The Buddhist Inter-traditions
Consensus on Commitment and Practice
This document attempts to educate followers of
Buddhism with a concise accurate statement of the
basic teachings of Buddhism as discussed and
agreed upon at the "Buddhism Across Cultures"
Conference held on March 15 1997 in Los Angeles.
Buddhism is based upon the inseparable triad of
the Buddha the Dharma and the Sangha. Its
long standing success can be attributed to the preservation
of the Triple Gem. Maintaining the purity and
integrity of the Dharma has been the sacred duty of
the Sangha since the Buddha's time. To that end
the Sangha has gathered periodically in conferences
called Sangayana to compare different versions of
Buddhist texts and to correct any writings that had
drifted from the original teachings. The last
Sangayana was held in Burma forty years ago.
Although the expression of Buddhist practice may
change depending upon environment it has always
been the priority that the Dharma itself not be
modified by anyone's whim or fancy or for the
convenience of its followers. Once again the Bhikkhu
Sangha of present day United States discharged
their sacred duty of preserving the true traditional
Ven. Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara
Consensus on Commitment and Practice
Buddhism has had a proud history of over 2500 years, marked by the
unique fact that no blood has ever been shed in its name. It fostered a
culture whose benign influence helped to mold diverse civilizations of an
entire continent and, as a formidable spiritual force, has spread to every
part of the world. The peaceful expansion of Buddhism has been
attributed to the intrinsic qualities of compassion, wisdom, non-violence, loving
kindness and equanimity which pervade the teachings of the Buddha.
These same gentle qualities are reflected in the explanations and
interpretations of the Buddha's teachings by scholars, philosophers and
While the core of the Buddha's teachings has been preserved with the
highest fidelity, Buddhism, as it spread to different parts of the Asian
continent, mingled with the religious and philosophical thought and practice
of the host communities so as to provide the people an unparalleled
spiritual experience. Thus arose a number of traditions which in turn became
specific to various schools and nikayas. In addition, the geographical,
linguistic and cultural isolation of these nikayas and schools over many
centuries has resulted in the development of rites and ritual, custom and
observances whose diversity masks the unity in doctrines, ethical
principles, path of spiritual training and the all-pervading attention given to
mindfulness and mental culture. The dogma-free flexibility and openness
is shared as the hallmark of Buddhism in every culture.
The commonality of commitment and practice of the diverse traditions of
Buddhism is reflected most directly in the monastic life of the monks and
nuns and the rules of discipline to which they submit. Each tracing its
origin and authenticity to the days of the Buddha Sakyamuni, these
representatives of the Sangha have preserved the teachings and practices
of Buddhism against many odds across the centuries. Yet, with dedication,
the Sangha served its self-assumed role as the custodians of the
teachings of the Buddha and found solutions to each problem they
encountered. The Sangha has been in the forefront, guiding and educating
the people, maintaining and building the requisite infrastructure, holding
high the torch of learning, advancing and disseminating knowledge, and
sustaining a mutually advantageous relationship with the laity.
Equally strong as a unifying factor is the creativity which the Buddhists
share as a common civilization and culture. Exemplified by remarkably
superior works of art in paintings, sculpture and architecture, poetry, song
and music, dance, drama and narrative literature, as well as by customs
and etiquette, beliefs and values, ceremonies and festivals, this culture is
being recognized as an exceptional heritage of not only Buddhists, but
also of humanity as a whole.
It is in recognition of the unity in diversity of Buddhism as a world religion
that we, the Sangha in the United States of America, undertake jointly to
review the historical steps taken toward the evolution of global
consensus on Buddhist commitment, practice and purpose, for adoption in
due course by the Buddhist communities of the world, a set of principles
which would reflect our common stand and mission.
Col. Henry Steele Olcott of the United States of America -1891
It was in 1891 that the first known effort to develop a common platform on
which all Buddhists could agree was presented for international
consideration by an American Civil War veteran, Col. Henry Steele Olcott
Accepting Buddhism as his personal religion in Sri Lanka, Olcott devoted
his life to the cause of promoting Buddhism. His Buddhist Catechism was
translated into several foreign languages and served as one of the
earliest popular introductions to the teachings of the Buddha. His fourteen
point Common Platform Upon Which All Buddhists Can Agree was
approved by representatives from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Japan and
Chittagong in January 1891, at Adyar, India. His fourteen points were as
1) Buddhists are taught to show the same tolerance, forbearance, and
brotherly love to all men (people, ed.), without distinction and an
unswerving kindness to the members of the animal kingdom.
2) The universe was evolved, not created; and it functions according to
law, not according to the caprice of any god.
3) The truths upon which Buddhism is founded are natural. They have,
we believe, been taught in successive kalpas, or world periods, by
certain illuminated beings called Buddhas, the word Buddha meaning
4) The fourth Teacher in the present kalpa (aeon) was Sakyamuni or
Gautama Buddha, who was born in a royal family of India about 2,500
years ago. He is an historical personage and his name was Siddhartha
5) Sakyamuni taught that ignorance produces desire (craving>;
unsatisfied desire is the cause of rebirth, and rebirth the cause of sorrow.
To get rid of sorrow, therefore, it is necessary to escape rebirth; to
escape rebirth, it is necessary to extinguish desire; and to extinguish desire,
it is necessary to destroy ignorance.
6) Ignorance fosters the belief that rebirth is a necessary thing. When
ignorance is destroyed, the worthlessness of every such rebirth,
considered as an end in itself, is perceived, as well as the paramount need
of adopting a course of life by which the necessity for such repeated
rebirth can be abolished. Ignorance also begets the illusive and illogical
idea that there is only one existence for man (humankind), and the other
illusion that this one life is followed by states of unchangeable pleasure
7) The dispersion of all this ignorance can be attained by the
persevering practice of an all-embracing altruism in conduct, development of
intelligence, wisdom in thought, and destruction of desire for the lower
8) The desire to live being the cause of rebirth, when that is
extinguished, rebirths cease, and the perfected individual attains by
meditation that highest state of peace called Nirvana.
9) Sakyamuni taught that ignorance can be dispelled and sorrow re-
moved by the knowledge of the four Noble Truths, i.e.:
1 ) the miseries of existence
2) the cause productive of misery, which is the desire (craving, ed.),
ever renewed, of satisfying oneself, without ever being able to
secure that end
3) the destruction of that desire or the estranging of oneself from it
4) The means of obtaining this destruction of desire. The means which
he pointed out is called the Noble Eightfold Path: i.e.: Right Belief,
Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Means of Livelihood,
Right Exertion, Right Remembrance, Right Meditation.
10) Right meditation leads to spiritual enlightenment, or the development
of that Buddha like faculty which is latent in every man (person, ed.).
11) The essence of Buddhism, as summed up by the Tathagata
(Buddha) himself, is
"to cease from all sin,
to get all virtue,
to purify the heart"
12) The universe is subject to a natural causation known as karma. The
merits and demerits of a being in past experiences determine his
condition in the present one. Each man (person, ed.), therefore, has prepared
the causes of the effects which he now experiences.
13) The obstacles to the attainment of good karma may be removed by I
the observance of the following precepts, which are embraced in the
moral code of Buddhism: i.e.: (1) kill not; (2) steal not; (3) indulge in no
forbidden sexual pleasure; (4) lie not (5) take no intoxicating or stupefying
drug or liquor. Five other precepts which need not here be enumerated
should be observed by bhikkhus and all those who would attain, more
quickly than the average layman, the release from misery and rebirth.
14) Buddhism discourages superstitious credulity. Gautama Buddha
taught it to be the duty of a parent to have his child educated in science
and literature. He also taught that no one should believe what is spoken
by any sage, written in any book, or affirmed by tradition, unless it ac-
cords with reason.
Christmas Humphries of Britain -1945
A distinguished lawyer and a judge of the Supreme Court, Christmas
Humphries adopted Buddhism as a way of life at the age of eighteen and
founded in 1926 the Buddhist Society, London. In 1945 he drafted the
following Twelve principles of Buddhism for which he obtained the approval
of all the Buddhist sects in Japan (including the Shin Sect which was not
associated with Olcott's Common Platform) of the Supreme Patriarch of
Thailand and leading Buddhists of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China and Tibet.
1) "Self-salvation is for any man (person, ed.) the immediate task. If a
man lay wounded by a poisoned arrow he would not delay extraction by
demanding details of the man who shot it, or the length and make of the
arrow. There will be time for ever-increasing understanding of the Teaching
during treading of the Way. Meanwhile, begin now by facing life as it
is, learning always by direct and personal experience.
2) The first fact of existence is the law of change or impermanence. All
that exists, from a mole to a mountain, from a thought to an empire,
passes through the same cycle of existence-i.e. birth, growth, decay and
death. Life alone is continuous, ever seeking self-expression in new
forms. "Life is a bridge; therefore build no house on it". Life is a process
of flow, and he who clings to any form, however splendid, will suffer by
resisting the flow.
3) The law of change applies equally to the soul. There is no principle in
an individual which is immortal and unchanging. Only the 'Namelessness',
the ultimate Reality is, beyond change, and all forms of life, including man,
are manifestations of this Reality. No one owns the life which flows in him
any more than the electric light bulb owns the current which gives it light.
4) The universe is the expression of law. All effects have causes and
mans character is the sum total of his previous thoughts and acts
Karma, meaning action-reaction, governs all existence, and man
(humankind, ed.) is the sole creator of his circumstances and his reaction to
them, his future condition, and his final destiny. By right thought and
action he can gradually purify his inner nature and so by self-realization
attain in time liberation from rebirth. The process covers great periods of
time, involving life after life on earth, but ultimately every form of life will
reach Enlightenment .
5) Life is one and indivisible, though its ever changing forms are
innumerable and perishable. There is, in truth, no death, though every
form must die. From an understanding of life's unity arises compassion, a
sense of identity with life in other forms. Compassion is described as
"the law of laws-eternal harmony", and he who breaks this harmony of life
will suffer accordingly and delay his own Enlightenment.
6) Life being One, the interests of the part should be those of the whole
In his ignorance man (humankind, ed.) thinks he can successfully strive
for his own interests, and this wrongly directed energy of selfishness
produces suffering. He learns from his suffering to reduce and finally elimenation
of suffering (unsatisfactoriness, ed.); (b) its cause, wrongly directed
desire (craving, ed.); (c) its cure, the removal of the causes; and (d) the
Noble Eightfold Path of self-development which leads to the end of
7) The Eightfold Path consists in Right (or Perfect) Views or preliminary
understanding. Right Aims or Motive, Right Speech, Right Acts, Right
livelihood, Right Effort, Right Concentration or mind-development, and,
finally, Right Samadhi, leading to full Enlightenment. As Buddhism is a
way of living, not merely a theory of life, the treading of this Path is
essential to self deliverance. "Cease to do evil, learn to do good, cleanse
your own heart (mind, ed.); this is the Teaching of the Buddhas."
8) Reality is indescribable, and a God with attributes is not the final
Reality. But the Buddha, a human being, became the All-Enlightened One,
and the purpose of life is the attainment of Enlightenment. This state of
Consciousness, Nirvana, the extinction of the limitations of selfhood, is
attainable on earth. All men (humankind, ed.) and all other forms of life
contain the potentiality of Enlightenment, and the process therefore
consists in becoming What you are. "Look within; thou art Buddha."
9) From potential to actual enlightenment there lies the Middle Way, the
Eightfold Path leads from desire to peace," a process of self-development
between the "opposites", avoiding all extremes. The Buddha trod this Way
to the end, and the only faith required in Buddhism is the reasonable
belief that where a Guide has trodden it is worth our while to tread. The Way
must be trodden by the whole man (person, ed.), not merely the best of
him, and heart and mind must be developed equally. The Buddha was the
All-Compassionate as well as the Ail-Enlightened One.
10) Buddhism lays great stress on the need of inward concentration and
meditation, which leads in time to the development of the inner spiritual
faculties. The subjective life is as important as the daily round, and
periods of quietude for inner activity are essential for a balanced life. The
Buddhist should at all times be mindful and self possessed, refraining
from mental and emotional attachment to the passing show". This
increasingly singly watchful attitude to circumstances, which he knows to
be his own creation, helps him to keep his reaction to it always under
11 ) The Buddha said, "Work out your own salvation with diligence".
Buddhism knows no authority for truth save the intuition of the individual, and
that is authority for himself alone. Each man (human, ed.) suffers the
consequences of his own acts, and learns thereby, while helping his
fellow men to the same deliverance; nor will prayer to the Buddha or to any
God prevent an effect from following its cause. Buddhist monks are
teachers and exemplars, and in no sense intermediates between reality
and the individual. The utmost tolerance is practiced towards all other
religions and philosophies, for no man has the right to interfere in his
neighbor's journey to the Goal.
The existence of God or soul, though it places its own meaning on these
terms (Buddhism does not believe in a creator god or soul, ed.) it is, on
the contrary, a system of thought, a religion, a spiritual science and a
way of life, which is reasonable, practical and all-embracing. For over two
thousand years it has satisfied the spiritual needs of nearly one-third of
mankind. It appeals to the West because it has no dogmas, satisfies the
reason and the heart alike, insists on self-reliance coupled with tolerance
for other's points of view, embraces science, religion, philosophy,
psychology, ethics and art, and points to man alone as the creator of his
present life and sole designer of his destiny.
World Fellowship of Buddhists in Sri Lanka -1950
Under the initiative of Professor Gunapala Malasekera, the World
Fellowship of Buddhists, at its inaugural session in Sri Lanka, devoted its
attention to external symbols of solidarity among the Buddhist traditions and
arrived at the following decisions:
1) Acceptance of the six-coloured Buddhist flag and Asoka Dharmacakra
Wheel of the Dharma) as the international Buddhist symbols,
2) the observance of the Five Precepts and utterance of "sadhu" at
3) the World-Wide observance of a common date for the birth of the
4) the declaration of the birthday of the Buddha as a Public Holiday in all
countries where Buddhist communities are found.
Ann Arbor Conference on World Buddhism, in North America -1987
The conference on World Buddhism in North America held at the Ann
Arbor Zen Center in July 1987 adopted the following statement of
consensus which was drafted by a panel comprising, Ven. Havanpola
Ratanasara, Ven. U Silananda, Ven. Samu Sunim, Bishop D. Nakamura and
Prot Luis Gomez, with Ven. Mahaghosananda, \/en. Vivekananda and
Bishop S. Yamaoka as consultants. The Consensus statement should be
read as follows:
A. Spirit of the Conference
We see this Conference as the first of a series of meetings to affirm
common heritage in the teachings of Sakyamuni. These meetings declare and
confirm our debt of gratitude to the tradition and seek, in a spirit of
1. to create the conditions necessary for tolerance and understanding
among Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike
2. to initiate a dialogue among Buddhists in North America in order to
future mutual understanding, growth in understanding, and cooperation
3. to increase our sense of community by recognizing and understanding
our differences as well as our common beliefs and practices
4. to cultivate thoughts and actions of friendliness towards others, whether
they accept our beliefs or not, and in doing so approach the world
the proper field of Dharma, not as a sphere of conduct irreconcilable with
the practice of Dharma .
B. Common Reflections:
Recognizing that there are points of doctrine or practice on which we
have yet to reach an agreement and others on which we may never reach
an agreement, we discussed the ideals we cherish and wish to further in
our practice and understanding of Dharma. In the spirit of the conference I
we offer the reflections of the Panel and of a special session of the
conference as an example of the process of dialogue that we wish to
encourage in future meetings. The panel, considering suggestions from
conference participants, outlined a common ground for dialogue in a partial list
of ideals acceptable to a wide spectrum of Buddhists as common, if not
exhaustive, expression of their aspirations.
1. We recognize Sakyamuni Gautama Buddha as the historical source for
the transmission of Dharma in this age. We therefore regard him with
reverence and gratitude. We accept the benefits of his enlightenment and
infinite compassion, as well as the enlightenment and compassion of
numberless Buddhas of the past, present and future.
2. We express our respect for Sakyamuni Gautama Buddha's teaching
by taking refuge in the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
3. Among his teachings we accept the centrality of our aspiration for the
fruits of enlightenment and liberation from suffering, for self and others, in
a spirit of compassion towards all beings.
4. We hold as central to the spirit and goals of Buddhism the Four Truths
taught by Sakyamuni: suffering, its cause, its, cessation and the Noble
Eightfold Path that leads to the end of suffering.
5. We share a commitment to make every effort to conform to the ethical
ideals of Buddhism, which we summarize in the Tenfold Right Conduct:
not to take life, not to take what has not been given to us, not to practice
sexual misconduct, not to lie, not to use harsh speech, not to engage in
idle talk, not to slander, not to hold thoughts of covetousness, not to keep
anger and resentment, not to keep and foster deluded thoughts. But
above all, we strive to practice the positive implications of these ten
precepts: compassionate caring, generosity, contentment, truthfulness,
kindly speech, meaningful speech, harmonious speech, generous thoughts,
compassionate thoughts, clear thoughts.
6. We recognize that there are many aspects to the Path and many doors
to the City of Liberation. As followers of the Path we must examine our
own path in light of the principles of clear, selfless awareness, and
selfless love. In accordance with the principle of compassion, we believe in
the necessity for tolerance and accept the possibility of a variety of valid I
or effective paths. In accordance with the ideal of the enlightened mind,
we realize that conventional expressions of truth are manifold. Therefore,
we are open to the discussion and recognition of differences in
interpretation and practice in the Dharma.
7. We understand that compassion also entails tolerance outside the fold
of our own religious and secular communities. We reject in particular the
practice, and even the hope, of imposing religious beliefs by coercion of
any kind, by manipulation or force.
In the spirit of the above statements we affirm our desire to persevere in
our effort to appreciate our differences and recognize our agreements.
We therefore pledge ourselves to continue to discuss the issues that
concern us and hold us together, and to that purpose reaffirm our intention
to organize similar meetings on a regular basis and in a variety of locations.
Members of the Panel drafting the Statement were Conference
Coordinator Prof. Luis 0. Gomoz and Co-Chairmen Bishop D. Nakamura,
Ven. H. Ratanasara, Ven. U Silananda, and Ven. Samu Sunim.
Consultants were Conference Co-Chairmen Ven. Maha Ghosananda, Ven.
Vivekananda, and Bishop S. Yamaoka. The tentative statement was the
brought before the entire body for comments and suggestions. The final
draft of the Statement was accepted by a vote of consensus.
Buddhist Sangha Council Convention on Buddhism Across Cultures, 1997
The one-day convention on Buddhism Across Cultures, convened by the
Buddhist Sangha Council and the American Buddhist Congress, with the
active support of Ven. Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara, Ven. Yin Hai Shih,
Ven. Geshe Gyeltsen, Ven. U Nyanavara, Ven. Dr. Yifa, Rev. Bishop
Noriaki Ito, Ven. Do Ahn Kim, Ven. Walpola Piyananda, Ven. Sumanatissa
Barua, Ven. Dr. Karuna Dharma, Ven. Thich Vien-Ly, Rev. Tenzin Khacho,
and Dr. Ananda W.P. Guruge, at the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights
on March 15, 1997, expressed its agreement in principle with the
fourteen point Common Piatform of Col. Henry Steele Olcott, the twelve
principles of Christmas Humphries and the statement from the Ann Arbor
Conference, entrusted a discussion group to prepare the substantive
contents of a comprehensive statement to reflect the needs and challenges
of modem times. We agree in principle with the major points drafted by
both Col. Olcott and Mr. Humphries, and especially with the paper of the
Ann Arbor conference.
1. We recognize Sakyamuni Gautama Buddha as the historical source for
the transmission of Buddha Dharma of our time and venerate him for his
compassionate service to humanity
2. We recognize the multiplicity of the Buddhas of the past, the present
and the future, as well as Pacceka (pratyeka) Buddhas, Arahants and
3. We take refuge in the Triple Gem consisting of the Buddha, his
teachings (the Dharma) and the community of monks, nuns, and ministers (the
4. We aspire to the fruits of enlightenment and liberation from dukkha
(suffering) for ourselves and others in a spirit of compassion to all beings.
5) We hold, as central to the spirit and goals of Buddhism:
a. The Four Noble Truths: Suffering (dukkha), cause of suffering
(samudaya), cessation of suffering (nirodha) and the Path to the cessation of
suffering (dukkhanirodhagaminipatipada) Buddhism is neither pessimistic
nor "escapist", nor does it deny the existence of God or soul, though it
places its own meaning on these.
b. The three signata: impermanence (anicca or anitya); suffering or
unsatisfactoriness (dukkha or duhkha); and non-self or insubstantiality
(anatta or anatman)
c. The Noble Eightfold Path (Arlya Atthangika Magga) consisting of
right thought, right motive, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right
effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
d. Twelve Links of Dependent Origination (Paticcasamuppada or
e. The three stages of Buddhist Development: ethical conduct (sila or
sila), one-pointed mental concentration (samadhi), and wisdom (panna or
f. the four sublime or immeasurable states: loving kindness (metta or
maitri), compassion (karuna, sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity
(upekha or upeksa)
6. We accept our moral responsibility for the results of what we think,
say or do, and subscribe to the principles of karma and its outcome
7. We share a commitment to make every effort to conform to the ethical
ideals of Buddhism of avoiding all unwholesome action, doing
wholesome actions and keeping the mind pure by:
a. abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, harsh speech,
idle talk, slander, stupefying intoxicants, covetousness, anger and malice
and deluded thoughts
b. practicing caring with loving kindness, generosity, contentment,
truthfulness, kind speech, meaningful talk, harmonious speech,
temperance, and generous, compassionate and clear thoughts
c. and eradicating the root causes of unskillful action: greed (lobha),
hatred (dosa or dvesa), and delusion (moha).
8. We recognize the potentiality of every being to attain enlightenment
from the cycle of birth and death (samsara) in Nibbana (Nirvana) and we
accept the validity and effectiveness of different paths leading to final
9. We realize that the conventional expressions of truth and reality
are manifold and, in light of Sakyamuni Buddha~s own guidelines for an
open-minded and tolerant quest for the ultimate truth, recognize the
importance of deferring to inter-traditional differences and practice of the
10. We uphold our commitment to tolerance, compassion and mutual
understanding within and among our diverse traditions, as well as between
us and the religious and secular communities outside our traditions and,
in order to foster a collective effort towards global, harmonious spiritual
a. to study and appreciate one another's teachings, religious and
social practices and cultural heritage;
b. to avoid imposing our beliefs through coercion, manipulation or force
c. to utilize every opportunity for dialogue and cooperation.
Venerable Havanpola Ratanasara Nayake Thero,
President of the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California
Executive President of the American Buddhist Congress
June 7, 1997
Venerable Havanpola Ratanasara, Ph. D.
Venerable Karuna Dharma, D. Dh.
Rev. Henry Shinn
Ananda W. P. Guruge, Ph. D.
Prof. Jack Bath, Ph.D