“When Philosophy meets Religion”

Azly Rahman

Azly Rahman

An Invitation to a Virtual Interfaith Dialogue

Humanity cannot live by bread or rice alone – it needs transcultural philosophy as a foundation of morality.

The philosophical dimension of religion can be more powerful than its institutional and ritual. It should be through the philosophy of religion that one can explore the essence of the dialogue between what Hassidic philosopher Martin Buber calls, the “Thou and the I”, the Ultimate Self and the Ultimate Reality, or between Man and Creator. This is what is meant by the transcultural nature of mystical discourse. Those familiar with Buber’s philosophy will agree that the idea of the dialogical “I-Thou” contains a profound statement of Man’s ontological vocation, a transcultural-philosophical view can best be an avenue which can appeal to educational philosophers intending to explore universality in mystical thoughts.

For societies struggling to understand the potentials of an interfaith dialogue, this idea can be a good starting point for a powerful discourse.


Let me illustrate some of the salient mystical ideas that correspond Buber’s ‘relational philosophy’; namely those from the Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, and Islamic traditions. The transcultural dimension of I-Thou relation in the variety of religious experience points out to the Ultimate Reality and the illumination to self of which when this stage of enlightenment is achieved the “goodness” in Man is drawn out, Humanity reaches its moral epitome and the I-it world is imbued with the presence and vision of Thou-ness.

In Christianity, it is the Jesus of Love and the love of Jesus, which runs through the idea of the setting of the precondition of the I’s “meeting” with Thou. Humanity yearns for self-illumination and for the discovery of the inner beauty of self-government. St Francis Assisi’s parable of the seeker of God and poor man of a church (the Master of his own kingdom) illustrates this point:

“The Master asked… :

Whence are you come? From God Where did you find God?’ When I forsook all creatures When have you left God? In pure hearts and in sea of good will. The Master asked: What sort of man are you? I am a king. Where is your kingdom? My soul is my kingdom, so I can so rule my senses inwards and outward, that all the desires and powers of my soul are in subjection, and this kingdom is greater than a kingdom on earth. What has brought you to this perfection? My silence, my high thoughts, and my union with God. For I could rest in anything less than God. Now I have found and in God have eternal rest and peace.” (Underhill, pp 209-210)

In Buddhism, the Self acknowledges the Thou-ness of his/her existence through meditation and the following of the noble path in order for one to attain Nibbana. The I-it world can only reach salvation and prepare the meeting of the Thou through the Noble Eight-fold Path that leads to the cessation of suffering (Radhakrishnan & Moore, 1967) which among them call upon Man to:

“know suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path that leads to the cessation of suffering; … to renounce the world and to do no hurt or harm; … to abstain from lies and slander, from reviling, and from tattle; … to abstain from taking life, from stealing, and from lechery; … (p 277)”

It is when these are taken to be a part of one’s commitment to self-purification that the I-it world may be elevated to a higher level of consciousness. In the Hindu cultural philosophy, the I-Thou meeting can be preconditioned by Man’s submission to the Law of Manu, a code of conduct written as metrical sutras of dealing with the religious, legal, customary, and political aspects of the Hindu philosophy .

The purpose of life as conceived by the Hindus is to arrive at the fullest realisation of his/her existence through dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), kama (enjoyment) and moksha (spiritual freedom) (Radhakrishnan & Moore, p 172)

Man is to live anthromophically with Nature in a world wherein beings and non-beings have their significant in the cosmic and metaphysical order of creation. It is when the world is looked upon as an “It” – to be dominated – and peoples to be utilised that this order is violated and Mother Earth is raped and the cycle of destruction begins. In the Taoist tradition, the character of Lao Tze, controversial to many a Confucionist of his philosophy of Nature, is an epitome of the “Thou-ness” in thought.

In Lao Tze, Nature is not to be tampered with at all, illustrative in his symbolic metaphor of the uncarved stone of which creativity of Man would carve into representations. If there should be a great grandfather of ecophilosophy, Lao Tze would be one. In one of the most foundational dialogues in the Taoist philosophical thoughts, in which Kung Fu Tze (Confucius) is said to visit Lao Tze to consult him in matters of propriety: Lao Tzu said:

“Those of whom you talked about are dead and their bones are decayed. Only their words have remained. When the time is proper, the superior man rides in a carriage, but when it is not, he covers himself up and staggers away. I have heard that a good merchant stores away his treasures as if his store were empty and that a superior man with eminent virtues appear as if he were stupid. Get rid of your air of pride and many desires, your insinuating manners and lustful wishes. None of these is good for you. That is all I have to tell you. (translation, Chan, 196, p 36)