Some Thoughts on Chinese Religions in the New Century①

Ven. Xuecheng, Abbot of Guanghua Monastery, Fujian Province

2002

 

 

Collision and integration between Eastern and Western civilizations are unavoidable with the acceleration in the world economic integration, the formation of a global information network, and China’s successful reentry into the WTO in particular. Western ideologies are sure to infiltrate into China more directly, quickly and comprehensively, while simultaneously the international anti-China forces will conspire all the more to westernize China and split her apart. Western social values, by taking advantage of its superiority in science, technology and economy, is bound to pose the biggest challenge and test to Chinese civilization, especially her value system.

 

Chinese people in the 21st century are now faced with these crucial issues and challenges in the new historical context as to how to safeguard the essence of our traditional culture, how to fully absorb the best of other civilizations of the world, and how to realize a great renewal of Chinese culture.

 

Faced with these challenges and to live up to this great era, it is the historical responsibility of us all from China’s religious communities to duly contribute to the great renewal of the Chinese nation, foster peace and prosperity for people around the world, and enhance communication between and reconstruction of human civilizations.

 

In view of the ever changing international community, and at the turn of the new century, a National Conference on Religious Work was held between December 10-12, 2001 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council. The conference provided strategic and far-sighted guidance for the country’s religious work in the new century. President Jiang Zemin spoke highly of the status and role of religion at the conference, “Religion is an important component of the work of the Party and government. It plays a significant role in the overall development of our undertakings.” He further pointed out, “To understand today’s world, we must understand religion. We should never underestimate the impact of religious issues on the current world politics and social life.”

 

Therefore, we must in the new era develop a new understanding of religions in the world, tackle religious issues from a new perspective, and find a new approach to our religious work.

 

1. Some facts to be faced

 

1.1. Religion is a universal social and cultural phenomenon of the world. Statistics show that by the year 2000 the world population had totaled about 6.055 billion, among which people with religious beliefs had reached around 5.137 billion, making up 84.8% of the world population. The number of Christians, including that of Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox, stood at 1.999 billion, Muslims 1.188 billion, Hindus 811 million, and Buddhists 359 million. The total number of believers in the above four traditional religions made up over 88% of the world’s religious population (Wang 2000). The statistics show that the majority of the people in the world have religious belief, most of whom are believers of the world’s major traditional religions. Other statistics reveal that the growth rate of the world’s religious believers correlates highly with the growth rate of the world’s population (Zhao 1998). That is to say, the absolute number of the world’s religious believers increases annually. This is a fundamental fact not to be ignored or neglected when China reaches out to the world, to modernization and to the future along her path to a great national renewal.

 

Exemplifying this trend, religious organizations in the U.S. numbered 2,500.② The survey done by Gallup Organization of the United States in 1996 revealed that 96% of the Americans believed in God or in universal spirit. In the past 50 years, the percentage of believers over the total population has always maintained above 90%. About 85% of all private elementary and secondary school students attended church schools. The country has over 1,200 religious broadcasting stations. One in every 12 TV stations is religious. During the last decade of the 20th century, religious programs increased by 75%. Religious newspapers and magazines number as many as 5,000, and more than 100 million copies of the New Testament have come out of press. Annual donations for religious undertakings in the 1990s reached 50 billion USD whereas expenditures on baseball, basketball and American football were less than 5 billion USD (Liu 2001). In countries like France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium and Austria, religious population reached almost 100%, while that of Sweden stood at 98.9%, the U.S. 99.8%, Portugal 95.4% and Spain 94% (Cheng 2001).

 

 “To understand today’s world, we must understand religion,” just as President Jiang Zemin stated. ③ We cannot understand the human world without understanding religion. So it follows that familiarization with religion is a starting point for China to reach out to the world. Only by getting familiar with world religions can we interact and integrate smoothly with other civilizations, engage in effective cultural exchanges and assimilation, and form a platform for political, economic and cultural dialogues with other nations.

 

1.2. New religions are steadily on the rise and cults are becoming widespread. According to statistics by the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, the number of newly emerging religious bodies across the world almost reaches 20,000. By 1997, the number of their believers had reached 148.4 million. Since the 1960s the United States has witnessed the emergence of over 2,500 new religious groups. In 18 Western and Southern European countries, there exist more than 1,300 newly emerged religious groups. In Japan there are 185,000 registered religious groups now, most of which are newly emerged. In the sub-Sahara regions in Africa, over 7,000 new religious groups have come into being successively (Tan and Kong 2001). So this conspicuous surge in new religions has become a global issue both in developed as well as impoverished countries. All these happened mainly due to two aspects of reason. On the one hand, there is an unprecedentedly high demand for seeking counsel from religion due to dramatic changes in the modern world and the unheard-of heavy psychological pressure people at large are suffering from. On the other hand, some traditional religions have lost popular appeal and attraction over people owing to their slow reaction and their lack of positive responses to the rapid changes of the world. Caution is well advised in regards to some of the newly emerged extreme religions which have turned into cults. It is estimated that there are about 10,000 such cults with tens of millions of followers across the world. In the United States alone, there are 700 to 5,000 such religions, and at its peak as many as 2,000 to 5,000 (Tan and Kong 2001), with their followers ranging from 10 to 20 million. Many of them are spreading their tenets, expanding the number of their followers and conducting transnational activities by taking advantage of the world economic integration and the convenience provided by the global information network. They even stretch out to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Also worrisome is that some of them have close connections with international terrorist organizations. In 1992, a quarter of the world’s 48 such organizations were engaged in terrorist activities under the disguise of religion (Tan and Kong 2001). Consequently, it is the common responsibility of all human beings, and particularly the indispensable duty of religious communities to put under control the spread of cults and to root out these malignant tumors. Only by upholding the good can evil be eliminated. And only by the concerted efforts of governments, society and religious communities can this be done effectively and efficiently.

 

1.3. Most mainland Chinese do not have religious beliefs, and there are only about 100 million believers in major religions. Many people know nothing about religious culture, and even quite a number of the believers have only superficial knowledge of religion. It follows, therefore, that most people are practically ignorant of religion. Meanwhile, many other people fall victim to superstition, sorcery and fraud, and are even unable to distinguish between religion and superstition. This situation greatly impairs the healthy development of true religious beliefs. At particular times, pure religion was even ridiculously taken as feudal superstition and suffered great damage. What happened in the recent past can serve as a lesson and never to be neglected. He Guanghu, a professor of philosophy at Renmin University of China, holds that there are three major differences between religion and superstition. First, there is a difference in attitude. Superstition is pretentious, pretending to fathom things and control the process of their development, whereas religion is humble, trying to accept the world as it is and holding its foundations in great reverence. Second, their purposes are different. Superstition is utilitarian, using God to serve the practical interest of man, while religion is moral, teaching people to behave in conformity with the intention of God. Third, their object of concern is different. Superstition concerns things of the present and selfish happiness, while religion cares about the ultimate meaning and value basis that transcend this life (BAC 1999). These three points are all penetrating and insightful. I would like here to add just one more point. Superstition goes against human morality whereas religion is to safeguard and uplift it. Religious ethic enables human beings to strive for sublimity and holiness. The unchecked spread of superstition goes with the degeneration of morality and the downturn of social conduct, and is at the same time closely associated with the withering of true religious spirit. The true religious spirit should be carried forward and overall social morals should be enhanced.

 

2. Some perspectives to be established

 

2.1. We must weigh and see the social and historical roles of religion objectively, impartially, comprehensively and scientifically, rather than subjectively, randomly, one-sidedly and dogmatically. Being long influenced by traditional thinking Chinese people tend to take an evasive attitude keeping a distance from religion, or a pragmatic attitude making use of it as something to be worshipped as spirits and deities, or even taking it as opium that poisons the public. They even attempted to finish it off for good during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). It should be acknowledged that since the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Congress of the Communist Party of China, religious policies of the country have become increasingly improved. Freedom of religious belief has become firmly and solidly guaranteed. Yet, the idea of looking upon religion as something negative and backward, or something to be suppressed or guarded against, still persists in the mind of quite a number of people, thus preventing it from normal development and even going so far as to attempt to eradicate it via administrative means instead of giving guidance to make it more adaptable to society. These people fail to realize that “doing religious work well can have an important bearing on strengthening the flesh-and-blood ties between the Party and the masses, promoting the construction of two civilizations, on consolidating the unity among all ethnicities, maintaining social stability and safeguarding national security and unity, and also on the country’s foreign relations.” ④ Religious work is still often negatively suppressed instead of being given positive guidance and instruction. In some localities, abominable incidents occurred, such as occupying religious sites, infringing upon religious freedom of the masses, and humiliating the dignity of believers. The root lies in regarding religion as a negative and backward ideology, and even confusing it with superstition. Therefore, what we must do now is to have a renewed understanding of religion, namely its nature, its role, its significance in social history and humanities education; and treat it with a positive mind, and give a full play to its due social role.

 

2.2. Being a limited existence, human beings easily fall into a feeling of loss and a sense of nihility, which will finally result in their longing for certain faith. Traditional religions are relatively safe and reliable forms of faith for people. If a society fails to meet people’s normal religious needs, or if believers know little about true religion and cannot distinguish good from evil, or right from wrong, cults will get a chance to step in. China at present is undergoing a dramatic transformation in her struggle for modernization and globalization. Demand for religious belief has soared with the ever growing psychological pressure induced by the increasingly fierce competition. All these call for our historic responsibility to impart the knowledge and essence of traditional religions to the people, equipping them with immunity to cults. In this regard, traditional religions can serve as the natural immunizers from cults. If we take passive measures to suppress true religions and even regard them as a scourge and attempt to steer clear of them instead of offering the people right guidance in order to adapt to the socialist society, we will no doubt push people into the embrace of cults, and thus mislead them and jeopardize the nation.

 

2.3. Conflicts, disputes and wars among different religions or different sects of a religion are not a usual state of affairs. It is entirely possible to realize peaceful coexistence and co-prosperity of many religions and cultures. Such case happened in China’s Tang Dynasty. Throughout the prime period of the dynasty, not only the indigenous Taoism in China, but also Buddhism from India, was given the chance to fully develop. The eight schools of Buddhism vied with each other and developed in all fascination and splendor; meanwhile the social and political ideals as well as moral culture of Confucianism came into full play. Islam also witnessed smooth growth after its introduction into China. All of these shows that coexistence and co-prosperity of many religions and cultures are not only possible but also a symbol of a civilized and prosperous country or society. In many cases, conflicts among religions are just a facade whereas conflicts among political and economic interests are more often than not the essence. It is erroneously taking things upside down or taking effect for cause if the international community or a country imputes the conflicts to religion instead of seeking solutions to the political and economic problems. Deviating from the fundamental principle of the relationship between social existence and social consciousness, these wrong behaviors cannot eliminate disputes but intensify the situation. Religion, as a social ideology and a cultural phenomenon, mostly advocates peace. Rivalry among different religions can be removed through dialogues, and coexistence and co-prosperity of religions and cultures thus come into being.

 

2.4. Major traditional religions like Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism, among others, all representing great treasures of human wisdom, are strong cornerstones of the construction of moral values. Proceeding from the common good of mankind, they can develop mutual understanding and communication while distance themselves from narrow-mindedness and prejudice. Also they can harbor appreciation of and generosity towards each other, lay emphasis on mercy and goodness, and avoid hostility and hatred, in order to bring harmony and happiness to all mankind. To achieve these aims, every religion must follow the Golden Rule shared by all religions as the common principle. With this rule, differences, opposition and conflicts among religions and their sects can be well dealt with. Further this rule should be shared with the whole human society to help people of different beliefs and social systems to live together in harmony, and to encourage people of different ethnic groups and countries with different life styles to work in peace. As early as 1894, Thomas Henry Huxley pointed out in his work Evolution and Ethics, “Moralists of all ages and of all faiths, attending only to the relations of men towards one another in an ideal society, have agreed upon the ‘golden rule’, ‘Do as you would be done by.’” (Rost 2000) Dhamapada, the Theravada collection says, “All shrink from suffering, and all love life;/Remember that thou too art like to them;/Make thine own self the measure of the others,/And so abstain from causing hurt to them.” (Rost 2000) In Tao Te Ching, the tenet of Taoism, it states, “To those who are good to me, I am good; and to those who are not good (to me), I am also good; --and thus (all) get to be good. To those who are sincere (with me), I am sincere; and to those who are not sincere (with me), I am also sincere;--and thus (all) get to be sincere.” (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 49, trans. James Legge) The Gospel of Matthew 7:12 (New International Version) teaches people, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” In Pentateuch of Judaism, it also holds that you should “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 9:18) Hit-opadesa in Hinduism states as follows: “The final mark of Duty, Righteousness, /Legal and moral Lawfulness, is this/That what ye hold as dear and good for self/And which your inner higher self approves,/Ye hold as dear and good for others too;/And what ye may not like for your own self,/For others like it not, in the same way,/Who feeleth as his own the joys and sorrows/Of others, he is the true yogi, he/Hath truly ‘joined’ his own soul with all souls.” (Rost 2000) The Prophet Mohammed advised us, “Whatever you abhor for yourself, abhor it also for others, and whatever you desire for yourself, desire also for others.” (Rost 2000) Every religious organization and every believer should deal with its/his relationship with other people, other religions, other ethnic groups and other countries with its/his own virtuous religious teachings. In this way, world conflicts, wars, disasters and bloodshed will disappear under the brilliance of religion, while peace, prosperity, harmony and happiness will come to this disaster-ridden earth. As countries where various religions and cultures coexist, Singapore, Australia and China can live together in peace whereas those in Southern Asia have witnessed, over recent years, endless bloodshed and wars. This gives us food for thought.

 

2.5. A more open China calls for more openness towards religion, and more open religion puts higher demands on China’s religious communities, which need to strive to strengthen self-construction, and guard against Western countries in their interfering the internal affairs of others by means of their religion, implementing policies of invasion, and acting as “world priests.” Our experience of the past gives testimony to the fact that most of the existing unstable factors in our religious affairs are closely related to their interference. Therefore, it is the sacred responsibility of all religious personnel to safeguard our national security and sovereignty.

 

2.6. Religion is by no means contradictory to modernization, science and democracy. On the contrary, they mutually support and complement each other like lips to teeth. Max Webber in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism reveals to us the positive relationship between religion and the modernization of social economy (Weber 1987). Mr. Mou Zongsan holds, in view of the far-reaching impact of Christianity on the modernization of the West, “We can say that the fundamental drive for cultural life must rely upon religion. A good understanding of Western culture can be acquired not just through science and democratic politics, but rather through Christianity which is the basic drive of Western culture.” (Mou 1997) He concludes by asserting, “Western culture came to obtain science and democracy in modern and contemporary times by relying on Christianity as its inner motive and inspiring source.” (Mou 1997) Yu Yingshi also points out, “In the political and social fields, values like freedom, human rights, tolerance and justice cannot have practical significance if isolated from the concepts of ‘God’ and ‘rationality.’ Western transcendent value system constitutes a very significant spiritual source of Western ‘modernization,’ instead of collapsing in its course.” (He 1999) We can come to see the positive and powerful impact of religion on modernization, science and democracy in the West from all the above-mentioned works. This fact gives us food for thought. Here lies another basic point for us—China today, in her drive for modernization, should fully exploit the various elements of religion which are beneficial to social progress, human happiness and world peace.

 

2.7. Religion is a most valuable resource for the construction of ethic within society, the family and workplace. It is at the same time a powerful driving force for the construction of socialist spiritual civilization as well. It is an indisputable fact that religion not only sustains and develops itself in the modern world but also plays an active part in and maintains its moral system. There exist increasingly serious moral crises, including crises between man and man, man and nature, man and society, and also between nations, which show a strong and urgent call for religious spiritual resources, particularly religious moral resources (Wan 2001). Thoughts like “no killing” and “equality of all living beings” advocated in Buddhism are of special significance to modern ecological ethic. The secular morality becomes “sacred” after being sanctified by religion, with an ultimate guarantee as well as a supreme authority also established by religion. This will greatly convince people to accept and abide by existing ethical relationships, norms and guidelines. What is worth mentioning here is that China’s religious communities have always been preserving the fine tradition of patriotism, regarding as their consistent tenet love of the country and people, maintenance of national unity, and safeguard of national dignity. Let alone the special contributions to national unity and unification made in our history by the many eminent monks who stepped forward at a time of national separation and frequent wars, even at risk to their own lives on the difficult and dangerous route from the north to the south. Giving exhortations and preaching reconciliation among people, they strive to stop them from killing each other, and persuade them to free their captives, and subsequently end the war and make peace. Yet, I would like to only mention here that, during the War of Resistance against the Japanese Invaders, Ven. Master Taixu published an open telegram in the whole nation immediately after the July 7 Incident in 1937, calling on Buddhists across the nation to “heroically defend the country,” and organizing them into rescue units in direct participation in the War. He also went abroad to reveal the appalling atrocities committed by the Japanese forces. Ven. Master Yuanying remained faithful and unyielding, manifesting a lofty national integrity in spite of the horrible torture he suffered in the Japanese prison. And Ven. Master Hongyi put forward an advocate, “Never forget to rescue the nation while reciting the Buddha name; In order to save the nation, it is a must to recite the Buddha name.” All this demonstrated to the full the great patriotism cherished by China’s religious communities. The selfless bravery displayed by the Buddhists moved and inspired the whole nation so profoundly that appeals were made by the press across the country to “learn from the monks.” Looking back on our history, we come to realize that such spirit is still our matchlessly valuable resource for conducting patriotism education.

 

3. Some preliminary ideas

 

3.1. We must make every effort to enhance our research and construct a theoretical system with Chinese characteristics that can integrate Eastern and Western civilizations and absorb the results of researches on the world religions. We must make an objective, fair and comprehensive appraisal of the nature, function and role of religion and carry out all-round research on the relationships between religion and economy, religion and morality, religion and society, religion and cults, and religion and modernization. Our research must be conducted with a definite objective, and particularly, in light of the various crises China and the world are faced with. The urgent task for China’s religion in the new century is to enhance our research into religious theories because any lagging behind in ideology and theory will inevitably lead to stagnation in practice.

 

3.2. Great efforts should be made to cultivate a team of versatile people in the religious communities who are instrumental in creating a cultural integration of Eastern and Western elements, erudite in ancient and modern learning, familiar with the present situation of world religions, and equipped with a profound grounding in China’s religions. They must act not only as a bridge in communication of many religions and cultures but also as envoys in spreading China’s religious culture, displaying the excellent demeanor of China’s religions and their believers to international religious communities. They must at the same time have a good understanding of the social situation in contemporary China, and a good understanding of the pulse of the development of the times, so that they can undertake, from a strategically advantageous position, the great cause of contemporary Chinese religions, and become a strong fortress in preventing cults from occurring and spreading. The hope of the renewal of China’s religions, therefore, lies in the cultivation of talents.

 

3.3. We must take positive actions and endeavors to explore new ways and means for religion to adapt to the socialist society. To this end, we must go deep into society and pay close attention to real life, looking for new points of penetration and integration for religions in modern society during our daily practice. The most effective way to prevent cults from emerging and spreading is to increase the attraction and inspiring capacity of religion. To realize all these, we should take action instead of just talking about religion. The new century is beckoning us Chinese believers to exert ourselves and prove our worth. The great era requires us to practice what we preach and live up to our mission.

 

① Published on The Voice of Dharma, Journal of the BAC, No.214, Jun., 2002.

② The Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 1993 edition.

③④ Jiang Zeming’s speech at the National Conference on Religious Work 2001.

 

 

 

 

 

Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and Social Harmony①

 

 

Recently your correspondent interviewed Ven. Xuecheng on the construction of cultural soft power and other issues. Ven. Xuecheng, Standing Committee Member of the CPPCC (the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) and Vice President and Secretary-General of the BAC (Buddhist Association of China), just returned from the First Cultural Dialogue and Forum (Macao). Representatives of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism were invited to the Forum for dialogue and communication on the theme of “Chinese Culture and Social Harmony.” Professor Lin Anwu in the Chinese Department at the National Taiwan Normal University attended the Forum on behalf of Confucianism while Ven. Xuecheng represented Buddhism, and Taoist priest Zhang Jiyu, Vice President of the Chinese Taoist Association, represented Taoism.

 

Journalist: How do you feel upon your return from the First Cultural Dialogue and Forum?

 

Ven. Xuecheng: It is now an era of openness, of civilization, and of communication and dialogue. The representatives of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism gathered together for dialogue and communication in Macao, which happens to be a place where Chinese and Western cultures merge. Therefore the Forum was a grand gathering with a synergy of favorable conditions of time, place and participants.

 

Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have already been integrated into the traditional Chinese culture and every aspect of the Chinese society and have become part of the bloodstream of Chinese descendants. They have become the backbone of the traditional Chinese culture. So when we talk about traditional culture we refer to Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.

 

At this Forum we sat together and engaged in dialogue in the spirit of reciprocal respect, communication, acceptance and learning. Such a dialogue is not something new. The history of dialogues between Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism is over 2,000 years. For example, as soon as Buddhism was introduced to China its dialogues with Confucianism and Taoism had already begun, records of which can be seen in Buddhist scriptures like Collection on the Propagation and Clarification of Buddhism, Expanded Collection on the Propagation and Clarification of Buddhism and many other works by the patriarchs.

 

Journalist: I know that at the First Session of the 11th National Committee of the CPPCC you paid much attention to the construction of cultural soft power and had written three relevant speech notes for the Session. Could you please, in the context of this Forum, talk about which aspects of Buddhist culture are applicable in the construction of soft power and about the relationship between Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and social harmony?

 

Ven. Xuecheng: At present, the competition of conventional hard power, which consists of economic development, military equipment, scientific and technological progress, and so on, is becoming increasingly fierce while the competition of soft power, which is made up of cultural appeal, charisma of values, moral influence, and so on, is also surging forward. The emergence of the “soft power” competition raises such a question, “How can we strive for the welfare of humankind and pursue the prosperity of human culture from a global perspective?” We hold that Chinese civilization, with its profoundly rich foundation and accumulation of over five thousand years, is most likely to accomplish this mission. In terms of traditional Chinese culture, its backbone is respectively Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism.

 

Buddhism is a religion with faith as its root, liberation as its goal, education as its core and culture as its linking tie. On the one hand, the spread and communication of Buddhist culture in China have left a great cultural heritage for humankind. Buddhist cultural and artistic creations in such fields as architecture, sculpture, casting, painting, music, printing, theater, poetry and novel, have exerted profound and extensive influence on Chinese culture. On the other hand, Chinese Buddhism has had a long-standing influence on later generations with its basic spirit of “do no evils, practice all good deeds” and the eternal themes of compassion, wisdom, equality and perfect harmony.

 

Zhang Zai, a Confucian scholar in the Song Dynasty who advocated the theory of Great Mind, proposed that “all people are my siblings, and all things are my companions” in his article the “Western Inscription.” (Chen 2005) Wang Yangming, a Confucian scholar in the Ming Dynasty advocated the theory of the Great Man. The Great Man is the one “regarding Heaven, Earth, and the myriad things as one body.” (Chen 2005) The Neo-Confucianism in the Song and Ming Dynasties directly carried forward of the Pre-Qin Confucianism and the Studies of Confucian Classics in the Western Han Dynasty, reaching new heights of harmonious philosophy in Chinese culture.

 

 

Lao Tzu comprehended long ago, “He who knows the Eternal Law is tolerant; Being tolerant, he is impartial; Being impartial, he is wholistic (kingly); Being wholistic (kingly), he is in accord with Nature; Being in accord with Nature, he is in accord with Tao; Being in accord with Tao, he is eternal, And his whole life is preserved from harm.” (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16, trans. Lin Yutang) This means that an individual or a nation that understands universal truth and life wisdom would definitely tolerate everything. Tolerating everything he would be just and unselfish. Being perfectly impartial, he would  long and vast, away from danger forever.

 

Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, with their acute insights and profound understandings in terms of nature, society and human kind being condensed into the superb wisdom of Chinese civilization, have nurtured the thoughts and behaviors of Chinese people for thousands of years. They are the inexhaustible source for the construction of cultural soft power and a harmonious society.

 

Journalist: As the Vice President and Secretary-General of the BAC, what do you think should be done to strengthen the construction of cultural soft power while promoting the development of Buddhist culture?

 

Ven. Xuecheng: In our opinion, while absorbing the essence of the traditional Buddhist culture, we should better serve the contemporary society. We need, especially through promoting the spread and development of the Buddhist thought, to make Buddhism adapt to the socialist society. I believe that Buddhist culture will play a more and more prominent role in connecting all walks of life, serving as a positive factor in contributing to the reform and opening-up, social stability, national revival and economic prosperity.

 

For example, monasteries can help people learn about the history and culture of Buddhism through various popular ways, including lectures, audio-visual products, wall paintings, posters, Dharma assemblies, Buddhist chants and photography exhibitions, thus realizing the physical and spiritual purification, self-education, moral development, and insights into life.

 

Buddhist organizations and societies can also make full use of their own advantages to actively and steadily carry out activities to popularize common knowledge of Buddhist culture, like caring for life, charity and relief, protecting the spiritual environment, taking them as opportunities to actively advocate a new fashion adaptive to contemporary social development.

 

There is no doubt that earnest exploration, sorting out of, and in-depth study and discussion on such traditional Chinese culture as Buddhism will play a positive role in promoting the construction of Chinese cultural soft power and the development of a harmonious society.

 

① Published on the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Report, 11th edition, May 1, 2008. The original title: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and Social Harmony:

A Special Interview with Ven. Xuecheng, Standing Committee Member of the CPPCC National Committee, and Vice President and Secretary-General of the BAC, by Yang Hua.

 

 

 

Multi-faith Dialogue for a Harmonious World①

 

First of all, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Muslim World League on behalf of the Buddhist Association of China for inviting the Chinese Buddhist circle to this Conference. I am very pleased and honored to discuss the important topic of multi-faith dialogue and world peace with you all in Madrid, a renowned historic European city. At the just concluded International Islamic Conference for Dialogue held by the Muslim World League in Makkah, His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia initiated the proposal of strengthening multi-faith dialogue, especially among oriental religions, which has won widespread acceptance and appreciation. As proposed by the religious leaders and scholars at the Makkah Conference, His Majesty again called for convening a World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, Spain. We heartily applaud this initiative and believe that the Conference will have a profound and far-reaching impact on enhancing the relationship among religions, building a harmonious world, protecting the ecological environment and promoting the role of religions in building happy families and a harmonious society.

 

The 21st century has brought humanity into an era of information, globalization and integration as a result of the enormous sophistication of the means of transport, the universal adoption of market mechanism, and the revolution of information transmission technology. In today’s “global village,” interpersonal relationships have become unprecedentedly close, and opportunities for communications and interactions among different countries, ethnicities, religions and cultures have been growing. As such opportunities of interaction increase, the world could become a beautiful garden with a hundred flowers vying for glories and beauty. On the other hand, there is growing potential of confrontations and conflicts among different ethnic groups and religious groups. Of the six billion and more people in the world, nearly five billion have a religious belief, and each major traditional religion has hundreds of millions of devout adherents. Therefore, dialogue and harmony among religions play a significant role in maintaining world peace and the orderly development of human civilization, and are highly valued by religious figures and scholars in different countries.

 

Leonard Swidler, one of the advocates of inter-religious dialogue and global ethics, classifies inter-religious dialogue into three levels: the dialogue of the head, of the hands, and of the heart. The dialogue of the head is at the level of philosophy, reason and knowledge; the dialogue of the heart is based on emotions and their expressions; and the dialogue of the hands is at the level of concrete actions and ethical practices (Liang 2007). Some other scholars divided inter-religious dialogue into two levels, namely, “religious belief” and “religious culture.” The former encompasses the eternal significance and the transcending elements in religion while the latter is the realization of religious eternal significance in a secular world and time (Duan 2002). In our opinion, it is easier to have a comprehensive understanding of the feasibility and the possible forms of inter-religious dialogue if we distinguish it into three levels: religious faith, cultural bond and ethical practice.

 

As to the basic attitude towards other religions, John Hick, an English religious philosopher who actively advocates inter-religious dialogue, takes Christianity as an example and classifies the attitude into exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism based on ultimate faith (Hick 2000). Exclusivism firmly believes that the holy subjects and scriptures worshipped by their own religions are the only means towards the ultimate truth and transcendence of life. This is an attitude commonly held by the adherents of traditional religions. Inclusivism takes a different attitude that all religions serve as pathways for the holy subjects of one religion to save different peoples, as exemplified by the Second Vatican Council. But Hick’s pluralism deems there is an “ultimate reality,” of which all religions have different cognitions but all can play a redemptive role to a certain extent.

 

Hick’s religious pluralism has aroused attention as well as criticism from many people. Those who are critical hold that pluralism may reduce the particularities of different religions. As a matter of fact, major traditional religions around the world do differ substantially at the level of ultimate belief. For instance, Christianity believes that “the Word became flesh and God revealed in Jesus Christ.” Muslims believe in one God, Allah and they believe that Muhammad is the last and the most important prophet. In Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta, the identity of the Self with Brahman, is deemed as the supreme goal of liberation. Buddhism regards Emptiness and Dependent Origination as the universal truth and believes in the Buddha as an enlightened being with omniscience. An ideal of trying to eliminate the differences at the level of philosophy, though admirable and inspirational, tends to be over-optimistic and idealistic, and therefore is not easily accepted by most adherents of major religions.

 

However, the fact that each religion has a different and unique ultimate belief does not mean a religion must be closed, exclusive or even opposed towards other religions. The more we know about other religions and cultures, the more understanding we will be, thus avoiding much disharmony arising from religious issues. This is especially true in our era of globalization. For example, some people simply mistook the abuse of “Jihad” by a few terrorists for the true meaning of Islamic doctrine, owing to a lack of complete and correct understanding of the word “Jihad.” Consequently they made negative comments that provoked strong reactions throughout the Muslim world. In fact, the real meaning of “Jihad” is “to struggle in the way of Allah.” Although the struggle may take the form of fighting, the Quran requires that the fighting be based entirely on self-defense and strictly prohibits indiscriminate killing of the innocent. A correct understanding of the fundamental doctrines of the major world religions will help us realize that they all embody the ultimate concern for human beings, and they all advocate such good morals as devotion, peace and kindness. A true religious believer should fully understand, respect and even appreciate other religious beliefs. For example, Buddhism encourages a rejoicing attitude towards any living being if there’s any merit in their thoughts or actions, even more so towards the major religions which contain so vast and deep wisdom. The Flower Adornment Sutra states, “As for all the different types of beings in the six paths and the four kinds of birth in every world in the ten directions, I follow along with and rejoice in their merit and virtue as well, even if it is as small as a mote of dust.”

In respect of differences in fundamental religious doctrines, we should espouse understanding and tolerance. In addition we can also draw on the practice of oriental traditions which encourage face-to-face communication with peaceful means and an open mind. For example, in ancient India, there were regular exchanges and peaceful competition among different religions, which were sound and wise, so that different religions were able to draw on religious philosophical thoughts from others and organized discussions and public debates. In this way, religions would not resort to violence or despicable conspiracies to resolve their conflicts. Moreover, truths could be gleaned from debates and different religions had the opportunities to show the wisdom and excellence of their doctrines, and religious talents were cultivated and the development of different religious thoughts was promoted. Nalanda, a famous ancient Buddhist academic center is a paragon of open learning and communication. The same peaceful communication and competition also existed in ancient China, known as “letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend.” This allowed many doctrines including Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism to constantly develop through mutual learning, discussion, debate and confrontation while basically maintaining harmonious coexistence. The world is a different place now and today religions don’t have to blindly copy ancient forms of philosophical or religious inter-faith dialogue, although the open-mindedness, the spirit of non-violence and peace and respect for truth in the Eastern traditional beliefs are still worth learning.

 

Should there exist considerable difficulty for direct dialogues at the level of philosophy and faith due to doctrinal differences, it would be much more feasible to communicate through cultural exchanges. Since culture is rich in content, religious culture at least include religious art, relevant religious rituals and religious spirit. For instance, religious art, through music, fine arts, architecture can not only facilitate exchange among different religions, but also showcase the charm of religious culture to non-believers because art itself is a language that transcends national boundaries, races and religions. Compared with secular art, religious art has an unworldly beauty which helps the viewers to get spiritual elevation and purification and religious identification by appreciating the true, the good and the beautiful. Many important works of famous European musicians were about religion and some masterpieces are religious music, which have gone beyond religions and are appreciated by music lovers worldwide. In recent years, many Buddhist orchestras from the mainland of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan gave performances in Europe and the United States, which have won extensive praises and made a commendable contribution to the exchange between Eastern and Western religious cultures.

 

Over thousands of years, the major traditional religions around the world have developed their own religious systems and relating cultures, including the way to obtain religious experiences, the religious rituals and ceremonies, the education and organization of clerical personnel, and the disciplines to be obeyed in daily life. As all the religions transcend secular life and emphasize the veneration of the sacred subjects of their faiths, religions’ systems and cultures share many similarities. Especially since the modern era, due to the impact of material civilization, all the major religions are facing the problem of how to accommodate their traditional religious system with modernity. This is an issue that different religions can very well discuss with and learn from each other. For example, the meditation and contemplation practices in Buddhism and Hinduism from the oriental religions have outstanding characteristics, which have influenced Christian mysticism in modern times. We believe that they will also provide inspirations to other religions in terms of the methods to acquire religious experiences. Islam has kept its traditional religious rituals and system relatively intact. Traditions like praying five times a day, Ramadan and even the pilgrimages to Makkah are still commonly revered by Muslims. In response to modernization, Judaism undertook reforms in Germany in the 19th century, reforms which developed further in the United States in the 20th century. Through years of reform, on the one hand, the Jewish people accepted science and substantially modernized their system; on the other hand, they maintained the traditional spiritual culture and faith quite successfully. This experience of reconciling tradition with modernity is very valuable. In contrast, modern Christianity has placed even greater emphasis on social service, actively engaging in charity and welfare activities.

 

 

Although the ethical practices of the major religions can be regarded as a part of religious culture, we will still devote some paragraphs to this topic in view of their particular importance to the development of human society and inter-religious dialogue itself. Just as Paul Knitter said in One Earth Many Religions: Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility, “Interreligious conversations must take as their most pressing agenda the ethical issues behind the mounting sufferings of humans and Earth… Suffering has a universality and immediacy that makes it the most suitable, and necessary site for establishing common ground for interreligious encounter.” (Knitter 2003) Similarly, in his Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic Hans Kung described profoundly the tribulations that humans and the earth were suffering from and appealed for dialogues among different religions, joint efforts in ethical practice and global ethics (Kung 2002). Actually, in the process of modernization, the development of material civilization has, on the one hand, brought enormous wealth and conveniences; it has, on the other hand, caused tremendous disasters and sufferings. Human beings’ predatory exploitation of nature has resulted in severe ecological imbalance, environmental deterioration and gradual energy depletion. Among these the most worrying is the global climate change caused by human activities. Excessive material pursuit has led to the vulgarization of many people’s spiritual world and growing moral depravity. Those who have lost their spiritual homeland would turn to drugs to numb their minds. From the rising divorce rate and crime rate around the world to the spread of AIDS, from the wealth polarization to the spreading of terrorism, and from the increasing danger of nuclear proliferation to the shadow of regional wars, all of these are relentlessly depriving human beings of happiness and peace. Even an ordinary global citizen cannot turn a blind eye to all these sufferings and problems, let alone each and every religion whose purpose is to give meaning to life and bring ultimate happiness to human beings.

 

Up to now, many people of insight have fully realized the seriousness of various crises that humans are facing and are appealing earnestly or taking actions to solve them. However, as every crisis that humans are facing is global in nature, no ethnic groups or countries, or religions, standing alone or in small groups, can undertake to resolve the crises on their own. It requires the concerted cooperation and joint efforts of all the human beings to mitigate and dispel these crises. For example, as the global ecosystem is an integral and organic structure, the ecological crisis will have a worldwide impact. Hence, even if a country makes great efforts to reduce air pollution, the actual result may be greatly reduced if the pollution sources are in the neighboring countries or even more distant countries. Now take economic crises as a further example. In today’s world of global economic integration, an economic crisis originated in a country or a region will affect other countries or regions, even the whole world, and may further cause social unrest, turmoil and even political crisis in these countries or regions. Likewise, the culture of a country or an ethnicity can also go further than its ethnicity and region to spread around the globe and have a wide influence; it may also interact, integrate or even collide or clash with other cultures. In the era of globalization, human beings have never been so knitted together. It’s as imperative as ever for human beings to shoulder global responsibilities and conform to global ethics. In this process, the participation of different religions has become indispensable. As Hans Kung maintains, “The kind of global ethics necessary for sustained global action cannot be achieved without the contribution of religion.” (Kung 2002)

 

As the great treasury of human wisdom, the world’s major traditional religions have many great teachings on ethical practice that are of ever-fresh and eternal value for human beings. Mohammed instructs, “Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself, that you may be a believer; Treat well as a neighbour the one who lives near you, that you may be a Muslim.” “Whatever you abhor for yourself, abhor it also for others, and whatever you desire for yourself desire also for others.” (Rost 2000) The Gospel of Matthew 7:12 (New International Version) teaches people, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Hit-opadesa in Hinduism states as follows: The final mark of Duty, Righteousness,/Legal and moral Lawfulness, is this—/That what ye hold as dear and good for self /And which your inner higher self approves, /Ye hold as dear and good for others too;/And what ye may not like for your own self,/For others like it not, in the same way,/Who feeleth as his own the joys and sorrows/Of others, he is the true yogi,/he Hath truly ‘joined’ his own soul with all souls. (Rost 2000)Buddha not only educates us “what I don’t like is as others, I shouldn’t impose it upon others.” (Samyutta Nikaya V,353,35-342,2), but also advocates the positive altruistic spirits of “unconditional kindness,” “great compassion based on sameness in essence” and “to be friends of all living beings voluntarily.” In fact, all the great religions, be it Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam or Bahaism, have great teachings that guide human beings to live with others in harmony and treat others with equality, understanding, tolerance, compassion and love. The world’s major religions all share the Golden Rule, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” This is not only a moral and ethical norm for the members of a group, a religion, an ethnicity, or a country, but is also the basis of a global ethic that constitutes the base necessary for solving today’s global issues.

 

Each major religion’s doctrines contain rich resources of ethics which fully embody wisdom and resonate with that of other religions. To make these vital principles about harmonious inter-personal relationship become global ethics for all so as to bring everlasting harmony and peace to the world, it is crucial for major religions to make efforts regarding ethical practice, especially to realize harmony and peace among the religions of the world. As Hans Kung pointed out that there will be no survival of our globe without a global ethic; there will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions; there will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions. (Kung 2002) Therefore all the religions of the world should engage in exchanges and dialogues with tolerance, friendliness, compassion and equality, and promote religious tolerance and harmony as indispensable qualities of a contemporary religious believer. The major religions should aim at human beings’ common welfare, turn away from narrow-mindedness and prejudice, avoid hostility and hatred, understand and communicate with each other, appreciate and tolerate each other, making harmony and peace among religions and their adherents become the model of relationships between individuals and between groups. At the same time, different religions should cooperate with each other on the basis of dialogue, face up to the sufferings and problems of humanity together, jointly seek feasible solutions and put them into practice step by step. The religions in the 21st century should not only encourage followers to pursue the ultimate happiness and take this ultimate concern as the basis of moral ethics, but also encourage followers to pay close attention to the society and the actual sufferings and the sufferers, thus integrally linking the dedication to society of temporality with the pursuit of ultimate happiness. Actually, be it the social welfare cause to “glorify God and serve fellow human beings” actively carried out by modern Christianity, the theory and practice of Humanistic Buddhism in contemporary Buddhism which is on the upswing, or the excellent tradition of “honor in both this world and the Hereafter while fulfilling this life” in Islam, all of them are purported to serve the society and contribute to people’s wellbeing. Thus, they should be vigorously promoted and religions should cooperate through all kinds of channels. Each believer should go beyond worshipping the sacred subjects and bear in mind the great instructions from the sages of his religion, actualizing in real life such moral and ethical spirit as “love others as yourself” in Christianity, “be compassionate and serve the world” in Buddhism, and “be generous and help the needy” in Islam through concrete actions. Through the joint efforts of billions of religious followers, ancient religious traditions will further develop in a harmonious atmosphere, the common ethic wisdom originated from the major religions will gain more and more recognition, and a tranquil and harmonious world will not be far away any more.

 

 

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the World Conference on Dialogue, Madrid, Spain on July 17, 2008.

 

 

 

 

Enhance Dialogue and Further Cooperation to Build a Pluralistic and Harmonious Spiritual Home for Mankind ①

 

 

 

 

Distinguished President of the Congress, distinguished religious leaders from all over the world,

 

Today the subject of my speech is: Enhance Dialogue and Further Cooperation to Build a Pluralistic and Harmonious Spiritual Home for Mankind.

 

The 21st century witnesses the rapid development of science and technology, as well as the increasing prominence of the plurality of global cultures and human faiths. All the countries of the world are inextricably bound by economic globalization, and human beings of the world have already become one community that shares weal and woe together. Today all human beings of the world have to unite as one in their endeavor to solve issues which are global in scope, such as economic crises, environmental pollution, energy shortage, resource depletion, natural disasters. In addition, we have to work together to resolve the real hazards and potential threats to human beings such as racial conflicts, religious disputes, national confrontations, estrangement between civilizations. At the same time, the economic globalization sweeping the whole world is not and cannot be the globalization of a particular culture or a particular civilization. On the contrary, what goes along with the process of globalization have been the severe anguish that each country and each nation feels about the possible marginalization and homogenization of their own cultures or civilizations during globalization, as well as the growing identification and persistent protection of their own cultures or civilizations. The ideologies and policies of cultural hegemonism and cultural colonialism have run up against increasingly extensive resistance and objection.

 

Such identification and persistent protection together with the resistance and objection embody the safeguard of mankind’s pluralistic and harmonious spiritual home which is supposed to have flowers blooming like a piece of brocade and a riot of colors! Only such a spiritual home will be compatible with the actual needs and long-term interests of mankind in today’s world! Unification into a single and singular culture or civilization will make all present cultures utilize the earth’s resources in similar ways, which will certainly land mankind in ever-worsening conflicts and confrontations leading to inevitable disasters; as well as obstructing and stifling mankind’s extremely rich and diverse spiritual needs and constraining the vigor and vitality of mankind’s spiritual home! As a well-known Chinese poem goes, “A single flower does not make spring, while one hundred flowers in full blossom bring spring to the garden.”

 

Religion is the core of human civilization. Different religious beliefs, rooted in divergent habitats, historical cultures, psychological structures and values of various ethnic groups, have shaped up different civilizations. The existence of many religions is the major cause for mankind to have diversified civilizations. Therefore, the harmonious coexistence among pluralistic religions is the prerequisite and basis for that of mankind’s diversified civilizations. It’s just as what Hans Kung has pointed out, “There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions.” “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.” (Kung 2002)

 

 

Harmony of the world begins with harmony among religions. Harmony among religions comes from dialogue and cooperation. Lacking in dialogue, more misunderstandings and conflicts between religions and their sects will arise and increasingly deteriorate in the process of globalization, and then the original ethical purpose shared by major religions in the world will finally be lost. We fully understand it is a fact that divergences and distinctions exist in the ultimate beliefs of the world’s major religions. But this highlights the extreme urgency and importance of interfaith communication and cooperation instead of denying their necessity. Meanwhile we should also realize that the very existence of divergences and distinctions shows the diversity of human spiritual needs, which is the logical premise of a pluralistic and harmonious spiritual home for mankind. One of the historical missions for religious leaders is to call upon followers of the major religions of the world and even all the human beings to be sincere with each other, tolerant of each other, and appreciative of each other so as to reach consensus in the face of actual divergences and distinctions. To achieve this purpose, we must establish and improve the mechanisms and platforms for the major religions and their different branches to enhance dialogue and further cooperation. The Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions launched, established and developed by the Republic of Kazakhstan is such an excellent example of such mechanism and platform to increase understanding, promote unity and propel all the people of the world to common prosperity. We sincerely hope that this platform and mechanism will be continuously improved and developed.

 

 

The profound cultures and successful practices accumulated by Chinese people in their long history may provide important resources of thoughts and practical inspirations for today’s religions to transcend the differences in their ultimate beliefs and achieve harmonious coexistence. Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism have been coexisting harmoniously in Chinese society for thousands of years. The Northern Song Dynasty, for example, witnessed the mutual assimilation, integration and complement of the above three traditional Chinese teachings, contributing wisdom together to social stability and people’s wellbeing. Zhang Boduan, a famous Taoist priest in the Northern Song Dynasty, absorbed the Chan Buddhism’s theory about mind-nature and Confucianism’s views on nature and life, which completed Taoism’s transition from External Alchemy to Internal Alchemy. He advocated the cultivation of both mind-nature and life, with life at first, nature the next. “Firstly use the techniques for immortal life to attract one to cultivate, then apply wonderful embodiments of Buddhas to expand one’s magic powers, finally expel one’s delusion with the awakening to suchness, thus returning to the original ultimate emptiness and stillness.” (Zhang, Treasury of Tao) After that, the trend of combining the three teachings became increasingly pronounced. Wang Chongyang, the founder of the Quanzhen School of Taoism, explicitly took the integration of the three teachings as the principle for establishing the Quanzhen School. Thus, the founders of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism were equally worshipped by the Quanzhen School, which was referred to as “Lao Tzu is the ancestrial founder, Shakyamuni is the originator, and Confucius is the scholar model.” In addition, the important scriptures of the three teachings: Tao Te Ching, Prajna Paramita Sutra and the Classic of Filial Piety were all regarded as the major scriptures of Quanzhen Tao School. He said, “Buddhism and Taoism have been of the same family, which appear differently but share the same dogmata,” “the principles of Buddhism and Taoism are interlinked, and the three teachings are originally from the same ancestor.” (Wang 2005) In the initial years of the Song Dynasty, Zhiyuan, an eminent Buddhist monk of the Tiantai School, expressly and systematically put forward the idea of “the three teachings harmonious as one,” which greatly promoted the thinking about integrating the three teachings in the Buddhist community during the Northern Song Dynasty. Zhiyuan said, “I always have the idea that the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism are all so important that none of them shall be left out. Confucianism has the principle of three cardinal guides and the five constant virtues, so that people can achieve the proper state of human relations. Taoism teaches to renounce sageness and discard wisdom so as to stay gentle and remain weak. While the teachings of Buddhism enable one to attain result by the law of causation and return from illusions to reality, and one’s mind which is in unending changes and myriad forms be restored to its true nature. In this respect, isn’t my heart suffering from diseases? Aren’t these great teachings the cure? If the diseases are categorized into three aspects, can any of the three prescriptions be abandoned? Let me put this into an analogy, the Truth is like a three-legged ancient cooking vessel, then Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism would be the three legs. Can any of the legs be broken, if we want the vessel to stand?” (Zhiyuan,Xianju Bian ) Zhiyuan regarded human society as a patient who needed treatment, and Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism all efficacious medicines. Based on the basic Confucian doctrines, Confucianism developed into Neo-Confucianism in the Song Dynasty with further integration and innovation by extensively absorbing theories like the mind-nature of Buddhism and the cosmology of Taoism. Thus greatly advanced, Confucianism became more systematic, sophisticated and philosophical. This was reflected vividly and comprehensively in developing Neo-Confucianism by the Five Confucians of the Northern Song Dynasty: Zhou Dunyi, Shao Yong, Zhang Zai, Cheng Hao, and Cheng Yi, Shao Yong even had worn the Taoist’s robe ( Qing 1996).

 

It can thus be seen that the traditional religions of China, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, have been mutually absorbing, mutually respecting, mutually tolerant, and mutually appreciative, jointly contributing to the stability of Chinese society and people’s wellbeing. This phenomenon has already attracted attention from many religious scholars of the world. As Paul Knitter puts it, “Such religious plurality and coexistence has not only marked, but enriched, Chinese life. China embodies in vibrant actuality what the Dutch Catholic theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx, claimed only theoretically: That there is more truth in all the religions of the world taken together than there is, or can be, in any one of them. China’s example of how religious diversity can enrich a nation’s culture is needed by the rest of the world, especially at the present juncture of world history in which so many nations (of course, China included) struggle to build unity out of diversity without destroying diversity.” (Tian 2006)

 

This phenomenon of Chinese religions also demonstrates that religions can transcend the divergences and distinctions in their ultimate beliefs to realize harmony and mutual accommodation. They can further transcend the differences in their external forms to become the spiritual powers that can be mutually fused as well as the spiritual nutrients of universal value. In that way, every person and every religious believer in the world will have the opportunity to enjoy the fruit of wisdom of all the religions, then their spiritual worlds will be enriched, moral states uplifted, and the global crises that all human beings are facing will be relieved and ultimately resolved.

 

It demands perpetual and unrelenting endeavors from all the religions to realize a spiritual world of harmony and mutual accommodation for humanity. “The Declaration toward a Global Ethic” which was issued in the Second Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1993, expressed the united appeal for the religious communities of the world to adopt global ethics. A substantial and welcome step has thus been taken with the great significance that a consensus on values has been reached by the inter-religious dialogues, namely, the Golden Rule: “What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others” or, “What you wish done to yourself, do to others.” (The Parliament of the World’s Religions 1993) Further, if the wisdom of religions truly becomes the spiritual forces that can be mutually fused to realize the harmony and mutual accommodation in the spiritual field for humanity, the confrontation and conflict between different ethnicities, countries, and civilizations, as well as between man and man, man and society, man and nature shall be largely resolved.

 

A great contribution that religions can make to the everlasting peace of the world is to realize humanity’s spiritual world of harmony and mutual accommodation through enhanced dialogue and intensified cooperation. The method to achieve this goal is to learn from each other in dialogue and to trust each other in cooperation. Interfaith dialogue should be open-minded and learning-oriented. The purpose of dialogue is neither to convert the adherents of other religions to one’s own religion, nor to create a new united religion by bridging the gaps at the level of religious beliefs, but instead to reinforce one’s own faith through learning from other religions, and also let the believers of other religions and the nonbelievers share the light of wisdom from one’s own religion. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Cultivation of tolerance for other faiths will impart to us a truer understanding of our own.” “My constant prayer, therefore, is for a Christian or Muslim to be a better Christian and a better Muslim. This, to me, is real conversion.” “I shall say to the Hindus that your lives will be incomplete unless you reverently study the teachings of Jesus. I have come to the conclusion, in my own experience, that those who, no matter to what faith they belong, reverently study the teachings of other faiths, broaden their own instead of narrowing their hearts.” (Ellsberg 1997) John B. Cobb, the American post-modern ideologist also holds that we hope to enrich our lives and purify our beliefs through learning from others, but at the same time, we are contributing what are regarded as the real valuable things in our tradition ( Cobb 2008).

 

According to historical experiences, open-minded and learning-oriented dialogues have decisive significance in exchange and integration of thoughts among different religions. Once again China’s experiences have provided an important revelation. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism often held debate conferences during the Sui, Tang and Song dynasties. Such debate conferences seemingly showed the distinctions and contradictions among the three teachings, but they actually offered excellent opportunities for the three teachings’ exchange and integration. As stated above, the Confucians of the Song and Ming dynasties creatively digested and absorbed the precious thoughts of Buddhism and Taoism, which contributed to formation of the Neo-Confucianism in the Song and Ming Dynasties. Meanwhile, both Buddhism and Taoism further developed after absorbing and accommodating the other two teachings in response to the needs of times.

 

Religions should cooperate with each other on the basis of dialogue and join hands to face the sufferings and problems of mankind. Only through cooperation based on mutual trust can we better take on the global responsibilities together. As Paul Knitter mentioned in One Earth Many Religions: Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility, “interreligious conversations must take as their most pressing agenda the ethical issues behind the mounting sufferings of humans and Earth. Suffering has a universality and immediacy that makes it the most suitable, and necessary, site for establishing common ground for interreligious encounter.” (Knitter 2003) Religions in the 21st century should not only encourage believers to pursue ultimate happiness, and keep this ultimate concern as the base of morality and ethics; but also encourage their believers to take the initiative to show concern for the society as well as the actual sufferings and the sufferers in real life, organically unifying the dedication to the present and the pursuit of the ultimate.

 

We believe that through the Congress, a religion will be able to learn sincerely from other religions with a more open-minded attitude and make a concerted effort to cooperate with other religions more trustfully. With our persistent efforts, all religions will tolerate each other and accommodate each other to achieve harmony and mutual accommodation.

 

We believe that the world of tomorrow will certainly be more harmonious and more beautiful!

 

 

 

 

 

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the Third Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions on July 17, 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

Power of Culture:

Dialogues between Ven. Xuecheng and Visitors from the United States and Singapore①

 

 

 

On the morning of July 21, the four members of the advanced team of the United States multi-faith delegation visited the Buddhist Association of China (BAC). Head of the delegation discussed and exchanged views with Ven. Xuecheng on religious situations in China. Two days later, an official from the Singaporean Embassy in China specially came to the BAC and interviewed Ven. Xuecheng on topics including the role of Buddhism in building a harmonious society. The themes of the two discussions were correlated and hence collated as below for your reading pleasure.

 

 

The dialogue with American visitors on the morning of July 21st

 

American Visitor: It is quite an honor to be here for the second time. I was told that in China one would be called an old friend when meeting for the third time. As we will meet soon again, please allow me to call you my old friend today.

 

Ven. Xuecheng: Fortunate! Fortunate we are!

 

American Visitor: Sent by God, here we are. I am Dee Froeber, Minister to Internationals at Forest Hills Baptist Church, Raleigh, N.C., and Executive Director of American-Chinese Multi-Faith Religious Exchange (ACMFRE). With me today are my colleagues Mr. Jeff Wood, Senior Vice President for Programs and Exchanges, ACMFRE, Mrs. Sandra S. Haskins, Project Director and Mr. Haskins, our Finance Director. And we also have Ms. Guo Wei with us today. We are honored to be here and see you again.

 

Ven. Xuecheng: First of all, please allow me to extend our warmest welcome to all of you on behalf of the Buddhist Association of China. Buddhism has been in China for more than two thousand years with a deep foundation of faith and it has become part of the mainstream traditional Chinese culture together with Confucianism and Taoism.

           

When receiving foreign visitors, I am frequently asked what has made Buddhism become part of the mainstream traditional Chinese culture as it was introduced from India. To me, this is mainly due to its ability to localize itself. No matter where it reaches, it integrates with the life, customs, culture and other areas of the local society. Buddhism in China has a most complete range of the three major languages of Han, Tibetan and Pali, among which the Han language tradition has developed into eight schools. The three languages and eight schools make up the complete system of Chinese Buddhism. Having spread all over the world, Buddhism has its largest number of followers in China till now. An old saying goes in China that there is Amitabha Buddha in every household and Guanshiyin Bodhisattva in all families. It shows how broad, significant and profound the influence of Buddhism has been in China.

 

Chinese Buddhism has expanded and strengthened its international exchanges since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and in particular, since the reform and opening-up. We not only joined the World Fellowship of Buddhists but also participated in many multi-faith international conferences and activities including the World Conference of Religions for Peace and the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace. In early July this year, we attended the Third Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan together with the representatives of China’s Taoist and Islamic communities. Thus it can be seen that Buddhism, Christianity and Islam have all become important powers in maintaining world peace. It is our belief that your visit will further promote the friendship between the Americans and the Chinese, and people in the religious circles of the two nations, and play a positive role in promoting world peace. May your visit a great success!

 

American Visitor: As you say, communication between various religions is as important as the communication between nations and governments. It is the religious teachings and ethics from which many of the human cultures flow. Looking at the history we can find that so many world leaders have sought inspiration from the holy books of various religious traditions. President Hoover, for example, noticed the importance of religions in Chinese society. I believe that all the religious leaders will spare no effort in building a more harmonious society, and I hope the forthcoming multi-faith delegation will help build a more harmonious relationship between the two countries. So we are very excited that you once again will help us build such a relationship. Obviously, it is an important fact that there is a Bodhisattva, Guanshiyin, in every household. We must pay attention to this faith. As you know,Buddhism is growing fast in the United States, not only in the number of Buddhists, but also in the number of Americans who begin to know and understand Buddhism. Many things about China are also becoming more familiar to the Americans. I will tell you an interesting story. One of the ministers in my church recently rearranged his office. It is very comfortable now when you go in. But when you say, “Well, it is very nice, but why do you put this lamp here not over there?” He would answer, “You know. That will help my fengshui.” It seems that Buddhism is influencing the Christian church. The story shows that there are many things we can learn from each other.

 

We will bring in October this year to China a multi-faith delegation of twenty people consisting mainly of American religious leaders, American scholars and American politicians. Our purpose is to learn more about the role of religion in Chinese society, and to meet with the respected religious leaders in China like you and the president of the BAC. We hope to have a dialogue with you and enjoy a delicious vegetarian lunch. We are visiting leaders of different religions in China, so we will bring in a multi-faith delegation with leaders from different faith traditions such as Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism.

 

When we are here to visit you, we hope you will tell us the history of Buddhism in China, the teachings of Buddhism and how Buddhism has such a great influence, as you have just mentioned, on China’s development and on the Chinese heart, soul and mind. Although Americans now have some knowledge of Buddhism in China, it is very limited or at least for the most part is very limited. So this will be an opportunity for you to introduce to our leaders of different religions about Chinese Buddhism. When they go back to the United States, they can share this fresh knowledge with many other people. I believe it will benefit the future Sino-US relations and become a great achievement of this visit. You say that Buddha has called on us to work together. They will say that Jesus Christ has called on us to collaborate. It is no doubt there will be a perfect friendship between us.

 

Here we have some suggestions to offer, which was also proposed by Ms. Guo Wei, that please, in your ways, help the American delegates understand what is happening in Chinese Buddhism. We are particularly interested in how you seize the opportunities for the future development of Buddhism. What challenges do you think Buddhism is faced with? For example, are you able to have your young people stay in their faith in Buddhism? Sometimes my children don’t want to go to church. This is a challenge for me. Perhaps, your challenges are different. I hope all the Chinese children want to go to churches or temples. We also want to know how you educate your religious leaders, especially your young leaders. This is something that I think every religion can learn from each other. That is, how we educate our young people to prepare themselves to be good leaders. Apart from all these, we also wish to know, how Buddhism in China serves society in the practical ways such as helping with the poor, the sick and the hungry. Finally, a few religious leaders might have some curious or sensitive questions about, for example, Buddhism in Tibet today.

 

It is our hope that the Buddhist community can shed some light on these topics and also on ethnic conflicts and religious prejudice. We share many of the same interests and concerns in terms of these subjects. Today, we are still talking in the United States about how to have a good relationship between the black people and the white people. Maybe you can give us some advice in this aspect. In each country, religious leaders play the common role in promoting harmony between people and society and protecting the rights and interests of the believers. We look forward to learning from you.

 

Ven. Xuecheng: All your questions are meaningful, but some of them are commonsense knowledge. At the end of last year, I visited Republic of Korea and read in a newspaper there that according to a survey, 28% of the Americans thought that Shakyamuni Buddha was a national hero of China.

American Visitor: Well, that is very interesting.

Ven. Xuecheng: The key point, in my opinion, is not whether it represents exactly what American people think, but why so many Americans don’t know much about Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

American Visitor: I am sure things will turn for the better after our visit.

 

Ven. Xuecheng: The United States is the most developed country in the world while China is the largest developing country. Dialogues and exchanges between the two countries including those on religions are very important in expanding consensus, broadening understanding, promoting collaboration and developing friendship. Just now, I mentioned that 28% of the Americans thought Shakyamuni Buddha was China’s national hero. The survey reveals that many Americans have lots of misunderstanding about China’s Buddhism and religion. I often ask myself why this happens and gradually come to realize that in China children start to learn English and learn to read books in English at a very young age. But in the United States the young know little about Chinese books, not to mention reading in Chinese. Many of our Buddhists, who moved from China to the United States, tell us that it is difficult to have access to radio broadcast, TV programs or magazines in Chinese. However, in China, American and British books and magazines are available in the bookstores. And so are CNN and BBC in the hotels. If one day Chinese culture becomes more popular, some questions you asked will not be questions anymore.

 

I think, any religion, if it is to exist and develop in a country, needs to properly handle the relations with the people and the government of that country. The violence on March 14 last year in Lhasa and the one on July 5 in Urumqi this year greatly destroyed social order and led to a massive loss in life and property. This sort of violence, I am sure, would not be tolerated and accepted in any nation, in any ethnic group or by any religious belief. Whatever religion we hold, I believe, we share a common responsibility with the people and the government of that country to maintain a good social order. Both the government and the religion should work together to promote social harmony. They may have different methods as the religion has its religious ways and the government other ways in governing the society, but each is necessary and essential.

 

After 30 years of reform and opening-up, there has been quite a lot material wealth in China. Therefore, the spiritual pursuit and the call for faith have kept growing and getting more and more diversified. During the development of various religions, some of them become divided, some of their schools become alienated and some people take advantage of religion and take to activities that endanger the society under the name of religion. Thus various misunderstanding about religion imperceptibly comes into being.

 

American Visitor: You could help the forthcoming American religious leaders have a better understanding of the positive changes happening in Tibet today. It is important that they go back home with your information and expectation as they usually acquire information through American TVs, newspapers or from the American government. So I believe such visits provide unique opportunities for both of us. I hope you wouldn’t mind such kind of questions they will ask. Their purpose is only to learn more. I do not think they are coming with any particular intention other than learning.

 

Ven. Xuecheng: I think the traditional religions have to return to their basic tenets and original teachings such as the “God loves world” in Christianity, and “the liberation of all sentient beings” and “being infinitely merciful and compassionate” in Buddhism. Only in this way, the cults and acts taking advantage of religion to do illegal things or to destroy social order can truly be separated from religion itself.

 

American Visitor: We also face the same problems as Christians. We should keep trying to focus on the original teachings as our minds are used to drifting away from them. The role of religious leaders is to remind us to go back there. We both have such a tremendous task.

 

Ven. Xuecheng: Christianity is growing fast in China. Quite often, Buddhists say that they have been used to burning incenses for homage and performing religious services at temples, but some Christian ministers and followers often work hard to convert them to Christianity.

 

American Visitor: Maybe they do so in the hope of making the church better.

 

Ven. Xuecheng: Well, Buddhists do not go to Christian churches to recruit believers. It easily causes conflicts in doing so.

 

American Visitor: This is another important reason for us to have a dialogue. We should be sensitive to each other’s faith, practice and feelings.

 

After the formal exchange, Ven. Xuecheng hosted a vegetarian lunch in honor of the American visitors on behalf of Ven. Master Yicheng, President of the  BAC While eating, the conversation continued and the visitors were interested in the personal background of the Venerable.

 

American Visitor: Would you please tell us something about yourself?

Ven. Xuecheng: There is not much to say about myself.

American Visitor: When were you born?

Ven. Xuecheng: In 1966.

American Visitor: And where?

Ven. Xuecheng:In Fujian province.

A while later, Ven. Xuecheng asked, “Some Buddhists who had moved to the United States wrote back saying that Chinese TV programs can’t be accessed in American households. Is it so?”

American Visitors: Not really.

Ven. Xuecheng: Do you have access to Chinese TV programs at home?

American Visitor: I can access two Chinese channels at home. It is not a problem in large cities but may be difficult in other places.

Ven. Xuecheng: Samuel Huntington says in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order that the clash between the Christian civilization and Islamic civilization will continue to exist in this century. Do you agree with him?

American Visitor: Sorry, I haven’t read that book.

Ven. Xuecheng: How many times have you been to China?

American Visitor: Thirteen or fourteen times.

Ven. Xuecheng: When was your first visit?

American Visitor: In 1999.

Ven. Xuecheng: How long was your longest stay in China?

American Visitor: For three months.

Ven. Xuecheng: What do you think is the biggest change in Chinese society and Chinese religion within the last decade?

American Visitor: It is hard to put it within one or two sentences as I only stayed for a short time in China. I should stay some more time to answer it.

Ven. Xuecheng: Just now, you asked me how we looked at ourselves. I am wondering how you look at us.

American Visitor: This is my brief conclusion: religion will become very important in Chinese society. It will play a more and more prominent role at the turning point of history and the religious community will collaborate more with the government in the future. Do you agree?

Ven. Xuecheng: I am very pleased to hear that you think positively of China’s religion. The role of religion is becoming more and more important but it requires lots of work to make it function well.

American Visitor: What should be done, then? Please say a few words on that.

 

Ven. Xuecheng: To me, globalization is what every country, every ethnicity and every religion in the world confronts first. Internationally speaking, some resist it, some others promote it. As globalization can imperceptibly impose a certain social system, lifestyle, or religious belief on different countries and ethnicities, it becomes important to maintain the characteristics of every country, ethnic group and faith in this globalization process. For instance, in China, many people including the Tibetans in Tibet and Uighurs in Xinjiang are learning English. They are not forced but rather voluntary to learn it as they will have better opportunities for development after learning. Then how can they maintain their original language and culture while learning a lingua franca during this globalization process? I think the idea of keeping harmony within diversity is the key. There will be a lot of problems in the development of a single culture, a single belief or a single ethnicity. We protect the biological diversity and the same should be true for cultures and ethnicities.

 

American Visitor: I see. Thank you very much.

 

The dialogue with a Singaporean visitor on the morning of July 23

Ven. Xuecheng: You are welcome! Please feel free to ask whatever questions you have. Let us have an exchange of ideas.

 

Singaporean Visitor: It is mainly out of my personal interest that I come this time. The exchanges between Singapore and China are becoming increasingly frequent in the various fields of politics, economy, culture, etc. Therefore, I’d like to learn more about the development of China in different aspects. I went to the State Administration for Religious Affairs and met with Ms. Guo Wei, one of the department directors, who briefed me on the religious situation in China. And I am here this time to learn about the development of Buddhism during the process of China’s reform and opening-up. The Chinese government strongly promotes the building of a harmonious society and a harmonious world. Then, what is the role of religion in it and how does Buddhism make its contribution? I am looking forward to having your opinions.

 

Ven. Xuecheng: China takes the lead in the population of Buddhist believers and Buddhism never breaks off in China even after experienced so many difficulties in modern times. During the last 30 years of reform and opening-up, not only the number of the Buddhist believers but also their faith levels have kept growing. Among the believers, there are people from different aspects of society, especially those well-educated ones.

 

Our 30 years’ effort of reform and opening-up has solved in general the problems of food and clothing at the material level. However, at the material level, only the essential requirements of the people like food, clothing, housing and transportation can be solved. For instance, we wear finer clothes, live in better conditions and eat with more choices to our taste. In the wintertime of the 1980s, there were few choices of vegetables in Beijing with only potatoes, cabbages, etc. Now, no matter which city you live in, the varieties of vegetables are hardly affected by climate and region. Northern vegetables can be bought in the South whereas Southern vegetables can be bought in the North and foreign vegetables are also available in Chinese markets. As for transportation, who could afford to travel by airplanes in the past? Not for the general public. And there were few flights and flying routes, too. But, now, it has become commonplace to travel by plane. There are also express motorways, high-speed trains, etc. with a highly developed and convenient transportation system which was hard to imagine 30 years ago. With the popularity of phones, mobile phones and computers, communications networks have witnessed an unprecedented development.

 

However, apart from the need for food, clothes, houses and transportation, we have psychological and spiritual needs which cannot be replaced by material wealth. That is why we should rely on culture, on religion and on faith. It is against such a social background and era that Buddhism has developed. In the meantime, Buddhism has rooted and been brought to a great height of development in China for more than two thousand years, which shows it has integrated well with Chinese culture and fits well in the Chinese society. On the other hand, with the policy of religious freedom, the government assures people of the right to have free religious beliefs. With this tolerance shown in society and the spiritual need of our own, the development of Buddhism has been the result of the interaction of all contributing factors.

 

When examining the role of Buddhism in building a harmonious society, as I mentioned just now, since the reform and opening-up, the spiritual development has not been proportional to the material development, with the former falling behind the latter, which is mainly because the national development strategy for a long time was keeping economic development as the central task. Then in the report delivered at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, it emphasized that we should promote Chinese culture and build the common spiritual home for the Chinese nation. With such a great opportunity, Buddhism has developed along the progress of the times. After Buddhism is grown, many people of faith will find that through learning Buddha Dharma they can have a way to balance themselves thereby be able to create a congenial family, to build a harmonious society and furthermore, to promote world peace. Therefore, Buddhism plays a significant role in maintaining social stability. In a word, the development of Buddhism is a response to the spiritual needs of the era, the society and the people.

 

Singaporean Visitor: Director Guo Wei said that in China there are one hundred million Buddhists?

Ven. Xuecheng: I believe it is more than that. There is no complete statistics and it is difficult to do the survey. One reason is that the population is large; the other is many Buddhist believers in society usually don’t speak out about their faith.

Singaporean Visitor: In Singapore, more than 40% of the people believe in Buddhism but not all of them are true believers. Many just go to the temples to pay homage with little understanding of Buddhist scriptures. The situation is somehow similar in all Chinese communities.

Ven. Xuecheng: The faiths of Chinese people are different from those of the Americans and Europeans. Generally speaking, the Europeans mainly believe in Catholicism, Americans in Protestantism, Middle-Eastern people in Islam, we Chinese in Buddhism and Indians in Hinduism. If we expand the scope, Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese, Singaporeans, Malaysians and the Chinese in Europe and in the United States are all associated with Buddhism. In fact, in a broad sense, Buddhism is not only a culture, but also becomes civilization—

the civilization of Buddhism and part of Oriental civilization. Though Oriental civilization includes Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Hinduism, etc., Buddhism is at least a major part of it.

Singaporean Visitor: Buddhism is in the main stream.

Ven. Xuecheng: Being a religion, as well as a culture and a civilization, Buddhism plays a significant role.

Singaporean Visitor: I can feel that in China, when people refer to a harmonious society and a harmonious world, they relate it more often to Buddhism rather than other religions. It can be found so in the news reports. I’d like to know why your society has shown such appreciation for Buddhism. Is it because Buddhism supports better in building a harmonious society and a harmonious world?

Ven. Xuecheng: I think it is determined by the fact that though other religions such as Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, etc. exist in China, they haven’t fully integrated themselves into Chinese culture. When we speak of the traditional Chinese culture, what we refer to is Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.

The traditional Chinese culture, in the Pre-Qin Period, was represented by the Hundred Schools of Thought. The Legalist School dominated during the short but unified rule of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. Then Confucianism prevailed in the Han Dynasty. The policy of “dismissing a Hundred Schools and revering only Confucianism” by Dong Zhongshu gave a religious connotation into Confucianism and the Rite of Tian Worshiping began. The reason behind this was to justify the legitimacy of the emperor. For instance, who gave emperor the right to be the emperor? Dong Zhongshu said that the emperor was the son of Tian and his sovereignty the divine right which is similar to Western culture in this regard. Chinese feudal dynasties survived for two thousand years in this way.

Singaporean Visitor: To make it legitimate through this.

Ven. Xuecheng: That is why emperors of every dynasty worshiped Tian. They went as far as to Mountain Tai to conduct the sacrifice ceremony. No person other than the emperor had the right to worship Tian. Buddhism already flourished in the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern dynasties and many scriptures were translated, which caused a sense of crisis in Confucianism. What could be done? Taoism was then introduced into Confucianism and the School of Metaphysics came into being in the Wei and Jin dynasties. In the Sui and Tang dynasties, it was Buddhism that dominated with eight schools being established, and great achievements were made in Buddhist studies and culture.

Singaporean Visitor: So it was an age of splendor.

Ven. Xuecheng: Emperor Wuzong of the Tang Dynasty then destroyed Buddhism. After that came the popularity of Chan School. The establishment of Chan School was the landmark of the realization of the localization of Buddhism in China. Chinese Chan is usually called Patriarch Chan while the tradition in India is Tathagata Dhyana, which requires a step by step practice of four dhyanas and eight samadhis till enlightenment. The Patriarch Chan emphasizes that true cultivation begins after enlightenment. All the practice one does before enlightenment is just blind practice. Thanks to the great masters of the Chan School, Patriarch Chan has its own distinctions compared with the Tathagatha Dhyana. Because Buddhism was very influential and theoretically systematic, Confucian scholars like Zhu Xi of the Song Dynasty and Wang Yangming of the Ming Dynasty borrowed some theories and practice methods from Buddhism and incorporated them into Confucianism and gradually, Neo-Confucianism of the Song and Ming Dynasties came into being. What I am trying to say is that after Buddhism was introduced into China, it is with this mutual integration, influence and promotion that Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism together have become the three major parts of traditional Chinese culture.

Singaporean Visitor: These are the historical reasons.

Ven. Xuecheng: It is not done by man but by a mixture of social conditions and objective reasons. For example, whenever something happens, a Chinese tends to utter “Amitabha.” It is similar to a Westerner saying “My God.”

Singaporean Visitor: It is due to the difference in cultural traditions.

Ven. Xuecheng: When culture is combined with people’s life, it becomes part of it and nationalized.

Singaporean Visitor: A religion must integrate itself into the local culture, or it is impossible for the religion to exist for a long time, as the local culture is the general background. Could I ask about the blueprint of Buddhism in the future society?

Ven. Xuecheng: At least, we can say that it will play a more and more prominent role.

Singaporean Visitor: Spiritually?

Ven. Xuecheng: There are two kinds of social force. One is a material force, the other is a spiritual force. Our spiritual force is not in line with the material one in its growth, so it is imperative to strengthen the spiritual force, which requires the uplift of the cultural soft power. And Buddhist cultural soft power is part of it. For example, there is in China a huge unfavorable balance in the import and export of cultural products. The import counts for 95% and the export just 5%. This unfavorable balance is the major reason for the lack of knowledge and understanding of China in the West. If this unfavorable balance can be solved, there will be less misunderstanding in the international arena about the many happenings in China including the July 5 event in Urumqi, Xinjiang this year and March 14 event in Lhasa, Tibet last year. More and more Chinese become Christians,and more and more come to understand English and the West, whereas, Western people do not understand Chinese culture or its constituent element, harmony, and therefore, harbor lots of misunderstandings about China. So, under the circumstances, problems and disagreements occur. More and more Chinese become Christians, and know English better, therefore more and more Chinese get to know and understand the West; whereas, Western people do not understand Chinese culture or the constituent elements of Chinese culture of harmony, thus harbor a lot of misunderstandings about China, consequently inducing many problems and disagreements.

 

Singaporean Visitor: It is true that very often the West does not see China in the right perspective.

Ven. Xuecheng: You know, when we were negotiating on entering the WTO, they demanded China to import every year a certain number of foreign movies and TV series.

Singaporean Visitor: At least ten a year.

Ven. Xuecheng: The West is very demanding on cultural requirements.

Singaporean Visitor: China’s movie market is developing behind that in Hollywood.

Ven. Xuecheng: Some Europeans and Americans applaud those movies showing how backward China is, which is hard to comprehend.

Singaporean Visitor: Some Western people still think China is backward. It is difficult for them to accept movies showing a good image of China.

Ven. Xuecheng: However, mobile phones are upgraded faster in China than in the United States.

Singaporean Visitor: There is a great variety of mobile phones in China.

Ven. Xuecheng: At least more varieties than they do. China is also in the lead regarding the population of computer users.

Singaporean Visitor: China has the largest population of Internet users too.

Ven. Xuecheng: It is easy to have Internet access here using broadband. In many countries I’ve been to, it is hard to have Internet access.

Singaporean Visitor: Does it cost about two yuan per hour to access Internet in China?

Ven. Xuecheng: The monthly rent for Internet here is several dozen yuan and it is very convenient.

Singaporean Visitor: I went to Russia last month where it is two USD an hour on Internet.

Ven. Xuecheng: The Western reports on the Middle East are the same as that on China. Today’s world media are dominated by media of the West, like CNN, BBC, Associate Press, Reuters and AFP. They report daily about murders and explosions in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, etc. People will think that murder is everywhere in those places.

Singaporean Visitor: That is because there are lots of negative news to report there.

Ven. Xuecheng: In fact, there are also good things, but they do not report them. Western media do the same to us. They report daily on the ethnic and religious problems in Tibet and Xinjiang till they leave lots of negative impression on people at large. It is about a problem concerning the guiding orientation of public opinion by the media.

Singaporean Visitor: It is true that they have a partiality for this. I talked with a news reporter yesterday. He spoke of what he saw in Urumuqi not long ago. A Western journalist went about interviewing Uighurs with just one question “Do you hate the Han people?” He kept asking deliberately trying to lead to what he wanted. Then he found a six-year-old child and asked again “Do you hate the Han people?” The initial answers were not what he wanted. Therefore he kept talking to the boy trying to seduce the latter till getting the answer he wanted. They intentionally continue such a bias.

Ven. Xuecheng: In China, there are very favorable policies concerning ethnic minorities allowing tax reduction and exemption and a lower admission score for national college entrance examination. Regarding birth control, a Han couple is allowed to give birth to one child while the minorities can have up to two or three children. The dead of the Muslims can be buried; while the deceased Han people are allowed only to be cremated. Western media do not report on this, instead, they make a fuss whenever there is a sign of disturbance and propagate it deliberately. This serves only to amplify negative feelings among people. Are there any favorable policies concerning ethnic minorities in Singapore?  

Singaporean Visitor: No. Singapore is a multiracial nation with Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and Europeans. We implement a policy of equality in Singapore for all groups, races and religions. No ethnic group has privilege. Many laws are introduced to guarantee the equality for all.

Ven. Xuecheng: Things are different in China. Minorities enjoy favorable policies. Some policemen dare not handle cases where minority people violate the regulations. As time goes on, some minority people tend to think that policemen are afraid of them and would act in a way as if they were protected against the law and go beyond the limits. For instance, when some minority people fight, policemen do not dare to interfere because the first thought that comes to their mind is that these people are minorities so I should be very careful not to go against the ethnic policies. In Singapore, one should be fined when he violates traffic lights whoever he is, based on the policy of ethnic equality. Whereas in China, Han nationality accounts for absolute majority of the population, so it is necessary to formulate a minority policy in order to protect the interests of minorities and maintain their traditional life style, but sometimes it is subject to abuse. I think the essential reason is that China, with its largest population in the world, is rising today. Though China rising in a peaceful way, its fast growth over the past 30 years of reform and opening-up has brought about worries among some neighboring countries and Western countries, thus has caused various problems. Although China is very cautious of this, misunderstandings are likely to occur with the influence of many factors. Now Internet and TV system is well developed and it is impossible to have them blocked. Therefore, some minority people become imperceptibly influenced by the overseas media or even dominated by the biased reports. All this presents lots of problems.

Singaporean Visitor: It is indeed difficult to manage.

Ven. Xuecheng: Furthermore, China is a country with an extensive territory. How can you effectively manage all the places? In fact, there is no need for other nations to fear China. The Chinese are benevolent and kind. And China has basically remained united for thousands of years ever since the Zhou and Qin dynasties. There were brief separations in the Spring and Autumn Period, the Warring States Period, the Three Kingdoms, the Southern and Northern Dynasties and the period of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, but it was soon reunited thereafter, unlike Europe and the Middle East. Though the United States has remained united, its history lasts just above two hundred years. During the long course of Chinese history, unity has been the mainstream. Even when there was a short separation, the nation would soon return to reunification.

Singaporean Visitor: That which is long unified must divide; that which is long divided must unify.

Ven. Xuecheng: The periods of separation were all very brief, such as the brief Northern and Southern Period, and the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. By contrast, the time of union is very long. It is because there is a power within to unite China as a whole. Such a power is very hard for Westerners to understand.

Singaporean Visitor: This lack of understanding may lead to fear.

Ven. Xuecheng: Once some countries break up, it will be difficult for them to be reunited. That is why there are more and more nations in the world.

 

Singaporean Visitor: It is easy to control small countries. So some Western countries have been making a fuss of Taiwan.

Ven. Xuecheng: Some Western countries have always wanted to divide China. These attempts, I think, will not come true. The Chinese long for unity from the bottom of their hearts. This desire has never changed over thousands of years and today it becomes even stronger. The past change of dynasties and separation of the land were mainly caused by peasant uprisings, which happened mostly due to natural disasters, like drought, flood, earthquake, plague, etc. Whenever there was nothing to eat, there was disturbance. Now, in China, with the development of national economy and greatly improved living conditions of people, such disturbances will not happen again. Last year, when there was earthquake in Sichuan province, all the Chinese gave their support, including the overseas Chinese.

Singaporean Visitor: Singapore came to aid too. After the earthquake, the Chinese communities in Singapore all donated voluntarily, not called for by the government or by the Chinese Embassy in Singapore. What‘s more, the amount of donation was very large.

Ven. Xuecheng: So these natural catastrophes or injuries will never shake the foundation of national unity, but promote the cohesion of Chinese nation. In addition, the life of the people, including that of ethnic minority, is getting better and better as a whole. In general, the hope for stability lies in all of us and comes from the Chinese cultural identity, which is different from that on Western culture.

 

① This is edited from dialogues between Ven. Xuecheng and visitors from the United States and Singapore on July 21 and July 23, 2009 respectively at the BAC.

 

 

 

 

Religions’ Concern over Globalization Issues①

 

Globalization and economic globalization in particular, has accelerated with the expansion and deepening of world marketization, and with the formation of and development in the network of transportation and information. This is an inevitable result of the development in modern productivity. Globalization is a reality and an existing trend rather than an option.

Globalization is also a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can promote the development of world economy and the popularization of science and technology, on the other hand, it may intensify the imbalance in world development, worsen wealth polarization and the North-South division, which subsequently makes it more difficult to solve global issues and even turns them into calamity-ridden crises for the whole of mankind that are hard to cast off.

Statistics show that the difference in the per capita GDP between developed countries and developing countries widened from 43 times in 1985 to 62 times in 1994. In 1960 before the dawn of globalization, the income of the richest 20% people of the world was 30 times that of the poorest 20%—in 1997, 74 times as much (Ni 2001). This indicates that the wealth disparity among countries and social members has further increased, a dangerous sign that globalization has exacerbated the wealth gap, which has caused considerable concern from people of vision around the world. Ignacio Ramonet, a French scholar, said with a great deal of apprehension, “If we sized up our globalizing world today, what we would find? Poverty, illiteracy, violence and illness are on the rise. Out of a global population of 5.9 billion, barely 500 million people live comfortably, while 4.5 billion remain in need. Even in the European Union, there are 16 million people unemployed and 50 million living in poverty. And the combined fortune of the 358 richest people in the world (billionaires in dollars) equals more than the annual revenue of 45 percent of the poorest in the world, or 2.6 billion people. That, it seems, is the brave new world of globalization.” (Ni 2001) This is definitely not meant to scare people, or entertaining imaginary fear. Instead it is a wake-up call to the international community and a serious problem to the entire world as to whether globalization benefits only a few countries and the minority of people, at the cost of most countries and people. What efforts should the international community make to solve this problem?

Many least developed countries are now increasingly faced with the threat of being marginalized in the waves of globalization due to geographical, historical, social reasons, and their national political situations and economic policies. Furthermore, the unjust and unreasonable international economic order has further worsened the grave situations in these countries. The price of raw materials and primary products, the major exports of African and Latin American countries, continue to fall while the price of industrial products they import in bulk quantities hovers high. So they have to borrow heavily to balance international payment deficit, as a result they are deep in debt. According to the World Economic Outlook report issued by the International Monetary Fund in the first half of 2000, by the end of 1999 the foreign debt of developing countries had mounted to 2,038.2 billion USD, and some of the least developed countries couldn’t pay even the interests. The de facto interest rate of international loans increased from an average of 0.9% between 1974 and 1979 to an average of 5.58% in 1980. In view of such a situation, international community did make efforts. However, few developed countries responded. For example, the United Nations requested that developed countries allocate 0.7% of their GDP for development aid to developing countries. But during 1997-1998 only four European countries met this requirement. Japan’s official development assistance accounted for only 0.28% of its GDP, ranking second to the last among the developed countries. The United States ranked last, earmarking only 0.11% of its GDP for ODA in its budget for2001 fiscal year (Wang 2000). Developed countries cited wars, social unrests and corruption in underdeveloped countries as reasons for their reluctance in providing assistance or relieving debt. But would that solve the problem? Without many developing countries, can global issues like population explosion, refugee flows, proliferation of nuclear weapons, environmental pollution, sharp decline in biodiversity, global warming, water shortage, be solved? The answer is “No.” What should human beings do then?

The line of thinking of Keynes, the master-economist of classical economics, is thought provoking. He said, “I see us free, therefore, to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue—that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanor… We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful.” (Koslowski 1997) Yes, we should return to the major traditional religions which are the great treasury of human wisdom and teachings, and heed the supreme teachings which are of timeless and ever-refreshing value to us human beings. When an expert in the law among the Pharisees asked Jesus which the greatest commandment in the Law was, Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40 New International Version) The “neighbor” here refers to the whole humanity, transcending social status, race, religion, country, and region. This is a universal love. A Bahai scholar George Townshend commented, “All [Jesus Christ’s] commandments, negative and positive, were such as to put an end to estrangement and to promote affection, harmony, and concord. He sought in every way to cleanse men’s hearts of selfishness and to educate them from self-centredness to world-centredness.” ( Townshend 2000)

Buddhism shows a broad mind to bring benefit and happiness to sentient beings with its essential philosophy of impartial kindness and compassion of oneness with all. Ven. Yinshun said, “Loving-kindness and compassion are the guiding principles, which shows the true content of Buddhism and is the essence of Buddha Dharma. This is equivalent to the concept of humaneness and love (ren ai) in the Chinese culture and the universal love in Christian culture.” (Yinshun 2000) “Kindness brings happiness; compassion eliminates suffering. To be kind and compassionate is to give more happiness to others while eliminating the suffering of others.” (Yinshun 2000) Buddhism, based on the guiding principles of kindness and compassion, encourages one to give without seeking anything in return, and to sacrifice one’s own spiritual and material interests, even one’s own life. The Quran also teaches people to be good to neighbors both near and far as well as their companions. There are similar teachings in Hinduism, Sikhism, and Judaism… It can be said that caring about others, humanity, and life is the basic teachings of major religions around the world.

However, contrary to such teachings of the major world religions, the behavior of many countries and people are against the teachings of these major religions.

It grieves us to see the following. (1) During the worldwide industrial restructuring in the process of economic globalization, some developed countries have shifted their backward and highly polluting enterprises to developing countries, thus transferring their causes of potential economic crises. For example, about 39% of “dirty industries” of the United States have been relocated to the third world countries, and over 60% of Japan’s highly polluting businesses have been transferred to Southeast Asia and Latin America. (2) Some industrialized countries adopt double standard for environmental protection. For example, legislation in the United States prohibits the sale and use of highly toxic pesticides such as Aldicarb, Organochlorine and Aldrin in their domestic market. But at the same time, it completely legalizes the export of such products to other countries. From 1991 to 1994, the United States exported a total of 26 million tons of toxic pesticides to 10 countries (mostly developing countries). (3) The toxic waste produced by developed or industrialized countries accounts for 95% of that of the whole world, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. From 1986 to 1988, 3.5 million tons of toxic waste was shipped to Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Li 2001). (4) Wars have claimed numerous lives, consumed the earth’s precious resources, and destroyed natural environment. The two world wars lasted over a decade. The First World War involved 33 countries and 1.5 billion people, resulting in a death toll of 13 million military personnel. In its aftermath over 20 million people died of hunger and disasters. In total this war consumed about 332.1 billion USD. The Second World War, which involved61 countries, claimed over 50 million lives. Its cost was 13 times that of the First World War (Li 2001). Due to environmental pollution and energy depletion, natural resources have ignited many wars and conflicts, as demonstrated by many wars since the 1950s. Wars bring about nothing but death, poverty, calamity and misery. It only escalates conflicts between humanity and the nature, causing tremendous damage to natural environment, and enormous waste of natural resources.

All of the above-mentioned behaviors, such as those of benefiting oneself at neighbors’ expense or even regarding neighbors as enemies, are nothing short of drinking poison to quench thirst. They are also in breach of the Golden Rule, which is the common feature of all the major traditional religions. “What I dislike is also disliked by others. How could I impose what I dislike on others?”(Samyutta Nikaya V, 353, 35-342,2) This is what Buddha teaches us. The Book of Matthew 7:12 (New International Version) also has this to say, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Mahabharata says the following: Do not to others what ye do not wish, Done to yourself; and wish for others too—What ye desire and long for, for yourself—This is the whole of Dharma, heed it well. In Muslim, the Hadith goes, “Whatever you abhor for yourself, abhor it also for others, and whatever you desire for yourself desire also for others.” (Rost 2000) However, the question is whether countries in today’s world are following the Golden Rule, the feature which all the major religions of humanity have in common and still cherish the great primitive teachings of major religions. As a matter of fact, many countries have already deviated from the religious teachings which are the treasures of human wisdom. With regard to this Golden Rule, Linus Pauling, a Nobel-prize-winning scientist, lamented, “Whereas most men and women, all over the world, accept the principles of ethics and morality that have been formulated and expounded by the great philosophers and religious leaders of the past, and behave in accordance with them, nations act in ways that are determined almost entirely by considerations of selfish national interest... the refusal to formulate and accept a set of dispute-settling rules based upon the principles of ethics and morality. Nations have instead depended upon war or the threat of war as the mechanism for the settling of disputes...But what is the Golden Rule for nations in their mutual intercourse? It seems to be: ‘Do unto others as evilly as you can find an excuse for’...” (Rost 2000) In fact, the Golden Rule is a moral principle which is applicable not only between members of a country, a people, a religion, or a group, but more importantly between different religions, different people, and different countries. This has become ever more critical in today’s globalized world where global issues are gaining prominence. Because apathy, self-benefiting at the expense of others , conflicts, disputes, wars, and bloodshed between religions, ethnicities, and nations will only bring more miseries and sufferings to the innocent and cause even worse natural disasters and consumption of natural resources. Consequently, the crises of the earth and humankind will deteriorate. Each of the crises facing human beings cannot be independently borne or overcome by a single or even a few religions, ethnicities, or countries. It can only be resolved by the full cooperation and joint effort of all of humanity, be it the wealth polarization or population explosion, refugee flows or environmental pollution, water shortage or decline in biodiversity, global warming or proliferation of nuclear weapons. Therefore, in the face of global issues, globalized humanity needs global ethics as a foundation, which is the Golden Rule, the wisdom of humankind revealed by all the major religions. It should be the ethical principle for not only inter-person, inter-ethnicity, inter-religion and inter-state relations, but also relations between human beings and other species, and between man and nature. If we depart from the religious wisdom of the Golden Rule, we will accomplish nothing and have no way out.

 

1. Currently as many as 140 species become extinct every day. Nearly 30 bird species went extinct in the 20th century. Among the remaining 9,000 species, nearly 1,000 are facing the threat of extinction. At this speed, in one hundred years, 209 reptile species and 242 fish species will disappear (Li 2001). The sharp decline in biodiversity is evident. It is even more distressing to see poor people hunt animals and fell trees for survival. We cannot accuse these people but have only infinite compassion for them. The international communities have the ability to do a better job in making a change—those who help people in poor countries are in fact also helping themselves. “To those who are good (to me), I am good; and to those who are not good (to me), I am also good;—and thus (all) get to be good.” (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 49, trans. James Legge)

2. Developed countries bear heavier and more direct responsibility for the ecological crisis. Alan Durning has pointed out, “In industrial countries, the fuels burned release perhaps three-fourths of the sulfur and nitrogen oxides that cause acid rain. Industrial countries’ factories generate most of the world’s hazardous chemical wastes. Their military facilities have built more than99 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads. Their atomic power plants have generated more than 96percent of the world’s radioactive waste. And their air conditioners, aerosol sprays, and factories release almost 90 percent of the chlorofluorocarbons that destroy the earth’s protective ozone layer...” (Durning 1997) Moreover, 25% of the global population who live in the rich countries, consume 75% of energy and 80% of commercial energy resources in the world. In 1980,the per-capita energy consumption of the United Stateswas260,460 pounds, while that of Kenya was 440 pounds, and Ethiopia 55 pounds. These limited number of big energy consumers who largely live in industrialized countries should shoulder major responsibility for the environmental destruction caused by the consumption of fossil fuels. The carbon dioxide emission of per person in North America is at least 10 times as high as that of Asia (Japan not included). (Ramphal 1993) Therefore, shouldn’t the developed countries take greater responsibility to relieve the ecological crisis? Developed countries consume developing countries’ natural resources at a low cost through the global market mechanism and transfer the crisis onto them. It is, in essence, resorting to nothing but a remedy worse than the ailment, if not a temporary redress. Here we do not mean to accuse any particular countries of causing the eco-crisis. We are just explaining that the developed countries have the responsibility and the ability play a leading role to coordinate countries in the world for the historical responsibility to eliminate poverty and defuse the common crises of mankind. After all, we only have one earth. We should not shirk responsibilities for the sake of national interests, or obstruct the concrete endeavors of the international community to solve global issues. Take the United States for example, it stood in the way of an international treaty for the reduction of carbon dioxide emission during the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil. At the Nairobi Conference, the United States government still responded passively to the signing of the convention on biological diversity. The Tractate of Actions and Their Retributions states, “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain; regard your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Leviticus 19:18 teaches people to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Besides, the earth is the homeland of all of us human beings. “...is this not a precious home for all of us earthlings? Is it not worth our love? Does it not deserve all the inventiveness and courage and generosity of which we are capable to preserve it from degradation and destruction and, by doing so, to secure our own survival?” (Ward and Dubos 1997)

3. Being unwilling to lend a helping hand to poor countries and pursuing self-interests at the expense of other countries, taking other countries as enemies and forsaking the responsibility of a member of the earth to pursue private ends, and reacting passively to the international actions aimed at protecting the earth, all these constitute severe threats to the existence of later generations. In 1989, the 15th Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme issued “Announcement on Sustainable Development,” reiterating that the definition of sustainable development is to satisfy the needs of the current generation in such a way as not to endanger the satisfaction of the needs of future generations and the development of future generations. The 1992 Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil drew up the framework for sustainable development, which primarily consisted of environmentally sustainable development, economically sustainable development, and socially sustainable development. Each dimension of sustainable development requires that humans follow the Golden Rule, the common revelation of the major religions of the world, as the guiding principle of the values that leads us into the future. The transnational nature of ecological crises and borderless global ethics both highlight the significance of the Golden Rule which is of transcendental, universal, and eternal value. As the ecological system is an integral organic structure, eco-crisis can affect humanity as a whole. For example, Swedish scientists discovered that lakes in Sweden were acidifying. Through research they found that 80% of the acid rain in Sweden had been caused by the carbon dioxide emitted by the industrial cities in the United Kingdom and Germany. The annual increase of particles suspended in the air of Australia is closely related to the busy spring ploughing in China.


Such cases are too numerous to enumerate. Suffice it to demonstrate the universal and holistic nature of ecological crises with the few cases mentioned above. Only by the joint efforts of all of humanity can we defuse the crisis and maintain sustainable development, which requires a common global ethic that all human beings can abide by. Exporting crises and transferring pollution onto others will, sooner or later, be self-endangering. “On the issues of ecological environment, no country can attend to its own welfare only to become the Noah’s Ark that escapes ecological extinction. No matter how far away is the country where the pollutants are exported to, they will still be within the ecological circle in which all humans live. Therefore, such pollutants will eventually damage the ecological network of the country that export them through the flowing and circling of the large ecological system.” (Chen 1995) Global ethics is the prerequisite for solving global issues and the Golden Rule, is the base and the source of the value of such global ethics.

The Second Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in Chicago from August 29 to September 4, 1993, issued the “Declaration Toward a Global Ethic,” calling for the establishment of a global ethic. It pointed out that one of the roots and cruxes of the suffering of mankind today lies in our moral crisis. “There can be no ongoing human society without a global ethic.” (Kung and Kuschel 1997) This voice coming from the religious communities for a global ethic has brought about an extensive response all over the world and had a profound and enduring influence. This indicates the power of religious ethics over the secular ethics and the strong appeal for religious ethic resources in the field of global ethics. “What the 20th century secular study of ethics truly lacks is the academic belief in and theoretical commitment to the global ethic that the religious study of ethics possesses.” (Wan 2002) For this reason it was the world’s religious communities, rather than the communities of ethical studies, that initiated the concept of global ethics. So the global religious community must face the unavoidable question head on. That is how the major religions of the world should understand and communicate with each other, appreciate and tolerate each other, promote loving kindness and goodwill, and avoid hostility and hatred in consideration of the common welfare of all mankind without prejudice and narrow-mindedness.

First and foremost, the Golden Rule should be followed as the common principle for resolving the differences, oppositions, and clashes among different religions and denominations, and fully realizing communication, exchanges, and dialogues among faiths, and promoting compassion, kindness, goodwill, sympathy, forgiveness and mutual help which are the common religious spirit of all the major religions around the world. Only by unity and mutual help among religious communities can there be unity and mutual help among the countries of the world. Only by applying the Golden Rule to religious communities around the world can it be possible for the Golden Rule to be taught to the ordinary people and implemented in all the countries. Only by ensuring the peaceful development of world religions can there be the peaceful development of mankind. The relationship among different religions should be the role model for the relationship among ethnicities, countries and regions. The whole humanity is watching the religions of the world with expectation; the world religions should not let them down.

Second, the major world religions should join hands in promoting inter-civilization exchanges and dialogues, bringing the Golden Rule, which is the common wisdom of the different religions of mankind, to human societies of different civilizations so as to strengthen the harmony, friendship, and cooperation between people of different civilizations and avoid hostility, conflict and hatred to put an end to war, bloodshed and massacre. We should endeavor to dissolve the common crises that human beings are faced with, from the rich-poor polarization to the ecological crisis, from the proliferation of nuclear weapons to the bloodshed in wars by relying on the power of religion, especially the power of the Golden Rule which is the wisdom from religion. It is through the power of religion that human societies can be thoroughly transformed so that humanity can live in the great light of love.

We should not overemphasize the differences, confrontations, and clashes between civilizations, because all human beings are one and there are more in commonality than differences among civilizations, which is testified by the fact that all the major religions of the world have the Golden Rule as their common feature. All civilizations are similar in nature and share common essentials. They all promote love and solidarity among mankind instead of hatred and clashes. Samuel Huntington classified human civilizations into eight categories, and regarded religions as the embodiment or symbol of civilizations, namely, Western (Christian) civilization, Confucian civilization (mainly Chinese civilization), Japanese civilization, Islamic civilization, Hindu civilization, Slavic-Orthodox civilization, Latin American civilization, and possibly African civilization. Such a classification is extremely absurd and harmful because it disregards the common nature of civilizations and emphasizes their oppositions, and because it attributes many conflicts to clashes among different civilizations and different religions, though, actually those conflicts are caused by the unfair distribution of power and wealth, and also the larger states’ disrespect for the smaller ones. As pointed out by Michael Mazarr, the true reason of conflicts is social economy rather than civilizations and the differences among civilizations and religions which, in some circumstances, even help to avoid wars (Mazarr 1996). But any overemphasis of the clashes among civilizations and religions, whatever the underlying motive is, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, that is, the possibility of the occurrence of clashes among civilizations will rise because clashes are predicted to happen. (Huntington 2002) This is definitely not just as groundless or imaginary as fearing that the sky might fall down. Instead it is a reliable statement based on signs of impending peril. All mankind should be on the alert for any claims or activities that preach clashes among civilizations, regardless of the intentions behind them. We human beings should establish a basic belief that all civilizations have the same fundamental aspirations, which requires us to be tolerant, loving, kind, compassionate, and helpful rather than encouraging hatred, clashes, wars, and bloodshed. The Golden Rule that exists in all the major world religions offers a strong support for this common belief.

 

 
    

 

① Published on The Voice of Dharma, Journal of the BAC, No. 234, Feb., 2004.

 

 

Translation of Classics and Religious Communication①

Distinguished Mr. Jiang Jianyong, Vice Minister of the State Administration for Religious Affairs,

 

Distinguished Mr. Yang Huilin, Vice President of Renmin University of China,

 

Distinguished experts, scholars and guests, dear friends,

 

It is my great honor to attend the inauguration of the International Center for Buddhist Studies of Renmin University of China (RUC). The Center is jointly founded by RUC and Fuyu Zhengjie Monastery in Daqing city. This is an important initiative for a higher education institution and a Buddhist monastery to synthesize their respective advantages in closer cooperation, which will certainly have a positive impact on the development of Buddhist cultural undertakings. On behalf of the Buddhist Association of China I hereby extend my heartfelt congratulations on the foundation of the Center.

 

 

I have learned that one of the main objectives of the Center is to make deep research into the canons of Han, Tibetan and Pali Buddhism, and to engage in the cross translations of the Buddhist canons. Every step of great progress in human society is invariably made along with in-depth exchanges among different regional cultures, which inevitably brings along the cross translation of cultural classics. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, the German writer and thinker, once spoke of the significance of translation. In his opinion, every translator is to be regarded as a middleman in this universal spiritual commerce, and as making it his business to promote this exchange: for say what we may of the insufficiency of translation, yet the work is and will always be one of the weightiest and worthiest affairs in the general concerns of the world; every translator is thus a prophet in the midst of his own people.”

        

Reviewing the development process of the Eastern and Western civilizations and examining the connection between the development trend of civilizations and translation activities, we can detect that translation has gone through three stages, i.e. the translation of religious scriptures, the translation of the humanities works and the translation of practical documents.

 

In the West, the translation of religious scriptures is best represented by that of the Bible. From Septuagint around 250 B.C. to Biblia Vulgata translated by St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church in Ancient Rome, to the German version translated by Martin Luther, the reformer of the late medieval period, the circulation of different versions of the Bible laid a solid foundation for Christian thoughts to be widely spread and deeply accepted in the whole of Western societies. After the Renaissance that revitalized classicism and advocated humanism, the translation of religious scriptures gradually gave way to the translation of the humanities works, which provided ample spiritual nutrition to the national awakening and modernizing transformation in Western societies. After the Second World War, practical documents, particularly those involving commerce, diplomacy, science and technology, have gradually replaced the humanities works as the main content of translation to meet the actual demand of the capitalist development.

 

In China, religious translation is epitomized in the translation of Buddhist scriptures. The earliest Buddhist scripture translated into Chinese by Kasyapa Matanga and Gobharana was The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters in 67 A.D., the tenth year during the reign of Emperor Ming in the Han Dynasty. From then until the late years of the Song Dynasty, Buddhist translation lasted in China for over a thousand years, witnessing the emergence of many great translators including Kumarajiva, Xuanzang, Yijing, Amoghavajra, etc. According to A General Catalogue of Collated Buddhist Classics of the Zhiyuan Period of Yuan Dynasty, the translated scriptures totaled 1,440 series with 5,580 volumes. While enriching the spiritual resource of the Chinese civilization with fresh inspirations, the translated Buddhist classics have virtually remodeled the character of Chinese nation together with Confucianism and Taoism. At the end of the 19th century, as Western powers opened the gate of China, the humanities works from the West accordingly became the main theme of translation during this period. The profound encounter between Chinese and Western civilizations invigorated the Chinese creativity. Since the founding of the New China, especially since reform and opening-up, the translation of practical documents in science and technology, economy, politics, military affairs, and diplomacy has occupied the dominant position.

    

While an unprecedentedly rapid progress has been made in science, technology and economy, global challenges in the modern society become increasingly severe. Problems such as environmental pollution, natural disasters, disease and epidemics, wealth gap, ethnic conflicts, social instability and economic crisis have spread beyond national borders, calling for united efforts of the whole humanity. We should not only grope the way forward by practice, but also discover the ancient wisdom in the several-thousand-year long religious traditions. Therefore, worldwide translation and circulation of religious scriptures are likely to reclaim the mainstream of international translation.

 

As one of the three major religions in the world, Buddhism has rich thinking and distinctive practical approaches to understanding and handling various social and life problems, all included in the vast sea of Buddhist scriptures. After the 12th century, Buddhism disappeared from India with few Sanskrit scriptures remaining there. Fortunately, during its developing process, Buddhism entered Sri Lanka around the 3rd century B.C. and from there to other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Burma, thus forming Pali Buddhism. Around the first century A.D., Buddhism spread to the Central Plains of China, and from there to other East Asian countries such as Korea and Japan, and then Han Buddhism came into being. About the seventh century, Buddhism went into Tibet and then from there into Mongolia. That is how Tibetan Buddhism took shape. These three periods also represent three phases of the development of Buddhism, namely, Theravada Buddhism, Exoteric Mahayana Buddhism and Esoteric Mahayana Buddhism. Therefore, only after a comprehensive study of Buddhist scriptures in the three languages, by translating, comparing, and collating the Pali, Chinese and Tibetan canons, can all Buddhist scriptures be fully presented. Unfortunately, up to now only Pali Canon was translated into Chinese from Japanese. It‘s imperative to begin the collation and translation of canons between other languages as soon as possible.

 

Looking around the world today, we can see that Western understanding on Buddhism is changing. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Buddhism was then dismissed as an idol-worshiping heresy by Westerners. In the first half of the 19th century, as Western scholars represented by E. Burnouf, a French scholar, started to study Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit and Pali languages, the thought of Theravada Buddhism was gradually accepted in the West. In the first half of the 20th century, Western scholars represented by the Belgian Buddhist scholar La Vallee Poussin embarked on the research of the Chinese Canon; meanwhile, Asian scholars and religious practitioners represented by D.T. Suzuki, a Japanese Buddhist scholar, were dedicated to promoting Han Buddhism, thus the study of Han Buddhism as an independent discipline began. In the second half of the 20th century, the mystery of Tibetan Buddhism was gradually unveiled. More and more Tibetan Buddhist meditation centers started to emerge in Western countries.

 

 

Today, the impression of Buddhism in the Western eyes has been significantly changed. Buddhism now is reported to be the third biggest religion in the United States, with 9 million followers accounting for nearly 3% of the national population. Even so, it does not match up with the status of Buddhism as a world religion. Many people in the West and other parts of the world have not yet had access to Buddhist scriptures. Up to now, though the main body of Pali Canon has been translated into English, only a very few part of both Chinese and Tibetan canons are translated. In order to make the universal values of the Chinese culture truly reach out to the world, and to bring peace to the humanity with the Buddhist spirit of benefiting all the people with kindness and compassion, we Chinese Buddhists should take on the translation of the three Buddhist scriptures as our holy responsibility and mission. I sincerely hope that the International Center for Buddhist Studies will make inspiring contributions to fulfilling this holy responsibility and mission.

 

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the First International Forum on Buddhist Studies and the Inauguration of the International Center for Buddhist Studies of RUC on November 14, 2011.

 

 

 

 

Differences Between Eastern and Western Civilizations

From the Perspective of Media Communications①

 

 

 

As a decisive force in modern society, the media is called by some people as the “Fourth Estate” which is of vital importance to maintaining the healthy development of the whole society. The great role it has played in promoting globalization reinforces the notion—“The medium is the message” which implies that the media itself can have a more decisive impact on the transformation and progress of human society than the content it carries. Arnold Joseph Toynbee once pointed out that “every technological revolution is also a social one in the sense that technological changes are both the consequences and causes of social changes.”(Toynbee 2005)There is a law governing co-evolution between the mode of information dissemination and the changes of civilized society. This kind of law is not difficult to be perceived from the development history of Eastern and Western civilizations. Knowing the influence and role that the media evolution has played in social development will enable us to have a clear understanding of both the current historical coordinates and the responsibilities that our times have entrusted to us.

 

The history of Eastern and Western civilizations can be divided into four stages according to the different modes of information dissemination.

 

The first stage was the age of oral tradition and hand copying–the formative period of civilization. Ever since the emergence of languages and scripts, oral tradition and hand copying have always been the foremost modes of information dissemination in the early human civilization. At this stage, Eastern and Western civilizations were established in succession. In the East, Confucian and Taoist cultures of ancient China and Buddhism of ancient India constituted the primary corpus of Eastern civilization, among which Confucianism has long been the dominant ideology in Chinese society. In the West, the philosophical thoughts of ancient Greece and Christianity which originated in the ancient Middle East constituted the primary corpus of Western civilization. Through tenacious efforts, Christianity has gradually occupied the leading position in Western civilization. In this period, information was mostly transmitted from mouth to mouth. Though major civilizational achievements (such as all kinds of classics) were put into texts, they were mainly in the possession of and enjoyed by the governing class and the nobility, and were inaccessible to the public due to the inconvenience of oral transmission and manual transcription in the mass production and wide-spreading of their carried messages.

 

The second stage was the age of press—the development period of civilization. The invention of printing brought about the mechanized production and mass reproduction of text messages, enabling those achievements of civilization to be widely spread in society through batch distribution of books. Therefore civilization was promptly extended from the small circle of the minority upper classes to the general public, bringing along prosperity in the fields of culture, ideology, etc. New ideas mushroomed, and the exuberant spiritual needs and collective intelligence of the public propelled great changes in all aspects of society. At this stage Eastern and Western civilizations witnessed rapid development. Both religion and secular cultures made great strides. In the realm of religion the wide use of advanced technologies made the missionary enterprise flourish. In the East, the development of engraving and movable-type printing was almost synchronous with the localization of Buddhism in China and the earliest engraving and movable-type printed products in history discovered so far were all Buddhist scriptures; in the West, the invention and application of movable-type printing were also closely related to religious reform. In the realm of secular culture, all sorts of ideas collided sparking off radiant splendor. In the East, Confucianism was rejuvenated by virtue of Neo-Confucianism and the philosophy of the mind; In the West, the trend of thought in science and humanities spread like a storm, shaking the ecclesiastical authority to its foundation. As the cultural pioneers were mostly clergymen, the conflicts between religious and secular cultures were contained for a long time, but cracks and fissures increased with each passing day.

 

The third stage was the electronic age—the turbulent period of civilization. During this period, the industrial and electrical revolutions inculcated splendid scientific and technological progress. The emergence of media such as broadcasting, movie, television promoted a new leap forward in terms of the efficiency and quality of the accumulation of human knowledge and experience, and of the inheritance and continuity of human culture. The Western civilization swept the whole world as the lonely flower blossoming in the garden on the strength of science and technology, politics and economics while the Eastern civilization, suffering from the enormous pressures brought by the complicated social environment, was forced to make a profound adjustment and adaptation. And the Western civilization itself also underwent tremendous upheavals and transformations. In the wake of the rapid development of natural science and highly-developed productive forces, people’s longing for next life was promptly replaced by their attention to the mundane life; and the rapid expansion of full-fledged secularization of society had led to the overall decline of religion. The revolutionary movement for freedom and democracy and the separation of state and church drove religion out of the field of politics; the theory of evolution gave rise to a thorough break-up between science and religion, exiling religions from the domains of knowledge; the nihilism and relativism that advocated “God is dead” ran rampant, marking the decline of religions in the realm of values. As the Biblical authority just established during the Protestant Reformation was fundamentally shaken, public attitudes towards religion shifted towards increasing atheism and agnosticism.

 

The fourth stage was the digital age—the compatibility period of civilization. After the two world wars, the new media, like digital television and the Internet, which were created by the new technological revolution with information technology at its core, became one of the major driving forces of globalization. Unexpectedly, when science started to challenge the ultimate realm of nature, new paradigms such as the relativity theory, the quantum theory, the systems theory, and nonlinear science, swiftly demolished the philosophical system on which science was originally based. Secular ideologies could do nothing about explaining the ultimate meaning of human life. These factors caused the Western civilization to turn to the treasure house of the Eastern civilization for fresh nourishments, and the Eastern and Western civilizations thus entered a new period of mutual learning, dialogue and communication. Religion regained the impetus through the collisions and exchanges of different civilizations and started to take on a trend of revival both in the East and the West.

 

Up to date, the ever-changing media technology has turned the world into a global village; all human beings have been united as a big society of solidarity, co-prosperity and symbiosis, and the coexistence of civilizations in the world has been an irreversible trend. How to resolve conflicts, build friendships and make joint progress between different civilizations is of overwhelming importance. Just as Toynbee said, “Mankind may have to choose between the two extreme alternatives of committing genocide and learning to live henceforward as a single family.” (Toynbee 2005) Therefore it’s necessary for us to expand the scope of our vision, share concerns about the long-term future of human society together, and explore the prospect of the harmonious coexistence of Eastern and Western civilizations.

 

In reviewing the history, we can interpret the evolutionary process of Western civilization through a dualistic structure, i.e., the Culture of God and the Culture of Material. The Culture of God is a transcendental spiritual culture with Christian faith as its core, while the Culture of Material is a secular culture based on the ideas of freedom, equality, science and reason. The two coexisted in a waxing and waning relationship in history and successively went through the four stages with the Culture of God dominating over the Culture of Material, the Culture of God and the Culture of Material moving forward in sync, the Culture of Material dominating over the Culture of God, and the cultures of God and material coexisting.

 

Over the past 200 years, the Culture of Material has had overwhelming advantages and has even come close to cutting all important connections between the Culture of God and society, yet the Culture of God has not really vanished, but sought refuge in the social subconscious. After a period of hibernation, it has reappeared in society in the form of a “negation of negation.” This demonstrates that the Culture of God and the Culture of Material can’t face all the social problems independently, nor will they be able to wipe out or replace each other.

 

Whether the dualistic cultures of God and material can evolve from coexistence to mutual compatibility, and whether the revival of religion will benefit the entirety of humanity depends crucially on whether the relations and orientation between transcendence and secularity, spirituality and material, and altruism and egoism can be well handled. If such relations are improperly handled, it will lead to the same mistake of extreme secularization or religious extremism. Whichever the outcome it will make the world disaster-ridden and give rise to a complete depravity of human nature. As there exist irreconcilable fundamental divergences between the Culture of God and the Culture of Material, the real dilemma the Western civilization has encountered so far in its development is the inevitable result of this ingrained binary pattern. It is a short-sighted and unwise move to sweep these fundamental divergences under the rug of pragmatism instead of facing up to the problems and seeking a way out. True mutual compatibility between these cultures can be realized by making use of an important element of Eastern civilization—the “Culture of the Mind.”

 

The Culture of the Mind originated from the basic spirit of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, collectively representing the fundamental features of Eastern civilization. Viewed historically, it was not until the Tang Dynasty that the idea of “the integration of the three teachings” was proposed after the early respective development of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism in Chinese culture. The concept of the Culture of the Mind was formed during the Ming and Qing dynasties and the corresponding idea of unifying the three teachings has ever since been the mainstream of Chinese culture.

 

The Culture of the Mind is based on universality of human nature because people are either the same or similar deep down in their hearts despite their cultural backgrounds. The Culture of the Mind holds that the mind shapes everything, and everything converts to the mind. “Be they human beings or things, all are part of the mind.” ( Hanshan, Walk in the Sleep) “Man is the soul of the universe; Mind is Lord, and nature of all. To an enlightened mind, each and everything is revealed.” (Wang, Complete Works by Wang Yangming ) Neither “material” nor “God” absolutely dominates the destiny of mankind, and only mind can guide ourselves and the universe. The Culture of the Mind reveals universal and profound wisdom on the level of transcendence, and shows compassionate and harmonious love on the level of secularity. Consequently, it can rectify the deviation of the two cultures respectively, and can resolve the serious confrontations between them. In view of the fact that the Culture of God unduly stresses transcendence to the neglect of earthliness, and the Culture of Material unduly stresses earthliness to the neglect of transcendence, the Culture of the Mind inspires us to use the wisdom of “non-duality of the ultimate and conventional truth” in order to pursue a middle path between transcendence and earthliness; in view of the fact that the Culture of God unduly stresses spirituality to the neglect of material while the Culture of Material unduly stresses material to the neglect of spirituality, the Culture of the Mind inspires us to employ the wisdom of “physical and mental integration” to pursue balance between spirituality and material; in view of the fact that the Culture of God lays undue emphasis on altruism to the neglect of self-interest and the Culture of Material lays undue emphasis on self-interest to altruism, the Culture of the Mind inspires us to apply the wisdom of “equality of oneself and others” to attain equilibrium between benefiting others and benefiting ourselves.

 

In Chinese history, the conflicts between transcendence and secularity among Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism were harmonized by what is beneath the Culture of the Mind. The cultural achievements of Chinese and Indian civilizations coexisted harmoniously through massive cultural interactions and integration, and self-division in Western civilization didn’t occur in China. Thus it can be seen that the Culture of the Mind is capable of bringing about positive fusion and complementarity between different civilizations so that conflicts can be avoided.

 

The global political, economic and cultural center of gravity is shifting eastward as we entered the 21st century. Eastern and Western civilizations are faced with a true historical convergence and the confluence of complementarities will become routinized. Different civilizations must learn to communicate with each other and resolve contradictions so as to enhance mutual understanding and trust, eliminate misunderstanding and prejudice and bring about a situation of harmonious coexistence and common development. We have reasons to believe that the Culture of the Mind is able to serve as a bridge between Eastern and Western civilizations, to point a fundamental way out for the world civilization, and to unfold a bright future for human destiny.

 

 

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the Fifth Session of the 11th CPPCC National Committee on March 3, 2012.

 

 

 

Let’s Make Our World a More Harmonious and Beautiful Place with the Existence of Many Religions①

 

Honorable President,

Honorable experts and scholars,

Honorable friends of the religious community from around the world,

 

First of all, please allow me to express my sincere gratitude to the Indonesia Multicultural Society and State Islamic University for providing me with the precious and honorable opportunity to meet all of you. The theme that we will discuss during the symposium is of momentous realistic significance and far-reaching historical implication to the whole mankind of our time. The title of my speech today is “Let’s Make Our World a More Harmonious and Beautiful Place with the Existence of Many Religions.”

 

The recent tsunami on December 26, 2004 caused by the strong earthquake near the waters of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island has claimed over 226,000 lives, shattering and separating countless families and plunging all people of the world into deep grief. During many a sleepless night, I would lament over the pains of those victims and think about what lessons we human beings can draw from this once-in-a-century catastrophe caused by the natural disaster. The timely rescue operations of the international community have been undoubtedly necessary for the calamity victims longing for rebuilding their homes. However, the psychological traumas left by the catastrophe cannot be permanently eliminated. Among those who lost lives were young people who had just begun their lives, successful people at the peak of their careers, and people who had toiled a lifetime and were preparing to spend their remaining years in peace and comfort. And a catastrophe devoured all those precious lives and left the survivors to suffer in grief. As Buddha says, life is impermanent, and the earth perilous and fragile. Life is as fragile as it is precious. Only by standing united and cooperating with each other, can human beings avoid being separately destroyed by the natural calamities, maximize the ability to prevent disasters, and therefore minimize the loss of life and property. That is, we human beings should stand together above the differences in nationality, ethnicity, religion, culture, social regime, ideology, life style and value to work out preventive plans and effective measures against natural disasters. We certainly should not waste our precious lives, limited time, energy, and resources in racial killing, religious disputes, cultural discriminations, social regime confrontations, ethnic conflicts, national separatism, and ideological rivalry. Nor should we regard our values as the only values and impose them on others, or take an indifferent view towards wealth polarization and ecological deterioration caused by the increasing globalization. We should never relocate pollution at the sacrifice of other countries, make an enemy of neighboring countries, wage wars at other countries, or plunder the natural resources at the expense of our environment for the interests of an individual or a country. Humanity shall be faced with natural calamities coupled with even worse man-made perils, which is not unwarranted guesswork but an imminent possibility learned from real life lessons.

 

As a matter of fact, whatever humanity does in disregard for the laws of nature always makes things worse, never better. In many instances, man-made disasters aggravate natural ones and human factors increase the threat of nature, which becomes all too clear as we reflect on the catastrophic tsunami. Energy consumption, which has not been effectively restricted, has led to global warming that resulted in a rising sea level, marine pollution, damaged coral reefs, etc. These all contributed to the fragility of the coastal eco-system and made coastal residents more vulnerable to natural disasters. Nature as seen in the tsunamis, waves, storms and typhoons, has now become more threatening before the fragile ecological circumstances and insignificant human efforts than ever, and the extent to which it tortures and destroys human beings is also enormously larger. Much scientific research shows that the global sea level has increased an average of 10 to 20 centimeters since the beginning of the 20thcentury. Furthermore, the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate that the sea level will rise 9 to 88 centimeters by 2100 according to current global consumption levels of fossil fuels and other energies. The rise of sea level will inevitably make coastal countries more susceptible to damage caused by tsunamis, waves, storms, and typhoons, wreaking havoc on coastal residences, transportation, infrastructure, farmlands, factories, and enterprises, threatening both local people and tourists and even inundating low latitude countries. (Yifan 2005)

It’s time for human beings to wake up. Only when we effectively put an end to man-made disasters can we prevent natural disasters more efficiently. The only way out for humanity is the harmonious coexistence of man and nature.

As for eliminating man-made disasters and getting along well with nature, the very basis is the harmonious inter-personal relationship (including the relationships between different countries, ethnicities and religions). It will be difficult for humankind to form a joint force to resolve ecological crisis, if the wealth gap between the developed and developing countries (also known as the North-South Problem) cannot be effectively narrowed, not to mention that the developed countries transfer ecological crisis to developing countries, make use of market mechanisms to plunder natural resources from developing countries, and have even refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Consequently, the ecological crisis will deteriorate with the endless disputes of interests among human beings.

 

How then can people live in peace and harmony? We should always return to the major traditional religions—great treasures of wisdom for humanity—to listen to the great teachings of eternal value to human beings. Muhammad instructs, “Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself, that you may be a believer; Treat well as a neighbour the one who lives near you, that you may be a Muslim.” “Whatever you abhor for yourself, abhor it also for others, and whatever you desire for yourself desire also for others.” (Rost 2000)The Quran (49:13) states, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” The Gospel of Matthew 7:12 (New International Version) teaches people, “So, no matter what it is, treat others in the way that you want to be treated as that is the rule and the prophet’s principle.” There is a saying in Hit-opadesa in Hinduism stating the follows: “The final mark of Duty, Righteousness,/Legal and moral Lawfulness, is this—/That what ye hold as dear and good for self/And which your inner higher self approves,/Ye hold as dear and good for others too;/And what ye may not like for your own self,/For others like it not, in the same way,/Who feeleth as his own the joys and sorrows/Of others, he is the true yogi, he/Hath truly ‘joined’ his own soul with all souls.” (Rost 2000)Buddhist scripture, Jataka Tales tells us,“Who knoweth this great Truth—that Life is one/In all, and how all pain originates,/He hurteth not his one hand with his other,/Knowing that he himself will suffer pain.” (Rost 2000)In fact, all religions teach people to get along in harmony with one another, to treat others with equality, understanding, tolerance, compassion, and love, be it Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or Bahaism. As early as 1894, Henry Huxley pointed out, “Moralists of all ages and of all faiths, attending only to the relations of men towards one another in an ideal society, have agreed upon the ‘golden rule’, ‘Do as you would be done by.’”(Rost 2000)

 

The Golden Rule, as a common revelation in all the major religions, should not only be the ethical principle for members of just one country, one ethnicity, one religion or one group; more importantly, it should be the moral code for different religions, ethnicities, and countries. This is becoming especially important in today’s world of globalization where the global problems are becoming ever more outstanding, for indifference, self-benefiting at the expense of other countries, conflicts, disputes, wars, and bloodshed between different religions, ethnicities, and countries will certainly lead to more loss of innocent lives and larger natural catastrophes, in turn aggravating the crises of the earth and all humanity. Each of the crises mankind faces cannot possibly be taken on or solved independently by any one or a few ethnicities, countries, or religions. Only through whole-hearted cooperation and hand-in-hand effort between all of humanity can we alleviate and eliminate problems such as the polarization between rich and poor, the population explosion, environment pollution, ecological deterioration, and the spread of AIDS. Therefore today’s globalized human race and all these global issues require the foundation of a globally accepted moral code, which is the Golden Rule as the wisdom of humanity revealed by all the major religions of the world.

 

Global issues demand global ethics, the basic value and the very source of which is the Golden Rule, again a common feature of all the major religions. Any kind of sustainable development, be it ecologically, economically or socially sustainable, requires that we hold the Golden Rule as our guide of value towards the future. Paul F. Knitter depicts the miseries of contemporary human societies in his book One Earth Many Religions: Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility: there are suffering of the body due to poverty, suffering of the earth due to abuse, and suffering of the spirit due to victimization; global responsibility should be the common ground for interfaith dialogue. ( Knitter 2003) In fact, this is a necessary and practical requirement as the globalization deepens. The integrated world economy means the economies of the world are closely connected, thus an economic crisis of one country or one region will impact other countries or regions or even the whole world, bringing about social unrest, chaos, and even political crisis. In the background of economic globalization, a political crisis in one country or region can spread rapidly to other countries and regions. In the meantime, the culture of one country, region or ethnicity will also be able to quickly go beyond the boundaries of country, region and ethnicity to spread globally and create universal impact, communicating, integrating, conflicting, or clashing with other cultures. In the era of globalization, mankind has never been so closely interrelated, nor has it ever been so obliged to truly undertake the global responsibility and follow global ethical principles. During this process the participation of many religions is absolutely necessary. As Hans Kung maintains that the kind of global ethics necessary for sustained global action cannot be achieved without the contribution of religion (Kung 2002).

 

To be sure, we are fully aware that there is still a long way to go before we honor the Golden Rule as the moral code followed by all humankind, and the most pressing and important priority for the major world religions and the religious communities of all countries around the world is to realize peace and harmony between them. As Hans Kung points out that there will be no survival of our globe without a global ethic; there will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions; there will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions. (Kung 2002) Therefore different religions should interact and communicate with each other extensively and deeply on the basis of tolerance, kindness, compassion and equality. As well, they should see religious tolerance and harmony as an important quality of a contemporary believer, and vigorously promote and carefully cultivate such a quality. For the common wellbeing of humanity, all the major religions ought to turn away from narrow-mindedness, prejudice, hostility, and hatred, understand and communicate with each other, treat each other with appreciation, tolerance, benevolence, and kindness, and thus bring happiness and peace to humanity, setting an example on creating peace and harmony for different groups and individuals. Only in this way can we guide human society with the Golden Rule, help all the people from different religions, civilizations, social regimes, ethnicities, nations, life styles, and values get along with each other to together create harmony, peace, and happiness for all the human beings. If there are endless conflicts and bloodshed between religions and their adherents, they will be a most severe betrayal of and violation against religious spirit. If there are disputes, splits, hatred, unrests, violence, terrorism, and cults instigated and created in the name of religion, they will be a misfortune and tragedy for religions and all humanity. Religions should be the lighthouse for the spiritual life of human beings, steering the boat of humanity clear of the rocky shoals of confrontations, clashes, wars, bloodshed, and terrorism, leading it out of the danger zones of polarization of rich and poor, environmental deterioration and the arms race, so that it can reach the opposite shore of peace, harmony, serenity and auspiciousness. Let’s make our world a more harmonious and beautiful place and our nations more serene and peaceful with the existence of many religions.

 

I’m happy to share with you the fact that in present-day China different religions enjoy equal status, mutual respect, and tolerance. They coexist in harmony and have never plunged into religious disputes. They enjoy full religious freedom under the protection of the Constitution and other laws. With the joint effort of the Chinese government and the China Committee on Religion and Peace and in an environment of tolerance, different religions have formed the fine tradition of valuing peace and harmony. They are in great unity and work closely together to maintain ethnic unity, social stability and national unity; they make every effort to promote world peace and common development. In 1995, five religious groups in Guangzhou: Buddhist, Taoist, Islamic, Catholic, and Christian, jointly proposed and together established the Association of the Guangzhou Religious Communities for Ethnic Education. This is a religious charity group that aims to encourage believers to care for and support the education in ethnic minority and impoverished areas to help students there who live in abject poverty. For the past nine years, it has supplied funds of more than 12 million RMB to build or rebuild more than 20 schools and provided financial aid to over 1,000 students from poor families in the ethnic minority areas, which has won praise from all walks of life. The religious community in Guangzhou is an epitome of China’s religious communities in their commitment to peace and efforts in serving the society.

I believe that as long as different religions can coexist in peace and harmony in China and some other countries, they can certainly coexist in peace and harmony throughout the world. I believe that the world will be more beautiful and harmonious with the existence of many religions!

 

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the First International Symposium on Education regarding Multi-Religious Peace and Harmony, Jakarta, Indonesia on February 3, 2005.

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