Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue Begins

WASHINGTON (April 1, 2003) - Catholics and Buddhists brought together by Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, the San Francisco Zen Center, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met March 20-23, 2003, in the first of an anticipated series of four annual dialogues.

WASHINGTON (April 1, 2003) - Catholics and Buddhists brought together by Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, the San Francisco Zen Center, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met March 20-23, 2003, in the first of an anticipated series of four annual dialogues. Abbot Heng Lyu, the monks and nuns, and members of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association hosted the dialogue at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Talmage, California. The community had transformed their "Confucius Hall" into a chapel, with a large, newly constructed wooden cross on a wall above an altar facing out from a raised platform, so the Catholic delegation would have a space for worship. A special poster announcing the theme of the conference, "Walking the Bodhisattva Path/Walking the Christ path," showing a Buddhist dharma wheel at one foot of a bridge and a Celtic cross at the other foot, had been created by the hosting community.

The daily schedule for the dialogue did not interfere with the monastic routine at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas with early morning chanting (4:00 – 5:00 a.m.), daily rituals in the Buddha Hall, and the single large meal for monastics before noon to which all participants were invited. Catholics and Buddhists meeting in the dialogue began each day with an optional 45 minutes of quiet sitting together in the monastery meditation hall, each following their own form of meditation and prayer. There was a Eucharist on Friday and Saturday evenings for the Catholics and to which the Buddhists were invited and additional meals of breakfast and supper throughout the meeting at the City's Jyun Kang Restaurant.

Fourteen Buddhists and fourteen Catholics participated in the formal discussions. Each participant spoke on what it means to them to follow Christ or the way of the Bodhisattvas or enlightened beings. In addition to speaking, each participant distributed a short passage from usually a traditional text on this topic. Several passages from Master Dogen's Shobogenzo and the Gospel of John were among those shared by the group. Other passages shared were taken from the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Shurangama Sutra and from the other gospels and the writings of Zen master Hakuin Zenji, the Dalai Lama, Korean Zen Master I-sahn Hye-yeon, the teachings of Master Hsuan Hua, Shantideva, Origen, St. Ignatius, St. Benedict, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, St. John of the Cross, and Chiara Lubich. A minute of silence separated the fifteen minute segments for each presentation. With so large a group, most of the time in the formal sessions involved listening to series of presentations; however, during discussion periods the participants asked several challenging questions of one another.

Some participants noted the tension they felt between belonging to a particular religious group and the need to let go of any consequential narrowness. The goal of the discussion was to promote understanding of the differences and similarities between Christianity and Buddhism. At one point, the participants noted several concerns about mutual enrichment: whether Buddhist methods can be separated from Buddhism and Christian methods from Christianity and what specific aspects of Christian practice truly enrich Buddhists and which Buddhist practices likewise enrich Christians. Several times participants discussed their understanding of terms such as transformation, grace, the incarnation and the passion of Jesus, discernment of spirits, prayer, Buddha-nature and related terms. There was consensus that Buddhists and Catholics can practically help one another regarding mental cultivation and religious precepts. They expressed this consensus in their choice of the topic for the next dialogue: "Transformation of Hearts and Minds: Chan/Zen-Catholic Approaches to Precepts." The group agreed to reconvene in 2004 to respond to six presentations, three from each side, on different aspects of this topic.

Chairing the sessions were Rev. Heng Sure for the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton for the San Francisco Zen Center, and Bishop John Wester for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Their three organizations are the sponsors of the Northern California Chan/Zen-Catholic Dialogue. Chan and zen are respectively the Chinese and Japanese terms for the meditation school of Buddhism. Since the two sponsoring Buddhist organizations represent Chinese and Japanese lineages in Buddhist teachings, both terms are used in the name of the dialogue.

The next meeting will be held March 4-7, 2004, at Mercy Center in Burlingame, California. The Northern California Chan/Zen-Catholic Dialogue is the first dialogue that the USCCB has sponsored with Buddhist groups through its Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Participating in this year's dialogue were Rev. Heng Sure (Berkeley Buddhist Monastery), Bishop John C. Wester (Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of San Francisco), Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton (Mountain Source Sangha), Bhikshuni Heng Ch'ih (Dharma Realm Buddhist Association), Bhikshuni Heng Liang (Dharma Realm Buddhist Association), Dr. Martin Verhoeven (Institute for World Religions), Dr. Ron Epstein (Institute for World Religions), Dr. Snjezana Akpinar (Dharma Realm Buddhist University), Rev. Shosan Victoria Austin (San Francisco Zen Center), Rev. Norman Fischer (San Francisco Zen Center), Rev. Alan Senauke (Berkeley Zen Center), Jan Chozen Bays (Zen Community of Oregon), Rev. Shohaku Okumura (Soto Zen Buddhism International Center), Daniel Terragno (Rocks and Clouds Zendo), Bhikshuni Yeo Kwang Sunim (Fremont, CA), Sr. Phyllis D'Anna, SND (Center for the Practice of Applied Spirituality), Fr. Thomas W. Devereaux (Diocese of Santa Rosa), Fr. James Fredericks (Loyola-Marymount University), Robert Hale, OSB Cam. (Incarnation Monastery, Berkeley, CA), Thomas Hand, S.J. (Mercy Center, Burlingame, CA), Fr. Rafael Lu�vano (Diocese of Orange), Deacon Thomas McGowan (Diocese of Oakland), Debbie Mellin (Focolare Movement), Lorraine Moriarity (St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Mateo County), Fr. Gerry O'Rourke (Archdiocese of San Francisco), Fr. Francis V. Tiso (Archdiocese of San Francisco), Joseph H. Wong, OSB Cam. (New Camaldoli Hermitage, Big Sur, CA), and Dr. John Borelli (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).