National Buddhist-Christian Dialogue: Conversations on War and the Pandemic

After the successful online dialogue last year, the “National Buddhist-Christian Dialogue” was held again this year on May 19 using Zoom. Christian and Buddhist leaders of different denominations and lineages from all across America, with 20 representatives, gathered to join in this dialogue. Dr. Lois Sprague from the Guibord Center gave the opening speech welcoming everyone, followed by Ven. Hui Dong, Abbot of Hsi Lai Temple, reading the “Prayer for World Peace” written by Ven. Master Hsing Yun.

Next, Convener Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos invited Ven. Hui Ze from Hsi Lai Temple to share on the “Buddhist text studies on Peace”. Ven. Hui Ze explained the importance of world peace using the Buddhist teaching of compassion and non-violence. He further stated that the Founder of Hsi Lai Temple, Ven. Master Hsing Yun teaches his disciples “One can be without anything; however, one cannot be without compassion.” He gave the example of the Buddha advising King Ajatasattu in the “Mahaparinibbana Sutra”, not to attack the Vajjis by convincing him that they abide to the “Seven Wholesome Conditions”, a display of true compassion of wisdom by the Buddha.

Dr. Jeffrey Kuan, from Claremont School of Theology, also conveyed the importance of peace from a Christian perspective. He mentioned, in the Old Testament Bible, the word “Shalom”, which means “peace” in Hebrew, can be found in over 450 places. And within the Christian tradition, “peace” and “justice” always come together. Therefore, religious leaders of all ages teach their followers not to be self-centered, and serve toward a common good instead.

Convener Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, represented his colleague from Orthodox Church in America, Rev. Peter Baktis presented on the “Historical and Religious Dimensions to the War in Ukraine”. Regrettably for Dr. Kireopoulos, what we see in this war, is a conflict between people of Orthodox faith. The Orthodox Church had always seen Moscow as the “Third Rome”, but to launch any military campaign using any theological reason can never be acceptable. He felt the Ukraine War is a crime against humanity, and is an unforgivable act of genocide.

Dr. Duncan Ryuken Williams, from USC Shinso Ito Center, shared the “Lessons We Can Learn from the Japanese Experience of Internment in World War II”. Dr. Williams stated, the next day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first people who were interrogated by the FBI were a Buddhist priest and a Christian pastor of Japanese Communities in the United States. This is because they were suspected of spreading pro-Japan propaganda even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, present day America is facing a similar problem of racial discrimination. But hopefully through the solidarity of different religions, we can teach our next generation much better how to create a more harmonious society, to start the healing process of our collective karma.

Next, Maryl Walters from the Christian Scientist Church led the discussion of “The Continuation of Covid-19”. Rev. Paul Tche from Indianapolis raised a question, because everyone had become familiar with holding religious services online, will it affect the sanctity of these religious ceremonies? Jeffrey Kuan said that services with religious importance preferably need to be done in-person, this is the only way to build connections with your followers. Ven. Hui Ze shared, the devotees of Hsi Lai Temple waited for two long years to return for services within the temple due to COVID restrictions. Most devotees seized the opportunity by joining the Triple Gem Refuge and Five Precepts Ceremony; their connections were earnestly heard through their heartfelt chantings.

At the end of the dialogue, Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos represented Christianity and offered the closing prayer; in hopes, the pandemic will end soon, and the members of the dialogue can continue to meet in-person again.