I participated in an inter-religious forum on 25th April 2009. As the event was held at the Pure Life Society, I thought I would dress as their members do, so I donned a long white blouse with a matching white shawl draped over my shoulders. Little did I know, this attire attracted curious stares from my fellow panelists.
“Are you a nun?”, one of the panelists asked me.
“No, I still have hair,” I answered, pointing to my head.
We got talking over a cup of tea, and he asked, “So, which religion are you representing?”
“Buddhism,” I said.
“Buddhism? Hmm…”, he mulled over my reply, then questioned further, “So, which school do you belong to?”
“I belong to Buddhism”, I said. “There is only ONE school.”
My learned friend disagreed, and said I must declare whether I belong to the Sri Lankan school or Chinese school, or the other schools. They are all different, he insisted, and proceeded to explain to me that if I have been sent by Brickfields, I must belong to the Sri Lankan school.
I smiled and told him, “There is only ONE school, my friend. The teachings and doctrines are exactly the same in all the traditions.”
I could see my friend wasn’t too happy with my answer.
He would have preferred that I declared which school or sect I belonged to. That would have been more “proper”, to him.
But why? Why are we so concerned over our differences?
We can’t we look at the similiarities instead?
After the Buddha attained Mahaparinibbana, there arose, over a period of time, two major traditions, that is, the Theravada and the Mahayana. Later, when the Dhamma went northwards, Vajarayana came into being. Although some of the devotional practices may differ slightly, the basic doctrine of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path are the same in all these traditions. Ajahn Brahm, the ever-popular and well-loved Dhamma master from Australia, calls his tradition, “Hahayana”!
The three traditions arose because when the Buddha instructed His monks to go forth and teach the Dhamma for the good of the many, He told them specifically to allow His teachings to blend in with the local cultures of the people. Hence, we can see for ourselves that the sublime teachings of the Buddha have indeed blended in beautifully and harmoniously with the various cultures of the world today. For example, there is no need for a Buddhist to change his or her name, and Buddhists everywhere still observe and celebrate the many festivals in their respective cultures, as long as the practices do not bring harm to themselves and others.
When the Bengali Buddhist teacher, Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana, first went to Tibet in the 11th century, he was asked how one should practise since there were many traditions of Buddhism. Atisha replied, “You should find the essential point common to all the teachings and practice that way”.
Great thinkers and spiritually-developed people will always choose to see the similarities rather than the differences in the various religious teachings. One goal, many paths. All religions teach us to do good and be good. The emphasis may be on different aspects – the devotional, the ritualistic or basic day-to-day practice, training of the mind, but the ultimate objective is to train and guide us to be as good as we possibly can.
More so, in a world that is torn by differences, political, cultural or religious, there is a greater need for us to see and appreciate our similarities. Why should we waste our time splitting hairs trying to prove who is “better” or more right? Ultimately, as the Buddha says, every sentient being has the Buddha Nature, that pure and brilliant mind that can be developed to perfection. Buddhists call it Nibbana, Hindus call it Moksha, and the Christians call it The Kingdom of Heaven.
There is one Dhamma, not many; Distinctions arise from the needs of the ignorant.
– Seng T’san
- Buddhist Contribution to Humanity (bodhikaram.wordpress.com)
- Impact of Buddhism on Civilization (bodhikaram.wordpress.com)
- Dhamma Fighting (buddhistpost.wordpress.com)
- Khmer New Year April 13-14, 2012 (bodhikaram.wordpress.com)
- Buddhism in the west (richardgilliveronbuddhism.wordpress.com)