Friday, February 12, 2010

Speak with a calm, bright heart

Perhaps you are aware of recent news out of Singapore where a Christian evangelical group produced and published a video with an interview of a man who allegedly was a Buddhist monk and had converted to Christianity. I say allegedly because what the man says about his experiences as a monk is extremely suspicious. But I am not writing specifically about that. John over at Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt has a post that includes the video clips produced by the Lighthouse Christian group in Singapore, as well as news about the Pastor Rony Tan’s apology for the video’s content.

What I want to bring to everyone’s attention is a brilliant response written by the National University of Singapore Buddhist Society that was published in the Kent Ridge Common, the student publication at the NUS. It’s an excellent point-by-point retort to what was asserted by the Rev. Rony Tan; brilliant because it was made in the spirit of the Buddha’s teaching found in the Brahmajala Sutta. I strongly urge anyone to read the response, but I particularly suggest those who are new to Buddhism, or who are curious, to read it.

Religion is a touchy subject in Singapore (the photo is of a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore). The city-state is ethnically and religiously diverse, with a population made up of Chinese, Indian and Malay people, as well as a significant white European population. There are Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and Taoists. The city has a history of ethnocentric conflict that was successfully managed by its founding father, Lee Kuan Yew and his People’s Action Party.

I follow a gay Buddhist discussion group on Yahoo! that is based in Singapore called Heartland where the issue of Christian evangelicals comes up occasionally. Christian proselytizing and efforts to convert others is very aggressively done in Singapore; I have read reports (unverified I admit) of evangelicals making the rounds in Singapore hospitals where they move in on a dying Buddhist and scare them into converting on their deathbed. If an individual’s family is present, some resistance may be mounted to the conversion effort, but if the sick and elderly patient is alone, he or she is reportedly often scared into conversion, renouncing their Buddhist faith.

Much of the discussion at Heartland has been about formulating a skillful response to these conversion efforts. So when the video from the Lighthouse organization in Singapore surfaced, it unsurprisingly annoyed many people, particularly Singaporean Buddhists and Taoists. Whether the Rev. Tan’s public apology is sincere is debatable, but it is worth pointing out that the apology was prompted by the Singaporean government demanding he make one. As I said, the peaceful coexistence of the various ethnic and religious groups in Singapore is a major concern of the government.

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