- Northern California Zen/Ch'an-Catholic Dialogue
The third meeting of the Northern California Zen/Ch'an–Catholic Dialogue took place at San Francisco Zen Center from Thursday, January 20, to Sunday, January 23, 2005. Set in a framework of meditative stillness and liturgical prayer, the dialogue engaged the theme of "Practice: Means towards Transformation." Co-conveners this year were Bishop John C. Wester, auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, and Abbot Paul Haller of Zen Center.
The opening presentation was an experience of "sacred reading" (lectio divina) from the Christian monastic tradition, using the great christological hymn in Ephesians 1:3–14, allowing each participant to encounter the words and allowing the meaning to arise in silence.
Roshi Jan Chozen Bays and Fr. Francis Tiso stood in for Sr. Mary Ann Donovan, who was ill, for our first session on the meaning of transformation in Christ. Sr. Donovan's paper used Scripture and the biography of St. Anthony of Egypt by St. Athanasius. Discussion explored the meaning of transformation in several periods of Church history and compared the views of Zen and Ch'an on inherent Buddha-nature. The determining role of Christ and the Buddha in shaping our understanding and experience of transformation was examined in the light of contemplative and pastoral experience. Whether practice actually changes persons, or whether it is a matter of uncovering inherent goodness or a liberation brought about by divine grace, was examined in depth.
The third presentation took up the controversial question of dual practice: Christians undergoing Zen training and Buddhists continuing to adhere in various ways to the Christian or Jewish practices into which they may have been born. Fr. James Fredericks examined the testimony of a number of Catholics grounded in the Ignatian spiritual tradition who have pursued Zen training. Respondents noted that there is religious content to Buddhist meditation practice and that one cannot easily segregate "just sitting" from the philosophical "view" within which sitting is fruitful in Buddhist practice. However, numerous instances of dual practice have been seen to give rise to exemplary lives among mature Christians and Buddhists, suggesting a "hidden wholeness" that is nurtured by such practice.
Rev. Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Rev. Heng Shur, and Jan Chozen Bays led an exploration of the culture and meaning of the practice of chanting the Heart Sutra. [End Page 199] This practice embodies the unity of emptiness and compassion that characterizes the Mahayana philosophical viewpoint and the ideal of the Bodhisattva. Musical settings include ancient Chinese chant, contemporary East Asian pop music, and even Anglican plainchant.
Rev. Myo Denis Lahey explored the problematic dimensions of dual practice and the presence of the "other" in Christian and Buddhist spirituality. Discussion ranged over the sense of "belonging" in religious life and the sense of being guided by circumstances that are perfectly suited to our needs as we grow and change.
Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton based his presentation on the insight of Dogen Zenji that "all space becomes charged with the Buddha's enlightenment and each meditator can renew the quality of change" across the arc of time. The meditator is within the world-system and can take on the role of a protector, responsible for caring for the world. This is the basis for Buddhist social engagement. Fr. Robert Hale developed a response showing how the prophetic social critique of the Hebrew tradition takes on a new form in the universal mission of the Cosmic Christ. Discussion examined the risks of social engagement and co-optation, purity of motivation, and the limits of institutional bases for action. General discussion explored the use of a variety of metaphors, such as "a diamond with many facets," to describe our engagement as persons committed to spiritual practice with a world of contradictory voices.
One sign of authentic spiritual transformation was recognized in the ability to abide in and hold perplexity and opposition: contradictions can lead us to a deeper awareness of self and others in relationships.
A public event at the Zen Center on Saturday evening allowed a variety of spiritual seekers to engage the dialogue experience. Questions having the character of shared spiritual guidance gave solidity to the sense of unity and trust that...