Best ground for civilized interfaith open dialogues

Today a lady was trying very hard to witness to me about her Christian faith. When I told her that I was a Christian, she felt sorry for me and said, “So, you’ve deserted the Lord!” She kept on asking questions such as, “Which church did you go to?” “Are you married?” “Are you divorced?” “What about your wife, does she believe in God?” “What is your name?” “How old are you?” “What’s your nationality?” She asked more questions than on a passport application survey! Her hands were shaky when she held up a piece of note with names of Christian magazines and churches, and she begged me to go buy one of those magazines to read. She tried to quote from the Bible but she couldn’t remember her lines, so she asked me to read the Book of John, Chapter 7, verses 16 through the end and Romans in the New Testament. She was evidently very startled. In short, there was no way she could understand why someone blessed with the love of God could leave the church in search for truth. When I explained to her that the name and the nationality didn’t matter, and asked her whether she had understood that, she finally gave up on me and left.

She reminded me of my college days when I had to go witnessing from city to city, state to state, travelling in a trailer home with a bunch of other young men and women. I circled each block knocking on doors to sell flowers to raise funds for the church. Each day I brought in US$200 tax free money as a volunteer working from 7 am to 7 pm. One day I would be in sunny California selling carnations from door to door, another day, on a bleak, chilly, and hungry Boston street corner distributing pamphlets for a spiritual talk by our “master,” and still another day on freezing New York streets, just wondering how I’d come that far.

An old lady on a scooter asked what happened. I told her she was witnessing.
“Was she a Jehovah’s witnesses?”
“No. She was just telling me how blessed she was by the grace of God.”
I replied.
“Then why did she feel sorry for you when you told her you were a Christian?”
“But I’m also Buddhist,”
I replied.
“That’s just it. There are people who just won’t accept other people’s faith and insist that theirs is the only true faith,” the lady said.

British Columbia is Indian land. The totem pole at YVR is a symbol that speaks to this fact. Our schools are secular and we don’t favor any particular religious to exclude others in order to maintain the multicultural fabric of the community. People are free to believe what they want to the extent that they don’t impose on others of their own religion. What then is the best common ground for civilized interfaith dialogues, programs, and activities? Or is there such a need? The above story was a clash between Christianity and Buddhism between two individuals that happened in Canada. Is that the only kind of dialogue we want? What about clashes between Christianity and Islam that continue to fuel the hatred among warring states today? Without dialogue, how are we to expect there will be lasting peace and harmony among people of different faiths, much less holistic harmony?

The world is getting smaller as travel, migration, and communications become more frequent. Cultures, customs, and even races will become mixed, but why is it so hard for faiths to merge? The main reason is that faiths are founded on myths and symbolism, and often set the criteria for cultural and moral codes for the individual, families, and the entire ethnic group. Through time a faith becomes the social fabric of a particular culture that weaves people together. The result is discrimination and prejudice. So the first step to secure the best common ground for civilized interfaith open dialogue is to decolor the ways we look at things. Do you have better ideas for building the best common grounds for civilized interfaith open dialogues? Any suggestions on how to improve the quality of such dialogues when we finally stand on some common ground?

On the second day, she called me up and told me she wanted to help me. I asked her how she got my number, and she said off the phone book. She said she wanted to help me leave Buddhism to return to Christianity. I told her that it was she who said I’d deserted the Lord. She asked me if I needed money for groceries and clothing because she saw me wearing only my robe and the funny sandals in winter without an overcoat. She didn’t know I was a monk. I asked her who wore those shoes and she said Buddhists. She said she had money and would treat me to a meal if I needed it. I politely turned her down. She wanted to meet me and give me some pamphlets to read. I said I’d done witnessing from way back in my college days. When I told her I went to the Catholic University of San Francisco, run by the Franciscan Brothers, she said she didn’t like Catholics because she’s a Christian and she didn’t want to listen to any evil talk that would harm her spiritual life. And there was evening, on the second day.

Written by Ven. Sakya Longyen
Huayen on Indra’s Net


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