“We have been aware for two decades that your Holiness has been interested in a profound and true relationship between Islam and Buddhism,” Henry said.
In the past, it hasn’t always been easy to get the two sides together. Principle obstacles have been the non-theistic nature of Buddhism, which is troubling to Muslims, and political pressure from China against any public discussions between Muslims and the Tibetan Buddhist leader. But the Dalia Lama believes the time has come to acknowledge that the two religions, which both stress compassion as a key virtue, are both valid spiritual paths.
“Basically, after I had more interaction with followers of different traditions, I developed a firm conviction that in despite of different philosophies, all carry the same message – a message of love and compassion,” the Dalai Lama said.
Ingrid Mattson is the president of the Islamic Society of North America. She praised the effort to bring Muslims and Buddhists together, and praised the Dalia Lama for defending Muslims against attempts to label all members of the religion as terrorists.
“I am grateful to you, your Holiness, for being an example to all of us, and to me in particular, of the possibility of remaining dignified in the face of persecution, of witnessing to what remains beautiful and not being overwhelmed by what is ugly,” Mattson said.
Reza Shah Kazemi is an Islamic scholar from England who authored the book Common Ground between Island and Buddhism. Dr. Kazemi said it was auspicious for the book to be launched at the same time the Dalia Lama is conducting lectures on the famous Buddhist text, The Heart Sutra.
“The intention underlying this initiative is precisely to go beyond the surface level of ecumenical politesse and to move in the direction of the heart precisely, the heart in which illuminating truth and transforming love interpenetrate.”
The best hope for real and lasting understanding between the two religions may come from young people. That’s the view of Eboo Patell, a Muslim and a member of President Obama’s council on faith based and neighborhood initiatives. He says the effort to find common ground is urgently needed, in order to give young people an alternative to media images of religion as the source of conflict and violence.
“I see this great potential in what a lot of scholars call the dangers of the youth bulge, the fact that in Afghanistan the average age is 17.6. Let me tell you something – bad people are after these kids, right, but they could be bridge builders just as easily,” said Kazemi.
Patel, who won the Louisville Grawmeyer award in Religion last year –- the first Muslim to do so –says he doesn’t know if they will succeed in the effort to make sure that religion isn’t used as the basis for conflict and violence. But he and the other participants in this week’s conference have clearly signaled their intention to try.