Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together

Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together

The Dalai Lama
New York: Harmony, 2010. 208 pages, hardcover, $25.

In these days of controversy and divisiveness it is encouraging to hear the voices of those who speak out for unity and reconciliation. One such voice is that of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, whose recent book, Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, addresses the issue of religious tolerance. His Holiness urges the followers of all traditions to consider the possibility that their chosen approach to religious truth may not be the best choice for others.

This idea was not always appreciated by His Holiness, as he admits. He recollects that in his early days of isolation beyond the Himalayas, he was taught that Buddhism was the “only true religion.” The traditional curriculum of religious studies presented to young Tibetan monks included a study of the tenets of various philosophical systems, including those of non-Buddhist approaches, but the message was that these approaches were seriously flawed and that only Buddhism represented the pure and unadulterated truth.

This was all to change when His Holiness visited India in 1956. There, he says, he was exposed to an age-old culture of pluralism and to the influence of the Theosophical Society, in which religious inclusiveness has been a dominant theme since its foundation in 1875. Describing this experience, His Holiness writes: “My visit to the Theosophical Society in Chennai (then Madras) left a powerful impression. There I was first directly exposed to people, and to a movement, that attempted to bring together the wisdom of the world’s spiritual traditions as well as science. I felt among the members a sense of tremendous openness to the world’s great religions and a genuine embracing of pluralism. When I returned to Tibet in 1957, after more than three months in what was a most amazing country for a young Tibetan monk, I was a changed man. I could no longer live in the comfort of an exclusivist standpoint that takes Buddhism to be the only true religion.”

When finally forced to leave Tibet and to live as a refugee in India, His Holiness continued to pursue the idea of tolerance and interfaith dialogue. The present book is the product of his mature thought along these lines. In the first two chapters he explains the necessity for stepping outside the comfort zone of one’s own culture and for accepting a plurality of faiths that offer consolation and meaning to their followers. Chapters 3–6 consist of short commentaries on the traditions of Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Chapters 7–10 explain how the common teaching of compassion can provide a remedy for exclusivism and make possible genuine communication between the followers of the world’s religions. His proposal for unity is fourfold: dialogue among scholars; sharing of deep spiritual experiences between practitioners; high-profile meetings of religious leaders; and joint pilgrimage to holy places. All in all, this book is a good read, and its suggestions could offer a solution to one of the most serious problems facing mankind.

Doss McDavid

The reviewer is an adjunct professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and a longtime member of the Theosophical Society.