Religious tolerance (adhivàsanà) is an attitude of acceptance and good-will towards other faiths. Buddhism has always been a particularly tolerant religion and this tolerance is a natural outcome of several Buddhist doctrines.
- Buddhism is free from the concept of a God who demands total and undivided loyalty.
- It has never associated disbelief in the Dhamma with evil
- It recognises that those of other faiths are as capable of kindness and virtue as Buddhists are. Buddhism has always taught that it is deeds rather than religious affiliation that determines one’s destiny after death. A virtuous Hindu, Christian or Sikh will have a good rebirth while an immoral hypocritical Buddhist will have a negative one.
- The concept of rebirth also means that Buddhists can accept that while some may not understand the Dhamma in this life, they may have the opportunity to do so in the next life or the one after that.
Thus the imperative to convert others is absent in Buddhism, as is anger towards those who fail to convert. Buddhism emphasizes that negative mental states are unacceptable no matter what and thus to be angry or jealous towards those of other faiths is still just anger and jealousy. In 256 BCE King Ashoka was expressing a genuinely Buddhist sentiment when he wrote; ‘I desire that there be growth in the essentials of all religions. This can be done in several ways, but all of them have their root in restrained speech; in not praising one’s own religion and condemning the religion of others, without good cause. And even if criticism is justified it should be done in a mild way. Whoever praises his own religion due to excessive devotion and condemns other religions only harms his own religion. Therefore contact between religions is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. I desire that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.’ Like many ancient Buddhist sayings this one has a remarkably modern ring to it.
The Buddha taught that anyone from any religion can get to one of the heavenly realms. This is shown in several places in the suttas, including:
“Another person has practiced the making of merit by giving as well as by moral discipline to a high degree; but he has not undertaken the making of merit by meditation. With the breakup of the body, after death, he will be reborn among humans in a favorable condition. Or he will be reborn in the company of the devas of the Four Great Kings.” Anguttara Nikaya 4.241-243
The Buddha praised any religion as being on a par with the Dhamma if it contained The Noble Eightfold Middle Path. So in other words, it could be called something else but as long as the core teachings of The Four Noble Truths and Path are there, it is a place to find a true religion.
"Wherever, Subhadda, the Noble Eightfold Path is not found in a Teaching and Discipline there a true ascetic is not found, there a second true ascetic is not found, there a third true ascetic is not found, there a fourth true ascetic is not found.
But wherever, Subhadda, the Noble Eightfold Path is found in a Teaching and Discipline there a true ascetic is found, there a second true ascetic is found, there a third true ascetic is found, there a fourth true ascetic is found." (Digha Nikaya 16)