- Edmond Pezet: A Priest among Buddhist Monks in Thailand by Henri Huysegoms and Pierre Liesse
It is likely that few in the United States have heard of the person whose letters and writings are collected in this volume, originally published in French as Edmond Pezet, un prêtre parmi les moines bouddhistes en Thaïlande (Brussels, 2012). Henri Huysegoms and Pierre Liesse have done a great service to the Church as a whole and to the cause of interreligious dialogue—especially dialogue with Buddhism—by selecting the main writings of Edmond Pezet, placing them in their historical contexts, and providing brief commentaries to aid us in understanding Pezet the man and his work.
For a man who later became a contemplative recluse, Pezet led a life that was nothing short of colorful. Born in 1923 in Larnagol, Lot, France, as the oldest of four children of Émile Louis Pezet and Marie Rosalie Chalou, Pezet studied for the priesthood at the seminary in Cahors (1942–45). World War II interrupted his studies in 1945 as he became a member of the French Far East Expeditionary Corps that served in Indochina. In 1946 he resumed his theological studies and [End Page 643] was ordained to the priesthood in 1949. He worked as a parish priest until 1955 when he joined Société des Auxiliaires des Missions (S.A.M.) with the goal of serving as a missionary. In December 1956 he was sent to the Diocese of Tha Rae-Nongsaeng in northeastern Thailand. Here began Pezet’s long journey of spiritual transformation. He soon became disenchanted with the Church of Thailand’s missionary method, which turned the Church into a rich and Latinized ghetto, and required the memorization of incomprehensible dogmatic formulas in catechetical instruction. But what distressed Pezet most was the Church’s disdain for the Thai people’s Buddhist tradition. Following the example of Jules Monchanin, a fellow S.A.M. and a missionary in India who advocated the adaptation of Hindu spirituality, Pezet set out “to bury himself in the nourishing soil of his people” and “to seek the providential ways from the Buddha to Christ” (p. 55). After his return to Thailand from leave in France, Pezet’s malaise with the Church in Thailand grew worse, and in 1969 he asked to be released from the Diocese of Tha Rae and be reduced to the status of deacon (an unknown canonical process); this would effectively remove him from priestly duties and permit his complete devotion to the study of Buddhism. Henceforth he began a monastic life, first in the community of the Buddhist forest monks and later as a hermit by himself. In 1979 he interrupted his contemplative life to serve the Khmer refugees. In 1980 he returned to the Diocese of Tha Rah. In 1982 Pezet went to France and returned to Tha Rah a year later. Although his bishop allowed him to continue to live as a Buddhist, Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu of Bangkok forbade it. In 1984 Pezet went back to France and stayed there until 1987. Once more he returned to Thailand and stayed until 1989. In October of that year he returned to France and worked there as a parish priest for nineteen years. He died on December 20, 2008, at age eighty-five.
Pezet has left behind several writings on Buddhism; a list is given on pages 383–86. The editors have provided an excellent selection on pages 159–81. Although Pezet studied Buddhism extensively and knew Sanskrit, he is not what is conventionally called a “Buddhologist.” His significance lies not in scholarly research in Buddhism, but in his attempt at mediating Buddhism to Christians. In this regard, the essays “The Buddha’s Message and the Bible’s Message” (pp. 187–217) and “A Christian’s Perplexity in the Face of Buddhist Doctrine” (pp. 279–314) are of special interest. Pezet’s greatest and enduring legacy, however...