Friday, June 22, 2012


To The Editor, Pembroke Observer
RE: Major faiths still share central theme (June 15)

There is a familiar if biased and out-of-date conclusion to Tom Harpur’s commentary in the Observer, Major faiths still share central theme (June 15). As one of the non-Christians he tries to speak for, I cannot agree with him. Further, his argument is weakened by a dubious scholarship and his intentions to create unity are undermined by a presumptuousness that will only put off other faiths.
I somewhat agree with him that religion (may) play a sinister role in many conflicts. However, his efforts to demonstrate that: major faiths are like branches stemming from one trunk do little to forward his intent to restore value to all faith traditions.

As a lifetime Buddhist, founder of Red Maple, Eastern Ontario’s first lay Buddhist congregation, the first Tendai priest in Canada and Director of Tendai Buddhism in Canada, I believe I can speak for my own faith. Mr. Harpur re-lists four ‘doctrines’ which he claims are common to all faiths. Unless Mr. Harpur is dismissing my Buddhist tradition as a ‘major faith’, he is profoundly mistaken in trying to squeeze its teaching into his four-fold model. Buddhists do not acknowledge a Creator God nor do they accept the notion of an eternal self/soul, and all the linguistic gymnastics Mr. Harpur may attempt will not alter this.
Most of his commentary relies on highly questionable propositions of similarity between the Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, and sayings attributed to Jesus. This kind of smudging of differences does not establish his point. For example, his quoting of Chapter 10, verse 33 – Of alphabets, I am the letter A  and holding that up beside Jesus’s claim to be the Alpha and Omega lifts the quote out of its Hindu context and distorts its meaning. Having myself translated the Gita from its original Sanskrit, I understand that any serious student of Hinduism would know there is a much richer meaning to this. In the same chapter, Krishna also claims to be “the banyan of trees … devouring death .. and the gambling of cheats”, to name a few. Hardly Biblical. Cutting and pasting a few mis-translated similarities cannot disguise the rich differences between faiths.

More importantly, this kind of blurring of faiths is more than a little presumptuous and patronizing. The current values of interfaith dialogue encourage us to understand the meaning of another’s faith as they understand it. It is hardly Mr. Harpur’s place to tell me as a Buddhist or Hindu’s in our community what our faith means. We are quite capable of interpreting and understanding our tradition without relying on someone from another tradition to do so. I have been a weekly contributor to the Ask The Religion Experts feature in the Ottawa Citizen for three years. I have been engaged in an interfaith exercise with a Christian minister for most of this year. (go to http://www.realperson.com/DIALOGUE/dialogue-welcome.htm In both of these endeavours, we rely on each other to present our own faith and have learned to enrich our own faith by the insights of the other.  Trying to compress the richness of all the world’s faiths into one “perennial wisdom”, especially one which looks suspiciously like Christianity, is about as useful as trying to make all the world’s rainbow of foods taste like white bread.

If people in Renfrew or elsewhere wish to understand diversity in faith, it benefits them to encounter the first-hand representatives of those faiths, not relying on superficial and misdirected efforts to roll us all together so that  - presto – we all look just like Christians.

Rev Innen Ray Parchelo,
Director, Tendai Canada,
Renfrew, Ontario