The 2022 Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue Sees Interfaith Representatives Voice Ideas to Help Mitigate Global Crisis

The 2022 Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue Sees Interfaith Representatives Voice Ideas to Help Mitigate Global CrisisThe Development Foundation of the Museum of World Religions (MWR) is the curator of the 2022 Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue themed on ‘Confronting Our Global Ecological Crisis: Religion, Spirituality, and Science in Conversation’. With the Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue celebrating its 20th birthday this year and to expand participation in the interfaith exchange, representatives, scholars and scientists of the Abrahamic religions covering Judaism and Christianity were invited to join counterparts from Islam and Buddhism on the international forum on November 2, Taiwan time, to offer studied opinions and expert views to help mitigate ecological crises, providing a friendly, intra-religion catalyst that marks a milestone in interfaith cooperation.

The September 11 attacks in New York in 2001 that shook the world to its core prompted the inception of the Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue by Master Hsin Tao, Founding Abbot of the Ling Jiou Mountain Buddhist Society (LJM) and the Founder of the MWR, and followed it up with the launch of the Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue in 2002. The purpose was to bring about some positive impact worldwide in line with the guiding philosophy of the MWR that reads 'Respect for all Faiths, Tolerance for all Cultures, Love for all Life.'

It is said that the world is beautiful for all the varieties and harmonious for being interconnected. For 20 years running, the Islam-Buddhism Dialogue has seen 16 stagings in 11 countries before its current 17th event, which is co-curated by the Development Foundation of the MWR and the Southern Methodist University (SMU) Perkins School of Theology, and co-organized by a United Nations NGO Global Family for Love and Peace (GFLP), Faith Commons, and the University for Life and Peace (ULP) for real-time online interactions between the US and Taiwan.

English was the working language at the most recent international forum. Dr. Maria Reis Habito, MWR International Affairs Director, opened the event, with Tai Lee responsible for simultaneous translation back-to-back. The Dialogue was hosted by Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of Global Education at SMU and following his introductory remarks to the conference theme and speakers, representatives took turns to deliver viewpoints from a religion-science juxtaposition in the great traditions of Buddhism, Chrisitanity, Judaism, and Islam in alphabetic order of the faith.

‘In the face of the current ecological crisis, the fundamental cure lies in mankind’s spiritual awakening,’ said Master Hsin Tao in his address to the event. From the viewpoint of Buddhists, the Master continued, ecology in its entirety is one living community of all forms of existence - hence the notion that ‘Spirituality is ecological, and ecology is spiritual’ should be promoted. We are all partners to one another and we depend on one another for a symbiosis. The salvation comes only when we are able to offer such spiritual love to all sentient beings, offering our sincere repentance for the wrongdoings we’ve done in order to realize ultimate enlightenment. From religion hangs a thin thread of hope of solving our ecological crisis and we sincerely hope that religious solidarity which unites everyone’s strength to safeguard ecology will guide humankind back to spirituality, putting an end to wars and defusing conflicts, decreasing consumerism out of material greed that helps harness further excessive depletion of natural resources. Planet Earth would then be safe with sustainability to warrant world peace.

Pastor George Mason, Faith Commons Founder and a faculty member of SMU Perkins School of Theology, highlighted his talk with two paintings respectively titled ‘High Mountains’ and ‘Running Water’ created by children from his parish to stress that the Bible is the book of wisdom, and a guide for code of conduct for people’s livelihood. Planet Earth is Mother Nature - one that faces climate change and global warming - that requires religion to work hand-in-hand with science by necessity. In the process of Nature’s self-healing, Christianity takes it upon itself to help people find and secure that guiding light from within, i.e. spirituality, to lead us to move forward collectively toward wisdom.

Nancy Kasten, a Jewish rabbi and Faith Commons Publicity Director, cited the biblical stories of Eden’s Adam and Eve and Noah’s Arc to substantiate the viewpoint that man was created ‘in his image’ on Earth to amend and heal man’s wounded partners and NOT as the universe’s master to indulge in fruits God created. Again, the example of the carob tree was given to remind us that we owe it to our forebears for any sweet fruition in any orchard. It follows that we need to shoulder the duty of saving Planet Earth by securing sustainability for future generations.

Dr. Eva Szalkai Csaky, Executive Director of SMU Hunt’s Engineering & Humanity Institute and Joint Founder of Inclusive Economy Consortium, adopted a social scientist’s approach to her comments zooming in on smart farming as a quite positive solution to the food crisis. According to Dr. Eva Szalkai Csaky, already at our disposal are knowledge, tools, methodology, and information that pools everything to make it happen. Right there at the juncture is a window of opportunity for religion to assume a key role to form a perfect partnership with science to exercise impact in-depth to ultimately render it possible to change human behaviors.

Dr. Bilal Sert, the Muslim Chaplain to SMU, had to regret the last-minute foregoing of his invitation due to a positive PCR test. He went with a proxy to deliver the comments including that the Koran foresees the pursuit of economic growth and consumption brings damages to decay the Earth. In the face of climate change, environmental regression, and the loss of biological diversities, Dr. Bilal Sert appealed to the audience to endorse the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change with wisdom, compassion and love, following the example of Prophet Muhammad.

Many participants raised questions and challenges during the panel discussions to shed light on the existence of possible limitations on political and religious leaders’ function as well as geographical barriers. Plenty of expectations and suggestions have been made, but unfortunately just 7% was marked ‘potentially changeable’. One person raised his hand to share his self-acknowledged change on-site due to takeaways from listening to the panels that made him look at the indigenous American Indians from a different but positive perspective. The ambiance of the panel discussions was animated and it was easy to pick up the vibe that heated interactions on site pointed to a widely shared desire to belong and to contribute when it comes to Mother Earth and ecology. In tune with the ambiance, Master Hsin Tao offered to lead the congregation in his gift to the world – the one-minute Chan meditation - as a well-kept secret to find peace from within, and that was the icing on the cake to bring the international forum to a successful completion.