The Buddhist Attitude to Other Religions


A Buddhist respects other religions, and may even “borrow” ingredients from them as a mark of respect. Buddhism is the first spiritual force in history to draw together divergent races and cultures. Buddhism is a giving, open belief system. Having no strict religious dogma, a Buddhist neither takes a superior, self- righteous stance nor discredits other religious beliefs.

Tao concept of a flowing mind

In short, to the Buddhist, borrowing ideas from another belief offers society a “richer” gift than the one received. The Tao concept of a flowing mind in meditation, seeking harmony with the universe, enhanced the Buddhist teachings. It was integrated into Buddhism, creating Zen Buddhism. The current 14th Dalai Lama has said:

“I am interested not in converting other people to Buddhism but in how we Buddhists can contribute to human society, according to our own ideas.”

Buddhists do not preach “anti-religion” sermons. They do not aim to brainwash “unbelievers” or to subject them to violent conversion. Buddhists do not practice religious repression. But they do deplore missionaries who disturb other religions. Obviously, they would have opposed many of the 19th-century Christian conversion practices in Africa; a time and place where Christianity was simply right and superior while all “heathen” beliefs were wrong and inferior. For a Buddhist, this only creates an unhealthy, competitive atmosphere thwarting any real spiritual awakening.

Diverse beliefs and cultures

From early times, Buddhism has been the quiet achiever within diverse beliefs and cultures. In 268B.C., Emperor Asoka was a Buddhist missionary. He was not a preaching, evangelist missionary, but a “doing” one. Buddhism was spreading through Asian and western countries. Emperor Asoka was a major instrument of that phenomenon. He became renowned for his support of other religions. He gave as his reason:
“one helps one’s own religion to grow and renders service to the religions of others too.”

He wished to practice the peace element of Buddhism. In his homeland, India, in the name of Buddhism, he established hospitals, social service institutions, universities, public wells, and recreation centers. This public action demonstrated that social welfare neither favored nor promoted a single political or religious ideology. All were welcome to utilize public services.

The golden era of Asian civilization, when art and education were well advanced, is an era lacking religious discrimination and wars. The practice of Buddhism in these countries minimized religious ills evident elsewhere in the world at the time. In the 2nd-9th century, the Great Nalanda University flourished in India. Buddhist beliefs opened the university to international students of religion or race. It is the first recorded university of its kind.

Ongoing Evidence of Religious Respect

In the 20th to 21st century, there may be less of the “missionary” element in Buddhism, but there is ongoing evidence of religious respect. Buddhist masters and religious leaders meet for world conferences. In October 1986, the Pope assembled 150 leaders of world religions. The Dalia Lama was seated next to the Pope and was invited to deliver the first speech. Morality, love, and compassion (topics common to all religions) were discussed.

And the ultimate evidence of religious respect must be embodied in the current 14th Dalai Lama. He was awarded the ultimate Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. His life has been spent traveling the world seeking connections with world religious and political leaders. He aims not to convert, but to create understanding.

Buddhism is a “liquid” belief system as opposed to a “solid” system. Provided other religions promote moral truths, Buddhists support them. Buddhists recognize that we all need varying spiritual diets. To use a cliche, Buddhism promotes “To live and let live.”


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