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The Dalai Lama’s Views on Religious Pluralism Essay (Critical Writing)


His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama also known as Tenzin Gyatso was born in 1935 in the family of simple farmers in Tibet. At the age of two he was discovered as the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama and his spiritual path began. In Tibet Buddhism, Dalai Lamas are viewed as the patron saints of Tibet. They are called the Bodhisattvas of Compassion. These enlightened beings do not start their nirvana by choice willing to serve the people and all other living beings in our world. The Dalai Lama received a special education and trained since the age of six to become a spiritual leader.

Today, His Holiness travels the world, writes books, gives lectures and speaks at seminars introducing the Buddhist values to the world and enlightening the modern society about the Buddhist truths. The Dalai Lama works according to non-violent beliefs promoting tolerance and compassion. In this paper I will explore the Dalai Lama’s views considering religious pluralism and argue that even though His Holiness publically accepts and appreciates the religious diversity in the world, according to John Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis, the Dalai Lama truly practices religious inclusivism.

Argument

The pluralistic hypothesis of Hick is based on the belief that along with all the multiple religions practiced in the world today, there is something all of them are trying to reach and experience, the ultimate divine reality, which Hick calls “the Real” (Module 7 1). This means that the Higher Power all of the world’s religions identify differently really is there, yet it does not match any of the descriptions presented by various religious leaders and teachings. This way, none of the existing religions provide a precise explanation of what “the Real” actually is; instead, they generate a variety of explanations of their own opinions and individual perceptions considering “the Real”.

This can be demonstrated with an analogy of a running man. When a group of individuals sees a running man, each of them perceives this man differently. Someone might imagine that the man just robbed someone and now is escaping, someone might think that the man is late and thus he is in a hurry, and someone might see this man as a jogger doing his exercise. None of the observers would actually know why the man is running, but all of them would have versions.

In his multiple speeches, interviews and addresses, the Dalai Lama shares Hick’s view considering the religious diversity. His Holiness often expresses appreciation of the variety of religions in the modern world. In his address at the inter-faith seminar held by the International Association for Religious Freedom called Ladakh Group that was conducted in Leh on the 25th of August the Dalai Lama stated, “As a religious practitioner, I acknowledge the fact that different religions of the world have provided many solutions about how to control an agitated mind” (Religious Harmony par. 3).

This way, His Holiness admits that all of the religions of the world basically have the same purpose – to provide their followers with answers considering the life in our world and the righteous ways to live it. The Dalai Lama continued noting, “I always say that every person on this earth has the freedom to practice or not practice religion. It is all right to do either. But once you accept religion, it is extremely important to be able to focus your mind on it and sincerely practice the teachings in your daily life” (Religious Harmony par. 4). Stating this, His Holiness demonstrates his appreciation of freedom of choice when it comes to religious beliefs and inclinations.

The Dalai Lama agrees that all of the religions share the same basis – the idea of improvement of people, the way towards love, compassion, and respect. Dalai Lama maintains that there cannot be just one philosophy or religion since there is such variety of views and perceptions in the world, he is convinced that it is rather fitting that the various needs of diverse individuals are fulfilled with the help of religions of all kinds (Religious Diversity – H.H. the XIVth Dalai Lama par. 1). His Holiness disapproves of religious favoritism, emphasizing that it gives one a biased mind which drives us away from the perception of reality (Religious Harmony par. 5).

The last statement is where the disagreement between Hick’s views and those of the Dalai Lama occurs. The quote from the speech of His Holiness demonstrates that the Dalai Lama is convinced that the reality can be perceived by an individual with an unbiased mind, whereas Hick is sure that the reality of religion is unavailable to everyone. Apart from this contradiction, the ideas of Hick and the Dalai Lama seem rather similar, as both authors support the concept of religious diversity and equality in the contemporary world.

Participating in inter-faith seminars the Dalai Lama employs neutral concepts in his speeches to gain understanding of all of the members of his diverse audience practicing many different religions. The Dalai Lama addresses the notions that exist in every modern religion, and discusses the issues that challenge the believers of all cultures and countries.

The Dalai Lama stated that “In every religion, there are transcendent things that are beyond the grasp of our mind and speech. For example, the concept of God in Christianity and Islam and that of wisdom truth body in Buddhism are metaphysical, which is not possible for an ordinary person like us to realize” (Religious Harmony par. 8). The Dalai Lama also emphasized that there is a huge difference between “believing in one religion” and “believing in many religions”, these two actions contradict each other, and for one individual it is important to have a single refuge, sole religion, whereas for a society diversity is essential.

Objection

Providing all of the abovementioned pluralistic views, the Dalai Lama also states the following: “Liberation in which ‘a mind that understands the sphere of reality annihilates all defilements in the sphere of reality’ is a state that only Buddhists can accomplish. This kind of moksha or nirvana is only explained in the Buddhist scriptures, and is achieved only through Buddhist practice” (Dalai Lama 169).

This perspective immediately changes the impression of the teachings of the Dalai Lama and makes this spiritual leader an inclusivist. According to the last quote, His Holiness believes that the truths of Buddhism exist for the followers of other religions. This way, he tries to enlighten his audience considering the way he deems as the right one by means of speaking their languages and employing the notions familiar to the followers of other religions.

Response

In his work about religious pluralism Hick states that none of the religious teachings should be taken literally as they are imperfect. Of course, as a philosopher of religion and a theologian, Hick is obliged to theorize and argue about various religious concepts, develop non-standard perspectives and objective points of view. At the same time, the Dalai Lama, as a religious leader, does not have such option. It would be absolutely frustrating if His Holiness whose main purpose is to promote the Buddhist values and teachings stated that those teachings are not completely true, the Buddha was not actually enlightened, and none of the truths he promotes should be followed literally.

The Dalai Lama, as a non-violent religious leader, admits the necessity and inevitability of diversity, he teaches tolerance, compassion, and equality required to avoid conflicts, wars, hatred, and violence. Yet, as a religious practitioner, and a monk, who follows Buddhism the Dalai Lama cannot teach anything else but that the wisdom of Buddhism is the way towards enlightenment and the end of suffering. Religious inclusivism is half way between exlusivism and pluralism which exists balancing the aspects and features of both concepts without approaching to any of the extremes. This seems like the only right way of behavior for a religious leader promoting agreement, peace, and compassion for the whole world.

Conclusion

The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso is a well-known public speaker who often travels and addresses multicultural audiences with the followers of various religions. His Holiness has a purpose to reach all of his diverse leaders, find understanding. This is why in his interviews and speeches he emphasizes the essentiality of religious diversity in a society and its necessity for the creation of a harmonious world. Yet, these statements should not be viewed as statements of pluralistic beliefs of His Holiness. The Dalai Lama emphasizes that he is a “simple Buddhist monk”, and he has a single religion which he is loyal to. This way, the Dalai Lama can be considered an inclusivist.

Works Cited

Dalai Lama. “The Bodhgaya Interviews.” Christianity through Non-Christian Eyes. Ed. Paul J. Griffiths. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1990. Print.

Module 7. “The Pluralist Hypothesis: Hick’s Response to Religious Diversity.” Lecture notes.

. Daily Theosophy. 2015. Web.

Religious Harmony. Dalai Lama. n. d. Web.

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1. IvyPanda. "The Dalai Lama's Views on Religious Pluralism." July 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-dalai-lamas-views-on-religious-pluralism/.


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IvyPanda. "The Dalai Lama's Views on Religious Pluralism." July 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-dalai-lamas-views-on-religious-pluralism/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Dalai Lama's Views on Religious Pluralism." July 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-dalai-lamas-views-on-religious-pluralism/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Dalai Lama's Views on Religious Pluralism'. 1 July.

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