Peace and Harmony as a Choice of Humankind

Peace and Harmony as a Choice of Humankind①

 

1. The significance of peace and harmony

 

Unprecedentedly rapid, surging globalization has closely united all countries in the world into a community of shared destiny. Thus a human society in its real sense is taking shape gradually. In the meantime, the significance of peace and harmony is being recognized by more and more people of vision for the following reasons.

 

Peace and harmony are a basic premise. They can bring about a peaceful and stable social order and are necessary conditions to the survival and development of humankind. A world bereft of peace and harmony certainly will fall into disintegration and return to the era when the law of the jungle prevailed.

 

Peace and harmony are a fundamental interest. They are owned and shared by all humankind. On this basis, the creative potential of the individuals can be brought into full play, the economy and culture of a nation will see sustainable development, and the long-lasting prosperity of human societies will be substantially guaranteed.

 

Peace and harmony are an ideal path. They signify the handling of disputes and resolving of conflicts in a fair and appropriate manner by applying the principle of Equilibrium and Harmony as well as the Middle Way, thus improving the welfare of each individual as well as the wellbeing of humankind as a whole.

 

Peace and harmony are a long-lasting value. Most of the numerous cultural achievements attained since the emergence of human civilization had only lasted briefly and fallen into oblivion in history due to being either one-sided or confined to its time. Of all the ideologies that have passed down to the present and continue to have important impact, peace and harmony occupy the most dominant position.

 

Peace and harmony are a profound wisdom. It is the height of wisdom that determines the breadth of vision, the depth of exploration, the extent of progress, and the limit of transcendence. All major religions and cultural traditions in the world today invariably love peace and pursue harmony. History proves that all thoughts contrary to peace and harmony eventually lose popular support and perish due to the lack of these virtues.

 

2. The content of peace and harmony

 

Peace and harmony of humankind should be integral and comprehensive. They consist of the following six aspects.

 

The first is an international political order fully embodying equality and mutual trust. The world security and justice are thus maintained through political cooperation.

 

The second is a global economic system fully embodying balance and mutual benefit. The gap between the rich and the poor as well as regional imbalances are thus   extensively eliminated through economic development.

 

The third is a global cultural atmosphere fully embodying diversity and integration. Friendship is thus consolidated and enhanced while historical prejudices dissolve through dialogues and exchanges.

 

The fourth is a natural ecological ethic fully embodying intergrowth and co-prosperity. The responsibility of environmental management is thus actively fulfilled, and environmental crises are thereby relieved through ecological protection.

 

The fifth is the scientific and technological progress fully embodying human nature and the principle of people first. The scientific and technological results are thus promoted to ultimately serve the long-term happiness of mankind.

 

The sixth is the mental and spiritual state fully embodying the healthy morality. Peace, harmony and happiness of every individual are thus acquired both physically and spiritually by applying traditional wisdoms.

 

In the areas mentioned above, cultural peace and harmony are a fundamental foundation. Ultimately, culture is a value system and the collection of its correspondent codes of conduct. There is no normal activity of a human society that is not the actual manifestation of its value. A culture with peace and harmony as its mainstream value certainly implements peace and harmony in all the areas of social life. Historical experience has shown that a society can obtain continuous and steady development only when it truly loves peace and places importance upon harmony.

 

3. Paths to the realization of peace and harmony

 

Ever since the beginning of the 21st century, cultural issues have aroused worldwide concern. People of deep insight have become increasingly aware that without global cultural harmony, mutual political trust and economic benefit of all parties concerned would merely be rhetorical and unsubstantial, and it is getting even harder to conduct effective international cooperation when confronted with multifaceted global challenges. Therefore, the profound harmony of global cultures is the top priority of human society. I would hence like to put forward three suggestions:

 

3.1. The integral combination of overall plurality and localized plurality

 

Under the current circumstances of increasingly frequent exchanges and interactions, “plurality” is not only a description of the world’s overall situation but a reflection of the realities in most countries. It is conceivable that cultural plurality of the world in the future as a whole retains its roots in the cultural plurality of each region. In some places, people pursue unitary dominance with a one-sided approach and fail to achieve plural coexistence, so a great number of confrontations and social conflicts among ethnic groups have erupted, which not only affects their own stability, but also produces elements of instability in neighboring regions. If the ethical requirements of a particular cultural tradition are taken arbitrarily to judge the normal ways of life of other cultural traditions, some conducts irrelevant to morality will also be colored as right or wrong, virtuous or evil, which will certainly result in incorrect value judgments, and even directly cause emotional overreactions. Therefore, every cultural tradition must promote the spirit of tolerance and reconciliation in order to dissolve excessive tensions within society by mutual sincerity. If plural coexistence can be realized everywhere, then peace and harmony throughout the whole world will be accomplished.

 

3.2. The integral combination of ideological consensus and diverse modes

 

Concerning the ideas of value, we should help promote major cultural traditions to reach certain universal consensus under the premise of mutual respect. Although various cultural traditions have been nurtured and molded in different living environments, they still share many common ideas based on universal values. We need to, through adequate exchanges, condense these common ideas into a consensus of universal significance and make them the common spiritual wealth for all human beings.

 

Concerning the modes of practice, we should encourage all cultural traditions, in light of their own needs and circumstances, to adopt diverse and localized methods of practice in respect of general consensus. Cultural traditions, without exception, have been shaped through long-term exploration and endeavors so as to adapt themselves to the living environments. It, therefore, is a unique manifestation of the shared ideas of humankind. Thus, there does not exist an optimal cultural mode that can fit all situations. As a matter of fact, the more universal an idea is, the more necessary it is to select a proper mode of practice in line with the specific time and space.

 

3.3. The integral combination of absorbing and contributing value

 

Absorbing value means to comprehensively examine the fabric of other cultures and take them as points of references, turning the advantages into assets beneficial to perfecting one’s own culture. It is the prominent complementarity among different cultures that makes the exchanges and dialogues among them an absolute necessity. In such a process, each culture should set out from its current status to broaden its vision, enrich its content and elevate its own profiles by comprehending and learning the excellent achievements of other cultures.

 

Contributing value means to make an in-depth summary of the positive values of its own culture in relation to others, offering them appropriate constructive suggestions. The more positive values one culture contributes to other cultures, the more respect and recognition it can gain from them, and the more contributions it can make to the culture of mankind as a whole. The underlying driving force of the elevation and progress of human culture comes exactly from the convergence and consolidation of the positive values of all cultures.

 

4. The prospect of peace and harmony

 

Peace and harmony of all humanity mean peace and harmony among all nations, ethnic groups and religions. Meanwhile, it is the peace and harmony of each nation, ethnic group and religion that constitute the peace and harmony of all humanity. The Culture of Harmony, an excellent tradition of the Chinese civilization, which has lasted for thousands of years, has made tremendous contributions to the promotion of harmonious coexistence of various ethnic groups and the convergence and integration of religious cultures. It is immeasurably inspirational to the peace and harmony of mankind today.

 

Religious cultures are the concentrated expression of the crystallized wisdom of human culture, and all major religions regard grand selfless love of all humankind as their fundamental tenet. Promoting the peace and harmony of the entire mankind is the noble mission and great cause shared by all religions. May the leaders of all religious communities make concerted efforts to transcend the limits of religions and religious denominations, jointly fulfilling the moral obligations of care and concern for the world and mankind. May the leaders of all religions, with the religious peace and harmony, guide and propel the entire humankind towards a supremely perfect state of peace and harmony.

 

 

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the Forth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions on May 30, 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Should People of Faith Face Victims? ①

 

 

Religions generally originate from people’s reverential fear towards the unknown, including the nature and the law of the cosmos. Human beings, in facing these elements, are so insignificant that they feel helpless when natural disasters strike. With highly advanced science and technology, we have developed the belief to the utmost that human beings can conquer nature. Although certain damages by natural disasters can be minimized through predictions and remedial measures taken afterwards, the results of our positive endeavors have been greatly reduced by human interference with nature and their subsequent disasters. And consequently, human beings today are suffering no less at all from natural disasters than people in the past. As members of the big family of human being, religious believers should take on more responsibilities for comforting people in distress.

 

First of all, people of faith should start with relieving the immediate and actual miseries of the victims. People lose, within a short time, all their material necessities for survival in the relentless and devastating disasters, undergoing afflictions both physically and mentally. The first priority at such a time is to rebuild their homes, cure the wounded, and help bring their life back to normal. People of faith may call on many believers to do whatever they can to help those in the disaster-struck areas. In this process they come to establish a trustworthy relationship with people who suffer, thus laying the foundation for the ensuing relief work.

 

Secondly, people of faith should put emphasis on healing the psychological traumas of calamity victims. It is much harder for them to get recovered from the traumas than to have their physical wounds healed or their homes and livelihood restored. Some victims have gone through horrors from disasters they had never experienced and some have endured the agony of losing families and friends. Most of the psychological traumas will be buried deep in their hearts, which, if not properly treated, will become lifelong problems, posing great threats to their happiness for the rest of their lives. Religions, with their insight into life and a transcendental understanding of time and space, are usually capable of offering people spiritual refuge and harbor. Therefore, people of faith are entrusted with the responsibility for healing the psychological traumas of people afflicted with disasters, which may be too much a burden for non-believers to bear.

 

Thirdly, people of faith should expect to help victims build an entirely new life. The victims are afflicted both physically and mentally with disasters. People of faith are responsible for not only rendering them help to cure the traumas they are undergoing, but also for helping them create a new life. Disasters make people suffer, but more importantly, they also help them grow. Those who live a life without difficulties and hardships can hardly gain profound wisdom. But when they have experienced sufferings they have never had, they may come to understand life profoundly, and be able to see through life and become less attached to it, thus getting to know what is truly valuable in life.

 

Finally, people of faith should aim at achieving a mutual growth with the victims. Those in distress are normally regarded as being disadvantaged and vulnerable, waiting to be taken care of, while people of faith may unconsciously consider themselves in the position of help-givers. In fact, both the help-givers and the help-receivers in this process are equal. Those who offer help should feel as grateful as those who receive help, because it is the act of giving a helping hand that makes the help-givers more aware of the value of their lives, and the sense of being valuable determines one’s happiness. Therefore, people of faith should harbor gratitude from beginning to end, for they are also helping themselves through helping others.

 

Natural disasters are what human beings dread and try their best to prevent from happening. However, not all the outcome of natural disasters is negative. Disasters may awaken us to the value of peace so that we will do whatever we can to safeguard it. Disasters also make us realize that it is such a beautiful thing to be alive and healthy, enabling us to appreciate the seemingly common life more than ever. What is more, they can generate, in the minds of people, a true feeling of sympathy when finding someone anywhere belonging to any ethnic group suffering calamities. It is this precious sympathy that makes human beings genuinely realize that the fates of all mankind are so much closely intertwined.

 

 

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the Symposium on World Interreligious Gathering of Prayer for Peace in Commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Religious Summit Meeting on Mount Hiei on August 3, 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Role of Religions and Cultures in Governing the Country and Benefiting the People①

 

Please allow me to express, on behalf of the hundreds of millions of Chinese Buddhists, our most sincere greetings to the distinguished guests from the Center for Progress in the United States, represented by Chairman Mr. John Podestaust, on the eve of the grand celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, here in her capital Beijing.

 

China is a civilization with a long history of 5,000 years. Buddhism was introduced into China during the Han Dynasty 2,000 years ago, about the time Jesus Christ was born. But it was in 319 A.D. during the early Eastern Jin Dynasty, after nearly 300 years of integration with the local Han culture, that Buddhism came to be officially recognized by the Later Zhao regime in the north of China. The legal position of the Sangha, the community of Buddhist monks and nuns, was also established at that time. However, Buddhism did not flourish nationwide until the Sui and Tang dynasties. Since then, in the long course of 1,300 years, it has become firmly established as one of the three mainstream cultures in China and has left a far-reaching impact on the historical development of Chinese society. Its integration into China could be compared to that of Christianity into the Roman Empire, which took almost 400 years from the birth of Christianity to its recognition by the Roman Empire and eventually to the state religion of the empire. Christianity’s pervasive influence on the Roman Empire and later on Europe as a whole was universally witnessed.

 

Buddhism has undergone two major transformations since its introduction into China as it evolved with the changes in time and space. The first transformation occurred around 800 A.D. in the mid-Tang Dynasty. By absorbing and integrating local Confucian elements, the Chan School, a new Buddhist sect with distinctive Chinese features was formed. It was Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch of the Chan School, who completed the construction of its theory and doctrine, and Ven. Baizhang, the Chan Master, who had its organization structure realized. The second transformation took place around 1930 in the mid period of the Republic of China with the theoretical founding of Humanistic Buddhism by Ven. Master Taixu. The change was in response to the drawbacks found in Buddhism and to the dramatic cultural shocks received through contact with the West. Buddhism in China once again took on a new look. Generally speaking, the first transformation completed the process of localization of Buddhism in China, while the second initiated its modernization in China. It also makes us think of the development of Christianity in the West, which was developed through two major reforms as well. The first was done in the late period of the Roman Empire, around 400 A.D. with Aurelius Augustine creating the systematic Christian philosophy based upon the absorption of and integration with ancient Greek and Roman cultural elements represented by Neo-Platonism. This event marked the localization of Christianity in Europe. The second reform happened during the Renaissance around 1520. Martin Luther led a definitive and highly effective Reformation in defying the autocratic rule of the Church and in responding to the revitalization of ancient Greek humanism. This event marked the beginning of modernization of Christianity.

Looking back through history, it’s not difficult to see that evolution of the times and progress of the society always promote the integration of different religions and cultures and subsequently their own self-renewal. And in turn, the integrated and renewed religions and cultures become a potential power maintaining social stability and promoting economic prosperity. Such has been the role of Buddhism in China.

 

The advent of the Iron Age during the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period some 2,500 years ago fostered an unprecedented rise in production capacity. It also led to the collapse of what had become an outdated and inadequate social system. At the same time, social turmoil encouraged cross-cultural integration and eventually a cultural system mainly based on Confucianism came into being, which brought about for the subsequent Han Dynasty an over 300-year-long period of peace and economic prosperity. However, unfortunately, there is always a risk for a religion or a culture to become rigid whenever it is combined with the secular political and economic systems of the time. Rigid cultural ideas invariably lead to conservatism and stagnation of the mind, as manifested outwardly in a stale and decayed political system. At the time Buddhism was introduced, China had already suffered from a state of gradually diminishing vitality. Furthermore, the country was engaged in war and social turmoil in the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern dynasties. The entry of Buddhism acted like a precipitator injected into muddy water, providing with the best chance of purifying the local culture that had become stained. Buddhist thought was also given the opportunity of a most extensive spreading. Such an integration of religion with culture resulted in China achieving even more prosperous reigns of the Sui and Tang dynasties, to the extent that during the whole period of the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism occupied a dominant position. It was through such a long period of integration that Buddhism became successfully localized in China. Furthermore, in the even longer periods of the subsequent dynasties, Song, Yuan and Ming, localized Buddhist thought was absorbed into the indigenous Confucian culture and contributed to forming an intricate, intact, and systematic Neo-Confucianism, which laid the philosophical foundation for the Song and Ming dynasties.

 

Seasons turn quickly and times change continually; by the time China stepped into the mid-19th century, the religions and cultures of the country, once full of vigor and vitality, gradually became contaminated with the vicissitudes of the time by earthly dregs and dross. And it was during this period that the faltering Chinese religions and cultures were once again faced with an unprecedented challenge: the shock coming from Western civilization. Confronted with such a powerful rival, the Chinese, nonetheless, having been deeply nourished by thousands of years of a spirit of inclusiveness, revealed a surprising absorbing capacity. In a short span of less than a century, China completed the social transformation which took the West centuries to achieve. It goes without saying that Western culture has remained dominant in China for nearly one hundred years while the local culture had settled to quietness under the pressure of continuous criticism. However, quietness does not mean total disappearance. On the contrary, it is just the time for the Chinese culture to experience a period of self-reflection, absorption of nourishment, reconstruction and self-renovation. Once it is completed, the Chinese culture, which has extensively absorbed the essence of Western culture, would surely play a fundamental role in establishing a fresh round of governance with good administration and harmonious people, and in opening up a new pattern featuring wealthy people and a strong country.

 

In today’s world, social stability and economic prosperity are the issues of utmost concern for most countries. Only a secure, stable social environment can provide sound support for economic development, and only a sustainable development of economy can further consolidate social stability. China is now the largest developing nation with a vital global influence. China’s stable social environment, sustainable rapid economic growth, and in particular, its outstanding performance in mitigating international financial crises are indeed a wonder to behold for many countries in the world. This wonder, like many others, attributes to its cause factors in the deep level behind, that is, the most valuable spiritual heritage given to the Chinese people by the several-thousand-year long, uninterrupted Chinese civilization—the indestructible confidence, open-minded generosity, and broad-hearted mind. These qualities pervade everywhere in China’s religions and cultures and keep influencing imperceptibly the Chinese people. While the Oriental religions and cultures do continue to absorb the best of their counterparts in the West for self-complementation, and keep promoting their social stability and economic prosperity, to me, any wise country and nationality should also prudently consider how they can actively understand and learn from the excellent religions and cultures of the East. Learning from one another is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength instead. In turn, as the Chinese descendants, any one of us must all the more have a responsible attitude and a global view for innovation and transcendence on the basis of learning and absorbing. Therefore, we can acquire more opportunities and possibilities to reach the peak of development in human society and make due contributions to the well-being of humankind and peace in the world.

 

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the Breakfast Meeting of Sino-US Dialogue Forum, Beijing on September 1, 2009.

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