Distinguished President of the Congress, distinguished religious leaders from all over the world,
Today the subject of my speech is: Enhance Dialogue and Further Cooperation to Build a Pluralistic and Harmonious Spiritual Home for Mankind.
The 21st century witnesses the rapid development of science and technology, as well as the increasing prominence of the plurality of global cultures and human faiths. All the countries of the world are inextricably bound by economic globalization, and human beings of the world have already become one community that shares weal and woe together. Today all human beings of the world have to unite as one in their endeavor to solve issues which are global in scope, such as economic crises, environmental pollution, energy shortage, resource depletion, natural disasters. In addition, we have to work together to resolve the real hazards and potential threats to human beings such as racial conflicts, religious disputes, national confrontations, estrangement between civilizations. At the same time, the economic globalization sweeping the whole world is not and cannot be the globalization of a particular culture or a particular civilization. On the contrary, what goes along with the process of globalization have been the severe anguish that each country and each nation feels about the possible marginalization and homogenization of their own cultures or civilizations during globalization, as well as the growing identification and persistent protection of their own cultures or civilizations. The ideologies and policies of cultural hegemonism and cultural colonialism have run up against increasingly extensive resistance and objection.
Such identification and persistent protection together with the resistance and objection embody the safeguard of mankind’s pluralistic and harmonious spiritual home which is supposed to have flowers blooming like a piece of brocade and a riot of colors! Only such a spiritual home will be compatible with the actual needs and long-term interests of mankind in today’s world! Unification into a single and singular culture or civilization will make all present cultures utilize the earth’s resources in similar ways, which will certainly land mankind in ever-worsening conflicts and confrontations leading to inevitable disasters; as well as obstructing and stifling mankind’s extremely rich and diverse spiritual needs and constraining the vigor and vitality of mankind’s spiritual home! As a well-known Chinese poem goes, “A single flower does not make spring, while one hundred flowers in full blossom bring spring to the garden.”
Religion is the core of human civilization. Different religious beliefs, rooted in divergent habitats, historical cultures, psychological structures and values of various ethnic groups, have shaped up different civilizations. The existence of many religions is the major cause for mankind to have diversified civilizations. Therefore, the harmonious coexistence among pluralistic religions is the prerequisite and basis for that of mankind’s diversified civilizations. It’s just as what Hans Kung has pointed out, “There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions.” “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.” (Kung 2002)
Harmony of the world begins with harmony among religions. Harmony among religions comes from dialogue and cooperation. Lacking in dialogue, more misunderstandings and conflicts between religions and their sects will arise and increasingly deteriorate in the process of globalization, and then the original ethical purpose shared by major religions in the world will finally be lost. We fully understand it is a fact that divergences and distinctions exist in the ultimate beliefs of the world’s major religions. But this highlights the extreme urgency and importance of interfaith communication and cooperation instead of denying their necessity. Meanwhile we should also realize that the very existence of divergences and distinctions shows the diversity of human spiritual needs, which is the logical premise of a pluralistic and harmonious spiritual home for mankind. One of the historical missions for religious leaders is to call upon followers of the major religions of the world and even all the human beings to be sincere with each other, tolerant of each other, and appreciative of each other so as to reach consensus in the face of actual divergences and distinctions. To achieve this purpose, we must establish and improve the mechanisms and platforms for the major religions and their different branches to enhance dialogue and further cooperation. The Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions launched, established and developed by the Republic of Kazakhstan is such an excellent example of such mechanism and platform to increase understanding, promote unity and propel all the people of the world to common prosperity. We sincerely hope that this platform and mechanism will be continuously improved and developed.
The profound cultures and successful practices accumulated by Chinese people in their long history may provide important resources of thoughts and practical inspirations for today’s religions to transcend the differences in their ultimate beliefs and achieve harmonious coexistence. Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism have been coexisting harmoniously in Chinese society for thousands of years. The Northern Song Dynasty, for example, witnessed the mutual assimilation, integration and complement of the above three traditional Chinese teachings, contributing wisdom together to social stability and people’s wellbeing. Zhang Boduan, a famous Taoist priest in the Northern Song Dynasty, absorbed the Chan Buddhism’s theory about mind-nature and Confucianism’s views on nature and life, which completed Taoism’s transition from External Alchemy to Internal Alchemy. He advocated the cultivation of both mind-nature and life, with life at first, nature the next. “Firstly use the techniques for immortal life to attract one to cultivate, then apply wonderful embodiments of Buddhas to expand one’s magic powers, finally expel one’s delusion with the awakening to suchness, thus returning to the original ultimate emptiness and stillness.” (Zhang, Treasury of Tao) After that, the trend of combining the three teachings became increasingly pronounced. Wang Chongyang, the founder of the Quanzhen School of Taoism, explicitly took the integration of the three teachings as the principle for establishing the Quanzhen School. Thus, the founders of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism were equally worshipped by the Quanzhen School, which was referred to as “Lao Tzu is the ancestrial founder, Shakyamuni is the originator, and Confucius is the scholar model.” In addition, the important scriptures of the three teachings: Tao TeChing, PrajnaParamita Sutra and the Classic of Filial Piety were all regarded as the major scriptures of Quanzhen Tao School. He said, “Buddhism and Taoism have been of the same family, which appear differently but share the same dogmata,” “the principles of Buddhism and Taoism are interlinked, and the three teachings are originally from the same ancestor.” (Wang 2005) In the initial years of the Song Dynasty, Zhiyuan, an eminent Buddhist monk of the Tiantai School, expressly and systematically put forward the idea of “the three teachings harmonious as one,” which greatly promoted the thinking about integrating the three teachings in the Buddhist community during the Northern Song Dynasty. Zhiyuan said, “I always have the idea that the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism are all so important that none of them shall be left out. Confucianism has the principle of three cardinal guides and the five constant virtues, so that people can achieve the proper state of human relations. Taoism teaches to renounce sageness and discard wisdom so as to stay gentle and remain weak. While the teachings of Buddhism enable one to attain result by the law of causation and return from illusions to reality, and one’s mind which is in unending changes and myriad forms be restored to its true nature. In this respect, isn’t my heart suffering from diseases? Aren’t these great teachings the cure? If the diseases are categorized into three aspects, can any of the three prescriptions be abandoned? Let me put this into an analogy, the Truth is like a three-legged ancient cooking vessel, then Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism would be the three legs. Can any of the legs be broken, if we want the vessel to stand?” (Zhiyuan，XianjuBian ) Zhiyuan regarded human society as a patient who needed treatment, and Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism all efficacious medicines. Based on the basic Confucian doctrines, Confucianism developed into Neo-Confucianism in the Song Dynasty with further integration and innovation by extensively absorbing theories like the mind-nature of Buddhism and the cosmology of Taoism. Thus greatly advanced, Confucianism became more systematic, sophisticated and philosophical. This was reflected vividly and comprehensively in developing Neo-Confucianism by the Five Confucians of the Northern Song Dynasty: Zhou Dunyi, Shao Yong, Zhang Zai, Cheng Hao, and Cheng Yi, Shao Yong even had worn the Taoist’s robe ( Qing 1996).
It can thus be seen that the traditional religions of China, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, have been mutually absorbing, mutually respecting, mutually tolerant, and mutually appreciative, jointly contributing to the stability of Chinese society and people’s wellbeing. This phenomenon has already attracted attention from many religious scholars of the world. As Paul Knitter puts it, “Such religious plurality and coexistence has not only marked, but enriched, Chinese life. China embodies in vibrant actuality what the Dutch Catholic theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx, claimed only theoretically: That there is more truth in all the religions of the world taken together than there is, or can be, in any one of them. China’s example of how religious diversity can enrich a nation’s culture is needed by the rest of the world, especially at the present juncture of world history in which so many nations (of course, China included) struggle to build unity out of diversity without destroying diversity.” (Tian 2006)
This phenomenon of Chinese religions also demonstrates that religions can transcend the divergences and distinctions in their ultimate beliefs to realize harmony and mutual accommodation. They can further transcend the differences in their external forms to become the spiritual powers that can be mutually fused as well as the spiritual nutrients of universal value. In that way, every person and every religious believer in the world will have the opportunity to enjoy the fruit of wisdom of all the religions, then their spiritual worlds will be enriched, moral states uplifted, and the global crises that all human beings are facing will be relieved and ultimately resolved.
It demands perpetual and unrelenting endeavors from all the religions to realize a spiritual world of harmony and mutual accommodation for humanity. “The Declaration toward a Global Ethic” which was issued in the Second Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1993, expressed the united appeal for the religious communities of the world to adopt global ethics. A substantial and welcome step has thus been taken with the great significance that a consensus on values has been reached by the inter-religious dialogues, namely, the Golden Rule: “What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others” or, “What you wish done to yourself, do to others.” (The Parliament of the World’s Religions 1993) Further, if the wisdom of religions truly becomes the spiritual forces that can be mutually fused to realize the harmony and mutual accommodation in the spiritual field for humanity, the confrontation and conflict between different ethnicities, countries, and civilizations, as well as between man and man, man and society, man and nature shall be largely resolved.
A great contribution that religions can make to the everlasting peace of the world is to realize humanity’s spiritual world of harmony and mutual accommodation through enhanced dialogue and intensified cooperation. The method to achieve this goal is to learn from each other in dialogue and to trust each other in cooperation. Interfaith dialogue should be open-minded and learning-oriented. The purpose of dialogue is neither to convert the adherents of other religions to one’s own religion, nor to create a new united religion by bridging the gaps at the level of religious beliefs, but instead to reinforce one’s own faith through learning from other religions, and also let the believers of other religions and the nonbelievers share the light of wisdom from one’s own religion. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Cultivation of tolerance for other faiths will impart to us a truer understanding of our own.” “My constant prayer, therefore, is for a Christian or Muslim to be a better Christian and a better Muslim. This, to me, is real conversion.” “I shall say to the Hindus that your lives will be incomplete unless you reverently study the teachings of Jesus. I have come to the conclusion, in my own experience, that those who, no matter to what faith they belong, reverently study the teachings of other faiths, broaden their own instead of narrowing their hearts.” (Ellsberg 1997) John B. Cobb, the American post-modern ideologist also holds that we hope to enrich our lives and purify our beliefs through learning from others, but at the same time, we are contributing what are regarded as the real valuable things in our tradition ( Cobb 2008).
According to historical experiences, open-minded and learning-oriented dialogues have decisive significance in exchange and integration of thoughts among different religions. Once again China’s experiences have provided an important revelation. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism often held debate conferences during the Sui, Tang and Song dynasties. Such debate conferences seemingly showed the distinctions and contradictions among the three teachings, but they actually offered excellent opportunities for the three teachings’ exchange and integration. As stated above, the Confucians of the Song and Ming dynasties creatively digested and absorbed the precious thoughts of Buddhism and Taoism, which contributed to formation of the Neo-Confucianism in the Song and Ming Dynasties. Meanwhile, both Buddhism and Taoism further developed after absorbing and accommodating the other two teachings in response to the needs of times.
Religions should cooperate with each other on the basis of dialogue and join hands to face the sufferings and problems of mankind. Only through cooperation based on mutual trust can we better take on the global responsibilities together. As Paul Knitter mentioned in One Earth Many Religions: Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility, “interreligious conversations must take as their most pressing agenda the ethical issues behind the mounting sufferings of humans and Earth. Suffering has a universality and immediacy that makes it the most suitable, and necessary, site for establishing common ground for interreligious encounter.” (Knitter 2003) Religions in the 21st century should not only encourage believers to pursue ultimate happiness, and keep this ultimate concern as the base of morality and ethics; but also encourage their believers to take the initiative to show concern for the society as well as the actual sufferings and the sufferers in real life, organically unifying the dedication to the present and the pursuit of the ultimate.
We believe that through the Congress, a religion will be able to learn sincerely from other religions with a more open-minded attitude and make a concerted effort to cooperate with other religions more trustfully. With our persistent efforts, all religions will tolerate each other and accommodate each other to achieve harmony and mutual accommodation.
We believe that the world of tomorrow will certainly be more harmonious and more beautiful! .
Speech of Ven. Xuecheng at the Third Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions on July 17, 2008.