Ch'an/Zen Catholic Dialogue Spreads 'Welcome Table' at Retreat

February 5, 2009 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON—The ongoing Ch'an/Zen Catholic Dialogue explored the dialogue of religious experience and the dialogue of life at a retreat meeting. Rev. Heng Sure of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery and the Institute for World Religions, Berkeley, California, and Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City co-chaired the January 28-31 meeting.

Sister of Charity Mary Ann Donovan of the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, led an experience of Lectio Divina based on the vine and the braches image of John 15:1-17. Rev. Victoria Austin of the San Francisco Zen Center gave an "encouragement talk," one typically delivered to Zen retreatants. She referred to the Gospel passage and said that "we don't prune the vine because it is dead, but because it has the capacity to be fruitful. We don't purify the mind to get rid of dirt, but to return to the mind's original purity, which is the source of our conscience and is the true life within us."

Rev. Jan Chosen Bays of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon, observed that "vows make our life energy more focused, keeping us from losing purpose and meaning. Vows prune away unnecessary things. When we ask for help with the challenge of being faithful to our vows, we call up and encounter unexpected sources of support and 'grace'."

The Ch'an Buddhist presentation focused on the meditation experience, described as "recovering the natural state of the mind." Martin Verhoeven, Ph.D., of the Pacific School of Religion, said that in meditation "we are returning to the origin, not moving forward to 'gain something'." Linking ethical engagement with contemplation, he noted that "when the mind of a meditator is motivated to act out of genuine compassion, its action is accurate and correct. Action is neither driven nor obstructed by ego or sentiment."

These comments resonated with Rev. Heng Sure's call for Buddhist and Christian monastics to embrace an ecologically valid way of life. Noting the connections between contemplation and ethical action, Bishop Wester said that "this work embodies mercy by lifting people up; it embodies justice as it arises out of our common humanity."

Financial challenges impelled the group to conclude formal sponsorship of the dialogue with this meeting but to reconstitute the dialogue regionally. Members designated a steering committee to develop logistics and draft a narrative of the previous seven years of dialogue for posting on their respective Web sites.

Participants: Rev. Sure, Berkeley Buddhist Monastery; Bishop Wester; Snjezana Akpinar, Ph.D, Dharma Realm Buddhist University; Rev. Austin; Rev. Jan Chozen Bays, Great Vow Zen Monastery; Sister of Notre Dame Phyllis D'Anna, Zen Center, Palo Alto; Sister Donovan; Ron Epstein, Ph.D., Dharma Realm Buddhist Association; Lorraine Moriarty, Society of St. Vincent De Paul; Bhikshuni Heng Jiao, CTTB (City of 10,000 Buddhas); Bhikshuni Heng Liang, CTTB; Father Francis Tiso, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); Father James Massa, USCCB; Father Thomas W. Devereaux, Diocese of Santa Rosa, California, ecumenical and interreligious officer; Verhoeven; and Ron Brown, observer, Cloverdale, California.