THE BUDDHIST-MUSLIM DIALOGUE CONFERENCE
GLOBAL ETHIC AND GOOD GOVERNANCE
SUMMARY OF THE PROCEEDINGS
Monday, May 5th at UNESCO headquarters in Paris
The Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue Conference -- Global Ethic and Good Governance convened on Monday, May 5th at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The Conference, sponsored by UNESCO, the Museum of World Religions, Global Family for Love and Peace, and the Elijah School for the Study of Wisdom in World Religions was organized to initiate a new round of discussions on how Buddhism and Islam can respond together to the political, economic, religious, social, and cultural challenges of the 21st century.
Day One of the Conference featured welcome addresses from Ms. Milagros Del Corral, Director, Division of Arts and Cultural Enterprise and Deputy to the Assistant Director-General for Culture, UNESCO, and Mr. Ahmed Jalali, President of the General Conference of UNESCO. Ms. Corral congratulated the Conference sponsors, and emphasized her deep seeded conviction that dialogue can build a consensus based on the commonalities of Buddhism and Islam. In her view, dialogue, as a form of ethics, is a potent means of promoting mutual understanding that rises above mere tolerance. Identity, Ms. Corral believes, is often used as a shield to separate one from another. Through dialogue we can discover the proximity of cultural, ethical, and religious values that serve humanity, and these can become a sound basis of international relations. For Ms. Corral, sharing history forestalls conflict, and history and memory form a sound basis for good governance. Ms. Corral concluded by recognizing that UNESCO remains a place where dialogue can be fruitfully conducted.
Mr. Jalali acknowledged the importance of this Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue taking place at this time and in light of current world events. He was pleased to note that this is dialogues was between "Buddhists and Muslims" not "Buddhism and Islam" because too much intolerance and lack of understanding stems from attempts at dialogues between dogmas". While religion is often concerned with matters of identity; the act of keeping one's identity often leads to the erection of boundaries Mr. Jalali described interfaith dialogue as an effort in search for truth, -- a truth that is part of all religious traditions and of necessity moves away from boundries. The Buddhist and Islamic traditions are vital to the world today because each has justice as a central component. Dialogue most importantly demands the art of listening --a will to listen even without a common language, and without expectation of where the dialogue will lead.
After the welcome addresses, Conference participants heard opening remarks from several distinguished speakers.
The Venerable T. Dhammaratana, Vice President of The World Fellowship of Buddhism, emphasized the importance of the Conference in the context of what is going on in the world terror, poverty, and the destruction of our natural environment. The end of World War II and the founding of the United Nations represented hope for a new world order built on peace and understanding that would lead to economic prosperity and mutual coexistence. But this has not emerged; instead our hearts are still characterized by the greed, hatred and ignorance. Now we face a critical moment in history in a world divided between the North and South, and it is the duty of religion to find effective solutions for long-lasting security by promoting respect and tolerance. The hostilities rooted in the mind of man must be removed to rebuild harmony between civilizations. Religious disharmony comes through a lack of understanding that can be addressed by education focused on respect for each other's religion and culture. The concepts of Buddhism are particularly relevant for today for they encourage tolerance, equality, and peaceful coexistance, working toward human dignity and freedom: "To you be my religion and to me I am your religion".
Dr. Wolfgang Schmidt, Director of the Worldwide Ecumenical Partnership and one of the Conference organizers, reviewed the complicated process in developing this dialogue process. Unique in its intention, this Buddhist-Muslim dialogue exemplifies the religious community's newfound confidence in making life more humane. His hope is that the sadness of the first major war of the new millennium will also be a turning point in political/religious relationships.
Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein, Coordinator, UNESCO Chair, The Elijah School for the Study of Wisdom in World Religions and one of the Conference Organizers, described dialogue as a road we need to construct, a road that bridges two places that both retain their own identity. In dialogue we cannot privilege one religion over another because in dialogue we are developing relationships, the basis of which will create new efforts to serve human needs. In this segment, Dr. Goshen-Gottstein concluded with a song, sung in Hebrew:
"Let there be peace in our mist.
Let there be harmony in thy dwellings.
Peace has to dwell in the heart."
Later in the first day program Dr. Goshen-Gottstein spoke again. He stated that dialogues have to create a narrative, a framework so that religion does not stand on its own but always is contextualized by the political and cultural aspects of the times. The purpose of dialogue has three levels:
1. Breaking down stereotypes and getting to know each other.
2. Helping each other to grow. What can we give to each other?
3. How can we face the world together to collaborate on common issues?
Dr. Maria Reis Habito, International Program Director for the Museum of World Religions and the Program Director for the Conference, reviewed the process of the development of the Conference, especially acknowledging the work of Dharma Master Hsin Tao, whose vision and tireless engagement for peace made the Conference possible. She described Master Hsin Tao's efforts in building the Museum of World Religions where the religions of the world are exhibited in an environment of peace and mutual respect. Dr. Habito related her experience watching television before the Iraq war, and someone asked "You say God is on your side but the Iraqis say God is on their side" to which a fundamental Christian replied "They believe in the wrong God". This is exactly what the Museum of World Religions and this dialogue is all about.
Dharma Master Hsin Tao, the Founder of the Museum of World Religions and President of Global Family for Love and Peace, welcomed all the distinguished guests. Master Hsin Tao expressed his concern for the future of the planet, especially in light of the quickening pace of globalization and the current warfare and violence. In our world today, with morals and ethics being subverted, how can people of religion help to preserve the global family? The need for religious input to tackle these problems is greater and must begin with mutual understanding. By embarking on dialogue between Buddhists and Muslims, we can find ways to transform violence into peace. Dialogue will improve our understanding of each other so that together we can undertake responsibility for a peaceful and compassionate world.
Dr. Hocine Rais delivered a message from Dr. Dalil Boubakeur, Rector, Muslim Institute of the Paris Mosque. Dr. Rais stated that Islam has always held Buddhism in high regard, particularly the peaceful character of Buddhism. Indeed, Islam recognizes that there exist many different beliefs because this is God's wish. Respect for all religions and freedom of spiritual expression is reflected in the teachings of Islam. It is only natural that there is diversity; indeed there are over 12,000,000 different species on this earth. Yet, with all of the diversity we remain a single family, and our responsibility is to be useful to others. There is a cosmic life where there exists an interrelationship between all things, and we must look to find common ground on which to proceed. We must communicate with our own consciousness, our fellow human beings, and our God.
Dr. Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia, then delivered the Conference's Keynote Speech. Dr. Wahid views dialogue as a way to reduce misunderstanding by learning about the qualities common to all religions, and this dialogue is timely given the state of Islam due to the violence conducted in its name. The quest for peace can only come through an understanding of different faiths and the qualities of live common to all religions. When we politicize these qualities of life then we have conflict and a clash of civilizations.
Importantly though, to know others you must know your own faith first. To be sure, one of the causes of terrorism can be traced to a misunderstanding of one's religions. In this regard, dialogue will aid in better understanding of one's own religion by allowing different perspectives to emerge. In this way the knowledge of Islam is deepened, and Muslim-Muslim dialogue can explore the different Islamic teachings and practices to enable a greater understanding of the wealth and variation within their own religious traditions.
For Dr. Wahid, Muslims have recently learned much about a common heritage through dialogue with Christians and Jews, and are now are reestablishing connections with Buddhists, Hindus and others. This has allowed the discovery of the shared values of Islam with all religions. It is "misunderstanding" by some Muslim youths that leads to violence; they have lost their heritage and the historical destiny of Islam.
As for today's world, we must find a balanced approach to globalization and our religious and cultural traditions. Our problems can be solved only if we understand the causes of terrorism. It is not necessary to agree on universal principals, but only on those principals that are necessary. There is a need to search for ideas of good governance that suits the times and reduces the siege mentality felt by Muslims that results in violence and intolerance.
In the afternoon of the first day three speakers reviewed the previous Buddhist-Muslim dialogues that are part of this series of dialogues.
Professor David Chappell, Buddhist Studies of the University of Hawaii, reported on the first Buddhist-Muslim dialogue held at Columbia University in New York City. Professor Chappell spoke of the beginning of the dialogue process that began in the heart of Dharma Master Hsin Tao. The dialogue in New York initiated the building of respect and care for each other, and an understanding of the commonalities of Buddhism and Islam such as their concepts of justice and order. Professor Chappell spoke also of the need to involve women and young people in the dialogue process, and for dialogue to challenge the concepts of the times.
Dr. Chandra Muzzaffar, President of the International Movement for a Just World, presented the summary of the Buddhist-Muslim dialogue held in Malaysia. Dr. Muzzaffar acknowledged the good relationship between Buddhism and Islam in Malaysia for hundreds of years. He reported that the dialogue held there contributed to the strength of Buddhist-Muslim ties, especially with regard to the two religions undertaking joint efforts to serve the community. A new bond has been forged, and now these ties must be deepened by sharing the many ethical and moral aspects of the two religions such as the notions of an ethical economy and the importance of moral politics. The dimensions of a common path need to be continually explored through dialogue, of which the human dimension is a crucial part.
Dr. Chirzin Habib, President of the Islamic Millennium Forum for Peace and Dialogue, reported on the dialogue held in Indonesia. In Indonesia, spirituality, globalization, human security, consumerism, and the homogenization of culture were discussed, and the opportunities to share a common future on common ground were developed. Overriding all of these areas was the important to human security. As these issues become more and more a threat to cultural diversity, certain rights become more urgent such as the rights to education, health care, bio-diversity and cultural heritage. As part of the dialogue in Indonesia the participants visited museums and sacred sites, and held a youth millennium dialogue. All of these activities and interactions searched for a common future on common grounds.
Professor Jean Bauberot, E.P.H.E., Veme Section (Paris) concluded the first day of the Conference speaking about the coexistence of religions in a pluralistic and lay society. Pluralism in Europe was build gradually, and Professor Bauberot made the point that a secular state is the guarantor of human rights, and without pluralism you cannot have a secular state. Still, spiritual traditions have an important part to play in a pluralist society by setting ethical limits (such as in genetic research) and defining freedom and equality, concepts that must refer to human dignity. So too, religious traditions allow us to know how things evolved over time and what might come in the future rather than emphasizing what is happening at the moment as we do more and more in modern society. In this way religions can build bridges of cooperation.
Day Two of the Conference