Present: Rev. Kusala, Fr. Jim Fredericks, Ralph Barnes, Sr. Thomas
Bernard, Fr. Will Connor, Anita Merwin, Gordon Gibb, Michael
Kerze, and LMU students and faculty: Dr. Matt Dillion, Dr.
Chris Chapple, Ron Stark, Erin Mylein, John Rickle, Robert
Sanchez, Kristin Firestone, Alex Sachwer, Wu Tai, Nicole Richards,
James Raycroft, David, Meninelle Sak, Patricia Richards, Nick
Pinto, Lynn Anthony, Paul Freisin, Isaac Kerze, Leila Kerze.
Fredericks: Our topic, "I seem to be a verb," refers to the ideas of the
"true self" in Buddhism and "soul" Christianity. Where Buddhists
differ from the Christian idea, I have something to learn.
Our society is dehumanizing in some ways. Christianity needs
to stand up for human dignity and social justice. "Soul" has
been developing in the Christian understanding for two thousand
years. In the best of Catholic understanding, one should not
see people from limited perspectives, for example, in genetics,
which allows us to modify and label ourselves. Ethical problems
arise from this, for example, the insurance implications for
genetic typing of predisposition to diseases. Global capitalism
will speak of specific actual human beings as "cheap labor"
but they aren't, they are human beings. There is a book about
the history of the Hansen disease colony in Hawaii. In it
is a story with a photograph of a boy in a suit. He tells
the story of how his father took him home rather than to the
receiving station when he was diagnosed with leprosy &endash;
Hansen's disease. His family wept but his father went out
and bought him a suit so the boy would look good when he was
declared a leper. That was when his photo was taken. His father
cried then. "That was how I became a leper," the boy concludes.
boy was "declared" a leper. Christianity should protest when we
are declared a "leper," "cheap labor," a "homemaker." We
establish the God given beauty of every human being in Christianity
through declaring the soul. There are several meanings to
the body is not a machine and the soul is not a ghost in
it, nor is it a separate object. The soul entails the whole
of human reality. Second, the soul is a way of talking
to affirm the value of each and every human being. Third,
the soul and God are intricately related. God as Mystery
is infinite and unbounded and we have been created in its
image and likeness. Our "ensouledness" is the presence of that mystery in the
world so we are sacraments to each other. Fourth, when we
talk of soul we are talking of transcendence, an activity
or process of myself being radically transformed in an act
of transcendence &endash; leaving behind a limited understanding
for a whole realm of freedom empowered by love. At the heart
of transcendence is this freedom empowered by love. Fifth,
our soul can be sick and sickness of soul can be healed by
grace. The soul becomes sick when we refuse to love and only
by stepping outside the self can we love.
Kusala: When I listen to this I applaud the complexity
of the Christian idea of soul. But it is important to point
out that Buddha knew nothing about that idea. In India,
500 years before Christ, the Buddha never met a Jew. There
was no idea of the soul as Christians understand it. What
Buddha said about soul was that it did not exist in the
way the Brahmans said it exists. There is nothing independent
that exists. Its simply a process. The Buddha taught anatta, "no self," criticizing the Brahmanical
"atman." The point in Buddhism is why am I suffering and
how do I end it, and the concept of soul has nothing to do
is very important in Buddhism. That and wisdom are the two
wings of the bird of Buddhism. The way we achieve compassion
is through understanding the interconnectedness of all phenomena.
In fact, there is nothing independent that exists so there
is nothing that separates us. We are all in process together
and once we understand that, there is only one response to
the world and that is compassion. Emptiness is central here.
Early Buddhists said we are empty of soul. Later Buddhists
said everything is empty. Emptiness means empty of independent
existence; everything arises because of conditions. If that
is the ultimate reality, then we too are connected to each
other in a special way, as well as to trees, buildings, and
political figures. If we are all connected, and you are in
deep meditation and tranquility and you have the direct experience
of emptiness which would be selflessness and the interconnectedness,
then the great compassion arises. This connectedness can only
lead to compassion.
Kerze: Realizing that you are interconnected to every human
being, to trees, stones, buildings, is there any difference
in the way you are interconnected? Is there any difference
in your responsibility to a human being and to a tree?
Kusala: Even though we are all interconnected, it seems to me from
a very practical standpoint that we can't respond to everything.
We have to make choices. I choose to go to juvenile hall for
five years to teach Buddhism and meditation; I did not choose
to save the trees nor change the political system. But there
are plenty of Buddhists who made that choice. I believe that
it is exactly the same thing that connects to the trees and
to human beings. At the ultimate level everything has exactly
the same value which can be no value or very valuable, depending
on what side of the coin you look at. Nagarjuna would say
that is not the ultimate reality because one side of the coin
says everything is valuable and the other says it has no value.
The Buddhists would say that the important thing is the coin,
not what side you look at. Zen Buddhists might say that everything
has the potential for enlightenment. But I think that because
enlightenment entails being able to live ethically, to be
generous, that is why a dog in its present state could not
yet attain it.
Gibb: In the Mahayana tradition, there is the discussion of
the difference between sentient being and non-sentient being,
and the conclusion is that there is no way to discern between
them. All beings have the capacity in their present state
to awaken. The majority view may be that only when you embrace
the human life can you attain it. It raises the question of
how you create suffering. It arises out of objectivity, the
need to create separation by identifying ourselves with what
we are not. Therefore, there is no separation between dog
and Kusala. It makes me question myself, when I talk about
separation, about defining myself by what I am not, what seed
of suffering, what seed of violence, am I fomenting?
Kusala: I wonder about a category error for there is the relative
sense and the absolute sense. In the relative sense as we
sit here and speak, we have these reference points and we
are separate. We have to be separate. If I am driving my motorcycle
70 miles an hour, I have to be separate from the car next
to me. In the ultimate sense, everything is exactly the same.
The problem is to take one sense or the other and determine
it as ultimate.
Fredericks: When we Christians talk about soul we can get pretty abstract
and float away. But the perfectly ordinary events have immense
significance religiously for a Christian. Like the story of
my little sister giving up her bicycle. It meant letting go
of one part of her life to be freed up for another part. Does
that have any meaning to you as a Buddhist?
Gibb: What you are alluding to is the practice of non-attachment
which is different than being disengaged. On the contrary,
it allows one to be more engaged, more present.
Matt Dillon: It's a wonderful story. One sees in it the Christian
ideal of selflessness. His sister was acting in a selfless
manner and that is something that can be shared with Buddhism.
I grew up strictly Catholic and thinking Christianity was
an otherworldly religion. When fixating on the eternal soul
as an ideal unique individuality there is a vast difference
with Buddhism, for even selflessness gets transported to this
unique individuality rather than to a process of life and
death and life which takes eons to work out.
Gibb: Jim you introduced the nature of the soul as an activity.
It reflects the unboundedness of its origin in God. My question
is: if it is reflecting the unboundedness of its origin, is
there a limit to it. It is your soul. I am wondering if we
are catching ourselves needing to affirm the value of each
human life. If it is unbounded but limited to an individual,
what is between us? What is it we discover, wake up to, when
we love each other as ourselves?
Fredericks: The Christian understanding of soul is intimately
connected to the Christian understanding of God. If you
have an inadequate understanding of the soul, you have
an inadequate understanding of God. More importantly, if
you have an inadequate practice of being a soulful person,
you will have an inadequate practice of being a person
in the presence of God. Saying that the soul is the image
and likeness of God in us in a very concrete Christian
spirituality, I would say that as we are absolutely and
unbounded in our capacity to be who we are through acts
of renunciation of our false selfhood, our true self realization
is opening up to, waking up to the mystery of God. The
most famous Catholic theologian of this century, Karl Rahner,
says that God must be in the end incomprehensible because
our capacity for intimacy through love is unbounded, infinite.
If God is finite, then the human capacity to be connected
in intimacy, in love, will grasp God and spill out beyond
it. We will be cursed then because we will have an infinite
hunger that can never be satisfied. The good news is that
my infinite capacity to be this goodness God created me
to be is infinitely fulfilled by the infinitely loving,
infinitely lovable God. If I really do believe God is this
mystery, then I have to affirm something about myself.
All the limited views of myself, all the suffering I create
for myself and for others, when I act that way &endash;
all the suffering that comes into the world through greed,
racial prejudice, lust, through my clinging to a preliminary
and ultimately false sense of myself &endash; in letting
go of that I open myself more and more to self realization
through God. God ultimately is not an object, not even an
individual. For Christians, God is a community. God is relational.
In terms of the Buddhist understanding of how everything
is infinitely connected to everything else, I am not saying
it is the same thing, but at least when I open up myself
to the community that is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
the more I realize myself, the more I have the sense that
you and I are part of a community. You are you and I am I
but we are not entirely separated.
Thomas Bernard: The mandate, "Be perfect," is part of the
leap into freedom, coming to know who we really are, to
be the best human person we can be. The call to perfection
means the value of who I am so I can value other people.
We cannot come to love another unless we value ourselves
trying to be perfect, the very best person, we can be.
When I was in Amsterdam and got off the train, I walked
through the brothel area. I felt a great sense of love
for those women. They seemed to me to be very kind in themselves.
It was a way of sensing their goodness.
Gibb: The word for being perfect in Greek, has to do with
being whole. There is the sense of telos. With that there
would be a cyclical understanding, a beginning, an end,
a whole, to be integrated, and that is a very important
aspect of Buddhism. When we are "being" perfect, we are
not rejecting anything. Not giving it value but seeing
its intrinsic value, not cutting it into parts that are
acceptable and unacceptable.
Thomas Bernard: This is a very real recognition of and practice of
Tina: In Amsterdam the woman are allowed to do what they choose
to do or need to do, unlike in the US. In other places they
are looked down upon. There they are given more freedom to
be natural. My Catholic understanding of the desire to be
perfect is that only God can be perfect. If we are aspiring
to perfection are we not aspiring to be God or godlike, and
is that wrong?
Thomas: The full text is: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." You
are right and it is not wrong.
Connor: There is a translation that reads: Be as compassionate as
your heavenly Father is compassionate.
Gibb: Isn't the line in Titus that reads: "For the eye that
is pure, everything is pure." That is very Buddhist. The process
is that of profound acceptance. I enter into you fully. Human
life is "inconceivable" because it has no single origin.
The practice is the opportunity to know.
John: Is the evolution of selfhood in Christianity, self transcending
self, the same as selflessness in Buddhism? I see some
kind of harmony here. The biggest thing creating conflicts
is our pride. The harmony is in the room here. But who
is willing to get shot for this &endash; for there is so
much suffering in the world! There needs to be a voice
of reason in the world.
Kerze: I think for our dialogue, we have to begin where we
are. For us, we are here in Los Angeles with each other. If
we can make this work, we take this back to our communities
and try to make it work there, and try to build a common bridge
of understanding or a basis of cooperation for our communities
here in Los Angeles, occasionally for the nation, and we dream
about the world. But we have to begin where we are. And that