This past October, I was blessed with the opportunity to hear true words of wisdom. At Temple Emanu-El in Miami, I watched as the most acclaimed figure in Buddhism sat in front of a panel of various religious leaders to impact over four hundred audience members with his insight. After some welcome speeches from the religious studies directors at the Florida International University and an exquisite music piece, the crowd rose and applauded for this petite, humble man who walked into the sanctuary. He casually strolled inside and waved to the other scholars on the dais as though he wasn’t the ultimate pope of Buddhism. The audience and I, however, could not contain our excitement, for it is not every day that His Holiness the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso flies in from Tibet to speak to us.
The virtuous Dalai Lama, though reserved and soft-spoken, discussed a pivotal topic that related to all of the various people sitting on the bimah and in the audience: the significance of world religions. As the 14th leader in line of Ashoka Moriah himself, the Dalai Lama expressed his daily religious morals with a sense of compassion and pride.
“The morals [of both Buddhism and monotheistic religions] are similar: compassion, teaching and peace. Whether it’s one or no god that promotes this, these values are cherished in most every religion,” he said.
Whether it’s his purity and devotion toward spirituality that inspired me or just his long tunic-like robe that gave him a wise appearance, the Dalai Lama captivated my attention just by that statement. In almost every religion in the world, teaching spiritual values takes precedence over everything. I know for a fact that in my own religion, Judaism, the theological teachings of the faith itself override the actual practice. And once the knowledge of our religions is gained, the practice becomes meaningful. With meaning behind our action, compassion and good intention ensues, and with good intentions and compassion, we could all have the power to strengthen our faiths.
The Dalai Lama then continued to cover the anticipated topics, including his personal experiences with spirituality, but what fascinated me the most was his outlook on life.
“If I see something selfishly and only through one perspective, I look again. Faith, too, has more than one dimension. There are many dimensions at which to look at life when dealing with faith, but you need an open mind to create unity; that takes over thousands of different dimensions to see.”
That idea got me thinking; do we as faithful people separate ourselves because of our beliefs? Do we only see our faith and others’ through one dimension? I’m sure all the faith activists and pacifists in the world first began seeing faith all around them from only one perspective, but obviously that was an ephemeral phase. While it is wonderful to gain all the knowledge possible on our own separate faiths, we should probably face the obvious truth: creating unity among all religions requires more than one faith alone.
I’m sure that the Dalai Lama wasn’t born and raised with the knowledge of every existing religion; however, he chose to explore and understand the other religions that were represented on the dais with him. He realized that in order to create unity, he would have to step out of the comfort of the knowledge of his own religion and recognize others around him. Since he has chosen to recognize, understand and respect other faiths in the world, the Dalai Lama is today an acclaimed spiritual leader in not only Buddhism, but through every perspective of faith. By choosing to use the knowledge of his own religion to gain knowledge on others, he has moved one step toward unity.
Though the Dalai Lama may be wise beyond his years, we can begin the same steps to forming religious unity in our own communities. We can start with the small steps. My faith could take this goal and easily pursue it in our lives. Let’s not just claim to have a wonderful relationship with the Christian and Islamic faiths, but rather, step out of the comfort level of our prerequisite knowledge and learn. Open a New Testament or a Koran; see what unites our Scriptures. Before we say that we understand Buddhism just like the Buddhists do, let’s study its complex values together, with them. Before we place a defensive wall in front of our faith, let’s embrace the fact that there are faithful people all around us, and through the Dalai Lama’s teachings, we can realize that we’re not all that different. Through understanding each other and accepting that we’re all faithful, we can all respect each other. We could, in fact, be the Dalai Lamas of our faiths.
As a faithful Jewish teen, I’ve committed myself to learning about my faith, while understanding it through every perspective. I also know, however, that I will always be exposed to every other faith in the world, and unity is really not impossible. Rather than looking at life through only one dimension of faith, that being Judaism, I’m committed to learning about the faiths that surround me. If I read a different scripture with a closed mind, I read it again. If I see an interesting worship center, filled with faithful people inside, I disregard my comfort level and walk inside. In the future, if I feel myself defending my faith without recognizing the other faith's perspective, I will (try to) close my mouth and listen first. These are the steps I have already begun to take to reach unity. For at the end of the day, faith has the capability to bring us all together.
From this lecture in Miami, I realized that a good spiritual leader does not have to be religious, but rather a knowledgeable, respectable person. With an open mind, you, too, could be the next Dalai Lama. With an open mind, you and I, together, could explore the thousands of dimensions of faith. And together, we can create unity.