East Asia Religious Leaders Forum, Remembering Zheng He 600 Years Ago: Cooperation for Peace and Prosperity
By Shi Chin Kung , 12 February 2006, Jakarta, Indonesia
It is a great honor to be invited by the Indonesian Committee on Religion for Peace and Multi-Culture Society and to have this opportunity to share my experiences and views on the topic of “Unity and Solidarity of Religions and Resolution of Conflicts Towards Peace and Stability of the World”. I am very grateful to have this chance to learn from religious leaders, scholars, and experts at this forum.
II.Travel Around the World; Manifestation of the Spirit of Peace and Loving-Kindness
Zheng He, both Chinese and a Muslim, was born in the fourth year of Emperor Tai Zu of the Ming dynasty and passed away in the tenth year of Emperor Xuan Zong (1371-1435). Six-hundred years ago, he received an imperial decree from Emperor Cheng Zu of Ming dynasty to commence seven seafaring explorations and discovery of the world with the goal to “befriend and propagate moral education to countries of distant shores”. He embarked on his first voyage during the third year of Emperor Cheng Zu’s reign (1405) and his last voyage during the fifth year of Emperor Xuan Zong’s reign. In the eighth year of Emperor Xuan Zong’s reign, he returned home after the completion of his task. According to the “Four Treasuries of Assembled Essentials” under the section “History of Ming”, his seven explorations took place in the following years:
1) 1405 (3rd year of the reign of Emperor Cheng Zu)
2) 1408 ( th year of the reign of Emperor Cheng Zu)
3) 1412 (10th year of the reign of Emperor Cheng Zu)
4) 141 (14th year of the reign of Emperor Cheng Zu)
5) 1421 (19th year of the reign of Emperor Cheng Zu)
6) 1424 (22nd year of the reign of Emperor Cheng Zu)
7) 1430 (5th year of the reign of Emperor Xuan Zong)
Each voyage lasted approximately two years, and in his twenty-eight years (1405-1433) of travel, he landed in major cities from the central and southern parts of today’s Vietnam, Thailand, Malay Peninsula, the south Pacific Islands, and India, and as far away as Iran, Arabia, and the east coast of Africa. Zheng He’s fleet visited over thirty countries. His fleet was the largest in the world at that time with more than twenty-eight thousand sailors. The number of ships in each voyage numbered from sixty-two to over two hundred. His flagship “Boat of Treasure” was one hundred fifty meters long, twice the length of the main hall in Beijing’s Forbidden Palace and comparable in size to modern aircraft carriers. Unlike modern ships, Zheng He’s fleet was built of wood and used sails. While normal sailing ships have three to six masts, the “Boat of Treasure” had a dozen masts. This was many times the size of Columbus’s ship.
On his voyage in the nineteenth year of the reign of Emperor Cheng Zu (1421-1423), Zheng He made his most important discoveries. Zheng He divided the fleet into four teams, each sailing a different route. They traveled to every continent in the world, passing through sixty-two archipelagos, totaling over one thousand seven hundred islands. As a result, cartographers were able to make tens of thousands of coastline maps. His fleet passed through the Indian Ocean and arrived at the east coast of Africa. They then navigated through the Cape of Good Hope, passing through the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and found the Arctic and South America. They then traveled south and found Antarctica. From there, they sailed through the Pacific Ocean and landed in Australia and New Zealand. This tells us that Zheng He’s fleet discovered Australia and Antarctica three hundred fifty years earlier than Captain Cook, traveled around the world one hundred years before Magellan, and landed on the American continent seventy years ahead of Columbus.
Zheng He truly was a great navigator! He possessed the wealth of knowledge, courage, and wisdom to command his fleet through vast oceans amidst trying conditions, and found new lands and discoveries for the human race. His rarest quality was that as a faithful Muslim, he adhered to the moral and virtuous teachings of the Koran; he personally exercised the infinite mercy of Allah for all human beings and displayed his traditional Chinese cultural wisdom of peace and loving-kindness. During his seven expeditions, no colony was ever established and not an inch of land invaded or claimed by his presence. He contributed to the local people by providing better farming techniques, technical advances, and cultural exchanges. The locals gave him the title “Three Protector Eunuch”. Even today, there are still many popular temples of Zheng He in the various regions of the South Pacific.
Gift exchanges were prominent events for Zheng He. When the locals sent their regards to the Chinese Emperor in the form of local produce, the Chinese Emperor reciprocated by giving at least double the amount of gifts received. This was the way of expressing friendship and sincerity. The Chinese cultivated this mentality through years of moral education starting from youth. Traditional Chinese family education taught their young to always exercise kindness, generosity, consideration, and sincerity to others. This was seen in Zheng He’s foreign policy of harmony and peace towards different countries, groups, and religions.
The core of traditional Chinese education could be summed up with the word “love” or education of love. Since ancient times, Chinese have been nourished by such education. In the five thousand years of recorded history, whenever the tribe of Han ruled the land, China had never invaded other countries. One will not find a war initiated by the Chinese for the purpose of occupying another’s land. It was a country of peace simply because they had been receiving education of peace and love. They would willingly sacrifice their lives for others and would not invade or take from others by force.
Zheng He, the navigator from the fifteenth century, brought Chinese skills and knowledge to benefit people around the world across great distances. At the same time, he spread the peace loving spirit of the Chinese to the five major continents of our world. He brought prosperity and wealth to people at that time. Today, after six hundred years, his past deeds give us much inspiration about how we can bring forward peace and harmony through the spirit of honesty, sincerity, compassion, and love. The message of “benevolence, compassion, universal love, sincerity, respect, humility, and harmony” was not just the essence of Chinese traditional education: it was the common teachings and guidelines of all religions and their saints and sages. It represented the innate purity and goodness that all beings possess originally. It was no wonder that many eastern and western scholars, including the renowned English historian Dr. Toynbee who extensively studied and thoroughly understood the traditional Chinese culture, believed that the education of benevolence, compassion, and universal love was real. Such teachings and education were all part of the cultural inheritance of humankind. These treasures of wisdom, when properly implemented and enhanced, truly would bring long lasting harmony, peace, prosperity, and wealth to the twenty-first century.
III. Saints and Sages’ Education that Inspires “Wisdom, Benevolence, and Courage”
From history, we saw that Zheng He’s exploration was not an easy undertaking and there were many experiences to be gained. He measured the accurate longitude of earth three hundred years before the Europeans and mapped out the positions of many new islands. European navigators relied on his map to find the New World. He adapted to the constantly changing seafaring conditions and always had long-term supplies for his twenty thousand crews. There were times when he encountered pirates and robbers. These problems were resolved with wisdom and courage. He would defeat these enemies and yet always showed mercy and leniency. He made passages safe for friends and visitors from afar to see China. Visitors and delegates from overseas were numbered well above any other times in history.
We may wonder where did Zheng He’s spirit, compassion, wisdom, and courage come from. In actuality, it was the result of education from both Chinese traditional education and the education of the Koran. In my lectures, I often mentioned that saints, sages, Buddhas, and bodhisattvas were the end result of appropriate teaching. A good person was the product of good teaching, whilst a bad person was also the product of another kind of teaching. Terrorists were no different. Everything depends on how we conduct education. In order to resolve all conflicts and seek peace, prosperity, and social stability, we have to rely on the education of saints and sages.
In terms of education, China has had rich experiences and achievements. While more than five thousand years ago, the Chinese began emphasizing the importance of education, it was not until the reigns of Emperor Yao and Shun that a clear structure was established. According to historical records, in ancient times, Emperor Yao instructed Hou Ji to teach people how to farm. Once the five types of crops were harvested and people’s basic needs were met, the way or path to humanity could begin. After attaining basic needs, if humans were not educated, they would resemble beasts. The saint (Emperor Yao) worried about this outcome and sent Qi to teach the five moral principles to the people: (1) There shall be a loving relationship between parents and children; (2) There shall be loyalty and fairness between leaders and followers; (3) There shall be distinct responsibilities between husband and wives; (4) There shall be order between seniors and juniors; and (5) There shall be trust between friends. This recorded history described how Emperor Yao and Shun started their educational system more than four thousand five hundred years ago in China.
There were four types of education: family education, formal education, social education, and religious education. Family education formed the basis of all other types of education. The content of these four types of education centered on morals, virtues, causality, and religion. Other subjects such as science, skills, arts, and applied knowledge were only secondary in importance. When all four types of education were achieved, social harmony and world peace would be attainable.
In September 2005, I had a meeting with the Vice Chancellor of the University of Southern Queensland and several professors in Australia. One topic of our conversation was about a study that was conducted before World War II. Several European scholars researched why Chinese civilization still stands while the other three ancient civilizations had virtually disappeared. The research concluded that the most likely explanation was the strong emphasis that the Chinese placed on family education.
I could not agree more with this conclusion. The Chinese traditional education had always focused on family education. Parents started educating their infants from the day they were born. Parents lived as role models for their children, firmly believing that their every gesture and word would leave an imprint on their infant’s mind and later affect his life. Chinese education began three to four days after an infant’s birth. This gave rise to the following Chinese saying, that “At the age of three, one sees how the person will be at eighty years of age. At the age of seven, one foresees the rest of the person’s life.” According to history, “the youngest son of King Zhou Tai married Tai Ren, who was a demure and graceful lady. She followed the way of virtues. When she was pregnant, her eyes avoided sight of sin; her ears listened to no frivolous sounds; her mouth did not utter words of insolence. She was educating her son in the womb. Later, she gave birth to Emperor Zhou Wen, one of the greatest emperors in China. Both the mother and son were in the league of saints.” This is what the Chinese understood as “pre-natal education”.
When children reached five to six years of age, they were sent to private school founded by private individuals. For every twenty-five families, there would be a school; for every five hundred families together, the larger school would be called “Xiang”「庠」 ; for every twelve thousand families the school was called “Xu”「序」 ; the schools in Imperial or the royal capitals were called “Xue”「學」 . State administered schools began in the Han dynasty when the university was created. Later in the Tang dynasty, an official education department was established, completing the educational structure. This system was able to train many future government officials. In the area of social education, there were whole arrays of educational entertainment for various generations of people. Plays, songs, dances, recitation of books were parts of what was available. They taught people to see the importance of loyalty, filial piety, integrity, and honor. Such education gave man, woman, young and old, even the illiterate, a chance to understand the guideline for being a decent human being. The long term stability and peace of the society could thus be preserved.
Religious education, such as Buddhism, was introduced to China by the Emperor’s invitation in the tenth year of the reign of Emperor Xiao Ming of Han dynasty (AD _7). A Buddhist temple was a combination of Buddhist education and arts center. It was much like the present day university and museum combined. Its main tasks were translating and providing lectures on sutras. The Buddhist Canon we see today is the result of generations of Chinese Emperors who brought together Buddhist masters and experts to compile and systematize this tremendous encyclopedia of Buddhist texts. The “Qian Long Buddhist Canon” compiled in Qing dynasty was especially recognized as the most comprehensive and complete collection of works, which included not only the translated sutras from Sanskrit, but also notes, reflections, reports, and commentaries written by Buddhist masters and experts over a period of seventeen hundred years. It was the most valuable cultural treasure of wisdom for the human race.
In the second year of the reign of Emperor Tai Zong of Tang dynasty, the prophet Mohammed sent delegates and an official letter to the Emperor. Tai Zong warmly received the delegates and praised the Islamic teachings. He gave imperial decree to build a mosque in the Guangdong Province for the benefit of Arabian traders so they would have a place of worship. This was the earliest recorded event that Islamic religion had been introduced to China. After over one thousand years of development, Islamic teachings incorporated cultures from Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, which gave fuller interpretation of Koran’s teachings. This enhanced the follower’s faith in Allah, spreading love and peace, and leading to inner tranquility and social serenity. These teachings molded Zheng He’s character, which helped his achievements in life. Six hundred years ago, Zheng He was able to command over twenty-eight thousand crewmembers, and to travel through seemingly endless oceans over a prolonged period of time. This was achieved with the help of his knowledge and learning of morals, virtues, and religious teachings since young. If these individuals, such as Zheng He, did not have a true understanding about the relationships between people and had not discovered love, honesty, and courage through true wisdom, no matter how strict the rules and laws were at that time, they could never have had such a great achievement in life.
IV. Urgent Need for Improving Moral Standards of All people
The education that we discussed today differs from the skill-based teaching of modern learning institutions. The true meaning of education in the past was to re-initiate the purity, goodness, sincerity, and loving-kindness that each person intrinsically possess and continually sustain and enhance these qualities. This education can be categorized into moral education, virtuous education, causality education, and religious education.
1. Moral education:
a)Teachings that promote understanding of the true relationships between human beings. For example, loving relationship between parents and children, distinct responsibility between husbands and wives, loyalty and fairness between leaders and followers, order between seniors and juniors, and trust between friends.
b)Teachings that facilitate real world enhancement to develop caring relationships between people and real practice in sincerity, respect, humility, and harmony.
2. Virtues education:
a)Teachings that promote compassion towards all people, matters, and objects. For example, treat every person, matter and object with equality, harmony, respect, and cooperation.
b)Teachings that promote understanding of people and the environment, which naturally brings forth equality, love, and the awareness of ecological survival.
c)Teachings that enhance personal development in virtues. Self cultivation is the essence; When we cannot obtain the goal we seek, we should reflect upon ourselves and not blame others; and human beings need to acquire knowledge that will shape them into good and decent human beings, and not about concerning themselves with riches and social status.
d)The ultimate goal of this teaching was for all people to return from bad habits to the intrinsic kindness that all people possess.
3. Causality education
a)The cause and effect of continuity that extended from past to present and from present to future: Faith leads to understanding; Understanding leads to humbly seeking evidence and attainment; thus such teaching leads to true benefit and enjoyment in the future.
b) There were four applications:
i ) Teachings that help the poor to leave poverty and to create wealth.
ii) Teachings that remove ignorance and gain wisdom.
iii) Teachings that alleviate pain and suffering to gain happiness.
iv) Teachings that help all people to be dutiful and contented while breaking away from the habit of wrongdoing, and accumulating goodness through good deeds.
4. Religious Education:
a) Religious Education was the most sublime of the previous three educations, and the highest form of enjoyment in life.
b) Religions need to be modern and in accordance with local customs; be tolerant and live in harmony with all factions and religions; use concentration and wisdom to resolve all confrontations, ambiguities, doubts, and conflicts; promote and enhance intrinsic compassion and love to attain harmony among all people and treat all with equality; and provide a haven for all beings in our society to learn the ultimate education that will lead to happiness and fulfillment.
c) Religious education should help us to understand the relationship between human and beings of different dimensions
d)Religious education should help us to understand the relationship between human and the natural environment
From the above, we saw that “the education of saints and sages” was the very foundation to building a harmonious society and world that would lead to a happy and fulfilling life.
If a person did not accept such education, all the wealth and power in the world could not bring true meaning to life. The Confucian teacher, Mencius, once said: “When a person refuses to accept moral and virtue education, he is no different from a beast.” Today, our societies are facing moral dilemma and ethical crisis. With the current never-ending critical issues that our societies are facing today, we need to contemplate in depth the words of Mencius.
The ancient Chinese understood this fact perfectly. During the time of Wang Mang (1st Century), aerial gliding techniques were already discovered. During the time of the Three Kingdoms, Zhu Ge Liang developed wooden cow and flowing horse. Mechanical transportation replaced human labor. When we looked at the seven explorations of Zheng He, his navigation through oceans relied on advanced knowledge in the areas of astronomy, navigation, and minerals extraction. The ships were equipped with cannons for self-defense. Various extraordinary technologies were developed by the Chinese much earlier than the West. Why was it that the Chinese declined to develop them further? Why was this knowledge not preserved and passed down to later generations? Was it because the ancient Chinese were selfish? No. The answer was simply that ancient Chinese, with great wisdom, understood that when technology was blindly advanced without proper guidance of morals, virtues, and religions to guide them, this knowledge would bring disasters to humankind. When the demand for materialism surpassed spirituality, humanity would head towards annihilation. When we calmly observe all the problems we face today, be it political, economical, or social issues such as suicides and divorces, all were resulted from the neglect of the teachings of morals, virtues, and religions.
The education of saints and sages was the very foundation to building a harmonious society and world.
Using politics as an example, Confucius said: “The legacy of any political system will only last as long as its leader is still in power.” True leaders possessing wisdom and morals would bring happiness and peace to people whether in a democratic or feudal system, or through separation or unification of church and state. If leaders of nations did not possess morals and thoughts to benefit all people, then no matter how thorough and meticulous the laws were created, they would only be tools for personal gain. Thus, bringing disasters for all. Hence, a democratic system requires all people to hold high standard of morals and virtues. This way people could elect the right person for the government without ill effects. However, if the population could not reach a high moral standard, monarchy would be a better choice for the benefit of the majority. A monarch would want to solidify his reign and he or she had to employ the best possible teachers to train a good successor. He had to be responsible for the reign of his whole family. In so doing, he must exercise caution and do his best for his people. Otherwise, revolts would usurp his power.
Now we look at how ancient Chinese selected talents and capable people. The Emperor instructed the local government officials to privately investigate those who were truly “loving (filial piety) and had integrity” and to escort them to state learning institutions for learning to be of future service to his people. A person who was dutiful and loving at home would certainly be loyal to his country. A person with integrity would not be easily corruptible. Today in every country, from government level down to private sector, we saw corruption and disloyalty run rampant.
“Loyalty, filial piety, integrity, and honesty” were the fundamental teachings of the Chinese traditional education system, as well as the teachings of all saints and sages of our world. From this, we see that a saint or sage is a product of good teaching, whilst a terrorist is also the product of another type of teaching.
Today, family, formal, and social educations are about teaching people to compete with others for self gain even if it brings harm to others and the society as a whole. Most productions of mass media encourage greed, anger, ignorance, killing, stealing, lust, and deceit. This actually cultivates terrorists and rioters within our society. How could there not be turmoil in the world? To teach is to be a role model for students to follow. To learn is to correct faults and enhance goodness. Today, children are watching adults exercising hatred and revenge to solve problems. In the future, these children will exercise even more violence and hatred to resolve issues. With war, turmoil, and natural or man-made disasters in abundance today, could we not conclude that our present education has gone terribly wrong? To establish a nation and guide its people, education must be the priority. This is the best solution to our current dilemma. All the issues that we face today, some more urgent than others, must be resolved by proper education. All other means are only secondary and can not be used to solve our problems. The improvement of morals and virtues for the entire human race certainly requires urgent attention.
V. Promotion of Religious Dialogue, Resolution of Conflicts and Confrontations
In the 1970s, English historian Dr. Arnold Toynbee said that in order to resolve the social problems of the twenty-first century, one must rely on Confucianism and Mahayana Buddhism. What were the strengths and values of both teachings? The essence of Confucianism and Buddhism emphasize that the intrinsic nature of human beings is filled with pure kindness. Both teachings seek to change the world through compassion and universal love, by transforming evil to good, enemies to friends, delusion to awakening, and ordinary people to saints and sages. Actually, these goals are common to the scriptures of all faiths and religions. The holy teaching of Islam asked its followers to help those who renounced them, care for those who abandoned them, and forgive those who have wronged them. In Catholicism, its believers are taught to love their enemies. The Buddhist sutra said: “Remember no past sins; resent no sinners”. Similarly, Confucius asked people to reach the “ultimate perfection in compassion”. Mencius asked people to perfect their honor. Saints and sages, no matter when or where they exist, always teach all people compassion and love.
However, very sadly, such traditional education has discontinued for at least a whole century in China. Both the East and the West had been neglecting the dissemination of the teachings by the saints and sages of religions. More emphasis was placed in formality. In October 2005, I met with former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir. We talked about this problem. Dr. Mahathir said that followers of Islam were not really exercising the teachings of Koran. This has caused many to misunderstand Islam. I must acknowledge that this problem was not unique to Islam; Buddhism was no exception. Most people trivialized the learning of the scriptures, only wanting formality and rituals. When religion was the topic of conversation, many people relate it to superstitions and reject it as such. In the worst possible scenario, opportunists use the zest of ignorant religious followers to create arguments, confrontations, conflicts, and war. These are very sad phenomena.
In reality, the teachings of all religions of our world were about the teachings of saints’ and sages’ compassion and universal loving-kindness. I dedicated fifty-five years to study the teachings of saints and sages, and forty-eight years as a lecturer on these teachings. I found a commonality among all the religious scriptures. Buddhists talked about “compassion and mercy”. The Christians and Catholics talked about “God loves all people”. The Koran of Islam talked about “Allah is truly merciful”. In summary, “compassion and universal love” are the central focuses of the founders of all religious teachings. Once we learn the way of compassion and universal love and direct it towards all ethnic groups, countries, religions, and cultures with a loving-kindness that shows care, respect, concern, and cooperation, then when this sincerity is complete, people will be moved. Today, those of us who are working in the line of multicultural social education should realize that true sincerity and love is the key to change all people.
Those who believe in various religions, affirm that there is a true God in this universe (theism). In Buddhist terms, we refer to true God as “true self nature”. Flower Adornment sutra says that all beings are “manifestation of our mind (true self nature) and changes according to our consciousness”. It talks about the origin of life and the universe. Every thing in this universe comes from the same origin. In a planet like Earth, people used to live in different parts of the world and they would never have communicated with each other. Saints and sages had the responsibility to teach them how to live among people, how to live with the natural environment, and how to regard beings of the different dimensions. These are the objectives of the teachings in all religions. Thus, the true God was able to use different identities, different forms, different languages, and writings to express these teachings. The aim was simply to facilitate equality, harmony, and peaceful coexistence between fellow human beings, between human and the natural environment, and between human and beings of the different dimensions. Through these teachings, all confrontation and conflicts will naturally be resolved. Peace will then be tangible. Prosperity, success, happiness, and fulfillment (in the areas of family, career, and the living environment) will befall all beings. When we embark to do our work with this ideal, we will see that all religions are one family. There should not be any barrier and conflicts between religions.
All conflicts between religions originated from our failure to understand our own religion at an adequately profound level. At the same time, we lacked knowledge of other religions. Without communication and interaction, doubts give rise to misunderstanding and misunderstanding escalates into intolerance; thus conflict becomes unavoidable. As a follower of any religion, one must be more than just familiar with one’s own scripture. We need to truly understand our own religious theories and principles, and practice what our religion has taught us in relation to interaction with others. If we do that, problems will be resolved. Chinese often talked about “Tong” or “finding a clear path”. A Chinese saying described such situation perfectly: “All people would be in harmony and all politics would be without hindrance.” Communication is foremost. Frequent communication leads to friendship and understanding of ourselves and others. In this way, conflicts will naturally be resolved.
I have used the following analogy to describe the five major religions in Indonesia to my friends here. These five religions were much like the five petals of a flower. If we viewed it from the top, each petal was independent from one another. However, if we trace it down from its leaf to its stem to its root, we see that each petal grows from the same root. All are one entity. In the same way, all religions in our world are one entity.
In my lectures, I often mentioned that our Earth and our society were like the body of a man. We are all earthlings. We belong to one family. We hope that all countries, groups, and religions are the most important ones. No one is of secondary importance. It is much like a physical body, all the countries, groups, and religions are like different organs in the body. Buddhism could be the eye, Christians could be the nose, and Islam could be the ear. If I claimed that I loved only myself and forgo the others, then, with no nose or ears, the eyes would be the only organ that functioned in this body. How could this person not be ill? We should realize that each religion is first in importance. Every group and every country is first. When every organ in body is of highest importance, when everyone is first, when every cell in our body is first, then our body will be healthy.
When we extend this analogy to the whole universe, we realize that the universe is in harmony and it is equal in nature. The whole universe is one big family. Having such broad and encompassing view towards all things is the key to be able to truly respect, treat others as equals, and cooperate with all beings. This is how religious education can be actualized. The success of religious education will certainly influence and improve family, formal, and social education in morals and virtues. This is a task that can be accomplished when many awakened people work together.
A few years ago, while I stayed in Singapore, we were able to build a close relationship with all nine religions in Singapore. Together we had organized large-scale charity dinners for the young and old. Traveling as a group, we visited China. In June 2004, I accompanied Indonesia religious delegation to visit Egypt and Vatican. In the same year, I joined the Indonesian religious delegation led by Mr. Wahid and visited the five major religions in China. We received stately and ardent reception in China. From these experiences, I profoundly felt that if each religion could organize such groups and travel together to visit others overseas, not only would we gain new knowledge, we would also grow to appreciate each member as a whole, caring and befriending each other. All would become a family. Religious harmony was something that was certainly achievable. Six hundred years ago, on Zheng He’s “Boat
of Treasure”, Buddhist Reverend Sheng Hui, and Hinduism and Islamic elders went on many journeys. Zheng He brought an air of peaceful multiculturalism and prosperity to the world. Today, our remembrance of Zheng He would be to learn from him, having a mindset that encompasses all diverse religions and cultures, and begin our friendly exchange in experiences and learning. We should visit and study with each other. Together with the entire human race, we should practice the compassionate and loving teachings of saints and sages, thus building a harmonious world that is full of sincerity, respect, humility, peace, and prosperity.
VI. Letting Go of Selfishness and Dedicating Every Thought to the Benefit of All Beings
Peace workers must let go of selfish desire and greed. When they give up these desires, they obtain a peaceful mind and naturally develop an attitude of equality. If there still lingers thoughts to differentiate and form attachments, then there will always be conflicts of interest with others. We need to let go all thoughts of differentiation and attachment, let our mind be like the vast space that was “all encompassing and immeasurable in boundary”. In this way, we will be able to live in harmony and equality with the highest form of beings from the spiritual realm, with beings from the realm of animals and even beings from hell. What liberation and freedom that would be! This is a very important lesson taught by the saints and sages. We must diligently learn them by heart and begin from within ourselves to love all beings.
Peace workers must acknowledge that all obstacles they face come from human being’s own selfishness, delusion, and attachment. Only by letting go of selfishness, delusion, and attachment can our innate wisdom be revealed. This is the most important realization for any peace worker and it is also the most difficult one to break through. Ordinary people see selfish gain as the most important task in life. Saints and sages see the needs of all beings as their top priority. Peace work is indeed the job of saints and sages. Without their mindset, their great vow of compassion, their unconditional love, and their virtues, how could this great vision be achieved? Armed only with ordinary people’s mindset and selfish thoughts, it is definitely impossible to undertake the work of the saints and sages.
Today, every religion faces the same problem. Most of the followers within each religion do not learn and understand their own religious teaching in greater depths and do not truly practice these teachings in their life. Take Buddhism for example. There were many sutras available, but all sutras point toward“ Compassion and mercy must be the basis; show leniency and accord with others”. Have we achieved compassion and mercy today? If we have, there would be no more confrontation between different school and sects. Taking a few steps further, the cooperation between religions will not be far.
Take Judaism, Catholicism and Christianity for example. All three religions rely on the New and Old Testament. They are one family. The New and Old Testament’s central idea that “God loves all people” must be realized. If everyone could love all people in the society, there would be no more problems. I told my Christian friend that: “God loves me. He does not love you.” He surprisingly asked why. I said: “I am part of “all people”. The New and Old Testament never said that God loves only his followers. However, it did say: “God loves all people”. Since I am part of “all people” and I love all people just as God loves equally all people, so He certainly loves me. You love God but you do not share His love for all people. So God does not love you.” He agreed and accepted my words.
God loves all people. But how does God love all people? He requires His followers to exercise and enhance that love through themselves to love and care for all people. The compassion and mercy of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas need all Buddhists to practice such compassion and mercy through their actions and deeds. Islam is no exception. The first sentence of all paragraphs of the Koran state: “Allah truly is merciful”. The essence of religions can be summed up as “Compassion, mercy, and universal love”. The goal of all religions is to help all beings to alleviate pain and suffering to attain happiness. Today, we should promote and encourage all the followers of each religion to earnestly study their own scriptures, put the spirit of their religion into real practice daily, and realize that all religions are but one family.
VII. Learning of the Holy Teachings Must Begin from the Basics
The aim of the education of saints and sages centers on compassion and universal love. Compassion and universal love must start from “love thy parents and respect thy teachers”. If we cannot be dutiful and loving to our own parents and fail to respect our teachers who have given us wisdom and knowledge, then we will never be able to have true compassion and universal love for all other beings. There were numerous Buddhist scriptures available for study. To sum up, the Buddha teaches us to emphasize on the “Three Fortunes” to gain solid foundation in learning. The first rule of the “Three Fortune” is to “Love thy parents; respect thy teachers; show mercy and kill not; cultivate the Ten Virtuous Deeds”. Those who truly practice the ten virtuous deeds will be able to be dutiful and loving to their parents.
Confucianism is very similar in this regard. It teaches children to be filial to their parents and respectful to their teachers. “The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child” is a little booklet that instructs us how to actualize the spirit of being “filial to parents and respectful to teachers”. Parents need to act as models for the young children to learn from. Using “The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child” to guide and conduct our own speech, deeds, and thoughts, proper education becomes truly influential.
VIII. Suggestions and Recommendations
On December 2005, I had attended the Perdana Peace Forum held in Kuala Lumpur by former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir. The retired Dr. Mahathir, in view of the current turmoil and unrest facing global communities, initiated the forum to seek resolution. Many people around the world, including organizations such as the UN, dedicated time and resources in search of conflict resolution and peace promotion. Starting in the 1970s, more than thirty-five years had passed, countless human efforts, funds and resources had been devoted in this area. However, the occurrence of conflicts rises each year and disasters become more severe. Many experts and scholars in the field of peace work have lost their confidence and faith in peace. Representing the university from Australia, as an Australian, I attended five separate peace conferences organized by UNECSO. I made many friends on each occasion. At the end of these conferences, we would get together and talk about the final resolution of these conferences. Most people agreed that while the recommendations and suggestions were excellent, it seemed unlikely that governments would truly accept these proposals and implement them in practice.
I visited the USA last year and I conversed with many friends on this topic. It was without doubt that people from all walks of life were concerned about peace and stability in our world. Most people did care about conflict resolution and peace promotion. I told my friends that conflict resolution must be achieved through peaceful means. There were people who believed that “vengeance” would stop acts of terrorism. The reality indicated otherwise. Chinese saints and sages taught that: “Enter into the cycle of vengeance, and the retribution will last for generations and will never end.” Military retaliation and suppression will only amplify hatred and hostility. It is often very difficult to resolve such animosity.
By using military strength and retaliation against the terrorists, the weaker groups retaliate with terrorism. I mentioned in the conference that this is another form of warfare. Such warfare would render the powerful countries, which possess nuclear weapons and other advanced weaponries, without clear and specific targets to exercise their military strength. When terror strikes three or four times a year, citizens of the targeted nation live in fear and anxiety. When such atmosphere is created, the terrorists win their war. Defense against such enemy is extremely difficult. When a whole society of people lives in constant fear and anxiety over a period of three to five years, I believe mental illness and health problems will greatly increase. The consequences will be severe.
It is a rare occasion to gather here with so many colleagues and friends to exchange our experiences and thoughts. It is our hope that, unlike many past international conferences that either discussed much without any decisions, or reached decisions without any actions followed, this forum will bring true unity for religions and bring forward concrete actions for world peace. I hope that a permanent institution can be established to continually promote religious unity. This institution can be named “East Asia Religious Leaders Forum” or set up others like “Asian Religions Associations”, “Asian Religious Education Research Center”, “University of Religious Education of the World” or model after the “Peace and Loving– Kindness Lecture Hall” currently being set up in Indonesia.
Religious Education University is a place for long-term training of teachers for each religion and training of future administrator for each religious center. This facility will not only be a cradle to train future talents, it will also be an institution that provides long distance education. Each religion would select four outstanding teachers who excel both morally and academically. For twenty-four hours a day, these teachers would guide followers across the world in further learning through advanced technology such as satellite television and the internet. Department of education and religion can act as monitoring agents. This will help all followers of each religion to study in greater depth their chosen area of study and immerse in that learning process. It is hopeful that followers would finally be able to practice the teachings of their religion in the real world and reach a “complete understanding that is without any hindrance”, and at the same time each can share their learning and teaching with other religions. All religions would then truly be one family. Praising each other and seeking commonality among diversity is the best way to unite all religions. If each region uses news media such as Internet websites and broadcasting facilities to transmit the teachings of each of the religious teacher to the world, such widespread teaching, once implemented, would reach numerous people daily without interruption. In three year’s time, there would be a significant effect on the world.
From studying the teachings of saints and sages for fifty-five years, I have deeply felt that only by studying in depths into the scriptures and understanding their principles can we hope to resolve our confrontations and conflicts towards all people, affairs and objects. From thousands of years of history, we realize the reason that Mohammed, Jesus Christ, Buddha and even Confucians and Mencius were able to generated so much influence was because they were able to truly practice what they taught, putting into practice religious compassion and love for all people on the basis of morality, virtue, and causality. Their deeds reflected their teachings. This was why they were able to affect and transform so many people. Today, those who have dedicated their lives to promoting religious education must emphasize true practice in life. The phrase: “Learn to be a teacher for all; act as role model for the world” provides the most fitting description. In so doing, we can inherit this timeless task passed down from saints and sages and bring true peace and harmony to the world. Thus, we will truly become messengers of peace.
I would like to end my session with the following words inspired by Zheng He that will lead us to a bright path towards world peace and prosperity:
Love is true heart, the true nature,
the true being and the Buddha nature.
Love is the original nature,
the inherent goodness. It is pure goodness.
Love is the truth, the reality. It is life. It is eternity.
Love is divine, God, Allah, the Holy Spirit.
Love gives rise to all phenomena.
Everything in the universe is born out of love and nurtured by love.
Love is the source of all that is all-virtuous, all capable, and all encompassing