Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jet Li's views on religion

"Is there a religion that is superior morally and spiritually with respect to all others? I strongly believe the answer is no. Sure, religions differ from one another in their outward trappings, in the Gods their followers worship, in the customs and rituals which their practitioners observe. But upon closer inspection, the underlying heart and central principle in every religion is the same. Every religion boils down to love, to a respect for all living things, to choosing peace over violence as a means of resolving a conflict. The essence is universal; it is only the means to the end that varies.

"If intrinsically all religions preach the same thing, then why all the different world religions and their numerous offshoots? The explanation, I believe, lies in the fact that people across the world live under very different circumstances. Depending on the cultural, historical, and geographical background of the individual, some religions are easier to understand and practice than others. An individual may opt to follow a certain religion because it falls in place with the way he or she interacts with society at large. Perhaps the religion helps foster and protect the pre-established living patterns along which the individual is used to following. Or maybe the religion helps the individual confront a longstanding fear or personal weakness.

"I like to explain the technical side of the proliferation of such a wide variety of religions through the concept of Bagua, a Chinese form of mathematics. As I've already pointed out, the common denominator of all religions is the concept of love and forgiveness. A tree trunk grows branches; in the same way, the major world religions (such as Buddhism and Christianity) spring from the root source of love. From these major world religions other smaller sects and subdivisions arise, like twigs from a bough. Populations in different regions throughout the world put a differentiating mark on what is otherwise the same religion and make them into unique ones, out of cultural, moral, or sometimes even political reasons. For instance, the Buddhist sects found in India differ from those, say, in China. And from those sub-religions arise another smaller and more specialized set of other sub-religions. It's an infinite process of divisions and offshoots. But if you reverse the process of proliferation and retrace the paths of all these religious sects, you find that they all boil down to one common root - love.

"Another analogy to religion I always like to draw is that of school. In every school, you have different departments that teach different subjects, such as mathematics, English, history, and science. Within each of these departments, you have another set of divisions. For science, there are the divisions of physics, biology, chemistry, and so forth. And within each of these divisions lie another set of subdivisions, and so forth. Different subjects with different areas of specialization - but the purpose is the same - education.

"Why then, one might ask, are there religions that preach evil deeds? Why has religion, in numerous historical instances, been used to promote and justify the acts of terrorism, political propaganda, cult suicides, and so forth? Here, I think it is crucial to draw a distinction between the religion itself and the way with which an individual or group of people may choose to interpret or use such a religion. Sometimes, for political motivations or for a personal agenda, a group of people in power may choose to distort a particular religion to serve their own self-interest. In that case, the essence of the religion - love- is no longer pure and has been warped by a negative outside factor. In the continual proliferation and outgrowth of so many different religions, it is inevitable that distorting factors such as self-interest are introduced and divorce the resulting new "religion" from its original intent.

"Hence, it is important to remember that religion, per se, is a good thing. When one practices a religion, one should be aware of what it is ultimately about and not be misled into blind practice of its specific tenets. I always believe it is important to develop such an awareness. Rote memorization and recitation of a religion's principles and ideas, and perfunctory performance of its rituals mean little if one doesn't live it. Only through a lifestyle of generosity, kindness, and love, and a positive contribution to humankind can one consider oneself a true practitioner of any religion."

Jet Li

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