Build Toowoomba into a Multicultural Model City
－ 2013 UNESCO Multi-Faith Forum Keynote Speech· Venerable Master Chin Kung AM －
1. The Origin
The biggest crisis in our world today is a lack of confidence. Most people don’t believe there can be true harmony in our society, and people no longer believe in lasting peace for the world. The best way to resolve such a crisis of confidence is to set up experimental points or model cities to show the world. Such points of interest will be in many ways more scientific to the eyes of the public, thus fostering more confidence for everyone.
Toowoomba is a charming small city with over 90,000 residents, with people from all over the world. The city prides itself on having more than eighty ethnic groups, over one hundred languages, as well as different races, cultures, traditions, and religions and faiths. It is indeed a multicultural city. Because of these unique characteristics, helping build Toowoomba as a model city of peace and harmony truly is that much more significant and meaningful.
In 2001, the Pure Land Learning College Association was founded in Toowoomba. In the past ten years, the PLLCA has enjoyed a great relationship with the local communities and religious organizations. Every week, the PLLCA hosts a Saturday night friendship dinner and a multicultural forum. People of different races, religions, and linguistic backgrounds exchange views with one another in a friendly atmosphere. All are welcomed to attend the dinner and be part of the family. In March 2012, during the interfaith forum in Toowoomba, a proposal was raised, and the religious representatives and residents attending all agreed to “Build Toowoomba into a Multicultural Model City of Peace and Harmony.”
We hope to treasure and preserve the special characteristics of each ethnicity and culture. With a big heart of loving kindness, we accept one another; we respect one another and treat one another equally and harmoniously, so that whoever comes to Toowoomba would see people of different skin colors and different cultural backgrounds thriving and prospering together. We hope to help set up a model city of peace and harmony where people genuinely respect and care for one another, and work and cooperate in unity. And we would like to show the whole world that a harmonious society with multiethnicity, multiculturalism and multifaith harmony is achievable; the vision of one big family comprised of all the people of the world is also realistic.
2. How to Build A Model City of Peace and Harmony
A model city of peace and harmony is to be led by the joint efforts from various religions in Toowoomba. We have established the Goodwill Committee of Toowoomba where regular meetings are held to facilitate communication. Those of different religions would participate in activities run by other religions and assist with charitable works. They would also learn from one another and share their respective teachings with the public, and in practice, become one big family.
With equality and a harmonious atmosphere, all religions and faiths will revisit and focus on education to promote the good teachings in each religion, and together all religions will shoulder the responsibility to transform society. With this commitment, we surely will be able to turn back the downward trend of morality and bring positive influence to the mindset of the people in our society. When we practice and realize peace and harmony in this manner, we will generate a tremendous constructive force, and such force will resonate through our living environment. Toowoomba would see less disasters and the world would see less calamities. Once religious harmony is in place, ethnic groups, political parties, and each country would be able to coexist in harmony. Toowoomba is on its way to achieving this goal, and the journey so far has been inspiring.
Each year, we will organize four interfaith forums for exchanging ideas and views. We will share our visions, experiences, methods, and results with the public. We welcome people from Australia as well as from the whole world, people who are conscientious in building peaceful and harmonious cities, to come and visit Toowoomba to gain insights and methodologies, and to help their own hometown to realize the peace-building project.
Should we be able to make Toowoomba a model city and sustain our effort for more than a year, we would like to set up a satellite TV station and broadcast the daily lives of learning of Toowoomba residents to the world, presenting the goodness of a harmonious and peaceful life. By that time, many people from all around the world will wish to visit Toowoomba, the pure land on earth, learn from its experiences, and even to move there. The more prosperous Toowoomba becomes, the more affirmation the world would feel towards the benefit of peace and harmony. Increasing numbers of people will adjust their mindsets for the better. People will treat others with equality and harmony. When 28 the majority of the populations in the world share these benevolent thoughts and deeds, natural and man-made disasters will gradually decrease until eventually there will be none.
The power of example is tremendous. If the model city of Toowoomba became a success, the whole world would be encouraged and moved. Similar practices would follow and more model cities of peace and harmony would spread and blossom around the world.
3. The Four All-Embracing Methods
How do we promote the ideas of building Toowoomba as a model city of harmony? We follow the teachings of the Buddha, and we apply the Four All-embracing Methods. In short, the Four Methods are the methods of interacting with the public. They are (1) the practice of giving, (2) kind words, (3) beneficial acts, and (4) cooperation.
(1) The practice of giving. Put simply, this is to give gifts and be generous in sharing. In Toowoomba, we have been doing what we can to support public charitable works. We make annual donations to the local hospital and to the hospice centre. For the past ten years, we have hosted free Saturday night friendship dinners for all local residents. Multicultural forums have also been held in a friendly environment for residents to discuss issues. Because of the air of friendship, we have made many friends and built strong relationships with the local residents and neighbors. Nowadays when asked about our association, many people would say, “There are good people there!” This is the model on which the PLLCA has built a solid foundation for peace and harmony to be carried on.
(2) Kind words. We should speak truthful words that are caring and beneficial to others. We praise highly other religions’ teachings and their charitable works. We also encourage every faith to introduce their teachings to people, and to serve the community as a whole, and facilitate communication and exchanges with other religions. Enmities and conflicts between religions are often the result of fighting for adherents. To solve this problem, we need to emphasize that all religions are equal. They are each the best of all. To entice and convert others is wrong. By using kind words, we would enable each religion to have peace of mind and rid them of unnecessary worries. The use of kind words is a good way to clear obstacles in the promotion of religious unity.
(3) Beneficial acts. We need to act in such a way that benefits others. When other religions are in need, we reach out to help them without hesitation. A few years ago, a Christian primary school wanted to set up a computer room but was short of funds. Upon learning their need, we quickly acted to help them. The PLLCA set up a Multi-Faith Multicultural Centre, and we employed Mr. Haniff, a senior faith worker from Singapore as the coordinator, to promote religious dialogue and unity in Toowoomba. We have seen wonderful results.
(4) Cooperation. We participate in the same activities, and we actively engage in each other’s religious events while learning from each other. The PLLCA provides a venue and invites faith representatives to give talks on their own religious teachings, enabling the local residents and different faith adherents to know more about all religions. I have given talks on the Rosary at a Catholic church, and I have also shared my study notes on the Quran. I once told Dr. Mahathir that, “When I read the Bible, I am the most faithful Christian. When I read the Quran, I am the most faithful Muslim. If I am not, I would not be able to understand the true meaning of the sacred texts.”
Apart from the above, we organize group travel. Last year, the Toowoomba religious delegation visited Thailand in May and Sri Lanka in November to attend multifaith forums hosted by the local government and NGOs. Leaders from various religions are busy and may not have too much time to communicate. However, while everyone was travelling together, we had ample time to talk and share our views on many things. The trips enhanced our mutual understandings and also deepened our friendship.
I sincerely hope that UNESCO representatives can come to Toowoomba at the end of June this year to further experience in person, the inspiration and true gentle power of interfaith unity. This would definitely contribute greatly to diminishing confrontations and doubts among different religions, and would be an empowering element in promoting world peace.