Compassion is paramount in promoting mutual understanding and in establishing common actions to heal the wounds of humanity and the Earth, say Buddhist and Catholic scholars.
“Even though our respective religious teachings invite us to build a culture of compassion, we often turn a blind eye to today’s sufferings. We deplore the words and actions that have voluntarily or involuntarily contributed to sow death and destruction, hatred, and revenge. We need to acknowledge that we belong to one human family and owe everyone equal dignity and respect,” the scholars said in their final statement following the seventh Buddhist-Christian Colloquim, November 13-16 in Bangkok.
“No one is saved alone; we can only be saved together for we are interconnected and interdependent. Thus, we need to cooperate with everyone: civil society, followers of other religions, media personnel, governments, international bodies, academic and scientific communities, and all other interested parties in order to foster an inclusive world,” the scholars said.
“We possess religious classics and centuries of experience and wisdom. We need to make these relevant to our wounded humanity and to save the battered earth. We therefore advocate for scholarly endeavors among academic and research institutions with the goal of helping religious movements to alter how they perceive, think and conceive of the other as well as the planet,” they added.
The event was organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue in collaboration with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand and the Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya Buddhist University. Participants were Buddhist and Christian religious leaders, theologians and scholars from various countries, including Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. They explored the characteristics and deep relationships between “Karuna” and “Agape”, which reflect the Buddhist and Christian concepts of compassion and love. “Karuna and Agape in Dialogue for Healing a Wounded Humanity and the Earth”, was the theme of the colloquim.
Creating one family that loves
“The dialogue promises to be an opportunity for collaboration and a shared vision for the well-being of our communities,” said Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, Vicar Apostolic of Phnom Penh in Buddhist-majority Cambodia, one of the colloquium participants. “The Lord created the world and created people. God saw that it was good, it says in Genesis. Nature and people are entrusted to our responsibility. Let us dream together of a world in which there is neither rich nor poor, in which no one is excluded or despised. So our task today, in Asia and in the world, is to create one big family that loves one another, listening to each other and forgiving. We start from harmony, from peace, from sharing with our neighbors the spiritual values on which we can build just and fraternal societies,” he said.
Venerable Phra Brahmapundit, Buddhist leader and member of the Supreme Sangha Council of Thailand, in his speech at the start of the meeting noted that humanity and the earth are interconnected and “both suffer, wounded by destruction, climate, poverty and war.” Hence, “‘Karuna’ is most needed to alleviate the suffering of the earth.” “Karuna”, translated as “compassion”, is one of the four “divine abodes” in Buddhist theology and refers to the awareness of suffering and the interconnectedness of all living beings with one another. “When others suffer, ‘Karuna’ moves the hearts of people to alleviate the suffering of beings in need, without any discrimination. Karuna is inseparable from ‘Metta’, which translates as ‘loving-kindness’ and means unconditional love,” he said. “Through Karuna, one can “try to heal wounded humanity and save planet Earth from man-made pollution,” Venerable Phra Brahmapundit explained.
The scholars at the colloquim also pointed out that “Individually as well as socially, we need to cultivate empathy for the suffering of others and the environment. Thus, we need compassion in political and economic decisions to prevent exclusion and inequality and to foster inclusion, justice and respect.”
Pope Francis and Buddhism
Karuna has also been Pope Francis’ recurring theme while engaging with Buddhists. Speaking at the Vatican with a special Buddhist delegation Buddhist monks and 60 lay Buddhists from Thailand in 2022, the pope Francis expressed his profound respect for the teachings of the Buddha and emphasized the urgent need for continued interfaith cooperation toward a global movement based on compassion—particularly for poor and vulnerable communities who are most at risk from the many crises facing the world. “At a time in which our human family and planet are facing manifold threats,the need for inter-religious dialogue and collaboration are increasingly necessary,” Pope Francis said.
“The Buddha and Jesus understood the need to overcome the egoism that gives rise to conflict and violence,” said the pope. “The Dhammapada sums up the Buddha’s teachings thus: ‘To avoid evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one’s mind—this is the teaching of the Buddha.’ Jesus told his disciples: ‘I give you a new Commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another,'” Pope Francis explained.
Thanks to La Croix International, where this article appeared.