Los Angeles Buddhist Catholic Dialogue

March 15, 2000

Loyola Marymount University


Present: Gordon Gibb, Fr. Jim Fredericks, Rev. Kusala, Ven. Karuna Dharma, Al Albergate, Anita Merwin, Dr. Matt Dillon, Dr. Michael Kerze, and LMU students: Nick Pinto, Nicole Campangi, Peter Glen, John, Linda, Brandon, Isaac Kerze.

John read a poem by the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi. We discussed rootedness in our traditions and transcendence. In terms of Buddhism, is Christianity a dharma gate? Can enlightenment be achieved without Buddhism? When and where is Nirvana?

Rev. Kusala: Nirvana has no qualities; it's everywhere and nowhere at the same time. At the relative level, Nirvana and Samsara cannot exist without each other, on the absolute level there is no distinction. How is it in the Pure Land tradition?

Gordon Gibb: Hsi Lai Temple represents both Pure Land and Ch'an Buddhism. Pure Land is more popular and has the most devotees. Up to this century, Pure Land was someplace you prepared to go especially by the repetition of Buddha's name, Amitabha, like the repetition of Jesus' name in the Jesus Prayer. "Namo" means "All praise to ... " or "I am ...". Amitabha is infinite light, infinite life. To recite it challenges the idea of rootedness in one time, one place, one name, in infinite light and life, and therefore having no obstructions. Obstruction or blockage is a better term to use than "defilement" which makes me, as a Westerner, think of sin. It's different than sin.

Pure Land is like heaven, a bright place of clarity where one can meet one's true self and therefore enter enlightenment. It quickens the process to enlightenment so one can return to samsara to aid all sentient beings, to aid the conditions in which we live, to enhance our abilities to live in balance. The Ch'an Pure Land monk, Tai Hsu, realized what was happening, that people were misguided for people were living one way to get out of this life for another. But he declared: this life is a Pure Land, the perfect place to wake up in, and that is why it is such a painful place. It can contract the heart but given kindness, it can expand the heart. There's a spaciousness to it, the uninjured quality of being.

Al Albergate: One of the criticisms of Pure Land was that it was very pessimistic. Nichern attacked the desire to escape to another land. There is no escape and no need to escape.

Ven. Karuna: Hsi Chi, a Japanese mystic, defined Pure Land as a blink of an eye away. We are in the Pure Land, right now, if we can see it.

Fr. Fredericks: What is at the heart of Buddhist practice? Is it awakening or is it faith in the power of Amida to bring us to Pure Land?

Ven. Karuna: There is great faith, great doubt, great effort. There is great faith that we can gain enlightenment. If you don't believe it you don't get it. There is great doubt for everything must be doubted. There is great effort, one cannot give up.

Gordon: To believe in the enlightenment of Buddha ... how do you use it in reference to a creed? What is the relation of belief and practice?

Ven. Karuna: Meditation is the foundation of belief. You experience more and more of the possibility of enlightenment.

Dr. Kerze: Are you sure that belief and faith in Buddhism means the same as it does in Christianity? Faith is tied to history; it is tied to promises being made and living one's life in the conviction the promise will be kept &endash; as one does with promises made in marriage or in a contract. God promised Abraham to make him the father of a great people through whom all the earth would be blessed. He promised to give him a land he would show him. Abraham left his home on the basis of that promise. God kept his promise to Abraham's family when he liberated them from Egypt in the Exodus. He gave them the law, the Torah, to tell them how to live so the promise could be kept. In Christianity, the promise is salvation through Jesus Christ who was the promise of blessing to all the earth. Faith in Jesus means participation in his divine life. There is a historical dimension to faith. It is very different than the sense Karuna used it as having confidence in. Belief also is very specific. To say "I believe..." is something one does in Christianity, and it is a liturgical statement, something said during ritual performance.

The first time is in Baptism where one confirms onself in the promise and then repeated during Eucharistic celebrations with the recitation of the creed: I believe in God the Father Almighty, in Jesus the savior, in the Holy Spirit, in the Church. Creed comes from the Latin word credo: "I believe...". It comes from same root, kardia, that the word "cardiac" comes from. It means: "I set my heart upon this...". It is much more than assent to a series of propositions . It is a staking one's life upon the truth of God and Christ. Should a Christian liturgical utterance be used indiscriminately to denote the content of all religions? I worry about what we won't understand about other religions as a result.

Peter: This is helpful for I have been reflecting a lot on my own faith experience and I am seeking clarity. Can we see the Kingdom of Heave here and now? Isn't awakening an equal part to faith? We can do what Jesus did because, Jesus, as God and man, means we can do it too, and that is like confidence in the Buddha.

Fr. Fredericks: When I was in Kyoto last year and taught, they were interested in what Christians meant by the resurrection of the body. Resurrection is something that can happen to you after you die, but more importantly, resurrection is something that can happen to you right here and now. The more I look at the scriptural texts, the more useful I find the Zen notion of awakening. Resurrection is awakening, is opening your eyes, letting the ignorance fall away, so you see the world for the first time. There's parallels there.

In one of the Pure Land traditions there is Shanto's story of the man chased by brigands who comes to a river of fire and there's a tiny path across it and the Buddha is on the other side saying: come over, don't be afraid. This is a very intriguing image for faith. Wouldn't it intriguing to think about it with the story of Jesus walking across the waters of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples are in a boat and Peter sees the Lord coming and he says: Peter, come!" Peter walks across the water until he realizes he can't walk across the water, and he begins to sink. That is a powerful image of faith as obedience, as response. Clearly there are thematic similarities with this tradition in Pure Land.

Ven. Karuna: Zen talks about standing on a mountain and jumping off. There is a man hanging off the edge of a cliff who sees a strawberry. He reaches out to eat it and falls off the cliff. The important point is to take that leap.

Brandon: To reach awakening you need great doubt. Is it instinctual so that you say I cannot let go of this twig or else I will fall and I will die?

Ven. Karuna: Great doubt is to question the very basis of our life.

Rev. Kusala: Awakening is not Nirvana. It is more like enlightenment. And there are different levels of enlightenment. You reach Nirvana through the eight fold path. Along the path, you would experience awakening, experience interconnectedness, and experience emptiness. Annica, impermanence, dukkha, unsatisfactoriness, and Anatta, not self, are the elements of early Buddhism. Anatta is the seed of the great emptiness you find in Mahayana Buddhism.

Gordon Gibb: In Mahayana, one postpones Nirvana for sake of returning for the benefit of sentient beings, but more, there is no separate self that needs to be relieved of suffering to enter into Nirvana. The last thing we need to give up is entering into Nirvana for that still alludes to a sense of self as something entering into. Is it like Jesus' joy after resurrection, that you get to come back and share the joy with all?

Dr. Kerze: I was thinking about Jesus and the resurrection and faith and awakening. There was the aspect of Pure Land that it is here and that you just have to see it. If you get clarity you see the Pure Land here in the midst of the suffering. In Christianity we have the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven being here and not here at the same time. Thinking of faith as living according to the promise being kept, if you live as if the promise will be kept, the promise is being kept. The faith is confirmed in your experience and that is a taste of the Kingdom and presence of God which is why you can step out of the boat and walk on water. Jesus is there. You are in the midst of suffering but nonetheless God is ruling like a king. His order is the actual order of reality.

Ven. Karuna: The poem of Rumi says: all there is is breathing, all there is is breath. That's such an important part of Buddhist meditation. You get to the point where you realize nothing exists except breathing itself. Every living thing, whether it is plant or animal, breathes. In meditation you realize everything is breathing. That poem was wonderful. Thanks.