Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Prothero's Characterization of the Dalai Lama

Rick wrote a post yesterday titled The Dalai Lama is Wrong, quoting the argument made by Stephen Prothero in his new book.  I haven't yet read Prothero's book and don't know from where he draws his conclusions about the Dalai Lama, but I don't think they accurately reflect what the Dalai Lama says or believes.  I've both taken oral teaching from the Dalai Lama (during the time I was Buddhist) and have read much of what he has written and he never tries to claim that all religions are the same.  He does suggest there are convergences, which I think is impossible to dispute.  He also believes there are some shared fundamental values in the major world religions, which I think is equally clear.  He does seek to promote inter-religious harmony, which seems to me to be a laudible goal.

However, as the Dalai Lama writes in the preface to his most recent book , Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, "[t]he establishment of genuine inter-religious harmony, based on understanding, is not dependent upon accepting that all religions are fundamentally the same or that they lead to the same place."  The book is an effort to explore convergences between religions "while setting up a model where differences between the religions can be genuinely apprecaited without serving as a source of conflict.


Stabile, Susan | Permalink

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I am, of course, not competent to second-guess Susan with respect to the content of the Dalai Lama's thought and writings. That said, Prothero is a Professor of Religion at Boston University, and the author of multiple serious books on religion-related topics, and so I'm reluctant to dismiss his piece. Like Susan, I think it is "impossible to dispute" that there are some overlaps among the major religions' ethical and other teachings. That said, it seems to me "impossible to dispute" that there is a widespread, if not-particularly-well-thought-out view that, at the end of the day, all of these religions are pretty much the same and that it is unseemly to insist on any differences. But, in my view, these differences (some of them, anyway) really matter.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Jul 11, 2010 3:23:37 PM

I don't dispute either Professor Prothero's qualifications or Rick's statement that there is "a widespread, if not-particularly-well-thought-out view that, at the end of the day, all of these relgions are pretty much the same and that it is unseemly to insiste on any difference." My point (and I think I made this clear in my post) is simply that the Dalai Lama is not one of those people.

Posted by: Susan Stabile | Jul 11, 2010 3:41:54 PM

Many other religions have different words for God and a few, as in Buddhism, do not include a Supreme Being or Creator. Some give God personal qualities, while most speak of God as a spiritual omnipresence or an all-pervading force. Among the other religions which are still practiced today: Aboriginal traditions, African tribal beliefs, Baha’i, Druze, Jainism, Native American faiths, Polynesian spirit worship, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Yoruba, and Zoroastrianism. Later prophets had developed new traditions, like Jewish Kabbalah, had gained new revelations, as in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), or had founded new religions, such as Baha’i. There are hundreds of religions and faiths.

The Vedas, most sacred to Hindus, were rejected by Buddhists who also defined many Sanskrit words differently, e.g. nirvana. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, are most revered by Jews and are studied by most Christians. Practices and customs may vary between countries, as apparent among the predominately Muslim states, or blend in local mythology, such as in Hinduism on Bali. Doctrine for any one religion may differ between its divisions or their branches, like within the many Protestant denominations.

In Vedanta, Brahman is considered as the One God; Hindus of Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism may worship a chosen god, goddess or incarnation who emanates from Brahman. In Judaism, behavior and worship may vary among movements: Conservative, Hasidism, Orthodox, and Reform. Mahayana Buddhists rely on guidance of others and prayer; Theravada stresses self-reliance and good works; Vajrayana has secret rituals and metaphysics. Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and other Christians differ often on grace, the Trinity and sources of doctrine. Ibadi, Shi’a and Sunni Islamic sects disagree on Muhammad’s successors and on the status of imams; Sufi orders among them may worship differently.

Reading the mystics of all religions can help to overcome these many apparent differences. Mysticism’s message seems to be the same: The essence of the One is the essence of All. Although the ultimate Reality is the same, each experience of it can vary. That applies to each mystic as well as between mystics.

(Quoted from my e-book at www.suprarational.org )

Posted by: Ron Krumpos | Jul 11, 2010 4:03:06 PM