- Ch'an/Zen-Catholic Dialogue Spreads a "Welcome Table" at the 2009 Annual Meeting
A retreat program designed by the participants in the ongoing Ch'an/Zen-Catholic Dialogue explored the dialogue of religious experience and the dialogue of life, set amid the redwoods of Guerneville, California. The 28–31 January 2009 meeting was cochaired by the Rev. Heng Sure of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery and the Institute for World Religions, Berkeley, California, and by Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Sr. Mary Ann Donovan of the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, led an experience of lectio divina based on John 15:1–17, Jesus's simile of the vine and the branches. Rev. Victoria Austin of the San Francisco Zen Center gave an "encouragement talk," which would typically be delivered to Zen retreatants. She referred to the Gospel passage, noting: "We don't prune the vine because it is dead, but because it has the capacity to be fruitful. We don't purify the mind to get rid of dirt, but to return to the mind's original purity, which is the source of our conscience and is the true life within us." Rev. Jan Chosen Bays of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon observed that "Vows make our life energy more focused, keeping us from losing purpose and meaning. Vows prune away unnecessary things. When we ask for help with the challenge of being faithful to our vows, we call up and encounter unexpected sources of support and 'grace.' "
The Ch'an Buddhist presentation focused on meditation experience, which was described as "recovering the natural state of the mind." Prof. Martin Verhoeven of the Pacific School of Religion pointed out that in meditation "we are returning to the origin, not moving forward to 'gain something.'" Linking ethical engagement with contemplation, he said, "When the mind of a meditator is motivated to act out of genuine compassion, its action is accurate and correct. Action is neither driven nor obstructed by ego or sentiment." These comments resonated with Rev. Heng Sure's presentation on the statement on the environment from the recent Gethsemane III conference "Simple and Sufficient," in which Buddhist and Christian monastics embraced an ecologically valid way of life. Urging the group to notice the connections between contemplation and ethical action, Bishop John C. Wester commented: "This [End Page 145] work embodies mercy by lifting people up; it embodies justice as it arises out of our common humanity."
Because of the financial challenges that all three sponsoring institutions are facing, it was decided to conclude formal sponsorship of the Ch'an/Zen-Catholic Dialogue with this meeting. However, participants agreed to work together to reconstitute the dialogue regionally. A steering committee was designated to undertake new logistical arrangements and to draft a narrative of the previous seven years of dialogue for posting on our respective websites. Bishop Wester summarized the convictions of participants, both Buddhist and Catholic, by observing: "It is impossible not to be affected by this experience. Dialogue in this atmosphere has had an impact on my own way of ministering to others. I feel that my faith, sensitivity, compassion, and reverence have been enhanced by participating in these meetings."
Participants in the 2009 dialogue meeting included Rev. Heng Sure, Berkeley Buddhist Monastery; Bishop John C. Wester, Salt Lake City; Dr. Snjezana Akpinar, Dharma Realm Buddhist University; Rev. Gigen Victoria Austin, San Francisco Zen Center; Rev. Jan Chozen Bays, Great Vow Zen Monastery; Sr. Phyllis D'Anna, SND, Zen Center, Palo Alto; Sr. Mary Ann Donovan, SC, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley; Dr. Ron Epstein, Dharma Realm Buddhist Association; Mrs. Lorraine Moriarty, Society of St. Vincent De Paul; Bhikshuni Heng Jiao, City of 10,000 Buddhas; Bhikshuni Heng Liang, City of 10,000 Buddhas; Rev. Canon Francis Tiso, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Rev. James Massa, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Rev. Thomas W. Devereaux, Diocese of Santa Rosa ecumenical and interreligious officer; Dr. Martin Verhoeven, Pacific School of Religion; and Ron Brown, observer (Cloverdale, California). [End Page 146]