Religions Responses to Violence: From Cause to Cure
Part 1: Panel
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.
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… It seems to me that undertaking common missions in these areas would be profitable.
To summarize: We certainly have to help the others with goodness, but only when they need it and want it. In doing so, we have to adapt ourselves to their temper and their expectations. This seems to me equally important. I doubt that any help that we impose on others could be of any benefit.
This is in a few words a clear account of the Buddhist vision of things. I hope that it can contribute to better the relations between the religions, especially between Islam and Buddhism. I thank you for your attention.
Most ethics are seen in regard to the monastic model, but 99% of Buddhists are not monks or nuns. And we have ethics that are individual ethics. Most religions, whether they are Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and so on, give ethics for individuals.
But I think we are in the midst now of realizing that we need ethics for institutions. And a great challenge for us today is institutional ethics. And the great violence done today is institutional violence, state violence. I had a neighbor in Hawaii, Rudi Pummel, who was nominated for the Nobel peace prize for just counting up the number of deaths done in the 20th century by the state. And his total came to over 200 million people. Institutional violence is amazing. So I want to deal with the Buddhist role and the role of Buddhists in creating institutions and cultures.
We are greatly indebted to UNESCO for initiating the theme of Developing Cultures of Peace. Well, I would say not only indebted to highlighting this, but reminding us that we are responsible for developing cultures of peace. Furthermore, drawing on a Christian tradition of sins of cognition and omission, we have to say that, in so far as we have failed to evolve cultures of peace, we are culpable of harm to others. And so I appreciate our chairman beginning by saying we must all be self critical, and so my beginning stance as a Buddhist is to look at the Buddhist stance self critically. And to say that no matter how many ideals we have for personal behavior, if our institutions are creating harm, then we are creating harm.
I would challenge those who say that most ethics are based on intentionality. I think George Bush believes in his heart that he is doing wonderful work for the world, right? Is he doing wonderful work in the world? I think of the problem that Dagpo Rimpoche suggested, namely that ignorance is also a foundational problem in our ethical development. Therefore, removing ignorance is very important.
Let me give you a classic Buddhist example of King Ashoka. King of Ashoka is held up as a Buddhist model for rulership. But you know, after he was converted, he still tortured and killed his wife. Now what I am quoting here is the Ashoka Avadana text. It is a Sanskrit Buddhist biography of Ashoka. In that biography, it also shows that after his conversion, a Jain misbehaved, and so he issued an order that brought about the death of 18,000 Jains. That’s an administrative order, an institutional act. Furthermore, because of his own orders, what happened was that his own Buddhist teacher was executed. And when someone brought the head of his teacher to Ashoka, thinking that it was the head of a Jain, he was astounded to confront the face of his own teacher in front of him. He fell and collapsed in remorse and repented.
I think here was the ending of a certain kind of naivety on his part, not realizing the responsibilities of power, and how it can bring enormous amounts of harm unintentionally. But without attention to the details of the consequences of action, one can bring a great deal of tragedy. So the first thing I want to do, as a Buddhist is to acknowledge our culpability and incapacity to have evolved a peaceful world.
There are two types of progress, one is science and technology, the other is institutional. In terms of our moral capacity as human beings, we must all evolve individually, but there is some hope that perhaps we can evolve a process. This however takes attention to a new kind of learning that has not been a part of any of our traditions. We need one another to help each other; so I am glad to have a Buddhist/Muslim collaboration here today to help us evolve better social processes. We are responsible not only in our individual actions, but we are all voters, even monks and nuns vote, I believe, so monks and nuns also bear institutional responsibility in our society.
There has been a question raised. In our new age, what kind of ethics do we have? And we have been referred to the World Parliament of Religions and its ethical structure or four basic rules, and to the golden rule of empathy for others, which I think is foundational. But nobody has evoked the Earth Charter. Again focusing on social processes, the Earth Charter is the most inclusive effort at finding ethical guidelines for our contemporary world that has ever taken place. And I think one of the first responsibilities that Buddhists and Muslims will have is to discuss and support the Earth Charter collaboratively, and then discuss ways to propagate and implement it. So I think the Earth Charter has been very much related to the UN initiative, and so it is very important that we have our Buddhist Muslim dialogue here under the UN auspices.
Among the processes, the social process for avoiding violence is the important emphasis on decision making, collaborative institutional decision making, which impacts the quality of life of most people and most living things on this planet.
One of the problems is lack of information. Many people have expressed horror at 9/11. I must confess, and maybe it is safe to do so in France, I wasn’t surprised it happened at all. I was surprised it hadn’t happened earlier. And when I mourn, I mourn every day. There are not just 3000 people that died in 9/11, countless more die every day from starvation and malnutrition. Gandhi says that the greatest form of violence is poverty. The French ambassador to the US last week said that in his previous appointments in Africa, he realized that in the last four years, three million people had died in Africa. Three million people. It hasn’t made the American news. It was not on CNN. How do we get adequate information on the well being of all the people on our planet in a proportional and responsible way? So one of the first obligations the Buddhists – if we are going to remove ignorance – is we better make sure we get good, proper information gathering.
Now in relationship to this I am very grateful to Master Hsin Tao, who expressed the obligation to care for sentient beings, for ecology and for the environment. But then again, I turn on my TV and what do I see? I see Dow Jones, I see NASDAQ; I don’t see ecological status in the world. I don’t see those kinds of measurements that talk about the real costs of manufacturing, or of legislative action to our environment and to our endangered species. Even water is disappearing at an alarming rate around the world. It would be so simple to require legislators and our media to get their license every year for TV and radio, so simple to put a little requirement in, that they are obliged to show some banners showing the state of the ecology, the environment and endangered species a few times a week at least. At least make it available to the public so that we can see the state of our world.
The second process is a social process so we can be responsible, which of course involves education, which involves ethical formation and value formation. Now I am not implying the idea of learning all the virtues – I don’t think that works – but what we call education as transformation. It has already been remarked how insular the US is and how blind most Americans are to the state of the world. To say nothing of the lack of experience of our president in other cultures, but how can one be a responsible citizen of the world without visiting, living in and gaining friendship and empathy with other cultures of the world? It should be an absolute requirement for an educated person today. It is certainly feasible and possible.
My friend Sulak over there always says ‘go where the suffering is’. The primary motivation for the Buddha was how to overcome suffering. So all Buddhists should try and make that as a primary principle – that in living and raising children and developing the culture, that we go to where there is the most pain. And we experience and be present with, and learn to appreciate and to find some way to respond positively to that. Being educated to the pain of the world.
Some other points of social processes. Financiers are running the world, affecting the quality of life everywhere, and there are a lot of loans coming out from the IMF and World Bank, which is one of the major ways the US government controls, directs and manipulates the world. I think it is very important that in all of these processes we make requirements that NGO’s be involved in both the negotiation of the loans and in monitoring the projects that are funded by these loans, so that the voices of the people are expressed to the various government agencies, so that we can see the human impact.
A related principle is that, in all decision-making, those most effected need to be involved in the decision making process. That is an ethical principal of a social process. So we need to evolve new ethical guidelines. Buddhists don’t have these. So I was very grateful to Dr. Guruge, when he outlined the seven principles that the Buddha gave for the development of a society, which advocated meeting regularly, often, and in harmony. Well it is exactly that principle, applying it in a modern context that is needed.
Child labor. One of the things the NGO’s should be turned to is monitoring child labor. I am not advocating total abolishment, as I know in certain situations, family livelihood requires it, but what could be put into loan requirements is that if there is child labor, it must be limited in numbers of hours, and it must be balanced with education. So that when the labor is over and the child’s youth is used up, they will have skills and tools to develop and have a productive life.
We need to be training ourselves in small group decisions and processes if we are going to be requiring our governments and our institutions to make decisions that are inclusive and balanced. I especially admire the Sarvodya movement in Sri Lanka. It develops camps where people may come from their own home villages to work camps where they are working for others; they have regular meetings and they make sure there are representatives for different age groups. You get the young people represented. Women get represented, minorities get represented; and when there is discussion the minorities speak first so that their voice is not lost under the tyranny of the majority. Group processes – we all need to learn how to do these things better. Fairness begins in small groups.
So that is what I am talking about here. How are we running our meetings here? How many women are here today? How many young people up here up in out panel? So what do you think, should we change these things?
Buddha’s mindfulness practices – I would suggest Buddhism has found liberation by being mindful of the different factors in our mind and consciousness. And it has two elements – careful analysis, and then patiently watching how these processes interact so that nothing is absolute, and that one can be free from the tyranny of ones own emotions and thoughts. And what I am in a sense proposing is taking Buddhist mindfulness practice and extending it into social processes, so that we listen and are attentive to the different factors, people and elements involved in the social arena; and we are patient to watch and to see how they interact with one another to ensure that there is fairness and not violence to each other. We talked about bio-diversity; we need to respect cultural diversity and human diversity in our midst.
I will end by commenting about the danger of scales. Some people have mentioned the particularly dangerous problem of having enormous corporations that now are larger than most nations. I grew up next to America in Canada; and here we used to say that living next to Canada was like sleeping next to an elephant. It may be very well intentioned, but you better stay wide-awake in case it roles over. Thank you.
We are living in a single cosmic human family, but what does it mean to the people who live in Indonesia, with a high diversity of cultural ethnic groups, where we live in 17,000 islands with more that 350 ethnic groups and more than 400 dialects? And how does it work in a situation like the process of globalization, which is hegemonic in nature; in a situation where the people who live in remote areas used to be marginalized because they are a minority, because they are poor, because they are uneducated or illiterate? So in this gathering I would like to go to the living dialogue, the dialogue of life.
Two weeks ago I was asked by a group of people – some of them Eminences because they come from Royal families. Some were from the North Molukkas, where they have been since the 10th century. But they are feeling that they have been increasingly marginalized during the last 50 years. One of their sultans came. There were also kings from Bali. Bali consists of different kingdoms, and most of them originated from Java, especially after the 14th century. Then there was a group of princes from West Java. And some of them came from very small cults or traditional beliefs from different parts of Indonesia. And some of them came from the minorities, ethnic groups and the Indian migrants. So they gathered in my residence just two weeks ago.
Most of them are the victims of the violence inherent in this process of cultural and structural marginalization. But the perpetrators of the violence were also present – like the supreme commanders of the army and the former vice president. And there was an open dialogue among the victims and the actors. Actually, I was not prepared for this openness, because the situation, especially the last ten years, had been so hard and bitter. But they opened their hearts and shared their reflection with whole sincerity and whole openness.
So what I would like to share with you is my experience of those people who were present in the reconciliation. It was the National Moral Movement for Indonesian Reconciliation. And there were about 120 people who came and reflected and even made testimonies, witnesses about the past. At least we understood from our own experience from the past, that we were ignorant about each other, about our intercultural dimension of interconnectedness or interrelatedness. We witnessed that even though we were together, we were not interconnected. We knew of each other, but we were not interrelated. So, actually we were suffering from our intercultural, interreligious illiteracy. We are interculturally and interreligiously illiterate, because we don’t listen to others. We don’t learn from others. And we had regarded each other as a threat, because of this cultural domination, or theology of domination or even theology of expansion of one faith against another. That’s why we had created a low trust society. It was hard and bitter to talk about this reality that we are ignorant about each other.
We all were affected by the kind of institutional, structural domination imposed on us by the state apparatus. In the past, the state owned all the authority to implement its political interests and desires and to interpret meaning. This is political and cultural domination. This is why the dimension of this conflict of violence is deep. The social, cultural, even structural violence is sometimes supported by technical violence, because the state apparatus is authorized to use coercion and so on. That is why, in this situation, the moral reconciliation done by the people themselves is a kind of citizens’ initiative, a non-state actors’ initiative.
So when people asked me, “Do you think there will be an attempt to avoid the judicial process of gross human rights violations?” the answer was ‘”There is at least a kind of attempt done by the citizens to build trust among ourselves, and to recognize that in the past we have done something wrong. So, we are now telling the truth about ourselves, about our ignorance, our illiteracy, about our disconnectedness from each other. So, in this regard, this citizens` initiative is highly appreciated by the people. They came from a different part of the country. They payed for their own fare. So we reconcile our history, our cultural relationship, and we reconcile our mutual interrelatedness.
This is important in the current situation of globalization, with the global market economy, and with the commoditization of the basic needs for our daily life like health, water, with the commoditization of the education as well as the cultural life of the people.
We are currently concerned about the situation in Borobodur. The Buddhist temple is in danger, because the provincial authority wants to build a mall next to the temple. They want to commoditize Borobodur as a sacred spiritual site in order to make it more attractive to the tourists. So there was a big resistance to this from the different groups – the Muslims, the Christians, Buddhists, all of the sectors of people. The mall will destroy the whole cultural and spiritual atmosphere of this temple. So the cultural domination done by the neo-liberalist commoditization of culture and the needs of the people really endangers our cultural diversity and even rich biodiversity of the region. That is why, in this hegemonic relationship between center of the centers and the periphery of the periphery, we need a new kind of culturally sensitive, aesthetic spirituality that can resist this, and create a more humane, just, peaceful and sustainable order.
I would like to share with you how those people who gathered in my residence on the 22nd of April, after acknowledging our past and our ignorance, our shortcomings with regard to the others, spoke about having to revisit, to rethink and reinterpret our own religious beliefs, traditions and teachings. We are all interrelated and interconnected. For example, I come from Yogyakarta, and my wife’s family comes from Borobodur, which is the origin of Buddhism in Indonesia. Her uncle is the headman of the village, and even her grandfather was headman of the village of Borobodur. So we are interrelated with each other, no matter whether we are Muslim or Buddhist or belonging to another faith. We have common cultural and social values.
For most of the Muslims in Java, the main reference for their social ethic has been the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. President Wahid told us last week that he invited a performance of Mahabharata through a puppet show, which he watched the whole night from 9 pm to 5 am in the morning. He told us that he used to watch this kind of performance illegally when he was a young boy aged 10-13, leaving the house in the middle of the night to see it. And now, in his position as a Muslim leader, he arranged for a whole night performance next to the mosque right in the center of the Islamic community, and next to the very prestigious and eminent Muslim preacher. People came from different parts of Java and Jakarta just to celebrate. So the show turned out to become a celebration, a people’s intercultural festival. I would like again to point out here that festivals can be done in a cultural way, where the people share the ultimate values of love, compassion and justice. Done in this way the festivals become celebrations of love, peace and non-violence.
So, finally I would like to say that respect, trust, acceptance and willingness to listen to others will help us to get cured from the culture of violence, and bring about a more humane, just and peaceful order. Thank you very much.
First of all, let me convey the greetings of the president of the Islamic community in Bosnia, Dr. Mustafa Ceric, who was also invited here, but due to his other commitments couldn’t be with us.
I am coming from Bosnia, from a region where dialogue, to Muslims, means survival. I am aware that participating in these dialogue sessions, where dialogue is actually inter-religious dialogue, inter-cultural dialogue, is in a way to anticipate events, for preventive action. In the Balkans, in Bosnia and Herzegovina especially, dialogue, and religious dialogue, for my people is a matter of survival, and it is not an intellectual luxury!
Bosnian Muslims lost almost ten percent of their population in the early nineties, about eight and a half percent during WWII, and between 1912 and 1926, Balkan Muslims as a whole – there is no figure for Bosnian Muslims – lost about 25% of the population. All these losses are due to ethic clashes and wars. So I hope you will understand my emotional approach to the whole issue.
The recent Bosnian war was perhaps one of the most widely covered conflicts, but unfortunately still grossly misunderstood. Therefore I find it essential to reassert again and again that the Balkan wars of 1990s were not religious wars in the sense that their first aim was conversion of an attacked population and only alternatively its annihilation. They were fought over territory, not faith.
Shall I remind everybody that we just came from Communism, and that the reported atheism in the society was very high? The majority of people perhaps didn’t even believe in God, certainly not the leadership, which, especially in Serbia, was comprised of the old Communists who had just converted to social democracy. So, they were clearly politically motivated, even if religious symbols were used to cover this up.
Initially, religious leaders were not in the forefront of the war propaganda. However, once secular nationalists who were comprised of university professors, academics, members of the academies of science and arts, journalists and politicians put the process in motion in mid-1980s, religious leaders readily joined and subsequently justified atrocities, which included destruction of religious buildings and killings of believers under religious symbols. So, since some interconnection between religion and violence in the Balkans is evident, the question that begs an answer is: why has religion become a key to politics in Yugoslavia after the death of Tito, and not in Czechoslovakia, for instance?
The usually given reasons are socio-economic and historical ones. However, there is every reason to believe that the cause of the Yugoslav wars was the willingness of the Balkan’s cultural, political and religious elite – first of all Serbian – to manipulate and misuse religion in their struggle for power in the disintegrating country. For Yugoslavia was better off economically in 1990 that many other ex-Communist countries; it was not only Orthodox Serbs, whose religious and national aspirations were suppressed by the Communists who suppressed everyone, neither were they the only ones who had collective memory of domination by others. There is also no reason to believe that Orthodox faith is inherently violent and aggressive. The only reasonable explanation that remains is that it was maneuvering of religious and ethnic emotions by the elite leadership, which led to the disaster of 1990s.
Bosnia in particular was not an ethnic or religious problem. The Bosnian war was not spontaneous, it was not unavoidable, and it was not inevitable. It was planned, plotted, and orchestrated by Milošević in Belgrade, and his followers in all segments of the society, including the Church.
We should keep in mind here that every religion has potential for both: peace and violence, tolerance and intolerance. The ones who decide which way they will actually go are their interpreters, i.e., intellectuals, politicians and clergy – the leaders, and here we should look for the reasons for the war.
Therefore, the guilty and responsible are not only political and military leaders who did the killings or issued the orders, but Serbian academics and university professors who, for a decade, prepared Serbian people to believe that Muslims are either foreigners or traitors, who revived the idea of a Greater Serbia and drew up the genocidal plans; the church leaders who never condemned any atrocities committed by their co-religionists; and journalists who did everything to galvanize nationalists (and until today do so). All three prepared the field for soldiers by consistent dehumanization and Satanization of non-Serbs, and particularly by claiming that Muslims are either traitors or Turks, not native to the country. One should be realistic and not expect clergymen to behave like angels. What should, however, be condemned in clear terms is justification of war crimes and genocidal policies. And that is what happened.
As for the Church, for example, I am going to say something about the Serbian Orthodox church because, unfortunately, when we have dialogue sessions, even these days in Sarajevo in Bosnia, it is very easy to have somebody from the Catholic Church, and their leaders come and we talk. Even during the war, in the Catholic Church, the majority of the priests performed marvelously. The Catholic Church denounced the crimes committed even by coreligionists and so on. The Serbian Orthodox church is a different story completely. Even today, the most difficult thing about organizing dialogue in the Balkans is getting somebody from the Orthodox Church. It consistently supported war criminals in refusing all peace plans, called for non-cooperation with The Hague, and until this day expresses readiness to protect the criminals. Even until today, they denied the existence of concentration camps for non-Serbs, endorsed the claim, a very dangerous claim, very popular until today among Serbs and many Westerners who wish to excuse themselves for not acting timely, that in Bosnia “everyone is guilty”. This claim – contends Michael Sells – leads directly to the moral equivalence of the leaders of genocide squads at Arkan and a child who has been left orphaned and exposed to torture and rape at a place like Srebrenica. The “everyone is guilty” language is an implicit endorsement for any crime, because, since everyone is guilty, it becomes impossible to hold any individual accountable.
Yesterday there were a few people who raised the issue of a just war. I don’t know! Maybe from Paris it is not so clear. But from Bosnia it is very clear. Let’s have courage and admit: There are just wars. The victim of the rape has the right to resist and her or his resistance is just. I think that if we are neutral on this, it is equal to being immoral.
This much for the Balkans’ past. As for the future, since the behavior of individuals and groups depends very much on the incentives and rewards that we receive from our environment, what does this mean for the Balkans? This means that it is very reasonable to expect that genocide or ethnic cleansing will become even more popular if thousands of war criminals never get punished, if majority of refugees never go home, if all religious buildings are not reconstructed, if Yugoslavia does not get punished at the International Court of Justice in the Hague for its policies in Bosnia during the 1990s. The future behavior of Balkan leaders, including religious ones, will very much depend on the structure of incentives and rewards, which the international community builds for the kind of actions which caused the tragedies like Srebrenica. If they conclude that crime is not profitable business, and if they realize that they cannot get away with their crimes, they will become law abiding, respectful, and tolerant leaders as the German and Japanese leaders have been since 1945.
That is why it is so important to have all war criminals tried in The Hague or some other place. I don’t support The Hague or this tribunal because they don’t like Muslims. We are very often angry at The Hague because, just a few days ago, the commander of the defense of Srebrenica was taken to The Hague on the accusation that in 1993, his units destroyed 3 Serbian villages and killed several dozens of Serbian villagers. Now, when you compare that with over 10,000 people of Srebrenica that were killed only in one week, it is nothing. But nobody from the Muslim leadership in Bosnia said anything about that to The Hague. Well, we want Karadžić and Mladić to be tried, so let our criminals be tried. We are very angry at The Hague, but it is the best opportunity to get truth, to do some justice to the victims. It is doubtful that it can be done by only offering prayers and contemplation. The cliché that the conflict was age old hatred on every side, and that it was therefore inevitable, is cheap propaganda on the side of nationalists, and self-deceptive on the side of Western leaders who did not want to intervene. If that had been true we would have never seen EU coming into existence.
Respondent: Sulak Sivaraksa
You have heard five excellent speeches. And I will not respond to each of them. But I will respond to the theme. Cause and Cure.
Most religious institutions are involved with violence, directly or indirectly. Unless they accept this fact, as a cause of violence, either directly or indirectly, we will never find any way to have it cured. Religious institutions have to ask themselves:
One: how rich they are?
Two: How close are they to the governments or to the corporate magnets?
Three: How important they think they are? Are they aware, most of them, that they are hypocrites teaching one thing and practicing another?
Four: Is their humility genuine?
Five: Do they have time to cultivate peace within?
Six: Are their prayers only ritual, traditional, routine, or do they really have spiritual experience to reach the divine or the ultimate?
Seven: If religious leaders really are peaceful, can they change the structure of their own institutions to be open, transparent and accountable? Most religious institutions are of course very kind to the poor; help the poor so that the poor will remain poor forever.
If these seven issues could be considered critically, then we would have a position to deal with the cure. For the cure, of course, we must rely on the religious leaders, or, if they don’t do so, on those of us who practice religion seriously to seek peace within. But that is not enough. We must also be aware of what is now dominating in this extreme age of modernism. We need to know how to deal with the root cause of suffering which goes along side by side with violence. It is the concrete form of greed in the form of contemporary capitalism, the three C’s, corporate capitalism, casino capitalism, and consumerism.
What about the concrete form of hatred in the form of most governments, including the so-called democratic governments, which act violently, without responsibility to the opposition of the citizens? Most governments work closely with international corporations and arms merchants, which have the power to operate with illusion or with ignorance as their main motive. Most leaders think they know how to kill, how to solve social issues, yet most of them never question their own motives, theories or ideologies, or how objective their views are. These days I don’t believe religious leaders or religious institutions are in any position to look for the cause of violence objectively or critically. Hence, there is no cure.
Having said that, I am hopeful that those of us who practice our own religions, we will:
One: Have a personal transformation.
Two: Have peace within.
Three: Open our hearts to really care to overcome violence within ourselves, and we need to not only have peace within ourselves, but we must also pursue peace in the world. We need to find out the cause of violence by exposing ourselves to the poor and the oppressed while maintaining our mindfulness and refraining from making judgments easily. However with the poor, we can see a social structure which is in fact structural violence. That is the structure that helps the rich and privileged at the expense of the poor and the underprivileged as well as at the expense of nature.
Most of us are members of the middle class, and the middle class on the whole only gears for personal well-being and opts to climb the social ladder, economically, politically or even academically. If the middle class could be persuaded to understand the poor, and with the poor, try to change the social structure with a spiritual dimension, this would indeed be unique for religions, because they would really bridge the gap between the middle class and the poor. Together, we can do something nonviolently with spiritual motives. That is, we can always question our egoism and question the technocracy.
We also need to challenge the powerful institutions, nationally and globally, with compassion and understanding. We need skillful means to have dialogue with those in power, but we must be careful not to sell our souls to them. Apart from talking to them, we need to demonstrate and agitate with the powers of the masses to change violent institutions to be less violent, and eventually they may even become non-violent. With patience, we could really network our works, with good friends from different faiths, even those who are non-believers. The evil could really be overcome with good will, non-violently. But good will is not goody-goody. It means that we must train our will to be courageous and to work non-violently against violence. At the same time, we must also be patient. We need to synchronize our head and our heart to be sensitive to all kinds of violence, especially structural violence and the cultures of violence, which create discrimination and compassion.
Part 2: Questions and comments
Michael v. Brück
We have to be diligent in looking at our traditions, judgments, and prejudices which we have, even as scholars, because we all depend on certain information that is second hand, especially when we get out of the close and narrow field. And it shows, that even the scriptures, may not be in the closest sense, but this is a controversy again, but even the books and scriptures that we quote from our traditions are biased and have intentions at a certain time. So a historical and critical approach to our knowledge and our ways of knowledge gathering is so important, and I think this should be a part of our inter-religious contribution to understanding each other.
For instance, we have just set up a study of the schoolbooks in Sri Lanka. And we have had this project in Germany for the past 20 years with Islamic schoolbooks in Turkey, and school books in Germany. What does one tradition say about the other and visa versa? And here we come to an understanding, which will influence other people as well. I think that is very important, so I am very happy to raise the issue and that we all look at our judgments very carefully. It is a matter of traditionally speaking, right speech, one of the most important aspects in Buddhism, but applied to our present day situation. And here comes in my question.
David, you in your very excellent presentation focused on the attention of information. Good governance is only possible if there is good information, good parliamentarians, humanitarian work, good work in any case in a civil society is only possible on the basis of information. And who provides us? That is the media. What actually can we do to improve the quality of our media? And especially the situation in Bosnia shows us also that this is a very crucial and vital issue. I will give you one example from India that I experienced just a couple of weeks ago.
There is one tradition in India, the Lingayats, a Shivite tradition of Hinduism in the Southern part of India, which has been around there for about 800 years, which has been very anti-caste, very socially engaged and so fourth. They are very strong in Karnataka especially. They had a celebration with about half a million people because of a holiday. All of the politicians and media people were there. The big industrials were there, and the ambassadors of different countries were there. Now the head of this tradition, Swami Shivamurti, who is a very highly acknowledged person, had a dream during the night because of all of these wonderful people gathered there. He said that we must make a political impact. So he dreamt that they should all say a vow, in order to keep this non-violence that was evident there in the meeting, in their everyday dealings of politics and so on. All the different political parties were there, the congress was there and so on.
So, next morning he went, and there were half a million people and all the politicians gathered there, to whom he administered a vow. Now, in India, if you say a vow, a Vratta, this is not just a word, but this binds you, because everyone expects that if you don’t cling to it, misfortune will be upon you. So this was a big event, and all the politicians spoke. And the next day, there was no report about that in the media. They reported all kinds of nonsense and unimportant things, but not this one. It shocked me when in a country like India, where religion is supposed to be still something in the forefront; those important things are not even reported.
What can we do? How can we raise funds from the rich people? How can we improve the quality of our media, and what can we do in our different situations to improve that vital instrument for getting information? And how can we get the good will of so many people expressed into the vote? Because we, as it were, aggravate the situation by these negative images that we are putting into the world. There is only report on violence, which is important, but there is also a lot of non-violent activity that many people are engaged in, and this is not even worth a single comment. How can we improve that?
I would like to say few things on this issue. It seems to me that, in fact, the media today are playing a terrible role, in the fact that they only focuses on what is violent, and this affects what is being reported.
I was part of an extraordinary event in Amman a number of years ago, where many important things happened, and many important things were said. It was just before September 11th . There was hardly any report about the meeting on the news anywhere. I was at a Jubilee organized by the Pope in October as guest of one of the many different religions, and held before the long Jubilee in Rome. About 200 guests, from the American Indians to the Dalai Lama had come – everyone who represents religion was there. And it was a very moving and extraordinary time. In Italy it was covered to a degree by the media. In France there were only exactly five lines about this event on one of the last pages of Le Monde. This means that there is a force that somehow views all of these events in the Interfaith world as something that exists but is not of their concern.
Is it because it names the world of religion? Is it because it would disclaim the fact that the world is the worst place existing, because if you read the media, that’s what you see. If you are in sports or some form of culture, it seems that you can talk and say what you want, but otherwise, you have very little freedom. This means that there should be some new channels on television, some new papers that should emphasize exactly those points. But I would like other people to respond.
Obviously the media right now represents the age of capitalism and consumerism, and violence is the core. With violence you feel you need something. You see, you are alienated from yourself. That is why the media is on that line. And these meetings will not be reported in any press, but if I go and hit Michael, or rape somebody, it will be headline tomorrow. That is the idea.
Promoting violence is also promoting greed and consuming goods. So what do we do? As I said, if religious institutions are serious, they have plenty of money. They can put money together and work for non-violence. But instead, they just use the media to propagate their faith, which is another form of consumerism. If they would come together, that would be something great.
Secondly, when we talk about the media – what about children and their games? Children’s games are all about violence and promoting capitalism. I talked to the Templeton Foundation a few months ago, a foundation geared to promote science and religion. Their prize is two or three times more that the Nobel Peace Prize and they don’t advertise. But, unfortunately, they are very conservative. I talked with them, because they have put a lot of money into promoting peace and non-violence. I said: “Why don’t you set up a fund for research that goes into producing children’s games?” Now the big companies do children’s games because they want to be rich. And now the Pentagon is doing that so the children will love violence.
If the Templeton Foundation or any religious organization had some games that children would love to play, but would play in order to be more compassionate, to be non-violent, to be truthful, I think they would like the idea. And I hope some of us can carry this idea and do something. At the same time, I myself have a small organization, called ‘The Spirit Education Movement’. We work with indigenous people in India, Malaysia, and my country, for the indigenous people to produce their own video. You know, the poor are nobody, so we make videos where the poor themselves are the heroes and heroines.
Audience (Eric Vincent)
I am working for «Le Monde-Télérama», a group, whose periodic «Actualité des Religions – Religions News» emphasises the importance of interfaith dialogue. The conferencers said very important things indeed. It is a fact that the media are subject to the laws of economy, so the financial situation of a periodical such as “Religious News” is far from prosperous. This is why the big media rarely discuss those matters, or only present their negative aspects. This is a tremendously serious problem, rooted in the very structure of our societies.
Audience (Sister Therese Andrevon)
It has been said this morning that all human beings are equal. The positive meaning of this affirmation has been emphasized many times in the course of the colloquium. Nevertheless, this morning a negative aspect, the equal tendency toward evil, was discussed. Actually, maybe even this fact may be seen in a positive light too, meaning that there is no rift in humankind between the good ones and the evil ones. When I was still an economy student, many problems of today, including poverty, were already foreseable, so I understand that people must be despaired, upset, when they see and hear about it in the media, etc…
Nevertheless I wonder why the word « hope » was not pronounced during our discussions. Isn`t it in a way the role of interfaith dialogue to promote an attitude of counterfight, resistance? Of course, each one of us can separately, in the realm of one’s activities, fight against injustice, but should we not also constitute a common resistance movement ?
That question was already discussed along with the subject of South-North dialogue. Maybe we are better equipped to create a net, to emphasise the importance of the individual, to be, if I dare say so, the small David affronting the giant Goliath. Like him, should we not become bigger through the process of inter-religious dialogue, bigger and bigger until we become ourselves a Goliath capable of affronting globalization, instilling into the heart of humankind this hope which is so very urgently, very importantly needed, being nowadays so rare a staple? We should preocupy ourselves with individuals. Someone just said: « Saving one person is saving the world. » Sometimes a lone person can achieve as much as a whole institution.
I would also like to discuss the problem of acceleration, of speed. Is the tendency of the last two decades to speed forward not responsible for the surge in violence? Speeding creates fretfulness; fretfulness creates a permanently aggressive set of mind in our environment, our climate. Maybe religious leaders should cooperate to teach people how to pray, or meditate. They should cooperate to give today’s humankind places to seat down, to break the circle of permanent stress, to pave the road for non-violence.
Summarizer: Alon Goshen-Gottstein
It seems to me that, broadly speaking, we can say today’s conversation made a very important shift in recognizing the “enemy” compared to yesterday’s conversation, and while many of us may be aware of it, I would like to articulate it. And that is the shift from discussing the corporate world to discussing the world of states. I think yesterday’s conversations were dominated almost entirely by the concern of the corporate world and its effects. Today’s conversations were primarily concerned with issues relating to state and the use of power, and, of course, as this plays out in various levels of violence, both in the testimonials that we heard and also in the various conceptualizations.
Now it seems clearly that all speakers come to this panel with the basic agreement of what we would like an ideal world to look like. And in that sense it seems that the basic platform for our conversations is not one that really necessitated dialogue, because we all have a common intuition of what a perfect world should look like. Nevertheless there are differences, and I would like to spell out some of the differences that I have heard.
But before doing so, I want to point out how important this morning’s conversation was to a theme that we encountered on the first day of our meetings, and that is the theme of interpretation, the necessity for religions today to interpret their traditional sources and use them as resources for addressing the contemporary context. We have seen some marvelous instances today and some conscious articulations on how religions need to interpret, beginning with the fascinating way in which interpretation changes in the South African context. At one time you interpret things one way, another time you interpret things as another. What are the canons of interpretation? Mohammed Kagee posed a very challenging question: “Why do certain Muslims use the Koran this way, why do other Muslims use the Koran that way”?
I want to resonate that question, because I would say that it is a principal question that ultimately accompanies all of our discussions. Therefore, any future conversation we wish to have ultimately will have to return back to these questions of interpretation, because it is not sufficient just to declare our good will, it is also a matter of how we work with our traditional resources.
Similarly, both Sulak and David provided us with very important instances of contemporary interpretation of Buddhist principals, because the very same principals that we hear echoed time and again were taken from one context and applied to other contexts, to broader contexts, to institutional contexts, to state contexts. And such a broader application is an act of interpretation, because it expands things from one context to another. And I want to highlight the fact that our contributions have done a lot of important interpretive work.
Now it seems to me that, in looking at how we conceptualize various issues at hand, there is an important difference between what emerges from the Muslim and Buddhist perspectives, and this to me is one of the most interesting insights to have emerged from this morning’s discussion. I may be wrong in how I formulated this. But it seems to me that while Buddhist and Muslims both share the basic sentiment of where we would like to go, the question nevertheless emerges of “what is it that we are after”? “How do we conceptualize it”? Because how we conceptualize it will determine how we go about achieving it.
We have heard from two Muslim speakers in different capacities about the quest for justice. Justice seems to have been a very key concern coming from the Muslim perspective, and therefore, the Muslims have the sense of, if you want to correct violence, you have to address justice. Buddhists tackled the problem in our panel today in a very different way. The term ‘justice’ did not come up in any discussion by a Buddhist speaker. The key term, it is really difficult to find one term, because there was a range of terms that Buddhist speakers used, but the key was ultimately the question of violence in some way or another related to suffering in the broader sense. Now suffering and injustice are not very far apart. I wouldn’t suggest in any way that there is a disagreement, but there is a very important nuance here. If you seek justice, you are seeking something that begins to a large extent with a vision of a just world, of a just society. And as was clear from both of your presentations, there are global, societal and hence national and ultimately international issues that emerged when Muslims addressed this topic. And because of this perspective that begins with a vision of society, the technique or, shall we say, the implications in the contemporary world are going to the streets, marching, having demonstrations, finding alternative voices. We move into the area of public action as part of our quest for justice. This was not the case with the Buddhist speakers who spoke from the perspective of dealing with suffering. Their cause, their path was much less public and outgoing, and much more internal and introspective.
Let`s analyze the sources of suffering, understand where they come from, and let’s see how we can undo them. This means that, underlying the distinction that emerged from our different presenters between justice and suffering, actually is a more fundamental distinction, namely whether we address as our starting point the individual or society. Let’s understand that both Islam and Buddhism have a vision both for the individual and for society. That is clear. But there is an important difference of emphasis, and I would like to propose that this difference in emphasis is actually a very fruitful area for future conversation between Muslims and Buddhists. Both this difference between injustice and suffering on one hand, and the question of whether we work through the individual or how we attempt to tackle society, on the other are the fundamental questions.
But let me go back to an opening term from our chairman. He spoke about ethics, spirituality, ethics and mysticism. These two directions that emerge as differences between Buddhists and Islam take us in different ways in relationship to the questions of ethics and mysticism. Clearly, the Muslim concern as enunciated here, takes us more in the direction of ethics seeking a just world. Justice leads us directly into ethics. The concerns of the Buddhists take us in ways that are very ethical but that also bring in more directly, the mystical. I don’t deny in any way the existence of a mystical dimension in Islam. I simply want to analyze the views that came up this morning. Now, this mystical dimension then led to the notion of self-transformation, and therefore I would like to conclude by trying to look at what did our panelists this morning contribute to the questions and notions of transformation.
I think that one of the important insights that emerged from the conversations, again, without being articulated as forcefully, is that we can talk of change and that in itself can be a violent process. We can talk about transformation which can lead to growth as a result of a spiritual process. As people coming from the perspective of religion, Buddhists and Muslims would want to seek ultimately transformation and not change. And the means that we have at our disposal for achieving this are several. But what seems to really have emerged from these conversations as a very important common element is the element of knowledge, the importance of knowledge, the eradication of ignorance, and knowledge really on all levels.
Now, knowledge is on one hand journalism, but it is also on one hand the knowledge of the self. Knowledge taken in a broader sense leads us into experience. And one very important element of experience that emerged, that I think all of us, Buddhists, Muslims and a token Jew can agree on, is the importance of our knowledge of other people’s realities and other peoples’ suffering. I was very struck by David’s quote from Sulak, that if you really want to go somewhere, go spend time with the poor, go spend time with the suffering. To break past the kind of insularity that Chandra was talking about yesterday, the only way is to spend time with the other. And that is the knowledge that is transformative. But that kind of transformative knowledge still may not get to the heart of where transformation has to reside.
Going back to Simon’s opening question, I would like to once again revisit, and this is my final point, the opening comments that I made in my summary two days ago, and that is the question of “Does transformation take place on the level of the individual or society?” I think this is a question that could be one of the most fruitful areas for conversation between Buddhists and Muslims. Can we impact society directly or must the impact on society ultimately pass through the individual, and can the individual be transformed without an internal transformative experience, bringing us to Simon’s dimension of mysticism.
There were several points in the conversation today where the question of the personal mystical experience was touched upon and hinted at. Ultimately, both the question of suffering and the question of justice have one issue in common, the issue of dehumanization. This means that the way of dealing with both of those issues is to discover the depth of the human person. Will the depth of the human person be discovered simply by articulating principals of how society should be dealt with, or will the depth of the human person be discovered by entry into the individual, transforming the individual ultimately through the transformative power not only of ethics and mysticism, and thereby transforming society? Here I think lies a very important and fruitful conversation that I hope Buddhists and Muslims can continue with. Thank you.