Sunday, February 19, 2012

Interfaith Dialogues

Yesterday I went out on a stroll around NUS, being more free than I had been in 4 years and finally willing to just take it easy on myself.

I went and met some of my Physics juniors who are in 2nd year and just decided to sit down and talk to them. Well, it was nice to hear that the President of Physics Society, John Soo Yue Han was inspired by this very blog to take up Further Mathematics and Physics and NUS? (I forgot the details, but he asked to be mentioned here.)

Well, the interesting thing is when they tell me it’s a Christian get-together and then they started to ask me about Buddhism. “How does Buddhism reconcile with Science?” I flexed my fingers and smiled.

For what poor body language reading skills I have, they might think: uh oh, big mistake. If they didn’t think that way, they would as I explained that Buddhism has practically no conflict with Science and… most of them went for tutorials before I ended, saying, “talk to you again.” I kinda learned to keep quiet and be less vocal about this thing to keep from being dominating in these kinda talks.

Next I went up to the Central Library and visited the Islam Appreciation Week, where I happened to talk to someone from there whom I met before last year or the year before for 2 hours!

Well, from the dialogue, I eventually found out that maybe I was not open minded as I thought.

I was looking around and learning more about other religions, and told him that I haven’t read the Quran or Bible yet… so it’s more of curiosity and obligation for I know being more and more of an engaged Buddhist I would be I would meet with Interfaith Dialogues a lot of the time.

He was asking if I had considered other religions. I said, I don’t put all religions on the same footing, Buddhism is the highest footing for me, and I do not need to consider other religions as I am sure of the truths within my own.

“I was born a Buddhist” I said, “our faith is not blind faith, it is faith based on evidences, based on what we see.”

“There is a stage where people who were unthinking and born into the religions that they are in, then they started to investigate the religions, finally finding the truths and settling down.”

“I am past that stage.”

“Past the stage? You haven’t read the other religious texts?”

“Rather than some people who spend a lot of time wasting on searching about the truths, I am practising this so that I can enjoy the fruits.” I said.

“Is it ok for people who know for themselves that God exist and pray for him?”

“Yes, I do believe it is good for them to do so. People are born and taught religions at a young tender age, making them tending towards one religion or another and the faith component is established. That’s how each religions gets to be strong and survive for so long.”

“So there’s no way of getting them to know other religions?”

“Those that need to learn will explore on their own. They will go and find their own truths and up to their inclinations and conditions will stumble upon the evidences that supports their truths.”

Well the guy was asking me what is the way to find out about the truth, an objective truth out there. “Cause if there is One God and another religion claims that there is 2 Gods, they can’t be both true can they?”

I told him about the Kalama Sutta,

“So that’s a working truth? Shouldn’t we look for some evidence like miracles and see which evidence is more compelling to decide which religion is the truth?”

“I think it is a dangerous thing to agree on an objective truth and criteria's for it, especially in an interfaith dialogue, when we agree to it, and argue till the end, one may turn out to be a victor, and what will happen to the rest of the faiths? It is damaging to the people of faiths. Besides, the winner will be the one with the most debating skills, not necessary reflecting which religion reflects the objective truth.”

“Ok let’s say there’s compelling evidences for a certain religion. I’m not trying to convert you here, I’m just interested in knowing what is the truth.”

My answer to that is: “Whichever religion one chooses, there one can find their own happiness when practised fully. This is true of all religion or else it would not be worth it to be in that religion.”

“I agree that we are all explorers on a certain path, and going from birth to death, but then what about after death? Certain path leads to happiness and certain path does not.”

“Which is why you want to know for yourself which religion is true and follow it, to prepare for the afterlife.” I saw his viewpoint.

The discussion there then moved on to the fear of not believing in God might make one go to hell if God is real and then of course they discredit that fear should not be the reason to choose Theistic religions. I mentioned that Buddha gave a guarantee in Kalama Sutta that be it that Karma or rebirth exist or not, as long as one do good, no great suffering will be fall one.

From Wiki:

"The disciple of the Noble Ones, Kalamas, who has such a hate-free mind, such a malice-free mind, such an undefiled mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom four solaces are found here and now.
"'Suppose there is a hereafter and there is a fruit, result, of deeds done well or ill. Then it is possible that at the dissolution of the body after death, I shall arise in the heavenly world, which is possessed of the state of bliss.' This is the first solace found by him.
"'Suppose there is no hereafter and there is no fruit, no result, of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and sound, and happy, I keep myself.' This is the second solace found by him.
"'Suppose evil (results) befall an evil-doer. I, however, think of doing evil to no one. Then, how can ill (results) affect me who do no evil deed?' This is the third solace found by him.
"'Suppose evil (results) do not befall an evil-doer. Then I see myself purified in any case.' This is the fourth solace found by him.
"The disciple of the Noble Ones, Kalamas, who has such a hate-free mind, such a malice-free mind, such an undefiled mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom, here and now, these four solaces are found." - Kalama Sutta, translated by Soma Thera [6]

Then he kept on saying about almost the same thing, to which I realise that there is no point in further continuing the conversation as it was a pretty long one: 6++pm now. And I used up all my ammo. Well, this is when I remember Agree to Disagree. I kept quiet until he politely says, “It’s getting late, I need to go for prayers now.”

I left there and gone back to SPS when I met up with another issue of interfaith.

There is a poster from the Campus Crusade for Christ having the one statement which infuriate anyone with a sound mind. “Thailand is a place of little true joy.” The statement referring to most of the people in Thailand being Buddhist and asking people from Singapore to pay $2000 each for a missionary trip to Thailand to spread the gospel.

The poster went viral on facebook and there was may people who told me about it too. I then posted it on my status saying that I’ll write to Campus Crusade about it.

Poster for the recruitment for the mission to Thailand outside LT15 URGENT AND IMPORTANT!


Congratulations of getting the facebook-wide recognition of your poster (attached) which is going viral now. However, I believe it becomes viral for the worst possible reason: infamous. I'm sure this is not what the Campus Crusade for Chris wants: enraged Buddhist in NUS campus which you'll have no chance what-so-ever of converting to Christianity.

To clarify which part of the poster caused the insult to Buddhists is the sentence: "Thailand is a place of little true joy". Please do be more mindful of your sentences on your posters from now on and try not to offend any other religion, intentional or not. I assure you this kind of event/happening will turn neutral people away from Christ.

Here's a humble suggestion for public relations saving: take down the poster, and issue an apology on your website about the insensitive placing of the sentence. This is not apologizing for evangelising, it is showing good form that others would look up to. For the sake of Christianity, please do not leave this matter unattended. Please do so before anyone decides to report to the OSA.

Thank you.

I got some comments that I misspelled “Christ” and was “suan”ing them, writing in anger etc…well, at least I’m writing on behalf of me.

They replied that night itself at 2:09am :

Hi Xin Zhao,
Thank you, we will look into this.

The next day there was an emergency meeting of OSA with the religious societies leaders of NUS and then the provost send out a statement about this issue, saying that NUS CCC has apologized. Meanwhile the news spreads outside of NUS to the whole of Singapore. I got this mail 2 days after the poster first when viral:

Xin Zhao:

We would like to apologise for the distress caused by a flyer developed by one of our student groups. The flyer was one of several used by NUS CCC for internal publicity of available mission trips. We appeal for your kind understanding that it was never our intention to cause hurt to any individual or religious group. We will be reviewing the publicity process for gaps that need to be plugged as soon as we can.


To which I replied:

It's ok. I'm not distressed much. Good job for the quick action, yet it might be too quick that I don't think the lesson was learn. Allow me to explain, please be open minded while reading these:

I believe that the hurt does not come from the lack of control in the publicity. It is more in the mindset and views that CCC is promoting (and reflected through these words). You may find in some forums about people tearing down your apology word for word and finding that CCC is not apologetic for the way that CCC is thinking but that people are offended by the thoughts.

It is hard to co-exist with the rest of the world if you think that they have little true joy just because they do not believe in Christ. It is self evident that all major religions that promotes good, morality and happiness do pave the way to happiness by their own paths, and once the followers of each religion walk on those path, they will find the happiness to be found in each religion too. This has to be true, or else that religion would crumble pretty fast and not last for centuries. Just look at the top figures or practitioners of each religion and see if they are happy!

I believe it is a very good and noble cause and feeling to get people to follow in your footsteps when you first follow in the footsteps of Christianity and found your happiness there. However, some people already has found their happiness in their own religion, therefore it is cruel to rid them of their faith. As I am sure if anyone from outside Christianity tries to evangelize you, you'll feel strongly offended because they try to take you away from your faith in Christ.

Do not on to others what you do not wish others to do onto you.

This is also the reason that most people hate strong evangelical people from any religion. I believe evangelism do help some people, by all means help them. But for others whom they do not wish to be separated from their own faith, please leave them alone. Be moderate and wise in your evangelism.

Of course you are free to stick to your views. Just offering the view from outside CCC.

Finally sorry if all I said is just whatever that you would had known all along, and sorry for any offense that I have caused. Thanks for taking the time to read and reply!

Just on Saturday night I went for Tzu Chi’s sharing. There I learn this phrase in relation to interreligious views:


It says: Much of them are the same. The magnanimous heart sees the similarities. The narrow mind sees the difference.

That’s about it on my interfaith adventure, other than Wai Kit making an interfaith interest group in USC itself and I was one of the members who support the group! Ven. Chuan Guan is coming on Monday night March 12, 2012 7:30pm until 9:30pm Cinnamon South Learn Lobe, Seminar Room 1, University Town (NUS) for the talk on Buddhism! It’s open to all in NUS and outside too! I think.

Signing off here!

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