05/11/2011, 00.00
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Christians should take part in ‘Vesak’ celebrations to boost ethnic reconciliation

by Melani Manel Perera
Many Buddhist and Christian values are similar. Christian human rights activist Jehan Perera explains why Christians, Muslims and Hindus must take part in the celebrations marking the enlightenment of the Buddha.

Colombo (AsiaNews) –Sri Lanka is getting ready for Vesak, the 2,600 anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment, next week. Government authorities and Buddhist monks are preparing an event full of activities to mark the important anniversary. Living as they do in a multi-faith nation, Christian, Muslim and Hindu leaders, from the country’s three other major religions, have called on their fellow believers to do everything they can to help their Buddhist brothers on the occasion of this day. For Christian human rights activist Jehan Perera, Vesak provides an important opportunity for the Church to show how Buddhist values are close to those of Christianity and help Christians learn to appreciate the human values of Buddhism. Here is an interview with Jehan Perera, who is the executive director of the National Peace Council and a peace award laureate.

As Christians, how important is our participation in this Buddhist function?

For those of us who were born and who live in Sri Lanka, Buddhism is part of our culture. The rituals and ethos of Buddhism go beyond those of a religion. There is a lot of tolerance in this society and it comes from that Buddhist ethos. Even in the midst of a terrible war and terrorist outrages, people of different ethnicities were able to coexist in the areas outside of LTTE control, and I believe this spirit of live and let live came from the Buddhist influence. What is especially appreciated about Buddhist teachings are their universalism. The values that Buddhism teaches are universal; they apply to each and every human being, equally. Buddhism arose in the context of the rigid caste system in India that did not treat people as equals. Buddhism is infused with the spirit of equality. What we in Sri Lanka need to do is to apply this teaching to our own problems of ethnic and religious discrimination and overcome them.

Following the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible, can we do something to express our solidarity towards?

Vesak is a great opportunity for the Church to explain how the underlying values of Buddhism and Christianity are the same, even if the language may be different. Where Buddha said that one's actions yield consequences as surely as the wheels of the cart follow the ox, Jesus said that we reap what we sow. Where Buddha said that only love could overcome hatred, Jesus said that God is love.

For Sri lanka, these values are needed for this post-war phase. Stopping the spiral of conflict requires a conscious act of will and requires a vision of a transformative process that will lead to the good of everyone. One of the greatest challenges in peacemaking is to see the opponent in a new light, as having part of the truth

Do you think that these suggestions will have an impact in a society where most people are confused politically, economically and spiritually?

It is one thing to pray and attend religious ceremonies, but it is even more important to be close to our brothers even when the world is against them. I read recently some articles about celebrations and congratulatory comments in the United States over the death of Osama bin Laden. I agree with what the Vatican said, “A Christian should never rejoice over the death of another human being.” Similarly, celebrations after the war ended in Sri Lanka were inacceptable because the civil war caused the death of thousands of innocent people.

Finally, is there something we can do to show Buddhists our solidarity in Vesak?

Our journey towards reconciliation is still long. A Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, said, “The daily wars that occur in our thoughts and with our families are the same that peoples and nations fight throughout the world. The conviction that we know the truth and that those who do not share our beliefs are wrong has caused a lot of harm. When we believe something to be the absolute truth, we are prisoners of our own views.” As Christians, we must support our Buddhist compatriots in living by their religious values, which are also ours own.

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