Interfaith dialog or cooperation

What do the EBTs say about interfaith dialog or cooperation? If they don’t address the issue explicitly, what can be extracted to address the topic from the teachings of the Buddha or the conduct of his disciples?

I was inspired to ask this question after reading Paul Tillich’s Christianity and the Encounter of World Religions. He describes a kind of universalism he sees in the early period of his tradition:

Early Christianity did not consider itself as a radical-exclusive, but rather as the all-inclusive religion in the sense of the saying ‘All that is true anywhere in the world belongs to us, the Christians’… [Famous words of Jesus should be translated to read] ‘You must be all-inclusive as your heavenly Father is all-inclusive’.

He explains in this chapter that his view of inter-religious thought allows for a “dialectical” approach combining both rejection and acceptance, and this acceptance would be subject to certain theological restrictions. Regardless, I was struck by the use of all-inclusive.

So what do you think?


The Buddha lived and taught in a diverse religious context, and a large proportion of suttas depict him in conversation with spiritual practitioners of different sorts.

I would characterize his approach as critical engagement. He indulged in neither blanket dismissal nor blithe acceptance of the teachings of others. Rather, he engaged people in a critical examination of religious or philosophical doctrines, clarifying the ways in which they agreed with or differed from his own teaching.

The suttas preserve a diverse range of responses to different religious approaches, too many to summarize briefly. But the fact of engagement with followers of different paths is one of the unique distinctive features of the early Buddhist texts. Almost all later Buddhist texts speak only of Buddhists talking to other Buddhists.

Incidentally, i dislike the term “interfaith”, as it stems from an Abrahamic notion that “faith” is the defining quality of a religion. This has never been the case with Buddhism, or other Dhammic religions. I’d rather speak of “diverse paths”.


In the EBT the Buddha is often engaged in lively debate with Brahmins. I guess the Brahmins represent orthodoxy during that period?

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Fascinating. Perhaps this is why I have alighted here. I guess in the early days (of any religion) you cannot afford to be insular and still expect growth and/or survival.

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I’ve explored a number of other traditions over the years, and have found that it has deepened my understanding of the Buddhist path.


The “faith” word is slightly problematical, though I can live with it as simply a convenient label. Other possibilities, such as “spiritual” are also problematical.

What is more challenging for me when attending typical interfaith meetings is the implicit assumption by almost all participants that all religions have some sort of God, or gods (and of course the Abrahamic notion of faith implies a God). This makes dialogue about much beyond issues of tolerance and goodwill difficult…



There is one excerpt; “One should occasionally refute the wanderers of other sects with the Dhamma”.

I don’t see much else indicating that one should go around associating with them for other purpose than refutation of their wrong views and practical reasons (food, shelter, help etc).

For political reasons one might associate with them as a practicality but one intent on realization of the teachings probably shouldn’t engage in politics as it is inappropriate to talk about that.

Well, they liked to think so. They certainly had the oldest, best-known, and most established ritual and scriptural tradition. The most popular religion, though, would have been animism, with its worship of local nagas and yakkhas.

That’s a very common experience for those who have done interfaith work, including myself.

I think “path” is okay, and works well for east Asian religions generally.

Indeed, I have frequently had to call out this one.


Some of my fellow Christians might dislike “path”. Something like “way” might work better for them perhaps.


If we begin with the idea of universal love (metta) regardless of religion, race, gender etc. then we can begin to move forward.

You would respect their humanity and wouldn’t seek harm to come to them. Though they might feel threatened by your ‘faith’. Buddha is seen asking general Siha to continue to provide alms to the Niganthas despite his conversion as he was their main donor, of the area.

We need to be clear about our doctrine and why we have chosen it over the others. If one has this confirmed confidence then we could even learn from those of other religions. There’s a sutta which says if anything helps to reduce the three fires, it can be adopted (but often difficult practically for a beginner to know). Uposatha was adopted from the Niganthas, and we could take a leaf from the generosity of modern day Christians IMO at least. You could say they spread their religion out of love.


Well yes. But this is one of the points of ‘interfaith’ meetings. We’ve got to start somewhere right? There’s always assumptions that have to be challenged or corrected. That’s how we learn from each other. I now know Buddhism doesn’t have some sort of God or gods. Cool. I can also now spell ‘Buddhism’, which is again very cool. :slight_smile: A few years ago I didn’t know either of those. (The ‘h’ always ended up in the wrong place and the letter ‘d’ occurred anywhere between 1 and 3 times if you must know. :wink: )

What more is there in life? Actually, I can only see one reason to associate with anyone in this life and that is for what you call the ‘practical reason’ of ‘help’. Caring, kind, peaceful, loving, help. And of course that helpful attitude extends to “Righting the overturned, or revealing the hidden, or pointing out the path to the lost, or lighting a lamp in the dark so people with good eyes can see what’s there” I think this is very important for all of us.

Yes. I think this is what the interpretation in the quote in the OP was trying to point to when it was said: ‘You must be all-inclusive as your heavenly Father is all-inclusive’

Firstly, a standard rendering of this verse might be: ‘You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’. And secondly “God is love”. So putting these together we get to the idea that love perfected is this universal (catholic, with a small ‘c’ one might say), all-inclusive love.

So I agree. This idea of universal love is the perfect place to meet. :heart:

Just a technical point in the interest of ‘interfaith/different ways’ dialogue. In mainstream Christianity, Christians don’t spread their religion. One Christian cannot convert a non-Christian to Christianity. That is solely the function of God (the Holy Spirit). Hubris to think that we are that capable from a Christian point of view, or as one of my Irish Jesuit friends puts it: “Let the big fellow do that.” (You need to do the Irish accent for the full effect :wink: )


Yes, so technically Christians shouldn’t preach to others? Obviously not. I’ve come to the conclusion if you genuinely believe in Buddha and his teachings and have metta to all, you should ‘spread the word’, to anyone who wants to hear it. Otherwise it’s a worse crime than keeping quiet about gender issues or climate change.

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Personally I’ve not found that “spreading the word” about Buddhism is very effective with people I know, except in the context of doing some publicity for our local group on occasion. If people are really interested they will ask. I’m also aware of being a personal example sometimes.


Oh yes. Christians should definitely ‘spread the word’, I’m just saying that they cannot ‘spread the religion’. It’s a subtle point.

What would spreading the work entail, in terms of what would work for Buddhism?

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In my case it would be suggesting to the other members of the local Buddhist group that we do some more publicity, with a view to getting some new people involved. We could also arrange another day retreat, and publicise that. Currently things are quite comfortable, the group is quite small these days, so we can meet in each others houses. Increasing the numbers would mean having to hire premises again… and so on. Running a Buddhist group or centre is certainly worthwhile, but it can feel like hard work at times.
Meanwhile I have been mingling with some local Pagans, but not with a view to promoting Buddhism.


I think i understand the point you are making and i do agree that it can be extended in that sense. The general sentiment of my post was supposed to be that one should not go out of one’s way to associate with followers of other schools without a very good reason. It has been my experience that usually people of other religions do not like discussing their beliefs and are opposed to exploring what can be a cause for doubt, therefore it is my experience that a fruitful discussion wherein there is an opening to “overturn what is upside down” is not really something many people are interested in and there is no point in going out of one’s way to help people who don’t want to be helped.

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But I guess sometimes you come across the odd one like me who does?

Don’t give up on us. There is much in the EBTs that we followers of other religions can learn and integrate into our lives. Please try to make a little chink in our defensive armour to let the light of dhamma shine in.

If the Buddha never talked to non-Buddhists about religion there would be no Buddhism. But despite Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji having rejected him as a former ascetic who had taken up the luxurious life, the Buddha went out of his way and traveled to see them to deliver the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.


Yes it has been known to happen of course.

It is said that the initial inclination was to go without food and not teaching the Dhamma, it is only when asked that out of sympathy the Tathagata consented to teaching. I think we are discussing a very broad range of situations and possible types of dialogue. I don’t advocate giving up on people nor being stingy but if people want interfaith dialogue they can expect to have views challenged in general but then i don’t really know what exactly is interfaith dialogue because if one has faith in jesus and another has faith in him being wrong, does the two talking about the weather qualify as interfaith dialogue? Idk but i would not advice certain dialogue even between a couple of same convictions.

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I think it does. The Buddha engaged in “courteous and amicable talk” with visitors and passersby.

When we are friendly and establish report with others, even on such “neutral” ground as the weather, it slowly leads to humanizing the “other” and being more and more willing to listen more and more deeply. Getting to the point of “challenging views” requires a large amount of trust, which isn’t built overnight. It’s built on “courteous and amicable talk.”