How dramatic, arbitrary and often repetitive the tides of history are. We are very successful – the 2,500-year-old Buddhist dispensation being at the top of my list of human achievements, with the invention of paper, the development of modern medicine, and the continued wonderful exploration of outer space. . But we also revisit some events that might have ended as relatively innocuous hiccups, but turned out to be milestones that reshaped continents and reconfigured countries or entire empires.
The historian’s job is to look at the past, whether recent or distant, and to separate the significant events from the innocent ones and to clarify the wider “situational uncertainty” of something that happened. (my apologies for the appropriation of Clausewitz). Preferably, since there is no absolute history, the historian can also honor the past with an interpretation that warns us of the repetition of errors and offers a wise and compassionate path for the greatest number, even for all beings.
Many historical examples tell us that conflict is born out of a mixture of selfishness, aggressiveness, and misunderstanding or ignorance. We cannot guarantee that selfishness or aggression can ever be mitigated, but we should at least try to neutralize ignorance and cultivate mutual understanding as much as possible.
I recently wrote a blog post about a major difference between the United States and China about a day after the Trump administration officially imposed tariffs on a slew of Chinese products, sparking the first trade war between the two largest economies in the world. On the surface, these are manifestations of tensions that have built up since the era of unbridled globalization in the 1980s. This could perhaps speak to the different political worldviews of these two countries or the problems of their strategic relations. .
Initially, I wasn’t sure if religion had anything to do with what is now, ostensibly, economic and geostrategic competition. However, I am increasingly convinced that if religious concerns and perspectives can influence the actions of some American and Chinese decision makers and influencers, then understanding and addressing these concerns is more important than ever.
My feeling is that the religious sphere has become more relevant to the governments of both countries. In some contexts, this has always had important implications for domestic and foreign policy. In the United States, it is evident that a conservative interpretation of evangelical Christianity, with fundamentalist leanings, finds favor with the powerful and politicians such as Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos and Mike Pompeo. If the nomination of the next Supreme Court justice was conservative, American life could well be shaped in a right-wing Christian direction for a generation.
Meanwhile, there are expressions of Buddhism particularly favored by China, which are increasingly being showcased at events like the Belt and Road Initiative conferences. Whichever school they belong to, they reflect the Mahayana values of multiplicity and decisive governance (in the form of the Mahayana model of management of the caravan leader who leads his camels and cargo, and all beings as a bodhisattva , through the desert). They are traditionalist expressions that feel comfortable with Chinese artistic and literary thought and engage with Confucian and Taoist thought – the other two pillars of Chinese philosophy. They also feel decidedly modern, supporting contemporary projects such as the Belt and Road initiative and the general goal of the “Chinese dream”.
I am convinced that these two radically different religions, with divergent visions of the workings of the cosmos, will in due course rise to the forefront of the political scene in the same way that Islam has been present in Western public discourse for several decades now. My suggestion is simple: religion, while not usually a cause of direct conflict or hot war, is an undercurrent, a static background noise, that shapes, advises and influences policy makers in ways subtle but important. This shapes their worldview: it can be in a Manichaean direction, a teleological worldview that points to a confrontation between good and evil, or in a way that prefers plurality, a cyclical view of history and non-intervention.
If diplomacy is dialogue between governments, we cannot ignore the potential benefits of seeking mutual understanding among the increasingly public religious voices that influence (and are influenced by) those governments. My wildest proposal would be sustained, high-level intellectual dialogue between America’s foremost Christian theologians and Buddhist leaders able and willing to represent the Chinese Buddhist community as reflected in the Buddhist Association of China. sanctioned by the government. There could be a conference devoted specifically to spiritual East and West coming together, with a broad cross-section representing the various denominations of American evangelicalism, from Pentecostals to Presbyterians.
There is a joker. Contrary to the predictions of the “new atheists” in the mid-2000s, the voice of the Roman Catholic Church has only grown in influence around the world. Ever since conservative Christians allied themselves with Trump, Pope Francis has found himself embroiled in a fierce conversation about liturgical direction and doctrinal clarity among Catholic circles in the United States. Significantly, he is also in the midst of a historic conversation with the Chinese government over the future of Roman Catholic priests in China, which could shape the landscape of Sino-Vatican relations for generations to come.
What role could we envision for this venerable Catholic body if we speak of dialogue between Evangelical Christians and Mahayana Buddhists? Is such a three-way dialogue even possible? I don’t know and don’t want to make such a precocious judgement. I will just stop there: the Vatican has, in modern times, proven to be an excellent facilitator of interreligious dialogue between the traditions of the world.
As a leadership force, Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the acquisition of insight and wisdom (prajna or Bodhi), right ethical conduct, association with good friends and self-discipline. He wants certain things from China in the 21st century, which in itself deserves a separate analysis. However, what does evangelical Christianity want from America, and how will other faiths, especially those that disagree with broadly right-wing expressions of Christianity, counter its dominance in the White House? This is a question that Buddhists in China and elsewhere must ask themselves in the interest of greater understanding and wisdom in the face of troubled times ahead.
The Huge Cultural Shift That’s Helping Trump Win Over Evangelicals (Political magazine)
At a private meeting in Illinois, a group of evangelicals tried to save their movement from Trumpism (the new yorker)