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  • On Buddhist-Christian Studies in Relation to Dialogue
  • Francis V. Tiso

In taking on the task of co-editing Buddhist-Christian Studies, it would seem appropriate to provide some background by way of introduction. Being a disciple of Brother David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B., a man who refuses to sign his name with capital letters, since the late 1960s, it goes against my grain to write too much about myself. Therefore, the following comments are meant also to serve as a foreword to the current issue.

My own background in Buddhist-Christian studies has its roots in ongoing collaboration with Br. David, who will be remembered for his decades-long study of Zen and his affectionate rapport with the San Francisco Zen Center community, among others. I later studied interreligious dialogue and its theological implications with George Rupp and Harvey Cox at Harvard Divinity School. In order to let my studies sink their roots into contemplative soil, I served as Br. David's assistant at the Benedictine Grange and then went on to edit theological books at the Seabury Press in New York. Thanks to the kindness of the late and revered Alex Wayman, I was able to complete a doctorate in Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary, where I gained some ability to work with Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan. I sought additional tutorial guidance from José Pereira of Fordham University, a polymath scholar deeply appreciated for his extraordinary ability to introduce students to the intricacies of Sanskrit literature. Our lengthy conversations about the Baroque Scholastic Catholic theologians formed my eagerness to welcome at least three of the articles in the current issue of BCS. After the doctorate, I continued to pursue study and contemplative practice in Europe and Asia, developing collegial friendships, especially with members of the International Association for Tibetan Studies. In 2003, M. R. John C. Wester, auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, asked me to participate in the Northern California Zen/Ch'an–Catholic Dialogue that had arisen from earlier dialogue programs in various monastic milieux such as Gethsemane and New Camaldoli. In the context of that dialogue, I was asked to serve the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumencial and Interreligious Affairs in Washington, DC, in 2004.

Given this ongoing interplay in my own life between scholarly research and contemplative [End Page iii] practice, it is my hope that BCS will continue to nurture the same interests in its readership. Good scholarship and commitment to the goals of spiritual inquiry should also enrich the dialogue between Buddhists and Christians in various parts of the world. In a recent publication,1 Taigen Dan Leighton describes Dogen's methods with regard to reading: "So in addition to just reading through this material, the student of Zen may likely want to chew slowly at times, find pieces that are especially provocative, stimulating, or unsettlingly challenging, and take a while to consider, reflect, and digest." This is exactly what the Christian contemplative does in lectio divina. Moreover, to persons inclined to this kind of inquiry, even scholarly research gives rise to creative and, at times, truly contemplative insight. Thus even a journal committed to scholarship might find comfort in the "apophatic" methods of Buddhist or Christian contemplatives. Taigen reminds us that Zen sitting practice (zazen) is not the suppression of content. In fact, understanding is expected:

Dogen is clearly not recommending zazen as mere blank, mindless sitting. Although he frequently criticizes practice concerned with achievement, or with reaching for particular schematized stages of development, Dogen regularly asks his monks if they thoroughly understand. He is suggesting a practice that is informed by intense inquiry into the ancient teachings, sayings, and dialogues, as well as into our present immediate experience. Throughout formal meditation as well as in our everyday activity, Dogen encourages vivid attention and awareness.

In practice, this is nothing less than the interactive application of the principles of the great teachings on emptiness. As a method, the philosophical analysis of emptiness came to have an enormous impact on the Ch'an and Zen traditions; it was a method of "negation" in the sense that it could be...


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