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COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY -- MARCH 2002

Moderator: Bawa Jain

Speakers: The Venerable Dharma Master Hsin Tao FounderMuseum of World Religions and Global Family for Love and Peace

Imam Feisal Abdul Rau, Imam of the Masjid al-Farah Mosque in New York City

Professor David Chappell
Professor Emeritus of the University of Hawaii and co-founder and former president of Buddhist-Christian Studies Society

Professor Amir al Islam
Director of the Forum for Muslim Dialogue

This was the first in a series of dialogues that emphasize the commitment to foster awareness between the Muslim and Buddhist communities and to find effective ways of educating the two communities about the shared commonalities. This was recognized as an historic moment in that it was one of the first instances in North America that Muslims and Buddhists have engaged in dialogue around the very important issues of belief, faith, understanding, cooperation, collaboration, and tolerance.

Challenges for both religions in the 21st century is in trying to maintain the ethical practices and values that reflect their long-established religious traditions in face of an open society that often trivializes the importance of morality. This ongoing dialogical process is crucial as part of the struggle to ensure that religion continues to be relevant for the 21st century.

In exploring the challenges that both religions share, each can develop new ways of thinking that enables the building of true interfaith communities. We all share the same world – it is important that the different religions and cultures find ways to get along with each other, ways in which we can work together in peace. We live in an age where peace will come when we get to know each other and learn from each other. Then we can diminish the existing conflicts and violence to move toward the establishment of peace.

What is religion’s relevance in modern life? It can give real answers to the most important questions in life: why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? What is it to eat, to drink, to make merry and then to die? The answers to these existential questions are found in the arena of religion and spirituality. The individual part in grappling with these issues is assimilating the teachings in order to develop a sense of spirituality, of doing the good, of detachment, and of differentiating between ambition and greed.

One can look to the origin of the two religions to find the place of truth. It is here we can begin to explore the commonalities of Islam and Buddhism. Divinity is what enlivens and empowers us, it is our interconnections and our relationships – this is the source. For Buddhism, life fills the universe – looking at the origin one can see that everything is complete.

In both religions an individual goes to a teacher, to a master, to learn the spiritual practices. Thus, in Buddhism, the Dharma Master is the bridge between the truth and human beings – the eye of the truth, creating the understanding that to benefit oneself is to benefit others. Similarly in Islam, the spiritual master teaches one how to be a completed human being, a friend of God.

For Islam, all the teachings that the creator has sent through all the prophets, teachers, and messengers are basically the same religion – the religion of truth. The rituals may be different but the message is identical: to love God and to love thy neighbor. The creator is beyond gender, beyond space, beyond time – God in its essence is unknowable. All of the prophets are those who are transparent channels of the Divine will.

Both religions respect diversity. In the Koran Allah says that different nations and tribes were created so that we may be thoughtful and learn from one another about the richness of the variety of traditions. Indeed, the importance of learning is to be able to deal with differences. So dialogue is an ongoing process to learn to respect the diversity created by the Divine. The simple effect of dialogue is demonstrating respect for the other.

Non-attachment to anything other than Allah is the ultimate form of faith in Allah. Non-attachment for the Buddhist is essential in order to overcome the ignorance of anger and greed.

In conclusion both Islam and Buddhism respect diversity. The assignment we have as human beings, especially for the religious leaders and scholars, is to define the underlying unity of all religion as well as to define the social contract as to how we are to live as human beings in our global society.

Our responsibility is to embrace one another as part of the human family, then move toward tolerance and respect the sacredness of life to change the way we see at each other. In this way religion can be a tool for social transformation, creating a world in which everyone feels welcome and has confidence in the future.

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