Frequently in life we find ourselves living or working or engaging in commerce with people who don’t believe, think, or act like us; and it can be most frustrating. In almost all things the thing we find most uncomfortable is to be exposed to people different from ourselves. We find comfort in sameness and likeness.
As Buddhist, or any other minority belief, it can be especially challenging when faced with very dogmatic and strident believers of another religion and even more so if they are family. I have on more than one occasion been asked by a practitioner how they should go about practicing and believing when all of their family does not agree and in some cases are intolerant of anything other than the family tradition.
Generally speaking my advice is given on a case by case basis but I was struck the other day by something I recalled that St. Francis had said when giving advice to his Lesser Brothers on how to live with what where then called Saracens, or Arabs and non-Christians.
“Let any brother who desires go among the Saracens and other non-believers. They can live spiritually among the Saracens and non-believers in two ways. One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake, and to simply acknowledge that they [the friars] are Christians. The other way is to announce the Word of God…For love of him, they must make themselves vulnerable to their enemies.” Reluctant Saint; the Life of Francis Assisi by Donald Spoto
Notice in his instruction he says “not to engage in arguments”. I think this is a very important point to keep in mind.
Sometimes arguing can be the least effective way to influence someone to your way of belief. And frequently we are most persuasive when we are actually living our belief silently by example. We think that making ‘noise’ so to speak is louder than ‘silence’ and yet it is ‘silence’ that is more hearable than ‘noise’.
In the Lotus Sutra the Buddha advises us as follows:
“When you see anyone who does not receive this sutra by faith, you should show him some other profound teaching of mine, teach him, benefit him, and cause him to rejoice. When you do all this you will be able to repay the favors given to you by the Buddhas.” Lotus Sutra Chapter XXII
“I am always thinking: ‘How shall I cause all living beings to enter into the unsurpassed Way and quickly become Buddhas?'” Lotus Sutra Chapter XVI
“Medicine-King! How should the good men or women who live after my extinction expound this Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma to the four kinds of devotees when they wish to? They should enter the room of the Tathagata, wear the robe of the Tathagata, sit upon the seat of the Tathagata, and then expound this sutra…To enter the room of the Tathagata means to have great compassion towards all living beings. To wear the robe of the Tathagata means to be gentle and patient.” Lotus Sutra Chapter X
What we are instructed by the Buddha to have is compassion towards any and all beings. We must develop those traits first in order to really genuinely be able to lead anyone to the Buddha path. If we are compassionate then we will be gentle towards them, understanding their lives and respecting all others. If we respect others then we value them and that means we also respect and value their differences.
Next we must be patient in all things, especially when interacting with other people. Just as St. Francis says not to argue, we too should not argue. If the strength of our faith and practice lies in argument then we have a very weak foundation. For if we are truly resolute in our faith then we can be expansive enough to include respect, tolerance and patience. When we view life from the Buddhist perspective we have an infinite amount of time, life after life.
We must also remember that many paths lead to the one objective of Enlightenment and the attainment of Buddhahood. If folks can not accept our belief but can respect us in our belief then they have made wonderful causes for the future. If however people do not respect us in our belief then we have actually given them every reason to not believe as we do, why should they.
The Buddha instructs us to show them this or show them another thing. Emerson said something to the effect that what is most important is not what religion we belong to but to encourage the religiousness in each of us to work towards eliminating suffering. There are many ways to alleviate suffering, and the most effective way to continue suffering is if we are too hung up on ‘converting’.
Let us, together, walk along our paths. If you should decide that you wish to go along my path then together we can encourage each other? On the other hand should you choose to follow another, the how can I encourage you along your way?
From the perspective of the Lotus Sutra we all are Buddhas and whether a person realizes it in this lifetime or another that potential will be manifest. Let us have tolerance, compassion, and patience toward one another. There should be no problem living, working, or interacting with others.