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Book Review: Toward a True Kinship of Faiths" by Dalai Lama

November 9, 2010

Lawton W. Posey
Charleston Gazette
November 6, 2010

Toward a True Kinship of Faiths
by the Dalai Lama,
Doubleday Religious 2010
189 pp., including list of various Scriptural and other resources
Price $25.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I have known little about
the Dalai Lama, other than what I have seen on
television. I find him interesting and thoughtful, and sometimes quite foreign.

By "foreign" I mean that this sage, in his maroon
robes and smiling Asian countenance seems as
remote as the Pope. Someone who wears religious
garb all the time (as does the Holy Father), and
someone who speaks with such solemnity seems at
times from another planet. My Protestant eyes are
more accustomed to the domestic appearance of so
many of the great thinkers I have listened to or read.

When the Dalai Lama writes, he shows
communicative skill that I had not expected. In
plain English, he is able to set forth his ideas
from the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism clearly and quite precisely.

He knows the religious scene, and claims
friendship with many current thinkers. Because he
lives in India, in exile from his native Tibet,
he may be limited in his contacts to some extent,
but he knows fellow Nobel Laureates Archbishop
Desmond Tutu, many religious leaders of various
sects, and speaks easily with them about his
faith, which is non theistic, and extremely focused on the individual.

In this work, he has selected the theme of
compassion, and sees compassion as a common
element in most spiritual communions. It is
compassion that he uses to project the idea of a
close bond among the many world religions.

As I read, I was most interested in his approach
to Christianity. He sees kinship between the
Buddhist quality of compassion and the love of
Jesus for all people, and his command to "love
one another". Christianity, in its many forms is
a religion of a Book. Buddhism, on the other
hand, has collections of sayings by the Buddha,
but no specific authorized text deemed to be the
Word of God. The Dalai Lama is quick to recognize
that trying to blend all religious traditions
into one organizational structure is an impossible task and not the ideal.

He emphatically rejects any attempt to convert
people from one faith to another. As a Buddhist,
he is frank to say that his tradition is the
best, but he admits also that while his faith is
superior, it is so, only as he perceives it.

One thing that attracted me to the logic of the
Dalai Lama is that he is able to understand, at
least in part, devotion by some Christians to
Mary, the mother of Jesus. He has considerable
reverence for Jesus. In some ways, his flexible
views may be offensive to evangelical and
theologically orthodox Christians. His firm
commitment to his own faith could trouble those
who think that no religion is better than any.

This is not a great book, but is a good one. A
college class, or a church school class might
find much of this work interesting and possibly
helpful. I found some of this book heart-warming.
I also found it, at times, tiring and a bit
"preachy". In fact, reading this distinguished
man's peaceful prose almost put me to sleep on occasions.

Perhaps it might be best to read "Toward a True
Kinship of Faiths" as meditations.

Still, knowing of the suffering of the people of
Tibet and its leader, I respect his contribution,
and am in wonder at how knowledgeable he is
regarding beliefs of various religious groups and
their sacred writings. Sometimes, an old man in a
maroon robe is a potent antidote for the
political and religious quarrelling we hear these days.

Regardless of their faith or lack of it, a
question remains: Will people listen to him?

Posey is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Charleston.
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