CHRISTIANS AND BUDDHISTS: TOGETHER IN HOPE
MESSAGE FOR VESAKH 1998
Dear Buddhist Friends,
1. On the occasion of Vesakh, which commemorates the Nativity of Sakyamuni Buddha, I wish to express to you, in my capacity as President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the best wishes of Catholics throughout the world.
2. I am happy to say that ongoing dialogue between Buddhists and Christians is distinguished by efforts to meet at the level of religious experience. Both Buddhism and Christianity emphasize the "contemplative dimension" in their practice of religion. Since 1979, through the "Intermonastic Spiritual Exchange" and the "Monastic Hospitality Programme", Buddhists and Christians who are committed to a contemplative life through their respective monastic disciplines have engaged in encounter where in-depth dialogue is possible. This effort is truly commendable.
3. It is hope of new life that has been at the source of our dialogue although our understanding of this new life differs. For us Christians, the new life is to be sought and found only in Jesus Christ. Jesus indicated the way when he said: "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). He taught us not only not to engage in revenge, but to defeat evil with good. He said: "You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well" (Matthew 5:38-39). This makes me think of Ven. Maha Ghosananda's rendering of the one of the teachings of Buddha: "When we are wronged, we must set aside all resentment and say, 'My mind will not be disturbed . Not one angry word will escape from my lips; I will remain kind and friendly, with loving thoughts and no secret malice.'"
4. Hope rescues us from discouragement. We are enabled to begin anew by perceiving around us numerous "signs of hope": the growing solidarity among people in our time, especially with the poor and destitute, the desire for justice and peace, voluntary service, the return of the search for transcendence, an awareness of human dignity and of the rights which flow from it, attention to the environment, etc. I wish to mention here a particular sign of hope, which Pope John Paul II has underlined, namely interreligious dialogue.
5. People of hope are, at the same time, realists who do not close their eyes to reality with all its positive and negative aspects. We cannot turn a blind eye to the dramatic crises of our world: the wars between different countries, civil wars, terrorism in all its forms, injustice which is forever widening the gap between rich and poor, hunger, the lack of shelter, unemployment - especially among the youth, globalization without solidarity, the heavy burden of external debt, the problem of drugs, immorality, abortion. The list could be extended. Nevertheless the small lamp of hope must always remain alight, shining on the paths leading humanity to a better future.
6. We Christians and Buddhists, embarked on our respective spiritual paths, can work together to give increased hope to humanity. Yet first we must accept our differences and show each other mutual respect and true love. This will render us more credible, and we shall be for humanity a further sign of hope in addition to those which exist already.
7. It is in this spirit that I convey to you once again, dear Buddhist friends, my best wishes for the feast of Vesakh.
Cardinal Francis Arinze