Tolerance in Buddhism 1
by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki

Today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, nations are more closely connected than ever before. We have news from the opposite sides of the earth as quickly as we get it from the next county. Decisions made in one nation's capital can affect villagers on another continent in mere hours. Despite this virtual intimacy, an alarming trend in our unhappy world stands out--burgeoning intolerance.

Unfortunately, when an increasing distrust of nuance reduces important questions to absolute standpoints of black and white, respect for differences becomes much more difficult to maintain, and the propensity for violence against outsiders grows.

What is tolerance?
Tolerance means allowing other people to have their own attitudes or beliefs or to behave in a particular way, even if you do not agree or approve. The United Nations Declaration puts it very clearly

  • Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.
  • Tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. In no circumstance can it be used to justify infringements of these fundamental values. Tolerance is to be exercised by individuals, groups, and States.
  • Tolerance is the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments.
Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one's convictions. It means that one is free to adhere to one's own convictions and accepts that others adhere to theirs. It means accepting the fact that human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behaviour and values, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are. It also means that one's views are not to be imposed on others.*

Buddha taught important lessons on tolerance, both by word and by example, more than 2500 years ago, and his lessons deserve careful consideration now. Let us consider some of the forms intolerance can take and the Buddhist attitudes toward them.

From The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, signed by the Member States of UNESCO on 16 November, 1995.