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Buddhadharma : Winter 2010
13 winter 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly a sheikh in my Guru tree Twenty-two-year-old monk Freeman Trebilcock (Thubten Gyaltsen) explains why he’s committed to learning from other faiths. A few years ago I visited Chicago to speak at an interfaith youth gathering. Of the 500 participants, there were only a hand- ful of Buddhists. I was pretty easy to spot in bright maroon and yellow. The final evening program was a talk by a respected Muslim scholar, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what followed was one of the most profound and eye-opening experi- ences of my life. Yusuf spoke about compas- sion, the nature of mind, and emptiness. He used the language of Islam to communicate a message that resonated with my own under- standing of Buddhism. I turned to my friend Anna and we shared a look, as if to say “Are you hearing this? He sounds like a Buddhist!” But deeper than his words, it was the feeling that hit me most powerfully. He had a pow- erful presence, and listening to him was like receiving a teaching from a high lama. Three years on, I find myself working with Muslims, Christians, and Hindus every day. Creating greater understanding and harmony between faiths is something that His Holiness the Dalai Lama strives tirelessly for. I feel a strong commitment to do my part in carrying forward this vision. Our teacher at Chenrezig Institute, Geshe Lobsang Jamyang, puts it quite beautifully. He says that the world’s religions are like the different items on the menu at a restaurant. Naturally we choose something off the menu that’s going to be tasty and nutritious for us. But at the moment, with the current con- flicts over religion, it is as if we are all sitting around arguing about which is the best thing on the menu and not getting to taste anything. How ridiculous. It’s possible for people of dif- ferent religions to share the same table, eat different dishes, and come away feeling mutu- ally nourished by the experience. If there is a future for Buddhism, it doesn’t lie in narrow sectarianism. Buddha said that all vehicles based upon dharma are valid— and that includes those vehicles taught by Jesus or Mohammed, or Zoroaster for that matter. This doesn’t mean we have to go all new-agey and lose the plot. It just means opening up a bit. The kind of openness that allows me to look you in the face and tell you, “I’m a Tibetan Buddhist and I have a Muslim Sheikh in my guru tree.” From Mandala, october–December 2010 first thouGhts illustrations by kim scafuro