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Tolerance and Diversity
by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

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Today all the major religions of the world must respond to a double challenge. On one side is the challenge of secularism, a trend which has swept across the globe, battering against the most ancient strongholds of the sacred and turning all man's movements toward the Beyond into a forlorn gesture, poignant but devoid of sense. On the other side is the meeting of the great religions with each other. As the most far-flung nations and cultures merge into a single global community, the representatives of humankind's spiritual quest have been brought together in an encounter of unprecedented intimacy, an encounter so close that it leaves no room for retreat. Thus at one and the same time each major religion faces, in the amphitheater of world opinion, all the other religions of the earth, as well as the vast numbers of people who regard all claims to possess the Great Answer with a skeptical frown or an indifferent yawn.


In this situation, any religion which is to emerge as more than a relic from humanity's adolescence must be able to deal, in a convincing and meaningful manner, with both sides of the challenge. On the one hand it must contain the swelling tide of secularism, by keeping alive the intuition that no amount of technological mastery over external nature, no degree of proficiency in providing for humanity's mundane needs, can bring complete repose to the human spirit, can still the thirst for a truth and value that transcends the boundaries of contingency. On the other hand, each religion must find some way of disentangling the conflicting claims that all religions make to understand our place in the grand scheme of things and to hold the key to our salvation. While remaining faithful to its own most fundamental principles, a religion must be able to address the striking differences between its own tenets and those of other creeds, doing so in a manner that is at once honest yet humble, perspicacious yet unimposing.

在此情形之下,任何一个层次上高于人类早期遗俗的宗教,都必须能够以一种既令人信服又富有意义的方式,应对这个挑战的双重侧面。一方面,它必须藉使那股直觉保持活力,遏制世俗主义的潮涨,也就是: 无论多少对外在自然的技术性掌控,无论多少对世俗需求的精良供给,都不能给人类的心灵带来彻底的宁静,都不能平息对一种超越偶然性范围之真谛与价值的渴求。另一方面,各个宗教都必须找到某种方式,拆解诸教皆持的抵牾指称,即本教懂得我们在宇宙大局中的位置并拥有救赎之钥。一个宗教在忠实自身之根本原则的同时,必须能够阐明本门旨趣与别教的突出歧异,阐明的方式必须同时既坦诚又谦和,既明察又不强加。

In this brief essay I wish to sketch the outline of an appropriate Buddhist response to the second challenge. Since Buddhism has always professed to offer a "middle way" in resolving the intellectual and ethical dilemmas of the spiritual life, we may find that the key to our present problematic also lies in discovering the response that best exemplifies the middle way. As has often been noted, the middle way is not a compromise between the extremes but a way that rises above them, avoiding the pitfalls into which they lead. Therefore, in seeking the proper Buddhist approach to the problem of the diversity of creeds, we might begin by pinpointing the extremes which the middle way must avoid.


The first extreme is a retreat into fundamentalism, the adoption of an aggressive affirmation of one's own beliefs coupled with a proselytizing zeal toward those who still stand outside the chosen circle of one's co-religionists. While this response to the challenge of diversity has assumed alarming proportions in the folds of the great monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, it is not one toward which Buddhism has a ready affinity, for the ethical guidelines of the Dhamma naturally tend to foster an attitude of benign tolerance toward other religions and their followers. Though there is no guarantee against the rise of a militant fundamentalism from within Buddhism's own ranks, the Buddha's teachings can offer no sanctification, not even a remote one, for such a malignant development.


For Buddhists the more alluring alternative is the second extreme. This extreme, which purchases tolerance at the price of integrity, might be called the thesis of spiritual universalism: the view that all the great religions, at their core, espouse essentially the same truth, clothed merely in different modes of expression. Such a thesis could not, of course, be maintained in regard to the formal creeds of the major religions, which differ so widely that it would require a strenuous exercise in word-twisting to bring them into accord. The universalist position is arrived at instead by an indirect route. Its advocates argue that we must distinguish between the outward face of a religion its explicit beliefs and exoteric practices and its inner nucleus of experiential realization. On the basis of this distinction, they then insist, we will find that beneath the markedly different outward faces of the great religions, at their heart in respect of the spiritual experiences from which they emerge and the ultimate goal to which they lead they are substantially identical. Thus the major religions differ simply in so far as they are different means, different expedients, to the same liberative experience, which may be indiscriminately designated "enlightenment," or "redemption," or "God-realization," since these different terms merely highlight different aspects of the same goal. As the famous maxim puts it: the roads up the mountain are many, but the moonlight at the top is one. From this point of view, the Buddha Dhamma is only one more variant on the "perennial philosophy" underlying all the mature expressions of man's spiritual quest. It may stand out by its elegant simplicity, its clarity and directness; but a unique and unrepeated revelation of truth it harbors not.

对佛教徒来说,更具诱惑力的是第二种极端。这个以正直为代价购买宽容的极端,或者可称为灵性普遍论: 认为诸大宗教的核心基本上拥护的是同一个真理,只不过为不同的表达模式所包裹。当然这种论说不可能依靠各大宗教的正式教义来维持,其旨趣如此歧异,须得下一番大功夫扭曲文字,才能够把它们整束一致。普遍论者的立场改由一条间接的途径得出。它的主张者们论辩说,我们必须把宗教的外在表面它的具体信条与外在持守与其内在的体验核心区别开来。在这个区别的基础上,他们接着坚持说,我们将会发现各大宗教在迥异的外表之下,其核心也就是引生宗教的灵性体验与其指向之目标实质上是等同的。因此,诸大宗教的区别仅仅在于,它们是达到同一种解脱体验的不同手段、不同方便,而这个解脱体验则可以不加区别地称为开悟、救赎、或者神的实现,因为这些异称仅是在显示那同一目标的不同侧面。有道是: 条条蹊路通山顶,山顶月色同一景。照这个观点,佛法只不过是人类精神追求之一切成熟表达所共同蕴涵的长青哲学的另一变异。也许它以简洁、清晰、直接而出类拔萃,然而它所揭示的真谛却并非独一无二、未见重复。

On first consideration the adoption of such a view may seem to be an indispensable stepping-stone to religious tolerance, and to insist that doctrinal differences are not merely verbal but real and important may appear to border on bigotry. Thus those who embrace Buddhism in reaction against the doctrinaire narrowness of the monotheistic religions may find in such a view so soft and accommodating a welcome respite from the insistence on privileged access to truth typical of those religions. However, an unbiased study of the Buddha's own discourses would show quite plainly that the universalist thesis does not have the endorsement of the Awakened One himself. To the contrary, the Buddha repeatedly proclaims that the path to the supreme goal of the holy life is made known only in his own teaching, and therefore that the attainment of that goal final deliverance from suffering can be achieved only from within his own dispensation. The best known instance of this claim is the Buddha's assertion, on the eve of his Parinibbana, that only in his dispensation are the four grades of enlightened persons to be found, that the other sects are devoid of true ascetics, those who have reached the planes of liberation.


The Buddha's restriction of final emancipation to his own dispensation does not spring from a narrow dogmatism or a lack of good will, but rests upon an utterly precise determination of the nature of the final goal and of the means that must be implemented to reach it. This goal is neither an everlasting afterlife in a heaven nor some nebulously conceived state of spiritual illumination, but the Nibbana element with no residue remaining, release from the cycle of repeated birth and death. This goal is effected by the utter destruction of the mind's defilements greed, aversion and delusion all the way down to their subtlest levels of latency. The eradication of the defilements can be achieved only by insight into the true nature of phenomena, which means that the attainment of Nibbana depends upon the direct experiential insight into all conditioned phenomena, internal and external, as stamped with the "three characteristics of existence": impermanence, suffering, and non-selfness. What the Buddha maintains, as the ground for his assertion that his teaching offers the sole means to final release from suffering, is that the knowledge of the true nature of phenomena, in its exactitude and completeness, is accessible only in his teaching. This is so because, theoretically, the principles that define this knowledge are unique to his teaching and contradictory in vital respects to the basic tenets of other creeds; and because, practically, this teaching alone reveals, in its perfection and purity, the means of generating this liberative knowledge as a matter of immediate personal experience. This means is the Noble Eightfold Path which, as an integrated system of spiritual training, cannot be found outside the dispensation of a Fully Enlightened One.

佛陀把终极解脱限定在他本人的教说之内,并非是出自狭隘的教条主义,或者是由于慈心不足,而是立足于对终极目标之本质与其成就之必要手段的精准确定。这个目标,既不是死后永生天界,也不是某种概念模糊的灵性启示态,而是无余涅槃,从生死轮回之中的解脱。这个目标的成就,来自彻底摧毁心的杂染贪、嗔、痴直至最细微的潜在层次。杂染的灭除,只能藉着洞见诸法实相才可能成就,那就意味着,涅槃的证得有赖于亲见内在、外在一切有为现象之三 特征: 无常、苦、非我。佛陀断言,他的教导提供从苦中最终解脱的唯一法门,他的依据是,对诸法本质如实完整的知见,只能透过他的教导才能达到。之所以如此,在理论上,是因为定义此知见的原则为他的教导所独有,并且与其他教派基本教义的关键部分有重大分歧; 还因为在实践上,只有他的教导完整、纯净地揭示了亲证这个解脱知见的途径。这就是八圣道,它作为一个综合系统,在一位彻底觉悟者的教说之外是不存在的。

Surprisingly, this exclusivistic stance of Buddhism in regard to the prospects for final emancipation has never engendered a policy of intolerance on the part of Buddhists toward the adherents of other religions. To the contrary, throughout its long history, Buddhism has displayed a thoroughgoing tolerance and genial good will toward the many religions with which it has come into contact. It has maintained this tolerance simultaneously with its deep conviction that the doctrine of the Buddha offers the unique and unsurpassable way to release from the ills inherent in conditioned existence. For Buddhism, religious tolerance is not achieved by reducing all religions to a common denominator, nor by explaining away formidable differences in thought and practice as accidents of historical development. From the Buddhist point of view, to make tolerance contingent upon whitewashing discrepancies would not be to exercise genuine tolerance at all; for such an approach can "tolerate" differences only by diluting them so completely that they no longer make a difference. True tolerance in religion involves the capacity to admit differences as real and fundamental, even as profound and unbridgeable, yet at the same time to respect the rights of those who follow a religion different from one's own (or no religion at all) to continue to do so without resentment, disadvantage or hindrance.

不同寻常的是,佛教对终极解脱之道的独持性立场,从未导致佛教徒对其他教派的追随者采取过不容性政策。相反,在其漫长历史上,佛教对于所遭遇的诸多宗教一直体现了完全的宽容与和蔼的善意。在保持宽容的同时,它也始终保持着自己的深刻信念,那就是,佛陀的教导对有为生存之过患,提供了独一无二、无可超越的解脱之道。对佛教来说,宗教宽容性的达成,不是透过把诸种宗教缩减为一个共同的基本命题,也不是把它们在思想与行持上的重大差异,化解成历史发展中的偶然性事件。从佛教的观点来看,使宽容依赖于粉饰差异,根本不是行使真正的宽容; 因为这种做法能够宽容的差异,只是藉着把差异稀释得如此彻底,使得它们不再具有区别的意义。真正的宗教宽容,要求有度量承认差异的实存性与基本性,甚至于深刻性与不可逾越性,然而在同时又尊重信奉别教者(或无宗教信仰者)继续奉持的权利,不施以怨恨、损害或障碍。

Buddhist tolerance springs from the recognition that the dispositions and spiritual needs of human beings are too vastly diverse to be encompassed by any single teaching, and thus that these needs will naturally find expression in a wide variety of religious forms. The non-Buddhist systems will not be able to lead their adherents to the final goal of the Buddha's Dhamma, but that they never proposed to do in the first place. For Buddhism, acceptance of the idea of the beginningless round of rebirths implies that it would be utterly unrealistic to expect more than a small number of people to be drawn toward a spiritual path aimed at complete liberation. The overwhelming majority, even of those who seek deliverance from earthly woes, will aim at securing a favorable mode of existence within the round, even while misconceiving this to be the ultimate goal of the religious quest.


To the extent that a religion proposes sound ethical principles and can promote to some degree the development of wholesome qualities such as love, generosity, detachment and compassion, it will merit in this respect the approbation of Buddhists. These principles advocated by outside religious systems will also conduce to rebirth in the realms of bliss the heavens and the divine abodes. Buddhism by no means claims to have unique access to these realms, but holds that the paths that lead to them have been articulated, with varying degrees of clarity, in many of the great spiritual traditions of humanity. While the Buddhist will disagree with the belief structures of other religions to the extent that they deviate from the Buddha's Dhamma, he will respect them to the extent that they enjoin virtues and standards of conduct that promote spiritual development and the harmonious integration of human beings with each other and with the world.


最近訂正 10-26-2008