Los Angeles Buddhist Catholic Dialogue

April 23, 2003

Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara

Present: M. Pannaloka, Miao Yi, Miao His, Lin P. Huang, (all from Hsi Lai Temple), Ven. Karuna Dharma, Michihiro Ama, Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith, Hon. Consul General of Sri Lanka Pradeep Gunawardana and wife, Bhante Piyananda, Bhante Purmaji, Saman Wagaarachchi, Fr. Jim Fredericks, Rev. Heidi Singh, Cynthia Shimazu, David Chappell, Michael Kerze.

Michael Kerze: Msgr. John Sheridan, pastor emeritus of Our Lady of Malibu parish, recently told me that the question was not whether the recently initiated war in Iraq is a “just” war or not, but in what direction is the nation going in the use of force. I think that given the contemporary situation, the question is an important on for us to consider.

Fr. Fredericks: In my class Monday at Loyola Marymount, the doctrine of Original Sin came up. This doctrine is complicated and misunderstood by many Christians, but if understood correctly it shows affinities with the 4 Noble Truths on the human condition. Original Sin highlights the fact that we rebel against being the creatures God created us to be – to be at peace, in love, loving in harmony with the environment and each other, and to be free, that is to promote harmony and love. We don’t want to be that. We reject it to be something else. The class discussed: why do we do this – make a prison of our freedom? A student made the point that the strongest driving force is fear, and it drives us to do terrible things. We think we can find peace through violence, safety through domination. What would Buddhists say about how fear rules us and drives us?

Rev. Heidi Singh: I’ve been wrestling with this since 9-11. I was more horrified by the reaction than to the event, for it was out of proportion if we put it into the global context of terrorism. But further, we must look at root causes – and rectify them. In India, this winter, I thought of Mahatma Ghandi, about how to act and not turn anger towards the aggressor. We have to do something, but it is a struggle, to do peace and educational work without being angry. This is an unprecedented time for the United States: constitutional rights are over-ruled, civil liberties, civil and human rights are circumvented. So many Buddhists have experienced oppression in their own lives like Thich Nhat Hahn, MahaGhosananda, the Dalai Lama. My husband is from South Asia and wears a turban, my son is of dark complexion – they have been targets of this fear reaction in the United States. I attended the Friday prayer service at the Islamic Center where Dr. Hathout spoke, and I felt the power of compassion and non-violence.

Ven. Piyananda: The Pope and the Dalai Lama condemned the war, advised Bush against it and to try to do his best to avoid the war. How can we help these people in their chaos? But in a panel with Rabbi Kushner, Dr. Hathout, Deprak Chopra and a Catholic father, Rabbi Kushner and the Catholic explained that it is OK to kill but not to murder.

Fr. Alexei: At a similar gather on the day we bombed where we thought Saddam was, a Christian minister was almost ecstatic about it. I think all killing is wrong. One could argue that it is all right to kill but not to murder, capitol punishment, for example, but the Catholic Church is against it. I appreciated what Heidi said. I was disturbed by how the United States public responded to Sept. 11. What response would there have been if we sent aid to Afghanistan and not invaded?

Ven. Karuna Dharma: What karma are we developing now for the future? We ourselves are part of the karma of our country. I’m terrified of the karma coming back to our country. Bush doesn’t seem to understand there’s always a reaction to action. I’m afraid for my children and grandchildren. It makes me so sad to think of that.

Ven. Piyananda: I talked to many Buddhist leaders here in the United States and they all have fear about Bush. He is a born again Christian and he only listens to them, not to Catholics, Methodists or others. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, we all share this fear. This country belongs to all of us, not just fundamentalists.

Fr. Alexei: The recent Newsweek had a feature article: “Bush and God.” Bush did not receive any delegation from the Methodist Church. He received the one from the Vatican out of courtesy.

David Chappell: Bush participates in the CBS – the Community Bible Study, run by Billy and Franklin Graham.

Michael Kerze: I would like to expand on this with reference to our dialogue last time about faith and awakening. In Asvaghosa’s “Awakening of Faith,” when he described faith he described practices. In Christianity, one would have to say faith is also practice, more than a cognitive assent to propositions. The question I have is what is the relation of faith to the war? The sense I picked up from Asvaghosa was that faith represented transformation. The same I would say would be true of Christianity – transformation of self through the grace of God but also a responsibility to transform society in view of the grace we’ve been given. Can we think of the relationship of our faith in response to the war.

David Chappell: The text Mike refers to is about self transformation. But transformation of society? That’s a real problem for Buddhist. Buddha left home, society. King Asoka, even after converting to Buddhism, killed his wife and 18,000 Jains, as related in a Sanskrit biography of Asoka translated by John Strong. For Buddhists, politics is always a problem. A state will claim it is the one institution with the right to kill. In democracy it is very difficult because it is a participatory government.

Rev. Heidi: Many times, for a Buddhist to do our practice is a political act. To make peace in any way is a political act. We might be in great danger at some time because of this. In Loving Kindness meditation, we get to the same love degree as a mother to child to everyone, even your enemies. War makes someone “other,” less worthy. The Buddhist goal, is to love as a mother loves a child for any sentient being. One can’t make a distinction.

Ven. Piyananda: Faith, “Saddha,” means the highest qualities we hold within ourselves. It means trust.

Ven. Purmaj: Sat is goodness, dhr is to uphold, faith is goodness as what everyone upholds. In the gospels a man comes to Jesus and asks: Good sir, what is the way to eternal life? Jesus answers: Do not call me good, only God is good. He upholds the good. Divinity is really goodness – if we uphold God we uphold goodness. Buddhist uphold Buddha, his goodness. To appreciate goodness is to have the right sense of values. If we believe right is might, we uphold goodness. Sila is the behave in the right way. It comes from Saddha, to uphold right values.

David Chappell: None of us can be as good as we wish to be; we all need one another to be good. Should we choose to do social acts, should we support the UN?

M. Pannaloka: Right after Sept. 11, our abbot at Hsi Lai said that if there is war, we must fight the war with compassion. We must help innocents. It is more than simple giving, we must practice compassion with strength.

Rev. Ama: Is it possible to have an Islamic speaker at our dialogue? In an Orange County interfaith group, an Islamic speaker corrected our misunderstandings – could we do something like that?

Ven. Piyananda: In the 12th century at Nala University, 10,000 Buddhist monks were shut and burned. There are many conflicts today about Islam.

Cynthia Shimazu: In different religious traditions, there are people who use them not in accord with teachings. This war is one of the things feeding how the world sees the US. Yes we have power, but we ought to withhold it. We must not take the actions of one group and predicate it of the whole religion.

Rev. Heidi: When the Oklahoma Federal building was bombed, all white people were not condemned and rounded up. We can always find reasons not to like some other group, but it is personal connections, relations, with individuals, that cuts through that. In the partition of Pakistan, my husband’s brother was killed by a Hindu. They worked through the issues for if you love people from a certain group, you can’t condemn all for something that happened 500 years ago – or last year.

David: I’d like your help. I have 12 students through next month who want connections to listen to Muslim peace makers. We’d appreciate your cooperation to get the news out. We are not large enough to become an NGO in UNESCO, but we can participate in our local UN group – 16 chapters will meet on May 3.