Long road to “Common Ground”

Louisville publisher Gray Henry says the publication of “Common Ground Between Islam & Buddhism” — launched Wednesday by the Dalai Lama and several Muslim leaders — has roots tracing back nearly 20 years.

That’s when she visited Tibet and was surprised to see so many mosques in Lhasa, capital of a largely Buddhist nation.

In the book, and in Wednesday’s summit, prominent Buddhists and Muslims spoke of each others’ faiths as valid spiritual paths, a breakthrough in relations between two faiths that have often been strained.

Henry directs Fons Vitae, a publisher of books on spirituality in Islamic and other traditions. She previously did research in Egypt and England.

In her 1991 trip to Tibet, American Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman told her the Dalai Lama had long wanted to build ties to Muslims.

She said her first step, “in my booky way,” was to produce a book and documentary about Islam in Tibet. But other things also led to the current project.

Henry helped organize a fundraiser on behalf of Tibetan refugees during the Dalai Lama’s 1994 visit to Louisville. She helped organize a dialogue between Muslims and the Dalai Lama in 2006. And she and her son, filmmaker Mustafa Gouverneur-Henry, have long worked with Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, a religious scholar involved in interfaith dialogue with the Dalai Lama and others.

She was asked to publish “Common Ground,” a book of essays by the Dalai Lama and several Muslim scholars, by representatives of the Tibetan leader as well as Prince Ghazi.

Henry said she hopes the book will give Buddhists and Muslims at the grassroots level tools for further dialogue.

“I think it’s the beginning of the thin edge of a good wedge,” she said.

Followers of each religion should “show each other the methodology we are using to infuse ourselves with mercy,” she said.

The Dalai Lama on Wednesday also recalled the significant Muslim minority in Tibet, saying they were “very peaceful.” In particular, he recalled that as a boy, he kept breaking his pocketwatch because he played roughly, and was gently chided by the Muslim watch repairman to start acting as though he was carrying an “egg” in his pocket to keep from breaking it. “He criticized me (but was) very gentle,” he said.

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