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  • Creating Space for the Non-Buddhist in Sri Lanka: A Buddhist Perspective on the Other
  • Mahinda Deegalle (bio)

love for the stranger, xenophobia, philoxenia, hospitality, Durch Reformed Church, Buddhist tolerance of Muslims and Roman Catholics

At one of our interfaith Thinking Together workshops on “From Xenophobia to Philoxenia,” held in Florida, we gathered to discuss the religious attitudes and practical concerns of the world’s religious traditions on the notion of the “stranger.” This topic is as timely as ever. Within the last few years, several catastrophic events that have implications for interreligious relations have occurred in the Western hemisphere—for example, the Al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001; 1 the July 7, 2005, bombings in public transport in metropolitan London; and the foiled terrorist attempt to destroy ten jets bound to the United States from the United Kingdom on August 10, 2006. 2 All these events have significant impact on the “other,” since a religious other is suspected in connection with these atrocities.

This topic of the stranger needs creative reflection informed by religious teachings and supported by positive, genuine social practices cultivated in the contemporary competitive and tense interreligious environment. More than at any other time in the history of human civilization, the issue of the other and of difference has become a practical issue and a concern of our [End Page 158] daily lives. Without any religious difference, we all are affected today by the stereotypes of the stranger and misconceptions of the other.

After the turmoil of the September 11 attacks in New York, in the Western hemisphere the place, location, attitude, and notion of the other have been continuously debated, argued, and evaluated in relation to the natives of the country and their ways of life. While immigration officers are busy identifying aliens and restricting their entrance to Western society at all levels, democratic values of human liberty and freedom are at stake due to surveillance and persecution based on difference. Awareness and concern are how we deal today with difference; in particular, manifest differences in relation to religious doctrines and practices are misconceived, manipulated, and misrepresented.

How can we appreciate difference as a positive dimension of human life? To what extent can we accept and accommodate differences that appear in religious doctrines and cultural practices? How should we incorporate difference and plurality as a powerful resource for a healthy society in this global village? More than at any other time in history, religious communities are challenged to seek and to develop religious resources that enhance communal life in a pluralistic society and the healthy incorporation of plurality for spiritual growth in a diverse social and religious context.

Here, I want to explore and understand Buddhist views toward the stranger, the other, and the non-Buddhist. I want to search for teachings and practices that locate the stranger in a culturally and socially positive environment in contemporary society. For a contextual and detailed analysis of Buddhist attitudes toward the stranger and the other, I focus on Theravada Buddhist society in Sri Lanka. While identifying doctrines and concepts that shape Buddhist attitudes toward the other and the stranger, I explore here in depth how Buddhist teachings construct a practical worldview for the contemporary world and guide human actions that are genuinely informed by and rooted in religious virtues in a healthy fashion.

In our modern, tense political context, there is a strong need to examine the use and effectiveness of Buddhist principles in developing a practical ethic toward the stranger. As religious communities, we are challenged again and again within our communities as well as outside them to test religious teachings and views that we hold dear and their practical use in communal life. We are encouraged to search for relevant resources and place the [End Page 159] resources that are useful to create a practical religious view toward the stranger in a complex web of human interactions in our modern society.

In our communities, we realize that, unless the community is homogenous, we do not share the same religion or worldview; there are multiple resources for resolving conflicts and creating harmony and peace, and each community proposes...


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pp. 158-168
Launched on MUSE
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