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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Dalai Lama's book affirms Christian teachings

October 11, 2007

Q&A with Stu Fegely
Ithaca Journal, October 9, 2007

Editor's note: His Holiness the Dalai Lama will lead an interfaith 
session titled "Prayers for World Peace" at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the 
State Theatre. The suggested reading for the event was the Dalai 
Lama's book "The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the teachings 
of Jesus," a transcription and analysis of a 1994 seminar featuring 
His Holiness and Christians. Recently, St. Paul's United Methodist 
Church of Ithaca held a month-long discussion of the book. Stu 
Fegely, the chair of the Adult Spiritual Growth committee at the 
church, led the discussion. He answered some questions from The 
Journal about the book and the group discussion. An excerpt of the 
interview is published below. The full interview is available at 
www.theithacajournal.com/Opinion.

- Andrew Tutino, Opinion Editor


Q: This book drew high praise from various religious organizations. 
What makes it so appealing?
A: Well, it didn't draw praise from the Christian Coalition or other 
organizations from the religious right, but yes, it did receive 
praise from mainstream and progressive Christian organizations and 
interfaith organizations. The appeal for Christians is that here you 
have the world's best-known authority on Buddhism affirming the 
general principles of your scripture's teachings. The appeal for 
people who are interested in learning about world religions is that 
it shows the remarkable parallels between the teachings of Jesus and 
Buddha.

Q: The book specifically says it is to be used as a tool for future 
"interreligious dialogues." Do you think it serves that purpose?

A: Yes it does. The tone of the seminar was one of openness, 
sensitivity and mutual respect for each other's faith traditions and 
scriptures.

Q: The event where the discussions in the book took place occurred in 
1994, and the book was published in 1996. How are its messages and 
themes relevant today? Can you give one or two examples?

A: The messages are as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago, 
let alone 13 years ago! Much of it is as relevant as today's 
headlines. The Dalai Lama has probably had his share of people 
telling him that the Tibetans need to resort to violent tactics if 
they ever want to be free from the Chinese occupation. Jesus lived in 
an occupied country and also had his share of people urging him to 
lead a revolt against the Romans. But that's not what Jesus' 
teachings were about, and it's not what Buddhist teaching is about.

Q: What do you think of the parallels between the Christian and 
Buddhist faiths? Can you give an example of one that is important to 
you?

A: Although the Dalai Lama cautioned against pushing the parallels 
too far, it was amazing how every Gospel passage he read reminded him 
of something in Buddhist teaching or scripture. The parallel I found 
most important is the one between Jesus' command to "Love your 
enemies and pray for your persecutors" and the Buddhist text, "If you 
do not practice compassion toward your enemy then toward whom can you 
practice it?" This is such a radical and counter-intuitive concept, 
and the fact that Jesus and Buddha, living 500 years and 3,000 miles 
apart, both came up with the same concept, is something to make you 
sit up and take notice. My feeling is that they had both tapped into 
the same divine source, and the wisdom flowed out of them.

Q: What was the most important piece of information you took from 
this book?

A: The idea of being able to appreciate both the parallels and the 
differences among the world's religions, all while maintaining the 
integrity of your own faith tradition.

On one hand, there are plenty of Christians who believe that 
Christianity is the only "true" religion, that non-Christians aren't 
"saved" and so on. Obviously no one at "The Good Heart" seminar or at 
our discussion group held that view. But on the other hand, the Dalai 
Lama cautioned people who, in their eagerness to be tolerant and open-
minded, end up glossing over the distinct differences between 
religions. He made it clear that the seminar was not about trying to 
create some kind of watered-down universal religion.

He also urged people to follow the religion of their own culture and 
inheritance. So to the Christian who is dabbling in Buddhism, he 
suggests that they delve deeper into their own tradition and become a 
genuine, good Christian. If you look around, you'll find that there 
are many ancient practices within Christianity that are being 
rediscovered and revived, such as meditation. So there's more to 
Christianity than what you see on The 700 Club!

Q: Why did you decide to lead a workshop on it?

A: I saw on Namgyal Monastery's Web site that this book was the 
suggested reading for the Dalai Lama's talk at the State Theatre. I 
had never heard of it before, but when I saw that it was of the Dalai 
Lama giving a Buddhist perspective on the teachings of Jesus, I 
thought it would be a perfect book for us to discuss at St. Paul's. 
St. Paul's is a progressive, open-minded church, and we welcome 
interfaith dialogue. I wanted to publicize the event to the Ithaca 
community because I figured there would be interest, and I figured 
there would be people in the community who might be interested in a 
church that would offer something like this. We hold a four-week book 
discussion group on various topics about two or three times a year.

Q: Also, anything else you'd like to add that you think is important 
is welcomed, especially about the group you led and what was 
discussed there. Since I wasn't there, it is hard for me to ask 
specific questions about it.

A: The discussion group went very well. There were about a dozen 
"regulars" plus other drop-ins, and more than half were people from 
the community and not just from St. Paul's. For the first session we 
had as our guest one of the monks from Namgyal Monastery. He had just 
flown in a few days earlier from the Dalai Lama's monastery in 
Dharamsala, India, to help work on the sand mandala at Cornell 
University. He spoke some English but mostly through an interpreter. 
He gave us some basic information about Tibetan Buddhism in the 
limited time we had. The group felt honored that Namgyal was gracious 
enough to send these two men to speak to our group. Namgyal sure is 
St. Paul's "good neighbor" on Aurora Street!

The other three sessions we spent discussing the book. Whenever we 
have an adult discussion group at St. Paul's, we make a point to 
create an atmosphere of trust and openness, where people can frankly 
share their views, beliefs and doubts, without fear of being called 
un-Christian, heretical, misguided or what have you. Rather than 
claiming to have all the answers, we accept the idea of "living with 
the questions." (Which happens to be the title of our latest Sunday 
morning Adult Ed curriculum.)

One thing that struck many of us in the group was the theological 
perspective of the Benedictine monks and nuns who participated in the 
seminar in the book. Their views on the nature of heaven, God and 
faith were not the rigid traditional views we might have expected. 
Someone remarked, "Where were they when I was in Sunday school?"

Another common theme was how the Dalai Lama often referred to the 
various schools of thought within Buddhism in general and even within 
Tibetan Buddhism. Most of us Westerners lump all of Buddhism together 
in one vague category. But that's like lumping Catholics, Methodists, 
Quakers, Southern Baptists, etc. into one broad category.

Overall it was a great chance for people to have some stimulating, 
thought-provoking discussion. It also got us excited about the Dalai 
Lama's visit to Ithaca, even though most of the folks don't have 
tickets!

Stu Fegely lives in Danby with his three children, Amy, Patrick and 
Laura.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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