Strengthening the Construction of National Cultural Soft Power①

  The economic globalization is sweeping irresistibly across the whole world and competition in comprehensive strength among different nations is becoming increasingly intense. The competition of conventional hard power including economic growth, military equipment, scientific and technological progress, territorial and regional expansion, etc. is growing more and more fierce while that of soft power is surging forward in the fields of cultural appeal, charisma of values, moral influence, political systems, ideologies, diplomatic persuasiveness, etc. The two powers exist interdependently, with mutual promotion and influence, creating an unprecedented structure concerning competition of comprehensive national strength in the international community. The enhancement of cultural soft power, which is regarded as the core element of soft power, has been fully emphasized and profoundly elaborated at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) from the viewpoint of national strategy. This embodies the Party’s keen insights into the trends of competition in the contemporary international arena as well as its far-sightedness concerning the great renewal of the Chinese nation. Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the CPC, pointed out clearly in his report at this Congress, “In the present era, culture has become a more and more important source of national cohesion and creativity and a factor of growing significance in the competition in overall national strength.” Hu also emphasized that the Chinese people should “keep to the orientation of advanced socialist culture, bring about a new upsurge in socialist cultural development, stimulate the cultural creativity of the whole nation, and enhance culture as part of the soft power of our country.”

 

The concept of "soft power" was conceived by Professor Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Dean of John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the United States, former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council and Assistant Secretary in the Clinton Administration. In the view of the professor, soft power, as an intangible spiritual force that can influence other nations’ aspirations and behavior, includes cultural appeal, charisma of values, attraction of political systems, diplomatic persuasiveness, international prestige and credibility, charm of the leaders, citizens of a nation, etc. Culture, political values and diplomatic policies constitute the three major sources of soft power. He pointed out, “Soft power refers to the appeal of the culture and ideologies of a nation; it is an ability to obtain outcomes you want by attraction instead of force. It takes effect just because it convinces others that they should follow your example or comply with the standards and institutions that guide your action. To a large extent, soft power is determined by the attractiveness of information. If a nation makes itself appealing to people in other nations and is blessed with international institutions which are able to encourage other countries to establish their interests, it is very likely to save a lot of more conventional economic or military resources. In this age of global information, soft power is becoming increasingly important.” (Nye 1999)

 

In his book The Paradox of American Power, Joseph S. Nye, Jr. defines “soft power” in this way, “A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries— admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness—want to follow it. In this sense, it is also important to set the agenda and attract others in world politics, and not just to force them to change by threatening military force or economic sanctions. This power—getting others to want the outcomes that you want—co-opts people rather than coerces them. I call it soft power.” (Nye, 2002) According to above explanation, we can learn that soft power, in Joseph Nye’s view, mainly refers to attraction of political values, cultural appeal, moral influence, and an ability to shape international planning and to determine international political issues. As the core resource of soft power, culture makes up the internal basis of a nation’s soft power. The influence, persuasiveness, attraction of soft power is realized primarily by means of culture. Only with psychological security provided by culture, can the political, economic and military resources of a nation be organized, mobilized, efficiently allocated, and even play their best. A nation without culture will definitely lose its cohesive force. Meanwhile, culture can be translated into a power of assimilation; it changes others’ wishes and behavior by influencing others’ thoughts and value orientation, thus making other countries be most willing to do what you want and winning other countries’ understanding, recognition, respect and trust. Lacking culture, a nation is deprived of the power of appeal.

 

 “Soft power” not only refers to cultural power but is also a general term for non-military power in a time of diversity. It poses the following questions: how to transcend the limitations of the concept of “soft power”, which has aroused the attention of decision makers and scholars in the West? How to seek human welfare from the perspective of the humanity as a whole and pursue the prosperity of culture of all human beings? We believe that the Chinese civilization, which has a profoundly rich foundation and accumulation of over 5,000 years of history, is most likely to accomplish the mission. Having inherited the essence of Chinese civilization through the millennia, successive governments of People’s Republic of China have been doing their utmost to exist peacefully and harmoniously with other countries and achieve common development. They have endeavored to unite with other countries and tide over difficulties and hardships faced by mankind. When other countries and nations were plunged into deep crisis, the Chinese government, regardless of past conflicts, generously extended assistance to them. This demonstrates the wisdom and demeanor of a nation with a civilization of 5,000 years, as well as the aspiration and broad-mindedness of a responsible nation.

 

Take Africa for example. From 1956 to 1977, despite its own severe economic difficulties, the Chinese government and people generously provided African countries with economic aid worth over 2.48 billion USD (Li 2006). The assistance from Western countries is mostly packaged with obvious political purposes and harsh political and economic conditions. By sharp contrast, support from China aims for mutual prosperity and development without any conditions attached, which wins the respect and friendship of people from many African countries. Just as a Chinese saying goes, “Peaches and plums do not have to speak, yet the world beats a path to them,” over the past 50 years, the Chinese government and people, by virtue of sincerity and selflessness, have won the recognition and support of African states and people. Sino-African relations have also become a model in South-South cooperation.

 

On the other hand, African countries and people repaid the kindness of the Chinese government and people with their wisdom and capability. For instance in 1971, when some Western countries maliciously obstructed the restoration of China’s legal membership in the United Nations, African nations stood resolutely on the side of the Chinese people. Of the 76 countries who cast votes of approval, 26 were from Africa. Here is another instance. At the World Conference on Human Rights held by the United Nations, China, with the help of African nations, has defeated 11 times consecutively since 1990 the anti-China proposals put forward by Western countries headed by the United States. The Taiwan issue is another good case in point. Most African countries make it clear that they are against Taiwan’s independence and firmly support the “One China” policy of the Chinese government and people (Luo 2007). The Tao Te Ching says, “The sage lets everything begin uninitiated and grow unpossessed. Everything is done without being his deed, and succeeds without being his success. Only when success belongs to nobody does it belong to everyone.” (Tao Te Ching, Chapter Two, trans. Xu Yuanchong). This is the way in which China treats African countries.

 

In constructing its soft power, China never uses its own cultural values to impact, dissolve or erode those of other civilizations and thus will never pose a threat to them. China is making efforts to display the immortal wisdom of its civilization that is universally valuable, and at the same time, it acknowledges the same or similar wisdom in other civilizations and appreciates and respects the different characteristics in them. Unicity, homogeneity, dominance and expansionism do not conform to the intrinsic logic of Chinese civilization, and cultural hegemony, imperialism and colonialism will find no place in Chinese civilization which is mainly characterized by harmony. As early as  thousands of years ago, Lao Tzu realized,“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 Six, trans. Lin Yutang)

 

Zhang Zai, a Confucian in the Song Dynasty, advocated the theory of the Great Mind. In his article the “Western Inscription,” he proposed, “The people are my siblings, and all living things are my companions.” (Zhang 1978). He regarded all mankind as his brothers and sisters and all things in the world as his own friends. Wang Yangming, a reputable Confucian in the Ming Dynasty, put forward the theory of the Great Man, which defines the Great Man as a person regarding Heaven, Earth, and the myriad things as a whole. Neo-Confucianism in the Song and Ming Dynasties was developed from the Pre-Qin Confucianism and the Studies of Confucian Classics in the Western Han Dynasty; it lifted the harmonious philosophy in Chinese civilization to a new height by broad-mindedly embracing the whole universe. Both Confucianism and Taoism, with their keen insights into and profound understanding of nature, society and mankind, have been condensed into the profound wisdom of Chinese civilization which has been nourishing Chinese people in their thoughts and behavior for several thousand years. They have become the inexhaustible source for constructing modern China’s soft power.

 

Introduced into China in a peaceful way, Buddhism has been successfully integrated into Chinese civilization, become an indispensable part of it and developed into Chinese Buddhism with a unique style and far-reaching influence. Buddhism is recognized as one of the three main branches of traditional Chinese culture along with Confucianism and Taoism. With its profound theoretical system and a religious heart of compassion and loving kindness, it supports the idea of harmony and values in Chinese culture with belief and spiritual care. Thanks to Buddhism, the characteristics of harmony are highlighted in Chinese culture and are deeply rooted in the hearts of the people. By inheriting the fundamental spirit of Chinese Buddhism “do no evils, practice all good deeds, purify your own mind: this is what all Buddhas teach,” which aims at exterminating evil and following good. Buddhism, not confined to sectarian bias or superficial judgment, integrated itself with Confucianism and Taoism. Qi Song, a Chan master in the Northern Song Dynasty once said, “Goodness is all saints teach; Righteousness their path. Follow the righteous, do good. Be it this or that; be they Buddhists or Confucians. This or that is mere illusion; Buddhists and Confucians are just labels.” (Qisong, Tanjin Wenji )The Chan School in Chinese Buddhism takes in ideas of Confucianism, Taoism and Mohism and fully digests them, thus becoming one of the Buddhist sects with the most distinctive Chinese characteristics. China’s Buddhism does not merely take “abstain from evil and do good” as its ultimate aim and absorb the essence of all schools. It strives all the more for “uncontaminated wholesomeness” out of the basic principle of “purifying your own mind” and requires its fourfold assembly of disciples to give sentient beings material gifts, gift of the teachings, and that of the fearlessness without a mind abiding in forms. It requires non-substantiality of the three wheels which means wiping out false notions of the receiver, the giver and the offering, let alone desiring any reward or selfish interest.

 

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, especially since the reform and opening-up to the outside world, the Chinese Buddhist communities have been actively participating in international cultural exchanges which have promoted understanding and friendship among nations, eliminated misunderstandings, broken down barriers, and spread the wisdom and truth of the Chinese Buddhist culture to other nations. This enables more countries and peoples as well as more civilizations to get to know, identify with, understand and appreciate Chinese culture with Buddhist culture being a part of it. The attempts of hostile forces from the West to demonize China will be frustrated in the light of the nation’s great civilization and with the Dharma rain and sweet dew of compassion, wisdom, practice and vow of Chinese Buddhism. To fulfill this great wish, the Buddhist Association of China has been untiringly making every effort, under the leadership of the BAC ex-presidents including Yuanying, Geshe Sherab Gyatso, Zhao Puchu, Yi Cheng and others, and has earned high praise and much appreciation from global religious circles and the international community.

 

To gain recognition, understanding and appreciation of other civilizations, nations, and peoples, a culture or a value system must possess universal value which transcend political institutions and ideologies, and have a global vision that surpasses any self-interest based on a single civilization, nation or people. It is safe to say that Chinese Buddhism and Chinese culture as a whole possess such value and vision, and only with such value and vision is it possible to transform cultural resources to practical cultural soft power, and thus contribute to the ever lasting peace and common prosperity of the world.

 

 

 

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the Third Plenary Meeting of the First Session of the 11th

CPPCC National Committee on March 9, 2008.

 

 

Humanity’s Moral Crisis and Religion’s Ethical Care①

 

In this new century, religions are faced with an important task of finding the best way to introduce religions to our socialist society and integrate religions into the socialist society, and fully exploring the positive elements in religions for the construction of socialist spiritual civilization. Specifically in the field of ethics, such a task concerns how to take the initiative to utilize the elements in religious moral systems or religious ethical codes which are conducive to the progress of the social civilization, to serve contemporary China’s construction of morality and even the entire spiritual civilization. Serious research into this task has not only vital and practical implication, but also profound historical significance. Meanwhile, it’s meaningful to the whole world when the entire human race is sinking into an ever deeper and wider moral crisis. It is a critical subject that needs extensive participation of people who have insight, and in this article I will try to make a humble exploration.

 

1. When facing a grave and urgent moral crisis in contemporary society, more and more people have been turning to the major religions, which are the crystallized wisdoms of the human race, in the hope of extricating themselves from this moral predicament and curing their chronic moral disease.

 

There is no need for reticence over the extremely severe and increasingly widespread moral crisis confronting modern humanity. Barriers, estrangements, antagonisms, conflicts, and even wars, all of which we cannot afford to overlook, are existing between individuals, between humans and nature, human beings and society, between different countries, different ethnicities, and different religions. These, in some regions, have even reached a very critical point. Poverty, diseases, famines, disasters, exploitation, wars, and bloodshed have been part of human society for the entire 20th century and have followed us into the 21st century. The dawn of the new century has not cleared away the thick clouds of human moral crisis. On the contrary, terrorist attacks, the rampage of cults, and the shadow of war, not only still exist, but are growing and getting further intensified, shattering good people’s desire for peace and tranquility.

 

Obviously, the rapid development in science and technology, and the enormous increase in material wealth have not eliminated humanity’s moral and spiritual crises, let alone all the man-made disasters arising from such crises. In the name of pursuing happiness and realizing modernization, we exploit the earth on which we live with no restraint, damaging its ecosystem, exhausting its resource and worsening pollution every single day and night. However, what actually lies behind such pursuit is human beings’ endless and greedy lust for wealth. For our own self-interests, many of us have no scruples about exploiting nature just like killing the goose that lays golden eggs and draining rivers to catch the fish therein. For the selfish interests of a nation, many countries relocate pollution to the detriment of other countries. A typical example is the United States’ withdrawal in defiance of the strong opposition of the international community, from the Kyoto Protocol which is purported to protect the ecological environment. We desire peace and justice, whereas some countries use them as excuses to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs, wage wars one after another and slaughter numerous innocent civilians. We human beings have attained exceedingly rapid advance in science and technology and fast growth of material wealth, but this has reduced neither the number of people who suffer from starvation or malnutrition, nor the number of diseased people who helplessly await death due to poverty, or the number of people under educational deprivation because of poverty, or people addicted to drugs or suffering from AIDS. This is typically illustrated by those who are deep in misery in many African countries. In fact, the same sufferings are existing in many other developed and developing countries as well.

 

Then what is the crux of the human moral crisis? On the surface, it’s “the value and evaluation systems with everything starting from self-interest, everything self-centered, and everything subject to self value,” (Wan 2001) “in a self-centered moral value system, everything is placed in a subordinated position as means and tools.” (Wan 2001) Then why is the interest of individuals put above that of others and the society? Why is the interest of individuals taken as the basic starting point and the ultimate destination of all activities? Mr. Wan Junren points out with the insight of an ethicist, “In the most fundamental sense, the modernity of humanity’s society and moral life lies in the substantial change in the structure of modern human beings’ moral consciousness. If the traditional structure of moral consciousness is considered as a structure of the outlook on morality and life guided by the overall outlook on the world, society and history, then the structure of modern humanity’s moral consciousness is not only exactly the opposite, but also in an unstable and chaotic state.” (Wan 2001) To further clarify—the root causes for such a transformation in the structure of moral consciousness is the absence of true religious beliefs and the loss of true religious spirit. The loss of faith renders it impossible for individuals to find “the ultimate concern,” or to essentially transform life; in consequence, they fall into endless cravings and take the pursuit of self-interest as the sole meaning of life. Naturally, they cannot, and are too occupied to comprehend the world in which they live as a whole, or to understand how things are related to each other, therefore they are incapable of having the complete outlook on the world or on life. Then the world, society, other people and even all the human relationships become nothing but the conditions, tools or means to realize self-interest. The loss of a rich and complete relationship with the world in its entirety turns an individual into a “money making machine” aiming at unidirectional possession of wealth, inevitably resulting in moral crisis. Where there is no faith, there is no morality. Thus we can safely conclude that the absence of religious faith is the underlying cause of human beings’ moral crisis. It is for this reason that many ethicists, philosophers and religious personages set their hope in the pure traditional religions, seeking remedy for humanity’s moral crisis. Hans Kung, Director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research, University of Tubingen, Germany, points out, “Religions can be the basis for a global ethic,” and he emphasized that the world ethics needs true religions (Kung 2002).

2. Religious morality is both an important element of religion and an essential component of human morality. To the masses of believers, religious morality has an ultimate meaning which is transcendental, and they will accept social morality only after it is sanctified by religious morality.

 

For early humans, religion and morality were two in one. As Friedrich Paulsen correctly pointed out, “The customs have the sanction of the gods; the commandments of religion and morality form a unified code of laws; piety and morality are regarded as one and the same thing.” (Paulsen 1988) Later religions and morality were separated, but still inseparably intertwined in innumerable ways. This kind of relationship has been the subject of extensive attention and comprehensive research for many scholars. Some conclude that religion is ethics, as M. Arnold declares, religion is morality touched by emotion (Otto 1995). Some consider ethics part of religion, as the Protestant theologian A. Harnack states, “Jesus combined religion and morality, and in this sense religion may be called the soul of morality, and morality the body of religion.” (Harnack 1901) Some believe that religion is above morality, as SU+00F8ren Kierkegaard holds that religious life stands higher than ethical life, or as Feng Youlan concludes that the religious realm is beyond the moral realm. Whether we agree with them or not, we have to admit that each major religion has a complete moral system which is a necessary element as well as a basic characteristic of a religion. Therefore, religion is a special moral resource and it functions as the root of values in each ethnicity’s cultural system. In modern times it not only continues to exist and develop, but also has become the starting point for the moral life of the broad masses of believers. In the construction of social morality, religion is a basic cultural background that we must face, a value parameter system that we can learn from, and a rich moral resource that is indispensable. H.T.D. Rost points out that the basic nature of each religion is that it actually molds a moral system (Rost 2000). History shows that religions have become the rich source of moral and ethical rules and norms. Take Buddhism as an example, it has a complete and tight-binding moral system with the essential moral code being precepts, the basic moral standard being “do no evils, practice all good deeds, purify your own mind,” the highest moral ideal being “nirvana,” and the methods for moral cultivation being “Four Dharmas of Attraction and the Six Perfections.” The vigorous emphasis Buddhism places on morality and ethics makes it appear to many scholars more like “a theory of charity,” “a noble moral outlook,” “an ethical theory” than a true religion (Крывелев, 1984). Christianity also has a complete ethical system with love as its core value, and Islam is no exception. It is because of religious morality that the cohesion and attraction of religion have been long-lasting and powerful. And it is on account of the mass believers’ faith in and practice of religious morality that religions continue to survive and develop in the modern world where material is predominant and utilitarianism is all-pervasive. Human beings naturally turn to religions when they are confronted with moral crisis in that religion and morality are inherently connected in terms of origin, development, key elements, essence, etc. That people expect to rescue human race from its moral crises through the establishment of pure religious beliefs and revival of the traditional religions, is nothing but normal and sensible, because moral depravity usually goes hand in hand with the loss of pure religious beliefs.

 

As indicated by the practices of constructing morality in countries all over the world, especially those with religious traditions, many countries are highly concerned for the religions upon which their value systems are based and they fully avail themselves of religions to build moral systems that are compatible with the modern society. In the United States, the dominant values and moral standards have always been the Christian traditions. The American people have a remarkable concern for the Christian tradition which is their spiritual pillar and source of morality. In 1955, the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring the use of the words “In God We Trust” on paper currency. In 1956, Congress enacted another bill adopting “In God We Trust” as the national motto. In 1957 this phrase was printed on the paper currency. In April 1996 the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging that such practices had obviously violated the Constitution of the United States. However, the appeal was soon rejected by the Supreme Court. Previously in 1994 and later in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected similar appeals. Trivial though, this implies how the American people safeguard their Christian traditions. Bible-based Christian moral principles have permeated all aspects of the American people’s moral life and the American history, before and after the establishment of United States of America. It is safe to say, in this era of fierce competition and material dominance, it is owing to the Christian traditions that the ordinary American people can still maintain tolerance, love, integrity, and mutual aid. It is in this regard that Kenneth Wald, the contemporary scholar of political science says, “Churches are in a sense incubators of civic virtues.” (Liu 2001) The Sunday schools run by churches have even become the base to impart religious knowledge and foster citizens’ morality, which have played an inestimable role in shaping one generation after another of adolescents with Christian moral and ethical views. The renowned American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr says, “The United States is the most religious and the most secular of Western nations.” (Liu 2001) Meanwhile, we must be aware that the crime rate in the United States is very high and the prisons full, which indicates that there is also a serious moral issue and moral crisis in the United States. Not all Americans can conform to the traditional Christian morality, and this has been clearly demonstrated by the United States’ behavior in the international arena. What we are saying is that without the Christian tradition, the moral problems in the American society would have been even more severe. Nevertheless, honesty, integrity, fairness and justice as taught by the Bible still serve as basic moral principles in economic activities. Such principles are being universally accepted and practiced, and those who violate them are subject to strong denunciation and rejection.

 

Throughout the development of humanity, the moral and ethical value systems in many nations (such as many Western and Arabic countries) have been based on, established and maintained by religions. China has over one hundred million religious believers; for many of our ethnic minorities, the whole ethnic group believes in a single religion. In view of the above, for the construction of socialist morality we should take into full consideration religions’ influence on morality; religions’ moral influence on believers; and religions’ moral influence on social morality. We should make the best use of those factors, endeavor to accommodate religious morality to socialist morality, and strive to apply the positive factors of religious morality to the construction of socialist morality. All these are completely feasible. Actually, thoughts and behaviors that undermine social morality are also vigorously discarded and considered sinful in the major religions. For example, the “Program for Improving Civic Morality” mentions certain behaviors that are all strictly forbidden by major religions: money worship, hedonism, extreme individualism, forsaking principle for profit, lining one’s pocket at public expense, bad faith, deceit, fraud, discarding moral principles in pursuit of profit, abusing power for personal benefit, corrupt and moral depravity.② Likewise, the virtues that we encourage in society are promoted and encouraged by all the major religions as well, such as “patriotism and observance of law; courtesy and honesty; solidarity and friendship; diligence, frugality and self-improvement; and devotion and contribution” and “respecting others, understanding others and caring about others.” Therefore, the point is how we “positively guide” religions, “draw on their advantages and avoid disadvantages,” rather than to exclude or deny them, or take them as scourges.

 

We must be aware that all the major world religions have immortal ethical thoughts and wisdom which do not fade with either time or the change of social regimes. For instance, the marvelous value of those thoughts which are called “the Golden Rule” is highlighted in our era of moral crisis. Hinduism instructs people, “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 Dharma, heed it well.” (Mahabharata) Buddhism tells people that “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.” (Sutta Pitaka, the Fifth Part) Taoism teaches people to “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” (Tractate of Actions and Their Retributions) Judaism requires to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18 New International Version) Christianity tells people that “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12) Islam thus hopes, “Whatever you abhor for yourself, abhor it also for others, and whatever you desire for yourself desire also for others.” (Hadith)Such religious teachings on morality and ethics have gone beyond the boundaries of religions, ethnicities and nations to become the ever lasting values of the whole humanity. They are the truly immortal Golden Rule to govern the relationships between individuals, human beings and nature, between countries, ethnic groups and religions. In the meantime, they are the solid moral and ethical foundation for every country to build morality and for the whole human race to escape its moral predicament.

 

3. Regarding contemporary China’s construction of morality, we should study all the civilizations of the world, including the moral and ethical systems of major religions, and actively take part in cross-cultural dialogues, including those on comparative religions and cultures. We should also make full exploration and bold absorption, enhance our own advantages and avoid disadvantages, and take the initiative to assimilate from the world’s major religions elements which are beneficial to social civility and progress, national stability and prosperity, world peace and tranquility, taking civilizations of the whole humanity as our resource for the construction of morality. This is necessary for the Chinese nation’s great renewal. It’s not visionary or courageous, not resourceful or possible to restrict ourselves to a narrow confine, to close ourselves or fetter ourselves.

 

Comparisons and dialogues among religions are extremely important. Without dialogue, there is no communication or understanding, and misunderstandings and rejections follow in their wake. However, the purpose of interreligious comparison and dialogue shall never be arguing about which religion is better or superior, instead, we should include and absorb all the positive factors in religions which are a vital component of human spirituality with an open mind from the standpoint of world citizenship. Then we will enrich, improve and uplift our spiritual realm with the achievements of the civilization of the whole of humanity. Differences in the social histories, cultural traditions, political regimes and geographical environments determine that the religions of different ethnic groups have varied outlooks. It is such variation that makes humanity’s spiritual cultures rich and colorful, and it is such variation that renders interreligious comparison and dialogue necessary. We should, from the height of taking humanity as a whole, absorb and utilize all the merits in all cultures with an appreciative, understanding and cooperative mind to “actively draw on the successful experiences and advanced achievements in every country’s moral construction.” ③ The major civilizations including their religions have a lot for us to learn from. Here we will discuss three points in brief to explain that Confucianism, which has been the mainstream traditional Chinese culture, because of its inherent deficiencies should not be the sole moral resource for contemporary China’s construction of morality. It is necessary to explore new possibilities and learn widely from others’ strong points.

 

Firstly, the Confucian moral and ethical ideas are distinctly hierarchical. The relationships between ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife and between brothers, as moral subjects, are seriously unequal, which are summarized as “ruler guides subject, father guides son and husband guides wife.” The abuses of these ruling principles lead to a world where “a subject has to die if his ruler tells him so; a son has to die if his father wishes so.” “A husband has the right to marry another woman but a widow should never marry again.” “Parents can do absolutely no wrong.” “People are ranked in ten hierarchal classes.” All of these ideas depict an inequality of personality among individuals. When moral subjects have only nonreciprocal obligations with no equality in personality, it is hard for them to really develop moral personality. Today many people still accept the Confucian sense of hierarchy. Some people of wealth and influence feel superior and do not treat their subordinates or the common people as human beings, while those who do not have wealth or influence often feel inferior. As such, it’s very difficult for them to develop their own moral personality, or to respect the moral personality of others. By contrast, the Buddhist view of equality is totally different. Grounded in the basic principle that “all sentientbeings are equal,” Buddhism contains a series of ethical ideals where equality in the personality of all people is a prerequisite. This can provide us with moral basis for establishing equal and mutually respectful interpersonal relationships. In Buddhist scriptures such as Sujata Sutra, Dirghagama Sutra and Sigalovada Sutra, the relationship between parents and children is elaborated as follows: children shall serve their parents in five ways. (1) Support and wait on their parents and make them feel nothing lacking; (2) Tell parents in advance about what they plan to do; (3) Be considerate toward parents’ actions with respect and not defiantly; (4) Dare not disobey parents’ correct commands or ignore their warnings; (5) Make the good family tradition continue. In the meantime, parents shall take care of their children in the following five ways: (1) Love the children and consider for their welfare to the minute point; (2) Provide the children with resources so that they will want for nothing; (3) Teach the children necessary knowledge and skills; (4) Teach them the proper way to get along with people; (5) Establish good relationship with their children and pass down their properties to them based on mutual trust. From these instructions we can feel the spirit of sincerity and equality. Children should follow only the right commands and exhortations from their parents; the parents should build good relationships with their children; the parents and their children should trust each other; the parents should pass down their property to children. In Buddhism such sincerity and equality is depicted even clearer in the relationship between husband and wife. In Buddhist scriptures such as Sujata Sutra and the Chapter of Precepts in Sutra of the Upasaka, it is pointed out that a wife should act according to the following principles: (1) Love and respect her husband wholeheartedly and be very considerate and thoughtful; (2) Never neglect housework; (3) Be honest with her husband; (4) Talk gently not rudely; (5) Praise her husband and accept his advice properly. In the meantime, husband should behave according to the following principles: (1) Love and care for his wife; (2) Never slight his wife or be arrogant towards her; (3) Make some cute adornments for his wife; (4) Make his wife feel relaxed and comfortable at home; (5) Show kindness towards his wife’s relatives. Here we see no distinction between superiority and inferiority in personality, nor any dictational behaviors, coldness, or alienation in Confucianism as can be seen in the saying “only girls and servants are hard to train. Draw near to them, they grow unruly; hold them off, they pay you with spite.” (Confucian Analects, Chapter 17 Yang Huo, trans. James Legge) Nor do we see cruel rules like the Seven Outs in Confucianism after the Han Dynasty .④The serious inequality between husband and wife derived from Confucianism is still influencing the contemporary Chinese people and related to a lot of domestic violence. As we build family ethics today, the husband-wife relationship as espoused by Buddhism may be our precious reference.

 

Secondly, Confucian ethics is built upon family ties and therefore very limited. Humaneness  (ren) is based on consanguinity; Humaneness and Love (ren ai) is actually measured by the order of kinship and difficult to extend to people outside such a scope, especially to strangers who are neither relatives nor friends. “The richest fruit of benevolence is this: the service of one’s parents.” (The Works of Mencius, Chapter 27 Li Lou I, trans. James Legge) The founder of Confucianism did say “The man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others,” (Confucian Analects, Chapter 6 Yong Ye, trans. James Legge) and “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”(Confucian Analects, Chapter 15 Wei Ling Gong, trans. James Legge) He did also say that benevolence is to love all men (Confucian Analects, Chapter 12, YanYuan, trans. James Legge), yet, actually, this Humaneness and Love extends only to one’s own parents, then family members and finally members of the same clan. “It’s like extending rippling waves, the father they reach, the weaker they get.”(Fei 1985) Inevitably, no love exists beyond blood relations. This naturally leads to behaviors encapsulated in sayings like “each one sweeps the snow from his own doorsteps and doesn’t bother about the frost on his neighbor’s roof,” and “don’t get involved in something that does not touch on one’s own interest.” In sharp contrast to this, Christianity advocates “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-40) The “neighbor” here refers to the whole humanity and goes beyond gender, race and religion. Galatians 3:26-28 states, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Luke 10, Jesus Christ says that the non-Jewish Samaritan is “a neighbor,” because he took mercy on the wounded and half dead, whereas the priest and Leviteas disciples, with no loving hearts, wouldn’t help the dying people, so they don’t deserve the name of “neighbor.” Taking “all sentient beings are equal” as a benchmark, Buddhism also transcends the confinement of human relationship and family bond, encouraging renouncing home life to liberate from the suffering of cyclic existence and attain the supreme, perfect nirvana. Mahayana Buddhism in particular, based on the grand aspiration of “delivering all living beings,” goes beyond the limits of the kinship of one family or one clan and harbors concern for life of all sentient beings. Thus the Great Treatise on the Perfection of Wisdom states, “The great kindness is to bring happiness to all the sentient beings, while the great compassion is to liberate all living beings from suffering. The great kindness is to bestow sentient beings the causes and conditions for happiness, while the great compassion is to liberate sentient beings from the causes and conditions of suffering.” This is also phrased as “unconditional loving kindness, and great compassion of oneness with all.” The act of giving in Buddhism should be a “pure giving.” It requires non-substantiality of the three wheels in Buddhism when you give, which means “when you give, avoid discrimination between the worthy and the unworthy; avoid discussion of good versus evil; avoid selection of receivers by caste; avoid belittlement of receivers; avoid abusive speech.” (Sutra of the Upasaka Precepts) This clear and firm moral standard in Buddhism has reached so far beyond the blood ties that it takes a vast mind that cares about all living beings to do so, which differs profoundly from Confucianism. Confucianism strongly emphasizes kinship, despite the many expressions we can see such as “Thus men did not love their parents only, nor treat as children only their own sons,” (The Classic of Rites, Chapter Li Yun, trans. James Legge) “all within the four seas will be his brothers,” (Confucian Analects, Chapter 12 YanYuan, trans. James Legge) “Treat with the reverence due to age the elders in your own family, so that the elders in the families of others shall be similarly treated; treat with the kindness due to youth the young in your own family, so that the young in the families of others shall be similarly treated,” (The Works of Mencius, Liang Hui Wang I, trans. James Legge) all with the intention that “the kingdom may be made to go round in your palm,” and because “the carrying out his kindness of heart by a prince will suffice for the love and protection of all within the four seas, and if he does not carry it out, he will not be able to protect his wife and children.” (The Works of Mencius, Liang Hui Wang I, trans. James Legge) Both Buddhism and Christianity advocate respect and care for parents, but both more emphasize “love without differences,” unlike Confucianism where “the graduation of affection among relatives” (Doctrine of the Mean, Chapter 12) and “love with distinctions” (The Works of Mencius, Teng Wen Gong I, trans. James Legge) is underlined.

 

Thirdly, though Confucianism contains some people-centered thinking, “The people are the most important element in a nation; the spirits of the land and grain are the next; the sovereign is the lightest,” (The Works of Mencius, Jin Xin I, trans. James Legge) “Heaven did not create the people for the sake of the lord; Heaven established the lord for the sake of the people,” (Xunzi, Da Lue , trans. John Knoblock) they are meant to maintain and strengthen the patriarchal clan system. This perspective was expressed in phrase, “The people are the root of a country; The root firm, the country is tranquil.” (The Book of Documents, Songs of the Five Sons, trans. James Legge) It is this conscious effort to maintain the patriarchal clan system that made Confucianism the ruling thought and the spiritual pillar of the feudal society. In comparison, Christianity was originally a movement of oppressed people: it first appeared as the religion of slaves and emancipated slaves, of poor people deprived of all rights, of people subjugated or dispersed by Rome (Engels Published: May 4-11, 1882 in Sozialdemokrat.

1974[l1]). Therefore, early Christianity was against and hostile to the Roman imperial system. It opposed oppression and exploitation by those who had power and high status, and it had a natural tendency to fight against autocratic rules and aspire to simple democracy and equality. Jesus taught his disciples, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-45) Mr. Wu Leichuan said, “In that age his theory seemed novel to all, but it may not be untrue that it gave birth to the later democratic nations in Europe and America.” (Zhang and Zhuo 1999) Although, afterwards, Christianity demanded its adherents give up resistance and become subject to the authority of the Roman Empire, and later it became the state religion of the Roman Empire. And Aurelius Augustinus (354-430) told people to accept destiny without resistance and complaint. In the Gospel, slaves were exhorted over and over again to obey their masters. Thomas Aquinas (approx. 1225-1274) also thought monarchy was the best regime, and obedience the rule of life. Nevertheless, theories about the balance of power, the spirit of contract and democracy were born because the Western civilization had a penetrating insight into and deep awareness of the negative, dark and passive side of human nature, the limitation of human existence and the incompleteness of life, given the influence of doctrine of original sin in Christianity, the background that Christianity was the creator and the defender of the moral and ethical spirit as well as the value system of the Western civilization. “We cannot assert that Western political democracy came out of the Christian tradition, but we cannot deny the relationship between the emergence and development of the Western political democracy and how Christianity views human beings, human nature and the relationship between humans and God.” (Zheng 2001) In the same vein, Mu Zongsan said, “Modern science and democracy originate from the Western culture which had Christianity as its intrinsic vitality and the source of inspiration.” (Mou 1997) On the contrary, Confucianism gives inadequate attention to the negative side of human nature and over-estimates the positive, (as a result, Xunzi’s doctrine of evil human nature could not be passed down, was not popular and was not tolerated), thus it is impossible for Confucianism to give rise to thoughts like the balance of power, the spirit of contract and democracy. However, this doesn’t mean that Confucianism is completely incompatible with democracy and science like water and fire, only that Confucianism cannot be the fount of thinking or value basis for democracy and science. Mou Zongsan tried to overcome this defect with the theory of Self-negation of Conscience and provide an internal basis for democracy and science. He probably thought this wasn’t enough, so he called for “Confucianism-Christianity Cooperation,” and suggested that it be the future direction for Chinese philosophy. (Mou 1997) Before that, in the 1940s He Lin had also pointed out in his article “The New Development of Confucianism” that the “sincere faith,” “love and mercy” and “broad-mindedness” in Christianity would “inject passion and courage” into morality, therefore “the Confucian code of ethics will be enriched by the essence of Christianity.” (He 1941) It was indeed to the point and very insightful.

 

It should be pointed out that, as the mainstream of traditional Chinese culture, Confucianism has many ideas that are of immortal value, and has made an indelible contribution to the formation of the good traditions, ethics and virtues of the Chinese people, and it’s been one of the cultural foundations of China’s modernization. Nevertheless, Confucianism is only an ideological system of China’s feudal society; it is but one of the accomplishments of human civilization. Like all other civilizations, it has its own merits and demerits. Contemporary China’s construction of morality demands that we have broadmindedness and foresighted view, and take all the great achievements of human civilization as our precious sources of inspiration.

 

① Published on The Voice of Dharma, Journal of the BAC, No. 245, Jan., 2005.

 

② Issued by the Central Committee of the CPC on September 20, 2001.

 

③ Cited in the “Program for Improving Civic Morality.”

 

④ The Seven Outs are seven reasons to divorce a wife, which include barrenness, incurable disease and even garrulousness.

 

 

 

 

The Critical Role of Religion Should be Brought into Full Play in the Construction of a Harmonious Society①

 

 

If thinking about a harmonious society from the perspective of religion, we will clearly understand that a harmonious society has always been the social ideal of religion; If observing religion from the point of view of a harmonious society, we will clearly find that religion is also an irreplaceable spiritual resource for a harmonious society. Therefore, our historic mission is to ensure that society becomes more harmonious with the presence of religion while religion becomes more holy and serene in a harmonious society.

 

To construct a harmonious society we need socialist spiritual civilization as the driving force. We ought to mobilize all positive social factors, unite forces from all walks of life, coordinate the interests of all sectors, and maintain fairness and justice in society, thus promoting a harmonious coexistence of human and nature. In order to develop the socialist spiritual civilization, we must inherit the fine moral traditions of the Chinese nation, absorb the outstanding achievements of civilizations of all nationalities over the world, and take maximum advantage of such achievements to jointly build a holy place for the socialist spiritual civilization. During the process we should incorporate religious civilization, the incubator for humanity’s moral culture. This is of vital significance to the one hundred million religious believers here in China because “first of all, being a cultural phenomenon, religion has been fulfilling some function of universal primitive morality in a unique way in human life. Religion and morality have demonstrated characteristics of cultural twins, speaking either from a historical point of view, from the perspective of their social cultural functions, or from their inherent spiritual nature. Secondly, looking at the key factors that normally comprise one religion in general, we can see that any wholesome religious system contains strong moral concepts or moral elements. Religion itself reflects people’s inner needs for moral emotion.” (Wan 2001) Ever since religion has come into existence in human society, religious morality has been utilized to “divinize” secular morality and to elevate the moral state of religious believers.

 

For instance, Buddhism has constructed a complete set of solid moral systems with the following as its basic moral codes, “Do no evils, practice all good deeds, purify your own mind.” Christians have established their complete moral system with love as its core. Islam and Taoism are no exception. Religious morality plays an invaluable and irreplaceable role in cultivating the moral integrity of believers. It is even more crucial for believers to assimilate into society, serve society and contribute to society with lofty religious morality and ethics, thus actively promoting religion’s adaptation to the socialist society. 

 

Pursuit of a harmonious and glorious society is part of human instinct. Every individual hopes to leave behind suffering, and obtain peace. This has been and continues to be the ultimate pursuit of human beings. In the current age of globalization when everyone is more closely intertwined with one another, the social environment we live in has a direct impact on and consequently determines our happiness or suffering. Only a harmonious society could possibly bring us more true peace and happiness.

 

Confucius, revered as the greatest sage and educator by the Chinese, spent all his life pursuing the Grand Union (The Classic of Rites, Chapter Li Yun, trans. James Legge) so that a public and common spirit could rule all under the sky, while Buddhism advocates the practice of Bodhisattava path, construction of a society of “Ten Meritorious Deeds” and eventual realization of the perfect Buddhist Pure Land. All these goals are in accordance with the objective of building a harmonious society our government has called for.

 

More than two thousand five hundred years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha founded Buddhism in hope of relieving humans from afflictions and sufferings, and guiding all humans to understand the truth of life, the truth of suffering and happiness, and the path of liberation from suffering and achieving happiness, to bring people peace, serenity, and wisdom. Ever since Buddhism was introduced into China, it has gradually assimilated into the traditional Chinese culture, and become an integral part of the Chinese civilization. Since then, noble monks and virtuous people have for generations followed Buddha’s steps in pursuit of the true meaning of Buddha Dharma and lived up to Buddha’s spirit of serving the living beings, benefiting the world selflessly and impartially with compassion and mercy, and their precious lives.

 

In Chinese history, the general public from the common folks to the nobility have all been impacted by Buddhist ideas, and have therefore accepted Buddhist values. They have helped influence the governing class to be more politically fair and transparent and have maintained honesty and kindness among ordinary folks, thus giving rise to an environment where high values were held in esteem, and humane people with lofty ideals were cultivated. Many eminent monks and virtuous people, through their religious pursuit and practice, generated positive and far-reaching influence on the nation and society and have brought people true benefits.

 

For instance, Venerable Master Xuanzang travelled thousands of kilometers despite all hardships to India in order to bring back the Buddhist scriptures, which promoted communication, understanding, transmission and exchanges between the two nations. He translated Buddhist scriptures and propagated Buddhism, making great contributions to social stability, economic prosperity and cultural development of the Tang Dynasty. Venerable Master Jianzhen traveled eastward six times to Japan at the risk of his own life, endured many hardships and finally brought Buddha Dharma successfully to ancient Japan along with culture, art, architecture, medicine and pharmacy, science and technology of the Tang Dynasty, which greatly advanced the harmony and progress of the entire Japanese society. He was therefore regarded as the great benefactor of the Japanese culture.

 

The idea of Humanistic Buddhism, strongly advocated by Venerable Master Taixu and Reverend Zhao Puchu, is referred to respectfully as the “most precious crystallized wisdom of Chinese Buddhism in the 20th century.” Now it has generated positive influence among Buddhists in all sectors of society after almost a century’s discussion, practice and propagation.

 

In particular, over the past two decades since China’s reform and opening-up, the national policy on freedom of religious belief has been continuously implemented comprehensively and correctly, the positive aspects of Buddhism that are beneficial to social development and progress have been continuously valued and the social function of Buddhism fulfilled. The development of Buddhism has been able to well integrate into the harmonious socialist society. Meanwhile, the self-development and propagation of Buddhism to benefit all living beings, the social charity work as well as international communication and overseas friendship activities have made great contributions to the stability, harmony and prosperity of society and will continue to do so.

 

Humanistic Buddhism aims at building a pure land on the earth. Under current circumstances, we respond actively to the government’s call for constructing a harmonious society, which echoes with the idea of building a pure land on the earth in terms of direction, objective and implication. 

 

From the events Buddhist circles have sponsored successfully in 2004, we can see the positive contributions Buddhism has made in building a harmonious society. Last year, the Buddhist Orchestra from the mainland of China and Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Choir from Taiwan, formed a united Chinese Buddhism Music Orchestra for the first time. The Orchestra traveled to Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong as well as the United States and Canada in two separate tours and gave nine joint performances, generating enormous impact and achieving great success. These events have produced positive results in propagating the Buddhist culture, enhancing national sentiment, strengthening Dharma ties and kinship among Buddhists across the Straits and promoting the great cause for peaceful reunification of the country. It has also demonstrated to the world the unity and integration between the Buddhist circles across the Straits and greatly advanced the internationalization of the glorious traditional Chinese culture.

 

Last October, the Seventh Conference on Friendly Exchanges of Buddhism for China, Korea and Japan was held in Beijing and has successfully achieved important goals. At the conference, the importance of the Golden Bond between the Buddhist circles in the three countries was highly recognized for helping maintain peace in Asia and the world as a whole. Featuring the theme of “New Vision for the Golden Bond,” the conference summarized the prolific achievements and fundamental experiences accumulated over the past ten years since the first such conference was held. Venerable masters from the four locations across the Taiwan Straits (the mainland of China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) have called for the World Buddhism Forum to be held in China in due time, which received unanimous support and enthusiastic response from the delegates.

 

On December 26, 2004, a strong earthquake in the waters off the Sumatra Island in Indonesia triggered a great tsunami which affected 12 countries and regions in South Asia and Africa, claiming the lives of over 200,000 people, and leaving several millions homeless. It was one of the rarest and gravest natural disasters that ever happened worldwide. On December 28, the Buddhism Association of China immediately sent condolence messages to the Buddhist organizations in the disaster-stricken countries. Meanwhile, it issued emergency notices to the Buddhist associations and major temples in all provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities nationwide calling for the fourfold assembly of disciples to hold Dharma assemblies for expiating the sins of the dead and relieving suffering and praying for blessings, as well as to raise funds and make contributions out of compassion for the victims affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

 

On January 1, 2005, the Buddhist Association of China held at the Lingguang Temple in the West Mountains in Beijing the “Great Assembly of Thousands of Monks from Hundreds of Temples across the Straits Donating Ten Million for Relieving Sufferings and Disasters and Praying for Blessings.” Almost 10,000 people, including relevant government leaders, representatives from all sectors of society, venerable masters and virtuous people from across the Straits, and fourfold assembly of disciples of Buddhism attended the Assembly despite the severe cold. Donations of 9.93 million RMB were collected right on the spot and were transferred to the victims in respective countries through the Red Cross Society of China. Among all social organizations, the Buddhist Association of China was the first to hold such an assembly and to call for donations. The sum raised was the largest among the donations the Red Cross Society of China had received. It set a good example and generated positive and far-reaching influence in society. 

 

 “It has always been the social ideal of human beings to realize social harmony and to build a splendid society,” said President Hu Jintao.② According to the new requirements of China‘s economic and social development of the new stage in the new century and the new trend and features appeared in our society, we should construct a harmonious socialist society that is democratic and law-based, fair and just, trustworthy and friendly, full of vigor and vitality, secure and orderly, and in which man and nature are in harmony. To be democratic and law-based means that the socialist democracy is fully implemented, the fundamental strategy of governing by law is widely practiced, and all positive factors from different sectors are fully utilized. To be fair and just means that interests among all sectors are coordinated, internal contradictions among people and other social contradictions are fully addressed, and social fairness and justice are safeguarded and fulfilled. To be honest and friendly means people of the entire society help each other and are honest and credible, equal and friendly, thus living in harmony. To be full of vigor and vitality means that every initiative to promote the progress of society is respected, every act carrying out such initiatives is supported, innovative capacity is promoted, and innovations acknowledged. To be secure and orderly means that the social mechanism is wholesome and solid, social management is comprehensive and refined and social order is well-balanced, with all people living and working in peace and contentment, making the society stable and united. That man and nature are in harmony means that productivity is increasing, people are living wealthy lives in a balanced ecology. All these basic characteristics are interrelated and interactive and we need to take a holistic view in the process of building a well-off society in an all-round way.

 

Buddhist monasteries are not only the holy places where monastic Buddhists practice the Way, but also the place where lay people come to attend religious activities for rich spiritual and cultural lives. Through learning and experiencing the primitive simplicity, peace and serenity of the temple life they are relaxed both physically and mentally after intense work. What’s more, Buddhist monasteries are important vehicles of traditional cultures, where people get nurtured, learn more about Buddhism, and get inspired by the wisdom of the ancient nobles and sages. Their hearts get nourished, with inner pains and afflictions resolved.

 

As monastic Buddhists who administer the temples and maintain the Buddha Dharma, we must fully promote the positive functions of the temples. This is in fact protecting the good nature of people and the harmony of society. Buddhism’s most crucial missions include educating, guiding and assisting the fourfold assembly of disciples. First is the mentoring of the monastic Buddhists. The goal is to cultivate them into outstanding religious teaching staff with wisdom, compassion, being able to adapt to today’s society through preaching and learning of Buddhist scriptures and sustained religious practice. Second, it is a must for the Sangha to educate lay Buddhists, and a major part of its job of promoting Buddha Dharma and bringing benefits to all. Buddhism educates lay people to love their country and religion, comply with laws and rules, and implement the pure and perfect teachings of the Buddha in their social practice, that is, “Do no evils, practice all good deeds,” and conform to the Five Precepts and Ten Meritorious Deeds as their behavioral norms. Inspired by religious beliefs and striving to do all that is good, lay Buddhists are creating a harmonious and wonderful environment for themselves, their families and society. In addition, Buddhism actively encourages all major monasteries across the country to hold different kinds of Dharma assemblies on traditional Buddhist holidays, such as Dharma assemblies to set captive animals free. Such assemblies can influence people, educate them to respect and cherish lives, and to protect the environment, thus helping facilitate harmonious relationships between man and nature, and among all sentient beings.

 

The assemblies can also help guide and educate the fourfold assembly of disciples and all participants to learn about compassion and wisdom of the Buddha, to behave compassionately towards others, to have afflictions purified and mind uplifted. This is to understand and solve the issue of suffering and happiness in our life at a profound level, and to care for and provide spiritual assistance to all sentient beings. Only with a peaceful and kind heart will it be possible to have harmonious families and happy lives, and to construct a harmonious society.

 

The foundation of a harmonious society is to establish a harmonious relationship between people, and further among all social sectors, different ethnic groups and professions in our society. As for the realization of harmonious interpersonal relationships, Confucius said, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” (Confucian Analects, Chapter 15 Wei Ling Gong, trans. James Legge) 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)

 

It is a systematic project to build a harmonious socialist society, and it requires concerted efforts of all sectors of society to share the responsibility. In this process religious circles have always been entrusted with a high sense of social responsibility and historic mission.

 

Religion is not, as some people hold, just a harbor for a lost empty heart, nor only a nice set of guidelines for ethical and moral standards, nor should we reduce it to just an argument for justifying the supernaturalism. Instead, religion vigorously admonishes people to keep the right attitude towards living, that is, to love people, cherish things and revere the Creator. It not only encourages people to seek Heaven or the World of Ultimate Bliss after death, but also advises them to value and cherish life at the present moment. It provides comfort and encouragement for an empty heart and advocates the Golden Rule that “one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” in response to daily life dilemmas. It also offers supernatural responses and the ultimate homeland in response to the feeling of being lost in face of impermanence in the present-day world. All of these are the positive social function of religion.

 

While religion has played and is playing positive role in human society, there is no denial that there are some chaotic phenomena, such as making huge profits illegally, violating relevant laws and regulations, or gathering a crowd to make trouble; all of these events conducted in the name of religion have more or less cast a layer of shadow on religion. It’s true that one may see the disappointing, negative side of religion when one is trying to seek help from it for the fundamental issues of life. But if one still feels drawn to joining a religious organization and to believing in a religion or sect despite the conflicts between the positive and negative sides of religion, then that’s what is called faith. 

 

However, one’s religious faith should not be just confined to being touched emotionally, or acquiring theoretical knowledge or thoughts. He needs to go further and take real actions in real life. He shouldn’t join a religious community just because of feeling touched, or having a sense of recognition with its religious teachings. Instead, he should observe and practice the religious precepts, rules and ethical standards, and devotedly participate in religious work and activities. Not only should he apply vitality he draws from religion to personal ethical and moral life, but also participate in activities for caring others at different social levels. Thus, one’s religious belief will be reflected in his everyday life, and vice versa.

 

As the crystallized human wisdom and the major achievements of human civilizations, what roles do traditional religions play in modern society? What enlightenment will they offer for humans today to confront dilemmas and crises? To take contemporary China as a specific case, what kinds of unique spiritual resources can religions offer to the construction of a harmonious society? These are all big tasks before us which need us to make unremitting efforts to come up with a satisfactory answer that will not fail this great time.

 

Let’s first take a look at the concept of equality. As far as we know, liberty, equality and fraternity, the core concepts of modern morality in the West, originated in Renaissance humanism between the end of the 14th century and the 16th century in Europe, developed further in social and political theories and moral philosophies in Britain and Continental Europe in the 17th century. They finally acquired their full expressions during the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution during the 18th century. They have been established by Western society as core values during the subsequent 300 years. Many scholars have noted that the core values of the modern Western morality have their roots directly in Christian civilization and the Medieval Scholasticism. The Old Testament says: “He (God) will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” (Ps. 72:13-14 New International Version) The New Testament states, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39) The Galatians says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26-28)

 

From this we can tell that Christian love is the love of God, which encompasses all human beings and transcends gender, ethnic groups, religious sects and regions,and manifests the spirit of equality in Christianity. In Islamic doctrine, man is created by Allah and all are equal. Taoism holds: “Heaven, Earth and I come into being together, and all things and I are one,” (Chuang Tzu’s Discussion on Making All Things Equal, trans. James Legge) which highlights the spirit of equality.

 

Here I’d like to mainly elaborate on the concept of equality in Buddhism. Buddhism, based on the concepts of “all sentient beings possessing Buddha-nature” and of “the equality of Buddha-nature”, has reached the conclusion that “all sentient beings are equal.” Daosheng, an eminent Buddhist scholar in the Six Dynasty Period, said in Commentary on the Lotus Sutra, “Thus I heard that all sentient beings should achieve Buddhahood.” Therefore, the concept of equality is not only an extremely important means of observing the world, but also should be the genuine experience after the enlightenment of the mind and revelation of the Buddha nature.

 

 

Observing the world on an equal footing means understanding everything from the viewpoint of generality other than individuality, ultimately realizing no differentiation among the mind, the Buddha and all sentient beings. Following the concept of equality comes naturally the Six Principles of Reverent Harmonies as the living and organizational principles of democracy and equality for the Sangha communities.③ Hence naturally appears the Karma system that fully reflects the internal equality and democracy within the Sangha, and the idea of cherishing lives and non-killing. The concept of equality in Buddhism is not based on such perspectives as external equality of economic or political status, equal opportunity for receiving education, equal rights for men and women or equal legal status. It is neither obsessed with being equal on the starting point, on the rules to play by, on the outcomes nor opportunities. Instead, Buddhism seeks after the ultimate, complete equality which exist in its whole process and work on us first from our inner nature and the ultimate value of life. All these concepts of equality across different religions differ in perspectives and foci, but all are inspiring and referential to the construction of a harmonious society, and offer direct guidance for religious believers.

 

 

Next, let’s turn to the concepts of honesty and credibility. We all know that honesty and credibility are the foundation by which one lives and a nation stands. As a social capital honesty and credibility are of vital importance to the economic development and social harmony of a country or an ethnicity. Therefore, all great thinkers since ancient times have attached great importance to honesty and credibility. The elaboration about them has appeared as many as 38 times in the Confucian Analects.

 

Socialist Anthony Giddens believes that trust is a type of structure, that is, for what do we believe? He holds that there are two major structures of trust. One is the personality trust, and the other is the institutional trust, while the latter consists of the trust for currency and the trust for experts. (Of course all of the three types of trust can be regarded as simplified institutions as addressed by Niklas Luhmann. Giddens believes that personality trust in fact is the trust in acquaintances; and trust in currency is a kind of trust that goes with the crowd while trust in experts is a system of Trinity that consists of scientific knowledge, diplomas and peers. However, judging from the status quo of credibility loss in current society, all these three types of trust are at the risk of being lost if they are not established on the basis of an individual’s inner virtue.

 

Common phenomena of cheating acquaintances, typically the pyramid selling schemes where even relatives and friends fall victims, and the delivering of counterfeit currency, plus a variety of malpractices such as using personal connections to alter scores on qualification tests, results in thesis defense for master and doctoral degrees and evaluation of professional titles, etc., all suffice to kill any of the above mentioned trust system. Of course, the establishment of the credit investigation system, the default punishment mechanism, and the credit supervision system are of crucial importance to the formation of social credit. But it’s all the more essential to cultivate one’s inner honesty and morality, for credit cannot be implemented in many fields of social life including one’s emotional and family lives and interpersonal communication. Cheating others’ feelings, playing two-sidedness, and betraying others are all beyond the realm of social credit system, and thus cannot be restrained. Furthermore, any sound credit system will either be shunned by dishonest people, or been taken advantage of due to gaps in the system and the absence of an individual’s inner credibility.

 

However for religion, credibility is directly established on the basis of one’s inner beliefs and manifested through one’s inherent virtue, therefore it stands unbreakable and solid. The Quran stresses that Muslims must be honest, “O ye who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are true (in word and deed). (The Quran, Al-Tawba 9:119, trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali) “O ye who believe! fulfil (all) obligations.” (The Quran, Al-Ma’ida 5:1, trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali) Taoism asks people to match their words with action and be honest. (The Corpus of the Scripture on Great Peace) The Bible holds, “The Lord preserves the faithful.” (Ps. 31:23) “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” (Prov. 12:22)Buddhism lists abstinence from false speech as one of the Five Precepts. Maha-ratnakuta Sutra says never to tell a lie even if that means to risk one’s life. All the traditional religions admonish their believers to build their honesty around their beliefs and regard it as the entry point for their religious practice. This has exerted direct and profound impact on the formation of the disciples’ honesty and morality, and the great effects are obvious for all to see. To a true disciple, the first and foremost is to be an honest person.

 

Buddhism came into being at a time when the slave-owning system was prevalent in India. In order to maintain their reign and protect the slave system, the Aryans implemented a rigid hierarchy, i.e. the caste system across all Indian states. The priestly caste was called Brahmana, the caste of warriors was Ksatriya, the caste of peasants, merchants and artisans was Vaisya and finally the caste of aboriginals and slaves was Sudra. Brahmanism declared that Brahma, the superior lord who created the entire universe, gave birth to Brahmanas from his mouth, Ksatriyas from his shoulder, Vaisyas from his knees and Sudras from his feet. The social status, noble or humble, honorable or wretched, was thus determined. Brahmana and Ksatriya comprised the ruling caste of the society and exploited the slaves from the caste of Sudra ruthlessly.

 

The Manu Code stipulates that it’s forbidden to offer any advice, any leftover on one’s table, or any sacrifices to Sudras. Anyone that kills a Brahmana will be executed but Sudras can be expelled or massacred at will. The religious tradition requires only one simple bath after one kills a Sudra. Sudras who were known as Dalits suffered not only physically, but also spiritually. Only the top three castes were allowed to read the Veda, the scripture of Brahmanism, and the humble had no access to it. The first two superior castes and the last two inferior castes were not allowed to intermarry, and share food or drink together.

 

This shows that Indian society at that time was not very harmonious, with social interests not well coordinated, social contradictions sharp and complex, social castes hostile towards each other, and social order unstable. Witnessing this situation, Shakyamuni Buddha founded Buddhism with great vows of compassion, dauntless spirit and broad mind. He advocated equality of all living beings and peace between all states, and called for mercy and compassion benefiting the world with loving-kindness and compassion, quenching the flames of hatred, greed and ignorance burning within the hearts of every caste in society with his refreshing Dharma rain and sweet dew. He provided the remedy for Indian society at that time and an immortal spiritual resource for future human society to live in harmony as well. 

 

 

 

① Published on The Voice of Dharma, Journal of the BAC, No. 256, Dec., 2005.

 

②Speech of the former General Secretary Hu Jintao at the symposium held by the Central Committee of the CPC on February 20, 2005 for upgrading competence of the leading cadres at provincial level in building a harmonious socialist society.

 

③ The Six Principles of Reverent Harmonies: precept harmony to practice together, view harmony to share same understanding, profit harmony to enjoy equal property, body harmony to live together, verbal harmony to have no dispute, mental harmony to share pleasures.

 

 

 

 

Sharing Religious Wisdom, Enjoying Peace and Safety①

 

 

Distinguished Chairman; Respected religious leaders of the world,

 

 

Thirty-six years ago, the great predecessors of the world religious communities, with their compassion, love, wisdom and courage, jointly founded the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP), lighting up a promising path to peace for humanity with a torch of religious wisdom. I am very much honored to be here with all the religious leaders present today to discuss this theme which is of realistic significance and of eternal values for all of humankind. I would like to express my heartfelt admiration for those great predecessors, and my high respects for the WCRP members who have, for decades, made unknown contributions with all their efforts and wisdom to promote peace for mankind. As a member of the China Committee on Religion and Peace (CCRP) and a newcomer in the cause for promoting world peace, like any other Chinese delegation members, I deeply feel that we are entrusted with a sacred mission with heavy responsibilities which requires long-term efforts. Here, please allow me to express, on behalf of the CCRP and the Buddhist Association of China, our sincere gratitude to the WCRP as well as its Japanese Committee, the sponsor of this session, for their careful organization and thoughtful arrangement. May this session be a great success!

 

My topic today is “Sharing Religious Wisdom, Enjoying Peace and Safety.”

 

1. The birth of religion is a symbol of human society advancing from the uncivilized to the civilized. Religion is the core and soul of human civilization; while the major world religions are the cores and souls of the major civilizations in the world; therefore, they have in common the great teachings of renouncing violence and sharing peace and safety.

 

Jesus Christ, in starting to preach the gospel and found the church, declared the Eight Beatitudes as the guideline for Catholicism, among which there was one of peace-making. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9 New International Version) Jesus Christ taught us that, regardless of our race, color, culture and nationality, human beings, all created by God the Father, should love each other like brothers. Moreover, by forgiving the sinners and creating peace at the cost of his own suffering and death, Jesus Christ broke through for humanity the unitive way of understanding and tolerating each other, and coexisting with each other in peace. He forgave those who persecuted him to death and lived up to the mission of loving each other, thus providing us with a great example in rejecting violence, offering unconditional love and fostering peace. It is worthwhile for us to think over what messages and teachings all people today should draw from Jesus, the Lord of Peace.

 

Likewise, Islam, being one of the great religions, also takes peace as its basic doctrine. The Arabic root for “Islam” means “pacified, submitted” and “Muslim” means “one who submits, or who is pacified,” that is, one who follows Allah to seek peace. The prophet Muhammad himself was a great messenger of peace, advocating and practicing peace all his life. When a person asked, “Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?” He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.” He taught his followers, “He who believes in Allah and the Last Day does not harm his neighbour, and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day shows hospitality to his guest and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day speaks of good or remains silent.” One of the most beautiful names of Allah means the Source of Peace. The Quran says, “O ye who believe! Enter into Islam whole-heartedly; and follow not the footsteps of the evil one; for he is to you an avowed enemy.” (The Quran, Al Baqarah 2:208, trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali) All this clearly shows that Islam is a great religion which adores peace, pursues and safeguards it with actual actions, and opposes any words or deeds against it.

 

The Buddhist idea of world peace is based on its theories of dependent origination and of compassion. Therefore, Buddhists’ longing for and pursuit of peace manifests Buddha’s loving-kindness of protecting and cherishing all sentient beings on an equal footing. Buddha teaches us to “diligently cultivate precepts, concentration and wisdom; put an end to greed, hatred and ignorance.” He wants us to give up greed and hatred, to transform consciousness into wisdom, to turn from delusion to enlightenment, so as to gain inner cleanliness and purity, tranquility and happiness. In this way the internal root of violence would be eliminated. If everyone is clean and pure at heart, our society, our nation and the whole world at large, which are all composed of individuals, will in turn be clean and pure without conflicts, just as the saying goes, “Pure mind, pure land.” Not being greedy, we will certainly cherish a sincere wish to help others; not being angry, we will definitely generate a compassion for others; not being ignorant but enlightened with the truth of the universe and life, we will be able to equally care about and help all sentient beings, keeping away from the attachment to the interests of an individual, to the profit of one family, to the gain of one nation and to the view of one religion.

 

In the Long Discourses of the Buddha (Digha Nikaya), Ajatasattu, king of the Magadha, once sent his minister Vassakara to visit Buddha consulting whether he should attack a neighbor state, the Vajjians. Buddha prevented an imminent war by successful persuasion. At another time, there was an explosive situation between the Sakyas and the neighboring Kosala who had a dispute over the water source for irrigation. Knowing this, Buddha immediately went to stop them, convinced both sides and solved the dispute, making the two peoples live together harmoniously. Buddha also prevented another brutal war from happening when King Virudhaka, who was going to attack Kapilavastu, was touched by his great compassion and fearless bravery. All these show that Buddha.

 

In fact, every great religion, whether it is Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Catholicism, Christianity, Islam, Bahaism or others, shares great teachings that demand us to live in peace with other people, other races and other nations, and treat each other equally, tolerantly, compassionately and lovingly. However, it is sad to see that in today’s world there is racial hatred and even genocide, religious conflict, cultural discrimination, ethnic strife, regional wars and other incidents of violence brought about by terrorism, separatism and extremism, and these not only exist to a serious extent but are also intensifying. This rampant violence has caused more and more people to die of unnatural causes, more and more families to break up, more and more refugees to leave their homes, moving from one place to another, and suffering from poverty, illness and even death in a foreign land. These misfortunes have made us realize the practical significance of this discussion and how heavy and urgent it is. At the same time, it provokes us to think why, instead of following the great teachings of the major religions in the world which are the crystallizations of world civilizations, our very human world has sunk ever so deep into the quagmire of violence that our hope for peace and safety becomes more and more bleak. Here we sincerely call upon all great religions of the world to make determined and actual efforts to sow in the hearts of every believer the seeds of religious wisdom of peace and safety, and to carefully cultivate and cherish them so that they will grow into towering trees and bear abundant fruits of peace. The religious wisdom of peace should not be possessed by only a few religious leaders, or just recognized by several religious scholars. It should be, instead, shared and possessed by all religious believers and the whole of humankind. Only thus can we achieve peace and safety. Peace and safety for all mankind is, after all, an eternal concern of all religions.

 

 

2. This theme—“Sharing Religious Wisdom, Enjoying Peace and Safety” has its special significance for political leaders of the world. Because when investigating the rampant violence in the world, we will find that the lack of a fair, rational, peaceful and stable international political and economic order and the lack of a fair and rational domestic distribution system are often linked with not only the racial hatred and even genocide, religious conflicts, cultural discriminations, ethnic strife, ideological confrontations, but also the extremism, terrorism, separatism which commits violence in the name of religion, and  the deterioration of the man and nature relationship as well. Moreover, such a lacking has been worsened by accelerating

globalization.

 

Statistics show that in 2003, the world population was 6.3 billion, and GNP (gross national product) reached about 36 trillion USD, averaging over 5,700 USD per capita, almost 30 times greater than per capita production in 1650, and 20 times that of 1830. Everybody could reasonably be expected to live quite a rich life in such a context, but the cruel facts turn out to be the opposite. In today’s world, 1.2 billion people are still living below the poverty line and one billion people poorer than they were 25 years ago; at least 25,000 people die of unclean water every day, and 4.6 million children die of diarrhea every year. In 1996, the market value of net assets of the 348 most affluent people in the world were equivalent to the total income of the 2.3 billion poorest people who accounted for 45% of the world’s population at that time. According to The Human Development Report 1998, issued by the United Nations Development Programme, many infrastructure projects in the Third World do not attract sufficient funding. For example, the global spending on basic education was only 6 billion USD, the expenditures for water and sanitation 9 billion USD, and the money spent on basic health and nutrition 13 billion USD. The irony was that, by contrast, annual world military spending was 780 billion USD and the spending on narcotic drugs 400 billion USD; the cigarette expenditure in Europe 50 billion USD; on business entertainment 35 billion USD; the consumption of cosmetics in the United States , 8 billion USD; and the military expenditure of the United States more than 250 billion USD. Meanwhile, only 19 billion USD was given to fighting hunger in the whole world.

 

According to World Bank’s statistics of world GDP and population in 2003, the GDP of G7 countries, which accounted for 11% of the world’s total population, was as much as 65% of that of the whole world, whereas the GDP of the rest of the world, which accounted for 89% of the world’s population, was 35% of global GDP. The GDP of Asia and the Pacific, which accounted for 52% of the world’s population, was 8% of world GDP; the population in Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 11% of the world’s population, but just 1% of global GDP. Among the 1.5 trillion USD of the world’s net investment in 2000, 82% went to developed countries while only 1% went to Africa where investment was needed most. Polarization between the rich and the poor in developed countries is also becoming more and more severe. The latest survey, done by Spectrem Group in Chicago in 2005, showed that the number of American households with net worth of one million USD increased by 8% in 2004, compared to 2003, while the proportion of poor people rose to 12.7% of the total population in 2004 from the 12.5% in 2003, and the total number of people increased from 35.9 million to 37 million. On average, one in eight Americans lived in poverty. According to a survey by USA Today in June, 2005, more than 727,000 Americans were homeless, that is, one in every 400 Americans was without a home. What’s more noteworthy was the serious situation of violent crimes happened along with the wealth gap between the rich and the poor. The report, issued by the United States Department of Justice on September 25, 2005, showed that America’s violent crimes in 2004 rose to as many as 5,182,670, and one in 47 American citizens was a victim.

 

From all this data we can find that domestic and international social injustice can both cause polarization in wealth, poverty and disease, insensitivity and despair, selfishness and coldness, the bullying of and preying on the weak. Violence becomes the only choice when conflicts accumulate to such a level that the disadvantaged feel that their rights and benefits are not respected, or defended but even seriously violated, yet they find no non-violent ways to resolve their situation. In fact, both ordinary crimes and violent activities of terrorism, separatism or extremism, can find origins in social injustice existing in every field of social life, including in politics, economy, ethnic relations and interpersonal relationships.

 

“Peace is ‘the tranquility of order.’ Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2304) The lack of balance in justice will definitely destroy peace and safety. Where there is no justice, there is no peace. Without a just society, there will never be a country or a world with peace and safety. This should call the utmost attention of the political leaders in the world, especially the leaders of the developed countries who make the rules, control processes and enjoy benefits during globalization. They should know that if the result of globalization were the gradual disappearance of global justice with only a very few developed countries and individuals enjoying the fruits of globalization while most underdeveloped countries and the majority of people benefiting very little or even gaining nothing, then peace and safety would lose their foundation and become the castle in the air or a mere illusion of bubbles. Similarly, hegemony and power politics can never bring peace and safety. The great endeavor of building a peaceful and safe new world requires efforts which go well beyond those of religious leaders alone. Political leaders of all countries must join hands with the religious leaders in sharing the religious wisdom of peace, in order to build a fair and rational, peaceful and stable, new international political and economic order, along with an equal and harmonious domestic political and economic system, through joint efforts to open up a new world of peace and safety.

 

3. Sharing religious wisdom is also to make those who engage in, under the guise of religion, terrorism, separatism and extremism as well as other bloody crimes, to realize that violence is against religious teachings, dehumanizes people’s dignity, destroys the foundation of civilizations, and kills innocent human beings; that violence constitutes the biggest threat to world civilization and its core, religion; and that violence can never make the world more civilized but more turbulent, disordered and brutal if we use violence against violence. Sharing religious wisdom is to help those who are misguided by terrorism, separatism and extremism to come to their senses.

 

What may comfort us today is that more and more religious figures and people of vision in the international community have come to realize the significance of religious harmony in contributing to harmony in society and in the world. Proposing the existence of many cultures and giving education on peace are already something contingent upon us all to consciously put into practice.

 

In 1994, the China Committee on Religion and Peace was founded with the objective of promoting “friendship, peace, development and cooperation” by combined efforts of representatives from Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism in China. In August 1995, the CCRP delivered a Statement on Peace at its symposium commemorating the 50th anniversary of the victory in the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the victory in the World War against Fascism. It called on the followers of these religions to jointly safeguard peace and oppose wars, proposing that these religions should simultaneously hold nationwide praying ceremonies for world peace and set up a Week of Prayer for World Peace for all religious believers in China. After the symposium, the organizations of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Christianity from 30 provinces and municipal cities, including five national autonomous regions, actively responded to this proposal and simultaneously held the religious ceremonies for praying for world peace. Tens of millions of religious believers attended these prayers. There is no doubt that this event and its spread by the Chinese media has produced a tremendous and far-reaching effect on education for peace. Since then, the Chinese religious people’s annual Week of Prayer for World Peace has lasted for 11 years. In 2005, organized by the CCRP, the Buddhist Association of China and Chinese Taoist Association invited Buddhists and Taoists from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan to participate in the Great Dharma Assemblies for World Peace held respectively in Beijing and Jiangsu, expanding the scale and influence of these events. These events organized by the CCRP have greatly promoted harmony and unity among religions in China and enhanced religious people’s longing for and pursuit of civilization, harmony and peace.

 

The First World Buddhist Forum was successfully held in China in April 2006. Its theme “A Harmonious World Begins in the Mind” won unanimous acceptance from participants of different countries, as it revealed the most basic but profound truth, namely, that “a harmonious world” is our striving direction, and “beginning in the mind” is where we depart. No peace in the world without peace in the mind. In today’s China, we can find a harmonious society, a united ethnic situation, and a friendly relationship between different religions. All these are inseparable from the efforts of all religious communities in China who treat each other equally, help and respect each other, jointly promote religious wisdom and benefit society together. I have learned that the Chinese Taoist community is preparing an international forum to be held next year on Tao Te Ching, under the theme of “Constructing a Harmonious World through the Tao.” The Chinese Christian community, including Catholics and Protestants, and the Chinese Muslim community are also planning to introduce to the world the “Eastern model” of harmonious coexistence between Christians and Muslims.

 

Today we are here, at the 8th session of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, in order to discuss how to reject violence and share peace. It highlights that the world’s religions have common concerns for and clear understanding of today’s world and the destiny of mankind, and are making unremitting efforts towards a harmonious society and a peaceful world. The significance of this session will be tremendous and profound and its influence will be far-reaching and long-lasting.

 

I am convinced that humanity can have a heart to heart affinity and the world can enjoy peace and safety as long as the world’s religions, with harmony at heart and goodness in mind, join hands to share religious wisdom, to serve as paradigms of harmonious coexistence, and to practice the great teachings of compassion.

 

Thank you all.

 

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the Eighth Session of the World Conference on Religion and Peace on August 27, 2006.

 

          

 

Reflections on Religious and Cultural Development①

The history of the development of human society is also the history of the formation of human civilization. Civilizations came into being not only because of human beings’ basic needs for survival and reproduction, but also because of their higher level of spiritual pursuit. Regarding the elements that constitute civilization, the famous Japanese Buddhist thinker Daisaku Ikeda holds, surpluses of production power, social organizations, and human greed may be the elements from which civilizations are built, but they do not constitute the soul that must be breathed into a civilization to bring it to life. Besides the above mentioned elements, a prerequisite that lies deeper is an awareness of “purpose for their actions,” while the wisdom that gives people to grasp the direction of the civilization that they build comes from religion and philosophy. The famous British historian Toynbee goes further by pointing out that religion has been the source of the vitality that has brought civilizations into being and has then kept them in being, and a civilization’s style is the expression of its religion (Toynbee and Ikeda 1984). Thus, religion and culture are core elements in the formation of human civilization. Reviewing the development process of Chinese religion and culture, it is not difficult to find that the evolution of Chinese civilization has experienced the following three key historical periods.

Firstly, the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period are the defining period of Chinese civilization. The common use of iron tools at that time brought about an agricultural revolution to China. Improved productivity generated rapid development in social economy, and the newly formed social strata strongly impacted the existing social order and caused social unrest, which later resulted in the hegemony-contending situation of these two periods (the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period). Many eminent thinkers emerged in response to such a situation, and most of them took the welfare of the whole world as their mission. They proposed, with compassionate hearts, a variety of philosophies and theories of salvation to reconstruct the social order, which gave rise to the Contention of a Hundred Schools of Thought. Chinese civilization since embarked on a path different from the ancient Greek civilization and Indian civilization, setting the basic style of development for the following 2000 years. As a result of thoughts in this phase, Legalism played a key role in assisting the Qin State marching towards the unification of China, while Confucianism stood out in creating the new political structure of the Han Dynasty.

Secondly, the Wei, Jin, the Southern and Northern Dynasties Period is the renewal period of the Chinese civilization. The collapse of imperial law and order starting from the late Eastern Han Dynasty drove farmers with their land into the control of the rich and despotic families, and manor economy thus formed became a serious impediment to the progress of society, which, coupled with the invasions of the northern Hu ethnic minority people, threw the whole society into continuous wars. Faced with this situation, neither the New Text Confucianism nor the Old Text Confucianism could shoulder the heavy responsibility to heal the world, because the former was attached to politics too much by using prophecy and became increasingly absurd, and the latter with their focus on exegetics and etymology grew too complicated and fragmented. Later, a phenomenon known as “pure conversation” became common among literary celebrities in the Wei and Jin dynasties, which, however, could not take on the great task of salvation either, for it was more destructive than constructive to the social order. Under these circumstances, the Buddhist culture from India injected vitality into Chinese civilization. Local monks and those from the Western Regions took active part in translating scriptures and classics, giving lectures throughout China, interpreting doctrines, all of which greatly enriched the spiritual connotation of Chinese civilization. With foundation laid in this stage, many renowned masters went further to establish Han Buddhist schools with local color during the glorious age of the Sui and Tang dynasties. Localized Buddhist thoughts not only promoted the self-renewal of Confucian culture, but also became the most important spiritual resources to build a new social order after the Song Dynasty.

Thirdly, the period of the late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China is the regeneration period of Chinese civilization. After the flourishing reigns of Emperor Kangxi and Emperor Qianlong, the Qing Dynasty declined from its heyday, accompanied by bureaucratic corruption and neglected military, plus population explosion, resulting in incessant civil commotions and frequent social upheavals. The two Opium Wars, the Sino-French War and the Sino-Japanese War initiated the invasions of foreign powers. As a consequence, Chinese civilization was strongly impacted by the Western culture whose core spirit is science and democracy. When China reached a point where its very existence was at stake, those who had insight undertook the Westernization Movement, the Reform Movement, the Revolution of 1911, and the New Culture Movement, making a series of attempts to save the nation from subjugation, strengthen it and enrich its people. These endeavors went through technology to economy, then to politics and finally to ideology, thus, they went from the outside to the inside, shallow to deep, and finally touched the core of civilization. Later, after the intense surge of various trends and thoughts during the period of the Republic of China, Chinese civilization eventually stood on the stage of history with a completely new look. Today, with more than half a century of striving, the Chinese nation has changed fundamentally from poor and weak to prosperous and strong, once again demonstrating the strong tenacity and inner vitality of Chinese civilization.

A review of the aforementioned three key periods reveals that, every leap forward of civilization was accompanied by the exchanges and collisions between different religions and cultures, and the developed civilization in turn could bring a long period of peace and stability to society. In the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, cultures from the kingdoms, i.e. Qi and Lu in the east, Qin in the west, Yan and Jin in the north, and Wu and Chu in the south, all made their unique contributions respectively to the formation of Chinese civilization and laid a solid ideological foundation for the Qin and Han dynasties which were unprecedentedly unified. In the Wei, Jin, the Southern and Northern Dynasties Period, the communication and integration between the borrowed Buddhist culture and the local Confucian and Taoist cultures became powerful impetus for the renewal of Chinese civilization, and provided a wealth of spiritual resources for the unprecedentedly prosperous Sui and Tang dynasties. In the period of the late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China, the Western spirit of science, democracy, and rule of law, greatly influenced the transformation of Chinese culture.

In the past religious and cultural exchanges were local and unidirectional, whereas today they are growing increasingly global and bidirectional. There are more and more opportunities for the religions and cultures of any country, ethnicity or region to be understood by the world and likewise to learn and absorb the essence of other excellent religions and cultures, and hence to promote the self-renewal and development on their own initiative. After more than one hundred years of collisions and exchanges with Western civilization, Chinese civilization should have more confidence to re-examine its historical heritage of traditional culture, and also more advantages to absorb the fine achievements of the civilizations of all peoples of the world. It, thereby, will complete a new round of creation and regeneration, and will contribute to the historical progress of world civilization and human welfare.

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the Seminar on Religion and Peace and the Seventh National Meeting of Chinese Association for Religious Studies on July 15, 2011.

 

 

 

 

Guide Public Opinion, Adapt to the Times①

 

 

Dear leaders, fellow colleagues, experts, scholars, and friends from the religious media,

 

Today, the Symposium on “the Orientation and Responsibility of Contemporary Religious Media” is held at Shanghai Jade Buddha Temple. The Symposium is sponsored by the China Religion journal, which is affiliated to the State Administration for Religious Affairs, co-sponsored by the journals of the national religious groups, and organized by the Buddhist Association of Shanghai and Shanghai Jade Buddha Temple. It is a gathering of friends from religious print and online media of different provinces and cities, leaders of national religious groups, and experts and scholars in religious and cultural communities to discuss the important subject of the orientation and responsibility of contemporary religious media. Here I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude and warmest congratulations to the sponsor, the co-sponsors and the organizers on behalf of the Buddhist Association of China, and I earnestly expect that this seminar will pool the wisdom of you all and that the results of discussions will be translated into the future development of various religious media.

 

Being called the “Fourth Estate”, media is a prominent force in modern society with vital significance in maintaining healthy development of society as a whole. Meanwhile, media has given a great impetus to the process of globalization, which makes us deeply understand the famous saying “The medium is the message.”② That is to say, compared with its content, the medium itself has a more decisive impact on the transformation and progress of human society. Toynbee pointed out, “Every technological revolution is also a social one in the sense that technological changes are both consequences and causes of social changes.” (Toynbee 1972) There is a law for synchronous evolution between the modes of information dissemination and the changes of civilized society.

 

Religions in China have enjoyed healthy development along with reform and opening-up ever since the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CPC, and the importance they have placed on media is obvious to all. Especially when the Internet has become an indispensable tool and medium in people’s life and work along with its popularization in China, our religious media is gradually evolving from print to online media, which has an attraction to be reckoned with not only to the broad masses of believers but also to the general public. Therefore, the orientation and social responsibility of religious media in a socialist context is an important and serious issue facing us, worthy of our industrious exploration and serious contemplation.

 

Firstly, religious media should actively publicize the Party’s religious policies as well as the nation’s related laws and regulations. Religions, each with its own features, encounter many problems relating to religious policies, laws and regulations when they construct and manage religious sites, organize religious activities, and disseminate religious doctrines. The process of resolving such problems is the practice of implementing the religious policies, laws and regulations. Meanwhile, the religious media itself is also a manifestation of the religious policies, laws and regulations. Thus, to successfully run the religious media in compliance with law, we should not only publicize religious policies, laws and regulations, and have them reflected in the media content, but also take the strict adherence to them in all of our activities as our guiding philosophies and ideas of running the media.

 

Secondly, religious media should actively serve the broad masses of religious believers, spread religious culture, and popularize religious knowledge, give full expression to its characteristics in respect of faith and religion, so as to become influential in guiding religious believers to serve society, and play a positive role in promoting economic and social development.

 

Thirdly, religious media should support orthodox faiths, resist cults, and promote spiritual civilization and social harmony. Without active guidance of public opinion by religious media with orthodox faith, cults and various deviant theories will find room to spread. Therefore, all religious media should assume the responsibilities of protecting their right teachings, clarifying their doctrines, and promoting their orthodox faiths, which not only is conducive to the healthy development of the various religions themselves, but also has special significance to building a harmonious society and promoting social civilization.

 

After thirty years of development, religious media in contemporary China has attained impressive achievements, though at the same time it has problems regarding which we should pay serious attention and conduct objective discussion.

 

As insiders of religious media, we must be aware of the problems caused by a new media, the Internet. Sociologist Brenda Brasher has pointed out that as the printing press did centuries earlier, the Internet promises to initiate a religious reformation (Brasher 2001). With the popularity of online religious media, the number of online religious sites has been large, especially in today’s China where there is a large population of Internet users. And the accompanying features of online religious behavior, such as casualness, interactivity, openness, virtualization and participance, have already been widely accepted. So far, other than those laws and regulations generally applicable to the Internet, there are no regulations specifically on the online religious media. As such, how to look upon online religious behaviors, and how to look upon the relationship between online religious behaviors and traditional religious behaviors are issues that we should face up to.

 

Raising the issues above does not mean we have ready answers. It is to explain that reasonable elaboration and lawful regulation of the above issues have a practical significance for the healthy growth and development of religious media. I hope we can have an in-depth discussion and provide more ideas on them.

 

As we step into the 21st century, the heart of global politics, economy and culture is gradually shifting to the East; Eastern and Western civilizations are faced with a historical convergence and their complementary exchanges will become common. Different civilizations must learn to communicate with each other and resolve conflicts so as to enhance mutual understanding and trust, to eliminate misunderstandings and prejudices towards each other, and bring about harmonious coexistence and common development.

 

As a messenger of cultural communication and a platform for dialogue among civilizations, in our modern times the media will undoubtedly play a special and important role, about which particular attention should be paid to religious media. The reason is that compared with the general mass media, religious media has a unique advantage in communication and dialogue among different civilizations because of its dual features of transcendence and secularity. As religious faith is increasingly becoming an important personal identity, religious media should help people overcome their inner barriers caused by differences in religious beliefs, awaken people’s innate but long dormant empathy, tolerance, equality, and compassion with the voice of harmony from religious cultures, heal the rifts left over from history and let civilizations of the whole human race truly advance towards integration.

 

To do a good job at our country’s religious media, we need to strengthen two sorts of powers. The first is the hard power of technology, which concerns how information is transmitted and received by the audience; the second is the soft power of culture, which concerns how information influences the audience and wins the heart of the audience. Regarding the first, we need to closely follow the development of the times, and take the initiative to explore and use advanced media technology and modes of transmission. For the second, we need to not only enhance the study of the dissemination function of media, but also deepen our knowledge and understanding of religious issues, thus integrally combining the advanced media technology with rich cultural heritage to maximize the effect of dissemination. Compared with the mature international religious media, we still have a long way to go, therefore it is urgent for us to increase our international influence and status. But with the continuous growth of China’s comprehensive national power and constant progress of various undertakings, we believe that our religious media will certainly create a brilliant cause and have boundless prospects!

 

To conclude my speech, I wish the Symposium a great success! I wish friends from the media circle, experts and scholars at the Symposium peace and good luck!

 

① Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the Opening Ceremony of the Symposium on “the Orientation and Responsibility of Contemporary Religious Media” on December 2, 2010.

 

② It is a viewpoint on medium of wide influence brought up by Marshal McLuhan, renowned Canadian mass communication expert in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964).

 

 

 

 

 

Methods and Ways of Religious Studies①

 

 

 

 

 

Distinguished experts, scholars, and friends from the religious circles,

 

It’s my great honor to have this opportunity to join the discussion on Scientific Outlook on Development and Religious Studies with you, all well learned scholars. First of all, on behalf of the Buddhist Association of China and also in my own name, I would like to express my warmest congratulations upon the convening of the Sixth National Meeting of the Chinese Association for Religious Studies, to express my sincere gratitude for the invitation to me, and to pay the highest respect to the scholars and friends at the Seminar.

 

The Scientific Outlook on Development drawn upon by the Central Committee requires “upholding the principle of putting people first; establishing a comprehensive, balanced and sustainable development outlook; promoting the all-round development of economy, society and people.” It also stresses to advance reform and development “in accordance with balance between urban and rural development, development among regions, economic and social development, relations between man and nature, and domestic development and opening to the outside world.” The core of the Scientific Outlook on Development is to adhere to the principle of “people first,” to make continuous efforts to meet various needs of the people and to promote an overall development of the people.

 

 “People first” may also be considered as a fundamental requirement that religions, which form the core of the world’s major civilizations, have for human society. Had not human beings existed, no religions would have come into being; without the development of people, no development of religions is possible. For their entire existence, religions have been mainly focusing on people’s spirituality. This is especially true in China, a country with a civilization of long history, where the origination of “people first” and “harmony treasured” can be traced back to the Confucian and Taoist doctrines over two thousand years ago. Traditional Chinese culture has deeply cultivated the concepts of harmonious development between man and man, and between man and nature into the hearts and bones of the Chinese people, such as Confucianism’s broad-mindedness displayed by “benevolence is to love all men,” and Taoism’s “Tao models itself after nature.”

 

Since it was introduced into China, Buddhism, a profound spiritual belief, has developed a strong affinity with the people of this land. Buddhism has fully demonstrated its inclusiveness and influence in many fields including thought, literature, art, architecture and music. Especially in people’s spiritual growth, it even functions as a comprehensive and systematic education on life. Without faith, a person will easily get slack and confused and hardly regulate his thoughts and behaviors. If a society lacks belief, moral and ethical standards will degrade, and no social harmony or stability will be possible. This is due to the fact that in a social environment, people’s thoughts and behavior determine the direction of social development. When a person is not mature in his spiritual growth, or not going ahead in the right direction, it is easy for him to make wrong judgments for what he should do and what not. These wrong judgments, if not rectified in time and even indulged freely, will easily become factors that affect social harmony. “People first” means people is the main body of the society, so the problems of people’s thinking and behaviors will impede the development of social progress.

 

Buddhism is a good remedy to regulate people’s three actions of body, speech and mind. In the development of a fast changing material world, the growing abundance of material civilization has been increasingly contrasting the poverty of spiritual civilization. The cause, as explained by Buddhist doctrines, lies in people’s failure to properly understand the states and meaning of life due to their ignorance, an affliction that sentient beings have been accumulating since the beginningless time. Buddhism aims to guide living beings to recognize the root of their afflictions, to ascertain the truth of their suffering and happiness, and then to work on the “cause.” Namely, while purifying their afflictions, they continuously create and accumulate wholesome causes so as to obtain the effect of betterment hereafter, in all their lifetimes during the infinite life. Therefore, the function of Buddhism may manifest as remolding a person, making his thoughts and behaviors in accordance with the principles of cause and effect, and improve towards wisdom and kindness. The whole process of Buddhist cultivation can be summarized as follows: firstly, practitioners, with the guidance of the Buddha’s teachings, can establish the right purposes and objectives of cultivation; secondly, with the assistance of those teachings they can identify their positions on the path of cultivation; lastly, from where they are to the ultimate goal, Buddhism provides clear instructions as to the path and the direction to take, and the depths and stages of practice, thereby gradually leading living beings with different capacities to liberation.

 

Buddhism is beyond individual liberation. The Lotus Sutra states, “All the Buddhas, the World Honored Ones, appear in the world only because of the causes and conditions of the one great matter.” “The causes and conditions of the one great matter” means to “open” and to “demonstrate” the knowledge and vision of the Buddhas, to “lead living beings to awaken to” and “enter into the Path” of the knowledge and vision of the Buddhas, and hence to benefit all sentient beings by enlightening them with the knowledge and vision of the Buddha. Even the Buddha himself, being the founder of Buddhism, dedicated all his life to saving those who could be saved from births and deaths, and planting the seeds of future salvation in those who were not saved. Therefore, Buddhism cultivates a sense of social responsibility and mission in practitioners, so that they can make their own contributions to society from religious perspectives. For Buddhist practitioners, only self-cultivation is not enough. Rather, they should proactively devote themselves to creating a healthy social environment, so that more people will have the opportunities of recognizing the meaning of life and attaining happiness, and join the construction of a harmonious society. Buddhism stresses practice that takes all living beings as the object, therefore it practically “puts living beings first.” In this sense, Buddhist doctrines and the “people first” principle required by Scientific Outlook on Development can interpret each other and bring out the best in each other.

 

Hence, in my opinion, we should study religions, contemplate, observe and interpret them from scientific viewpoints and with scientific attitude. A scientific attitude is not only to determine various properties of research objects with the results of instrumental detection because the development and progress of science and technology have no bound. We cannot deny the existence of what we cannot detect today. It was inconceivable for human beings to land moon in the past and many fairy tales were once fabricated for lack of understanding of the noon in more ancient times. However, nowadays human beings have been uncovering the noon’s mysterious veil layer by layer with the detection of the noon. Then it is not difficult to imagine, with the increase expansion of our knowledge and continuous improvement of our technology, we might have a very different understanding of the moon and other planets a few years later.

 

 

Science is commendable for its realistic approach and it spirit to understand things comprehensively and profoundly. In religious studies, we should also hold such a scientific attitude, combine studies with practice and learn things with our hearts. Take Buddhism for an example, its essence is to tame living beings’ afflictions and enable them to be free from suffering and attain happiness. In study and practice, the true meaning of Buddhist doctrines can hardly be fathomed through mere written words. When we believe we have grasped the meaning, our understandings might actually be far from what the Buddha came to this world for. For example, regarding an adverse situation, the Buddha teaches us how to face it, contemplate it and deal with it in compliance with Buddha Dharma, with the purpose of ridding of afflictions from the depths of our minds and attaining freedom and happiness, instead of simply knowing the “how” in theory. If religious studies, such as Buddhist studies, stay at the level of theory only, it is very difficult to grasp the gist, which is why religious studies should be accompanied by physical and spiritual practice. From the Buddhist point of view, the best method and most superb way of religious studies is to make understanding correspond with practice, mind correspond with Dharma, and Dharma correspond with Dharma.

 

Nevertheless, we need all the more a large quantity of eminent monks and visionary people to delve deeply into the scriptures and be conversant with the learning of both the ancient and modern, and both China and the West. We expect them to concentrate on the study of Buddhist doctrines and uncover the spiritual resources that have been eternal and ever-refreshing, so as to serve social development, benefit living beings and in the meantime provide doctrinal reference and theoretical guidance for the cultivation of Buddhist practitioners. In this aspect, I earnestly request you academic seniors and friends to generously share your opinions.

 

To conclude my speech, I sincerely wish the Seminar a great success. Meanwhile, I would expect that the academic community and Buddhist community joint hands, fulfill their respective duties, and make unremitting efforts to build a harmonious socialist society.

 

Thank you all!

 

①Speech at the Sixth National Meeting of Chinese Association for Religious Studies and the Academic Seminar on “Scientific Outlook on Development and Religious Studies” on December 18, 2006.

 

 

 

 

People of Faith Tend to Have the Spirit of Moral Autonomy①

 

Wang Luxiang: Buddhism, since its introduction into China, has integrated into the traditional Chinese culture and thinking, thus presenting a grand cultural picture where Buddhism has become interwoven and interdependent with Confucianism and Taoism, rendering influence over all aspects of Chinese society. China was a nation based on consanguineous patriarchal system; how come Buddhism, a transcendent religion, fits Chinese moral principles which focus on this life? Some people say that Buddhism is a religion with ethical attributes. Many of its ideas, such as the Five Precepts, Ten Meritorious Deeds, Four Dharmas of Attraction, Six Perfections, Eightfold Path, to name but a few, hold rich ethical connotations. Moreover, the Buddhist views including that on good and evil, on compassion, on life and on dependent origination, are thought provoking with realistic significance on how to purify the mind and develop a harmonious society. Then, how should we look at the Buddhist ethics and is there a disconnection with today’s social morality? Today we are going to discuss “Buddhist Concern over Social Morality.” Let us welcome the Venerable Xuecheng.

 

Wang Luxiang: I feel fortunate to have met with the Venerable Xuecheng. I visited the Longquan Monastery in the West Mountains in 2007 to interview him for the television program “The Grand Cultural Panorama.” For many years, the Ven. Xuecheng has devoted himself to spreading Buddha Dharma, and especially in the real life setting. In fact, there was a sad story behind today’s program. As we know, the whole nation has been debating these days over what happened to Yueyue, the little girl in Foshan, Guangdong province. On the one hand, our economy has been developing by leaps and bounds, and on the other hand, our nation is witnessing an undeniable declining ethics and social morality. The Venerable, what social problems do you think are reflected in incidents like this that happened to Yueyue?

Ven. Xuecheng: That indeed requires us to reflect upon ourselves. Two cars ran over a two-year-old child while 18 people passed by and ignored it. In Buddhism, we call this a lack of compassion. How sorrowful it is to fold our arms while watching others dying! It indicates to us the moral problems in our society. In the past, we often heard discussion of the moral decline, however today it is more often described as a moral crisis. A crisis is far worse than a decline, so, what is behind this moral crisis? I believe that morality should be autonomous while laws and regulations are external and heteronomous. If a man lacks the spirit of internal self-discipline, it is quite possible that his behaviors will have a negative impact on the order and the healthy development of the whole society. In Kant’s view, there are two fundaments of morality, its universality and its autonomy. And there are two postulates for moral autonomy—one is the immortality of the soul and the other is the existence of God. The existence of God represents social justice while the immortality of the soul means that we human beings still exist after our death. The universality of morality signifies that we should be responsible for our actions at all times wherever we are. The accident in Foshan underscores that we should examine whether we are morally self-disciplined.

 

Wang Luxiang: We know that there is a powerful view on the law of human survival which has been guiding modern China and the entire world, that is, the survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle. Such a law as it is called was introduced into China at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, which had at that time played a positive role in arousing the then dispirited and fallen Chinese nation to stand up, fight and rise. It was also strongly advocated by some of the progressive intellectuals as part of the New Culture Movement. However, now 100 years later, in light of our social practice, this law has indeed brought along enormous negative values and a negative impact. In terms of such a big issue over the law of human existence, are there any Buddhist principles that counteract the survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle?

 

Ven. Xuecheng: Buddhism holds that all sentient beings, not only human beings, but also other species including animals, are equal. Here, the words “sentient beings” refer to not only human beings, but also other species and animals. Buddhism also advocates that the Dependent Reward and the Proper Reward are not dual, namely, human beings and the environment cannot be separated. Survival of the fittest in natural selection has evolved over time into what is now the weak being the prey of the strong. For a long time, after the Western ideas of anthropocentrism and self-centeredness were introduced into China, we have unknowingly accepted them, which have gradually weakened the traditional idea of “unity of man and the universe,” and human beings are only a part of the universe. Our actions and their results are closely related to the world and to other people in various ways. Buddhism promotes the concerns over suffering and happiness of all living beings and the concerns over the environment where they live. Separated from the environment, people cannot live and grow. Similarly, enjoying happiness alone is not as good as sharing it for a person to live happily.

 

Wang Luxiang: We know that the Western countries, especially those developed countries with a market economy, are legal states as well. The market economy, as a system, naturally encourages individualism, making everyone strive to look out for his own interests; yet when all individuals expand their self-interests or magnify them to the point beyond any limits, none of them can virtually survive. Based on this, in order to curb the excessive individual expansion, numerous laws were stipulated to regulate human behaviors. Therefore, their market economy is built in the context of the rule of law. However, it seems not yet the same case in China today. On the one hand, we encourage people to strive for, and maximize, their interests in a market economy while on the other hand, many of our laws and the development of the legal system have failed to immediately keep pace with the development of the market economy. In other words, the development of our legal system has fallen far behind.

 

Ven. Xuecheng: Law controls only man’s external behaviors. A person will go ahead with something he intends to do if he thinks he can find proof to justify it; whereas a person of moral autonomy will not do it even if he can justify himself. In the West, especially in the United States, there are many lawyers, many times more than their counterparts in China but not many ordinary people can afford filing lawsuits. Therefore, a civilized nation not just needs a sound rule of law, but moreover, a spirit of intrinsic moral autonomy and self-purification of the cultural system.

 

Wang Luxiang: Yes. Moral autonomy is a restraint at minimum cost for maintaining the harmony and stability of a society. The Venerable, China is now witnessing frequent accidents caused by the absence of morality, thus putting social morality in question. What moral crisis is China, a nation influenced by Confucianism, facing?

 

Ven. Xuecheng: Why should we be particular about morality? Morality is the standards and norms governing people’s behaviors and life in the whole society. If such standards and norms hold no place in our minds, we will definitely not know what to do. If there are many people whose lifestyles and behaviors affect and harm that of a greater number of people, there is a moral crisis in society. The underlying factor is people’s faith. People of faith tend to have the spirit of moral autonomy, while when faith is absent, there are dangers of moral problems. Faith is categorized as religion in the West, but more often as ideology in the East. Ideology is the ideational consciousness of people in this life, not being able to tightly connect people’s past and future lifetimes.

 

Philosophy is mainly to resolve problems of a person’s outlook on the world, on life and values. The outlook on life is a serious and significant subject, involving people’s existence, life, lifespan as well as birth and death. Human existence refers to the process of being alive from birth to aging, then to death. Different people live in different circumstances with different quality of life. Some people lead a perfect life, spiritually, materially and morally while the lives of some others are imperfect, having insufficient material resources, spiritual impoverishment or a moral crisis.

 

The third level is about lifespan. Confucius was standing by a stream and said, “It passes on just like this, not ceasing day or night!” (Confucian Analects, Chapter 9 Zi Han, trans. James Legge) We know that human life is on a continuum. It is not just one process running from birth to death, which is just a single phase. How do we prove and verify there is existence after death? According to scientific views, if we cannot prove there is no existence after death, its opposite would be true, that is, life still exists after death. In other words, if we cannot prove it false, it is probably true. Since we cannot prove and verify it, we depend on faith to believe in it. Some people believe there is existence after death while some others regard death as a light going out leading to nothing, which is the difference between the faithful and the non-faithful. When there is faith, it will become a steady force that functions in our character for us to internally regulate and restrain ourselves.

The fourth level is about birth and death. Birth and death, as we often speak of, is of vital importance. It is a very big topic to discuss how we come into the world and how we leave it in the end. Confucius said, “While you do not know life, how can you know about death?” (Confucian Analects, Chapter 11 Xian Jin, trans. James Legge) That is to say, if we fail to understand what life is about, it is impossible to know what it is like after death. The principle mission of Buddhism is to answer the question of birth and death. In other words, in most cases, Buddhism is concerned with the existence after this lifetime and studies how to live better in the afterlife. Thus, such spirit and thought will easily arouse our inner moral autonomy.

 

Externally, there are three ideas that have to some extent influenced us a lot, that is, anthropocentrism, self-centeredness and materialism which were introduced to China from the West after the reform and opening-up. In terms of materialism, there is the financial crisis, that is, the crisis of capital. Materialism believes that money talks and capital works. However, we now know that there is a capital bubble, people cheating and making lots of fake and inferior financial products that have harmed many buyers. This shows that serious moral crisis also exists in the West. Therefore, I think moral crisis is global rather than national, ethnical or regional. It is quite a severe and universal problem in today’s society.

 

Science is to resolve problems that are merely relative, momentary and dialectical. There is no such a thing as final conclusion in science which draws only relative instead of absolute conclusions. However, religions are different as, comparatively speaking, their propositions are absolute. Take Buddhism for example, it aims to achieve ultimate enlightenment, so whatever we do is towards the goal of attaining Buddhahood. Then, there are three different stages of the path to Buddhahood: the first is the stage of the path of happiness, the second is the stage of the path of liberation and the third is the stage of the path to Enlightenment, the Bodhi path. The path of happiness is an elementary one. What does this mean? Everyone pursues peace and happiness, yet such peace and happiness is not limited to that in this lifetime, but also that in the future lifetime. To obtain peace and happiness, one has to avoid evil and do good. Only by doing good and no evil can one find inner peace and happiness, therefore to be able to have a contended life. If one does no good, there will not be happiness; if one does not avoid evil, there will not be happiness, either. This is the first stage.

 

The second stage is the path of liberation. This path allows people to be free from their internal afflictions. Even if we keep doing good and nothing bad, as time goes by, we may get tired and can hardly insist on doing nothing bad. This happens because there are afflictions in our mind. Then, what are the afflictions? The six major ones are: greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance, doubt and wrong views.

 

Here, greed means an insatiable state of mind and attachment. All men are greedy but are manifested differently, among which the cravings for the following five things, the Five Desires in Buddhism, are most severe, that is, wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep. “The desires for wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep are root causes for falling to the hell.” They are what people generally are after and crave for, but Buddhism regards them as demonstrations of people’s insatiability, rapacity and covetous desires. When people fail to get what they crave for, they become hostile which is exhibited by being unhappy, losing one’s temper, getting mad, fighting with others even launching wars. Ignorance means a state of being afflicted and is shown as lacking wisdom. Arrogance, another serious problem, means looking down upon others. The strong preying on the weak is a sign of arrogance. Doubt refers to distrust. We are now calling for cultural confidence, while in the past, we kept saying that we should reflect on our own culture and a great number of people even doubted whether the traditional Chinese culture could facilitate the social progress and development. Such a doubt affected many people, so it is really nice that we are now encouraging cultural awareness and cultural confidence.

Wrong views are also called improper views, which mean incorrect views, understandings or theories. They are fatal because they are negative and unhealthy ideas and concepts in our subjective consciousness.

 

All these six root afflictions, as required in Buddhism, need to be counteracted and removed. Only when they are eradicated from our mind can ways be found to eliminate the secondary ones. If we have no clear understanding of the root afflictions and their source, many problems will not be resolved. Only when we truly know the origin of the problems and find at the origin the causes of moral crisis and what the moral problems are, can we have the right path, the proper method and correct actions to resolve these crises. As long as Buddhism is involved, we must address these problems. This is our attitude towards life.

Wang Luxiang: The Venerable, we are taught to try, dismissing distractions and cultivating body and mind, then what is the Buddhist way to improve oneself and achieve these goals? What role will religions play in the future and how will Buddhism contribute to it?

 

Ven. Xuecheng: In Buddhism, it will take a longtime effort, which is not something overnight but as long as three great Asamkhyeya kalpas, for a person to cultivate and attain Buddhahood. Therefore, in the stage of the path of liberation, it is crucial to purify our mind by knowing and subduing our afflictions. Only by doing this can we step onto the third stage, the path to Enlightenment or Bodhi path.

 

The Bodhi path requires us to bring forth the Bodhi Resolve and follow the footsteps of Bodhisattvas. Great compassion is the prerequisite for the Bodhi path. Kindness can bring happiness and compassion can alleviate suffering. A heart of kindness and compassion is open towards all sentient beings. Bodhisattva is an Indian term and can be translated as “to enlighten all sentient beings.” It is a Bodhisattva’s job and mission to enlighten all sentient beings, and such is the Bodhi path. All the way on the path, a Bodhisattva needs to learn the five areas of knowledge—hetuvidyā, U+015Babdavidyā, U+015Bilakarmasthānavidyā, cikitsāvidyā and adhyātmavidyā.

 

hetuvidyā, in modern expression, refers to logic, which means what one says should be reasonable, comply with reasonable thinking and make sense in reasoning; U+015Babdavidyā includes phonology and all kinds of foreign languages; U+015Bilakarmasthānavidyā, in modern terms, means science and technology, and a Bodhisattva should be proficient in science; cikitsāvidyā means medical science and adhyātmavidyā in this context refers to Buddhism. Therefore, one has to first master the five areas of knowledge to become a Bodhisattva and then a Buddha. These are the specific examples of Buddhist compassion, examples of a Bodhisattva who does so entirely from the depth of his heart and selflessly. It is not a commercial transaction. How tragic it will be if morality is reduced to a means! 

 

Then, specifically how should we practice the Bodhi path? Buddhism emphasizes the practice of hearing, contemplating and cultivating, through the stages of “hearing, contemplating and cultivating to enter samadhi, (Shurangama Sutra, Avalokitesvara‘s Dharma-Gate -- Enlightened through the Gateway of Ear) the meditative concentration.” What does hearing mean? It refers to listening to and receiving information. What do we receive? We receive information. For example, you listen to me and take in what I have said, which is hearing. Here, contemplating means reflection. After taking in what I have said, you should classify the received information and consider whether it is right or wrong, well-elaborated or not. Is it helpful? Can you benefit from it? This is contemplation. Contemplation is to classify information, while hearing is to receive information and cultivation is to process information. The information, after taken in, needs to be processed. Otherwise, if not properly classified or treated, such a great deal of mixed good and bad information we receive everyday through hearing and contacting, our mind, just like a fully loaded memory stick or a computer. So, we must deal with the information. Cultivation is similar to screening off information and throwing away the unwanted messages, i.e. processing bad information. Realization is to store up and consolidate good information. Therefore, the Buddhist hearing, contemplating and cultivating is information-processing, which is very important. Because there is a great deal of complicated information, it requires us to simplify and classify them with our heart. If the information has not been processed or classified, it will remain disorganized in our heart and mind.

 

Two perspectives must be taken to process the information: one is from the horizontal dimension and the other is from the vertical dimension. The perspective of horizontal dimension means approach from the perspective of space, taking the whole world today into account; the perspective of vertical dimension refers to analyzing and acting from the perspective of time, under the context of a considerable length of time as in the infinite life. What happens today may be caused by what happened in the past and a message we store today will also exert influence on us in the future. Therefore, it is very important for us to understand things in a much broader and long-turn perspective so we get the whole picture.

 

What, then, does Buddha mean? It means enlightenment. Bodhisattva is to enlighten all sentient beings while Buddha is an enlightened person. There are three levels of enlightenment: the first refers to one who is self-enlightened. He has awakened to the truth of life and universe on his own; the second is who enlightens others, helping others to be awakened; and the third means who is perfect in enlightened conduct. When a person does all to perfection, he is called a Buddha. Therefore, I think Buddhism is not only a belief but also a culture. Many scholars today are promoting as well the cultural religion and cultural Buddhism. Meanwhile, it is an education, an education on religion and on life; and it is a kind of morality, with many specific practices.

 

Albert Einstein said, “Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.” Einstein went on to say that if he would like to have a religious faith, it would be Buddhism. Even though 86.7% of the current world population has a faith, it is not rare to find problems and even conflicts resulted from religions. However, Buddhism is a cosmic religion. Here the “cosmic” as referred to by Albert Einstein, means the whole universe as our space. It is not something rigid, because the Buddhist teachings, as he said, require us to have insights, to understand and to practice, not to mechanically follow dogmas. In addition, Buddhism includes both the natural and the spiritual aspects. Einstein used the term the natural and the spiritual while people today use the term the material and the spiritual. As for me, I prefer the former expression of the natural and the spiritual because it includes both aspects of practice and experience, namely, the religious practice and experience. I believe Buddhism in the long run will play an increasingly greater role.

 

China’s reform and opening-up, especially its admittance to the WTO, has led to China’s integration with the international community. We organized the first two sessions of the World Buddhist Forum in 2006 and 2009. The first session in 2006 was convened in Hangzhou and closed at Mount Putuo with the theme of “A Harmonious World Begins in the Mind” and the second session was convened in Wuxi and closed in Taipei with the theme of “A Harmonious World, a Synergy of Conditions.” In order to build a harmonious society and world in the future, we must begin with our mind and create a synergy of all circumstances. Thus moral situations in society and in the world will change for the better; there will be a more harmonious society and world; and the life of the whole of humanity will be more happy, peaceful and beautiful!

Wang Luxiang: Thank you for your wonderful illustrations, the Venerable! At the beginning of our program, you quoted Kant’s two prerequisites for morality, according to my understanding, that is, the infinites of time and space. The two realms are the basis for some of our faiths. Therefore, when Buddhism speaks of development of morality, of the mind and human nature, it is to eradicate root afflictions and ignorance. Are they also fundamental to developing a new civil morality today? In other words, there must have been continuity between the modern and traditional morality, which is decided by the attributes of morality itself and is based on something absolute rather than relative. My questions are: what changes will take place in terms of the humanistic spirit in the new era? How should Buddhism guide today’s construction of morality? And how should we perfect the moral sanction?

Ven. Xuecheng: There is continuity in morality and only this continuity demonstrates its universality. If morality varies with time and places, it will be difficult to tell right from wrong. Morality itself originates in the mind, human nature and instinct. For example, when someone is sick, in trouble or in a traffic accident, we should offer help unconditionally. I think everyone should have such a heart of compassion. Morality is not a following act, required by the government or out of a fear of legal punishment. Many people are not willing to offer a hand, fail to or hesitate to do so, because they think that it has nothing to do with themselves and there is no difference in helping or not helping. If they clearly understand what consequences they will suffer when not offering help, they will become self-disciplined and positively respond to such situations. Therefore, I think we should learn more of related cultures, especially the Buddhist culture. If we absorb such ideas, they will definitely translate into our conscientious actions.

 

Wang Luxiang: Traditional Chinese society was built upon consanguineous patriarchal system, therefore placing great attention on the ethical code in the family and family groups. But a problem arises when a family member leaves his original living environment, like the countryside, to a new place, the moral sanction will start to weaken. When he leaves the constraining environment, he becomes less strict with himself. In other words, he feels that he can act at his own will in a strange society. Will such a moral relativism or even opportunism bring negative influence upon our national development of morality, including the moral, psychological and religious solidity of Chinese people? How should such influence be dealt with?

 

Ven. Xuecheng: In the past, there were five cardinal relationships: (1) between monarch and subject, (2) between father and son, (3) between husband and wife, (4)among brothers, and (5) among friends. The five relationships were unchangeable, so they were called invariable relationships. Confucianism was formed against the background of an agricultural society. However today, with many people in rural areas migrating to the cities, the population structure in the city has changed a great deal. In the past, one family group usually lived in one village, under the same family names, such as Wang, Zhang and Li, which is different than in the modern cities. With this in mind, I think, in addition to the five cardinal relationships, greater importance should be given to community ethics, campus ethics, and environment ethics and so on.

 

Community ethics means that irrespective of the places of origin, we should follow the common codes of conduct and norms, thus developing them into a good social convention and morality. So will it be the case in the campus. If a teacher gives many lectures but fails to teach well not being able to perform his duty because he has no enough time to prepare for them, I tend to believe that an issue of morality arises in his case. If a student seldom attends classes, does not study hard nor shows respect for his teachers, it is also a moral and ethical problem. If the school fails to provide good living conditions for students, such as giving insufficient food or providing poor quality vegetables, it is also an ethical problem.

The same is true of environmental ethics. If you litter, spit and put personal articles randomly in public places, it will affect the overall environment. Therefore, I think, in addition to the traditional ethics, the Chinese Confucian and the Buddhist cultures must also respond to the new problems of this era.

 

Wang Luxiang: Now we come to the Q&A session. If you have questions for the Venerable on the spiritual development and social morality, please raise your hand.

 

Audience: Dear chair and the Venerable, the Sixth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) required us to inherit and promote traditional Chinese culture and build China into a country of cultural influence. In the past, similar calls had also been made, such as promoting the political development, economic development, cultural development and social development. My question is: what role will Buddhism play in the development of a nation of cultural influence and a civil society?

 

Ven. Xuecheng: A very good question. It is a good sign and a significant decision made by the central authorities to call for building a nation of cultural influence at the Sixth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee of CPC. In the report, it also mentioned that the core socialist value is to serve the people. Serving the people, as mentioned many times before, is in conformity with the Buddhist thoughts of repaying all sentient beings for their kindness and liberating them from suffering. Many Buddhist sutras, such as The Sutra of Upas Precepts, the Prajna Sutra of the Humane King Who Protects His Country can also provide insight and play an auxiliary and referential role in social development. We Buddhists take part in various religious activities in monasteries, such as the cultivation of body and mind and working hard for enlightenment. While outside the monasteries, we can also participate in all kinds of social activities. In fact, the lay Buddhists are working themselves in different sectors of society. Therefore, the spirit of the synergy of all conditions in Buddhism can be demonstrated and spread by good performance in all walks of life, by studying well, by properly dealing the family relationship to create happiness and harmony, by creating a peaceful environment in the workplace, and by building a harmonious society. Only harmony can bring happiness to us. Harmony and happiness are inseparable! Lack of inner harmony and the entanglements of the mind are the cause of our unhappiness.

Wang Luxiang: Thank you very much for the excellent speech, the Venerable. The Chinese world for morality is dao de (pin yin for 道德). Dao is the way and the path while de means by understanding truth and practicing proper path, one gets awakened with merit and virtue. It is impossible for a moral vacuum in a real sense to exist in social life. Morality and ethics are required to guide people in living a benign and worthy human life. Contemporary China is facing new challenges in terms of moral development brought about by the development of economy, technology and culture as well as the new corresponding lifestyle. No matter how society changes, the intrinsic human nature and moral rules have to be followed. The Buddhist ethics has profound and broad inclusiveness, capable of resolving dilemmas in human and social conflicts. Meanwhile its ethic is universal and clear, providing elaborate moral standards which are pragmatic. Drawing from the Buddhist experience of nurturing human nature, seeking enlightenment and collecting virtues is very likely to be an effective way to citizen’s moral development. Let us make the orthodox faith, proper path and right view the moral foundation of our nation, and further transform them into the strong and stable spiritual power.

 

 

①A memoir of Ven. Xuecheng on “Buddhist Concern over Social Morality” at the Century Forum of the Phoenix TV on November 19, 2011, published on The Voice of Dharma, Journal of the BAC, No. 328, Dec., 2011.

 

 

 

Afterword

 

Today’s world is rife with vicissitudes but far from being settled. For more than ten years, out of his great compassion, our Ven. Master Xuecheng has delivered speeches on local or international forums of interfaith dialogue or written special articles, on the pivotal function of religion in purifying the human mind in contemporary situations as well as the modeling function of interfaith harmony and dialogue in bringing about peaceful co-existence. Such interpretations and explanations, in a time of ever-growing integration, would have far-reaching influences on promoting cultural diversity and cooperation for harmonious development.

 

Therefore as his disciples, we have collected and compiled the Master’s writings and talks by themes, and now presented this volume of Cultural Pluralism & Interfaith Dialogue. In order to help more readers in the world appreciate the Master’s aspirations, the Translation Center of Beijing Longquan Monastery settled on translating the book into English, which turned out to be a nearly nine-month project that ran from December 2013 to August 2014 when it was ready to go to press. Meanwhile, it is the compassionate resolve of Ven. Master Xuecheng that has attracted those favorable conditions for completing this noble undertaking of translation.

 

The translation of this book can be called an attempt at creating a new and contemporary translating workshop. The translation of every article goes through multiple steps before it can be settled, such as: initial translating, cross proofreading, group discussion, original translator’s self-modifying, editors’ modifying, native speakers’ proofreading, English experts’ revising and commenting, searching and verifying related materials, venerable monks’ reviewing, typesetting and stylistic editing, final checks and so on. There are numerous volunteers involved in the process of translation, represented by Cheng Biru, Zhang Haishan and Zhang Yan. The whole team, led by Ven. Xianqing, the monk in charge of the English team, Ven. Xianzeng, the assistant and Song Baiqing, the lay team leader, have worked hard and overcome all kinds of difficulties in proceeding with the translation project.

 

The translation work has received devoted guidance from some senior professors such as Professor Chu Guangyou, the ex-Vice President of China Foreign Affairs University and professor of its Department of English and International Studies, and Professor Yang Chaoguang from University of International Business and Economics. Careful modifications have also been given by several native speakers of English including Isobel Annan, Kim Gordon and Nathan Weatherdon. Furthermore, Associate Professor Yang Yugong from University of International Business and Economics participated in translation by himself, and Wang Wei, Associate Researcher of the Institute of Linguistics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, insisted on taking part in finalizing the translation despite of his eye diseases. All these have facilitated and assured greatly the improving of the quality of translation and the skills of volunteer translators.

 

As Confucius said, "Where the solid qualities are in excess of accomplishments, we have rusticity; where the accomplishments are in excess of the solid qualities, we have the manners of a clerk. When the accomplishments and solid qualities are equally blended, we then have the man of virtue." Therefore we would like to sincerely express our gratitude to Today Art Museum and SDX Joint Publishing Company for their substantial supports on the designing and the publishing of the book.

 

As an old saying goes, many hands make light work. During the editing, translating and publishing processes, there are quite many other experts and volunteers who have also devoted their precious efforts. Although we are unable to list all their names in the Afterword for the sake of space, we still must extend our gratitude to them all!

 

The Translation Center of Beijing Longquan Monastery

September 2014

 

 

 

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