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Religious Dialogue Essay, Research Paper

Buddhist-Christian Dialogue

Buddhist-Christian dialogue is important to the understanding and tolerance of other beliefs and people of the other faith. If conducted in the right manner with the right people participating in the dialogue, it can be a very constructive and informative media. It can help make sense of these two religious traditions by hearing views on certain topics from the perspective of another faith other than our own. This dialogue can also answer questions of those wondering whether our religious differences divide us, or whether they can create a need for aid from other traditions and values. The meeting between Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan was a form of Buddhist-Christian dialogue. Both are ordained clergy in their own religions and both were exiled because of their protest of the Vietnam war. They sat down together and shared the aspects of their religious life with the other. What brought them together and made their conversations interesting was sense of compassion and similarities brought about by their experiences of the Vietnam War that deepened their religious lives.

In my own experience, I have found that conversations between religious people can turn into opinionative speeches rather than dialogues. The Raft is not the Shore is a good example of actual constructive dialogue because it has a certain structure that keeps it from turning into a religious monologue by each of the two men. There are many aspects of an interreligious dialogue that help to make it useful and constructive.

First, Buddhist-Christian dialogue is a specific type of conversation between people of the two religious traditions that does not have underwriting or negative motives. This is perhaps the most important element of this book. The dialogue is a mutual sharing between the two, neither seeking to place the other’s faith in an inferior light, but instead each shares his own faith perspective openly and honestly with the other person. Second, this interreligious dialogue requires being open to the acceptance of the faith and practice of people living their life in religious perspectives other than your own. In Hanh and Berrigan’s conversation, their perspectives on the topics were challenged, but never degraded, by the faith and practices of their partner in the dialogue. Third, Buddhist-Christian dialogue requires understanding of your own point of view. The dialogue in the book flows well and is very informative. Each man recognizes the other man’s knowledge and opinions because he himself has a vast knowledge of his own beliefs, and is able to relay that information through intelligent conversation. Devoting their lives to their own tradition enables them, and consequently the reader, to comprehend the depths of the other’s traditions. Finally, the practice of interreligious dialogue is about taking risks and being bold. It is not for the spiritually timid as the participants should be willing to say what they feel and not falter in the facts. In religious dialogue, borders are crossed and we should learn and process what we can before we return to the refuge of our own faith.

There are two forms of dialogue that can be utilized in Buddhist-Christian dialogues: conceptual dialogue, socially engaged dialogue; and interior dialogue. The elements of the dialogue as well as the form, are independent of each other and therefore the form is dictated by the people involved in the discussion. The focus of conceptual dialogue is doctrinal, theological, and philosophical meaning it concerns a religious tradition’s self-understanding and worldview. In conceptual dialogue, Buddhists and Christians compare theological and philosophical views on such questions as: human nature, suffering and evil; nature and ecology; salvation/ liberation; the relation between love, compassion, and justice; the role the Jesus in Christianity and the role of the Buddha in Buddhism; and what Christians and Buddhists can learn from each other. This form was followed in Hanh and Berrigan’s encounters by the way they discussed issues, such as the relationship between Jesus and the Buddha, or Thich Nhat Hanh’s understanding of the Christian Eucharist, to criticism of the involvement of religious people in armed conflict, the implication of religious institutions in economic systems, and the moral necessity to follow the consequences of one’s religious convictions, even when they lead to exile, imprisonment, or death. Conceptual dialogue is emphasized by Christian participants because is allows them to incorporate their beliefs which stem from a long tradition of theological interpretation of the bible. This tradition places heavy emphasis on doctrine, more so than non-Christian traditions. Since in traditional Christian teaching there are greater evils than violence, while in Buddhist teaching there is no greater evil than violence, Berrigan, when discussing justice and nonviolence, emphasized the importance of justice. Accordingly, Christians normally do not find themselves happy with the principle of nonviolent resistance to forms of injustice such as genocide and war, unless the perpetrators receive justice for their crimes. Consequently, Christians who emphasize love and forgiveness of enemies also want justice. While justice is not the same as revenge or retaliation, Christians want those who commit crimes to be legally prosecuted, so that unjust persons or institutions do not “to get away with it,” even if that is often what happens. So while Buddhists might need to develop a concept of justice in relation to their practice of nonviolence, both Christians and Buddhists in dialogue need to discuss how to balance compassion with justice.

Another form of interreligious dialogue, interior dialogue, concentrates on spiritual techniques and their resulting experiences. The book also demonstrated this form of dialogue when the two discussed the importance of their religious techniques as an outlet of their exile. One such technique as told by Berrigan was, . “Each morning I would pack a few books and walk to the magnificent Parc de Sceaux, there to spend the day reading, meditating, writing,”, and while together, they would pray for, “the space of a candle”.

Reading Berrigan and Hanh’s dialogue and opening myself to Buddhist traditions and practices as well as Christian ones, has taught me a few things. Interreligious dialogue is a powerful and informative tool. The dialogue between Christians and Buddhists, namely Hanh and Berrigan, shows a spiritual journey through time within those participating. Buddhist-Christian dialogue brings religious experience and knowledge out into the open for others to learn from. Buddhist-Christian dialogue needs to focus on practical issues that are not religion-specific or culture-specific, meaning issues that confront all human beings regardless of what religion they are. As long as this dialogue is used to further people in their own faith, as well as educate people of other beliefs on a religion not their own, it will continue to be a very good form of communication.


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