I found this interesting news article about inter-religious dialogues going on along the Idaho/Oregon border thanks to Arun over at Angry Asian Buddhist. The article focuses in on Christians who have been attending open house introductory talks at various religious institutions in their area. Here is a section of the article:
While the Toneys said they believe in a soul as Christians, they also found similarities between Christianity and Buddhism — and the other religions the Lifelong Learners group has explored.
“Out of all the religions we’ve studied, none of them preach terrorism,” Dave Toney said. “They all preach the same way. ‘Do unto others’ in a different way.”
Payette Church of the Nazarene Secretary Judy Goff said she was surprised to learn that Buddhists don’t actually worship the historical Buddha — Siddhartha Gautama, the prince born in India who established the religion — but rather focus on his teachings.
“The idea of Buddhism and the balance of wisdom and compassion — there’s nothing wrong with that at all,” Goff said. “I think if more Christians practiced more wisdom and compassion, there would be a lot less hate in the world.”
Reducing ignorance is such an important step to peace in the world. The people participating in these dialogues are getting an opportunity to check their assumptions and open up their awareness, both huge positives.
The model of religious institutions collectively opening their doors, and offering presentations to the public, not to covert, but simply to promote awareness and understanding is one that is worth serious consideration everywhere.
At the same time, I do wonder about the overall impact of such work. Do these open houses only attract people who are already fairly open, but just don't understand the specifics of the various traditions? And will these people turn around and share what they have learned with others they know who are more fearful and threatened by religious diversity? Are these open houses spawning deeper relationships and cross-religious connections, or are they ending up being one shot deals?
Anyway, the particular open house talk being focused on in the article occurred at the Idaho OregonBuddhist Temple. A Shin Buddhist community, the temple is led by Reverend Joshin Dennis Fujimoto, who recounted the following wonderful story in a dharma talk a few years ago:
Rev. Taitsu Imai was a minister at the Tacoma Buddhist Temple. In one Dharma talk, he relayed a story of an elderly couple. The wife was born and raised by a family which was devoted to listening to the Dharma. As she became an adult, she also came to enjoy the Shin Buddhist life of listening to the Dharma. She came to the temple regularly, and tried not to miss opportunities to hear the Dharma.
A well-known Sensei was coming to speak at the temple, and she and her friends were looking forward to the day he would be here. She continued with her usual work and chores around the house, but she was anticipating the upcoming service. The night before the service, she said to her husband, "Tomorrow, there will be a well-known sensei visiting our temple. I will be attending to listen to his sermon with my friends. We all have been looking forward to his visit."
Her husband, who rarely attended the temple, replied, "That's good, but I have always wanted to ask you this question. You have been going to the temple to listen to many sermons for a long time...probably over thirty years on your own, and for many years before that with your parents. What have you been listening to all these years? Either you don't really listen, or you should have made it to the Pure Land by now. If you haven't made it by now, don't you think it is a waste of time? Why don't you just stop going?"
The wife kept silent and thought a little while. Finally, she said to her husband, "Every night I make dinner, and every night you have a drink with your meal. You have been drinking every single evening ever since we were married. Don't you think you've had enough of drinking? What good is it? You should have had enough of it by now."
The husband became angered, and told her, "Don't be a meddler. I work long hours...when I come home, my body and mind are both exhausted. When I have a drink with dinner, I am able to relax and enjoy the evening. I feel better, and I am ready for the next day."
The wife smiled, and told her husband, "That is the same reason I enjoy listening to the Dharma. Listening is much the same as eating meals. We eat meals three times a day. Also, you drink at dinner to help you from your fatigue. Even though we eat today, we still need to eat tomorrow. With each meal, we gain energy and feel refreshed to face what comes next in life. No matter how many long years we listen, no matter how we think we understand, we need to listen to the Dharma constantly so that we will be reminded of life and how to live with awareness and meaning."
*Photo is of an Obon Odori dance performed at the Idaho Oregon Buddhist Temple.