Copy of ‘Trends And Pathways’ written by Bishop Valance Mendis, gifted to me by a very special friend who also shares my views on philosophy as well as on Buddhism though a strong Christian, fired my imagination to read it over and over again.
It has ten articles dealing with a wide range of subjects of which some are not of much interest to a non Catholic like the one on Priestly Formation or Ecumenism.
A theme running through the book is the growing sense among Asian peoples of ‘being Asian’ which he attributes to ‘a shared consciousness of Asia’s rich and varied cultures, common elements in a religious and cultural heritage, a shared experience of colonialism, commonly held religious values, an Asian heritage of wisdom contained in the books of the great religious founders and mutual economic interest and living conditions. (Page 15)
According to the writer, “culture, religion, and society are generally interdependent, interacting and transforming.” Page 48 “Today they form a religious-cultural system which interacts with the socio economic-political system of society permeating every sphere of human life.”
"Plurality of religious has been a constant fact of history in Asia. Despite occasional tensions and wars Asia has demonstrated a great degree of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. "
Sri Lanka is a multi religious country. Bishop Mendis traces in brief the introduction of the four major religions to the island and how they took root here. “Plurality of religious has been a constant fact of history in Asia. Despite occasional tensions and wars Asia has demonstrated a great degree of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. At all times there has been a dialogue of life among religions, a sense of accommodation and a desire for mutual enrichment.” (Page 29)
In the course of the book the writer refers more to the common ground shared by the Christians and Buddhist than to other denominations, in spite of the fact that the former is theistic and the latter non theistic. Both are missionary religions and Jesus entrusted this mission to the disciples “go then to all people everywhere and make them my disciples.” (Page 93)
The Buddha said “Go forth you monks for the good of the many, for the benefit of the many.”
In the chapter on Christianity and Ecology he says “It is also the teaching of Buddhism that the economic and social environment too, conditions a person’s behaviour. In the Cakkavattisihanada Sutta (in Digha Nikaya) it is stated that the mal-distribution of good in society produces poverty “Displaying his profound knowledge in Buddha’s teaching, in the same chapter, Bishop Mendis says “We could say that loving kindness (metta) that Buddhism advocate is not only towards the human beings. It includes caring and protecting the surrounding and the environment in which they live.” (Page 109)
Buddha’s teaching abounds in instances particularly in the Code of Discipline for the monks (Vinaya rules) where Buddha not only exhorted his disciples to be concerned about the protection of environment but he himself set an example by adhering to them. In Vanaropa sutta he said “They who plant orchards and gardens, who plant groves, who build bridges, who set up shades roadside with drinking water for the travellers who sink wells or build whom merit grows by day and by night. They are the people that are established in the Dhamma, that are endowed with morality and that are bound for the deva realms” Devata Samyutta : Samyutta Nikaya.
In the chapter “Detachment and Social Commitment” Bishop Mendis considers them as vital dimensions in the teachings of Jesus Christ. (Page 29) “Under certain conditions he says it is understandable that flight from the world appeared to be the most favourable.” (Page 30)
However, I do not see Bishop Mendis drawing a parallel between “detachment, a general biblical command in Christianity and ‘nekkhamma’ (renunciation) in Buddhism which too is a vital requirement to enter the path for liberation.
I find the chapter on Inter-religious dialogue in Sri Lanka is timely. The writer cities four types of dialogue which will be conducive to interfaith sharing in Sri Lanka (a) Dialogue of life (b) Dialogue of deeds (c) Dialogue of experience (d) Dialogue of specialists.
However the Dialogue of life which is the kind of grassroots interfaith sharing has evoked some resentment among the Buddhists .When it is said that about 80% of the Sri Lankans are poor that applies more to Buddhists than to others. As pointed out by the author this resentment has been caused mostly by the Fundamentalists. I am aware of this situating as I served as a member of the Commission appointed by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress to inquire and report on unethical conversions of Buddhists to other religions. In the guise of helping the poor many instances were brought to our notice that tried sometimes successfully to persuade them to give up their religion. This phenomenon has commenced on an organized way only after about 1960. In fairness it must be said that the finger was not pointed at the Catholic Church specifically but the average Buddhist cannot differentiate the different groups among the Christians.
In spite of the “good news” of Jesus Christ which entails denouncing all that is contrary to it (page 93), it is heartening to observe that in Bishop Mendis’s words the religions have played a tremendous role in building up a peaceful society in this country. However there is much to be done. For this purpose it is necessary to act all the concerned groups in such a way that concerns and anxieties among them are reduced to a minimum.
Bishop Mendis’s contribution to such a goal is commendable. He has shown the pathways and it is up to the others to join him. I enjoyed reading “Trends and Pathways”, learned a lot particularly on Christianity faith and review from a Buddhist perspective.