MAHATIR ON NAJIB’S TAPESTRY OF SILENCE A ‘LESS FALSE’ DEMOCRACY IS STILL FALSE
The MAS-AirAsia deal has been aborted. Agitated Tony Fernandes has decided to relocate the airline’s regional hub to Jakarta, Indonesia. But the problems of MAS remain. This is because the MAS culture is rotten and it is also trite to say that the culture has to change. Mana Ada Sistem is the reputation MAS enjoys.At the outset, let me make it clear that I’m an ardent admirer of the Dalai Lama. I consider him to be not just His Holiness but – perhaps more importantly – His Wholiness, the most wholly articulate and exemplary moral authority in the world today. In an increasingly endangered world fragmented along the fault lines of creed and commerce, politics and paranoia, he is like a moral Prime Meridian from which we can get the ethical bearings necessary to navigate the hazards faced by Spaceship Earth as it hurtles into the second decade of the 21st century.Of the many dangers and challenges humankind faces – environmental, economic, scientific (Is lab-created life a sin or a miracle? Is cloning a bane or a boon?) – perhaps the most daunting is that of inter-religious conflict. The most murderous of wars and acts of mob violence – in Bosnia, Palestine, Ireland, Sri Lanka, Iraq, India – have religious differences as their root cause. That humankind’s loftiest aspiration – the creation of a divine cosmology called religion – should all too often lead to intolerance, violence and unbridled savagery has been remarked upon by many, including Rabindranath Tagore in his 1930’s work, The Religion of Man, which the Dalai Lama quotes in the Preface to this book.
In a world made increasingly interdependent by globalised trade, telecommunications, scientific breakthroughs and the threat of environmental or nuclear apocalypse, the author says, “Our need to find a way of transcending our differences in order to live in peaceful coexistence is most urgent. For if we fail… the consequences may be catastrophic. The stakes are higher than ever – not only for the survival of our species but also for the very planet itself and the myriad other creatures who share our home.”
The crux of the problem lies in “Reconciling ‘One Truth, One Religion’ with ‘Many Truths, Many Religions’”. Charting his own pilgrimage to the discovery of the multiplicity of faith, the author hearkens back 52 years ago, when on March 17, 1959, he fled Chinese-occupied Tibet in disguise to seek sanctuary in India. With characteristic candour, he recalls how as an adolescent “I used to feel that my own Buddhist religion was best…Other religions must, at best, be ‘so-so’”. A 1957 visit to India had already opened the young monk’s eyes to the universal plurality of faith, the realisation of ‘Many Truths, Many Religions’.
With an elegant simplicity which like a Buddhist robe cloaks masterful erudition, the author outlines the historical linkages arising out of a shared ancestry between the various schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism that have sprung from the fertile soil of the Indian subcontinent, which thanks to its “extraordinary tolerance and welcoming nature” has also “provided a home” for Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism.
Tracing Tibetan Buddhism’s connect with Christianity, the author records that a ‘Goa-based community’ established Tibet’s first Christian church in 1626. He quotes an 18th century Italian priest, Father Desideri, who composed a text in the Tibetan language on the convergence of faith by comparing the human spirit to a tree which can be sustained by water from many sources. The essence of all religion, the author of the current book concludes, is compassion, which is essentially the capacity to see the oneness not only of all humanity but of all creation.
The cruel paradox is that the first fatality of religious exclusiveness – ‘My truth, my religion’ versus ‘Your truth, your religion’ – is compassion. This is why neo-atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have become evangelical anti-religion proponents. Atheism, they argue, is not only perfectly compatible with compassion – and with moral codes and the leading of an ethical life – but is a far better guarantor of universal goodwill than any religion, no matter how well-intentioned.
Both Buddhism and Jainism are, as the author notes, non-theistic (if not aesthetic) faith systems. If a faith system does away with a Creator, on what grounds other than rites and rituals does it call itself a religion? A sociological study of religion might suggest that the various rites and rituals of different religions – cremation of the dead for Hindus, burial for Muslims and Christians, etc – are symbolic, or metaphoric, reflections of a reality beyond verbal or material description. Using such an argument, religion, any religion, becomes a metaphor for, a poetic expression of, an indescribable transcendence.
Religion as poetry, faith as a poem; an inspiration and an expression of beauty, rich in imagery and metaphor. An adornment to our lives, if we desire such adornment, the ‘filigree on the tapestry of silence’ as someone described it. But not something to be taken literally; not something of literally life-and-death importance.
Atheism – as propounded by Jainism and Buddhism, and by neo-atheists like Dawkins and Harris – doesn’t negate spirituality but is a joyous affirmation of it, an affirmation of a tough, no-frills spirituality that doesn’t need the crutch of God. Or, in the case of the neo-atheists, the crutch of religion.
As the spiritual – if no longer the temporal – leader of the worldwide Buddhist community, the Dalai Lama cannot by definition prescribe the jettisoning of all religion in the name of a universal and unifying humanism. More’s the pity. For such humanism – without boundary, race or religion – is the only real hope for humankind. In the words of the John Lennon song, “Imagine there’s no Heaven/ It’s easy if you try/ No hell below us/ Above us only sky.”
As much as I respect and admire the Dalai Lama, I’ll take the empty sky over his ‘Many Truths, Many Religions’.
Sorry, Your Wholiness.