May 26th, 2010
09:16 AM ET

The Dalai Lama is wrong

Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

I am a big fan of the Dalai Lama. I love his trademark smile and I hate the fact that I missed his talks this week in New York City. But I cannot say either "Amen" or "Om" to the shopworn clichés that he trots out in the New York Times in “Many Faiths, One Truth.”

Recalling the Apostle Paul—“When I was a child, I spoke like a child”—the Dalai Lama begins by copping to youthful naivete. “When I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best,” he writes, “and that other faiths were somehow inferior.” However, just as Paul, upon becoming a man, “put away childish things,” the Dalai Lama now sees his youthful exclusivism as both naïve and dangerous. There is “one truth” behind the “many faiths,” and that core truth, he argues, is compassion.

Like the Dalai Lama, who writes of how he was influenced by Thomas Merton, I believe we can learn greatly from other religions. I too hope for tolerance and harmony in our interreligious interactions. I am convinced, however, that true tolerance and lasting harmony must be built on reality, not fantasy. Religious exclusivism is dangerous and naïve. But so too is pretend pluralism. The cause of religious harmony is not advanced in the least by the shibboleth that all religions are different paths up the same mountain.

If you ask religious universalists what lies at the top of the mountain, the answers they will give you are not one but many. Gandhi and philosopher of religion Huston Smith say that at the top there is the same universal God. But when others describe this religious mountaintop they invariably give voice to their own particular beliefs and biases.

Followers of the Dalai Lama revere him as a reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. So it should not be surprising that he sees compassion at the heart of all religions. But this is a parochial perspective, not a universal one. And like any form of pretend pluralism it threatens to blind us both to the particular dangers of individual religious traditions and to their unique beauties.

To be sure, all religions preach compassion. But it is false to claim that compassion is the reason for being of the great religions. Jesus did not die on a cross in order to teach us to help old ladies across the street. The Jewish milieu in which he was raised already knew that. And as the Dalai Lama points out, so did the rest of the world’s religions. Jesus came, according to most Christian thinkers, to stamp out sin and pave the path to salvation. Similarly, the Buddha did not sit down under a Bo tree in India in order to teach us not to kill our brothers. The Hindu milieu in which he was raised already knew that too. He came, according to most Buddhist thinkers, to stamp out suffering and pave the path to nirvana.

As I argue in my new book, "God is Not One:  The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter," religion is an immensely powerful force both personally and politically. So if we want to understand the world we must understand the world's religions. This includes reckoning with both similarities and differences, and with the capacity of each of the great religions to do both good and evil.

I know that when it comes to the Dalai Lama we are all supposed to bow and scrape. So I am happy to applaud his project to find “common ground” across the world’s religions. But I also know that the Buddha said to worship no man. And I cannot agree with the Dalai Lama’s claim that “the essential message of all religions is very much the same.”

The Dalai Lama was doubtless naïve when, as a boy, and before learning about other religions, he arrived at the conclusion that only his religion was true. But it is no advance out of innocence to make the equally fantastic claim that all the religions are at heart vehicles for compassion. If we are to build a world of interreligious harmony, or even a world of interreligious détente, it will have to be constructed on a foundation of adult experience rather than youthful naivete.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Buddhism • Christianity • Faith • Leaders • Opinion

soundoff (633 Responses)
  1. Concerned

    He's almost there.
    Love not compassion.
    There are many paths, all lead to Christ and then to the Father.
    Unfortunately talk like this speaks of a "truth" beyond all religions a religion of religions or a one world religion or truth.

    May 26, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  2. Edmund

    Stephen, While you promote your inconclusive opinions and your new book here with enthusiasm, your Wikipedia page describes you as "a confused Christian". I feel it would be more useful to our society's religious debate if you were to fearlessly engage with the Dalai Lama in public debate and more as the elder that he is than a fellow sandboxer, as you cast him. Eloquent, vocal, intelligent, appealing and erudite as you may be, some wisdom apparently remains elusive for you. As your new book highlights the suffering of the warmongering that persists between two at times, confused religions in particular, it is logical that you would then avoid casting any religious figure as right or wrong. Such debate promotes extremism and obscures an understanding of the basic nature of our being- love.

    Religion is just a tool, whatever its name. That seven of them rule this little world, as you posit is in the bigger scheme, irrelevant if it is even correct. As this tiny planet is still populated with billions of people unable to forgive each other or love themselves in varying degrees, surely a focus inspired by the commonality in the musings of earnest mystics may help us achieve the peace we all seek? Personally I think Buddha was onto something- believe nothing you hear (my father later added, and only half of what you read) and test everything by experience.

    Please let me know when you are meeting with His Holiness!

    Sincerely, Edmund

    May 26, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
    • Yohan

      Edmund, if you are refering to a sinner like the Dalai Lama as 'his holiness' (with caps), i would like to ask the question, what makes a person who denies the existence of a Holy God... holy? The Dalai Lama is compassionate for selfish reasons. why? because he wants to make merit to attain something as elusive and contradictory as Nirvana! i know, i was once a confused Indian.....coming from the land of 'Easter Mysticism'. there is nothing holy in the Lama nor is there anything holy in the Buddah....they both seek Nirvana...why because they admit they have sin!!!! think about it.

      May 27, 2010 at 2:58 am |
      • gleslie

        You are definitely a confusd something, but I wouldn't blame it on Indians,

        May 27, 2010 at 5:15 am |
      • gleslie

        You are definitely a confused something, but I wouldn't blame it on Indians.

        May 27, 2010 at 5:16 am |
  3. WinterClover

    Perhaps it is you that is actually wrong. The Dalai Lama has spent his life working on compassion and helping others. Maybe you should be critical of the religions that promote war and violence, rather than the ones that focus on doing good. The basic philosophy is "If you can not help, at least do no harm," how is that wrong in a world filled with hate and hurt! IT IS YOU THAT IS WRONG!

    May 26, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
    • ricker2

      In full agreement with you Clover. Being an atheist I can sincerely say, of all the hundreds of religions floating around, there is none more peaceful than the buddhists. Every other religion and their offshoots are either at odds with each other or some other religion. With the christians it's the protestants against the catholics, and with the muslims you have the sunnis against the shi'ites, and sorry for leaving out all the hundreds of other in betweens….lutherans, baptists, presbyterians, mormons, jehovah witnesses, etc, etc, etc, etc………….the list goes on and on and on. The dali is heads above goof balls like jim baker, jimmy swaggert and all the other filthy rich televangelists flooding cable tv. It’s a circus atmosphere plain and simple.

      May 27, 2010 at 3:00 am |
  4. Juliet

    The point of the article was two extremes and a need to find balance, a median. Yet all I hear from the comments is extraneous remarks. It seems to me that all you want to do is find what's wrong and totally miss the point.

    May 26, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • Protip

      The point -is- the thing that's wrong.

      May 26, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  5. Diane P

    Using a shocking headline/premise to promote your book is obnoxious. I'm glad to see that there are many comments from people who can see that the Dalai Lama is in fact correct, and compassion (in whatever terms) is, necessarily, the basis for all religious traditions. Just a tip: writing a credible and well-reasoned article is better promotion for your book than this nonsense.

    May 26, 2010 at 11:53 am |
    • Mr. Cranky

      HA! So I wasn't the only one to get that impression?

      May 26, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
    • Philip Rodgers

      Oh no Mr. Cranky, that was exactly my first impression I just wasn't going to waste keystrokes. After returning to see the rest of the comments I just had to agree with you and Diane.

      May 27, 2010 at 5:52 am |
  6. Robert Noonan

    The heart is the temple in which all truth resides.

    May 26, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  7. Reality

    Did the professor mention Paganism in his book? If not, he neglected the great effect the horned one and his goddesses have on all of us?? Or maybe paganism is not mentioned on the streets of puritanical Boston?

    May 26, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  8. Aida

    Mr. Prothero,
    you definatly misunderstand and miss the point.Sorry

    May 26, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  9. Michael Lauderdale

    Many religions teach compassion but they are certainly not the same. John 14:6 outlines this saying " Jesus said I am the way the TRUTH the life and no one comes to the father except through me. If you are a biblical Christian then just by this verse you cannot agree with the Dalai Lama that there are many paths to the same destination. So the Dalai Lama is wrong.

    May 26, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • Pylons

      and I feel sorry for anyone who happens to believe such a passage. It's a shining example of 'my religion is right everyone else is wrong'

      May 26, 2010 at 11:45 am |
    • harmony

      You are right! Narrow is the path that leads to salvation in Jesus. While there are many wide paths leading to destruction. We are all given the opportunity to accept or reject God's free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. We cannot earn our salvation. Jesus Himself said that the two greatest commandments are... "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
      Christ is love and compassion.

      May 26, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • Alan

      Ah, but a "biblical Christian" must then be one who denies the belief system of others, which is the crux of the problem, not the answer, Mr. Lauderdale...it would appear, given the generally open-minded, compassionate and understanding (of others belief syustems) on this thread, that your extreme statement is far more wrong while the Dalai Lama's is certainly on the right path (and, I, a non-Buddhist, actually, believe is right)...the single-minded thinking that you express is little different from the extremist view that one must engage in jihad to honor Allah and then receive 70 or so virgins in heaven...and that is a dangerous thing...

      May 26, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • Liz

      I am a Catholic Christian and have not doubt that Jesus is the Way to God. But what most Christians miss is that Jesus is the one who will decide who gets to heaven, not you, not me, not the Pope, not the Dalai Lama. Jesus stands at the gateway and will decide who truly belongs to him, be that person Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist or Christian or Jew. I feel very comfortable with that because I can't think of anyone else I'd rather be in charge of that.

      May 26, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
    • suteki

      I'm curious how you know that the form Jesus takes can't be different for people of different faiths. It seems kind of simple-minded to think that someone who is of another faith couldn't be going 'through Jesus' in the sense that Jesus, to Christians, is god and other faiths have god or love or compassion in them and that might be the very same thing Christians use the term "Jesu" to identify. How do you know this isn't the case?

      May 26, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
    • benjamin K

      dude. that was a metaphor. come on. what are you, 5? everyone knows that jesus spoke largely in parables and metaphors. jesus. he spoke so those that had ears could hear. even ear is a metaphor.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
    • Jeremy Foster

      Jesus was speaking to the world as he knew it. Perhaps if Jesus was around in modern times he may have had a message to the entire world. He may have been the way, the truth, and the light for the Jews in his time, however he was not the way the truth and the light for the Hindu's, and Buddhists at the time. We really need to open our minds, and recognize myth from reality.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
    • Jim

      The bible was written by men some 400 years after the death of christ. The pope had it compiled to control the people in his church. Hundreds of pages were left out of it because it did not further his agenda. This is all to often proven by the many people who quote it's passages to further their own beliefs. I wish people would stop looking for passages to quote and would live by the one basic tenet of all religions. Love one another as you would yourself.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:56 pm |
      • W.G.

        To Jim , the New Testament was written by actual human beings who were alive at the time
        of Jesus Christ . It may have been PUT TOGETHER 400 years later but these people who
        walked and talked with Jesus were able to read and write or like in the case of Peter did
        what custom of the times called for and had scribes who wrote what he said down .
        Paul was alive at the time of Jesus but he was a pharasee at the time of Jesus so
        he able to read and write and he says at the time of his writings that there were 500
        people still alive when Jesus ascended into heaven and they along with the apostles
        testify to it and Perer said We did not make this stuff up but were actual witnesses
        to what we say we saw . Once again you sound like one of those "know it alls"
        that have never actually read the Bible but are ready to comment on it at the drop
        of a hat .

        May 27, 2010 at 4:21 am |
        • Mom

          You are wrong about that. Luke was a doctor who never met Jesus. The other three gospels were written many years (~30) after Jesus' death, and then severely edited 400 years later by Constantine and the Council of Nicea. Many other things were edited out at that time, including references to Mary Magdeline as Jesus' wife. The Council also decided at that time about Jesus' supposed 'deity' – in other words, before that, he was just a man who was a great preacher. They included the Virgin Birth story to 'confirm' this supposed elevation. Put your bible down (and by the way, I HAVE read it cover to cover on several occasions) and pick up a book called "Holy Blood, Holy Grail".

          May 27, 2010 at 8:33 am |
        • Boonrerd Samsavan

          Sure. The Greatest Story ever told EXISTED ONLY in the New Testament. Be sure not to forget that Fact!

          May 27, 2010 at 8:36 am |
        • Vin

          Actually, none of the New Testament's books was written at the time of Jesus' ministry. All were written decades (60 years is the best estimate I've seen) after his death. That doesn't mean that they aren't good teaching stories, but it does invalidate them as first-hand accounts of history. They are, at best, third-hand recording of oral traditions that survived the Jewish and Roman pogroms to eradicate the Jesus cult.

          May 27, 2010 at 8:55 am |
    • Joshua

      Jeremy Foster, Can I suggest that you read the end of each of the four Gospels and then proceed to read through the book of Acts. Perhaps even go further to read through the Epistles of the New Testament. These are all stories of how Jesus came and taught that the Word of God was to be spread out into all the nations of the world, into all the peoples of the world, into all of cultures of the world. It's a rather small and ignorant statement to say that Jesus came to give a message to only the Jews. For the stories in the New Testament are given in a multicultural setting; Yes the stories were first given in the context of the Jewish culture, but it was also spoken to the Greek and Roman audience. It is also evident today that the Word of God has been sent out and received into nearly every culture present on the planet(including the Eastern World). Jesus came to his own(Jews), but his own did not receive him, but to those(all peoples) who did receive him he gave the right to be the children of God (John 1).

      May 26, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
    • SV

      Jim, what proof do you have the Bible was written 400 years after Christ? Could this be someone's opinion? Now avoiding opinions and looking at FACTS: despite the best efforts of atheistic individuals to disprove the Bible, it continues to proof itself inspired and true. There are many examples, here is one: the Dead Sea scrolls have been dated to almost 2 centuries before Christ. This contains numerous prophecies from the book of Isaiah that were fulfilled AFTER THE TIME THEY WERE WRITTEN. For instance, read Isaiah 53:3-12, which explains Christ's manner of death, or Isaiah 44:27, which explains how Israel would be freed and even specifically naming the one who would free them. No other book has prophecy fulfilled in such detail. Jesus told many prophecies about our time, including the one how many people in our time would claim to follow him, but their actions would prove otherwise (Matthew 7:21)

      May 26, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
    • Tiff

      Jesus said I am the way the TRUTH, the life and no one comes to the father except through me.

      Jesus = TRUTH
      TRUTH = Light, illumination, enlightenment, the way
      Jesus = The Way


      get it? Read the words but listen to what is actually being said. Open your minds.

      Christian or not, Jesus was a holy man, at the very least, a prophet of God. You may not believe he is God but you have to be open minded enough to know that what he is basically saying is the way to salvation is through truth, through understanding of the world and of others (heard of the good samaritan?) - through compassion.

      Now what kind of religion will argue with that basic truth?

      May 27, 2010 at 2:55 am |
  10. Diane Bevis

    ...........and I do believe we all emanate from the SAME source...........we ARE the reflection of perfection.

    May 26, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • DeAguaDulce

      Everything we do proves otherwise. We can only be perfect with the help of God, who perfects us when we believe in His Son.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  11. Diane Bevis

    ...............I hope this public disagreement does not help the book sales! I was at the Cathedral of St john the Divine on Sunday and am a practicing Buddhist. How lovely it was to see a Buddhist Altar set up in the Cathedral's Chapel of the Tongues...how far we have come! We are all one human family.....with different traditions. We must find a way to come together with respect and compassion for our diverse situations. It IS the only way. Love and Peace!

    May 26, 2010 at 10:53 am |
    • DeAguaDulce

      In India you can't swing a cat without hitting a temple to some god or goddess. Devout people might stop at whatever shrine they pass to worship, just in case. They don't want to miss any of the gods. I find it very sad that they should waste so much time doing that. I also find it sad that the Cathedral of St. John the Divine seems to be adopting the mindset.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
    • hmph

      So you feel sad that people are wasting 30 minutes on 3 gods/idols vs your superior tradition of wasting 30 minutes on 1 god. Hmm, the typical abrahimic virtue of looking down upon all other cultures and religions , because your book provides you a bunch of verses which conveniently allow you to believe your traditions are superior. Idols are the devil. why? because the book says so. Its no more misguided than saying idols are godly, if your book chose to say so. Its not just idols that hindus worship, they actually worship all forms of life, because their book(s) says all life energy in this universe has in it godly energy called OM. Their book(s) also says that an enlightened human being can maximize this OM inside them and eventually achieve nirvana. So its not the idol they worship, but the OM represented by that idol or life form. Something you will never come to terms with because your book told you that every being created on earth is merely a sinful mortal and nothing more. Ofcourse many hindus just worship the idol, because the concept of OM is lost on them, but then they are no more misguided than your blind faith in your verses.
      This is what most religious people in this world do not get unfortunately – Religion isnt something you read from a book. You must experience it.

      May 27, 2010 at 1:39 am |
  12. Brian Adler

    I think the point is more that true compassion is the pinnacle of human development. As an individual matures (assuming they do) during the course of their life, they will embody and express more a more compassionate world view and life. This will be true regardless of the specific religion they gravitate towards. The Dalai Lama once said that his actual religion was "kindness" (or something to that effect). I believe his point was that compassion is where we all wind up if we live long enough to sufficiently mature.

    May 26, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • Daniel Yii

      I would not want to be near a religious person who is not compassionate. I would either think there must be something wrong with the religious teachings or the person simply hasn't got it right (though he/she may think she has). Most likely the latter is the case. If the former was the case, then I wonder if it should be called a religion, perhaps a cult? So a religion teaches compassion, among other things, like how to eliminate suffering, avoid sins etc etc..

      May 27, 2010 at 3:37 am |
  13. Edmund

    Love is common to all people and beings, surely? Why deny our commonality?

    May 26, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  14. Valerie

    I think you misunderstand and miss the point entirely Mr. Prothero. In my own study and practice of Buddhism, and study of the various religions in the past few years, I have been profoundly struck by the realization that there is a common truth that runs through all, and at the heart is compassion. This occurred to me before I ever heard the Dalai Lama or any other speak it. I sat at a table with two friends the other night, all of us of different beliefs and faiths, and was astounded at the commonalities between our practices and beliefs. We came to the same conclusions, and more importantly heard the same truths inside ourselves, even though our vehicles were different. The key is too look inward. The truth is there, minus the jibberish. I was not raised religiously and therefore am not struggling with attachment to ingrained beliefs. I have searched out a spiritual path based on a truth I have heard inside my heart since I was a child, not as told by any exterior source. Why would you want to perpetuate conflict and label religions as rivals and call the Dalai Lama out on his point that compassion is more important than 'right and wrong' ideologies?? I question your motives and your clarity Mr. Prothero.

    May 26, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  15. Helio Pires

    Stephen Prothero is on the right track, but he ends up missing the target when he says that all religions preach compassion. Wrong! Not all do that because some are purely orthopraxic: they have no official moral code or doctrine, but focus instead on the correct ritual practice. Beliefs are personal and human social behavior is a matter of social or philosophical thinking, not religious.

    And this is true regardless of what the *major* religions say: if one argues that *all* religions are X or Z, then please be aware of what *all* religions are about, not just some (no matter how many followers they have)

    May 26, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  16. BudaTao

    The Dalai Lama is right. And you are also right. Compassion is the essence of most religions, it's just the way they define and express compassion that varies. Differences are important, no doubt about that. But at the core, at the very center and root of it all, is the human necessity of reaching that eternal field of compassion, however you call it.

    But still, it may appear as though the religions disagree on some fundamentals about that field. And yes, it could be a bit parochial to say that "compassion" is the most important value of all religions. Language matters too.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:57 am |
    • DeAguaDulce

      Yes, you're right, I'm right, he's right. We're all right! One plus one equals two...or three...or four...or whatever you want it to!

      May 26, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  17. Oliver

    Compassion is the fruit of the deepest understanding of reality...

    May 26, 2010 at 9:39 am |
  18. Moooohammud Cow

    Wait so how was the Dalai Lama wrong? By saying the whole point of the stories is compassion instead of over which is right and wrong? Yeah, the one you grow up with is the one you think is real. Kids are born knowing nothing, so whatever we teach them becomes reality. So of course whatever religious jibberish we put into their heads, they will believe. After all, they grew up with it, therefor is HAS to be real while everyone else is fake.

    He was absolutely right; put away childish things. I held onto my fairy tale book far too long.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:32 am |
    • Dan

      That does nothing to explain the millions of people throughout history who were raised as Germanic pagans, Hindus, animists of Africa, etc. who have converted to other faiths. People do not necessarily just believe what they are taught.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
    • Xugos

      Not all of us strictly believe in what we were taught as a kid. When I was a kid I was taught my parent's religion, Islam, but as I grew up my parents told me that religion was ultimately my decision, and that there was no point in faking one's religion. Upon this, I proclaimed myself to be an atheist, as that was what I thought was the truth at the time. Later on, I eventually began to see the errors of my ways, and I returned to religion after much heartache and research.

      Just thought I'd throw that out there.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:39 pm |
  19. Ddubbya

    boy, how anti-religious can you get!

    Stephen, you are jaded. I'm sorry for that. I have studied all major religions of this planet and I agree with his Holiness that compassion is at the heart of each of them. It is, however, how the leaders and guides choose to display and preach it.

    Do not blame the religion for the failings of man. To do so, is misguided prejudice.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:27 am |
    • Michael Wong

      If compassion is at the heart of every religion, why do certain religions have something called Hell?

      May 26, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Jim

      Stephen who?? get real.Just another guy pushing his own uneducated agenda. Keeping in mind that "Religion" is a creation of man. Man is imperfect , so is Religion and many of his other creations.
      Jesus said there 2 commandments over all.......Love God , and love your neighbor. Isn't that compassion? All the Lama was doing was to try to synopsize.........(something that westerners insist on). And he is correct.

      May 26, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
    • Mark in FL

      A religion is no better than the people that practice it. Religions change over time, swinging from conservative to liberal, shifting focus, etc. Certainly you can find compassion as tenet of each of them, but is it the core belief? Doubtful, and certainly not the way many are practiced today.

      May 26, 2010 at 9:57 pm |
    • dj

      Compassion may be a common element among religions, but the core beliefs are very different and often mutually exclusive. Stephen is not being "anti-religious", he is upholding the true core beliefs of world religions.

      May 26, 2010 at 9:57 pm |
    • PNatey

      Funny I was reading an article from a South Asian journal that said your (and the Dalai Lama's) idea that all religions espouse the same thing was the new form of western religious imperialism.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
    • Jack Beslanwitch

      I agree with the Dalai lama that compassion are at the heart of all religions. We may quibble about what this piece of dogma or that is involved, but at the end is the acts of compassion that form the essence of what it is to observe a spiritual or religious life. As far as those that refer to hell, I like to think that heaven and hell are truly to the same place, just which way we are looking. Another truly spiritual person I am honored to have known had the thought that there was certainly a hell, but he was not certain that there was anyone in there. At its heart, the spiritual realm is one of accepting the human condition and the love, forgiveness and, yes, compassion that more than anything else makes us human. Whether we respond with amen, alikum salam or om, it perhaps is best to remember the old koan. Observe. A figure pointed at the moon. Beware. Do not mistake the finger for the moon. 🙂 Compassion is a path of peace and a direction that leads ultimately to a resolution with what it is to be human, whether in salvation, nirvanna or simply, well, human.

      May 27, 2010 at 2:16 am |
    • dj

      You may say that "jesus did not come to die on the cross", but that is simply not what the Bible says. You are making up your own 'Christianity'. This is what Stephen is saying i think. The core of Christianity is that Jesus, the Son of God, came to die for sinners and offer eternal life through faith in him...

      14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.[e]

      16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[f] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.[g] (John 3:14-17 NIV)

      May 27, 2010 at 6:28 am |
    • krista

      and hell is what happens when one forgets to have compassion for themselves...it seems easier to forgive others of their failings than it is to forgive our own.

      May 29, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  20. Protip

    Put away childish things and just have compassion. I must have missed how he was wrong in saying that.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:26 am |
    • JM

      Compassion was key to Jesus' and Buddha's mission. The monkey with a computer that wrote this article is misinterpreting their respective messages. Jesus, as God, gave himself up to the human condition, compassionate enough to our suffering and inability to come to terms with God's Law, to understand us and show us an easier way to Him. So it goes: Buddha was raised as royalty with the best of everything, away from all suffering. He was a genius from birth. He was unaware of 'suffering' until the day he escaped outside his estate's walls and was met with the disgusting world outside. He felt great compassion for all living things. He pondered and triumphed over suffering itself achieving nirvana. He taught many things, one them them chiefly, being compassion.

      Mr. Prothero, you are a prime example of the ignorant masses. Ignorant to the beauty and truth found already by others before us, inspired by God. From me to all: Get educated in more than just what words mean and how numbers add up.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
    • Joe Igietseme

      Stephen Prothero is being too limited in his understanding of the concept of "compassion" the Dalai Lama centered the purpose of religion. If you have compassion for fellow human and other beings, you will love them, you will be kind to them; you wont deliberately hurt them, you wont commit sin, wont have guilty conscience or spiritual suffering; you will have enlightenment; and you will have Peace and Salvation. These principles and goals cover Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and most other religions. Dalai Lama IS RIGHT!

      May 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
    • Bob

      You are either exceedingly or have the worst reading comprehension in the world. You completely missed the point. He disagrees with the Dalai Lama that the world's religions are basically all the same. He was not arguing against compassion. It is a little more complicated than that but I tried to keep it simple for you.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
    • Brendan

      Buddhism is not the same as the other worldly religions as it is not monotheistic. Buddhism shows how all sentient beings create reality not a single (god) being, and that all senteint beings are interconnected without a start or end. Because Buddhism shows that there is not a single (god) cause to reality but all sentient beings from beginninless time, Buddhists are far more careful of there actions as they are not part of the RIP movement, as the members of this movement do want they want when they want as they "know" that when they die they will never feel pain.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
    • Tingmu

      This author is blind despite his attempt to portray himself as erudite and wise. I've noticed a trend for people to think about an issue so much that they actually become very dumb about that issue, and think about it in a way that flies in the face of basic common sense; I think that's what this author has done.

      Most religions CAN be a good fit and a good vessel for certain types of individuals, but cannot be a good vessel of spiritual progression for everyone. Each individual on this planet has their own unique capacity for understanding and seeing the world. As long as the religious belief they follow allows them to spiritually grow and reach their god-given potentials they are good religions. The result is the real thing that matters.

      Buddhism is all about results. I think most Buddhists would say that Buddhism is a far more direct path to spiritual enlightenment for those who can accept unadulterated truth not watered down by dogmatism (not that Buddhism doesn't have its dogmatism), but they still often find that other religions can offer spiritual paths that enable progression.

      With that said, what this author is saying is complete and utter nonsense, based on over-intellectualizing to the point of stupidity.

      May 26, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
    • Arrow

      Obviously this person does not understand compassion and his interpretation of the purpose of Jesus' life could be much debated. He did not come to stamp out sin but to teach love, compassion and the power of our humanity when we focus on love.
      And this guy is going to write a book about religion. Remind me not to buy it.

      May 26, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
    • Debashis

      I agree with the author that all religions are not the same. Each one finds different new and innovative ways to debase human nature. At the same time, I also agree with the viewpoint that all religions are essentially the same at core. They all capitalize on human insecurities to promote falsities that make any rational person's stomach turn. At least, the Dalai Lama, by promoting compassion as the meeting ground for all religions, has stayed away from the focus on God, the most stupid and irrational concept over which humanity has committed every known evil deed throughout its existence. If I think rationally, Buddhism, by staying away from God, does trump all other religions in terms of being the least evil.

      May 26, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
    • Anthony

      Actually, Jesus did die on the cross to teach us how to put put our own selfish desires aside long enough to help old ladies cross the street.

      May 26, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
      • Chance

        Exactly...this writer has tunnel vision. He died for that and much more. The Church (No offense; I mean through out history) spends to much time using his death to promote fear from sin or etc... I highly doubt Jesus would have ever wanted that. IF anything it should be on how to live, not how not to live. They are similar but carried out differently. Our intentions should be focused on good actions.

        May 27, 2010 at 7:41 am |
    • maria

      Correct me if I am wrong! Isn't there a statement in the bible and also other writings about the "children inhereting the kingdom of God?????

      May 26, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
    • Sione

      Compassion can certainly set us apart as a Universal theme, but it is one part of the grand scheme of life. When we can make peace within ourselves, then we can truly share peace with each other. But to know what is true peace we must ask the three basic questions all men desire; where did I come from, why am I here, and where am I going from here? Once we find the answers to all three we will realize the real purpose in life brings peace.

      May 26, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
    • JV

      Very boring article, next time try writing something the reader will relate to or care about

      May 26, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
    • Greg Demmons

      Unfortunately, as with most scholars on subjects such as these, they rely on superficial information provided in books by others with similar academic interests. The writer no doubt has a lot of experience learning about religion, but very little in the practice. The Dalai Lama is correct in stating that all religions do share a common ground in compassion. The Buddha did not come to stamp out suffering at all. Nowhere is that stated or implied. He taught, after being implored to do so, we are told, that life is full of suffering, there is a path to liberation from suffering and that it is accessible to all people. This does not mean that the suffering disappears, it changes our relationship to it. Compassion is the result and end of all major world religions, if it is practiced in its original form. They seek to help people discover that compassion for one's fellows leads to peace and happiness. Compassion does not mean helping old ladies across a street or not killing another. Compassion is being able to understand and relate to the suffering of others.
      That being said, the Dalai Lama is naive, because he has been groomed to exemplify the qualities of Avalokitashvara since the age of 3 or 4 years old. He is not familiar with the corruption of the world's religions and he does not understand that some religions, such as Christianity, do not accept other religions and will not. Individuals within may profess it, but it is a veiled attempt to subversively convert people. Buddhism is not a religion. In it's true form it does not adhere to any idea of worship or deification. The only thing this writer has hit on the head is that the Buddha did tell his followers, prior to his passing, to not rely on teachers or systems. He advocated meditation, searching for what is true and lasting and unchanging. That turns out to be the truth that compassion, if it exists among all people, leads to peace and contentment, free from mental suffering...Nibbana.

      May 26, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
      • tom

        Maybe being naive we he can filter out the day to day thing we think are important and see's clearer, maybe

        May 27, 2010 at 7:26 am |
    • Eureka

      How can one say the Dalai Lama is wrong? is is no more wrong than you are, religion/or none is a personal choice and no one should judge one another, anything that makes a better man and a better world is right, no matter how it comes about.

      May 26, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
      • Quest

        I couldn't agree more with that statement.

        May 27, 2010 at 7:36 am |
      • J. Amoros

        Eureka, I'm going to copy/paste your statement and use it in my talks and writings as the classical example and statement/dogma of what education has done with an entire generation. Your statement is a religious statement by itself, the best coming from the "religion of cultural relativity". Thanks.

        May 27, 2010 at 8:34 am |
    • Matthew

      When we look at the multiple world religions, many people want try to say that they are many paths to one truth. They go way beyond tolerance and claim that all religions will eventually bring us to the same destination. The problem that occurs comes from the Law of Non-Contridaitcion. I believe Ravi Zachariah wrote a paper about this topic. When occurs you have multiple religions and they all claim to be truth, and all claim that people that do not follow the same path are punished. With Christians you have Hell, with the mormons you are not allowed a special planet, with hindu you do not achieve nirvana and come back as a bug. In order to receive a happy after-life, you must follow the rules of the particular religion or at least believe in certain aspects of the religion. In the end, there can only be One truth, and we are only given true proof when we breathe our last breath.

      May 26, 2010 at 11:56 pm |
      • Nancy

        I disagree, I believe that you are losing yourself in the details. Yes, it's true that religions are different, no one said that they are the same. But if you look at the root of their origins, at their most essential and pure purpose, it is, or at least it should be, to be compassionate. I don't claim that the Dalai Lama is right, but in pointing out the minute differences between religions one does not discredit the fact that their true purpose is the same.

        May 27, 2010 at 8:21 am |
    • Andres Pacheco

      I believe Mr. Prothero is a writer who sort of ran out of arguments. His point is weak and it divides rather than unites. His hollow analysis makes me have doubts about the role of his article. This article is boring and totally away from philosophy.

      May 27, 2010 at 12:10 am |
    • tom Callahan

      How can you possibly say ANYONE is wrong when it comes to religion. You have NO idea what you are talking about...It is all conjecture...jesus, buddha, krishna, all of them. So you blogger boy, don't pretend to know what you are talking about. you don't..your ego has got the best of you son

      May 27, 2010 at 12:26 am |
    • common

      "compassion... help old ladies across the street"

      Enough said.

      May 27, 2010 at 12:43 am |
    • Stefan

      Somehow this article isn't very convincing.

      May 27, 2010 at 12:59 am |
    • selden

      As you are all climbing your metaphorical "mountain", and after you have received whatever blessings and inspirations and self-satisfactions ...look over yonder.
      There's another mountain, and another mountain, and another...
      Prothero, we have compassion for you.

      May 27, 2010 at 2:38 am |
    • Trianon

      It's a bit like saying you need to catch and experience malaria before you can atempt to cure it.

      May 27, 2010 at 6:58 am |
    • Hector Cosmas

      The truth is one. But you will not find it in any book, or in any words. All books and human communication pass through the filter of the human mind that then imbues it with human weaknesses of ignorance, egotism, lack of tolerance, cultural baggage, fears and a host of other shortcomings. This paradoxically should not stop us trying. However, we ... See moreshould balk at condeming anyone elses approach. Recognise that everything we read and hear is understood though our minds and by nature is very limited. All religions are flawed by nature. But they are perhaps a necessary evil.

      These are the reasons for the 'apparent' differeces in religions. One talks of saving, the other of unity with Godhead, the other of compassion... These are all human concepts. The truth is one and is far beyond anything that we can comprehend with our minds. We can all have our own spiritual journey. There is no 'right way', there are faster and slower ways once again time is a concept of the natural world which once again is not God's.

      The Dalai Lama is dead right.

      May 27, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
    • Gene

      Good luck pushing the book. I'm sure DL won't mind you trying to piggy-back him.

      May 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • krista

      i must have read that article too quickly...how do you stamp out sin? how do you rid the world of suffering? all of the supposed "differences" he mentioned all require compassion. how can you behave in such a way as to cause someone suffering if you feel true compassion for that person? think of the 7 deadly sins..how does one engage in these sins if one holds compassion not only for others, but also for themselves? feeling the reality of others and caring about how that reality affects them is compassion and is indeed at the root of all religious teachings. if you don't have compassion, then none of the fruits of of religion will be attainable to you. the author should really think/meditate on his argument.

      May 29, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
    • Kitty

      "Jesus did not die on a cross in order to teach us to help old ladies across the street." This is not the essence of compassion. Perhaps when you learn this, you may overcome your cynicism, or at least (hopefully) not be attempting to sell a book while cutting on a man who attempts to heal the world.

      May 29, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
    • 00kt86

      He's a "religion scholar" at Boston University? I sure would hate to be one of his students, and forced to buy his book as required reading. Wow, trashing the Dalia Lama, a man of peace and compassion.
      Stephen, I bet he would help your mother cross the street, but would you help his or anyone's?
      Lets all show a little more compassion starting today.

      May 30, 2010 at 6:27 am |
    • Dan

      The author is merely attempiing to make money. That those of us who are Christian use the radical, self serving interpretation of Islam as our defintion of that religion speaks volumes about our lack of understanding about that and all religions. The Taliban is not a religion.

      Remember, in self serving fashion, Christian's have a very violent history also.

      The Dalai Lama, Ghandi, MLK, Christ, Confuscius, etc. all understood the essence of religion and the human condition. Listen learn and practice their message and we will live God's message and be closer to touching the hand of God..

      May 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
    • AK

      I dont think that Dalai Lama is so naive to not know tat there are differences in religion. He however focused on a universal principle of "compassion" that all religions preach in one way or another. Rather than focusing on the differences as the author has done, we should seek common grounds. Whether you agree with him or not, advancing inter-religion harmony through compassion and mutual understanding will make this world a better place.

      May 31, 2010 at 2:55 am |
    • Michael Fallai

      If the author does not believe that 'all paths lead to the one universal God', then somebody must have the One True Path, yes?

      Or maybe the real answer that he refuses to face is, there is no god.

      May 31, 2010 at 7:20 am |
    • geoff haberd

      This article is not about religion. Its about Mr. Prothero trying to sell his book.

      May 31, 2010 at 8:16 am |
    • Carlo

      This piece is pretty empty as far as substance goes – mainly a vocabulary lesson and a quick plug for a book. I say this, not necessarily in the Dalai Lama's defense, but in defense of TRUE spirituality – which is indeed – ALL about compassion. To say that "reality tells us all religions are different on some levels" – is not in the least bit enlightening or intellectual – as "reality tells us all HUMAN BEINGS are different on some levels." Yet to deny that nearly all (non-radicalized) religions don't have compassion at their root is beyond naivete – it's a patently false observation.

      "The History of God" – by Karen Armstrong might serve as a better read. Sorry Mr. Prothero – you're making mountains out of mole hills here... but I do hope your book does well...

      May 31, 2010 at 9:31 am |
    • runswithbeer

      Whatever religion you believe, the fundamental truth of that religion is manifest in this man. John Lennon was right.

      May 31, 2010 at 10:40 am |
    • Ira

      If we're to "put away childish things", I suggest that first of those should be religion itself. Religion is a fairy tale writ large. It's time intelligent people were willing to say that out loud.

      May 31, 2010 at 10:46 am |
    • LH

      First of 2 points: I'll be blunt. I had a very negative impression of Prothero's rant from beginning to end, starting with his put-down phrases such as the Dalai Lama "trotting out" his message. Frankly this blog entry sounded like the post of a troll.

      Second point: ...So I went and read the Lama's entire piece in the NY Times, and sure enough, just as I expected (given the tone of the blog), Prothero couldn't have misrepresented the Dalai Lama's message more completely. Contrary to the blog piece, the Dalai Lama was perfectly clear about the differences among the religions, but called for our seeking common ground so as to get along. He says compassion is common ground, a thing found in every religion. He does not say compassion is the sole major element of every religion. And anyone with a bit of sense knows no religious leader would be dumb enough to imagine each religion didn't have its own "thing" anyway. How disingenuous can this blog writer get?

      Further, if Prothero is learned in his apparent profession, surely he knows that life's greatest truths are the simplest. To call "compassion" a "shopworn cliché" displays an ignorance of the nature of life's greatest (AND simplest) truths.

      Read the Dalai Lama's piece for yourself and you'll see how it was misrepresented. It's easy to Google, using a phrase such as "Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best"

      I have no reason to defend the Dalai Lama, but shame on Prothero not only for falsely representing the Dalai Lama, but also for the disrespectful tone, via various put-down phrases. The Golden Rule is about compassion. Maybe Prothero should take it to heart.

      June 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.