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His Holiness the Dalai Lama is both the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. However, in 1959 he was exiled from his home country following its occupation by the Chinese, and has been tirelessly campaigning for its nonviolent emancipation ever since. One positive thing to arise from this unfortunate state of affairs, however, is that the Dalai Lama has travelled the world more than he might otherwise have done, and made some of the teachings of Buddhism accessible to a wide variety of people of different nations. A theme that inevitably surfaces quite regularly during his various lecture tours is the issue of other faiths. The Dalai Lama has a supremely tolerant view of other religions: he constantly alludes to their value in encouraging love and compassion in humankind, and rather than promoting Buddhism as the 'best' faith he appears to celebrate actively the great diversity that different faiths provide. If one were to use the categories normally associated with Christian inter-faith dialogue, at first sight he appears to be an ardent pluralist, an individual who believes that all religions represent different but equally valid paths to salvation.(1) The following paper will begin with an analysis of the Dalai Lama's tolerant position, taken from collections of his lecture tours in various Western countries. It will then be argued that, whilst his tolerance is entirely genuine, it arises from prioritizing Buddhist ideas over those of other faiths, and in this respect the apparent pluralism is deceptive. Although there are many different forms or schools of Buddhism, most share core teachings that one would expect to be thoroughly incompatible with theistic religions. For example the teaching of not-self (anatta), which denies the existence of an enduring or permanent self or soul is normally thought at odds with the Christian idea of the soul that survives death. Similarly the Buddhist teachings of dependent origination and emptiness deny the possibility of one of the key postulates in Christianity, that of a self-caused and self-existent being. Given such fundamental differences, then, it is perhaps surprising that any attempts at dialogue are not immediately halted by a state of radical impasse. How then, does the Dalai Lama manage to support his ecumenism? Many of the Dalai Lama's ecumenical comments are characterized by an emphasis on the prioritizing of practice over doctrines (in this respect, his views appear to show a certain similarity with those of the Christian pluralist theologian, John Hick). Rather than paying much attention to the philosophical peculiarities of different systems, he argues that one should look at the purpose of religious doctrines, namely the promotion of love and compassion for the benefit of human beings. Indeed, the Dalai Lama describes the 'essence of religion' as compassion,(2) and sees all religions, without exception, as being concerned with 'making the mind more peaceful, disciplined, moral and ethical'.(3) Thus, for the Dalai Lama, the 'fruits' of love and compassion are the same for all the religions, and the promotion of these qualities is the main purpose of the different teachings. He suggests that 'we must consider the question of religious diversity from this viewpoint ... and when we do, we find no conflict'.(4) Indeed, from this wider, pragmatic viewpoint, his Holiness speaks of a 'universal religion of love', in that love is essential to all religions, regardless of their philosophical differences.(5) He does not deny that there is conflict on a doctrinal level, however, but suggests that it is 'unnecessary work' to make too much of these differences: 'Philosophical teachings are not the end, not the aim, not what you serve. The aim is to help and benefit others, and philosophical teachings to support those ideas are valuable. If we go into the differences in philosophy and argue with and criticize each other, it is useless. There will be endless argument; the result will be mainly that we irritate each other, accomplishing nothing.'(6) From these comments, it appears that the Dalai Lama sees philosophical teachings as means to pragmatic ends, and he suggests that those ends are likely to be achieved more easily if one recognizes that this is their purpose. However, he does see great value in the existence of such religious diversity, because different people respond better to some religious teachings than others. Using an analogy of illness and medicine, the Dalai Lama describes how not all people have the disposition to find Buddhism helpful, for example: 'Different medicines are prescribed for different diseases, and a medicine which is appropriate in one situation may be inappropriate in another. Thus I cannot say of Buddhism very simply, "This medicine is best".'(7) For his Holiness, then, the existence of other religions is not an awkward problem to be explained away, but something to be celebrated, as long as one bears in mind the primacy of religious aims and practices over theories. Whether or not one believes in God or the Buddha or reincarnation does not matter as long as one 'leads a good life'.(8) Given this prioritizing of values, the Dalai Lama considers it a mistake to try to convert people, for one might only succeed in weakening their faith in their own religion, without managing to convince them of the validity of the new one. He believes that compassionate practice makes both practitioners and those around them more loving and more content, and since all religions can promote this quality he advises other believers to follow their own faiths 'as sincerely and truthfully as possible. For if they do so, they will no doubt reap certain benefit'.(9) To sum up, then, from what we have seen, it appears that the Dalai Lama's tolerance of other religions stems largely from his subordinating philosophy and doctrine to what he regards as the aims of these doctrines - the promotion of human well-being through the practice of love and compassion. He places particular emphasis on the quality of compassion, and because all the world religions can have the effect of promoting compassion, they are all of value, and there is 'no conflict'. Despite these 'symptoms', however, it would be a mistake to understand the Dalai Lama as a pluralist who believes that all religions are equally valid paths to salvation. In the rest of this paper it will be demonstrated how the Dalai Lama's ecumenism is enabled precisely by his strict and almost exclusivist adherence to the teachings found within Buddhism. For followers of other faiths to share a view as pluralistic as the Dalai Lama's would require some concessions on their part. For example, most Christians would surely be reluctant to relinquish the truth claims exclusive to their faith even if they recognized, with the Dalai Lama, the importance of the practical results of their beliefs. We have see how the Dalai Lama appears to regard doctrines as tools, and we see an example of this in his claim that 'the very purpose of faithful belief in God is to accomplish his wishes, the essence of which is to cherish, respect, love and give service to our fellow humans'.(10) This implies that Christians believe in God as a means of achieving these ends, as if belief in God were secondary to its consequences. Surely for most Christians, however, it is belief in God that comes first. Although compassionate practice can of course accompany Christian belief, it is surely more of a consequence than a cause of faith for most Christians. It is precisely the ultimacy of such cognitive beliefs that adherents of other world-religions would have to relinquish in order to share the Dalai Lama's views. In contrast, the Dalai Lama needs to make no such concessions. Rather than being a pluralism of the Christian variety, apparently entailing a certain amnesty in terms of philosophical beliefs,(11) his ecumenism is entirely in accordance with the Buddhist teachings that he follows. Whilst his ecumenical view does indeed require some 'letting go' of dogmatic attachment to doctrines, this relinquishing is actually part of his Buddhist philosophy. It is a Buddhist, rather than a pluralist way of looking at the world. Every aspect of the approach that the Dalai Lama advocates can be seen as an example of Buddhist teachings both common to all schools and particular to the Dalai Lama's dGe Lugs school of Buddhism. Buddhism is famed for its pragmatic or non-dogmatic approach. This is nowhere better exemplified than in the parable of the raft: the Buddha describes his teachings as a raft which a man uses to cross from one side of a river where he is in danger to the safety of the other shore. Once there, however, the man should discard the raft, for it has exhausted its usefulness. It would be foolish for him to carry it around with him on the shore for it would just be a hindrance to him. So the Buddha's teachings should not be adhered to for their own sake, but should be seen more as tools that enable one to gain liberation. The pragmatic attitude that this parable suggests is certainly reflected in the Dalai Lama's teachings; we have already seen how he views attachment to doctrines and specific religious teachings as less important than the effects that they promote, because adhering too much to philosophical differences leads only to arguments and 'makes trouble'. From some of the Dalai Lama's ecumenical comments, it is tempting to believe that he takes this pragmatic approach to such an extreme that any religion can act as a raft, and bring ultimate liberation. In fact, the Dalai Lama does not hold this view: he is very open about acknowledging that 'liberation in which "a mind that understands the sphere of reality and annihilates all defilements in the sphere of reality" is a reality that only Buddhists can accomplish'.(12) This is an important claim that seems to rest very uneasily with the pluralist tenor of his other statements. Before examining the apparent contradictions between this claim and his ecumenism, however, let us briefly examine those beliefs that the Dalai Lama holds to be ultimate. According to the Tibetan dGe Lugs tradition, to which the Dalai Lama belongs, there is a teaching - the doctrine of emptiness (sunyata) - that is the ultimate truth, and it is 'only through realizing emptiness that one can achieve liberation'.(13) Emptiness is linked to the idea of dependent origination (paticcasamuppada) - although conventionally things appear to exist in their own right, when they are analysed in depth it becomes clear that they exist only in dependence on other things. Seeing phenomena as fixed and permanent, particularly those elements that constitute the self, encourages us to grasp at them and form those attachments that lie at the root of suffering. When we act under the influence of these unwholesome emotions, we create bad karma which ties us to the realm of rebirth, and prevents us from gaining enlightenment. Once things are understood as being empty, however, the self-view, grasping and consequently suffering cease. Emptiness is true of all phenomena, without exception: 'All, absolutely all, is dependent, relative. Emptiness is the ultimate truth - that is, the ultimate truth is told when we say that all things, no matter how exalted, be they Buddha, nirvana or worms, are empty of ultimate, i.e. independent, existence.'(14) A simple rational or intellectual acknowledgement of the truth of emptiness is not enough, for this realization is still characterized by conceptual thought - prolonged meditation on this knowledge. can culminate in the liberative experience of a non-conceptual awareness of emptiness. Once this has been achieved, one's attachments, ignorance and grasping - the factors that bind one to the realm of dukkha - are abandoned, for one recognizes that there is nothing there to grasp. It is to this experience that the Dalai Lama refers as the 'ultimate liberation' that is attainable only by Buddhists. This ultimate liberation consists of freedom from the realm of suffering and rebirth, and it cannot be achieved without insight into the ultimate truth: 'lacking the correct view of emptiness, we can never be liberated from cyclic existence'.(15) This, then, is an important point - the Dalai Lama is claiming that liberation is dependent on the realization of teachings that are found only in Buddhism. It presents two difficulties - firstly, how can the Dalai Lama's insistence on the ultimate truth of one teaching rest with his apparently pragmatic attitude towards religious teachings; and secondly, how can his claim that liberation is exclusive to Buddhists be combined with his apparent tolerance? In considering the first objection, let us return to the parable of the raft. Whilst the teaching of emptiness is the ultimate teaching, it, too, is empty, and should not become the object of attachment. It is useful to get the practitioner to a certain point, but once there he or she must transcend it. Cabezon discusses this point in his book, Buddhism and Language, where he argues that there is a difference between acceptance of the doctrine of emptiness and insight into its meaning. To recognize the lack of inherent existence in everything - including the teaching of emptiness - is to attain the non-conceptual mind of enlightenment. It is to this, Cabezon argues, that the parable of the raft applies, namely to the relation between words and the experience of realization to which they point. The raft represents 'the linguistic aspect of doctrine' which is 'a pragmatic and provisional entity that has no ultimate value in and of itself'.(16) Whilst the theory of emptiness itself is not to become an object of attachment, this does not negate its truth - to stick with the analogy, just because the raft is ultimately to be abandoned, this does not preclude it from being the only raft sturdy enough to get one to the other shore in the first place. The fact that, ultimately, the linguistic aspect of the doctrine of emptiness is a pragmatic tool, devoid of inherent value, enables the Dalai Lama to advocate the ultimacy of this view without contradicting his pragmatic and non-dogmatic treatment of religious theories in general. In accordance with the general Buddhist teaching that grasping or clinging is one of the causes of suffering (dukkha), no teachings are to be the object of attachment, even true ones. It is important to recognize, however, that the Dalai Lama's pragmatism clearly stops short of regarding all religions as equally valid in terms of ultimate liberation from samsara - it is certainly not the case that any religion can be an efficient raft. This brings us on to the second objection - how can the Dalai Lama self-consistently refer to the exclusively Buddhist teaching of emptiness as the ultimate truth, and at the same time not only advocate the teachings of other religions, but actively discourage Buddhists from trying to convert adherents of different faiths? This attitude can be explained with reference to many of the teachings of the dGe Lugs tradition. Firstly, it holds that each 'individual' has many different rebirths, and thus many opportunities to progress along the spiritual path that leads ultimately to the sort of liberation that the Dalai Lama describes: 'From a Buddhist perspective, there is no hurry. The ultimate truth can wait - it is not necessarily of such immediate importance, there are many future lives and very few of us, Buddhists included, will attain enlightenment in this life, or even the next.'(17) Significantly, too, through the accumulation of good actions and positive karma one can be born in a higher cycle of existence, including certain heavenly paradises. His Holiness acknowledges that some other religions see salvation as the attainment of these beautiful paradises, and that such salvation does not require the understanding of emptiness. Thus he is able to accommodate some of the salvific claims of other religions without compromising his Buddhist ideas. Secondly, and particularly important for understanding the Dalai Lama's ecumenism and tolerance, is the key Mahayana doctrine of skilful means. This holds that the Buddha adopted his teachings to suit the level of his hearers. These means need not be consistent with each other, as long as they produce the same ends, and a teaching that may make sense to one individual may be meaningless - and thus spiritually useless, or even harmful - to another person at a different stage of development. This is true not only within Buddhism itself, but also in relation to other religions, as the Dalai Lama explained using the analogy of medicine. In some cases, a dose of Christianity may be better than a dose of emptiness: 'Relatively, the highest teachings (i.e. those which teach the ultimate way of things) may be inappropriate and therefore bad and in one sense wrong.'(18) So far, then, we have seen how the Dalai Lama's acceptance of other religious beliefs arises from his Buddhist views. His strong emphasis on compassion and practice can also be seen as arising from the tradition to which he belongs. One of the key features of dGe Lugs Buddhism is the idea of the path of the Bodhisattva. According to the Mahayana traditions, a Bodhisattva is a being who has the aim of 'liberation, not for himself alone ... but for all sentient beings'.(19) The Bodhisattva thus represents the ideal of completely selfless compassion, and indeed the Dalai Lama describes the' main theme' of Buddhism as' altruism based on compassion and love'.(20) The Bodhisattva Path describes stage-by-stage the practices and qualities that one would have to perfect in order to become an enlightened Bodhisattva. Significantly, before one can even embark on the path it is necessary to generate sufficient compassion to produce such an altruistic intention (known as the bodhicitta) and a series of meditations is recommended to engender compassion in the practitioner. All throughout the Bodhisattva path, however, compassion on its own is not enough - it must be accompanied by practice and wisdom, and in each of the first six stages of the path, the aspiring Bodhisattva must strive to cultivate the perfections of giving, morality, patience, striving, meditation and wisdom. (It is important to note, however, that although the Bodhisattva path illustrates the general imperative to practise compassionate actions, actual Bodhisattvas only embark on the first stage of the path once they have understood emptiness - it is the combination of wisdom and practice that is vital.) The Dalai Lama explains that 'without actually practising the teachings, there is no way for good results to be produced'.(21) This is important for understanding the Dalai Lama's attitude towards doctrines and theories, for he believes that one should live and breathe the teachings, so that there is no distinction between them and their practice. To this effect he cites a saying handed down to him through the oral tradition: 'If there is enough space between yourself and the practices for someone else to walk through, then you are not implementing them properly.'(22) This emphasis on compassionate practice is clearly evident in the Dalai Lama's attitude to other religions, and combined with the other notions of skilful means and rebirth, explains why he does not advocate Buddhism as the 'best' religion for everyone, even though he believes that ultimate liberation is enabled only by insight into a teaching that is found only in Buddhism. Emptiness is too complex a notion for everybody to understand, and should not be taught until the hearer is ready. In the meantime, it is important to get good rebirths, and progress further along the spiritual path that will culminate ultimately in enlightenment. This can be achieved by the practice of skilful actions, particularly compassion. Therefore, any religious belief that promotes compassionate practice is to be encouraged, and works for, rather than against, the ultimate salvific aims of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama's celebration of different religions to suit different needs and his deprioritizing of the doctrinal truth claims is perhaps best seen in the light of this notion of skilful means. Combined with the idea of emptiness it explains how he can self-consistently hold that ultimate liberation is available only to Buddhists but at the same time see no imperative to convert those from other religions. The Dalai Lama's main motivation is compassion. His aim is to alleviate the suffering of others, and the promotion of compassion is one way to do this. He characterizes the idea of karma in one sentence: 'If you act well, things will be good, and if you act badly, things will be bad.'(23) Compassion is important not only for the benefit of the individual who develops it, but also for all those with whom they come into contact. The reverse is true without compassion, and indeed, the Dalai Lama blames the unhappiness from nation to nation, continent to continent, to this lack of compassionate feelings.(24) It is this desire to promote compassion in others that lies behind His Holiness's view of other religions, not only in his advocacy of the positive 'fruits' from each tradition, but also because he believes strong attachment to doctrines leads only to arguments and stands in the way of the truly beneficial effects of religious ideas. Thus what at first sight might seem like simply a theory of religions can be seen as one facet of the Dalai Lama's compassionate practice, in which he uses skilful means to promote the welfare of others. In this respect, then, the last thing one could describe him as is a 'false friend'. However, it is those members of other religions who might look for a pluralist theory of religions in the Dalai Lama's teachings who will be disappointed. As we have seen, his ecumenism is made possible by faithful adherence to - or rather, practice of - ideas which are exclusive to Buddhism. Owing to the nature of his beliefs such as emptiness, the Dalai Lama is able to maintain with consistency that ultimate liberation is exclusively Buddhist without seeing this as detrimental to the value of other religions. To conclude, then, the Dalai Lama's tolerance and acceptance of other religions lie not in the pluralist tradition, but instead are enabled by a strict adherence to the teachings of one particular Buddhist tradition. In a pluralist approach, tolerance is achieved through relinquishing the exclusivity or ultimacy of the teachings of any one particular religious tradition. In contrast, the Dalai Lama's acceptance of other religions is enabled precisely by his adherence to the teachings of dGe Lugs Buddhism as ultimate. Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Bristol, 36 Tyndall's Park Road, Bristol BS8 1PL 1 The term 'pluralism' is usually associated with the three-fold typology of exclusivism/inclusivism and pluralism introduced by Alan Race in his book Christians and Religious Pluralism (London, 1983). For a clear example of a pluralist approach, see John Hick's An Interpretation of Religion (Macmillan, 1989). 2 'Religious Values and a Human Society', in Kindness, Clarity and Insight (New York, 1984), p. 13. 3 'Eight Verses of Training the Mind', ibid. p. 101. 4 Extract from The Bodhgaya Interviews (1981), from Christianity Through Non-Christian Eyes, ed. Paul J. Griffiths (Orbis, 1990), p. 167. 5 'Religious Harmony', from Kindness, Clarity and Insight, p. 49. 6 'Religious Harmony', from Griffiths, p. 164. 7 'Religious Harmony', from Kindness, Clarity and Insight, p. 49. 8 'Religious Values and Human Society', from Kindness, Clarity and Insight, p. 14. 9 'The Bodhgaya Interviews', from Griffiths, p. 169. 10 'Religious Harmony', in Griffiths, p. 164. 11 See Gavin D'Costa's unpublished 'The Impossibility of a Pluralist View of Religions', which contends that any such amnesty is never complete - pluralism always entails prioritizing some truth claims, and in this sense it is logically incoherent. 12 Bodhgaya interview, from Griffiths, p. 169. 13 'Some Dimensions of the Recent Work of Raimundo Panikkar: A Buddhist Perspective', by Paul Williams in Religious Studies 27, p. 516. 14 Paul Williams, 'The Recent Work of Raimundo Panikkar', from Religious Studies 27, pp. 511-21. 15 Bodhygaya interview, from Griffiths, p. 169. 16 Jose Cabezon, Buddhism and Language (SUNY, 1994), p. 47. 17 Williams, Religious Studies 27, p. 520. 18 Ibid. p. 518. 19 Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (London, 1989), p. 49. 20 'Altruism and the Six Perfections', Kindness, Clarity and Insight, p. 32. 21 'The Path to Enlightenment', from Kindness, Clarity and Insight, p. 139. 22 'Buddhism East to West', from Kindness, Clarity and Insight, p. 86. 23 'Karma', from Kindness, Clarity and Insight, p. 26. 24 'Eight Verses of Training the Mind', from Kindness, Clarity and Insight, p. 102.