I recently attended an inter-religious event focusing on introducing the different houses and practices of worship for each religion. The event featured speakers from nine different faiths: Catholicism, Hinduism, Sufism, Lutheranism, Judaism, Episcopal Church, Methodism, Presbyterianism, and Buddhism. The Buddhist speaker presented some of the daily practices performed by monastics in the Mahayana tradition, such as chanting the Heart Sutra and the Loving-Kindness Meditation.
After the Buddhist speaker’s presentation in the Catholic Church (there was no Buddhist temple nearby), we left and moved to the Lutheran Chapel (the event not only consisted of presentations but also a mini-tour of various religious buildings). On our way there, the Lutheran Pastor came up to me and asked “Who are you (as in Buddhists) praying to during the Loving Kindness Meditation?” (For a guide to the Loving Kindness Meditation, click here.)
The question caught me by surprise and I had to think for a mintue before coming up with an answer. The idea of the Loving-Kindness Meditation is not a call to a divine being to bless us with any good fortune, but rather, it is recited as a reminder that there are many ways that we as individuals can show loving-kindness to others.
For me, this was the highlight of the interreligious event. The Pastor’s question shows the basic differences in each faith’s approach to understanding and dealing with life. While the Lutheran Pastor’s first reaction was “who?”, as a Buddhist, I believe we ask “how?” How can we develop loving-kindness to others, even to those we don’t know and those we don’t like.
The fundamental differences between Buddhism and Christianity fascinate me and in turn, has led me to believe that because they are categorized under the word “Religion”, people who are Christian, who are familiar with the Chrisitan approach to the world, may misunderstand Buddhism, as Buddhists may do the same to Christianity. In a society where diversity is inescapable and present every way we turn, dialogue and interaction between fundamentally different groups such as Christianity and Buddhism carry so much value in helping others understand the similarities and differences between religions. And that understanding is what we need if we are to live amongst every possible religion from every possible culture in peace.