Experience of Metta about interreligious dialogue and with the authorities
I am Metta from Thailand. I am Buddhist. In 1993, I met the youth group of the Focolare Movement called “Gen” in Bangkok. The Idea that those young people promoted and shared to me was very attractive. I was invited to build peace and unity to fulfill Jesus’ final testament: “May they all be one”, right there in the environment where I live, through loving which is essential in the Spirituality of Unity.
I discovered from these Christian friends that they try to live the Gospel in daily life. Through their examples, I too tried to live this way, following the teachings of Buddha. After some time, I felt that it is important to pass this on to the young people in my village. Every Sunday, with some friends and with the help of a monk, we set up a school on Buddhism for the youth. We took the phrases of the Gospel that were being lived and we tried to look for the teachings of Buddha in the “Sutra” which corresponded to that particular phrase. In this way, a group of Buddhists youth for unity were formed.
Living this way some people understood us, while others did not. For example, one day, a monk who was an abbot of the temple in my village who knew me and my family very well, asked me questions: “How is your life?; Who is the winner? Did you convert them or they converted you? And I answered him spontaneously “We do not want to convert each other, rather we work together”. This answer kept him in silent and since that time on, I have never heard any question like this one from him. Sometimes I reflected on this experience, and I was so amazed of my own answer, of what I have understood and discovered. I found the very true sense of dialogue based on experience and I understood that the Spirituality of Unity contained in itself the ability to dialogue. For this reason, a person who lives this Spirituality also has a capacity to dialogue.
Together with the youth of the Focolare Movement we also had activities to promote a united world through the idea of fraternity and it was during this time that I became more sensitive on interreligious dialogue and social issues and I became interested and involved myself in these issues. They led me to realize that the shared value of fraternity inherent in religions can engage the civilizations of East and West in profound dialogue and assist humanity in progressing towards a future where differences are integrated from the very roots, in order to reach unity. Moreover, if we wish to promote together justice, solidarity and peace we must recognize one another, with respect and esteem in our otherness, and this implies being members of one human family, co-responsible for one another.
For me the Dialogue Model of Fraternity is the relationship between equals, each maintaining his own characteristic diversity, which includes freedom and equality. In Thailand there is freedom of religion, but the meaning of this freedom is confined only within religious community living on their own, and tolerating others. Sometimes I ask myself a question: "But this is true freedom?" With the Youth for a United world, we open ourselves to others instead. We learn a lot through the phrases of the Gospel in Christianity and we enrich others through the phrases and explanations of Buddha. Through this experience I realized that true religious freedom is knowing the other up to the end, respecting and understanding the heart of other religions, while remaining deeply rooted in one’s own religion.
The capacity to dialogue depends on the ability of inner transformation. The innermost of this ability is self emptiness. Chiara Lubich explains it through a deep understanding of the mystery of love and suffering of Jesus crucified and forsaken. As I am a Buddhist, I understood this mystery as “to dwell in suffering with loving mindfulness”. Mindfulness sustains man in his effort to dwell in wisdom and simultaneously produces loving kindness and openness to dialogue with others, and this self emptiness is essential for inner freedom – freedom from self, from negative emotions and obsessive self concern - and leads to the condition for goodness and thus also for social freedom and action.
For example, in my home town in the north of Thailand which is a special economic zone of ASEAN Economic Community, there was a project of extending the road for preparing towards integration of AEC. The new road construction blocked the waterways of the canal in front of my home and every time there was rain it would get flooded. This brought hardships to the villagers, so we went to the municipal office to request the setting up of the water drainage. Unfortunately the officer said that the municipality does not have a budget to resolve this problem and the project belongs to the Department of State Highways and if we wanted to resolve this problem by putting the drainage, we have to pay from our own pocket. The people were angry. Returning home I felt that I could not just leave this problem in the hands of the local authorities. I should be a part of the solution to this problem. I reflected a lot on this issue and I got an idea which actually seemed feasible so I shared it with some of the villagers and we decided to propose it to the local State Highway Office. But first we went back to communicate it to the municipal officer who agreed and then we went to visit the State Highway Officer. We explained our problem and offered a solution. The discussion went well, after a month the drainage was rebuilt without the villagers paying for it.
This is a simple experience to understand that as citizens, we are responsible and active contributors to our own society. The relationship between citizens and authorities should be equal, each maintaining its own characteristic diversity. It is a horizontal relationship of dialogue that considers conflicting views as a path towards mutual comprehension, to include one another rather than to dictate. For this it offers a non violent means, opening a relational path that can overcome differences, because the relationship of one to the other, the association, is stronger than the disruptive force. This model opens to various dimensions of dialogue between people, cultures and religions.