Catholic-Buddhist dialogue continues


Buddhists and Christians learned more about their most basic, if contrasting, convictions and agreed to develop more collaborative social justice projects at their fourth dialogue last month.

The Jan. 26-29 meeting between Catholics and Zen and Ch’an Buddhists was held at Mercy Center, Burlingame, CA, on the theme, “Meeting on the Path.” It was co-chaired by Bishop John Wester, auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, and Rev. Alan Senauke of the Berkeley Zen Center.

Participants examined in depth the nature of the human person. Dr. Martin Verhoeven presented a paper on the essential Buddhist teaching of non-self, explaining that the belief in a permanent “self” is the root of the bondage of sentient beings to the cycle of rebirth.

Mary Ann Donovan of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley illustrated the emergence of a distinctly Christian “anthropology” by discussing the life and thought of St. Paul, St. Antony of Egypt and his biographer, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, and St. Augustine of Hippo. Donovan illustrated how the revelation of Jesus Christ reshaped Hellenistic philosophical categories. Participants took note of the continuities between Jewish and Christian views of the person as a unitary whole.

Fr. Francis Tiso of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs pointed out the need to recover an understanding of the impact of Hellenism on the Judaism of New Testament times.

Fr. Robert Hale presented the anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing, and other works of late 14th-century English mysticism, as representing a model spiritual director and spiritual disciple.

Participants also discussed Buddhist-Catholic collaboration in social outreach projects. Lorraine Moriarty and Alan Senauke spoke about a prison ministry program in the Bay Area in which Catholics and Buddhists are collaborating. Such ministry includes prison visitation, meditation groups, and assistance to the families of prisoners, and raises awareness about the death penalty.

Participants called for more collaborative efforts in the areas of immigration, the death penalty and peace making. Buddhist participants requested copies of recent Catholic documents on these topics. Participants were also invited to offer new models for this dialogue, bringing in more emphasis on shared contemplative practice.

A steering committee will continue the work of this dialogue and meet in early May to confirm plans for the next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 25-28, 2007.

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