I have a few friends who are Christians and we often discuss matters of faith and, of course, have discussions about the various differences. I like to know what God and Jesus mean to them and how those feelings and thoughts inspire them and similarly, they seem to be quite fascinated by Buddhist philosophy and practice. Sadly, we are all too aware of the divisions and damage labels can cause; the arguments, conflicts and violence which hardly represent or reflect the essence of any religion nevertheless exists, all because of a superiority complex, a belief of being “better” than the rest.
Having watched the tragic events in Japan, I came to a realization. Looking at the people all working together trying to help each other and limit any damage they could, I couldn’t tell who was a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist. There it was, as clear as you like: people simply helping other people. They didn’t stop to ask questions. They just helped each other.
And that’s when I realized what really matters. If I tell a Christian that I’m a Buddhist, or if the Christian points his religion out to me, intellectually, thoughts of differences arise: he believes in a Creator, I don’t believe in an eternal Heaven, he prays to Jesus, I give offerings and recite mantras. When someone points that they are Christian, it’s a natural step for our mind to log what a Christian is and compare it to our own beliefs. This isn’t done in a bad way – it’s simply an intellectual process.
But here’s the interesting part. If someone is kind to me and offers some kind of assistance or support, I immediately feel warmed to the person. I experience gratitude, I smile as a result and there’s a natural feeling that arises which makes me want to reciprocate if I can, to do something kind in return as a way of thanks. My mind doesn’t look for the differences. It doesn’t ask whether this person believes in God or Buddha or Allah or has no spiritual beliefs at all. I am simply grateful and thankful to this person. Rightly or wrongly, I see the person as a good person. In fact, there are many stories where strangers have performed a good deed for someone and as a result, a lasting friendship has been formed. Even if any differences are found afterward, they are rarely noticed, if at all.
From these thoughts, it really drove it home to me just how irrelevant differences are, fundamentally. Whether someone has a different skin colour to us, whether they’re slim, overweight, Christian, Buddhist, gay or straight, the superficial differences absolutely do not matter. The Dalai Lama is right – humanity thrives on compassion, kindness and tolerance – it’s what lies in the heart of a person that really counts – not what God they pray to (if any).
I admire the people of Japan a great deal for the way they have handled their tragic circumstances, and I’m thankful for the reminder of the preciousness of life and the importance of here and now. But what I am most thankful for their helping me to arrive at the realization that it’s what’s inside the hearts of people that really matters. If being a Christian or a Jew or a Buddhist or an atheist is what ultimately inspires a person to loving-kindness, tolerance and compassion, then I am an idiot who fails to understand his own beliefs if I ever come to say these view points are inferior or “wrong”.
As the Buddha’s words are said to be: “In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”