We believe that all religions of the world advocate that human beings should live together in harmony. We should accept that all religions in the world believe that the God they worship is the most righteous, the most loving, and possesses the greatest capacity to give humanity blessings of well-being and happiness.
However, why has the world been rife with contradictions and conflicts, violence and terror throughout its history and why has this happened among social groups with the strongest religious fervor? Even among believers of the same religion in the same ethnic group, because of differences in times, environments, individual understanding, and emotional experiences, differences arose and people insisted that the God according to their own knowledge, views, experiences and beliefs is the only, most accurate, most peace-loving and the most real, and also the most perfect ultimate truth. Thus, creating opposition, ideological rivalry and violent confrontations. This is probably the reason for the intolerance among various forms of fundamentalism that in turn brings about bloody conflicts.
This is neither the problem of “God” nor of religion. Rather this is because of human beings, ignorance, their lack of wisdom, and the inability to open up their minds in an attempt to understand oneself and others. If one believes that God is omniscient, omnipotent, full of love and authority, one should also believe that God will provide the most appropriate teachings and aids according to the needs of the numerous different ethnic groups of different times and civilizations. These various manifestations are the result of God’s all encompassing love for all humans. With this understanding, one will see that the Gods worshipped by all religions and their sects are all the most supreme, monistic God, manifested in different forms as the result of God’s universal love to humanity. If God can be manifested in many different forms, then followers of all religions are none other than the children of God. Therefore, aren’t they all brothers and sisters? Is there still need for oppositions and conflicts?
Otherwise, the suspicion, denial, opposition and struggle among religions and sects will inevitably result in endless conflicts. Because of these conflicts, everyone loses his sense of security. In order to guarantee one’s safety and protect one’s space for survival, and in order to preach God’s love and extend God’s righteousness and power, there is no choice but to use violence as a means to suppress those deemed as the evil enemies. These evil enemies are to be terrorized, destroyed, and thoroughly annihilated from the face of the earth so that no lurking dangers remain for one’s ethnic group and religious sect. In reality, one can never completely annihilate all those who disagree with one’s thoughts and religious beliefs. The enemies are all generated from within to begin with; after one group is exterminated, another group will appear. This way of perceiving all parties that do not concur with oneself as evil demons brings about an endless cycle of retaliation. How terrible this is!
Therefore. we believe that religious violence and its terrorism have their origin in human beings, insecurity. When confronted with phenomena that one does not yet know, because of suspicions one has fear. Because of fear one resort to violent means, striking out preemptively to embolden oneself and trigger terror in the enemies.
How can we solve this millennia-old problem that has remained unresolved? I suggest the following two main general approaches:
1. The most swiftly effective means is to pass a resolution under international law in the United
Nations stipulating that in order to protect human beings, freedom of pluralistic religious belief and security of human lives, any individuals, ethnic group or country who uses religious groups to incite violence and terrorism should be tried by the international criminal court and be subjected to sanctions by all of humanity. However, this is not my area of expertise. Hence, this should be discussed by the legal experts in this conference.
2. The most thoroughly effective means is:
a. Call upon all people of love and wisdom, to employ all means and approaches to constantly extend, whenever it is appropriate, our friendship towards every ethnic group, region and individual who is prone to terrorism. Let them know that they are not alone or helpless and let them feel the warmth of care, respect and acceptance. When they feel the sense of security, then they will no longer feel the need to engage in violent terrorist actions because of fear.
b. Call upon all people of love and wisdom, to employ all means and approaches to actively interact with, understand, and empathize with every ethnic group, region and individual who is prone to terrorism. Whenever it is appropriate, help them correctly understand their own religious beliefs and let them know that if they want to receive God’s love, they must emulate God’s all-encompassing love for the world. Hence, no one should regard terrorists as evil demons. Otherwise, if everyone treats all those who do not concur with oneself as evil demons, then terrorist attacks will never be terminated. Only when we give the world our love can we resolve all forms of enmity. This is the utmost reliable action for security.
c. Call upon all people of love and wisdom, to employ all means and approaches unceasingly to introduce, when appropriate, to every ethnic group, region and individual who is prone to terrorism knowledge of pluralistic ethnicities, cultures and religions. This is to help them understand that to allow for the mutual existence and prosperity of pluralistic cultures is the inevitable trend of civilization and the common necessity of modern human society. Only when we tolerate the differences among various ethnic groups within a pluralistic global society can we exchange virtues and strengths and learn from each other. Otherwise, if people seek only to reject those who are different from themselves and attempt to use violent means of terrorism to intimidate and conquer those who are different, the result is that they will end up targets of terror and conquest themselves.
d. Call upon all people of love and wisdom, to employ all means and approaches unceasingly to encourage, whenever it is appropriate, teachers of all religions and their various sects and all intellectual and influential religious people to reexamine their sacred scriptures. If they discover points that contradict the inclusiveness of a pluralistic global culture, they should be given a new interpretation. Human society has long transitioned from the dominance of a monolithic culture into that of cultural plurality and mutual interaction. Those who pay no heed will either be isolated from or come into conflict with the common global community as a result of their conservatism and insistence.
e. Call upon all people of love and wisdom, to employ all means and approaches unceasingly to make use of every appropriate opportunity to advise all religious and spiritual leaders that while they should pay attention to politics they should not harbor ambitions in politics. Furthermore, they should warn their followers not to be provoked, manipulated or controlled by politicians and not to become their tools. They should advise their country’s political leaders that they can be devoted in their religious beliefs and religious experiences yielded from spiritual cultivation but that they should not exploit religious followers, arouse religious fanaticism, incite religious reprisals, declare “holy war” against peoples who do not concur with them, or use terrorist attacks for political gains. In other words, we should help the ambitious religious and political leaders understand that, in today’s global world, religion and politics must function separately from each other. Otherwise, while God and religion do not present a problem, it is unavoidable that people with unwholesome ambitions will exploit the name of God and its followers to incite ethnic conflicts and violence. While the powerful side will resort to war, the weaker side will then resort to terrorist attacks. This will, as a result, bring upon humanity unceasing calamities.
The abovementioned statements are my recommendations for today’s topic of discussion and not a representation of Buddhist beliefs. Buddhism does not deny the Gods worshipped by all religions. More importantly, Buddhism is about how to use compassion in the interaction with others and how to use wisdom in handling affairs. With compassion, one will not see loathsome enemies. With wisdom, one will be free from the vexations of suspicion, fear, etc. Buddhists should not harbor attitudes that go against these principles, with or without a scriptural justification.
(Presented on May 21, 2003 at The Illegitimate Use of Religion to Incite Violence (Terrorism): Crime against Humanity Global Conference, United Nations Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium, New York)