By Lilian Charles
Being born and raised in Pakistan, I have had plenty of opportunities to hear and learn about Islam and Hinduism. I’ve always treasured those occasions of interfaith sharing and learning. Thus, I count it a blessing to have attended a training programme in Malaysia which gave me the opportunity to not only equip myself for mission work but also to gain a better understanding of Buddhism. The experience of classroom learning and sharing as well as field visits has breathed a new life into me and challenged me in many ways. The visit to the Buddhist Maha Vihara temple in the heart of Kuala Lumpur last month was a unique experience I will never forget.
The temple was well maintained and organised. Every corner of the temple was made for a purpose. It is amazing to meet the Chief High Priest of Malaysia, Ven. Datuk K. Sri Dhammaratana, and the patron of Buddhist Maha Vihara, Vijaya Samarawickrama. It was my first experience ever to learn about the Buddhist faith from such authoritative yet humble leaders.
They explained their belief with great passion and conviction. As I toured the sprawling grounds of the temple as part of a visiting Christian delegation, Vijaya showed himself to be a very knowledgeable and friendly host. There were many things that opened my eyes and made me reflect on my own faith and practices. It also challenged me to discard my prejudices and strongholds.
Firstly, Vijaya’s welcoming attitude, his gestures and body language encouraged us a lot. His passion and enthusiasm simply helped us to ask questions and to be more open to listen to him. It seems that he knew us even before we met him. We were able to move very freely to any part of the temple. Secondly, his insights and openness to answer our questions impressed us tremendously.
He kept stressing the need to be ‘simple’. With his simplicity, he explained many complicated facts about Buddhism. He repeatedly said, ‘why complicate things?’ It was a real challenge for me as a Christian, as sometimes we do complicate things for people and cause them not to take interest in our faith.
The real challenge is to live a practical life which should be welcoming to others and providing opportunity for others to ask questions about our faith. Our living should create curiosity so people could experience the love and welcoming attitude of Jesus.
Living a counter-culture life is a lesson of Buddha and of Jesus. If we want to make an impact in a new culture and to the people of different religions, we should follow the life of Jesus and live practically not by words but by deeds. As Christians in this modern era are we welcoming to many in our church? Can we provide the same hospitality to the people we know could be hostile to us? We are so bound with our culture of being too holy that we forget about doing the mission of Jesus.
The temple visit has left a deep impression on me, though with many questions still unanswered in my mind. But I know that the secrets of this world belong to our living God. I walked away with a better understanding of Buddhism, and yet resolved to live a life that will be a walking testimony to the living God. May the Lord grant us wisdom to live a transformed life that could be an effective witness for all.
Lilian Charles attended the Asia Gateway programme on cross-cultural mission training at Seminari Theologi Malaysia in Seremban from June 21 to July 10. Since 2002, she has been serving the poor and marginalised communities of rural Sindh in her capacity as Training Coordinator for the Primary Education Project of the Diocese of Hyderabad. She is also Diocesan Secretary in the Diocese of Hyderabad, Church of Pakistan.