Singapore Soka Association Representative Speaks at Forum on "Religion in Conflict and Cooperation"
"If we seek to build harmonious religious relations and establish peace in the world, we need to cultivate and nurture the power of goodness within all human beings. Whether people are religious or non-religious, that goodness is inherent within their lives. And we can only succeed if we, as common men and women, see this task as our personal responsibility," stated Singapore Soka Association (SSA) Study Department Advisor Chan Heng Yuen during a Q&A at a forum on "Religion in Conflict and Cooperation."
Mr. Chan was one of four representatives from various religious traditions who were invited to speak at the forum held on June 21, 2008, at the Harmony Centre@Masjid An-Nahdhah in Bishan, Singapore. Some 90 people attended, including the Turkish Ambassador to Singapore, HE A. Bülent Meriç, religious representatives and students from the National University of Singapore (NUS). The forum was organized by the NUS University Scholars Programme and the Department of Malay Studies, the Harmony Centre and the Turkish Cultural Centre.
The first session focused on "Historical Perspective on Interreligious Relations." In addition to Mr. Chan, participants included a representative from the Church of St. Mary of the Angels speaking on "St. Francis of Assisi and the Muslims," Habib Hassan al-Attas from the Ba'alwie Mosque speaking on the "Islamic Perspective on Interreligious Dialogue," and journalist Arun Senkuttuvan who presented a correspondent's viewpoint on terrorism in India.
In his prepared remarks, titled "The Universal Lotus," Mr. Chan cited many examples throughout history that exemplify what he considers Buddhism's peaceful, nonviolent inclusiveness in interactions with other religious and philosophical traditions. He described these efforts to seek harmonious coexistence as dialogue among civilizations, sharing an example from a historical interchange between the Greco-Bactrian King Milinda and the Buddhist monk Nagasena, some 2,100 years ago, in which the monk beseeches the king to commit himself to engage in genuine, judicious and transcendent dialogue, rather than a discourse that is biased and judgmental. Mr. Chan stated that open-mindedness, sincerity and equality are indispensable for genuine dialogue. Mr. Chan shared the current efforts of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, a strong advocate and practitioner of dialogue among civilizations, who believes that a universal outlook enabling people to rise above differences in cultural backgrounds is key to fruitful dialogue. Mr. Chan further highlighted an example embodying this same spirit of universality during the 13th century and from another religious tradition, that of the great Persian poet Rumi.
Mr. Chan concluded his talk, again referencing Mr. Ikeda, urging that religion should become a source for engendering a global society that ensures peaceful coexistence for all and not a negative force that invites division and confrontation.
[Adapted from an article in the July 9, 2008 issue of SSA Times, Singapore Soka Association]