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Sunday May 27, 2007 ■ CatholicNews
PROMINENT RELIGIONS The worldʼs most prominent religion is Christianity. Its adherents make up about a third of the worldʼs population, according to the CIAʼs World Factbook. Islam is the second most prominent religion with its followers – Muslims – accounting for 20 percent of the world population. There are about 400 million Buddhists. CNS graphic
(Left) Archbishop Nicholas Chia greets a Buddhist monk at an InterFaith dinner in January 2007.
VATICAN CITY – Conﬂicts between
Buddhists and Christians can be resolved through peace education, said the Pontiﬁcal Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The “sad reality” of continued prejudice and misunderstanding can be overcome by educating people about other faiths and by helping families and schools reinforce the value of peaceful coexistence, the council said in a message to Buddhists preparing for the feast of Vesak. The feast, which commemorates the principal events in the life of Siddhartha Gautama, Buddhismʼs founder, is celebrated on May 31 in Singapore. “Even in places where people experience daily the ravages of war, fuelled by sentiments of hatred and vengeance, trust can be restored,” the message said. Civil and religious leaders from both faith communities need to work together “to create the space and the opportunities for people to talk, listen, share regrets and offer forgiveness for each otherʼs past mistakes”, it said. The message made no mention of speciﬁc areas of concern, but relations between Buddhists and Christians in some parts of Asia have been tense. Some Christians have led attacks against Buddhist temples in parts of South Korea, for example, while some Christian churches in predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka have been the targets of violence. The violence and some government efforts to limit religious freedom, such as the right to convert, are sometimes
linked to what is seen as aggressive proselytism by some Christian groups. The Vatican message said educating for a peaceful and harmonious society “starts in ordinary homes” with families trying to pass on traditional and moral values to their children. It said public and faith-based schools need to support parents in their task of forming their childrenʼs
consciences as well as offer a “value-based education which reinforces respect, acceptance, compassion and equality”. The message encouraged people working in the mass media to “exercise their moral conscience” and help “dispel ignorance and impart knowledge, preserve social values and portray the transcendental dimension of life” arising from peopleʼs spiritual beliefs. ■ CNS
A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in the lap and a compassionate smile serves as a reminder to develop peace and love within oneself. Buddhist monk Venerable K. Gunaratana expresses his gratitude for this teaching at the Sri Lankaramaya Buddhist Temple, Singapore.
The largest Buddhist temple in Singapore is the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery (1920) located in Bishan which can hold thousands of devotees for its wide range of spiritual activities. (For information on the monastery and the Vesak celebrations visit http://www.kmspks.org/)
THERE ARE MANY Buddhist festivals celebrated throughout the year but the most important feast for all Buddhists is Vesak Day. It commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. Many Asian countries with sizable Buddhist populations mark the event as a public holiday. However, the date varies from place to place due to the prominence of various branches of Buddhism
and differences in local tradition. This year, the commemoration is marked on May 31 in Singapore. On Vesak Day, devout Buddhists assemble in their various temples to chant sacred texts, meditate and bring offerings to the Buddha. Acts of generosity known as Dana are also observed which include the freeing of caged birds and animals, and visiting and giving alms to the poor and needy. ■
BUDDHISM IS THE largest religion in Singapore with 1.1 million followers (representing 42.5 percent of the adult population). There are an estimated 400 million Buddhists worldwide. The word Buddhism means “the teachings of the awakened one”. It is a dharmic, non-theistic religion, often described as a way of life or a practical philosophy. Dharmic religions are a family of religions (with origins in the
Indian subcontinent) based on the concept of dharma, a Sanskrit term for “ﬁxed decree, law, or duty”. Buddhism focuses on the dharma or teachings of Siddhârtha Gautama –“the Buddha” – who was born in Lumbini (todayʼs Nepal) around 580 years before Christ. The Buddhaʼs quest for Enlightenment attracted followers, and Buddhism spread throughout the Indian subcontinent in the ﬁve centuries after his death, then to the rest of Asia. It has attracted some following in the West in recent years too.
Buddhists do not believe in a personal god. They believe that all life is interconnected and that compassion is a way of life. Buddhists believe in karma (the concept that oneʼs life is conditioned by oneʼs past actions)