Dalai Lama-inspired book explores common ground between Islam and Buddhism

(TibetanReview.net, May15, 2010) The Dalai Lama on May 12 took part in at function in Bloomington, Indiana, USA, to launch a book titled Common Ground between Islam & Buddhism. The book, a collection of scholarly essays, is inspired by meetings the Dalai Lama had with Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan and their discussions on the promotion of religious harmony. It is authored by Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi, British Muslim scholar and Managing Editor of Encyclopaedia Islamica.

Others who spoke during the function included Ms Virginia Gray Henry Blakemore from Fons Vitae of Louisville, the book’s publisher, who read out a message for the occasion from Prince Ghazi; the book’s author; Ingrid Mattson, president of Islamic Society of North America; Imam Plemon T El-Amin, Resident Imam of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, and Eboo Patel, a member of President Obama’s Faith Advisory Council.

In his message Prince Ghazi said, “The aim of this initiative in Muslim-Buddhist relations is to spread understanding, compassion and mutual warmth between Muslims and Buddhists everywhere, and to remove, through our sacred texts, any basis for conflict or tensions based upon our religions.”

Author Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi said, in the context of the Dalai Lama’s upcoming teaching on the Heart Sutra, that the aim of the initiative in Muslim-Buddhist relations was precisely to illuminate paths to the Heart: to engage in a mode of dialogue which goes beyond the surface level of ecumenical politeness, in order to engage with dimensions of spiritual depth, with everything that relates to the Heart. “We are aiming here at commonalities on the level of the spirit,” he was quoted as saying.

Mattson expressed gratitude to the Dalai Lama “for being an example to all us and to me in particular of the possibility of remaining dignified in the face of persecution. Your kindness towards the Muslim community these last few years, publicly standing by us during a difficult time has been a priceless gift.”

Imam El-Amin expressed “wholehearted and sincere appreciation” to the Dalai Lama for having brought the religious communities together.

Eboo Patel recalled his meeting with the Dalai Lama 12 years ago in Dharamsala as a young man, and said, “You gently reminded me of the tradition of my ancestors, the tradition of Islam. You illuminated, a Buddhist monk, for me a Muslim, who had lost his way. You showed me the straight path.” He said he had taken to heart the Dalai Lama’s advice to him at that time to go and “build bridges of compassion with religions instead of bombs of destruction or barriers of division.”

Patel, who in 2009 was named the first Muslim winner of the Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion, said in an interview that “Common Ground” provides the “theological architecture” for Muslims and Buddhists to cooperate in spite of major differences, reported Louisville Courier-Journal May 12.

In his address the Dalai Lama said there were some mischievous people in all religions, noting that even during the life time of the Buddha there were some mischievous Buddhists. He said the terrorist actions undertaken by some people with Muslim background cannot represent the entire Islamic teaching or tradition.

Referring to the potential for bringing religious communities together, he recalled having felt a little anxious after photos of him appeared in all the major newspapers in India visiting the oldest and largest mosque in Delhi, wearing the Muslim cap and with his hands in the gesture of Islamic prayer. But not only was there any adverse reaction from the Hindu hardliners, but also event had created immense positive impression among the Hindus. The Muslims are part of the Indian community and the image of him in the mosque brought the two communities closer and the Hindus appreciated that, the exile Tibetan government’s Tibet.net May 13 quoted him as saying.

Islam and Buddhism encompass much of Asia and count nearly 2 billion people as followers worldwide.

Essays in the book candidly acknowledge “unbridgeable” gaps in the two religions' doctrines and views of the world and the afterlife. But they also cite deep theological, social, historical and ethical ties, noted the Louisville Courier-Journal report. Indeed, in the book’s foreword, the Dalai Lama writes: “Clearly, compassion lies at the heart of the teachings of both Islam and Buddhism, as it also lies at the heart of other great religious traditions.” This, he wrote, should “be grounds for Muslims and Buddhists to overcome any sense of wariness they may feel about each other and develop a fruitful, trusting friendship.”