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Sound the Bamboo
[CCA Hymnal]



Christian and Theravada Buddhist Leaders Meet

In order to enable conversation between Christians and Theravada Buddhists as people of faith with common concerns about peace, reconciliation and harmony, the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia jointly sponsored a consultation involving the two faith groups at Tao Fong Shan Centre, Shatin, Hong Kong on July 2-6, 2004 on the theme, "Towards a Culture of Religious Diversity and Communal Harmony."

A total of 35 participants, 6 of them women, and 9 Buddhist monks, came from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, countries where Theravada Buddhism has been predominant. Few observers and organizers came from Japan, Switzerland, Philippines, and Hong Kong, including staff from WCC and CCA.

Two keynote addresses were given by U Kyaw Than, a Christian ecumenical leader from Myanmar, and Parichart Suwanbubbha, a Buddhist scholar from Thailand. Country groupings took turns in leading the morning devotion, some of which were attempts at interfaith prayer.

Group discussions allowed participants to share and listen to stories � good stories on one side of harmonious relations; and painful stories on the other side of tensions, antagonisms, pain and suffering among people of different religions. Among the issues of great concern were conversion, religious and ethnic identities and power, intra-religious and inter-religious relations, and a possible code of conduct.

Affirming that different identities have many attachments that create barriers, the group pointed to the "need to transcend these identifies in order to become human. Then only we will respect and honour others as human beings with different religious and ethnic identities". Referring to the Buddha and Christ Jesus as having transcended their narrow identities through emptying of themselves, the group agreed that transcending one�s identities assures the protection of different minority groups.

The group noted that interreligious relations and dialogue cannot be dissociated from relations within their own faith communities. They therefore called for a re-reading of their own scriptures in light of a religiously plural world, and to engage in intensified dialogue within their own communities as well as with other faith communities.

Knowing that conversions take place in different contexts for different reasons, the group emphasized that conversion from another religion should result from the freedom to change, not because of fear or coercion. "True spiritual conversion will respect the dignity and value of persons and religious traditions." It can take place within one�s religion as well as a journey from one religion to another. It should lead people from ignorance to wisdom, darkness to light, injustice to justice, falsehood to truth. Thus, the problem of unethical conversions need to be tackled by religious and civil societies, not by state legislature since bills on prohibitions against conversion can easily lead to abuse.

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, was able to address the group during his visit to Asia. Speaking on "the spiritual dimension to promote peace and communal harmony", he said, "There is in spite of all the differences an inner core common to all religions: the mystery of life, that life matters, that human beings matter, whether we are appearances of the moment or created in the image of God." This spiritual dimension in striving for peace and communal harmony is a sign of unity between Buddhists and Christians, he said.

Drawing from the rich tradition that goes back to Emperor Ashoka�s time 2300 years ago, the group included in their consultation statement a code of conduct saying:

In a world where religious plurality has become increasingly important, the words of Emperor Ashoka seem astonishingly modern and communicate both meaning and spirit for a culture of peace and communal and religious harmony: "One should not honour only one�s own religion and condemn the religions of others, but should honour others� religions for this or that reason. So doing, one helps one�s own religion to grow and renders service to the religions of others too. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one�s own religion and also does harm to other religions. Whosoever honours his own religion and condemns other religions does so indeed through devotion to his own religion, thinking, �I will glorify my own religion�. But on the contrary, in so doing he injures his own religion more gravely. So concord is good: Let all listen, and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others" (Rock Edict 12).

In line with the Rock Edict, we propose the following to create a culture of religious diversity and communal and religious harmony:
  • Share the same purpose of mutual spiritual development for the transformation of individuals and communities.
  • Make the agenda clear, without any hidden agendas.
  • Be mindful in sharing in a responsible and ethical manner.
  • Have trust, honesty, openness to engage in dialogue with a self-critical mind.
  • Have moral imperatives � do good to others, if you want others to do good to you.
  • Learn in depth the core of your religion.
  • Engage in democratic and humane relations.
  • Engage in social dialogue which leads into action � to work for peace, reconciliation and justice.

posted by hope on Saturday, August 07, 2004  

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