I would describe my ‘encounter’ with Buddhist teaching as love at the first sight when I did a six-week online course on Religion, Peace, and Conflict at Harvard University. The Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism formulized by Thich Nhat Hanh was one of the reading lists we had to study. It elaborates on the fundamental teaching concept of Buddhism namely the four noble truths and eight noble eightfold paths. It also teaches one how to be a complete human being on both personal and social levels. For instance, in the 7th and 14th precepts, they talk about treating our body with respect by preserving the vital energies and not looking at it as an instrument as well as by frequently practicing breathing, meditation, compassion, and mindfulness so that concentration and understanding can be established. The rest of the precepts emphasize social interaction with other beings where this part practically brought me tears as I found that instant connection witnessing how relevant they are with the reality of the people today. The 4th precept says, “Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry…” and in the 5th excerpts, “Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering…”
Here’s how I see the common ground between Buddhism and my belief. Ethical values such as kindness, compassion, and mercy are considered as the core of human quality that should be nurtured and preserved. If Dalai Lama is viewed as the one who upholds these values by Buddhists, then Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is the best example to look up to by Muslims as the Qur’an describes him as “a mercy of the worlds” (21:107).
I have acquired a basic Christian wise understanding including the trinity concept and the history, etc. when I was a teenager. However, I have not been in direct contact with them until I was in Europe. I still recall the journey I took to Germany via train and I happened to sit next to a man and two little boys. I saw him wearing a sort of cross necklace. It was in the evening when the train halted in Poznan. I noticed him getting ready to get off. Before he left, he looked at me smiling and said, “happy evening prayer” (Maghrib prayer). Additionally, there are many Christian friends of mine who know much about Islam, and every time we hang out, we would end up having an interfaith discussion. But what’s dear to my heart is they are very kind and hospitable people who would not hesitate to give me a hand whenever needed. Oh, did I mention that they also have a good sense of humor?
Actually, I do not want to talk about the similarities between Christianity and Islam — both believe in Jesus (the name is mentioned over 25 times in the Qur’an), Mary (the only woman that has a chapter named after her in the Qur’an), and the other Abrahamic traditions — too much. But, my experience involving Christians so far have convinced me of a verse in the Qur’an that says, “You will find the closest in love and in support to the believers are those who say, “We are Christians” because they have righteousness and piety and they are not arrogant” (5:82).
Back in Lombok and Bali, Indonesia, I was personally and secretly amazed by the spirit of the Hindu worshippers. Literally every day I saw them placing an offering in some spots on the streets, schools, houses, and other places. What came to my mind at that time was, “Wow, look at this religion!”
I just admired their sense of God being present everywhere. I came to know the practice of this is known as puja (worship ritual) in which they have five daily obligatory offerings made to the gods, all beings, a spirit of the deceased, hospitality, and Vedas recitation. The concept of offerings also reflects pantheism where Hindus believe that everything is God. A slight difference from what Muslims understand that we believe everything is God’s; everything belongs to God. Nonetheless, this kind of Hindu tradition has taught me to grasp it in my own context that is the concept of Ihsan; worshipping Allah as if you see Him. The continuos ‘offering’ Muslims can give to Allah apart from five daily prayers is by performing dhikr (remembrance of Allah) so that the sense of His presence is built.
Honestly speaking, I did and still do not have much direct interaction with Jews. In my entire life, I only ran into one once. When I was in a subway, I could feel that someone was staring at me. To make certain that I was right, I looked around, and there he was; a beardy tall man in a black hat and long coat; typical Jewish clothing, was gazing at me. Just when I looked at him, he instantly gave me a smile and a quick nod.
From this one-time coincidence, what I view as the similarity between Judaism and Islam despite the shared monotheism concept as well as reverence for Moses and the Torah, the two practice their religion in a way that enables others to recognize them. My experience is just a small example which demostrate that the way a Jew (a black long coat and hat) and a Muslim (headcover/hijab) dresses is to tell others that, “Hey, this is my identity.”
“Religion is supposed to unite human beings. It’s not supposed to divide us. And if it is divisive, it is not religion from God, it’s something else.” — Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
“This world that’s thrusting so many differences; can we see difference not as a threat to us but as a way of enlarging our shared culture and our imaginative horizons? If you are confident in your own faith, you’re never threatened by the existence of other things.” — Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks