In the current issue of Tricycle dharma teacher and scholar Rita Gross—who is leading this month’s Tricycle Retreat—argues that instead of desiring answers to unanswerable questions, we should learn how to be helpful in a religiously diverse world. She writes:
It is a fact that we live in a religiously diverse world. Religious diversity can and often does result in grave misunderstanding, hostility, and, as we know all too well, conflict, with unacceptable costs to human life and well-being. For this reason, among others, it is incumbent on responsible people to know how to think clearly and compassionately about religious diversity. For Buddhists, it is important in thinking about such issues to use Buddhist tools and views, lest our attitudes and actions simply reflect the biases and reactions we have absorbed from the surrounding culture.
In all forms of Buddhism, one finds teachings on skillful means, which can help us understand why not everyone holds the same views or does the same practices. Buddhist tradition also contains a very refined understanding of the counterproductive nature of aggression, and along with this, one finds fine-tuned practices regarding what is useful speech in highly charged environments. A third thing one finds in Buddhist tradition is a unique perspective on the role of words and concepts in relation to religious truth. Because one relies on them less and less as one progresses into greater spiritual maturity, Buddhists should be less uncomfortable with not having answers to unanswerable questions. The ultimate truth of other peoples’ religions may well be one of those unanswerable questions to which we really don’t need an answer. All we need are some methods to ascertain how well those religions work for their adherents. In coming to terms with religious diversity, Buddhists of all schools can find guidance in the values, teachings, and practices embedded in these aspects of their own tradition.
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