Peace Symposium: Loyalty to State or Faith?

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Peace Symposium was held on the theme “Love for All, Hatred for None”, in August 2017 in Auckland. Our executive member Simon Harrison was asked to provide a Buddhist perspective on the topic “Loyalty to State or Faith?”

Simon began by making it clear that rather than representing all of Buddhism, he was speaking as a student of one particular tradition of Buddhist teachings. He told the story of how Prince Siddhartha renounced his royal role and dedicated himself to finding “abiding peace”, noting that from that perspective the Buddha could be seen as choosing “faith” over “state”.

Simon suggested that “State is an institution to support a community of people to live together in harmony”, while “Faith is an individual experience to find a purpose in life. Often these two are confused. Church or Faith, with a capital, become institutions that compete to act in the role of state and neglect the role of helping individuals find purpose and fulfilment.”

Key Buddhist principles include the teaching

Do not perform any non-virtuous actions
Perform only perfect virtuous actions
Subdue your mind thoroughly
This is the teaching of the Buddha.
— Chapter 14 of the Dhammapada

Similar values are found in most religions and non-religious philosophies, he asserted. “However the key area of contention is in the scope and definition of ‘others’. What is the scope of my efforts to benefit others? Me? My family? People who share my faith? People who share my skin colour? People who share my gender or my sexual orientation? My species? These are all limiting. They all divide beings into ‘those I am prepared to help’ and ‘those I am prepared to sacrifice in order to help the others'”.

“My understanding of Buddhism is that these separations are in themselves a cause of suffering. These distinctions are what is referred to by ‘wrong view of the nature of reality’. Every being is equal in desiring happiness and wanting to be free of suffering. My only commitment should be to honour that and do whatever I can to bring it about.”

Simon concluded, “State and Faith as institutions are tools to help us all achieve this. But we must be very cautious with both when they divide sentient beings into ‘us’ and ‘them’. Or divide our allegiance into either/or.”