“They [his detractors] seemed to forget that the increase of known truths stimulates the investigation, establishment, and growth of the arts; not their diminution or destruction. Showing a greater fondness for their own opinions than for truth they sought to deny and disprove new things which, if they had cared to look for themselves, their own senses would have demonstrated to them…and they made the grave mistake of sprinkling these with passages taken from places in the Bible which they had failed to understand properly.” (Galileo 1)
Master Wang Yang-Ming is a key commentator on the works of Confucius. His writings under the title ‘Inquiry on the Great Learning’ reveal a level of abstraction and sophistication that is timeless. China has for long boasted of its secular credentials, with more emphasis given to practical civil administration and pragmatic philosophical doctrines. Confucianism and Buddhism are major examples of these two undercurrents in Chinese history. One see the cross adaptation of Buddhist philosophical principles into what is Master Wang’s analyses of civil administrative problems. Yet this synthesis comes off smoothly and without contradictions. The explanation of the scope and applicability of the concept of ‘jen’ stands in strong support of religious tolerance. After all, ‘jen’ stands for the immutable unity of Heaven and Earth and all things inhabiting them, including humans. When there is such unity on the cosmic scale, what real distinction could possibly exist between one religion and another? Master Wang thus asks.
“The great man regards Heaven and earth and the myriad things as one body. He regards the whole world as one family and the country as one person. As to those who make a cleavage between objects and distinguish between the self and others, they are small men”. (Wang 118)
And finally, Father Cajetan Cattaneo’s mid-eighteenth century voyages to the Southern American continent is not overtly focussed on religious issues. Rather, it is a travelogue recounting important cultural exchanges. But there is an implicit message for greater mutual respect and understanding among religions, as the example of the indigenous people prove. Native Americans, who had never had a sophisticated culture and civilization, were ready and capable of embracing Christian theology. The three letters of Father Cattaneo bear out this fact in elegant prosaic detail. While Father Cattaneo is associated with the Jesuit mission, he or his colleague never adopted violent means to achieve their ends. This conduct projects Christian missionaries as genuine envoys of the divine message rather than religious zealots hell-bent on imposing their world view on others.
Hence, in conclusion, it is quite clear that tolerance was a principle universally accepted across cultures and geographies between 1405 and 1750. Authors from different domains and geographies have implicitly agreed to this moderation in socio-cultural exchanges. By remembering and practicing these sagely pieces of knowledge, contemporary world would become a much peaceful place to live.
Lodovico Antonio Muratori, Three letters of Father Cajetan Cattaneo, A Relation of the Missions of Paraguay, 1730.
Jonathan D. Spence, Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of Kang-Hsi (New York: Vintage Books, 1975), 80-85.
Galileo Galilei, Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615, Modern History Sourcebook, retrieved from <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/galileo-tuscany.asp> on 19th February, 2013
Wang Yang-ming, ‘Inquiry on The Great Learning”, In Sources of Chinese Tradition, ed. William de Bary, Wing-tsit Chan, and Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), 571-81.