Assisi 2011: Some Thoughts and Reflections

Some folks asked if I got to see the Pope, shake his hand or kiss his ring.  Others asked if I got to speak at the conference and how everything went.  Here are some thoughts and reflections.

A few things about the conference was inspiring.  For one, the Pope in his speech declares that “As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith.  We acknowledge it with great shame. … “.  I thought this is an interesting acknowledgement on his part.  There will be naysayers … but oh well, there will always be.

The other thing is the sheer number of volunteers involved from various centres in Italy who are not directly from the Vatican or the Pontifical Council.  They did a great job making all the delegates feel welcome and at home!

Then there is the public.  They really went wild … in a good way! 😉 … they cheered, they clapped, they shook our hands, took our pictures … we felt like stars! hehe … I think it was partly because Italians are really warm, smiley and friendly people, and partly because some of the public were tourists. … have I mentioned that Italians are very warm, smiley and friendly?

the event, I did get to talk to some fellow delegates and priests from the Pontifical Council.  While the Pope’s message was encouraging, I shared some concerns with them.

Firstly, in practically every inter-faith dialogue, there is an unspoken (or perhaps spoken!) assumption that all religions believe in God(s).  I’ve shared at a few inter-faith dialogues that Buddhists do not have a belief in a (creator) God.  This is often to the temporary horror and shock of the participants and organisers.  Then I tell them that despite this, it does not make us Buddhists, their enemy nor they ours.  To me, whitewashing this fact or glossing over it will undermine inter-faith dialogues and cause our mutual understanding to remain superficial.

In the Pope’s message, “…the denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence”.  Buddhism proves exactly the opposite while Atheists are protesting repeatedly online that lack of belief in God (or religion) does not necessarily make one immoral or violent.  Buddhism do not have a belief in creation or in God, but I think Buddhists has so far proven to be of the meeker lot.  While I can understand the Pope’s point of view as a Christian, inter-faith dialogue should recognise that religions include those without a belief in God and that peace is possible and has been attained through such religions as well.

A second point I raised to a fellow delegate is on proselytization or conversion.  While we gather as “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”, will we truly have peace and inter-faith harmony if conversion and evangelism is still around the corner?  While I know of many Christians (Catholics and Protestants alike) who are moderate and do not go around attacking other religions, there are many who do.  By remaining silent on the matter, they are unwittingly endorsing with their silence.  I know of some Buddhists who have lost faith in inter-faith dialogues because of this.  And can we blame them?  How can there be genuine trust and understanding if evangelical Christians continue to disparage and attack other religions (including Buddhism) while moderate Christians remain silent on this?  To have meaningful inter-faith dialogue, we need to address this.

The last interesting thing I want to share is my encounters with people in this trip.  There are many whom I chat with, and at least four to five who through our conversation, professed their liking and affinity towards Buddhism even if they are Catholics.  What is most striking is their reason for doing so.  In their words, they like Buddhism because “it is a religion about Happiness and Love” whereas “Christianity (and Catholicism) is a religion of Sin and Repentance”.  This totally blew me away and I wondered how interesting that Westerners are having such a very positive outlook of Buddhism while Asians (or Singaporeans?) may have a slightly different view of it.  In fact, I felt obliged to defend for Christianity in one instance, especially when the Vatican security staff very openly shared this with me, in front of a Catholic nun.  I think I almost fainted!

Ironically before my Italy trip someone just told me how she has this notion that Buddhism is all about Sin and how there are hundred and one taboo, that every other thing one do is Sinful.  Makes me wonder where she got all those ideas from.  Bad marketing on Buddhism’s end?  *gasp*

Buddhism is a religion of Happiness and Love … what else can it be? 😉

Sharings from An Atheist Who Was Once A Pastor, A Missionary and An Evangelist

Dear Friends, Below is a sharing from an atheist who was once a pastor, a missionary and an evangelist.

I am quite moved by the length at which he goes to really understand his religion and its teachings.  While I can only say that I read one over times, the English translation of the Pali Nikayas (Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta, Anguttara (anthologies) Nikaya and some of the available suttas in the Khuddaka Nikaya), with repeated readings of some suttas that I have special affinity to, he read all 66 books a total of TWENTY-SIX (26) times!  That is not to mention that of the Chinese Mahayana Tripitaka where I have mainly focused on sutras and sastras (commentaries) from the Prajna (Wisdom) sections 般若部 and Yoga (Cultivators1) sections 瑜伽部 (唯識) and spent more time learning certain sutras or commentaries as needed.

I am posting it here as there may be something we can glean from his personal journey.  How are we Buddhist equally dogmatic or not?  How are we cultivating and verifying the Dharma as the Buddha invited us to?  Or are we merely accepting everything while praying for the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to come do the change for us?

Many people ask why someone like me, who came from a Christian home, went to a Christian high school and then went on to spend five years in seminary and become a pastor, a missionary, and an evangelist, would turn his back on the God he spent a lifetime worshiping and serving and give up all faith in the supernatural. The answer is very simple, and I’m about to give it. First, however, let me tell you what the reason is not.

Most people, upon hearing my story, all unanimously decide regardless of their own spiritual beliefs or religious affiliations that I must be mad at God. They tell me I just had the wrong religion, or that I just needed to try their particular name-brand. It’s the one thing religious people of all stripes can actually agree on, and it isn’t even true.

I did, in fact, have a rough time in religion. My formative years of trial and tribulation didn’t weaken my faith in
the least. In fact, it was because of these troubles that I spent many nights on my knees praying that I might not be like “those other Christians,” and that God would show me the path to becoming his choice servant. It was because of this that I began to take my studies of the Judeo-Christian god very seriously, and it was this in-depth study and reflection that led to my current state of unbelief.

Let me share with you the ten main reasons I found that reflect why I went from a Fundamental, Independent Baptist minister to an ardent Atheist.

Debaptism in UK or Is It Ok for A Buddhist to Attend Church Service

When I was a teenager, I’ve heard of how Buddhist parents were afraid when their children get drawn to attend church services because if their child should get baptised, then it is a one
way path, and their children in future, could not or would not pay respects to them, or remember and honour them with an ancestral tablet either in the temple or at home.

I myself went to, let me see, three or four services when I was a student in JC and in NTU.  The first1 when I was in NTU was through the invitation of my then girlfriend who was a Christian Catholic (I was a lay person back then!).  Actually, she was not quite my girlfriend yet but we were more or less headed in that direction.  I was not about to jeopardise my prospects with her.  My mom had a very different idea.

When she saw me wake up early (7+8am or so) on a Sunday morning, her mommy-spidey senses alarms went off faster than you can finish reading this line!  She grilled me on where I was going and basically charged me with LIM (Clan of the Forest) Family Penal Offence #348 Section 28A Clause 132, “… wherein a member of the family shall make an attempt to enter the premise of a church for the purpose of attending a service, either intentionally, unintentionally, wilfully, knowingly, or otherwise, with premeditation, in person or proxy, alone or with groups of two or more, such a member shall be … “, you get the idea. Read More …