Throughout history, human societies have formed around languages, cultures and traditions. It is also good to remember that religion has often also played an important role in creating community. The ineffable truth emphasized by religions can go beyond time and culture, which are finite, but a religion can also be a rich cultural resource developed by a certain group of people in a specific era with its own philosophies, arts and idiosyncratic ceremonies. This is why people who worship the same deity or god can feel that there is a sacred connection between them. They feel they can communicate with each other on both mundane and extraterrestrial levels. This is also why people often form friendships and marry others of the same religion: they feel they can trust each other and share the same value system.
Such human habits are still alive and well in many parts of the world, except Western countries and some Asian regions. The United States is the most religious country among all developed countries, but recently the number of "non-believers" has increased exponentially. If you live in California's coastal cities, a haven for liberals, you'll find that you regularly encounter "secularists" everywhere. Most likely, you will make friendships with all kinds of people there. They don't care what you worship or what you don't worship. They may care more about your politics than your religious beliefs. It would be completely normal to meet a family whose father is Christian, whose mother is secular and whose children practice yoga or Buddhism. Yet they can enjoy Christmas together without conflict or suspicion.
In the East, people still tend to be more tribal. They usually join a community or make friends within the same religion or race. This can bring social stability and harmony, which can provide the foundation for many people's well-being. That being said, we should ultimately aim to achieve multiculturalism and a pluralistic society in which everyone is respected and treated equally, and in which people interact with other humans understanding that we are the same. Places like the San Francisco Bay Area give me hope that such a vision can come to fruition. If you go there, you will find people of different religious and racial backgrounds working together and eating together. This can be refreshing to see. This might not seem so special to those living in the West. The liberal multiculturalism of the West is truly inspiring when compared to other places in the world, where people hate and destroy each other because of their religious and racial differences.
Personally, I grew up with Buddhism, which is neither a theistic nor ethnocentric religion. It is based on the teaching of the Buddha, which many consider to be a science of the mind. Right now I am visiting Thailand to teach the Dharma to a group of Thai people. It is a country steeped in Theravada Buddhism for as long as anyone can remember. Yet even as a Tibetan and a Tibetan Buddhist, who doesn't speak a word of Thai, I feel at home in this country. I don't think I need to read an entire book on "do's and don'ts" to follow cultural rules. Seeing monks and temples brings me a sense of comfort and familiarity. I can go to any temple here to offer bows to a statue of the Buddha and chant a prayer that would not seem inappropriate to others. It gives me the same feelings as being in a temple in Tibet or Korea. I feel like we are all disciples of the same spiritual master, Shakyamuni Buddha.
Buddhism is not a dogmatic tradition. It has always evolved to meet the spiritual needs of a given people. This is why the forms and expressions of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism can be very different. It's like many branches emerging from a giant Bodhi tree. All these Buddhist traditions share the same source which resides in the sublime teaching of the Buddha. For example, they all teach the Four Noble Truths and have no fundamental philosophical disagreements, although they have their own principles. It is precisely for this reason that many great Dharma teachers have become bridges between Buddhist traditions, weaving together the wisdom of different Dharma lineages. This happens more in the West, where people are more open-minded and less dogmatic. There are also more interactions between different Buddhists, more frequent than ever, as the world continues to shrink.
It is important for us to remember that these Buddhist traditions belong to the same spiritual family, regardless of their differences, and to respect and honor each other's traditions. This is not always true among some individuals, who believe that their version of Buddhism is the only "true" Dharma. However, Tibetan Buddhists tend to view all Buddhist traditions as the true Dharma and do not hesitate to visit a Thai temple to receive a sermon or make offerings to Thai monks.
We should regard all Buddhists of different traditions as our Dharma companions who follow in the footsteps of the Buddha. Let us have no problem feeling that we are kindred spirits who speak the same sacred language and practice the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. This attitude will cultivate greater closeness and affinity among the world's approximately 500 million Buddhists, which in turn will have a positive impact on world peace. World peace is much more than the simple absence of war; it also means that we all respect everyone, regardless of their religion or race. For this reason, those of us who long for peace should try to feel such closeness and affinity with the entire human race. If we could all keep this perspective in our hearts, many of the world's woes would disappear, since they are man-made, and more people would work for the common good, for the benefit of all.