Friday, October 27, 2006

Are all religions are equal?

A tribute to the late Most Ven Dr K Dhammananda

I was very impressed by the actions of our Arch/Bishops who took their invaluable time off from the PMPC III to pay their last respects to the late Most Venerable Dr K Dhammananda Nayaka Maha Thera J.S.M. who passed away on August 31, 2006 (Bishops pay last respects to Buddhist Chief of Malaysia, HERALD, September 10).

It was indeed a proud moment for us Catholics to see their enthusiasm in reaching out to the Buddhist community in the spirit of mutual cooperation and love which was reciprocated by a similar gesture by the members of the community present there. This is especially meaningful at a time when members of Buddhist, Christian and Hindu faiths are undergoing a real period of trial and tribulation in our country.

The demise of Ven Dhammananda, fondly called “The Chief”, is a great loss to us as he was one of the founding members and was the President of the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS) at the time of his death.

His name means “one who experiences happiness through the Dhamma (teachings of the Buddha)”. In his tribute to this great man of God, journalist Azlan Ramli summed up by saying, “Ven Dhammananda was a great Buddhist but more importantly, a great human being”. He described him as a very humble person. He went on to say, “My brief encounter with him changed my perception and understanding of other peoples’ faith and drastically changed me for the better” (NST, September 4, 2006 ).

A statement like this about a Buddhist priest, coming from a Muslim today, is something extra-ordinary and it speaks a great deal for this great man. Ven Dhammananda had the humility and love, in dealing with those from other faiths. As Christians we too need to have that love and humility not to convert but change others for the better. These are the virtues we should pray to God to bestow on us.

At this critical time, unity with other religious groups is very important so that we are not alone in our struggle against injustice, racial and religious prejudice. We must be open to the concept of the Universality of God, where every faith leads to the same God along different paths. There is no one religion that is above the others, all are equal in the eyes of God.

As Christians we must follow the example shown by our arch/bishops to extend our hand of friendship and love to those of other faiths in our own communities at BEC and parish levels. We must become the catalysts for the promotion of inter-faith harmony and goodwill.

We should ponder over a number of issues before we can proceed on to promote true inter-faith harmony. Are we prepared to accept and recognise the practices of fellow Christians of other denominations? Do we accept that all religions are equal and will lead their respective followers to God? Do we accept that it is more important to be a good human than a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or of some other faith?

Ven Dhammananda may have been a devout Buddhist but what was more relevant to the man was that he was a great human being.

He may have left us but the following thoughts of his should remain as a stimulus to the continual promotion of inter-faith goodwill and brotherhood among us:

“Happy is he who has lofty and noble aspirations.
Happy is he who enriches the lives of others.
Happy is he who allows others to live in peace.
Happy is he who makes this world a better place to live in.
Happy is he whose work, chores and daily tasks are labours of love.
Happy is he who loves love”
From the above words of Ven Sri Dhammananda, we notice that he emphasised that happiness comes with the little things we do out of love to others. This reinforces by firm belief that if we care for those around us, God will give us what we deserve.


Christianity reveals fullness of Truth

I refer to the letter by Dr Chris Anthony in the Oct 1 edition of the HERALD. In his letter under the title “A tribute to the late Most Ven Dr K Dhammananda”, he implies that all religions are the same when he writes that “there is no one religion that is above the others, all are equal in the eyes of God.”

That all religions are equal in God’s eyes, is merely Dr Anthony’s assumption as it’s not Catholic doctrine. If we believe that Jesus is God and he founded a religion (or way of life if you wish) on earth, which we believe is Christianity, it would mean that Jesus revealed as much truth as Buddha or Muhammad or any other person who founded religions. Then one can postulate that all religions are the same, hence the truth in all religions being equal. For Christians it would be blasphemous that Jesus (i.e. God) revealed an equal amount of truth as mere mortals.

I presume that Chris Anthony has confused the saying that “all are equal in God’s eyes”, that refers to people and expanded it to include religions as well. We Christians, have no choice but to accept the fact that Christianity is a religion that has revealed the fullness of Truth and not other religions, therefore we can’t accede that all religions are the same.

It doesn’t mean that because we believe that Christianity is based on the fullness of Truth, we should be arrogant and intolerant. The Truth possesses us and not vice versa and so there is no reason for our arrogance because God chose us to reveal himself to and not vice versa. In the same vein, the Holy Spirit is not confined to Christianity.

Believing that we are members of the religion founded by God doesn’t impede our dialogue with members of other religions as long as we do it lovingly as Christ did. Our aim to dialogue with other religious congregations should be to reveal the Truth that we know with the aim of making their members become better people and accepting that only the Holy Spirit can induce people to convert to Christianity and we can’t take credit for being the tool that witnesses to Christ’s teachings.

J T Pereira

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