On October 27, 1986, Pope John Paul II, together with the Dalai Lama next to him, led the first ecumenical World Day of Prayer for Peace held in Assisi, Italy. The Dalai Lama was honored by giving the first speech to 160 religious leaders from 43 faiths, including Catholics, Lutherans, Quakers, Baptists, Anglicans, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Shintoists, Animists and many others. A Similar interfaith gathering led by the Pope and the Dalai Lama in St. Peter’s Square on October 28, 1999 was held to unify all religions. In a dramatic turnaround of centuries-old Church policy, the Pope apologized during his reign for all historical Church crimes or sins, and he acknowledged that salvation is no longer exclusive to Christianity through his various interfaith meetings. Indeed, the Dalai Lama’s influence on the Pope is remarkable because it makes sense. Religious diversity should truly be welcomed because it is beneficial to society, it is the essence of religion itself and it allows different strokes for different folks.
Exclusive religions historically sparked or influenced many conflicts and wars. Pope John Paul II, for example, had to apologize for more than 100 offenses that the Church perpetrated since it began centuries ago. These offenses include the Crusade attacks; torture, burnings and imprisonment during the Inquisition; Spanish conquests of the Americas and other foreign lands in the name of the Church; forced conversions of ethnic groups; involvement in slave trade; Protestant religious wars; Holocaust indifference and many others. Many famous personalities, such as Joan of Arc and Galileo Galilei, died, were tortured or were imprisoned by the Church.
The Islamic conquerors of the Middle East and Europe, and even today’s Muslim jihadists, also claim to act in behalf of their god or religion. Muslims conquered the Middle East in the 600s; Eastern Europe, Spain and Portugal in the 700s; and Mediterranean Europe in the 800s. Anatolia was also conquered in the 11th century. The Muslims continued to convert people from Africa to South East Asia in the 1200s. They also attacked Western and Northern Europe including Iceland and Britain in the 17th century. Today, they continue terrorist attacks in the name of Jihad and Allah all over the world. They also have regular guerilla fighters in countries like the Philippines where Islamic-inspired fighting against Christians never end.
Furthermore, Hindus in India and Sri Lanka attack people who believe in other religions like Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. In the early 1990s in Bombay, India, for example, hundreds of Muslims and Hindus died in rioting and bomb blasts. But these riots are not rare occurrences; they happen regularly. Hindus also regularly attack Christians in India; sometimes they even rape nuns. And until recently, Hindu Tamils have been terrorizing Buddhists in Sri Lanka.
Jews and Muslims also regularly attack each other in the Middle East. For hundreds of years the Jews and Muslim Arabs have been fighting each other. Israel has fought numerous battles against its Arab neighbors, but the war never ends. A cold war still exists, especially with Iran, which is currently trying to produce nuclear weapons. Jews and Palestinians also continue to destroy each other in the occupied territories in Israel.
Protestants and Catholics also fight each other in the UK. Conflict between these groups has plagued England and Ireland for centuries. Terrorist attacks sometimes occur in this area due to the Irish Republican Army, but historically Protestant England has been at odds with its Catholic neighbors such as Spain and Ireland.
With all these religious conflicts, it will definitely benefit mankind, not just to tolerate each other’s religion, but to accept it all as true. As Gandhi says:
I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian." (Gandhi 1928)
In other words, religions should practice convergence instead of conversion. The more each religion thinks itself to be superior and the other inferior, the more conflict builds up. Moreover, the more “salesmen” there are trying to sell their religious views to others, the more irritated and annoyed people will be. Accepting each other’s preferences will be difficult to do in the beginning, but over time, people get used to it just as they are used to each individual’s unique personality. Otherwise, trying to force people to buy something that they dislike will simply lead to more conflict and war.
Indeed, the very essence of religion itself is harmony, love and understanding, not competition and conflict. If each religion believes that their faith is the exclusive path to salvation and everyone else is headed for hell, then no one can go to heaven. Everyone will be destined for hell. In the same way, what’s the use of having a religion if one’s religion causes conflict and war? There might as well be no religion if that were the case. As John Lennon sings in “Imagine”:
Imagine there's no Heaven It's easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people Living for today…
You may say that I'm a dreamer But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us And the world will live as one (Lennon 1971)
Truly, in order for religion to be useful and beneficial, it has to be able to solve the problems of mankind. It has to cure the ills of man, not create it. It has to be practical and functional, not theoretical and fantastic or imaginary.
No single religion can do this; all religions have to work together. If the goal is world peace and harmony, and the method to accomplish the goal is religion, the most efficient way to complete the task is for all religions to join together as a team or as a system to be successful in the task. Otherwise, if religions fight and compete against each other, they will be contributing to more conflict instead of accomplishing their mission. This can be compared to a man with alien-hand syndrome where one hand tries to pull up his pants and the other hand tries to pull it down. It can also be compared to schizophrenia where the mind is split and is indecisive because one wants to do something and avoid doing it simultaneously. The analogy is also similar to an army where the generals compete with their fellow officers and are disagreeable with them. The soldiers under their command don’t know who to follow because one officer says this and another officer contradicts what the previous officer said. Instead of accomplishing their mission, they go no where and nothing is completed. On the other hand, if all the different religions work like a world-class basketball team and pass the ball to the open man, each member having roles such as shooting guard, power forward, center, small forward or point guard, then they can win.
The Dalai Lama also has many similar analogies and stories. The Dalai Lama believes that people should devote themselves to their own religion and respect other religions simultaneously. He believes that just as people prefer various types of food, people will prefer to practice their own religion and worship their own god in their own way or style. Not everyone wants to eat Chinese food, for instance. Some like Italian, French, American, Japanese or other types of food. If a person is forced to eat only German food for his entire life after being able to taste other food types and liking it, he or she may go crazy. In the same way, when one is forced to believe and practice only one type of religion, such as Judaism, because the person’s parents impose it, not really because the person likes it, then that person may develop psychological problems. People may want a set menu or they may want to choose different types of food from an a-la-carte menu, so in the same way, people should be allowed to choose one religion or a little of several religions. This is more natural and harmonious.
The Dalai Lama also compares the diversity of religion to the variety of medicine. As he says:
I never say Buddhism is best. Buddhism has been best for me. Each person is different. I cannot say what is best for 100 people: Their own religion is best for them. It's like medicine. We cannot say pick one medicine, this is best for everybody.
Just as a doctor prescribes different kinds of medicine in different doses and frequencies, depending on the ailment and the biology of the person, various kinds of religions in different doses, combinations and frequencies are needed to heal different kinds of people with various problems throughout the world. People have eccentricities that are peculiar to them. Their habits, tastes, likes and dislikes are all different. Their needs and wants are not the same too. Women, for example, are more comfortable with female goddesses than male deities, so many female Catholics pray to the Virgin Mary because of their gender, something they were born with and cannot really change.
Usually different religions try to emphasize what they value, and values are all different for every person. The members, for example, of Jehovah’s Witness emphasize the name of God. The Seventh Day Adventists emphasize health and well-being; thus, they value the observance of proper rest and a vegetarian diet. Buddhists value mind training. Muslims value the aversion from desire. Born-again Christians value renewal. Jains value all life. Hindus love variety. And Atheists value reason. People develop different kinds of medicine, just as they developed different kinds of religion for various types of needs, ranging from health, to social life, to money, inner harmony and mental soundness.
The Chinese may know why there are so many religions. The Taoists believe that everything in the universe is composed of Yin and Yang. Yin, for example, is female, black, sadness, bust, etc. On the other hand, Yang is male, white, happiness, boom, and so forth. Yin and Yang, however, are dynamic and come in various degrees and combinations. Thus, Yang males also have a little bit of Yin female and vice versa. Depending on time and circumstance, Yin and Yang can also switch roles. All animals and plants can also be categorized using Yin and Yang, so all religions can also be classified in this way.
Rodney St. Michael, in his book, Sync My World, explains this in more detail. Yin and Yang can be divided further into the Wu Xing or Five Elements which can be structured like a star in the Pentacle of Confucius. The Five Elements are composed of Wood (or Air), Water, Earth, Fire and Metal (or Ether). Wood or Air and Fire are more of Yang elements, while Earth, Water and Metal (or Ether) are more of Yin Elements. St. Michael asserts that races, genders, classes, political systems, religions, economic systems, and so forth, correspond to the Five Elements or to its combinations or variations. For example, Yellows are Wood. Whites are Fire. Yellow and White races are Yang in various degrees. Blacks are Earth. Small Browns are Water, and Big Browns are Metal. Blacks and Browns are Yin. Moreover, Yangs are “Democrats” or Liberals. Yins are “Republicans” or Conservatives. In the same way, Chinese, Japanese and Korean Buddhism are moderate Yangs as Wood. Western Christianity is also Yang as Fire. South East Asian Buddhism is Yin as Water. Hinduism is Yin as Ether. Islam is Yin as Metal. And animism is Yin as Earth. Other religions can also be categorized this way, according to Rodney St. Michael. Together, they all form a five-pointed star, along with the various economic systems, political system, classes, genders and so on. This is why the five-pointed star, with or without a circle around it, is often used as a political symbol in flags or as logos for corporations.
The star lines and the circle encompassing the Wu Xing show the harmony and conflict relationships among the Elements. They form an ecological model. For example, Wood (or trees) needs Water for nourishment, but flooding rots Wood. If this happens, Earth absorbs the excess Water. Trees also need mild sunshine (Fire) but Wildfire destroys the forest. Metal chopping down Wood may produce fine furniture but excessive logging or the absence of tree farming produces deforestation and perhaps even contributes to global warming. In the same way, all religions, which correspond to the Five Elements are also at odds with each other while helping each other in some situations. When there is balance among the Elements, there is harmony, peace and prosperity. In contrast, when the Elements are imbalanced, such as the case during the Age of Imperialism, when the Fire Element and Christianity flamed the world through forced conversions, then destruction, unhappiness and dissonance leaps out.
Rodney St. Michael also compares the Wu Xing to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The Elements form a five-level pyramid in the mind, but the shape of this “pyramid” varies from person to person. For some, it may be shaped like a Coca-cola bottle. For others, it may be an inverted pyramid. But for the classic pyramid, the apex is Wood or self-actualization needs. Below it is Water or superego needs. Then comes Earth or belongingness needs. Below it is Fire or security needs. Then the base of the pyramid is Metal or physiological needs. The religions near the apex believe more in religious diversity while the religions near the base of the pyramid assert exclusivity more. The religions near the base may also attempt to avert more from material desires in extreme ways since the people in this area tend to be addicted to the material world more than the others. So the base religions may try to counter extreme addictions with extreme aversions. Muslim women, for instance, may need to cover their entire body, including their face, to counter extreme desires. On the other hand, the religions near the apex strive more for balance and moderation. In other words, different religions create various customs and laws to combat problems in various degrees. Sometimes, they use extreme solutions for extreme problems.
St. Michael also explains that this phenomenon is all caused by astrophysics. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching “explains” that astrophysical forces and phenomena such as gravity, space and time create Yin and Yang or the Wu Xing just as batteries and magnets have “positive” and “negative” charges, or just as atoms—the substance of everything—have protons and electrons. Thus, religious variety will always exist since Yin and Yang are not creations of man. In other words, trying to create a world where there is only one religion like Christianity is not possible since it is like creating a world where there are only “males” and no “females.” If that happens, sooner or later, humanity will perish.
In the end, the Dalai Lama is right. Religious diversity, while simultaneously devoting one’s self in one’s preferred or favored religion, is a necessity for harmony and peace. It is mankind’s hope for sanity and survival.
Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. Young India. 19 Jan 1928.
Joanna Molloy. "No matter their religion, reverent fans of Dalai Lama extol his message of love." NY Daily News. 20 May 2010.
Knickmeyer, Ellen. “Pope, Dalai Lama Lead Interfaith Gathering.” The Associated Press. 28 Oct 1999.
Lao Tzu. Translated by Brian Bruya. Tao Speaks. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.
Lennon, John. “Imagine.” Imagine album. Record Plant: Ascot Sound Studios. July 1971.
Peterson, Michael, et al. "Dalai Lama on Buddhism and other Religions." Philosophy of Religion 4th edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Pope Benedict XVI. “Papal Message Recalls Assisi Meeting of '86: Religion Must Be a Herald of Peace." Zenit. 9 Oct 2006.
St. Michael, Rodney. Sync My World: Thief’s Honor GA SK. Raleigh: Lulu, 2009.
Stourton, Edward. John Paul II: Man of History. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006.
 Pope Benedict XVI. “Papal Message Recalls Assisi Meeting of '86: Religion Must Be a Herald of Peace." Zenit. 9 Oct 2006.  Knickmeyer, Ellen. “Pope, Dalai Lama Lead Interfaith Gathering.” The Associated Press. 28 Oct 1999.  Stourton, Edward. John Paul II: Man of History (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006), 1.  Peterson, Michael, et al. "Dalai Lama on Buddhism and other Religions." Philosophy of Religion 4th edition. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 535-539.
 Joanna Molloy. "No matter their religion, reverent fans of Dalai Lama extol his message of love." NY Daily News. 20 May 2010.  St. Michael, Rodney. Sync My World: Thief’s Honor GA SK (Raleigh: Lulu, 2009).  Lao Tzu. Translated by Brian Bruya. Tao Speaks (New York: Anchor Books, 1995), 30-31.