WASHINGTON (March 10, 2004) -— Catholic and Buddhist priests, monastics, teachers and community leaders have participated in the second of an anticipated four annual dialogues. The series is sponsored by the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, the San Francisco Zen Center, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The conference took place (March 4-7) at Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA, whose own East-West meditation program led by Fr. Thomas Hand is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. A popular retreat center and home to the Sisters of Mercy of Burlingame, the Center offered participants tree-dotted, spacious grounds and strolling paths, as well as a labyrinth for contemplative walking.
Theme of this year's conference was "Transformation of Hearts and Minds: Chan.Zen-Catholic Approaches to Precepts." 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.
Each day began with both Catholics and Buddhists in Mercy Center's Rose Room, a Zen-style meditation space, for an hour of silent meditation in the morning. Catholic Liturgy was celebrated in the afternoon in the Main Chapel, with all participants invited to attend and share prayer and blessings.
On the two full days, Friday and Saturday, two sessions of presentations were held each morning, with one session following in the afternoon. Each of the six sessions focused on a position paper, with three papers given from a Buddhist and three from a Christian perspective. Each paper was presented by its authors, followed by two formal responses, one by a Buddhist and one by a Catholic participant. This was in turn followed by an open discussion within the whole group. A minute of silent meditation began and ended each session.
The presentations focused on various meanings embraced by the term "precepts" in each tradition. One paper introduced perspectives on Buddhist precepts in three different Buddhist lineages. Another presented six guidelines as "Precepts on the Mind-Ground" that connect ethical commitments with social engagement. A third paper focused on Bodhisattva practice, which embraces and unifies all sentient beings. On the Christian side, presentations discussed the precepts as signposts on the path that leads away from suffering, as motivations that move us, and as the practice of the presence of God, exemplified by the writings of Brother Lawrence.
A glossary prepared by Fr. Francis Tiso helped define Catholic Christian terms for the Buddhist participants in the dialogue. Similarly, a book distributed to all participants by the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association provided background on "Buddhism A - Z".
Formal discussion sessions in the evenings, as well as informal talks by the participants while walking outside or even in the form of impromptu "hallway meetings" added to the depth and richness of the dialogue. Some recurring themes were the importance and meaning of a personal teacher in both traditions; another was the "embodiment" of the teachings, the value of teaching through presence. Personal stories and practical experiences offered by individual participants were much appreciated and added poetry and emotion to the headiness of theological discussion.
Members of both the Buddhist and the Catholic traditions reported that the encounter with the spiritual practices and beliefs of the other faith provides both affirmation of the familiar and welcome discovery of unexpected riches of the spirit.
The next meeting will be held from January 20-23, 2005, at the San Francisco Zen Center. The theme will be "Practice: Method and Experience Toward Transformation."
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), Fr. Arthur Kennedy, (Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB), (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. Alan Senauke (Berkeley Zen Center), Jan Chozen Bays (Zen Community of Oregon), Sr. Phyllis D'Anna, SND (Center for the Practice of Applied Spirituality), Fr. Thomas W. Devereaux (Diocese of Santa Rosa), Robert Hale, OSB Cam. (Incarnation Monastery, Berkeley, CA), Thomas Hand, S.J. (Mercy Center, Burlingame, CA), Fr. Rafael Luévano (Diocese of Orange), Deacon Thomas McGowan (Diocese of Oakland), 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), The Rev. James Fredericks, (Loyola Marymount University).