The aim of
this article is to assist in promoting a better understanding of religion, religious to
tolerance and its deep underlying meaning from the Buddhist point of view and to
understand how Buddhism regards other religions.
The deep underlying meaning of religion is to be able to
uphold and respect one's own religion without in any way being disrespectful or
discourteous towards other religions. To this end, we must establish mutual understanding,
mutual co-operation and tolerance amongst all co-religionists in order to achieve
People always talk of religious tolerance and its
importance but few, if any, ever pin-point a practical way in order to achieve this
religious tolerance. It is to be hoped that in perusing this article, the reader would be
able to obtain a clearer picture of religious tolerance and would endeavour to promote
religious tolerance. We should try to eradicate our so-called superiority complex our
mutual suspicion, our religious prejudice and our selfish motives, for the common good and
upliftment of our respective religions. Therefore religious understanding is far better
than religious tolerance.
Therefore, religious understanding is far better than
religious tolerance, All fellow-religionists are working for the common cause of human
emancipation and enlightenment. The search for emancipation and enlightenment is the
search for Truth. Unfortunately, in our very midst, there are many ludicrous religious
practices and beliefs, which are depicted or passed off as the Truth, when in fact they
are far from being the Truth. As true religious followers we must have the courage and
conviction to admit what is evidently a misconception and try to rectify it to conform to
science and reasoning to meet the requirements of Truth. We would be failing in our duty
if we try to cling on to something, which we know is not the Truth. We are even wrong, if
in the practice of our religious tolerance, we tolerate it without pointing out its
failings or inadequacies which do not conform to Truth, In seeking Truth we should discard
our competitive attitudes and unite to work hand-in-hand to achieve our noble aim of
religious harmony for the well-being of mankind.
Although the Buddha pointed out that there was no
religious value in many of the practices in India during his time, He had the courtesy to
advise his followers to give alms or food to the Brahmins and other mendicants and to
support them irrespective of their religion. The Buddha advised his followers not to hurt
or to cause injury to a Sramana (monk) or a Brahmin. Here He has accommodated monks and
Brahmins as religious people. Again the Buddha said that when a person deceives a Brahmin
or a monk or pauper, by telling a lie, this is a cause of the downfall of the person. Thus
in advising his followers in this manner the Buddha has treated all of them without any
The aim of Buddhism is to guide everyone to lead a noble
life without harming anyone, to cultivate humane qualities in order to maintain human
dignity, to radiate all-embracing kindness without any discrimination, to train the mind
to avoid evil and to purify the mind to gain peace and happiness.
Buddhism is a religion which teaches people to "live
and let live". In the history of the world, there is no evidence to show that
Buddhists have interfered or done any damage to any other religion in any part of the
world for the purpose of propagating their religion. Buddhists do not regard the existence
of other religions as a hindrance to worldly progress and peace.
The Buddha's message was an invitation to all to join the
fold of universal brotherhood to work in strength and harmony for the welfare and
happiness of mankind. He had no chosen people, and He did not regard himself as the chosen
The Buddha's first missionaries were Arahantas the
Perfect and Holy Ones. They were noble human 'beings who by the sheer effort of their
renunciation and mental training had gained Perfection. Before sending out these
disciples, He had advised them in the following manner:
"Go ye, 0 Bhikkhus, and wander forth for the gain of
the many, for the welfare of the many, in compassion for the world; for the good, for the
gain, for the welfare of gods and men. Proclaim, 0 Bhikkhus, the sublime doctrine, preach
ye a life of holiness, perfect and pure."
According to this advice, the Buddha wanted to tell the
people the difference between good and evil; He wanted to teach man how to lead a happy,
peaceful and righteous way of life. He never advised his disciples to convert people from
one religion to another. His idea of conversion was to introduce a righteous, noble and
religious way of life.
The Buddha did not criticise or condemn any religion other
than to enlighten the people by showing them the futility of going into the extremes of
self-mortification (or self-torture) and self-indulgence (or sensuality) and to avoid
superstitious and meaningless practices in the name of religion.
The True Religion
On the question of what constitutes a true religion, the
Buddha has given a liberal answer, stating that wherever the teachings of the Four Noble
Truths and the Noble
Eight fold Paths could be found, and where one can find
genuine followers who have gained spiritual development, therein lies the true religion.
He did not say that Buddhism is the only true religion in this world, but exhorted man to
accept and respect truth wherever truth was to be found. This means that we need not
ignore the reasonable teachings of the other religions. Such an attitude clearly shows
that the Buddha never had any prejudice towards other religions, nor did he try to
monopolise religious truth. He wanted to point out only one thing ~ the Truth, and all his
teachings are based on the Four Noble Truths - that of suffering or unsatisfactoriness,
its cause, its cessation and the way leading to its cessation.
Whenever the Buddha advised his disciples to act on or
keep away from something, He always asked them to do so, not only for their own welfare
and happiness, but also for the welfare and happiness of others, He said, If it is good
for you and others, then do it on the other hand, if it is bad for you and for others, do
not do it."
As a social reformer, the Buddha discovered the deepest
roots of human sorrow ~ Greed, hatred and delusion, which are deeply rooted in man's mind.
Therefore it is only through man's mind that true reform can be effected. Reforms imposed
upon the external world by force can only last for a short while, but those that spring
from the transformation of man's inner consciousness are more durable.
The evil tendencies towards greed, hatred and delusion
must eventually be overcome and substituted by the forces of generosity, loving-kindness
and wisdom. It is only through such mental purification that peace and happiness can be
effectively brought about through religion.
Buddhism became the first missionary religion the world
has seen. Nearly two thousand three hundred years ago, through the noble efforts of
Emperor Asoka who ruled India - (305 B.C. - 268 B.C.) and who at the height of his thirst
for worldly power, renounced the sword of violence, devoted much of his time for the
upliftment of Buddhism and Buddhist culture. He sent out Buddhist missionaries, including
his own son and daughter throughout the entire country of the then known world, to convey
the peace message of the Buddha. True to the noble tradition of the Buddha, he never
forgot to advise these missionaries not to condemn or to run down any other religion while
they preached Buddhism. This advice was engraved on an Asoka pillar in Brahmin characters
- the ruins of which can still be seen today at Sarnath, Benares in India. The following
statements in the Edict says:
One should not honour only one's own religion and condemn
the religions of others, but one should honour others' religion for this or that reason.
In so doing, one helps one's own religion to grow and renders service to the religions of
others too. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one's own religion and also does
harm to other religions. Whosoever honours his own religions, and condemns other
religions, does so indeed through devotion to his own religions, thinking "I will
glorify my own religion," But on the contrary, in so doing he injures his own
religion more gravely. So concord is good: "Let all listen, and be willing to listen
to the doctrines professed by others."
The people of Asia have much cause to be grateful to this
great monarch. As a ruler he did his duty to support every existing religion without any
Religious principles are intended for the whole of
mankind. If any particular section of humanity does not follow the great virtues taught by
religion - such as kindness, patience, tolerance and understanding, it would be difficult
for others to live peacefully.
It is quite natural for cunning and selfish people to take
advantage of any kind of virtue, but, let all religionists of today, bear in mind, that
those who fight and shed blood in the name of religion, do not follow religious principles
and do not serve the cause of humanity. They fight for their own personal gain or power by
using the name of a religion. Those who truly practise a religion have no grounds to
fight, they should settle their problems in a peaceful manner. A true religion never
encourages any form of violence under any circumstances. At the same time, racial
discrimination should not arise when we practise our respective religions. Buddhists can
live and work with other religionists without any hostility. Not only that, Buddhists had
never shed blood amongst their different denominations or with other religions for the
sake of religion.
Today because of the atrocities that have been done and
are still continuing to be done (to some extent) in the name of religion, many people have
become disillusioned at the mention of the very word, "religion". Materialism,
hypocrisy and fanaticism masquerading under the guise of religion have caused the greatest
catastrophies in the history of mankind. The true religious values are rapidly
disappearing from the minds of men as they run in search of the occult and the mystical.
The established great religions of the world are breaking into myriads of forms; and some
people are even going all out to ridicule religion. The time has come for religionists of
today to get together to introduce religious values in its proper perspective, instead of
merely arguing and quarrelling over the differences of religious ideologies and
Religion should not be confined to worshipping and praying
only. Religion is not a means for lip service only but a practical medium for man to act
harmlessly, to be of service to mankind, to be good and to gain liberation, peace and real
Different religions may have different beliefs and views
regarding the beginning and the end of life, as well as different interpretations
regarding the ultimate salvation. But we should not bring forward such discordant issues
to create conflict, confrontation, clashes, hatred and misunderstanding.
There are more than enough common virtues for religionists
to introduce in theory and practice in the name of religion, so that people may lead a
righteous, peaceful and cultured way of life. There is no need for us to belittle and
castigate one another. If we do so, we would only pave the way for the anti-religious
groups who are waiting to ridicule and condemn all religions. We should not behave in such
a way as to show our hostile attitude to our co-religionists. If we do so, people will say
that religions encourage mankind to be divided.
Buddhists are not forbidden to give due respect to other
religious teachers, nor are they restricted to visiting places of worship and attending
religious services, other than Buddhism. They can show their full co-operation while
maintaining their basic Buddhist principles.
Buddhism encourages co-operation and understanding amongst
the various religious denominations. From the Buddhist point of view, religious labels are
not the most important aspects for people to be considered religious, but a person leading
a respectable and harmless way of life can be regarded as religious.
Those who find faults and criticise Buddhism can only do
so at a very superficial level. They may criticise the traditional practices, the manners
and customs, but not the Teachings as established by the Buddha; as these principles are
good for all time. They can be tried out by any one who wishes to test them.
The methods used to introduce the teachings of the Buddha
are peaceful and reasonable. 'Me Buddha made his appeal through reason and experience. The
teachings were presented with clear and impressive simplicity, and yet kept free from
religious and national narrowness and fanaticism. They have produced clear and
sober-minded people. This method of presentation cleared doubts and removed superstitious
beliefs. Thus did the teachings of the Buddha convince the hearts and minds of the earnest
seekers of truth. The Buddhist attitude of tolerance and understanding convinced many
great thinkers, philosophers, rationalists, free-thinkers and even agnostics to appreciate
Buddhism as a peaceful way of fife.
According to the Buddha, men are divided among themselves
because of their strong egoism. When this is subdued, healthy human relationships will
develop. The search for peace and a harmonious way of life, therefore begins from within
and not from the outside. If the religionists of today cannot get together to work in
harmony without discrimination or hostility towards one another, the peace that we talk of
would only remain as a dream.
As sincere and true co-religionists, let us join hands to
consolidate our efforts to eradicate all that which are controversial and discriminatory
in our teachings and do our utmost to introduce spiritual values which are common in our
respective religions for the good and well-being of all mankind, irrespective of race or
creed. We should all remember that religion exists for the good of mankind and that it
should not be misused fanatically in any way for personal gain or self-glorification.
Let all religionists unite not to use religious
militarism. Let them unite to stop all the brutality and manslaughter in the name of war.
Let them unite to give freedom to man to find a religion according to his own conviction.
Let them unite to give up religious monopoly. Let them unite not to use religion in the
market place to convert others by adopting questionable methods. Let them unite to respect
the other man's religious beliefs and practices as long as these beliefs and practices are
harmless and do not mislead the public. Let them unite to wipe out the challenging
attitude of unhealthy religious competition, let all religionists unite to eliminate the
various vices and immoral practices that are common in our modem society. Let them also
unite to introduce the moderate way of life amongst their followers and advise them not to
go to extremes. The founders of each religion had as their basic aim the unity of mankind
- to foster harmony, goodwill and understanding among all the people of the world.
Following in their footsteps various religious leaders
have also sought to develop this deep respect for the beliefs of other people.
Unfortunately, however, certain followers of every religion, for their own selfish reasons
and due to their intolerance and narrow-mindedness, have gone against the real essence of
Religion and have created chaos, misconcept, discrimination and intolerance.
We earnestly hope that by realizing these facts, mankind
will one day unite as religious brothers to work for the well-being of all. In the final
analysis, respect for the religion of another person springs from the confidence one has
in the intrinsic strength of his own religion.
Special thanks to
Phramaha Somnuek Saksree for retyping this article.