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Interreligious Dialogue Review

Interreligious Dialogue Review

after 12 years of intensive promotion activity

Need of global collaboration

In the USA

Since the first international interreligious dialogue meeting in Chicago in 1893, organized by the Parliament of World’s Religions (PWR) and especially since the 30s, we notice an acceleration in the interreligious dialogue encounters in the USA as well as in Europe. The participants in most of these encounters were for the most part academics, priests and religious ministers, with a small minority of common lay people.

 

It is a conspicuous reality that among all those organizations there is no or very little collaboration in trying to do something together about the problems of our world, while these problems, as a matter of course, should be an always present subject at all interreligious dialogue meetings. Isn’t it strange that for example three important interfaith dialogue organizations in the UK, World Congress of Faiths (WCF), International Interfaith Centre (IIC) and International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF), have their office on the same floor of the same building in Oxford, each with its own news bulletin and its own interests and objectives.

Against the background of the growing unification of the world, many at last have become conscious that there is great need for more collaboration and also coordination among the activities of these interreligious dialogue organizations and equally among the NGO organizations. Without collaboration, coordination and even mergers, as it is now a common practice in the industrial and financial world, there is no power to exert efficient influence on the political world and to be accepted by the public-media as worthy of their attention.

A long-awaited rapprochement has started now in the US between the Council for a Parliament of World’s Religions (CPWR) and the United Religions Initiative (URI), with as respective contact person Jim Kenney (<jim@cpwr.org>) and Rev. Charles Gibbs (<office@uri.org>, by which a representative of both has now a seat on the board of directors of the World Congress of Faiths, editor also of the excellent quarterly World Faiths Encounter (<arace@leicester.anglican.org>). One of the aims is to expand the scope of its news coverage to the American world, and later on maybe to other parts of the world. (See “Western Interfaith Organisations” on my website)

 

In the English speaking world, next to the above mentioned magazine, there is one more good quarterly in the Eastern world namely “Seeds of Peace”, edited in Bangkok, Thailand (Siam), by the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, Bangkok. (see below on Thailand). There is an effort on the way towards a regular cross-exchange of articles between both magazines with the aim to increase the mutual knowledge in the field of interfaith/intercultural dialogue between the Western world and the countries of Southeast Asia.

 

Without doubt, as most important encounters can be considered, the meeting in Chicago in 1993 with some 8.000 participants (a/o declaration of the World Ethic of the Catholic theologian Dr. Hans Küng), 100 years after a similar meeting in 1893, and the meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1999, with more than 7.000 attendants, both organized by the mentioned CPWR of Chicago、100 years after the meeting in 1893. One of the stated issues in Cape Town was the need of not just toleration but of acceptance of the others in their own identity and of more collaboration among the organizations for dialogue and for peace.

Also inside the other organizations in the US like The Temple of Understanding and the World Conference on Religion and Peace, there is now a growing insight in the need towards more collaboration in order to create the possibility to establish, besides the United Nations Organization, a religious one-voice world forum, like it was the aim, at least in its begin-period in 1995 of the founder of the URI, Mgr. William Swing, Episcopal Bishop of the diocese of California, to create a United Religions Organization, not inside the UNO but outside of it as an independent entity. (see my website for info on the URI)

To realize however such a global organization, there is obviously need for more local collaboration at the roots and surely also on a national and continental level. IARF and WCRP have a representation inside the UNO and the UNESCO. This however makes them, surely unintentionally, become involved in the world of politics, while history has learned us that this is not the appropriate way for faith communities. This is the main reason why priority should be given to this idea of a global organization outside the UNO, and preferably with office on the European continent, as more acceptable to non-Christian faith communities.

 

In the European Union

Also here the understanding and acceptance of the need for a union in collaboration on the regional, national, European and international level seems to be becoming gradually a subject of discussion.

A supranational organization cannot, in my personal opinion, be realized without the existence of national and/or continental umbrella organizations. An important step in this direction would be the creation of a European umbrella organization, a kind of “European Interfaith Council”. It should have as task also the editing of a European interfaith dialogue news magazine with English as basic language.  Since three years, I have tried by all means to propagate this idea to the leaders of the existing interfaith dialogue organizations in Europe.


On 12 March 2002, Senior European religious leaders announced the launching of the first Pan European religious leaders council, the WCRP/Europe Religious Leaders Council. The Council will consist of thirty members representing Western and Eastern European States, including the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Turkey. 
  The Council will be served by three co-Moderators: Bishop Gunnar Stälsett, Lutheran Bishop of Oslo and a member of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Grand Rabbi René-Samuel Sirat, Vice President of the Council of European Rabbis, and H.E. Dr. Mustafa Ceric, the Reisu-l-uleme, or senior Muslim religious leader, of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Additional members of the Executive Committee of the Council are H.E. Godfried Cardinal Daneels, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, H.E. Metropolitan Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk, and Mr. Jehangir Sarosh, the Moderator of the WCRP/Europe Governing Board


The EU Commission is looking for collaboration with the European faith communities and has been organizing since some years one-day meetings between religious and political leaders. The problem of the Commission is that to further work out these contacts into a closer collaboration there are, besides the Catholic Church, no organizations which are fully representative for the other faith communities which could act as its discussion partners. In the years 2002 and 2003 the Commission is planning to work out solutions to this problem.


The World Council of Churches in Geneva with its 337 members (in 2000) of Protestant and Orthodox faith communities could eventually play a role in this issue.


Also in the Islamic world, there seems to be a growing demand for a body which could represent the various Muslim schools, and be fully entitled to be a mouthpiece for the European as well as for the supranational political and media world. This might be a long way off but could mean an important step in the meeting possibilities with the other faith communities and also with the political bodies like the EU Commission and the UNO. To treat the Muslim imams and religious teachers in Belgium on an equal subsidizing footing with the other main faith communities, the Belgian government has in 2000 put as condition the creation by democratic election of an Islam Executive as a representative partner to the government. This resulted in 2001 in the establishment of such an Executive body with as consequence that also the Islam ‘clergy’ and the teachers of the Koran from 2002 will be salaried by the government, just like the clergy and religious teachers of other main faith communities in Belgium.

 

In JAPAN

Japan is really a world apart in this field, with Buddhism and Christian churches as main partners. Like in Islam, also in Buddhism there is no hierarchical umbrella authority. All “Churches” or sects or schools and even all temples are independent, also financially. Like in Islam, the Buddhist universities can be consulted on theological matters and do have a kind of authority but not conclusive nor binding like it is the case of the Vatican in the Catholic Church. Since some years now, there seems to be a move ahead inside the various schools towards more regular dialogue for closer collaboration within each school and between the different schools. This could take still quite a long time, and the creation of a representative body which could speak out to the world, like the Dalai Lama is doing as representative for Tibetan Buddhist schools, will only be possible after the intra-school and between-schools dialogue towards collaboration has been worked out. The lack of a representative institutional body remains a handicap for Japanese Buddhism to come to a union of collaboration with the other faith communities in Japan and a still bigger handicap in communication with other faith communities outside Japan.

A special case are the two-yearly prayer meetings of the main faith communities of the world, organized by the Buddhist Tendai faith community on Mount Hiei in Kyoto, which is attended by many high personalities such as Mgr. Francis Arinze, chairman of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Some of the new post-war religions do have interest in the interreligious dialogue. Risshô Kôsei-kai (1938, Nichiren origin, 5 million adherents) has been at the origin of the creation and of the financial support of WCRP, and supports also financially IARF, Oxford.

Sôka Gakkai (1930, Nichiren origin, 17 million adherents) (Kômeitô is its political party) has good relations with the Catholic Focolare movement. Also some Shintoist communities like Konkô Church of Izuo, The Omoto Foundation, Kurozumikyô, Seimeizan, and Myochikai Religious Movement are active in interfaith dialogue worldwide and participate in many of the international meetings.   

 

In INDIA

There is probably no country in the world where there are more interfaith dialogue meetings than India. According to my latest information on occasion of my third visit to that country, Jan. 27 to Feb. 21, 2002, there are probably more than 200 organizations active in interfaith dialogue. All these organizations have however no or very few contacts with each other, what is confirmed by the fact that there is no list available of addresses of these organizations, which was confirmed by Rev. Dr. A. Suresh, secretary of the Committee for Ecumenism and Dialogue of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of India (CBCI), whom I met in Delhi. There is little or no sign of any collaboration neither on a regional nor on a national level. From all the meetings I had on this occasion, it became apparent that, as a typical Indian phenomenon of attitude, there was no sign of any real interest in what is going on outside India in this and also in other fields, and what is still stranger no sign of any eagerness to learn from the others.

The India of the millions of the poor and of the caste system with its 160 million Dalits or untouchables is on the verge of unavoidable important societal changes. The middle class has an intensifying vitality with a growth in numbers of people who rise from the lower castes into a better way of life and of becoming accepted and appreciated by their fellow citizens. Besides the poverty still of some 200 million of citizens, living admittedly not in hunger except in cases of natural calamities, there is a growth in employment and in familial income, resulting in the rise of many of the poor up into the middle class group of citizens, by which men as well as women enter into a way of life more and more independent of the caste system.

 

The caste system itself is becoming more accepted in a human way, while the values of each caste are becoming more appreciated as societal elements with their own identity, not to be ashamed of. Also this evolution is becoming a part of the interfaith dialogue by the spontaneous conversion of many of the lower castes to Christianity or Buddhism. However, there is still great need of a recognizing of the societal value of the Dalits and other lower castes, and surely of a consciousness by the group of the 200 million of rather rich citizens, who apparently only have interest in the poor as underpaid workers in the industrial as well as the agricultural sector. Theirs should be the care and the financial support of the social activities of the NGOs and other organizations, which is now being provided almost exclusively from abroad. As a footnote, it might be interesting to know that more than 90% of all Christians and of their clerical leaders originate from the Dalit caste, and that these pastors and professors are being accepted and respected in their different functions by the common people. From my staying for three days at a Catholic seminary in Bangalore, where 2 years of philosophy and 4 years of theology are being taught to a thousand students with 10% of females, in an atmosphere of religious enthusiasm like we knew it in Europe in the years just before WWII. Most Indians consider Europe as being lost to Christianity and to religion in general, and drowning more and more into a morass of immorality and materialism.

All these are reasons the more to hope that the Indian interreligious dialogue organizations become more united in a union of collaboration and to hope also that mutual knowledge between India and the West may increase by more news and dialogue exchanges between the East and the West. Especially here in India, they need power to exert influence on the political leaders, who are the only ones who could change the socio-economic infrastructures which are at the basis of the problems of India.

 

India and the silk-road

In 1980 and subsequent years, the Japanese National NHK TV has sent a research team of scientists and reporters to travel the old 10.000km silk road from China to Egypt, Rome and Byzantium, and made a most remarkable TV documentary, broadcasted in regular programs. The same year a series of books based on this TV program, started being published in the Japanese language. Silk export from China started around the third century BCE till the 8th century CE, with the Indians as main intermediaries. This silk road, which has been in almost continuous usage from around 400 BCE till the beginning of the 15th century CE, has resulted in a permanent cross-exchange of languages and of cultural and religious values between all the nations on this road. In the centuries before Christ, the famous city of Taxila in the Ghandara region (now Northeastern Pakistan, of which now only some ruins remain) was an important turning point on the silk road, enjoying also a most famous university to which Persians, Greek and Chinese came to study. The passing of the armies of Alexander the Great from 332 to 325 BCE through Mesopotamia and the other countries up to India, meant an important acceleration of these cultural and religious exchanges.

Emperor Asoka of India who reigned between 272 and 231 BCE converted to Buddhism, and became one of the first governors in the world of a multireligious and multicultural society, in peace between the religions of that time, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism. His social prescriptions were carved   on styles and granite blocks, of which so many have remained as tourist attractions in the India of today.   

He has sent out Buddhist priests as missionaries to China, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and to the other end of the silk road, Memphis and Alexandria in Egypt. The Buddhist councils which he convoked on regular periods may be seen as the oldest forerunners of the interreligious dialogue movement. Dion Chrysostomos (40-112) confirms in one of his writings that people from India stayed in Alexandria at the beginning of the new millennium.

There is quite a literature on the possibility that Jesus might have been acquainted with the teachings of the Buddha, which could explain the similarity of parables used by Jesus and by Buddha, and even that he may have been in contact with adherents of Buddhist missionaries in Egypt who were probably active in Alexandria and Memphis around his time. Some even go as far as trying to prove that Jesus spent the hidden years of his life, from his 14 till his 27 years, in Persia/Iran and mostly in the Pamir region of India under the name of Issa, as it seems to be written in some of the old Buddhist scriptures.

Some book titles: The Original Jesus, The Buddhist Sources of Christianity, Elmar Gruber & Holger Kersten, Element Books, 1995 // The Lost Years of Jesus, Elisabeth Clare Prophet, Book Faith India, 1994 // Jesus lived in India, Holger Kersten, Penguin Books, 1994.

 

Mogul Emperor Akbar, reigned from 1556 to 1605 and is known as a very broadminded monarch who treated all religions of his time, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, as having equal values. He had discussions with Jesuit priests (Fr. Monserate a/o) who stayed around 1580 at his court. In 1575, he built a “House of Worship” as a multireligious meeting place where on Fridays (the Muslim sabbath) he held discussion meetings between religious personalities of his time. In the beginning it was limited to the different schools of Islam, but later from 1578 on also Hindus, Christians and other religions participated.

 

In Thailand

Sulak Sivaraksa, the well known social activist, is fighting here and in other countries of Southeast Asia for the human rights of the tribe people living in mountainous forests and for the educational development of the still very undervalued Buddhist nuns in Thailand and Sri Lanka. He is also the founder and the soul of the “International Network of Engaged Buddhists” (INEB) with their valuable quarterly on dialogue “Seeds of Peace”.

In Sri Lanka

Many organizations, Buddhist as well as Christian and Muslim, are active in the interreligious dialogue, with Catholic priests and Buddhist monks as the main driving forces. My very good friend Dr. Anthony Fernando is the director of an Inter-Cultural Research Centre near Colombo, where he together with his wife Sumana teach English and computer practice to more than thousand students of the lower less privileged classes. He has published two remarkable and very recommendable booklets “Buddhism made plain” and “Christian Path to Mental Maturity” (the latter one translated in Dutch and published by the Teilhard de Chardin Foundation in Holland).

(see my website “Eastern Interfaith Organisations”)

 

 

My Interfaith Dialogue Guidelines

(See my website, 10pp and abbreviated 4pp versions, in different languages)

These 7 guidelines propose a basis for mutual acceptance and collaboration between the world faith communities: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Baha’i, other religions, religious traditions, humanists and spiritual movements. The 7 propositions can be considered as essential conditions towards the aimed at way of life : peace on earth to all people of good will, and can be summarized with their headings : 1. better mutual knowledge   2. spiritual growth of humankind  3. faith communities’ potentialities  4. no exclusivity  5. testifying i.s.o converting   6. meditation     7. global collaboration.

 

New propositions in the Guidelines in relation to the treasures of our earth (added on p.2 in 2001) Hinduism /Buddhism and Islam (2002):

 

- The treasures of our planet (oil, gas, minerals, etc.) should be considered as the property of the whole of humankind and should not be the sole property of nations which happen to be geographically situated above or near to some of these treasures. A tax on those who profit from these treasures should be levied and used for the common welfare of humankind.

 

- Hinduism and Buddhism as monotheistic religions

From the studies of all the Indian ‘holy’ scriptures, it is now evident that one can find in them a general acceptance of the existence of an Ultimate Spiritual Reality in a kind of Holy Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Krishna, and of which the other multitude of Saints (gods) are an expression or emanation of the Ultimate Reality in their different forms and expressions. This means that Hinduism can now be considered not so much as a pantheistic religion but can be brought under the umbrella of monotheistic religions. The same can be said of Buddhism where there is also an overall acceptance of a Spiritual Ultimate Reality as the origin and the final destination of all human beings as well as of all living and other material things, of which the Buddha has been the main prophet. Also here the multitude of Saints (gods, bodhisathvas) are historical expressions of deeply religious human beings who are being revered more as Saints than as ‘gods’. This means that also Buddhism can be brought into the realm of monotheistic religions.  (corroborative texts can be consulted on my website “Buddhism and Hinduism monotheistic”)

 

- Islam and dialogue with other Faith Communities

The revolution in the biblical exegesis in Christian theology, from the literal interpretation to a describing and relating interpretation, appropriate to the culture in which it originated, has been the most valuable evolution and development of the last 50 years towards interfaith dialogue and real inculturation. The liturgical changes in the Catholic Eucharistic ceremonies, by which a/o the Latin language has been replaced by the local language, has been another important step in this evolution in which the Catholic and other Christian Churches have been the forerunners.

It is now believed that the tenets of all world faith communities have their roots in the culture where they originated, that they have developed on the basis of the philosophical and moral concepts of that culture and of that time, and that they have approached and proclaimed the faith in transient expressions and in ceremonies proper to the culture to which they belong. As pilgrims on their way to always new discoveries and subject to change, no adherents to whatever religion or other faith tradition should claim exclusive representation of the Truth nor superiority over others.

This new interpretation of the Bible, Old as well as New Testament, which became gradually a commonly accepted practice from the years after WWII, has been the first step towards real interfaith dialogue. The dialogue with other faith communities has been further promoted by the new way of looking at and better appreciating of the other religions and cultures as promulgated by the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church (1962-1965). Also in many other Christian Churches, it is now being considered as self-evident that the formulation of a divine revelation is influenced for a great part by the culture and the historical milieu in which it originated, and that this form of presentation is not revelation itself. These presentations have furthermore to undergo a continuously new interpretation, appropriate to the ever-changing knowledge and ever higher conscience-level of the faithful, without therefore changing the essentials.

As long as the texts of the Koran remain static unchangeable words of God and as long as this more scientifically based interpretation of revelation is not accepted by the Islamic faith communities, real dialogue and maybe even real world peace remain most difficult assignments.

 

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Lucien F. Cosijns, Binnensteenweg 240/A26, 2530 Boechout, Belgium

 Tel. +32 3 455.6880      lfc.cosijns@gmail.com

www.interfaithdialoguebasics.info


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