1. There was no intent in the original post to discuss or push towards a conclusion like "all religions are one".
I didn't suppose you did. However, when Peter wrote
Peter wrote:On the flip side, I find the most tension, the spats as you say, seem to have at their root an assumption of unity. "We all claim to follow the Buddha so that means at heart our practices must be the same, right?" Then we get arguments whether the Buddha taught this or that scripture, or whether one can violate precepts as skillful means, or whether arahant is a path to be respected, etc. I have a teacher who often uses the phrase "In this tradition we believe X" or "In this tradition we teach Y" as if to say "We believe this, you believe that, OK. We teach this, you teach that, OK. We practice this way, you practice that way, OK." There is no attempt to reconcile, to find who is right. You want to do it that way? I want to do it this way. OK.
I took this as offering a different account of how friction is created, and not a suggestion that you were doing so yourself. Peter can correct me if I've misunderstood him.
I get the same impression about how the friction occurs myself. Most Buddhists I have discussions with are pleasant to deal with. The few who I've found difficult are nearly all people I can deal with easily enough most of the time. Some of the most frustrating discussions have been when one participant assumes a kind of unity that isn't there. They may describe a situation as their own school describes it, although not stating it as such, but protest that they don't want to get into sectarian issues when someone describes their own school as having a different point of view! Talking like Peter's teacher seems to help, but it doesn't seem to prevent all such situations (and I'm not sure there's any way to do so).
It's not just Buddhists who do this, of course. In the U.S. we seem to have quite a few people who suffer from an illusion of national unity on various cultural, religious or political issues. I suspect there's a desire by many for the problem of getting along with people who have different points of view to be easier than it really is. A documentary was made for Passover and Easter (which are essentially Jewish and Christian celebrations of the spring equinox) in which one priest made what I thought was a good observation. He said he came to realize that although they could learn from each other, there were good things in the other tradition that could not simply be absorbed into his own. He said he needed to know that to have a real dialog with the other. This is an advance over certain half-baked attempts at friendship by supposing there to be a hyphenated joint tradition (if you know what I mean). This is not to say that everything that calls itself a tradition deserves such respect, although my opinion is that they have to be pretty bad before they don't.
Understanding and acting on our own traditions requires right intention and right speech, which will be kind speech. This will tend to be polite and inspiring more often than usual, but as the Buddha points out in the Abhaya sutta, sometimes the kindest speech is disliked by the person hearing it. Thinking in terms of general kindness, however, it seems to be easy to miss the unkindness that is inflicted by misunderstanding others. It doesn't feel
unkind the way that hating others and wishing them harm does, but it sets the stage for our speaking and acting based essentially on faulty guesses as to what would be beneficial. I don't know how an unkindness of this kind can even begin to be cured without a recognition that it's an unkindness. Not misunderstanding others may be part of our tradition, but it requires wise attention to what (we think) we know about the other's tradition.