Missed this piece in Business Bhutan; worth reading in its entirety, plus clicking to check out the comments, which give you a sense of no matter how reasonable an argument may be, we’re not likely ever to come to a consensus on religious practice:
a religion that deems other gods as false is not democratic
Business Bhutan’s Dawa T Wangchuk asked Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche to share his thoughts on the ruling that independent church constructions with crosses atop will not be allowed in Bhutan
“I have mixed feelings about the ban on Christian graveyards and crucifixes. Now that Bhutan is a new democracy, we have begun talking about all kinds of freedoms and freedom of faith is absolutely fundamental. I don’t know, but I think that by banning crosses in public areas we may be violating some fundamental democratic values.
At the same time, we must look at the big picture. Nowadays in the world, especially in so-called “developed” countries throughout Europe and North America, minorities are stirring up trouble by indignantly protecting and promoting their identity, customs and religious practices. Are we prepared for that?
Because I am a religious figure, many people ask me about my thoughts on other religions recruiting for their faith. My answer is this: If the seeker is really finding this belief system, whatever it may be, to be the answer to their spiritual needs, then of course, by all means, let them pursue it. But it goes both ways. Members of the Abrahamic religions—Christians, Jews and even Muslims—are themselves converting to Buddhism. This is absolutely an individual’s right. The difference is that these individuals were never lured to Buddhism with anything except dharma itself.
It is the methods of conversion that should be watched. I hear that some people have been persuaded to convert by means of favors, aid, offers of free education and sometimes even cash. Again, the individual has the right to do whatever he or she wants. In fact, I feel that prostitution should be legalized. I understand that these ideas are quite liberal but if somebody wants to willingly sell their body why not? If that’s the way she or he wants to live, so be it. But there should be some awareness of the consequences.
My question is: what is more important, the mind or the body? The mind is obviously supremely important, especially since spiritual matters have to do with the mind. What I don’t like is when people trade this most precious thing for a few hundred thousand ngultrum or some favors. That is not a wise thing to do. You don’t want to love someone because they give you money, such kind of love is shallow. It’s the same thing. It is sad to trade your soul just because you are getting some material assistance. I personally know some Tibetans who have supposedly converted to Christianity, but only for the sake of financial aid. Deep inside they continue to practice Buddhism. They put a crucifix in front of the Buddha and when the missionaries come they hide the Buddha. It’s a strange hypocritical con game to be playing.
As a religious person and a Buddhist I have been challenged: What are you lamas doing, look at the Christian missionaries, they are giving money to the poor, building hospitals, providing education, giving relief…yet all you lamas do is take money and do pujas. Absolutely right! I agree totally. And there is a lot of corruption. But at least you can’t say “I want to become Buddhist because the lamas give money.” That is not a spiritual quest. You might as well go to Bill Gates for that.
So it’s not right to trade your spirit for material gain. It is also interesting for the newly democratic Bhutanese to notice that Christianity is a monotheistic religion. A monotheistic religion believes in one god. All the others are deemed false. Now that, to me, does not sound democratic.
From the practice point of view, there is an important difference between Buddhists and Christians. Christian doctrine reads that all human beings are sinners and that god is here to save them. We Buddhists believe that we are all Buddhas; we just have to recognize this fact. So there is a fundamental difference in view, and this difference affects the culture and the people in a profound way. It is not only philosophical; much of our culture and values are rooted to this view. As a Buddhist, no matter what, no matter how much I may loathe you, fundamentally I have to acknowledge that you have Buddha nature.
Also bear in mind that Abrahamic religions have a long history of war, especially in the name of faith. One could confidently say that. In fact, the bloodshed caused by these religions adds up to more than the two World Wars combined. Buddhists may be accused of not building hospitals but at least they have 2,500 years of peace to boast about. At least there have been no crusades and bloody missions in the name of Buddhism.
But does that mean we should feel threatened by someone else’s faith? I don’t know. Then again, how wise it is to allow a few minorities to upset the harmony and the order of the majority? This is something that we have to think about. We have to bear in mind the whole point of democracy is to make the majority of the people happy. All this needs to be contemplated. So this is why to your question I say that I have mixed feelings.”