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Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World's Religions Can Come Together

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The Dalai Lama addresses one of the most important issues of the time: the polarization of the world along religious lines. His exploration ... Show synopsis

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Reviews of Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World's Religions Can Come Together

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  • The Dalai Lama's Plea For Religious Coexistence Nov 24, 2016
    by Gissinglover

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama has become a widely respected and revered figure by many people who do not practice Tibetan Buddhism. The many writings under his name explore a variety of topics from Buddhist belief and practice to secular ethics, and to the relationship between science and religion. In his new book, "Toward a True Kinship of Faiths" (2010), the Dalai Lama expands upon ideas in many of his earlier writings to discuss the nature of religious pluralism. The book moves both on a personal and on a community, world-wide level. The issue the book addresses is how individuals and religions may be committed to their own individual faith traditions, or their secularism, while respecting the faith traditions or the secularism of other people or religions. Of course, this is a difficult, multi-leveled inquiry that has been asked and explored many times. The question is important because all too often religion becomes a means of divisiveness and anger among individuals and groups rather than a source of shared humanity.

    The book begins on a more personal level than usual with a work of the Dalai Lama and proceeds towards the more abstract. Thus, in 1959, when as a young man of 24 the Dalai Lama fled Tibet for India, he had experience little of religious life beyond his own Buddhism. Over the years as he learned and gradually became an international figure, the Dalai Lama's horizons broadened. Early on, beginning in 1956 with a trip to India, he came into closer contact with other Asian religions such as Hinduism and Jainism and learned to appreciate them more than he had been able to do earlier with his strictly Buddhist education. Then, in the late 1960s, the Dalai Lama met and befriended Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk who had himself shown an interest in Eastern contemplation. The friendship with Merton was the beginning of the Dalai Lama's attempt to understand and appreciate Christianity. While living in India, the Dalai Lama also had the opportunity to get to know Muslim leaders and to gain respect for the peaceful, compassionate aspects of Muslim teachings. And the Dalai Lama saw the Jewish experience, with its long exile from the Holy Land as a model for the exile of his own Tibetan community. From various Jewish leaders, he learned as well about methods of Scriptural interpretation that paralleled his own experience and about Kabbalah -- the expression of Jewish mysticism.

    In the first half of this book, the Dalai Lama expands upon his experiences with different religions and how these experiences taught him. He then moves to more difficult and broader inquiries. Many people see what they regard as the only apparent diversity in religious beliefs and argue that all religions are fundamentally the same under the variety. The Dalai Lama respects but rejects this view because it is difficult to say in what sense theistic religions, such as Judaism or Christianity, are "the same" as nontheistic religions such as Buddhism or Jainism. For the Dalai Lama, then, the metaphysics of religion are irreducibly plural. But the religions share, he claims, a common ethics based upon shared humanity, and a practice of compassion and the development of selflessness.

    From trying to show how religions share a similar ethics of compassion, the Dalai Lama moves to a discussion of the importance of religions living in peaceful coexistence with one another, and he offers a rather vague programme of inter-religious learning and cooperation. The heart of the book comes in a chapter titled "The Problem of Exclusivism" in which the Dalai Lama struggles with the question suggested in the first paragraph of this review: how it is possible for a person to be committed to his or her own religious tradition while respecting and being open to the traditions of other people. This is a difficult question. Basically the Dalai Lama's answer turns upon a recognition by each person of the value of his own religion to him, and an appreciation that other people find similar values of compassion and love in the metaphysics and religion which they practice. There can be personal commitment without exclusivism. A person can follow the spiritual path he chooses based upon his background and experiences and culture and be committed to it while respecting and understanding that other people from different backgrounds and underlying predelicitions will make different choices. The different choices are metaphysical -- faith based -- but they each work their way to a basically shared human ethics of compassion. The Dalai Lama thus claims that faith based belief in a religion is fully compatible with respect for and an ability to learn from the faith traditions of others. The Dalai Lama expands the point in comparing faith based traditions to secularists who profess no faith. Secular metaphysics too works to teachings of compassion and respect. Hence, secular people and religious people can peacefully coexist with and learn from each other in common humanity.

    The issues that this book raises are complex, especially in considering how religions can be pluralistic metaphysically and yet result in essentially parallel ethical teachings. While not minimizing the difficulties, the Dalai Lama writes in a down to earth, simple style. He explains the issues, in itself not an easy task, and writes eloquently towards a resolution. I don't know how this book was written, but an aura of sincerity shines through as the Dalai Lama speaks about himself and his own spiritual path and then generalizes his experiences so that others may share and understand. The book displays a since of urgency and importance in its message. The Dalai Lama concludes his book with a sustained appeal to believers and unbelievers alike. Here is a portion of it:

    "Of my fellow religious believers, I ask this. Obey the injunctions of your own faith: travel to the essence of your religious teaching, the fundamental goodness of the human heart. Here is the space where, despite doctrinal differences, we are all simply human..... To all people, religious and nonbelieving, I make this appeal. Always embrace the common humanity that lies at the heart of us all. Always affirm the oneness of our human family.... Let not your differences from the views of others come in the way of the wish for their peace, happiness, and well-being." (pp.181-182)

    This is a wise, deceptively simple book that will appeal to readers who have struggled with questions of religious belief and religious pluralism.

    Robin Friedman

  • One could expect this from the Dalai Lama Sep 13, 2012
    by Phyllis D

    My hat is off to the Dalai Lama for this thoroughly researched, masterfully written, and thoughtfully composed piece of literature.
    He looked into the holy writings of most, if not all, of the world's major religions, and found a common thread among them upon which humanity can unite to produce a more peaceful, loving world of humans.
    That common thread is simply compassion, sincerely practiced .
    It is worth anyone's time to read this book. You will not forget everything you learned in doing so,...guaranteed.

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