Los Angeles Buddhist Catholic Dialogue
Jan. 19, 2002
Present: Dan Reinke, Ven. Karuna Dharma, Gordon Gibb, Lucy Palerimo,
Mary Ann Gould, Sr. Thomas Bernard, Anita Merwin, Ralph Barnes,
Ven. Samahito, Tim Langell, Brandon Paris, Ellen Slatkin, Carole
Belnick, Michael Kerze.
Ven. Samahito reported that he has an interreligious dialogue
going on in New Zealand where he opened a temple. Ven Karuna
Dharma brought copies of Zen Buddhism and Nationalism in
Vietnam, written by her late teacher, the Ven. Thich Thien-An,
for background on our days topic. Michael brought copies
of a short paper about the history of the Catholic Church and
Michael Kerze: I believe it was in 1963 that the religious
issues in South Vietnam came to a head. The Bishop of Hue, the
brother in law of President Diem, celebrated Easter with a traditional
parade where Catholics, a minority in Vietnam, carried their
banners and symbols. But he did not allow Buddhists to parade
for the celebration of the Buddhas birthday shortly thereafter.
Unrest spread, and the government then began to raid Buddhist
temples and monasteries for hiding weapons for the Vietcong.
In the summer, a Buddhist monk immolated himself, drawing world
wide attention to the situation. As government suppression got
worse, protests increased, and a few other monks and a nun immolated
themselves in protest. The US gave the go ahead for a coup to
topple Diem. It began on Nov. 1, All Saints Day, and on Nov.
2, Diem was assassinated. Premiere Ky was installed. About two
weeks later JFK was assassinated in Dallas. There was a religious
liturgical context for the war.
Ven. Karuna Dharma: Catholics constituted only about
10% of the population, Buddhists about 85%. Catholics were educated
in France and constituted the elite. My teacher could not get
higher education if he was not a Catholic. He went to Japan
and got his D. Litt.from Waseda University, the premiere private
iniversity, the first Buddhist in Vietnam to do so, and the
first person to receive a doctoral degree in Japan in 20 years.
He returned to Vietnam and co-founded Van Hanh University, a
Buddhist university, which taught all subjects. He became a
very important and influential person. The first monk who immolated
himself did so in an intersection of Saigon, the Ven. Thich
Quang-Duc. That monk came to Thien-An and told him what he was
going to do. Thien-An told him he could not approve it but they
both understood he said that so that when the government showed
up, which it later did, he could truthfully deny he gave permission.
Much more important was the monk who immolated himself in the
courtyard of his temple. That was Ven. Thich Tieu-Dieu, the
father of Thich Thien-An. He and his father had become monks
at the same time. Thich Thien-An, flying low in a helicopter
to avoid radar, arrived too late to take his fathers place.
The government took the body because they did not want a public
funeral ceremony; an uproar resulted. The government began arresting
monks. They threw Thich Thien-An down the stairs I heard
the story from a monk who was hidden at the bottom of the stairs.
After that he had back problems for the rest of his life. They
jailed him. However, when it became clear who he was, he was
released and confined to house arrest. When you have a country
so downtrodden as Vietnam was, nationalism is the only way to
empower the people. That happened in Sri Lanka too.
Sri Lanka today is in civil war. It was had a 450 year history
of colonial occupation, Catholic under the Portuguese, Calvinism
under the Dutch, and Anglican under the British. It was the
Civil War veteran, Col.. Olcott, who revived Buddhism, by publicly
taking refuge in the 3 Jewels. Because of his example, many
Sri Lankans took heart and professed Buddhism again. Today,
about 75% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists.
Dan Reinke: He was criticized for making Buddhism more accessible,
especially to white Buddhists who were coming over.
But he did write the 12 points all Buddhists agree with.
Sr. Thomas Bernard: With some exceptions, do you think the
emphasis is not on religious differences but rather territorialism,
colonialism, culturalism, politics?
Carole Belnick: I have difficulty trying to compare Christian
anti-Semitism with Buddhist nationalism. They are very different
situations. Even looking at Buddhism as a world religion is
a very recent thing.
Michael Kerze: We need to educate each other the best we
can about all these issues, asking different questions, seeing
them in different ways. Its a very different, very complex
history with Christian and Jews than with other religions elsewhere
and nationalistic issues. It may be helpful to us to understand
the differences. We are spiritual, political, cultural beings.
Gordon Gibb: I think it was Thich Nhat Han who was asked
would you rather have peace for your country or Buddhism free.
He said, that is not even an issue. I would rather have my country
be free. You can practice Buddhism even if the Buddha never
lived; his teachings would be true. Thats different than
Michael Kerze: I was thinking of how historical contingencies
structure the vision of reality that comes with the religion.
Christianity began in violence, the violent death of Jesus.
Buddha lived to a ripe old age. What would have happened if
he met a violent end would the tradition regard him the
same way as now? Jesus had 3 years to manifest his vision, Buddha
had 45 years to develop his legacy.
Dan Reinke: Would there have been an actual change
it was the teachings that came from the man rather than the
man himself. He brought the teachings to light even if he came
to a violent death.
Michael Kerze: Could you say the same thing about Christianity?
That his execution, then, would have been incidental to his
Carole Belnick: Being with a teacher is important. Buddhists
being with their teacher for 45 years and the disciples being
with Jesus three years that might make some kind of difference.
Ven. Karuna Dharma: Buddha was older than Jesus when
he reached Enlightenment about 35 and he lived so much
longer. I think that Christian teaching was damaged by his early
death for what it could have been. From a Buddhist view, his
teachings would have been much richer if he lived to be an old
Michael Kerze: In Islam, for example, the historical reality
of the persecution of the Prophet and his amazing triumph, sets
the stage for how Muslims experience their history for a thousand
years. Occasional set backs were overcome. In Christianity,
our model is crucifixion and resurrection. In Buddhism, dont
you have a process to Enlightenment? In Judaism you have oppression
and exodus. You understand your own life this way. Does contingency
get expressed transcendently? Dont origins have consequences
that end up expressed politically and socially. In Christianity,
the three years of teaching meant that the later conflicts were
about trying to figure out who Jesus was and what was he all
about. Buddha got to answer those questions. In Christianity,
its origins played out in its relations with Judaism.
Gordon Gibb: The construction of memory, of the past,
to a Buddhist perspective is a projection of the I,
of the need to exist. But because Buddha had more time, it doesnt
make his teaching more true. By its nature, truth is truth and
when you make contact with any part of it, you contact all of
it. Attempts were made on Buddhas life by Devadatta, his
cousin. He wanted to take over the family business. Buddha had
attracted the people and got it going and Devadatta wanted to
come in and stage a coup de etat. Buddha was injured in Devadattas
attempts. Buddha didnt see it as an act of violence but
Sr. Thomas Bernard: Are we saying truth is static; that
it does not evolve? In the first four centuries Christianity
struggled with the meaning of Jesus but the struggle brought
out clarity in Jesus teaching and a deeper understanding.
Not everything has to be taught in 3 years or 45 years. I see
a value in that Jesus had only three years for it made it possible
to understand truth at different points in different times.
Carol Belnick: The questions the founder originally brought
are very important in a religion. Buddhas question was
suffering. What about Christianity?
Sr. Thomas Bernard: It was love.
Lucy Palermino: Who do you say I am?
Dan Reinke: Today it is: how do you present me to others?
The kids are in and out for classes, work. Sometimes we don't
see each other for days ... because I sleep, sometimes I wonder
about them. It's pretty good living. Isaac got through the crazy
years your Michael is getting into and is a functioning adult,
good tempered. Leila is still enough of a kid who will occasionally
sulk when I tell her something she doesn't like to hear.