We're all sentient beings desiring peace and happiness, the Dalai Lama repeated often during a panel discussion on "Bridging the Faith Divide" in Chicago Monday. "Nobody wakes up and thinks, 'Today I should have more problems,'" he laughed.
While his message is simple, it has political and social implications, the panel shared.
Moderated by Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel (see "Have faith in our youth"), the panel consisted of American interfaith leaders along with his Holiness, who seemed more interested in listening than speaking. "I have nothing to say," the Dalai Lama said to laughter when Patel asked him for his closing remarks.
Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president of that Nation Council of Churches of Christ-USA, shared the importance of building relationships across faith communities to counter fringe elements in every community that want to fight each other. "If either side wins, we're all in trouble," she said.
Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun magazine, developed on this theme, saying he feels he has more in common with people whose worldview is based on love and generosity, regardless of religion, than he does with fellow Jews who focus on fear. Lerner urged the very receptive audience to join his Network of Spiritual Progressives or another group to find support for the work of compassion.
Ingrid Mattson, a professor of Islamic Studies, urged patience when dealing with those of the other group, especially when they're family. "What we see in society [reflects] internal struggles within ourselves," she said, telling her personal story of converting to Islam, having lost her Catholic faith as a teenager.
Her family struggled with her decision, she said, and Muslims told her she was a completely new, other, and superior person as a Muslim. She, however, came to see the positive influence of her Catholic upbringing as well as the interaction of traditions throughout time. We are being unfaithful to who we are, she said, when we deny we have a spiritual or ethical connection to each other.
Each panelist shared a lesson they had learned from another tradition, building off the Dalai Lama's opening remarks. While there are real differences in the teachings of various traditions, he said, religions are essentially different ways to approach the same goal: compassion. In a world filled with violence, religion motivates us to care for each other because of our common humanity.
"All religions have the same potential to bring inner peace," the Dalai Lama said. "One thing I think we need is a common effort, such as ecology."
The panelists talked of some of the causes they have taken up and about the opposition they have faced.
The Dalai Lama applauded Mattson's concern for the women's rights after she pointed out that in turning 48 this year, she's passing the life expectancy of an Afghan woman by 10 years. "Because I have the freedom and opportunity to be with you today…we're not better; we just have more responsibility," she said.
Lerner's network has focused its attention on campaign finance reform, and he also speaks out on Israel/Palestine, saying that the region needs a "transformation of heart" and not just a political solution. The Dalai Lama urged him to take this message to Israel. "Come with me," Lerner responded.
Chemberlin told how she was able to politely converse with a man who was angry about her ordination. The Dalai Lama, too, said that he had changed a China-supporter's heart through conversation.
The Dalai Lama gave up political leadership of Tibet in March as the country elected its first prime minister in exile, but a Saturday meeting with President Barack Obama stillangered Chinese authorities. In an interview on NBC's Today Show, the Dalai Lama said China could resist the trend of democratization and that he was sure he'd see Tibet again.
The panel discussion concluded a two-week visit to the United States. "Today I leave for my second home, India," the Dalai Lama told the audience after the panel. "You remain with your own problem, so you have to manage your own problem!"