Is Interfaith Harmony Feasible with Ingrained Conversion Efforts?

Someone ask me whether interfaith harmony is truly feasible, if some religion continue to hold the thinking that the conversion of others is right n holy.

I think it’s like saying the two persons can be good friends while the person is actively pursuing one’s beau or spouse!

Update – 10 April 2012

After reading some comments and having a discussion with a Dharma friend, here are some thoughts to share.

Consider a few scenarios below:

Scenario Parties Description
1 A & B are married.
C pursues B.
Under C’s pursuit, B falls for C and decides to have a divorce.  They go into a relationship and later got married.
2 A & B are married.
C tries to split them and recommend D
C poisons B into believing that A is a horrible choice.
B over time becomes convinced and divorces A in order to be with D, under C’s recommendation.B & D fall in love, goes into a relationship and later got married.
3 A & B are married.
B no longer feel for A.
B divorces A.
B meet other friends, dates and finally find C.  They fall in love and goes into a relationship and later got married.
4 A & B are married.B no longer feel for A. B divorces A.
C recommends to B, another person D.B & D fall in love, goes into a relationship and later got married.


In the above scenarios, person B ultimately filed for divorce and married another person.  The difference is the role that person C & D played.  In scenario #1 and #2, person C actively convince B to have a change of heart whereas in scenario #3 and #4, B voluntarily experience a change of heart and file for divorce, only meeting person C and D subsequently.

It is this difference that I see crucial in interfaith harmony.

The parallel in religion would be where a person decides that one
religion is not suitable and chooses another religion on his own accord (scenario #3 & #4) compared to where a third party would come on to actively persuade you to forsake your religion for theirs (scenario #1 & #2).

As in marriage, likewise in religion, choice is important.  Some culture believe in the sanctity of choice in marriage and religion, and may forbid people to change their choice.  But in this day and age, is that right?  In my opinion, changing one’s choice is not necessarily a wrong thing, but how it changed is important.

As illustrated above, active conversion attempts by third parties are distasteful.

In my discussion with different people, I realised that “conversion” has very broad connotations and can mean quite different things.  Somebody suggested that the Buddha “actively went against Brahmanism” and so was converting people as well.

Another person suggested that while Buddha and his disciples did not actively go out to seek the conversion of the other followers (Brahmins, Niganthas or otherwise), those followers from the other schools did “convert” to follow the Buddha’s teachings.  To the adherents of the other faiths, they may still look upon this as “conversion” nonetheless.

The irony is that the Buddha for the most part, was the target of conversion, where the other religious teachers or groups would send their best disciples to try to defeat him in debates.  In these debates, many became convinced by the Buddha’s sound teaching of the Truth and embraced the Buddha Dharma on their own accord.  Is that still termed conversion?

So again, perhaps it is important to highlight what conversion entail, and which type is inappropriate and not conducive for interfaith harmony.

In my analogy above, voluntary conversion driven by the affected party should not affect interfaith harmony.  If a person decides to change his faith and adopt another religion and its teachings, it is that person’s choice.  Whereas if any one religion actively seek out followers of other faiths to convert them to one’s own, it directly constitute an attempt to reduce, remove and ultimately replace the other religion.

If one religion is actively trying to convert, trying to reduce, remove and replace the other religion, can it still claim to respect the other religions or respect the choice of their followers?

As Buddhists, we welcome people from all walks of life to learn the Buddha’s teachings and benefit from it.  If believing in something makes one more incline to be kind, generous, loving and patience, we applaud that, regardless of the label of the religion or belief.

But if believing in something makes one more incline to greed, hatred and ignorance, more inclined towards violence and hatred towards those who have different religion, more inclined towards seeking the reduction, removal and replacement of other religion for no other reasons except that it is different, then one have to consider it wisely, is such a belief conducive for interfaith harmony?



Sharing at a Christian Meditation Seminar

Earlier last month on 7 / 8 January 2012, I was invited to share at the Christian Meditation Seminar "Common Ground" in Catholic Junior College.

It was eye opening to hear speakers from five different religions coming together to share their religion's way of meditation as I was for the longest time under the impression that meditation was found mainly in Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and various Indian religion.

As most religions were theistic, meditation was for them,  a way to "reach God through silence".  For Buddhist, meditation was a way to purify our mind.

What to me is a step forward was to have people from different religions, using different meditation techniques to meditate together, without a need to convert the other, or to prove that "mine is better than yours".  

During the seminar, I took the opportunity to share the "common human experience" that we all shared.  When we don't get what we want, we fret, we are disappointed, we are unhappy.  Depending on the degree of our want, craving or attachment, we may experience suffering differently.  This does not depend on your gender, age, race, beliefs or nationality.  It is a fact, a Truth of our human condition.  The First Noble Truth of Suffering and the Second Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering (Craving and Attachment).

Most non Buddhists are quite taken aback when they realised that they just agreed to the Buddha's teachings on the Four Noble Truths … or at least the first two.  For the most part, non Buddhists may not have a chance to readily or easily get to know the teachings of the Buddha, so half the time, they may reject Buddhism based on hearsay or misconceptions.

Beyond the above sharing, I also shared with them "Dog Poo".

Yes, dog poo.  I quote myself based on what someone noted down of my talk

"What happens when you step on dog poo", asked Ven Chuan Guan. Your exclamation of disgust is followed may be by a tap dance, you look for a patch of grass/a bit of
wall. You take a plastic bag, clean it off your shoes, wrap it up, tie a nice knot, keep it in your pocket. Keep it warm. Then you go home, tell your family, show it to them: all smell, have a whiff. It was a dalmation, a german shepherd.

Your family says “that’s nothing, let me show you mine”.

So it is with emotional dog poo which does not taint the body but dirties the mind, We choose to live this cycle or choose not to bring home dog poo. Meditation helps.

Visit the Catholic News (Singapore) web site to read more. 

Perhaps all religious leaders, senior and youths alike should be required to attend interfaith events so that we can learn about other religion's teachings.  In learning, it is not to relinquish our own teachings or belief and accept other religions, but to have understanding and appreciate the goodness in others even if it flies under a different banner.

Say Yes to Religious Harmony


Facebook page "Say Yes to Religious Harmony"

We request the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony to make a stand on this.

This page is for people of all faiths (Baha'i Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism*) and people with no religion.

Recently Campus Crusade for Christ has made some insensitive and seditious promotional materials against Buddhism & Islam. We call upon the Presidential Council of Religious Harmony to issue a strong statement against such acts of abuse from one religion to another.

Like this page if you believe in Religious Harmony and respect for all faiths and practices.

Let the voice of the silent moderate majority be heard!


Facebook page "Say Yes to Religious Harmony"

Say Yes to Religious Harmony today!
Go to the facebook link above, Click Like, Share with your friends, share your interfaith experiences and thoughts on the page!
Religious Peace and Harmony is a reality!  Do your part!
Note: These are the ten religions recognised by the government in Singapore.

Freedom … …

A peaceful response to an insensitive posting? *updated*

I just read a couple of different blogs and forum postings on the latest of "Christians vs Buddhism" religious knock-out matches.  Actually, for the most part, it is "Christians vs ________" 'cos we Buddhits were not invited to the match, so it is mostly some of these evangelical Christians doing a one-man boxing match, on their rounds of spreading Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt, to borrow a term from the tech industry where I came from before donning the robes.  

This turn, it is the Christian Crusade for Christ (CCC) NUS chapter, who put up a denigrating poster on Buddhism and Thailand, and one on Islam.  Click the images below for a bigger clearer picture.


According to Rubati (Dominic Foo), author of "Logic of Faith", he is "offended for Singaporean Buddhists".

From Logic of Faith, Rubati writes

"I am offended that the NBS would insult Buddhists in NUS and Singapore by insinuating that they are so insecure about their faith and joy in Buddha that they would have to resort to censorship to answer this slanderous attack by the CCC. "


I am offended that the NBS would make Buddhists out in Singapore to be the equivalent of paranoid Medieval Christians who had to resort to inquisitions and burning of books and opinions to stamp out false charges against them. 


…. (See links below or click on image above for full text) 

First off, it is not about security or not in one's faith,
it's more about mutual respect towards other's faith.  Name calling in religious discussions only does one thing, it shows us what is in your mind, what is in you as a person, as a group — Lack of sensitivity and mutual respect for others.

The irony of it all is that Rubati should compare NBS (NUS Buddhist Society is the correct acronym if that is the society he is referring to) with the Medieval Christians, 'cos the Crusades is precisely from that era of Medieval Christians where one either surrender to the gospel or the sword.  See references below on What is the Crusades?

Is NUSBS resorting to "inquisitions and burning of books and opinions to stamp out false charges against them"?  If so, then NUS provost is, according to Rubati, equally guilty.


NUS provost has issued a statement rapping such insensitivity by the Campus Crusade for Christ,

Professor Tan Eng Chye, Deputy President (Academic Affairs) & Provost in commenting further on the matter said, "NUS is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community. We expect every member of our community to be respectful towards the religious customs, beliefs and sensitivities of others. The University does not endorse any comment or action by members of our community that disrupt religious harmony or disparage the diverse communities that live in Singapore and overseas."

Wait, NUS, the University as a whole does not endorse the actions by Campus Crusade for Christ, so does that, in Rubati's eyes, make them equal partner in "crimes"?

Free speech comes with responsibility.  If you cannot handle the latter, you give up the former.

It is amusing to read his article as all the charges he places on NUSBS is precisely what evangelical Christians are guilty of.  But in any case, his article is a digression from the matter at hand, that

1) in this day and age where we cannot do enough to strive for religious peace and harmony, CCC and other evangelical groups should still be devoting themselves to missionary trips to convert people while 

2) expressing their denigrating statements so blatantly

3) no consequences other than a slap on the wrist from the authorities

Do we really need to spread the news when in this day and age, almost everyone has easy access to the internet?

There are enough churches in the world for people to know its existence.  People can make their choice.  In Singapore, churches have access to prime location while new Buddhists and Taoists temple are relegated to light industrial estates or areas designated for associations and societies, such as Geylang.  But I digress.  


Christian apologetics will tell you that they are doing this out of love.  I will say that it is love with lots of misinformation and discrimination.  I can quite safely say that in all religions, followers are encouraged to share their teachings.  The Buddha urged the monastics and lay alike to share the teachings for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings.  Fortunately Buddhitsts have the decency to share when appropriate, what is appropriate.  With all the Christian wisdom, shouldn't evangelical Christians know what is decent, sensitive and appropriate?  It is good that they are the minority.  But it begets asking, if all is pre-ordained by God, preaching to me would not work 'cos I'm meant to choose out of my free-will to accept the Buddha's teachings …. ? Again I digress. 

CCC's poster, pastor Rony Tan's video, the Christian couple charged in court, … these only surfaced in the past few years because of
technology and growing awareness in Buddhists and Taoists, that they cannot simply stand by and watch attacks on their religion go by.

But I ask this question.  Should we continue to play religious "wack-the-mole" with evangelical Christians who time and again attacks other religions or should something be done?

Each time something happen, the authorities talk to them and issue a warning.  They take down said materials and "sincerely" apologise for their misdeeds.  Seriously, unless CCC was living under a rock the past 2 to 3 years, they would have heard of pastor Rony's case amongst others.

Note that these are university students, not run-of-mill ill-informed zealots.  Thinking, intelligent, bright, crème de la crème of the nation.  They just lack sensitivity and respect for others.

Truly, can anything be done?  You can tie up a person or imprisoning him and restrict his action.  You can seal his mouth with tape and restrict his speech.  But you cannot truly restrict one's mind and views.

Calling out on these Christians' misdeeds merely trim the leaves but leave the roots untouched.  There is no end to this.

I shared with some students yesterday, that perhaps a better thing to do is for them to apologise but not take down those posters.  Let the posters stay, for six months or half a year.  Kinda like a memorial where visitors get to learn of the wrongs that were done and so that we do not repeat them.

Perhaps Rubati is right.  We should not censor these posters, we should enshrine them in a Hall of Shame, for posterity.

For seriously, the very namesake of Christian Crusade for Christ is already very telling of the very nature of this society.  Can we really expect anything more from them?


Aftermath There are consequences.  

Below is a page set up by Buddhists to promote Religious Harmony.  Gee … Buddhists are just too nice!

This page is for people of all faiths (Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and all other faiths) and people with no religion.

Recently Campus Crusade for Christ has made some insensitive and seditious promotional materials against Buddhism & Islam. We call upon the Presidential Council of Religious Harmony to issue a strong statement denouncing such acts.

Like this page if you believe in Religious Harmony and respect for all faiths and practices.
Let the voice of the silent moderate majority be heard!


What is the "Crusades"?

What is the "Inquisitions"?

Inter Religious Organisation in Singapore

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? 😉