By: Tyler Sit
April 18, 2014
In the brief three months that I have lived with the Tibetan Buddhist community in India, several high-level Buddhists have publicly complimented Christianity. But I wonder—are we Christians ready to return the favor?
Take, for example, the Dalai Lama. As the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, he pulls crowds of thousands anywhere he goes. I have had the good fortune of hearing him speak in India upon several occasions, and each time he has mentioned Christian ministry. The schools, hospitals, and orphanages that Christians have built around the world are shining examples of compassion for the poor, he once told his (mostly Tibetan) audience.
The feeling, it seems, may not be mutual. I can’t remember the last time I heard a Christian leader in America applaud Buddhists for their efforts (which, internationally speaking, are actually immense). It might be that Christians avoid Buddhists for theological reasons, but I think more often it is simply a lack of, to use Stephen Prothero’s term, religious literacy.
I am undoubtedly guilty of this. Living in India has made me realize exactly how little I actually know about other Buddhism or other Eastern traditions—many of which have significant representation in the States!
However, living in India has also shown me how far a little bit of curiosity goes: a conversation at a bus stop turns into visiting a place of worship, reading an article turns into grabbing coffee with the author, and so forth. Like anyone, most of the people I met have been more than happy to share their beliefs.
Of course, there are plenty of things about Buddhism I do not agree with—at least as many things, I imagine, that the Dalai Lama disagrees with Christianity. However, disagreeing with other religions is no excuse for ignorance. Whether you’re in India or in Indiana, go ahead and let your curiosity drive you to get to know your non-Christian neighbors. Who knows, they might already be complimenting you!
Tyler Sit is a seminarian at Candler School of Theology who is pursuing ordination in The United Methodist Church. His interests include embodied theology, environmental justice, and photography.
Tags...: Thinking Out Loud