In light of the ongoing Freedom From Religion Foundationcase, I found this news item interesting.

Linda Moulin | 15.07.2009 | 16:55

Tribune de Geneve


In advance of their annual Leading Figure award to areligious figure who has done the most to advance the cause of humanism andpeace, the Geneva-based International Coalition for the Advancement ofReligious and Spirituality (ICARUS) has chosen to bestow a special award thisyear on the Buddhist Community.  “Wetypically prefer an under-the-radar approach for the organization, as we try toembody the spirit of modesty found in the greatest traditions,” said ICARUSdirector Hans Groehlichen in a phone conference Monday. “But with organizedreligion increasingly used as a tool to separate and inflame rather than bringtogether, we felt we had to take the unusual step of creating a “Best Religionin the World” award and making a bit of a stir, to inspire other religiousleaders to see what is possible when you practice compassion.”

Groehlichen said the award was voted on by an internationalroundtable of more than 200 religious leaders from every part of the spiritualspectrum.  “It was interesting to notethat once we supplied the criteria, many religious leaders voted for Buddhismrather than their own religion,” said Groehlichen.  “Buddhists actually make up a tiny minorityof our membership, so it was fascinating but quite exciting that they won.”


Criteria included factors such as promoting personal andcommunity peace, increasing compassion and a sense of connection, andencouraging preservation of the natural environment. Groehlichen continued “Thebiggest factor for us is that ICARUS was founded by spiritual and religiouspeople to bring the concepts of non-violence to prominence in society.  One of the key questions in our votingprocess was which religion actually practices non-violence.” 


When presenting the information to the voting members,ICARUS researched each of the 38 religions on the ballot extensively, offeringbackground, philosophy, and the religions role in government and warfare. JonnaHult, Director of Research for ICARUS said “It wasn’t a surprise to me thatBuddhism won Best Religion in the World, because we could find literally notone single instance of a war fought in the name of Buddhism, in contrast toevery other religion that seems to keep a gun in the closet just in case Godmakes a mistake.  We were hard pressed toeven find a Buddhist that had ever been in an army. These people practice whatthey preach to an extent we simply could not document with any other spiritualtradition.”


At least one Catholic priest spoke out on behalf ofBuddhism.  Father Ted O’Shaughnessy saidfrom Belfast, “As much as I love the Catholic Church, it has always bothered meto no end that we preach love in our scripture yet then claim to know God’swill when it comes to killing other humans. For that reason, I did have to castmy vote for the Buddhists.”   And MuslimCleric Tal Bin Wassad agreed from Pakistan via his translator. “WhileI am a devout Muslim, I can see how much anger and bloodshed is channeled intoreligious expression rather than dealt with on a personal level. The Buddhistshave that figured out.” Bin Wassad, the ICARUS voting member for Pakistan‘sMuslim community continued, “In fact, some of my best friends are Buddhist.”  And Rabbi Shmuel Wasserstein said from Jerusalem, “Of course, Ilove Judaism, and I think it’s the greatest religion in the world. But to behonest, I’ve been practicing Vipassana meditation every day before minyan(daily Jewish prayer) since 1993.  So Iget it.”


Groehlichen said that the plan was for the award to Buddhismfor “Best Religion in the World” to be given to leaders from the variouslineages in the Buddhist community. However, there was one snag. “Basically wecan’t find anyone to give it to,” said Groehlichen in a followup call lateTuesday. “All the Buddhists we call keep saying they don’t want theaward.”  Groehlichen explained thestrange behavior, saying “Basically they are all saying they are aphilosophical tradition, not a religion. But that doesn’t change the fact thatwith this award we acknowledge their philosophy of personal responsibility andpersonal transformation to be the best in the world and the most important forthe challenges facing every individual and all living beings in the comingcenturies.”


When asked why the Burmese Buddhist community refused theaward, Buddhist monk Bhante Ghurata Hanta said from Burma, “We are grateful for theacknowledgement, but we give this award to all humanity, for Buddha nature lieswithin each of us.”   Groehlichen went onto say “We’re going to keep calling around until we find a Buddhist who willaccept it. We’ll let you know when we do.”


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