; and those who preach hatred and violence and want to send us back to the middle ages. Muslims need to display a human face to the world in line with the spirit of the Qur’an’s major themes of mercy, compassion, peace and tolerance. Moreover, Islamic morality needs to go beyond the perception of its banning wine and banishing women from sight. It needs also to focus on developing a human rights and democratic culture, and also be seen to be to addressing gender justice issues.

Christianity and other faiths, on the other hand, need to break away from their apparent silence on human issues. Instead of focusing mainly on personal and private salvation and spirituality, it would need to be seen to be more vociferous on issues of social and economic injustices and political oppression.

A question often asked is: can Islam be part of a ‘secular world order ‘into which we are moving? The challenge is for Muslims to demonstrate to others how religious values of Islam can complement a secular culture while remaining part of the international community. It needs to be understood that secularism is not so much against religion, as it is against state interference of religion. More importantly, as our South African experience has taught us, it is against the state`s manipulation of religion.

In conclusion, I need to say that many Muslims worry as much about their children going out one day and blowing themselves up, as others worry about them coming at them to do so. I urge you to join me in prayers for peace, for an end to human suffering, an end to human tragedies of wars. We also pray for a just world order, as the only way to achieve sustainable peace.

We pray that world conscience impacts on world political leadership to put an end to the tyranny inflicted on innocent people; that we as a human race, particularly those we put in power, conduct our affairs with a moral conscience, dignity, compassion and humility. For, without question, the ways in which we, as a human race, relate and interact with each other, will shape the future of this planet – for better or for worse.

Ven. Dagpo Rimpoche

Numerous representatives of the world religions, scholars and practitioners, have come here for this conference. Allow me, from the bottom of my heart, to express to you my deepest respect and to give you my best wishes.

I think that this meeting between Muslims and Buddhists is very important and precious, and I would like to describe in some preliminary words the Buddhist vision or view of the religions which have appeared in the world.

What are the objectives of the religions? In our view, all the founders, especially those of the major religions like Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism wanted to come to the help of beings; and they gave teachings intended to bring them happiness – provisional and ultimate happiness- and to help them overcome their difficulties. All Buddhists agree on this point. But if the religions are different methods to dissipate suffering, what does this suffering consist of? In our view, observation reveals that there are two major reasons for suffering.

As human beings we obviously have a mind which contains a good number of faults. For example, elements like ignorance, aversion, jealousy, dishonesty or attachment are too prominent, while spiritual qualities like love, compassion towards all kind of sentient beings or, from the perspective of humankind, the respect and consideration for other human beings – for the simple reason that they are humans – and also generosity, patience, concentration, wisdom – meaning the capacity to distinguish what is from what is not – are underrepresented. We think that all problems stem from these two – the prominence of faults and the lack of spiritual qualities.

Once we have distinguished these two reasons of evil, what can we do to dissipate the difficulties? We would have to act on these two levels, namely to reduce the number of faults and to reinforce the good qualities. This is the general approach of our method.

Starting from there, it is also true that every people or human society needs a method that fits its own way of thinking. In fact, a method may well be without fault, but if it is not in harmony with the way of thinking of those who use it, it is completely useless.

This is why some of the founders of the major religions have affirmed the existence of God, creator of the world; others have made reference to diverse deities; and again others have denied the existence of God and invited the practitioners to take upon themselves the responsibility of the work at hand and to become their own guides. The religious teachings which have been given are therefore manifold and different. But if we look at the facts, then all these religions have been of an enormous benefit for a huge number of beings. By this I mean all of them, without exception.

In fact, up to the present day, the recourse to the religions has helped many persons to be happier, more serene, and to overcome or prevent all kinds of suffering. Religions not only give a lot to practitioners, but also to non-practitioners, including non-believers because, in every country of the world, there is a religion that strongly shapes the local culture. From that point of view, the religions are also very beneficial.

Therefore, Buddhists believe that, as means of achieving provisional and ultimate progress, religions are indispensable for living beings in general, and especially for human beings, and that they are therefore a veritable treasure for the entire humankind, an inestimable common patrimony.

If religions did not exist we would have great difficulties to overcome a good number of inner torments. Moreover, even if we are not personally committed to a certain religion, and therefore under the impression that it is of absolutely no direct benefit for us, it does not mean that religion does not help others to triumph over the trials of life. It is for this reason that we hold the different religions to be precious jewels and a common treasure of the highest value for all the people in the world. In fact, if our sprit is troubled, even if the recourse to exterior things sometimes provides a certain relief, this certainly does not help to alleviate the inner suffering. But this is something that religions can do, on condition that we put them to use.

Consequently, no matter whether we adhere to a certain religion or not, it seems to me that, as human beings, we should take it upon ourselves to protect and respect the world religions. This seems to me a responsibility that each of us should assume.

On the other hand, even if our own religion is of great benefit to us personally, this does not mean that it necessarily has the same effect on everybody else. Neither should we base ourselves on our own convictions in an attempt to impose them on others. It is preferable to make the effort to understand the way of thinking of others and to consider and respect the religion suited to them. I think that this shows respect for human rights, a non-negotiable aspect of it.

This is even truer from a Mahayana perspective (one of the branches of Buddhism), in which the practitioners aim at realizing the state of Buddhahood. For them, all other religions, even if they are not the way they follow themselves, could serve as means of achieving their goal, namely Buddhahood.

I could give other reasons and cite the words of the Buddha to this effect, but there is no time for it here.

It is for example undeniable that there are some doctrinal divergences between those religions that affirm the existence of God, creator of the world, and those who deny it, divergences, which I think, spring from the different ways of thinking of their respective “audiences.” The same divergences exist between the traditions that conceive of an eternal atman (soul), and those which deny it. These seem to me to be the two major points of divergence.

After analyzing these, we do no admit the notion of a creator God or of an eternal atman in Buddhism; but on the other hand we consider the notion of a creator God to be very precious. Why? Because, based on this, an enormous number of people could and can be protected from suffering and gain happiness. Thus, this notion very obviously proves to be very beneficial, and that is why we gladly admit its value and usefulness.

In the same way, Buddhism does not admit or allow the notion of an eternal atman; it describes the individual as an impermanent, perishable phenomenon which transforms itself from moment to moment; in short a composed phenomenon which depends upon causes and conditions. But this does not hinder Buddhism from having the greatest respect for the notion of an eternal soul as professed by the other religions because, like the other one, this notion proves to be useful and fruitful for many. In fact, if we overwhelmed certain people with the assertion that the human being is impermanent, that it appears and disappears from moment to moment, this would lead many to the conclusion that there is neither a previous life nor an afterlife, and no passage from one life to the next. We think that the founders of these religions have affirmed and eternal atman in order to prevent this danger, and that the faithful learn to comprehend that beings pass from one life into the next. From this, they can learn to not exclusively busy themselves with the actual life, but to also think about the life beyond. So in order to be happy, they come to strive for goodness and virtue, and to abstain from behaviors that are damaging to self and others.

These, we think, are some of the reasons for the affirmation of an eternal soul; it also explains the importance and the value that we accord to these notions, even though we do not share them ourselves.

To summarize: if the religions show any differences, these in our opinion have to do with the letter and the form, not with the goal, which is to give suffering beings the means of improving their situation. Moreover, they get people to do what is good and to stop doing what is bad.

If someone therefore takes on religious practice, his spirit cannot but progress step by step, and when, one day, he has arrived at another way of thinking, he might feel the need for a new way that is adapted to his present state of mind, a way that could maybe offer him a different religion from the one he has adhered to so far.

The truth is that religions share major qualities and virtues, even if they overtly harbor differences or, differently put, profound divergences. For example, all of them stigmatize bad actions, no matter whether committed by body, word or spirit, such as, on the physical level, murder, theft, sexual misconduct; on the oral level, lying, callousness, hurtful words, futile proposals; and on the moral level, lust, malevolence and wrong views. To the extend to which these acts can only hurt self and others, the ethics which consists of refraining from doing so is unanimously regarded as the basis from which the other qualities can be developed. All religions agree on this point.

By definition, or by their nature, hate, cruelty and evilness towards others are contrary to religion. No matter what tradition one follows, doing harm to others just as well as doing harm to oneself completely goes against the fundamental principles which have been laid down. There is also total agreement on this point.

Which is the situation that we can notice in this world? On the one hand, all beings, by their nature, aspire for happiness, peace and absence of violence. On the other hand, almost everywhere, there is no end to conflict, hurt and violence, no matter whether this happens on a grand scale, between countries, or in a smaller framework, between individuals. This has happened in the past; it continues today. People have often resorted to God or religion – without wanting to incriminate a particular religion here, it can happen in all the traditions – only to commit acts which are contrary to religion, consisting of harming others or self, stirring up troubles, threatening the public peace and so on. Examples for this abound in history.

Is this situation incurable? I do not think so; I am even convinced that there are solutions. Would it not be sufficient to “educate” people, in the sense of developing within them the qualities of knowledge that will grant them better life conditions? If we can make them understand what is beneficial compared to what is nefarious, I think that we should be able to overcome the present difficulties little by little; at least that is my hope.

Would the use of force or of violence be appropriate in certain cases? In Buddhism, we are careful not to confound goodness with weakness; we consider them to be radically different. To be more precise, we concede that it may sometimes be necessary to resort to violent actions, but only on the physical or oral level, never on the mental level. So, even in raising ones own children, on has to teach them a certain amount of things. One starts by giving explanations and advice, but if the stubbornly refuse to listen, then one has to sometimes resort to grounding them or administering a few slaps. But one does this for their own good, not for any other reason. In this way it can sometimes be necessary to comport oneself in a brutal manner, physically or orally. On the other hand, on the mental plan, Buddhism completely forbids violence. This means it would never justify aversion or malevolence. Why? Because, if one lets one`s mind be invaded by anger, this cannot be but nefarious for everybody, for the object of the hostility as well as for oneself, and this brings absolutely nothing positive for anyone. For example, just before the Buddha reached enlightenment, he was attacked by demonic forces. So what did he do? He meditated on love for them. He conquered them by love.

In the same manner, people nowadays hold up non-violence as a system and recommend it to triumph over violence. Not only do they have such views, but they put them into practice as well. And there are many of them.

In light of the fact that all Buddhists admit the law of karma, meaning the relationship between cause (karma) and effect, they admit as well that all living beings, not only humans, are equal from certain points of view. Particularly according to the Grand Vehicle (Mahayana Buddhism), all beings without any exception possess the potential to become Buddha. Differently put, every being cannot but become Buddha one day or other. To admit this cannot but considerably change the way one looks at others and the relationships one builds with them.

Moreover, once one has realized that oneself, like everybody else, is subject to impermanence, and changes every moment, one is in principle no longer at risk to form racist ideas and to exhibit sectarianism or favoritism. When one admits the notion of Karma, one understands that the one who accumulates good or bad karma is the individual himself, and therefore oneself personally. From this follows that, when one encounters difficulties, one can no longer make others responsible for them; at least if one thinks correctly about this.

Does this mean that all Buddhists behave this way? The answer is that Buddhists are beings, human beings like others. Consequently, many among them make sincere efforts and use the principles mentioned before as best as they can, but it would be difficult for all of them to succeed. Buddhists are like everybody else and no exceptions; they have nothing more than other human beings. Some among them will therefore exhibit sectarianism or show themselves to be racists; everything is possible. Let us not believe that this does not exist.

In conclusion, what would be concrete measures to adopt in order to counter the problems?

We think that the root of all the difficulties and suffering is ignorance, the fact of not understanding, not knowing. Consequently, the remedy is wisdom. From this follows that it is essential to give everybody access to instruction, and therefore to knowledge.

Given the fact that, as human beings, we have a lot of bad habitudes which we have acquired over a long period of time, one has also to admit that we cannot get there within one day.

The best would be to inculcate good habits into children starting from a young age. At the basis of all good behavior there is without doubt respect and consideration for the other as well as patience, endurance in case of difficulties, and goodwill, namely the capacity to feel all evil inflicted on others as evil inflicted on oneself, from which comes the propensity to act in a way that is useful and beneficiary for others. I think it is necessary to incorporate the teaching of these values into school programs, starting from the earliest grades, because it is best to learn these habits from the youngest age.

But if we want to give such an education to children, this means that the educators themselves, the adults, would have to put all of this into practice, at least as best as they could. It should no just be a matter of words, but to give the example, the good example, is equally important.

In addition, it would be good to ameliorate the relations among the religions. With this goal in sight, one could plan the creation of common structures to accomplish certain tasks together: for example, to alphabetize unlettered populations; to fight hunger, to ameliorate public health in countries that have problems, and also teach hygiene etc, and obviously to take care of and help the sick etc