The Dalai Lama on interfaith cooperation

On Sunday, I was privileged to share the stage with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at St. John the Divine … Continued

On Sunday, I was privileged to share the stage with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City for a conversation on interfaith cooperation. It was the end of a long tour of major public teachings and high powered private meetings for His Holiness, but he arrived exhilarated to talk about one of the topics that is central to his work in the world.

There were two main messages in the Dalai Lama’s presentation at the Cathedral, messages that are further emphasized in his new book and his recent New York Times OpEd:

1) Interfaith cooperation is a major public issue that needs to be advanced by a mass movement;

2) Positive interactions between people from different faiths and an appreciative knowledge of the world’s religions are key to building this movement.

The Dalai Lama sees a day when the evening news is no longer dominated by stories of religious conflict. Impossible? I don’t think so. I just think we have our work cut out for us. Consider standing at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965 – could anyone have dreamed that America would elect a black president 50 years later? Imagine staring out at the smoldering cities of Europe after World War II – could anyone have dreamed of a European Union 50 years later? We’ve witnessed remarkable changes in the past half-century. Building a bridge from the shore of religious conflict, bigotry and ignorance to the shore of interfaith cooperation is no less important, and requires no less investment and no less work, than any other major change.

Bridges are built by leaders who believe that we can get to a new and better place, and have the vision, knowledge-base and skill-set required to help us get from here to there. The leaders who build interfaith bridges need a history of positive interactions with people of diverse faiths, and an appreciative knowledge of other traditions.

At St. John the Divine, His Holiness spoke about his friendship with the great Trappist monk Thomas Merton, his visits with Muslim leaders in India, his long-running dialogue with Rabbis. There is a beautiful chapter in the Dalai Lama’s new book in which he lifts up prayers, scripture passages and stories from different faiths on compassion. In the New York Times, the Dalai Lama wrote about how Gandhi’s life was an embodiment of compassion. The message is clear – live out the view of compassion in your own faith or secular tradition, learn to admire views of compassion in other traditions, come together across faiths on the common ground of compassion. As he writes, “(Compassion is) a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. And these days we need to highlight what unifies us.”

What if that chapter on compassion was required reading for every high school senior? After all, we require every seventeen year old to dissect a frog to graduate. Shouldn’t we proactively advance an appreciative knowledge of the traditions that animate and sustain the lives of the vast majority of humankind, especially in an era when extremists are dominating the dialogue about religion? What if our houses of worship encouraged the kind of interfaith exchange and friendship that characterized the Dalai Lama’s personal development? What if it was simply status quo for college campuses to have interfaith councils and for cities to host large interfaith youth celebrations? This is what it looks like for interfaith cooperation to become a social norm.

And as the Dalai Lama emphasized, the stakes could not be higher: “Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers – it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.”

Written by

  • Navin1

    we need to highlight what unites us and destroy what creates otherness: koran, bible, infidel hating allahs, etc. hariaum

  • EddietheInfidel

    What I’d really like to see, Mr. Patel, is you sharing the stage at St. John the Divine with a Muslim leader of stature who’d express the same sentiments.I don’t need these assurances of “cooperation” and “tolerance” from a holy man of Buddhism; how about you get some of your co-religionists to step to the plate and deliver the same message.

  • PSolus

    Eboo,I’m guessing that your pantry at home is stocked full of all kinds of different snake oil; am I right?

  • arkns

    We need some mullahs from Pakistan to share the stage with the Dalai Lama and make a speech about universal love, tolerance, and respect for all religions. Mullahs don’t believe in that because the Koran does not espouse such a philosophy.The entire Pakistani society should hang their heads in shame over the bombing of the Ahmedia mosque and killings these poor people. Their only crime was believing in a different Prophet. The stupid Pakistani constitution does not recognize the Ahmedias as Muslims it seems. What a dumb constitution based on a dumb philosophy. Pakistan should be subject to severe international sanction for officially trampling on the rights of minorities.

  • AKafir

    Not today.Militants in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Friday launched simultaneous attacks on two mosques belonging to a minority Muslim sect, killing dozens of people and leading to a hostage standoff with police that remained underway into the afternoon.Gunmen armed with grenades, pistols, high-powered rifles and suicide vests descended on the mosques, then detonated explosives and fired indiscriminately, according to Pakistani news reports.

  • Arif2

    Can anyone dream of a day when the dirty Qur’an will be banned? Can anyone dream of a day when Islams prophet will be deemed a filthy war monger, womanizer, lying, looter whose religion is causing so much terror in the world? Impossible? I dont’t think so.

  • AKafir

    Yasseryousufi was telling us how Ahmedis are not molested in Pakistan only a few days ago. Be that as it may, the attacks are certainly tied to the past. Pakistan’s Ahmedi community has been under attack since the 1950s. With the decades that have passed since then, the severity of their persecution has increased, and has been enshrined in law. In the mid-1970s they were declared non-Muslim. A decade later a bar was placed on them preaching or professing their faith. Violence of all kinds against them — murder, kidnappings, forced conversions — has taken place. The latest attack is a continuation of this. It fits too with the more organised terrorism we have been seeing recently.The above is from an Editorial of a major Pakistani Newspaper. ARKNS:”Their only crime was believing in a different Prophet.”Their real crime was that they tried to reform Islam. That is the crime for which the Bahais have paid a similar price in Iran. That is the price the Alevis have paid in lebanon. This is what the Kaafirs in the west really need to understand about Islam.

  • aquarius-age


  • true-soldier

    ..D-E-A-T-H to “WAHHABi’S & AYATOLLAH’S” Ummah!Fuk TURKS, IRANIAN, SYRIA Islma-Ummah!

  • hitman2


  • arkns

    Ahmedias should immigrate to India and leave that intolerant, terrorist-infested country Pakistan behind. It is high time India and other pluralistic secular countries of the world extend a hand to help the Ahmedias of Pakistan. They should be afforded right to free passage out of their nightmarish existence in Pakistan. I would like to see more countries around the world denounce Pakistan in the strongest possible terms. That country is yet to join the world of civilized nations. I don’t know how intolerance can be built into a constitution. That mullah country is no less than Nazi Germany in its degree of intolerance and bigotry.

  • AKafir

    AKNS:Ahmeddiyas are Muslims. Sectarian war and killings is in Islam’s DNA. Sir Chaudry Zafar Ullah Khan was a very famous Ahmeddiya and part of the muslim establishment that worked tirelessly to establish Pakistan. Read his services to pakistan at the Ahmeddiya site: In the name of Islam, the true believers of Muhammad have wiped out the hindus and the buddhists from Pakistan. They have decimated and terrorized the few Christians there. Then they declared the Ahmeddiyas non-muslims and have been molesting and terrorizing them. They have also been killing the Shia’s among them. After they have decimated the Ahmeddiya it will be the turn of one of the many sects that are there in Pakistan. The next one in line may be the Ismailis, or perhaps the Sufis, or the Barelvis, etc. etc. The Ahmeddiyas of Pakistan hate India just as much as the Sunnis of Pakistan.

  • AKafir

    Hitman2:Not one word on the Ahmeddiya’s? That is the Islamic way is it not? I have neither read nor followed the story of the “attack on the fotilla to Gaza”. The reason is that from past experience I know that the truth of what is really going on there will not emerge for some time. I also know that most people in the non-islamic countries do not know that the Islamic countries will never ever accept the existence of Israel. As long as the Quran is followed, the muslims will never accept the jews as ordinary humans and will not accept the jews of Israel other than as dhimmis. That is the yahood hanood nexus that Pakistani press rails about all the time. I am sure you are very familiar with it. Pakistan wiped out its hanood (hindu ) population in the first 40 or 50 years of its existence. Telling Israel to accept the fate that your quran dictates for them is to condemn them to a fate far worse than the fate of Ahmeddiya’s in your country. I cannot do that in good conscience.Quran 2.101 and 2.102And when there came to them a Messenger from Allah (i.e. Muhammad Peace be upon him ) confirming what was with them, a party of those who were given the Scripture (Jews)