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  • Zen/Ch'an—Catholic Dialogue Opens New Quadrennium
  • Francis V. Tiso

The first in a second quadrennium of dialogues between Catholics and Buddhists on the West Coast was held at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Ukiah, California, on the topic "Abiding in Christ, Taking Refuge in the Buddha." The January 24–27, 2007, meeting was cochaired by Venerable Rev. Heng Sure of the Institute for World Religions, Berkeley, California, and by the Rev. Canon Francis V. Tiso, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Fr. Tiso was substituting for the Catholic cochair, M. R. John C. Wester, auxiliary bishop of San Francisco and newly designated bishop of Salt Lake City, Utah.

The dialogue began with a public session, attended by Ukiah religious leadership and by monastics, students, and faculty of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (established by the late Ven. Master Hsü an Hua [1918–1995]). A panel of participants discussed the unique features of this dialogue, linking it to the original intention of Venerable Master Hua to promote interreligious dialogue, based on his long friendship with Paul Cardinal Yü Bin. In particular, the panel explored those great themes of our respective traditions that have been at the heart of our previous four years of dialogue: "Walking the Bodhisattva Path/Walking the Christ Path" (2003); "Transformation of Hearts and Minds: Approaches to Precepts" (2004); "Practice: Means Toward Transformation" (2005); and "Meeting on the Path" (2006). These dialogues have built strong bonds of friendship and have contributed to a deeper understanding of one another's terminologies, histories, and practices. The participants are now moving into a new series of dialogues that will ask religious questions arising from the conditions of contemporary secular culture.

In the course of two days of spiritual exercises and closed-session dialogues, the participants examined the basis of Christian and Buddhist commitments. The Buddhist refuge practice, entailing "taking refuge in, or relying upon, the Buddha, his Teachings, and the enlightening Community" (the Three Jewels of Buddha, dharma, and sangha), was paired with the Catholic Sacraments of Initiation (baptism, confirmation, and eucharist): both constitute the basis for entry [End Page 147] into the spiritual life, and both continue to impact the integration of faith with daily life.

Fr. Robert Hale of New Camaldoli Monastery, Big Sur, California, developed the topic of "Abiding in Christ" in writings of St. John and St. Paul in the New Testament. The classic images of organic unity—the vine and the branches, the body and its members—are the primary metaphors on which the New Testament writers base their presentation of abiding in Christ. The New Testament is rich in the language of embodiment, incorporation, enfleshment, and participation, even as it borrows the images of the guest, the friend, the beloved, and the spouse from Hebrew prophetic writings. All the relational images refer to the Christian's participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, conferred in the sacrament of baptism. Because the metaphors are relational, they direct our attention to a dynamic participation in the shared love of God, which constitutes our deepest center and true self. All ascetic practice is ordered to that end: the gracious, divinizing participation in the life of God. Practices of the spiritual life dispose the Christian to receive the gift of divine life more fully, consciously, and fruitfully. Even the "language" of spiritual life is provisional and, as it were, "a stuttering," meant more to nudge human consciousness more deeply into communion with the gift given as "mystery" than to define stages and states of mystical attainment.

Venerable Rev. Heng Ch'ih of Gold Buddha Monastery, Vancouver, British Columbia, examined the nature of faith as the basis for taking refuge in Buddha, dharma, and sangha in the Ch'an Buddhist tradition. One makes the choice of taking refuge on the basis of a faith that has been matured through reflection. The phenomenology of the act of taking refuge entails going before a qualified spiritual preceptor, who performs the rite in accordance with the traditions of the lineage. The prior action of reflection can then unfold in meditative practice...


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