Los Angeles Buddhist- Catholic Dialogue

Aug. 1, 2001

Soka Gakkai International Friendship House

Present: Dan Reinke, Sr. Thomas Bernard, Ven. Sumana, Fr. Alexei Smith, Ven. Suchat, Ralph Barnes, Al Albergate, Dr. Rhonda Jessum, Ven. Karuna Dharma, Anita Merwin, Claudia, Dr. Michael Kerze

Daniel Reinke formally present copies of his master’s thesis, The Buddhist-Roman Catholic Dialogue in Southern California: An Historical Overview, to co-chairs Ven. Karuna Dharma and Dr. Michael Kerze. Dan had worked on the thesis for several years, researching the records and publications of the Dialogue, attending dialogues, and interviewing members of the dialogue. Dialogue members can read one of the copies by arranging with co-chairs. His thesis is a well documented source of excellent historical information about Buddhism in California and in Los Angeles, as well as the Dialogue, its genesis and achievements.

Dan thanked the Dialogue for its help and also for the insight and understanding of interreligious dialogue he gained in the process. Dan closed his presentation by quoting from the conclusion of his thesis. The quote was from Leonard Swidler who was writing about the journey of Buddhists and Christians to visit each other:
“But, to make the journey in either direction, a reliable bridge would have to be erected, a bridge of dialogue.

In fact, a kind of footbridge has already been set up and a number of venturesome individuals have gone forth over it — and come back with stirring, stimulating news of the toher. As a result more have set about to expand the narrow footbridge to something broader that will bear heavier traffic, for more and more travlers are being attracted by what they hear of the other and, even more fundamentally, by the ever-pressing human search for Truth. What is this bridge, dialogue?” (P. 150-151)

Dan concluded that: “This bridge is the Buddhist-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Southern California, a bridge based on respect and mutual love.”

The dialogue read additional material Ven. Karuna Dharma provided about sunyata and the Heart Sutra which lead to a discussion of the five skhandas and its role in the Buddhist psychology.

Ven. Sumana: Skhanda means heap or aggregates, a collection of aggregates. They are not single but are the result of something that comes together. A feeling of joy, for example, is the result of a stimulus. Therefore there is stimulus and perception.

Ven. Karuna Dharma: Skhandas refer to the constituents elements of a human being. It is a collection of another group of collections. One must have a thought in order to have an emotion, even if you are unaware of the thought. You cannot separate body and mind. The skhandas are rupa, form — sense organs and objects of the senses, sensation, the result of some contact with form, perception and the thoughts that arise from perceptions. It is awareness of sensation, directing attention. Conceptions arise from that perception, our idea, our name for it. Perception and conception are intertwined, it’s difficult to separate them. There are five thought moments between a perception and a conception before we attach a name to it so there is a moment of pure perception but we go back and forth in our minds so rapidly we are not aware of it. Right after it we put values on it and that’s where we add karma to ourselves; that’s volition.

Rhonda Jessum: At the beginning of vipassana practice body sensation, images, and internal talk are something to observe. The self arises from the congealing of body, sensation, image, and internal talk. If you achieve equanimity it is the entrance into insight, the rising of these congealed pieces into the arising and falling of self and not-self.

Sr. Thomas Bernard: What is the importance of memory? In the Western tradiiton, it is through memory that things do not die. When we remember, it becomes present to us again. For the Greeks, it was to be remembered in progeny or in literature and history and therefore one sought to be heroic so as to live in the sagas and epics of the poets.

Fr. Alexei: In Eastern Christianity and Judaism, we pray that God keep the memory of the departed eternal and that’s what keeps them alive.

Ven. Karuna Dharma: In Buddhism, memories are as false as anything else.

Michael Kerze: How then did the Buddha remember his past lives?

Ven. Sumana: The skhandas are based on impermanence, on dukkha, anicca, anatman. The Buddha had a special knowledge, a special jnana, that allowed him to remember his past lives. It was one of his six special qualities. But everyone can do it. Why is someone wealthy and sick? That can express something in a past life.

Al Albergate: When you use the term “God,” I think of about ultimate reality. I think of this in Karuna’s paper in terms of ultimate and phenomenal. Sakyamuni talked about the ultimate law of the cosmos, something that can’t be described in words but only experienced.

Ven. Sumana: We do remember in order to assuage grief and express our feeling, our appreciation. We do it for our need, to value a human being as a human being.

Our next meeting will be with a visiting Pure Land group from Japan in early September.