Peace and compassion in Buddhism

Every major religious celebration observed in Sri Lanka is an opportunity to treasure the wonderful diversity of our country and to appreciate more about our religious unity. The Day of Wesak marking the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha is a joyous occasion for the Buddhists. On this day millions of Buddhists take time to reflect on the life and teachings of the Buddha, and to receive guidance from them.

Buddhism has an intimate association with peace. In our long Sri Lankan history, we hardly find any evidence of violence or killings on religious hatred. Buddhism wields only one sword, the sword of wisdom and recognizes only one enemy - the ignorance.The message of Buddhism and the principles on which it rests have assumed a new significance in today’s world. Even peace of which U.N.O. speaks of is an indication that the whole world is gradually veering around the beliefs embodied in the religion of the Buddha.


All of us can learn from the Buddha’s spirit of compassion. His timeless teachings can help us to navigate the many national and global problems we face today.The financial crisis, climate change, pandemics, terrorism and other international threats prove that the fates of all people are linked.

We have seen how a problem in one country can quickly turn into a worldwide threat. If we are to successfully face these threats, we must hold firm and act together. We must join forces in solidarity. It is the right thing to do in our best interests.

The need for religious harmony may seem like a modern concept, but it is not. More than 2,600 years ago, the Buddha taught that nothing exists in isolation, and that all phenomena are interdependent. Just as profoundly, he taught that we cannot be happy as long as others suffer, and that when we do reach out, we discover the best in ourselves.

As the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined, we will be more and more challenged to learn to live together harmoniously. While preserving faith toward one's own religion, one must learn to respect, admire and appreciate other religions if we are to live amicably and cordially.

It is a complex situation and raises a moral question: How can people who have different religions (and sometimes competing visions of reality) live together in peace? One proven answer is the inter-religious dialogue. We see such efforts in ecumenical dialogue between number of different Christian Churches. But it can expand to cover all major religions.

When people can talk about differences, they can move beyond the content of those differences - difficult theological content - to see before them another human being who is living in a community, offering respect and expecting it from others. When people are talking about differences, they are learning. When they are talking, they are not fighting or killing.

Making peace

There is nothing wrong though, with sincere personal belief that one’s faith is the best. That would be “making peace” with oneself. However, when one insists others to agree likewise, that would be “making war” with others. Asoka, the great Buddhist emperor, who lived over 2400 years ago, had this to say:

“Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one’s own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honour other religions for this [or that worthy] reason. By so doing, one’s own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one’s own religion and the religions of others.”

There is a diversity of religious beliefs in our world simply because there is a corresponding diversity of mind-sets. Even two random adherents of the same faith are unlikely to have totally identical views. We need to respect this worldly reality – before arguing on any spiritual reality.

Surely, a religion that is pro-conflict is not one we need. What if it is a central tenet of a religion that it cannot agree to disagree with others? Thankfully, there is no such major religion in practice today, or there would be inter-religious chaos. With all orthodox religions advocating peace, this implies that those who cannot agree to disagree might not really be religious at heart.


When we lose our compassion and wisdom while defending the beliefs we profess to represent, we are misrepresenting our faiths with our very loss of compassion and wisdom. Those two elements are undoubtedly virtues universal to all respectable religions. The basic ethics of free speech (or any other form of expression) with responsibility should be followed both offline and online, by sticking to the so-called golden rule found in many religions – not do to others what you do not want others to do to you.

In sincere dialogue, there is gentle nudging to reflect, instead of proselytising with threats of spiritual damnation. Real dialogue never insists on acceptance of one’s beliefs, but merely offers them respectfully for rational consideration. The Buddha himself actively engaged in much skilful inter-religious dialogue with great compassion and wisdom.

As there were more than 60 different stems of religious thought in his time, the feat of being able to engage in harmonious dialogue is most remarkable. His is the example that Buddhists aspire to follow.

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