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A Buddhist perspective on Interfaith

Amaranatho's picture

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A Buddhist perspective

To be honest part of my mind thinks that interfaith is just waste of time, nice liberal people from one faith/belief speaking to another set of nice liberal people about their beliefs/faith – so nice. The other extreme of this is the interfaith dialogue which is a shouting match about which forms, teachers or rituals are the best, accurate or right. A central part of the Buddha’s teaching, which is described in the Four Noble Truths, is finding the middle way between the extremes of liking or not liking. The Four Noble Truths are 1) the noble truth of suffering, 2) the truth of the cause of suffering, 3) the cessation of suffering and 4) the path that leads to that. This is not about creating suffering, but recognising it. So how do we recognise our suffering? How do we pay attention to the way things are?

How do you react?
If you stop right now for just a moment and pay attention to your body, and notice the way you are breathing... And now notice what happens when you say ‘interfaith’. What does it mean for you? Notice the response, maybe nothing, maybe a visual image, maybe thought streams. So as we do this, we can start to notice that we are in relationship to ourselves. We can notice the different voices, the tones, perception, judgements. One voice might say ‘I like interfaith’, one voice might be very racial, another sarcastic, whatever it is – you are just listening, you are observing your mind. We are not making more judgements on our mind, we are just paying attention to the way it is.

And as we develop this mind of observing how we feel, we can decide whether the voice that we hear is really worth following. Does that voice really belong to us? Or is it the voice of your mother or father, your priest, or teacher? As we develop with this sense of attention and trust in our intuitive wisdom, we have more choice about our actions. And as our relationship to ourselves develops, so we can have a better relationship with the other.

An understanding
For me, interfaith is about being with others and we can learn from this. I have used working with the other AFAN team members to uncover more about myself and as I do this I then have more capacity to be with others. For me this is because there is nothing to fear or reject, or accept or deny. You can have your beliefs and I can have mine, and if there’s something we agree on, okay, or if we don’t, that is also okay. Interfaith for me is not about conversion, preaching, or even liking, it is about understanding our true nature.

A generosity
One of the nice things of doing interfaith work is being around people that are generally kind/generous and full of goodwill. Generosity is contagious, it makes you feel good and you want to share more. On the odd occasion when I have had my words twisted, conversation hijacked and been lied about, I notice how I feel. If my initial reactions are anger and ill-will, then as I allow them to fade and don’t react to them, I have this sense of peace which is not dependent on what people say or do. As I trust more in this I find a response to the situation which is appropriate and not based on my initial anger or upset.

A personal knowledge
The Buddha at another time went to a village where teachers from many different traditions went to speak and the villagers asked him who they should believe. The Buddha responded by saying that you should not base your understanding on the following: 2
Oral history
News sources
Scriptures or other official texts
Logical reasoning
Philosophical reasoning
Common sense
One’s own opinions
Authorities or experts
One’s own teacher
‘Instead,’ he says, ‘only when one personally knows that a certain teaching is skilful, blameless, praiseworthy, and conducive to happiness, and that it is praised by the wise, should one then accept it as true and practise it.’
So as we start to notice suffering, we can recognise that part of that is to do with change – conditions arise and cease. As we start to notice this, we can choose to be free from the way those conditions affect us. Try rubbing your hands together for some time, and you will notice that there is a point where you say I don’t want to do this anymore. So we stop doing it. Another way is to keep banging a drum so you get more noise. Bang it once and you’ll notice the sound just finishes by itself. So first we recognise suffering. Then we can see what keeps us going in this loop: wanting to get rid of suffering or wanting to hold on to our joys (which is another form of suffering). So we recognise the cause of suffering. Finally if we leave our moods, emotions, thoughts and feelings alone, they cease by themselves.
An appreciation In getting to know ourselves more clearly, a deep sense of compassion can arise which allows us to appreciate others for what they are, where they are. It does not mean you agree with what they do or say, it is just a willingness to accept them for what they are and a way of being kind to ourselves. We can say ‘yes’ to the person and ‘no’ to the actions (in Buddhist terms by body, speech and mind) they may do. So are you willing to trust in your own intuitive wisdom?



You might want to take a look at Fowler’s Stages of Faith, it’s a very interesting academic work on how faith takes place as we deepen into what that may be. It goes from the first stage of using faith as a safety net to the last stage and rarest of all, the inclusiveness of all being or universalist. The aim of Buddhism is to recognise we can be inclusive to all beings, we are that and it takes just a simple shift in one’s attention to notice the peace that we really are.