As Pure Land Buddhists, Should We Push Our Beliefs On Others?

One topic I hear about very often is whether we, as Buddhists of the Pure Land school, should push to spread the dharma to others aggressively, or do so in a passive manner. By ‘aggressive’ I mean literally talking to everyone you know, or perhaps everyone you encounter and telling them about Buddhism and how it is the best religion ever without knowing that person or if they already belong to a religion or if they are even open to such an idea.

Generally, the consensus has been to spread the dharma in a passive way. Though some overzealous priests and factions might do the direct opposite, it is very important that as Pure Land followers we adhere to the ethical and moral beliefs of the dharma and that includes respecting other people’s beliefs and traditions. For example, I might say that I am Buddhist and if someone inquires to hear more about my sect, then I will not turn a deaf ear and will take the time to explain it to them. I know full and well that according to the teachings, whether that person runs towards the dharma or not has to do with their karma alone. Shinran said it best: “If the karmic condition for us is to come together, we shall be together; but if the karmic condition for us is to be separated, we shall be separated.” I am a firm believer in this and believe it is the cause for our experiences in this lifetime.

So, what happens if someone is involved in another religion than your own? What would you do, and how would you react? Would you like or dislike the person based on their beliefs, or would you try to get them to come on board and follow your beliefs? This is where there is a very thin line drawn, and how to proceed depends on the person. In my personal opinion, I would acknowledge the person’s beliefs and keep my distance. There is absolutely no reason to push and influence others into partaking in what you deem is ‘correct’. Everyone believes they are correct in their own way, and so arguing about such points is futile.

For example, one very controversial news I keep hearing about lately is the plan to build a Mosque about 2 blocks away from where the World Trade Center used to be in New York. Many Americans are against it and believe that there should not be a Mosque built, and they cite the reason as being “out of respect for the ones who died”. On the other hand, those who do say that fail to acknowledge that Muslims also have died alongside other people during the same tragedy. They seem to associate Islam and Muslims with the attacks on the World Trade Center because those who committed the act happened to be Muslim. I should note that there also happens to be a Mosque (though not quite as big as the one planned) 4 blocks away from the World Trade Center site that actually predates the World Trade Center itself, though no one seems to be boycotting that.

The focus of this website is not about politics, however, the above scenario brings about a very interesting point in how people associate with religion. If people who happen to belong to a religious belief do something bad, and if this thing is widespread, then people think psychologically that all people who believe in that religion must be capable of the same acts. However, if those in the religion are peaceful, then generally people will have a good reaction towards those individuals and be more trusting. In terms of Buddhism, generally, people believe that Buddhists are calm and peaceful in nature. However, I know of Buddhists who are the exact opposite and some who are even worse. Though these types of individuals are not widespread, and in the minority, they DO exist. The same goes with Islam and Muslims. The majority I would assume is not extreme, though there are some extremist organizations. However, the acts that the minority have performed are frequently on the news, and so generally people see these individuals as bad. In terms of the Buddhist, those actions that the ‘radical’ Buddhists perform are not normally on the news, and certainly haven’t been committed by any radical Buddhist organizations, so therefore, the general reaction still seems to be that Buddhists are peaceful people.

What does this mean in context of this whole article? It means that as Buddhists, we should spread the dharma and be committed to the eight-fold path as told by Sakyamuni Buddha. We should not engage in any unethical acts, and try to uphold the tradition of the dharma as best as we can. To take a page from Rennyo Shonin, Fascicle One, Letter 14:

“It has already been cautioned in the Sutra excepted are those who have committed the Five Cardinal Sins and who have abused the Right Law Accordingly, followers of the Nenbutsu especially must not abuse or slander the various other sects. Also, it would appear to me that the scholars of the various schools of practice should not slander the followers of the Path of the Nenbutsu either. The reason is that among the many Sutras and commentaries which exist today, there is the Chi Ron by Bodhisattva Nagarjuna (a patriarch of eight different religious sects) in which he stringently cautioned against the slander of other beliefs.

So, we should respect other religions, and at the same time they should be expected to respect our beliefs as well. We should not try to push aggressively to force others into following our sect, though at the same time we should always know that karma is working 24/7 and may even lead the one who has gone astray to the vow of Amida.

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