Talk Categories Religion & Modernity | Talk Locations Maison du Tourisme de Grenoble

Religious Harmony and World Peace

Living in a world that is colorful and diverse, we are blessed with chances to explore. Should we exclude ourselves from the diverse angles of approaching the truth, or open ourselves to the charm of them? Your choice matters for harmony amongst religions and the peace of the world.


“This world can be at peace when all religious followers of the different traditions share the same wish and vision, when they respect and get along harmoniously with one another, and when believers and non-believers find a common ground that is inclusive of all differences.”

Speech by Khenpo Sodargye

A World of Diversity

A World of Diversity

We are living in a world that is colorful and diverse, which has all kinds of greenery and flowers blossoming in different colors and forms. Likewise, human beings too are rich in diversity, as people from all over the world have different skin and hair colors, hobbies, lifestyles, etc.

Speaking of culture, some cultures are quite compatible with us and we can quickly accept them, yet there are also other types of culture which we can’t embrace right away. Nevertheless, we should know that there is a significance for their existence and it is worthwhile for us to learn about them.

Take beauty standards for example. While Easterners find something aesthetic, Westerners may not agree, or Africans would have another opinion. Given something, in the beginning, we may not appreciate it, or even completely reject it, but after having been in contact with it for a while we might be completely attracted by it.

Religious belief is another great thing in this human world. There are more than 7 billion people on this planet, with about 6 billion having different religious beliefs. In other words, more than 80% of the entire population are religious followers. As a Buddhist myself, I have great interest in learning about other religions and various cultures worldwide, and try to gain more understanding of them.

Conflict of Interest, Not Religions

Nowadays, many blame religions for being the cause of warfare, bloodshed and all kinds of conflict around the world. Actually, if we observe with rational analysis, we’ll come to the conclusion that in most cases, it is about conflict of interest due to politics, economics, etc. Authentic teachings of major religions would never allow this to happen.

It is important that we open our mind and learn from one another. In this modern world, acquiring new knowledge has never before been this simple, as all necessary information is in reach through our phones or computers. When we are unfamiliar with a certain religion or culture, and if we just judge them through colored lenses, then the true reality will become discolored and as a result we may find them intolerable. However, when we truly understand the teaching of each major religion, we’d realize their power to solve humanity’s problems, and appreciate their shared advocacy for harmony, equality, loving-kindness, and compassion.

Throughout human history, it is evident that different religious traditions are sustained by a certain vitality and energy and have remained alive up until today because they are endowed with such strenuous life forces. For example, one of the earliest Vedic teachings of Hinduism has been in this world for over 4,000 years. Roman Catholicism and Chinese Taoism have been around for 3,000 years. Buddhism appeared in ancient India more than 2,500 years ago. Christianity and Islam have about 2,000 and 1,500 years of history respectively. We can see that in our modern society, there were some ideologies and streams of idea that appeared quickly but vanished immediately too, so through comparison, I believe that all major religions in this world have their own energy and vitality.

When we are unfamiliar with a certain religion or culture, and if we just judge them through colored lenses, then the true reality will become discolored and as a result we may find them intolerable. However, when we truly understand the teaching of each major religion, we’d realize their power to solve humanity’s problems, and appreciate their shared advocacy for harmony, equality, loving-kindness, and compassion.

Bias Among Believers

Don’t Just Dismiss “Myths”

As ordinary people in this mundane world, what we perceive with our eyes, hear with our ears, and think with our mind may not be precise. This is due to our lack of capacity in understanding certain knowledge at a more profound level.

In Buddhism, it is said that in Lumbini, Nepal, Buddha Shakyamuni was born from his mother’s left underarm and took seven steps right after his birth, stating, “I’m foremost the noblest of those in the sky and above the earth.” That’s how he came into this human world. It is not surprising that many people find this account illogical, “How is it possible that someone came out from the underarm?”

Also, in Christianity the Virgin Mary became pregnant through mystical contact when she was still a virgin, so Jesus Christ was born without a human father. But this history could be considered impossible by non-believers.

Another example is the founder of the Eight Diagrams in Taoism named Fuxi. His birth was due to a coincidence that his mother stepped on a gigantic footprint in Heze, China. She became pregnant when she stepped on top of the footprint. Fuxi came earlier than Emperor Yao, Shun and Yu the Great. He is regarded as the origin and ancestor of all Chinese descendants.

I once read about Muhammad, Prophet of Islam. Before his forties, he lived the life of an ordinary householder but later when he was praying in a cave, Allah made a revelation through angel Gabriel. Then he became the Holy Prophet in this human world and began to preach the teachings. Through Muhammad’s efforts, the propagation of Islam began at that point from the Middle East. With such a creation story, many people are confused, “How can someone proclaim themselves to be a real spiritual being just like that?”

As well, the birth of the founder of Vajrayana in Tibetan Buddhism is rather intriguing. His mother was a bhikkhuni and once when she was bathing in the river, a swan flew over and touched her gently on the neck. Following that, she was pregnant and gave birth to the master Garab Dorje. Another well-known legend in Tibetan Buddhism is Padmasambhava who, in a lake in Afghanistan, was born in a lotus instead of a womb. Many people find this amazing and revere the great lotus-born.

The aforementioned “myths” are all about extraordinary figures who far surpass many others as their teachings and thoughts have been passed on for hundreds and thousands of years. I personally believe these stories to be true. But for some non-believers, these could just be myths or a scam to deceive others. Or some believers might choose stories of their own religion as valid ones but dismiss similar accounts in other religions. It is indeed a really narrow mindset that rejects whatever is not my religion while accepting whatever is within my religion. This is what we human beings should reflect on.

Bias Among Believers

Long ago, it was not so easy to travel to different places, and communication was not as convenient as it is now, so people couldn’t understand each other very well. Thus, it is understandable that people had some misunderstanding and judgments on each other. As technology is so advanced now, people should really have a sincere understanding of each other regarding values and thinking processes.

Perhaps many of us are hesitant to have any contact with other traditions or knowledge that we are not familiar with or do not believe in. We might even repel other ideas or judge and despise them. This is unreasonable. When we don’t understand the philosophies of different religions, we might feel them not to make sense and have a negative attitude towards them. For example, due to our custom or our habit we might assume that Islam is terrifying, Tibetan Buddhism is mysterious, or Christianity is better to be avoided. “This has nothing to do with me, I’m not within this religion.” We separate ourselves from others by using the labels of different religions. Such discrimination creates barriers among people which could turn into a big gap or might eventually bring conflicts.

However, when we get to know them, we’ll realize that every religion has its own charm and blessings. For example, Buddhism emphasizes compassion, Christianity speaks about loving all people and saving the suffering ones. Hinduism talks about helping the poor, spreading the truth, using love and compassion to enlighten the world. As for Islam, it teaches people to love all lives just as Allah does.

Therefore, we should gain more understanding on global religious values one step at a time. First we learn, then we understand and finally, we’d truly appreciate one another’s doctrines. This requires all of us to join efforts and work together courageously.

If we are to actually fulfill “religious harmony”, it shouldn’t remain as a slogan but be actions of individuals. We need to be courageous to do so. Our mindset might not be that open before, but now, we should integrate with society and bravely get in touch with unfamiliar matters. Usuallywhat we hear from others may not be true, but when we actually investigate in person, we’ll gain a better understanding and resolve our confusion.

Start from the Basic Goodness in the Heart

Find the Similarities Among Religions

I’ve read a story that once a girl was prostrating in a temple and while doing so, her necklace of a Christian cross was showing. Someone mocked her, “Are you Buddhist or Christian? You’re prostrating in a Buddhist temple while carrying a symbol of Jesus Christ. What’s your belief exactly?” The girl answered, “Jesus Christ and the Buddha are all sublime beings. I have faith in these incredible beings.”

Actually, this girl demonstrated a value. I think for the conservatives, keeping one value or faith is perfect, but if you’re an open individual, having double values or faiths is certainly legitimate. If you acknowledge what is taught in respective religions and believe them to be true, this is faith. If you find those teachings reasonable, then this is a rational faith. Everyone can have this kind of faith.

It is fairly easy for Buddhism to embrace other ideas. Just as the Nirvana Sutra states, “All sentient beings possess Buddha nature.” “Possessing Buddha nature” might sound foreign to other religions. “Buddha” means “the awakened one”. Buddhism acknowledges that every sentient being has the potential to be fully awakened and to completely realize the truth of the universe. Such an element of awakening is within every sentient being. With this principle, Buddhism is inclusive of all other religions as their followers are all future buddhas who deserve our sincere respect.

In Buddhism, it is said that sentient beings have 84,000 types of afflictions and when all of them are eradicated, sentient beings can attain full enlightenment. This teaching echoes with the idea taught in Sufism, which acknowledges that one can come to enlightenment but before that, one needs to break out from the confinement of negative emotions. There are 70,000 veils of light and darkness that separate people from Allah. By gradually removing them veil by veil, one can become completely awakened and be reunited with Allah.

Explore Different Cultures and Religions Yourself

Buddhism holds the view that if certain things actually exist in the world, you should acknowledge them. Any community or any individual in human society may maintain a value or a habit or a lifestyle over a long time. When you don’t feel comfortable with a certain tradition, you may need rational objectivity to observe the reasons behind it.

If we are to actually fulfill “religious harmony”, it shouldn’t remain as a slogan but be actions of individuals. We need to be courageous to do so. Our mindset might not be that open before, but now, we should integrate with society and bravely get in touch with unfamiliar matters. Usually, what we hear from others may not be true, but when we actually investigate in person, we’ll gain a better understanding and resolve our confusion.

For example, if you’d like to learn about Christian doctrine, it’s better to visit churches or missionaries in the West in person. I’ve visited many Christian churches and spoke with pastors, and then got a much better understanding of their stories, teachings, and aspirations.

Or, if you want to learn about Islam, then visit the places where Islam is prevalent, such as the Middle East. Experience a Muslim lifestyle to truly understand the teachings. Or if you’re interested in Tibetan Buddhism or Hinduism, it’s necessary to visit India or Tibetan areas. Enter into their monasteries and learn about their teachings and perspectives on life.

In particular, since the 911 incident some people now have religious phobia and feel averse towards certain traditions.I’ve met some Muslim friends who told me that in their Islamic teachings, murder is intolerable. But unfortunately, extremists and terrorists did just that in the name of religion. When authentic religious followers directly explain their religions to us, we can easily understand their real meaning.

Start from the Basic Goodness in the Heart

Back in 1993, I visited North America with my guru, H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche. After returning to the Tibet region, His Holiness joked that he never thought red hair to be appealing but after 3 months in the U. S., even blonde hair became very pleasing to him. Nowadays, many Tibetan young people like to dye their hair blonde or red. Some conservative masters or elders are not fond of it and I have to convince them that it’s just a trend for young Tibetans.

So it is quite possible that what we strongly rejected in our earlier life may become what we end up doing when we reach old age. As simple as this example, I’d like to stress that while there should be an ethical restriction, we also need to broaden our mind along with globalization. No matter what, being in this world and given various faith and preferences, the most important thing is to care for humans and animals with love and compassion. To me, this is the common goal of humankind.

Keep in mind that if a person loses a kind heart, virtues can’t even be mentioned. I wish that we can stick to our own cultures and religions, and meanwhile, we still get along with all people genuinely and harmoniously. Therefore, we need to have a kind heart, as well as universally ethical behavior that accords with the traditions and morals of different cultures and beliefs.

This world can be at peace when all religious followers of the different traditions share the same wish and vision, when they respect and get along harmoniously with one another, and when believers and non-believers find a common ground that is inclusive of all differences.

Question and Answer Session

Is Larung Gar Always Open to Everyone?

Is Larung Gar Always Open to Everyone?

Question #1:

In the talk, Khenpo Rinpoche suggested that we should visit Buddhist temples so that we can better understand Buddhism. So I’m wondering if this is a serious invitation? Because I’m sure some of us must be very interested in visiting the monasteries, like the institute you come from, Larung Gar. I’m wondering if the door of the institute is always open to us?

Khenpo Sodargye:

When Larung Gar Institute was founded, H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche made it clear that, while this institute is a Buddhist university, it is open to all the followers of various traditions and religions. So the reason that today Larung Gar attracts so many people is due to its openness. Open-mindedness is crucial as it is not fixated on certain ideas and does not reject other thoughts. Such openness is the most vital factor. The door is always open, there is free entry; whether you come or not depends on your own conditions.

How to Be Open to Different Religions with Contradictory Philosophies?

Question #2:

I would like to ask about the point that you mentioned earlier regarding accepting other religions. I have to admit that for me, it is challenging. Since even though one may believe in several prophets and accept different religious traditions, it seems to me that there are fundamentally contradictory differences in beliefs.

Let’s take views about death for example. In Christianity, it is said that when you’re dead, you either go to heaven or hell and that’s the end. In Buddhism, it is said that when you’re dead, you reincarnate in cyclic existence, maybe as an animal, or other forms of being. So how can we hold these fundamentally contradictory beliefs simultaneously?

Khenpo Sodargye:

I feel a good choice is that you just believe in one religion while respecting and learning about others.

Regarding death, there are detailed descriptions about dying and death in Buddhism, however, if you find the Christian view on death acceptable, then follow it. If you find the Buddhist view reasonable, then embrace it. It’s normal to find differences, which, in some regards, could be a matter of whether the details are explained or not.

I once asked a Christian, who studies Christianity very well, about reincarnation. He said heaven and hell are clearly described in Christianity, but there’s no explicit statement to deny reincarnation. The fact that reincarnation is not denied explicitly may suggest that Christianity never claims that there is no reincarnation.

When Will We Have a Female Spiritual Leader?

Question #3:

Rinpoche, you’ve just mentioned about “building a common ground that’s inclusive of differences”. What is the role of women in Buddhism? Will we have a religion led by a female?

Khenpo Sodargye:

This shouldn’t be difficult. In fact, let alone religion, there are already many nations with successful female figures. In 2014, there were over 20 female national leaders globally. In Buddhism, females and males can receive both lay and monastic precepts and they both enjoy equal status in the Sangha. Any woman who is capable can certainly be a leader. Our current head teacher at Larung Gar is also a female, the Ven. Lama Mumtso. I’ve also visited many universities where the presidents are female.

Regarding future spiritual leaders in Buddhism, I truly believe that with sufficient wisdom, compassion, and ability, it’s possible for any female to take on leadership. I also believe that this is possible for other religions as well.

How Does Buddhism View Atheists?

How Does Buddhism View Atheists?

Question #4:

My question is about atheists. Personally, I’ve tried to approach religions but even until now, I can’t genuinely believe in any of them so I wonder, how does Buddhist philosophy view atheism?

Khenpo Sodargye:

I’ve studied much about atheism. In Buddhism, from the ultimate point of view, all gods or buddhas do not truly exist and possess the very nature of emptiness. Then for now, the so-called “atheism” believes that in this world, whether Jesus Christ or Buddha Shakyamuni, all great figures are fictions and their supernatural powers and activities are made up by someone else. This kind of thought is too naïve.

It is unreasonable to deny all religions because there are so many religious events that really took place in history. Regarding all those great figures, including gods, if atheists cannot find any solid evidence to deny their existence, then it is not easy to stick to their belief in atheism.

Indeed, the thought of atheism is kind of dependent on or triggered by theism. The main idea of Darwinism that claims that there is no creator has made a great impact worldwide. What Darwin proposed has affected many in the world to reject gods or religion, but if we really investigate those ideas with rigorous reasoning, we know that their opposition is not that convincing.

Between Culture and Religions & the Evolving of Religions

Question #5:

Every religion seems to frame things with lists and within boxes, whereas culture, on the other hand, helps to propagate religions. However, culture might also carry a potential negative influence, as it’s common to see individuals having a different interpretation of religion based on their cultures. Could you please elaborate on the negative aspect of the culturally influenced outlook on religion?

Khenpo Sodargye:

While I’m talking about the positivity of religion, we should keep in mind that the negative aspects aren’t necessarily the flaw of religion itself. Yet, many people are delivering negative messages and impressions in religious attire.

Whether in China or the West, some people misuse Buddhism to cheat others. This is particularly prevalent with Vajrayana Buddhism. This can also be seen in other religions. So we do need careful observation. That’s my first point.

Second, regarding your question about Buddhism and culture, the word “jiào 教” from “fó jiào (Buddhism in Mandarin)” in both Tibetan and Chinese languages has a meaning of “education”. Normally with a stereotype idea of religion, people seldom consider it as a culture but if we regard religion as a system of education, it certainly plays a cultural role. Within this educational system, there can be many disciplines such as philosophy, arts, and more, Christian program and Buddhist program.

In some countries, religion is prohibited but it’s permitted for culture to be a study program in university. I think this it is due to a lack of understanding of religion and I feel approaching religion from the cultural aspect would be more appropriate.

Moreover, every religion has its unique vitality and its own development. It would be great to see Christianity having its glorious period, and Buddhism having its flourishing stage. We should have a sincere hope that every religion has a fulfilling development and never do we think that our own religion dominates the entire world. This is impossible. Even if it turns out that one religion rules over the world, it would be an abnormal situation.

Can We Hope for a Unification of All Religions?

Question #6:

Hello Rinpoche, I’ve read the Bible, the teaching of Islam, as well as Buddhism. Would there be a hypothesis that one day, all the religions can be incorporated? Like language, maybe we could have a universal language one day. Say, Muslims bring in certain teaching of Islam, Christians and Buddhists do the same thing respectively. Collectively, this could be for the young generation to take refuge in.

Khenpo Sodargye:

From the Buddhist point of view, we do not want Buddhism to become the only religious tradition that unites religious teachings, nor Christianity or other faiths. For thousands of years, religions have existed and developed in diversity. It is impossible to amalgamate all faiths. I don’t think any other religion would have this idea either.

In the same way that the economy fluctuates, there may be an increasing number of followers in a certain belief or lessening numbers in others. Prosperity and decline alternate among different faiths, but it is impossible for just one religion to dominate all. From the Buddhist point of view, we’d wish that whichever belief is beneficial to all beings―this would include human beings, animals, and more―should last forever. Meanwhile, those that are detrimental to society and humankind should not be praised or propagated.

World peace can only be achieved through compassion and love. This is the key to the sustainability of humankind, and if any religion holds these two as the essence, we should propagate them. That’s our sincere wish. Buddhism prioritizes the well-being of all sentient beings before personal benefits, and working for all living beings so they acquire happiness and are free of suffering is the ultimate belief of Buddhism.