Christian-Buddhist consultation in Myanmar voices hope for a shared humanity
An interreligious consultation on “Voices of Hope for a New Era” has called for enhanced collaboration between Buddhists and Christians in a spirit of humility and honesty and in service of a shared humanity.
Organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Network for Interfaith Concerns of the Anglican Communion (NIFCON), the consultation brought together about 70 Buddhists and Christians from Finland, India, Japan, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Kingdom. The meeting took place in Yangon, 16-20 January 2017, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Participants reflected on a variety of topics, taking into account the political, ethnic and cultural entanglements of religions today, especially in the changing context of Myanmar, thereby allowing for a deeper engagement with complex and controversial topics.
Further, in a dialogue of spiritual exchange, Christians were introduced to Buddhist meditation during their visit to the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, while Buddhists were present in Bible studies.
Rev. Prof. Dr Kemmyo Taira Sato 先生 Director of the Three Wheels Buddhist Community, London, and Bishop Michael Ipgrave, the Bishop of Lichfield, led a Christian-Buddhist reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) .
Reflecting on the parable, Ipgrave said, “Jesus’ parable makes clear both that showing neighbourly mercy is not restricted to members of our own faith community, and also that the call to become a neighbour is not limited to any one faith community. We are all called to act as merciful neighbours to those in distress.”
In his reflection, Sato said “I was very much impressed by the spiritual richness of the text. We usually tend to emphasize our own act of loving, but it will be of vital importance for us to find ourselves being loved by others.”
This was just one instance of the spirit of grace and hospitality that was brought to the dialogue tables in Yangon.
In a joint statement, participants called on their respective constituencies to set up encounters that help to forge closer relationships anchored on humility, honesty and our shared humanity. Recognizing that “lack of knowledge of each other and resultant lack of understanding is not only unhelpful, but also actively harmful,” the participants affirmed that “careful exploration of differences and similarities can help to overcome prejudice.” There was reiteration of “the need for the recognition of our shared humanity, both as a response to suffering and an impetus for solidarity and social action.”
The consultation called for enhanced collaboration between Buddhists and Christians at local and global levels.
Ven Dhammananda bhikkuni, leader of the Songdhammakalyani Theravada Temple near Bangkok, emphasized the need to move beyond confrontational modes of engagement toward mutual trust and respect through which participants could work together “to bring about a better world, not for Christians, not for Buddhists, but for all.”
Rev. Dr Simone Sinn, LWF study secretary for Public Theology and Interreligious Relations, noted that the consultation had shown that the respective Christian and Buddhist teachings offer both a critical and constructive voices with regard to contemporary developments. “This meeting was a step towards analyzing current challenges and opportunities together and joining hands in collaboration,” she said.
Rev. Dr Peniel Rajkumar, Program Executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the WCC, underlined the urgency of collaboration for peace building and reconciliation. “While peace-building and reconciliation are seldom easy tasks, the consultation drew hope from the vast resources of compassion that scriptures and spiritual traditions of both religions provide and acknowledged that the seeds of transformation lie in strengthening relations at multiple levels with patience and persistence.”
It is hoped that this consultation will be followed by further engagements that will hold grassroots interreligious encounters and formal dialogue in creative balance.