Los Angeles Buddhist- Catholic Dialogue

December 13, 1999

Present: Ven. Karuna Dharma, Rev. Kusala, Al Albergate, Gordon Gibb, Anita Merwin, Michael Kerze

Al Albergate reported on his the World Parliament of Religions in South Africa. where he was one of the representatives of Soka Gakkai International. The Parliament had about 5000 participants and was stimulating but overwhelming.

Michael Kerze: The topic we concluded with at our last meeting was verb and noun in our traditions in respect to logos and dharma.

Rev. Kusala: Might we think of this in terms of messenger and message? The messenger is the verb and the message is the noun. In a Buddhist context, even great Buddhist teachers are not the message. When you see a practitioner, do you see a verb or a noun? When you see that person's practice, does the message become apparent to you. When I went to Northern California and visited a Thai forest tradition center, I found they didn't need to talk a lot. They were up a 4:30 in the morning, they had their practice, their work, their lunch, and throughout the day, they didn't talk a lot. They receive questions in a formal setting. They sit there and you sit here and you watch them do stuff, open the mail, etc. They didn't have to say anything and you saw Buddhism. However, I have to say a lot sometimes for people to see Buddhism. For me the verb is the person and the noun is the message.

Gordon Gibb: I would see it a bit differently. At one moment the messenger is the noun and the next moment he can be the verb. Where we get stuck is when we have named a verb a noun.

Rev. Kusala: Yes, we can make the messenger into the message. In the case of Chogyam Trungpa, from Dharmadatu, he died in his early 40's from cirrhosis of the liver. He articulated some of the most incredible teachings I have ever heard. But was his life the message?

Gordon Gibb: In all fairness to him, it would be difficult for me to sit and listen to someone who was so overtly an alcoholic. What can you teach me? You have to have your act together. But then, I'm wondering, if the message for all the obstacles he has is that he is still able to transcend himself through his writings. They don't come out of a vacuum. Part of his foundation is his alcoholism. The insights are not separate from that condition. But I am not entirely convinced. It still has not illuminated his alcoholism. It gives me confidence, however, for all the obstacles I have overcome, that some are still very much alive and yet I can still be of value. The message that is me is that I can still work with those obstacles not eliminated.

Anita Merwin: When you have an alcohol or drug addiction, I have heard it short circuits something in the brain. If you do short circuit something in the brain, you may reach somewhere we don't know about. It could be a transcendent place from which you can write.

Ven. Karuna Dharma: I find Chogyam Trungpa to be very interesting. He produced very wonderful students so there is something going for him that they could see. He not only wrote but he could speak quite well. And when he did speak, you did not see his alcoholism. To me, he was both the message and he produced the message as well. He was a very interesting guy; he spoke here in the early 70's. He did not speak of his problems but of the dharma. His Tibetan teachers said he was the best dharma teacher they had in this country. I think the best dharma teachers are those who had rather questionable lives in their early youth; that way you understand people quite well. Before he would accept someone as a student, he would bring them into his room and say, this is what I have done in my past life. You must know this if you still want to be my student. He was totally honest.

Rev. Kusala: It reminds me of something Ram Dass said: if you are neurotic in LA you are probably going to be neurotic in New York. You will just relate to it a little differently. As your spiritual progress increases, it does not mean your personal quirks disappear but that your relation to them changes. They are not so much your enemy, but old friends come to visit.

Michael Kerze: This is one of the elements you see in AA. Those who are in the program are often very honest and humble, and can be very arrogant too. They are in a process where they have to confront human weakness and their own. The first step is to acknowledge: I am an alcoholic.

Rev. Kusala: The first step for me would be to acknowledge: I am a monk. That the precepts become the signposts for monks and nuns. It would be much harder to walk a straight and narrow path with marriage and family and friends and being in samsara as opposed to having these wonderful signposts which say: right speech, right action, etc..

Michael Kerze: I still don't have clarity about the verb and noun, messenger and message. In Christianity, Jesus is both. Last time, I think Jim Fredericks said something about Logos and Dharma.. Logos, word, as verb, as noun. Certainly when word became flesh, it became a noun. Yet the noun is also "I am."

Rev. Kusala: If I think of Jimmy Swaggart on tv. Is the messenger always the message in Christianity?

Michael Kerze: No. It is specifically Jesus.

Gordon Gibb: But doesn't Paul say: it is no longer Paul but Christ who lives in me. I don't hear that as unique to Paul, but as a practice for all to emulate. The I and the Thou are both separate and one.

Michael Kerze: Isn't Paul saying that I am not the message, Jesus is the message. And that what I say and do that is worthwhile is Jesus as the Father acting through me. So don't look at me at the message. Don't say your are one of Paul's men, or one of Peter's men, but say you are one of Christ's men. He says that in Corinthians.

Gordon Gibb: What I hear is that Paul isn't the message but Paul's transformation that reveals the heart of Christ. There's a resonance of the message that comes through him. So that the messenger, who is Christ is also Paul. The message is not Paul but the Christ that is coming through him as it would through anyone who has turned themselves over to Christ.

Michael Kerze: As the message comes through, the messenger is both identified with the message but also, in the case of Paul, the person through whom the message became available to other people. Is that what you are getting at?

Gordon Gibb: But the embodiment of the message shapes, on some level, the message. Christ shapes the message of the ancient promise, and Paul also embodies the message which comes unique through that form.

Anita Merwin: In my sense of the spark of God within us as Christians, we can full identify with that spark of God within us. We can utter the message and be the messenger. But none of us are really there. I believe with Chesterton that the last Christian died on the cross.

Gordon Gibb: I am wondering if that is right, that only one unique person could live that way, and the rest of us can do just second best. Anita Merwin: I would not put it that way. My husband belongs to a group called Unity Christianity. They refer to Jesus as our elder brother. I was really offended at one Good Friday service when there was no reference to Jesus at all. I can't identify with Jesus as elder brother because that places Jesus closer to me than the love and power of Jesus is, in reality, yet I sense that there is that element of Jesus within me. Occasionally, though it can merge and resonate totally with that Christ. But that is rare.

Rev. Kusala: I feel the exact opposite way about Buddha. That when people elevate the Buddha away from brotherhood and deify him, that takes him further away from me. When I see the Buddha as someone who walked the earth and had some of the same distractions as I do today, then I feel a connection and closeness to him. I don't want him to be anything more than that, though it seems others do sometimes. When I look at the Buddha and how morally perfect he was, it has such a humbling effect on my ego. When I look at myself, I see all the work that needs to be done. But this man, this human being accomplished the task at age 35. And here I am at 50. Siddartha was human, and Buddha was also human.

Anita Merwin: I don't know if we are as radically different as our articulation is. Jesus was human. But "Christ" is another matter.

Gordon Gibb: What I hear is an affirmation of the divinity and humanity of Christ as indivisible, yet also a need to divide them so Jesus can be placed high enough and I will never be like him.

Michael Kerze: I don't think we would promote something like that. What I think about the revelation of Jesus is that: I am that person in need, hungry. Is that God? What a wonderful way to look at that person! This is holy! That is very specific, very particular to this human at this time. This is incarnation. The elevation of Jesus is there just as the elevation of Buddha is in Buddhism. Buddha is a human being and he is more than a human being.

Gordon Gibb: I don't hear that enjoined when talking about human beings. That human beings are human beings but they are also like Jesus, more than human beings. I am not hearing the same language for "the human being."

Michael Kerze: The topic was to talk about verbs and nouns, and I've been thinking about that literally. Are we going to frame this in terms of language? There's human being in a naturalistic description and then there is human being in a sacred description. The two don't coincide. In the sacred description, every human being is a son or daughter of God, manifests a specific intention of the divine. We have to be careful with "human being." Are we using it in naturalistic or theological terms? We can't slide between the two without some caution, otherwise, we run the risk of confusion. Is a human being just a human being or more than a human being? What's your reference in all the places you are using "human being?" And then applied specifically to Jesus, a naturalistic explanation only permits naturalistic explanations. To say he is fully human and fully divine at the same time, we've moved out of the realm of naturalistic explanations. We are using a different kind of language. Naturalistically, Jesus is fully and completely human. But that naturalistic description is completely coincident, one to one identification, with the divine nature. And that's a theological, not naturalistic statement. And any human being, naturalistically, can share in the divinity of God and that makes you what? More than human?

Anita Merwin: When Raimundo Pannikar concludes the Mass, he says: Go and serve the Christ in each other. He never uses the words priests use, when you are to day: I am not worthy to receive you. He just omits it. He comes out of a Hindu-Spanish background. He's bridged all this stuff. In the article I gave you, he says he is a Catholic priest, a Hindu, an initiated Buddhist, and he sees himself that way.

Rev. Kusala: When I reflect on Buddha nature, I see it as a potential that can turn into a realization. The problem of merging divine and human in Christ: I am divine, I am human, is not a problem in Zen. It is just a koan. Does a Catholic look at that aspect of Christ as potential or full realization? Are you always Christ?

Michael Kerze: Remember what Christ means: Messiah. So we should talk about Jesus Messiah and then question that. It isn't messenger; it means "anointed one." It's from a Greek word for oil. The word comes out of the Jewish context where you anointed kings and priests and holy objects. And it was a promise. It could be refreshing to use Messiah instead of Christ, because the Christ talk is often Lord, Lord, Lord, whereas Jesus often identified himself as shepherd, shepherd, shepherd. And that's quite different than Lord who commands sovereignty. There's been a lot of emphasis on sovereignty and not enough on the servant. That's where the "Lord, where did I see you?" comes into play: when I was hungry, you fed me. Not, when I was up there with the vestments on and the crown. That's not there in the Gospels. There is also the universal authority of the Messiah, "At whose name every knee will bend." What is the authority of the Messiah? To serve the other.

We will arrange our next meeting when we have information about Jim Frederick's teaching schedule and Ven. Dr. Ratanasara's return from Sri Lanka.