Los Angeles Buddhist Catholic Dialogue

September 9, 2001

St. Francis Xavier Church (Maryknoll)


Present: Visitors from Chikushi Jogakuen University, Fukuoka, Japan: Prof. Masanori Nakagawa, Rev. Ichigyo Oyama,, Prof. Tomoyuki Uno, Prof. Kuriyama, Prof. Dennis Hirota; Rev. Gregory G. Gibbs of Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, Rev. Noriaki Ito, Sr. Thomas Bernard, Al ALbergate, Fr. Jim Fredericks, Lucy Palermino and Mary Ann Gould of the World Community for Christian Meditation, members of St. Francis Xavier Church, and Dr. Michael Kerze.

Prof. Uno specializes in Indian philosophy and Jainism.

Prof. Oyama is a minister at a Shin Buddhist temple in Chikushi and specializes in the thought of Shinran. He has experience of interreligious dialogue at the conference of the Society of Buddhist Christian Studies, at conference at Harvard, and at a Christian Buddhist Dialogue held at his university.

Prof. Nakagawa is a Jodo Shin minister and is a scholar of Indian Buddhism and a Sanskritist. His interest is in starting a hospice movement in Japan.

Prof. Kuriyama is the resident minister at a temple and teaches Buddhism and Japanese intellectual history and literature at the university.

Prof. Dennis Hirota grew up in Berkeley, went to Japan (where he met Nori Ito) and has been translating the works of Shinran over the last 23 years. He teaches comparative culture at the university.

Ven. Karuna Dharma and Dr. Michael Kerze, co-chairs of the dialogue, welcomed the guests and talked about the benefits of dialogue for the Los Angeles Buddhist and Catholic communities and the importance of the dialogue on a national level. We are more than a dialogue after more than a decade of dialoguing; we are a community.

Prof. Dennis Hirota inquired about the pastoral benefits of the dialogue, especially how the dialogue extends itself to the wider communities and about issues of dying and death.

Rev. Ito pointed out that we tell our congregations about the dialogue, filtering down the experience to them.

Fr. Fredericks discussed how most of us are religious professionals and/or academics for whom intellectual and doctrinal issues are important but also how important the dialogue has been for him to advise Buddhist students who seek him out at Loyola Marymount University and who he can connect to Buddhist dialogue members and that Buddhist friends teach in his classes. At Maryknoll many parishioners ask questions about their Buddhist relatives and the dialogue helps him answer.

Ven. Karuna Dharma discussed her prison ministry conducted over the internet. The dialogue has helped her enormously to deal with the problems they have with prison chaplains who don’t know about Buddhism. She will send copies of the LA dialogues “An Early Journey” publication to them, to parishioners and to their parents.

Lucy Palerimo told about her experience in meditation sessions with Buddhists and how in the silence of meditation deep bonds are created.

Fr. Fredericks asked the guests if they are involved in local interreligious dialogues. They pointed out that the numbers of members of other religions is relatively small and that in Japan Buddhists of different schools may not talk to each other.

Rev. Ito remarked that young priests from Japan have little idea of the world outside of Jodo Shinshu and discussed how Reuben Habito, a former Catholic priest and a zen master, teaches comparative religion to future Methodist ministers at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

Sr. Thomas Bernard discussed pastoral issues about death and dying, how central compassion is, and how that is where care for the dying begins. Why is it a concern.

Profs. Nakagawa and Oyama talked about religion in Japan, how many of the dying have no religion for religion is just for marriage, birth, and funerals. How can you teach people about being reborn in the Pure Land if they have never had experience with Buddhist teaching. How can a dialogue happen?

In Roman Catholicism, Fr. Fredericks said, there are many rituals for the dying – last rites, confession, last communion, for example. Catholics call upon a priest for the rituals when they are dying. In Japan it’s different because most rites are for the dead, not the dying.

Prof. Oyama pointed out that in Japan, Buddhism relates only to death, not dying. If a Buddhist priest goes to a hospital its very problematical for the patient; it means they are about to die.

Al Albergate discussed how Soka Gakkai International in the United States is a lay movement. Once a month people meet in neighborhood groups and there issues of the sick or dying can be addressed. They pray together and provide a network for support.

Fr. Fredericks discussed a program at St. Mary’s hospital in San Francisco where the Catholic priest there is working with Buddhists and Ken Tanaka training Buddhists from local communities to be chaplains.

Ven. Karuna Dharma pointed out that in Vietnamese and Theravada Buddhism , priests and monks are called to help and chant for the sick.

Fr. Fredericks discussed the transformation of the sacrament once known as Extreme Unction performed for the dying to a sacrament anointing for the sick, retrieving the original practice of the sacrament. It is no longer “extreme.”

Lucy Palerimo noted that the healing is not just physical but emotional. The emphasis is on the whole person.

Sr. Thomas Bernard asked if the guests saw the possibility of doing something like this in Japan.

Prof. Oyama said he would like to try and establish a dialogue, including an inter-Buddhist dialogue.

Fr. Fredericks pointed out the diversity of the Buddhists in our dialogue group. Not only is the Los Angeles dialogue a Buddhist Catholic dialogue but also a Buddhist-Buddhist dialogue.

On Monday and Tuesday the guests from Japan will be giving lectures and discussions at Loyola Marymount University.