Los Angeles, Buddhist- Roman Catholic Dialogue

October 2, 1999


Present: Ven. Karuna Dharma, Al Albergate, Ralph Barnes, Rev. Kusala, Gordon Gibbs, Anita Merwin, Fr. Jim Fredericks, Ven. Bangong, Michael Kerze

We watched Rev. Kusala's interview on a television program talking about Buddhism and the visit of the Dalai Lama. We agreed that Rev. Kusala spoke well of Buddhism and was very telegenic. Reviewing the minutes of the previous dialogue, Gordon Gibb pointed out his comment on the "mythic understanding" of Christ was not accurately represented for, as the comment now stands, it would be something he would not say about Christianity. Michael Kerze reported on the meeting of the Faiths in the World Committee of Nadeo in Mundelein, Illinois. At the meeting, the response to the letter on the spirituality of interreligious dialogue, to which the Los Angeles dialogue contributed, was discussed and reviewed. A response will be drafted for the US bishops and will be sent to Rome where it will become part of the process creating what will be an official Vatican statement on interreligious dialogue. The committee thanked the dialogue for their input and sent their greetings to the friends they made during last year's Malibu dialogue and retreat. A participant in the Malibu dialogue, Fr. Joe Gibino in Brooklyn is hoping to do an east coast Buddhist Catholic dialogue and retreat.

Fr. Jim Fredericks: India is very important for the letter on the spirituality of dialogue. A prominent Indian Catholic theologian is using Hindu thought to think of the Catholic Church in India. Is this a wise way to use Hindu thought? People in the Vatican are very concerned about this. For example, Tony de Melo suggests that you can meditate and not need scripture. But Hindu nationalists are burning down churches and schools in India; the Church there is in a difficult position. This is in the background for issues around dialogue.

Saturday I participated in a dialogue between Christians and Hindus. It's a very different dialogue than between Christians and Buddhists, for example, Hindus have God and gods. I think a lot of Arinze's letter reflects the Hindu-Zoroastrian-Jewish-Muslim dialogues. The topic at the dialogue was on the feminine in the traditions. I talked last; I as the only man who talked. A woman refused to lead the traditional Hindu role. She renounced the world, meditated, and then found a "non-gendered transcendental relationship." But God is a "thou" and don't "thous" come in male and female?

Gordon Gibb: Christian theology is incarnational. It is relational no matter how we identify the form.

Fr. Fredericks: Hinduism can move into non-gendered language more easily than in Christianity. It certainly wouldn't work with sunyata.

Rev. Kusala: Sunyata is empty of independent existence and in that is its fulness. To come to the place of emptiness in the self is also to recognize our interconnectedness. In Hinduism, there is lots of masculine and feminine and their coming together.

Fr. Fredericks: But I still have a problem with "non-gendered ultimate reality." God is a thou.

Rev. Kusala: Is there "ultimate" language in Christianity? Can you see the God of words as relative versus God as absolute?

Fr. Fredericks: Nagarjuna teaches that one ought not talk about sunyata as ultimate reality.

Gordon Gibb: Jesus emptied himself of any concept of the Father &endash; "Not my will but thine be done."

Fr. Fredericks: When I was in Japan, I lived across from a famous rock garden, Ryonaji, in Kyoto. In the evening I'd go in. There the idea of suchness speaks to my experience, "Shin-nyo," "true suchness," "Buddha nature." The Japanese language here is very cosmic. This is a religious experience that gets me in touch with a very sensate reality. I can enter into that as a Christian. Is it an experience of God? Yes it is. I don't want to pray to God &endash; I am with God.

Ten years ago, my only sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was beside myself. A cry came out of my marrow, my center, to God to hear me! When I say the Christian God is a thou I mean, he is a God who hears. How do I bring these two experiences together? The Jewish roots of Christianity make clear, the cry to God comes out of God's otherness, not suchness.

Rev. Kusala: Why do you have to walk across the street to find God? Isn't it interesting that these gardens inspired you to a place of reconnection? For those who practice, that becomes an every day experience.

Fr. Fredericks: What about that cry?

Rev. Kusala: It is the existential voice of suffering.

Gordon Gibb: It is also God's cry too: I too am receiving the disease; I too am related to it. The nature of the Kingdom of God is an experience of form and of emptiness, sunyata. That's why Jesus points it out, it is here and not yet here, to those who need absolutes in mind.

Fr. Fredericks: In the experiences of suchness and of the deep sense of otherness of the thou in the experience about my sister, there is a tension I don't want to get rid of. I can't get God down to one side or another. The wisdom, the path, unfolds by renouncing both, emptying the thou into suchness and suchness into God. The Kingdom of God is right here and right now: open your eyes and smell the scotch! The Buddhist folks, the Mahayana especially, can appreciate that. But it is not the whole story. The Kingdom is coming, not here, not yet. When you loose the tension, Catholicism becomes insufferable, authoritarian. If you the focus is just on the future, Protestants become insufferable. It's not all evil, not all social critique. Love is here and now!

Rev. Kusala: You don't want to pick sides. The "coin" aspect of the two sides is their interconnectedness. Because of our limitations, we can't see the coin, just the two sides.

Fr. Fredericks: Would Nagarjuna say, there is no coin?

Rev. Kusala: He would say, it's always heads, always tails, and neither, and both.

Fr. Fredericks: Nagarjuna says don't say Nirvana exists, nor it doesn't exist, nor both together, nor neither exists or doesn't exist. What's left over? A teacher in Japan loved Rilke: "And the rose, ah, so beautiful." Take away the subject/object, what are you left with? Just the "ah".

I was teaching Nagarjuna once. The students were having a very difficult time. A woman in the class objected: "I'm paying for this stuff???" I turned to the blackboard &endash; I didn't know what to do, then I felt it. I turned around and looked right at her and I said: "You got it!" She said: "I did get it!" "What?" "I can't say it." Then I said: "Nagarjuna is a genius." And she said: "Yes he is!"