Buddhist-Christian Dialogue: A Way towards Peaceful Coexistence in Myanmar

Ciin Sian Khai, Buddhist-Christian Dialogue-page-001“Buddhist-Christian Dialogue: A Way towards Peaceful Coexistence in Myanmar” is the doctoral dissertation of Professor Ciin Sian Khai at the Academy of Mission at the University of Hamburg (‘Missionshilfeverlag’, 8).

As Myanmar reengages the wider world, with much current interest in the outcome of the National Election there on the 8th of November 2015, this study is both timely and significant. Professor Khai situates dialogue in the context of the history, often tumultuous, occasionally harmonious, of interfaith relations in Burma/Myanmar; in particular the colonial introduction of Christianity through Portuguese traders in the 17th and the British Raj in the 19th centuries, leading to the oft-heard slogan “Mission, Merchants and Military”.

Buddhism made its Burmese appearance in the Theravada form from Southern India and Sri Lanka in the early 7th Century CE; and the Mahayana variety simultaneously came down from China – depending on which local dynasty held sway. 88% of the population professing Buddhism leads to the second again oft-quoted mantra of Myanmar, “To be a good Bamar is to be Buddhist” (Christianity is stronger among the ethnic tribes, Shan, Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin etc).

A weakness, perhaps, of this study, is that Professor Khai bases his empirical data on interviews with only 8 people, 4 Buddhist and 4 Christian – this alone is an indication of the sensitivity of the subject. He points a way forward in the examination of 2 concepts, Metta (‘Loving Kindness”) and Karuna (‘Compassion’, its Christian cognate being Agape ), which were clear hallmarks of the founders of both religions.

Borrowing from insights from Nostra Aetate and the authors Knitter, Swidler and Panikkar (examined in Chapter 4), Khai contends that dialogue in Myanmar must be:

  1. “integral” i.e. concerned with liberating people in the cultural-political-ecological context of rampant poverty and racism
  2. about building relationships rather than scoring theological points, and
  3. ‘dialogically dialogic’ i.e. leading adherents to a more self-critical and ultimately deeper appreciation of their own, and their partners’, religious faith.

PDF available for download from this link:  http://www.missionsakademie.de/de/pdf/SITMA-8-web.pdf.