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UM Seminary Lays Out The Palm Branches Hailing Buddhist Dalai Lama Modern Messiah

Guest Columnist: Christians and the Dalai Lama
By Jan Love

As dean of the Candler School of Theology, I welcome the visit of the Dalai Lama to Emory. Some Christians may question the propriety of a Methodist-related institution extending a prominent forum to the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. I have actively sought encounters with the faithful of other religions and repeatedly discovered in such experiences the wide wonders of God’s good creation as well as new dimensions of my own Christian convictions.

Nineteenth century Hindu mystic and guru, Sri Ramakrishna said, “Religion is like a cow. It kicks but it gives milk, too.” Noble acts of love and self-sacrifice are often anchored in deeply held religious worldviews. Unfortunately, so are some of the worst examples of human behavior. Historian R. Scott Appleby calls this the “ambivalence of the sacred.” All religions to varying degrees face a crucial dilemma. Does the witness of their followers demonstrate the power of the “milk,” or alternatively, the potency of the “kick?”

We live in a deeply religious nation where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others share the same neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, supermarkets, and university campuses. Across America, very different faith traditions increasingly bump into each other in small towns and big cities alike. How can we ensure that our inevitable encounters will enrich our communities, not destroy them?

Universities have a critical role to play. Through its campus-wide emphasis on Religion and the Human Spirit, Emory cultivates a religiously diverse faculty and student body and fosters a culture of inquiry about religions and their relationship to science, health, the arts, and social interaction. Those of us who center our lives in a particular faith tradition have rich opportunities to nurture and practice our beliefs with integrity. We do so, however, in a context that promotes understanding and engagement across religious differences.

Emory is neither indifferent to nor embarrassed by religion. Rather, this institution recognizes its significance and seeks to ensure its positive contribution to society. Helping diverse faith traditions cooperate rather than collide has become an urgent need in this country and across the world, but very few universities allocate significant talent, money, and facilities to pursue this high calling.

The upcoming installation of the Dalai Lama as Presidential Distinguished Professor is the latest in a series of Emory’s commitments to build bridges across religions and disciplines. Faculty and staff here have collaborated with the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives to develop and implement science education curriculum as a vital element of Tibetan schooling. Other faculty demonstrated an unequivocal correlation between the practice of compassion meditation and the reduction of depression levels in students and paved the way for the formation of Emory’s Collaborative for Contemplative Studies. These and other benefits of comprehending various religious traditions and their impact can be bountiful for the academy, the community and the world.

The Dalai Lama stands among a remarkable group of leaders who inspire not only the faithful of their own tradition but those outside it, too. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and shares this honor with Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Elie Weisel, and Shirin Ebadi. Deeply committed to drawing on the strengths of Tibetan and western civilization, the Dalai Lama will offer his unique contributions to Emory’s mission of teaching, research, and community engagement. His vision of education stresses the importance of cultivating both heart and mind.

Such a vision accords with the Wesleyan heritage of Emory University, founded in memory of Methodist minister John Emory and his commitment to “mold both character and intellect.” As one who seeks to educate faithful and creative leaders who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in a 21st century multi-religious world, I am grateful for the presence of Dalai Lama on campus. He embodies, as he has done throughout his life, calm in the face of crisis, patient endurance in the midst of agony, determination in meeting daunting challenges, and bold hope in circumstances of seeming doom. With humor and intelligence, he reminds us of the graceful gift of human possibility. For this I give thanks to God.

Dr. Jan Love is Dean of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

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