I must mention that I am very happy and it is a great honor to deliver the Anwar Sadat Lecture for Peace. As president, he took really decisive, bold steps to create peace in his part of the world, and I was an admirer from a distance. Today I’ve met his widow and I was so happy, it was such a great honor, and I expressed to her my admiration for her late husband. If he had kept suspicion or hatred inside himself, it would have been very difficult to have such courage. A wider, more holistic way of thinking that looks at the long-term interests – where you respect, talk, shake hands with your enemy and look at the differences and similarities between yourselves – this is best.
Everybody wants peace and nobody wants problems or violence, which always creates suffering. The worst aspect of violence is that it is unpredictable. Once committed, even if there was a good motivation or aim in mind, because the method was violent, there will be unexpected consequences. This always happens. So I feel it is a great honor to talk under his name, and I’d like to thank the university and the concerned people who gave me this opportunity.
Promoting Religious Harmony
When I give talks I consider myself firstly as a human being. Whether we are believers or non-believers we are the same human beings, and on this basis I talk about inner peace. On a second level, I am Buddhist, and one of my commitments is the promotion of religious harmony. Among the world’s important religious traditions, there are two categories: those religions with a belief in a creator, and another category that has no such concept. These are fundamental differences. Within theistic religions, there are further differences on beliefs about previous lives, the afterlife and so on. So the Hindu tradition ultimately has a creator, but also due to the law of causality, there is life after life. And even between Christianity and Islam there are some minor differences: One God, the only God, the Holy Trinity, and so on.
In the ancient Hindu tradition, for at least three thousand years there has been a philosophy with no concept of a creator. Jainism and Buddhism follow this. And in these traditions with no concept of a creator, there are differences regarding the existence of a permanent independent soul or self, or no such permanent independent entity.
What is the purpose of these different philosophical views? They are different approaches to becoming a sensible, compassionate person. This is why all of the different religious traditions carry the same message of love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. There are problems and cases where one develops anger, and so the teachings of forgiveness and tolerance are there to practice. Tolerance directly combats anger, and forgiveness directly combats hatred.
Therefore, all major religious traditions carry the same message and have the same potential to bring about peace, through the message of love. Obviously, logically, peace is ultimately related with hatred, anger and compassion to overcome them. Peace, even at a family or individual level must come through inner peace. The source of inner peace is compassion and forgiveness. All religious traditions have the same potential to create a peaceful world, a peaceful family and a peaceful individual.
So why are there such different philosophies? There are so many different mental dispositions among people. For some, theistic religious traditions are more effective, and for others a non-theistic approach is more effective. It is like different medicines: they may have different ingredients, but all have the aim of curing illness. There are different illnesses due to different physical conditions and age, and so we need a variety of different medicines. Likewise, medicines for mental peace also need variety, and so all of the major religious traditions have the same potential and the same goal, and thus are very relevant for us seven billion human beings.
Different Approaches for Different Mental Dispositions
It is quite clear that within Buddhism, we have full faith in Gautama Buddha, even if he taught different philosophical views. Why? Because among his audience was a vast array of different mental dispositions, and therefore it was necessary to show different approaches within the same tradition. There are billions of people in different geographical environments, living very different ways of life, and so they have different mental dispositions needing different approaches. Realizing that all major religious traditions carry the same message of love, compassion and forgiveness is the basis of developing mutual respect. Once mutual respect is there, we can start mutually learning about each other, which actually enriches your own tradition.
From my own experience, as a result of having met with Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus, I have learned new ideas from them, which enrich my own practice. Therefore it is possible to develop genuine harmony among different religious traditions based upon mutual admiration and respect. So my number two commitment is the promotion of religious harmony.
Implementing Moral Values in Our Daily Lives
As I mentioned earlier, it really is a great honor to be here. While we’re talking about the late Anwar Sadat, we shouldn’t just remember his greatness and leave it at this, but should try and implement his values in our daily lives. In his spirit of dialogue, he showed that no matter how difficult it is, it is very important to solve problems through talking. Usually I say that the twentieth century has been a century of bloodshed, and the twenty-first century should be a century of peace. This doesn’t mean that there will no longer be problems, because there will always be problems. It means that in order to create a century of peace, we need to develop a method based on peaceful means and dialogue to solve our problems.
Before I arrived here I met the Governor’s son, and I told him that many of the elder brothers and sisters, my generation of the twentieth century, which has already gone, we’re getting ready to say bye bye! So the generation of the twenty-first century, those people age fifteen to thirty, they are truly a generation of the twenty-first century. We have almost nine decades left of this century and the new generation will have to spend the rest of their lives living in it, and so you have the opportunity and the responsibility to create a new, better, happier world. This can be done on the basis of a firm conviction in the oneness of humanity.
Different religious faiths or nationalities are secondary, and not very important. It is when we place too much emphasis on these secondary level differences that we forget the oneness of humanity, and then problems come. We need to think the other way round. First we think of the oneness of humanity. Today’s reality with global warming and the global economy shows that national boundaries and religious differences are not relevant. So the new generation should think more about humanity, the oneness of all human beings on a global level. Achieving short term benefits for the sake of secondary level differences and thereby sacrificing the oneness of humanity is a disaster. Create a vision whereby this century can eventually become a century of peace, where the whole world has been demilitarized. It is possible, so please think more seriously about this!
Thank you! Now, we’ll have some questions.
Your Holiness, during your 2011 tour to Newark, you recommended the US education system should incorporate moral teachings. Would you recommend a formalized ethics class? There are many mandated ethics classes around the world; what problems can you see in suggesting a formalized ethics course in the US education system?
As a result of observing humanity, I think that education has really brought a wonderful new world. I think in every part of the world, all people consider education as something very important. Nowadays, many countries and societies have a very high standard of modern education, but we still have problems and crises. And even those people who create a lot of problems for society, as far as their education is concerned, it is of a very high standard. As for peace of mind, I have many very well-educated friends, but as people, they are very unhappy. This automatically brings a more unhealthy mental attitude, and in turn, killing, lying, hypocrisy, exploitation, bullying and so on.
Therefore, I usually tell these people that all of the major religious traditions teach us deeper values. Of course among the people who teach these values, there are those who don’t sincerely practice them. And I’ve said many times, sometimes those who speak in the name of religion actually live lives of hypocrisy, where they say nice things but do something different. This is a clear sign of not having real conviction in inner values. Bringing real conviction through faith alone is actually very limited. But like the previous Pope said, faith and reason must go together.
I think this is very, very true. We need reason through education and awareness. Our only hope is education. If we educate people about warm-heartedness and a sense of concern for others, they will come to see them as the ultimate source of their own wellbeing and health. Problems in the family and community are due to a lack of moral principles. So in the existing education field, we must include more teachings on moral principles, because currently it’s not adequate.
As far as mind and the emotions are concerned, ancient Indian thought has many explanations about how to tackle destructive emotions like anger, hatred and fear. So in my own experience over the last thirty years in dialogue with modern scientists and educators, many of them really appreciate the amount of information there is in the ancient Indian traditions, including Buddhism. These scientists don’t just merely appreciate the information that is there, they are even now carrying out research through experiments that have shown some good evidence to support it. So over the last two years we have looked seriously at how to introduce moral ethics, related with the mind, into the modern education system. What we need is an academic subject on the mind or what I call the “map of the mind.” The students will then, through their own experiences, see how anger destroys their own peace of mind.
Students very much appreciate the affection shown to them by their mother and friends. From a young age, the value of this affection is very much alive in them. When, like us, people are grown up, they sometimes say they don’t need affection, that they can do everything by themselves. But these basic human values are a basic biological factor, and do not come from religion. A mother’s affection for her children, something we see among animals too, is tremendous. This is a biological factor, it doesn’t come from religion. So what we need now is that while children are still young, with the experience of this affection still alive, we teach them that these values are very important, until their last days, until their death. These values are the ultimate source of our happiness and joyfulness.
We must use explanations or reasoning that includes scientific findings, instead of relying on religion. If we rely on religion, then the approach is not universal. But since we are talking about problems that we universally face, then our method in facing the problems should also be universal. I usually call this approach “secular ethics.” I need to explain the word “secular” because in the West it seems to have some sort of connotation of being negative or disrespectful toward religion. But according to an Indian understanding of secularism, it means respect for all religions and non-believers alike, with no preference for this or that particular religion. This is why, when India gained independence, its constitution became based on secular concepts.
Because India is a multi-faith nation, you cannot say one religion is higher than the other. On a global level, secularism is the only way that is acceptable universally. Therefore we are now trying to create a curriculum that can fit in with the secular education field. We are working on this and maybe within one year we will be ready. But we need further studies with scientists, philosophers, educators and so forth, which we are already doing in India.
Once we have completed the curriculum, perhaps places like this university can implement a program as an experiment. One school can run the program and then watch the results after a couple of years. If there appear to be some positive results, we can finalize the curriculum and expand it to ten schools, one hundred schools, and then the state level. After the state level, with some further serious discussion, it can eventually go to a federal level, then UN level, until the whole world is encouraged to include some kind of moral ethics education based not on religion but on secularism.
Do you feel that your efforts at interfaith dialogue were made more difficult in the last decade due to concerns of radical Islam and tension between the US and the Muslim world? In the full decade since September 11, has dialogue become any easier?
There have not been any significant changes; we have been having dialogues over thirty, forty years. I always try to have interfaith meetings that are not just short ceremonies or services where you exchange some greetings with a smile. Rather than that, I prefer to have some more serious discussions. What are our differences, what are our similarities, and what’s the purpose? And more important is when practitioners meet practitioners. I really admire some Catholic monks. After meeting with the late Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, I learned a lot of practices and experiences from him and other Christian monks and nuns. On one occasion in Sydney, Australia, I was introduced by one Christian minister, who described me as a good Christian! Then when I talked, I described him as a good Buddhist! There is a sense that we have the same practice, the same potential. Once we became closer and knew each other in a deeper way, then mutual respect and admiration naturally arose.
Also, I have made special efforts in meeting with Muslim brothers and sisters. Conflicts like fighting between Shia and Sunni Muslims, just like between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, are not due to religion; rather, the real factor is politics. Even in the past, historical conflicts in the name of religion have been due to power or economic interests, but they use the name of religion. So we must make a distinction. Political issues should be solved through political rather than religious means. As far as religion is concerned, there is no ground to harm others.
These tragedies remind us that we need to make constant effort, because killing in the name of religion is really very sad, it’s unthinkable. Nowadays, even Buddhists in Burma and Sri Lanka are involved, with Buddhist monks destroying Muslim mosques and homes. That is really very sad. On one occasion, I mentioned to my Buddhist brothers and sisters that when they develop negative feelings toward the Muslim community, they should think of the Buddha’s face. The Buddha would want to protect our Muslim brothers and sisters, no doubt. So it’s mainly economic reasons behind these conflicts, and when religion becomes involved, this comes about because of raised human emotions. Once there are too many emotions, we become easy to manipulate. It’s very sad, but there’s no reason to be discouraged. We must carry on with constant effort and results will come. Sometimes I feel a little bit proud that I have made some contribution to religious harmony.
When people show some kind of appreciation of agreement with my efforts or thoughts, then that gives me even more encouragement. When the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, I immediately responded in saying that I am a simple Buddhist monk, no more, no less. But this was some kind of recognition for my efforts at promoting world peace and the betterment of humanity.
I think there are over fifteen thousand brothers and sisters here, and if you don’t feel it is necessary to look at these points seriously, then no problem. But if you have some interest and want to get more involved, then please think more about your own inner values. Practice that firstly at a knowledge level, simple awareness of these values. Secondly, familiarize yourself with these values, and then they become something living. Then you implement the values and they become part of your daily life, and you get real benefits. So, think more! Thank you!