We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dialogue (vi)

This is the sixth posting in a series of postings reflecting on Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Living Buddha, Living Christ (Riverhead Books, 2007; originally published in 1995). The introductory posting, setting the stage for the series, is (here)

Dialogue is a word unfamiliar to most people.  We have a vague sense of it meaning something like discussions with someone else, which in fact is one of the meanings given by the dictionary websites.  Folks in interfaith circles, like Thich Nhat Hanh, use it in a very different sense to mean a willingness to listen and share across the boundaries that separate us, particularly religious boundaries.  Thich Nhat Hanh focuses on an inner state of peacefulness required for meaningful dialogue and seems to suggest that successful dialogue begins with one's self (Living Buddha, Living Christ, pages 6-10).  He also suggests that the best way to enter into dialogue is by knowing one's own tradition well—and one's own mind.  Dialogue, in any event, is not merely talking with someone of another faith.  It is a deeper sharing that sometimes doesn't even require words, which is grounded in a willingness to listen to others, see the weaknesses and strengths of one's own religion, and a willingness to be changed in an encounter with someone of another faith.  Dr. Parichart Suwanbubbha, a professor of religious studies in Thailand, writes (here) that, "Partners in dialogue, however, must have a broad mind, one that gives others the opportunity to speak and is willing to listen to the expression of beliefs that differ from their own. Dialogue partners, at the same time, must have their own place to stand and be truly representatives of the faith they hold."

The ultimate purpose of dialogue is peace.  It seeks peace by sharing across boundaries in order to increase understanding of others and of one's own self.   In dialogue, one listens first and deeply and then speaks peacefully and with integrity.  The spirit of dialogue weaves its way through the pages of Living Buddha, Living Christ.