Some of the statements of the Dalai Lama against conversions and the work of the missionaries are causing confusion and opposition among many Christians.
In an attempt to condemn
bad proselytism, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism said he was
against conversions and changing from one religion to another.
way, his position is likely to be seen as support for the policies of
the radical Hindu groups and the anti-conversion laws that exist in some
Card. Oswald Gracias, who personally knows the Dalai
Lama, comments to AsiaNews that the freedom to change religion is a
fundamental human right and can not be obscured for any convenience.
23 January, the Dalai Lama visited the St Xavier's College in Mumbai,
at the invitation of the Dean, Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas. Before students
and professors, he gave a speech on "Ethics: educating the heart and
During his speech, he touched on the issue of conversions.
"I do not like conversions," he said, because they have a negative
impact [on society]. "The two parties, that of the converted and the
community abandoned by him, begin to fight."
As an example of the
negative influence produced by conversions, he cited the violence
against the Australian missionary Graham Staines, burnt alive in his car
with his two sons, and the violence and destruction still ongoing in
Orissa and Karnataka. The Dalai Lama has, however, reiterated that
religious freedom - the freedom to practice ones faith - should be
guaranteed to all.
This is not the first time that the Dalai Lama
has spoken against conversions. Last November, at Christ University in
Bangalore, he repeated a similar concept: on the one hand, he spoke of
religious freedom and on the other of the need to avoid conversions: ""
Any religion - he said - should be limited to service-oriented
interventions, such as providing people education and health care, not
indulging in conversions. "
It is likely that the Buddhist leader
just want to warn against a proselytism that manipulates people,
promises economic benefits, or leads people to change their religion
through threats. But, according to many Catholics in Mumbai, his
statments are similar to those of Hindu extremists who, behind the
specter of proselytizing, condemn all conversions. Already in several
states of India, there are anti-conversion laws that require state
verification. But these laws have in fact become a way to curb
conversions (usually from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam, the reverse
is not a problem).
These Catholics are saddened that the Dalai
Lama has cited as an example of "proselytism" the case of the missionary
Graham Staines. It should be noted that the meeting with the Buddhist
leader happened on the 14th anniversary of the murder of the Australian
missionary, which took place in Manoharpur (Orissa).
Fernandez, SJ, dean of econiomics at the College, expressed his doubts:
"If he meant to say that the murder of Graham Staines is the result of
conversions [proselytizing], it would be too simplistic. Judge Wadhwa
who led the committee, appointed by the then Minister LK Advani to
investigate the killing of Staines, clearly showed that the missionary
was not involved in any proselytizing. "
Last December, Fr.
Fernandez preached a retreat for priests in Kandhamal, Orissa. "Having
seen first hand the things in Orissa - he tells AsiaNews - I
can say that conversions are only rarely the cause of violence and
chaos. The real reasons lie in the fact that the Dalits and other poor
social classes are educated to fight for their rights and their freedom
from all forms of oppression. This has repercussions on those who want
them to remain as they are, the bottom rung of the social economic and
religious ladder,. "
Even Card. Oswald Gracias, president of the
Catholic Bishops, has spoken on the issue, noting that "the Christian
point of view we can not but proclaim the Good News" and thus do
"I met the Dalai Lama on several occasions - he tells
AsiaNews - and I think he is a sincere person. Perhaps, the Dalai means
to say, do not rock the boat, do not create problems for yourselves and
for others, but this implies compromising on a very sacred principle and
Absolutely, we cannot compromise on a very sacred principle, and we
certainly cannot compromise for the sake of convenience"
Constitution - he adds - guarantees every Indian religious freedom, the
right to preach, practice and propagate their religion and the right to
"From the international point of view, religious
freedom is a basic human right and it implies the right to decide how
people want to express their faith."
"While I have no doubts
about the sincerity of the Dalai Lama .this is something we cannot
accept, We differ on this point and it is my concern We differ on this
point, we just cannot accept and we cannot compromise on principles for
the sake of convenience" .