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Open the Boundless Horizon:Buddhist Attitude toward Religious Pluralism

he present essay is concerned with the problems of conflicting truth claims among the world religions and the Buddhist attitude toward religious pluralism. Most religions have a exclusive attitude toward other religions. The exclusivism insists that final salvation is to be found only in a specific religion. On the other hand, inclusivism says a particular religion presents the ultimate truth while other tradition are seen to reflect aspects of that final truth.
In general, Buddhists may regard other religions as so many paths to the ultimate enlightenment. Buddhists are willing to accommodate other religions. Throughout it's history, Buddhism has demonstrated an attitude of peaceful tolerance and flexibility. Toynbee praised this Buddhist tolerance as a standard model of a religion for peace in today's pluralistic world.
Contemporary Religious thinker John Hick proposes religious pluralism, i.e., the great world religions as different human responses to the one divine reality, embodying different perceptions which have been formed in different historical and cultural circumstances. This view presupposes that there is one ultimate reality behind the world religions. It asserts one ultimate reality, whether it is divine reality or not, that manifests itself in various forms.
However, Hick's view does not cover all religions, especially Buddhism where there is no such notion of the divine reality or the absolute reality. In fact, there is a fundamental difference between such pluralism and Buddhism. Buddhists will not accept such a common unity in the world religions. As we will explore, such a concept of the absolute reality is metaphysical one, and eventually it must be deconstructed in the Buddhist way of thinking. In this respect, the Buddhist view is a sort of relativism. As each religion has a different cultural-historical origin and background, they cannot be compared with a single principle. Instead, Buddhism will accept the situation of religious pluralism as it is.
Buddhism advises people to give up any closed perspective or view of truth. Korean Madhyamika Master Seungrang and his followers emphasize that all absolute views of the truth have to be abandoned, for no truth is ultimately true. Even the Buddha's statements on Dharma are not considered as absolute truth, but they are only functional means in character.
Buddhism, especially the Madhyamika school,  rejects any dogmatic stance and truth claim. It teaches the removal of attachment to any religious philosophy or theology. The religious dogma is seen as a disease of ego-attachment. For Buddhists, there is no such  concept of the absolute truth  at all. All scriptural truth is seen as mere provisional path. The doctrine of emptiness teaches non-attachment to any doctrine including the Buddha-Dharma. Therefore, Buddhism has no position in the truth claim which is called "positionless position." The doctrine of emptiness is understood as "a mind of open-enless-ness." The idea of non-attachment to the Dharma (truth) and scripture as an expedient  means leads to the boundless mind which is the middle way.
Then, what is the ultimate in Buddhism? We have said that the Buddhism negates the concept of the ultimate reality perpetually. The ultimate is not a knowable entity, or cognitive referent.  It is beyond all conceptual realms. The ultimate is said to be non-acquisition. Mahayana Buddhist interprets that the Buddha teaches nothing, not speaking is the Buddha's speaking for there is no Dharma to speak.
Thus, in the situation of religious pluralism, the Buddhist view on the truth is unique. Notions such as the relativity of truth, scriptures as expedient means, and non-attachment to truth are of enormous significance in today's world where many religions have to co-exist together. Buddhist teaching of emptiness opens the boundless horizon for the dialogical discourse.

 

Kim Yong-pyo  better68@dongguk.edu

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