|Buddhist -Jewish Discussion|
|Tuesday, 14 September 2010 09:04|
Buddhist-Jewish Inter-Cultural Discussion & Community Gathering on our shared culture of kindness and tolerance
Speakers included the Most Ven. Kurunegoda Piyatissa Maha Nayaka Thero of the New York Buddhist Vihara, Ven. Heenbunne Konndagna Thero, Chief Incumbent of the Staten Island Temple, Rabbi Simon Jacobson, Dean of the Meaningful Life Center, Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson, Executive Director of the Jewish Children’s Museum, Mr. Mendel Spalter, Director/Outreach Development of the Jewish Children’s Museum, Dr. Wije Kottachchi and His Excellency Dr. Palitha Kohona, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York. Speakers touched upon the common themes of the two religions and the need for greater understanding and tolerance among all communities. Before the beginning of the meeting all visitors were taken on a guided tour of the Museum which had been built with voluntary contributions exceeding 25 million Dollars. All speakers agreed that this was a pioneering initiative and expressed the hope that the contacts that were established will be developed in the future.
Buddhism and Judaism are two great religions that have had an enormous impact on human thinking over the centuries. Buddhism which originated in India, rapidly spread along trade routes, on one side, to the Middle East and, on the other, to distant Korea and Japan. Based on the principles of loving kindness, understanding and tolerance, it remains the major religion in many countries in the South East and East Asian regions. At one time, it was the dominant religion in countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia. These countries may not have many Buddhists any more but the influence of Buddhism is still tangible. There are many archeological remains in these countries which testify to the flourishing Buddhist cultures that existed then. The vast ruins of the university complexes at Taxilla in modern day Pakistan and Nalanda in modern Bengal stand in mute testimony to the influence of Buddhism in these countries. In fact the biggest Buddhist monument of the world is Borobudur in Java.
In Sri Lanka, we pride ourselves in having preserved Buddhism in its pristine form. The Sri Lankan interpretation of Buddhism is simple and straightforward. There is very little embellishment of the basic tenets as propounded by the Master and for over 2500 years, our culture and attitudes have been influenced by Buddhism. We built great monuments in honour of our teacher, the Buddha, and almost every aspect of our lives has been influenced by his teachings. In fact, at one point, Sri Lanka was the centre from which Buddhism was propagated to South East and East Asia. The great Chinese traveler monk, Fa Hsian, spent over eight years in Sri Lanka studying Buddhism. Our ancient cities, such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, are testimony to the impact of Buddhism on our daily lives. The influence of the religion on both kings and commoners was immense. Huge religious monuments, later engulfed by the jungle, were built from around 300 BC till after the 13th century and to this date, these ruins, rival other major archeological sites around the world.
Similarly, Judaism has influenced the thinking of the people in the Middle East and in the West from its inception. What we refer to as the western civilization, is essentially a product of the Judeo-Christian tradition. We are aware that the concepts of natural law, social order, family, concepts of governance, etc. in the West have flowed from the rich tradition that had its origins in Israel. The cultural values of many parts of the world reflects the influence of Jewish thought.
We have also noticed that many Buddhist thinkers of the West were of Jewish background. Bhikku Bodhi is from a Jewish family from Brooklyn. Similarly, Epstein, who wrote extensively on Buddhism, was from New York. It comes as no surprise that minds trained in the Jewish tradition could absorb the philosophy of the Buddha without difficulty.
I do not claim to be an authority either on Buddhism or on Judaism and I hope to leave the discussion on the finer points of these two great religions in the hands of those on the podium.
Ven. Monks, distinguished Rabbis, I will now invite you to begin the discussion.