The Buddhists Attitude to Other Religions

QUESTION: You certainly think highly of Buddhism. I suppose you believe it is the only true religion and that all the others are false.

ANSWER: No Buddhist who understands the Buddha’s teaching thinks that other religions are wrong. No one who has made a genuine effort to examine other religions with an open mind could think like that either. The first thing you notice when you study the different religions is just how much they have in common. All religions acknowledge that humankind’s present state is unsatisfactory. All believe that a change of attitude and behavior is needed if the human situation is to improve. All teach an ethics that includes love, kindness, patience, generosity and social responsibility and all accept the existence of some form of Absolute. They use different languages, different names and different symbols to describe and explain these things. It is only when people cling narrow-mindedly to their particular way of seeing things that intolerance, pride and self-righteousness arise.

Imagine an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Chinese and an Indonesian all looking at a cup. The Englishman says, ‘That is a cup.’ The Frenchman answers, ‘No it’s not. It’s a tasse.’ Then the Chinese comments, ‘You are both wrong. It’s a pei.’ Finally the Indonesian man laughs at the others and says ‘What fools you are. It’s a cawan.’ Then the Englishman get a dictionary and shows it to the others saying, ‘I can prove that it is a cup. My dictionary says so.’ ‘Then your dictionary is wrong,’ says the Frenchman, ‘because my dictionary clearly says it is a tasse.’ The Chinese scoffs; ‘My dictionary says it’s a pei and my dictionary is thousands of years older than yours so it must be right. And besides, more people speak Chinese than any other language, so it must be a pei.’ While they are squabbling and arguing with each other, another man comes up, drinks from the cup and then says to the others, ‘Whether you call it a cup, a tasse, a pei or a cawan, the purpose of the cup is to hold water so that it can be drunk. Stop arguing and drink, stop squabbling and refresh your thirst.’ This is the Buddhist attitude to other religions.

  • This is based on A Good Question Good Answer, by the Ven. S. Dhammika