- Introduction:Spiritual Friends in a Multifaith and Multisuffering World
Ananda said to the Buddha. “Master, spiritual friendship is half of the spiritual life.” The Buddha told him. “Not so, Ananda. It’s the whole of the spiritual life.”—Samyutta Nikaya, Volume 1
If one friend suffers, all the friends suffer together with her; if one friend is honoured, all rejoice together with him.—1 Corinthians 12:26
This year’s Buddhist-Christian Studies includes selected articles presented at the International Buddhist-Christian Conference titled “Enlightenment and Liberation: Engaged Buddhists and Liberation Theologians in Dialogue,” which took place at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York April 17–20, 2013. The conference was a historic gathering of socially engaged Buddhists and liberationist Christians from many corners of the world.
There have been many Buddhist-Christian dialogues during the last century. Yet there have not been many dialogues between socially engaged Buddhists and liberationist Christians. Although many Buddhist and Christian activists and scholars have responded to the reality of social suffering, which is a universal experience across religions, cultures, and countries, most of them have not, because of the sheer fact of physical and geographical separation, had the opportunity to met each other and spend time together. This is precisely what happened at this Union conference. And it was amazing to see how quickly strangers became friends, almost as if they had long known one another. Such bonds of friendship grew spontaneously out of the one essential thing they all had in common: a selfless love and compassion for the poor and oppressed. All of them loved their suffering neighbors as they loved their own selves. Thus, engaged Buddhists and liberationist Christians immediately recognized one another as friends working for the same goal: liberation. In this way, the conference [End Page 3] confirmed that their spiritual friendship transcended religious boundaries in the face of social and political suffering. In a multifaith and multisuffering world, being friends cannot and should not be limited by the boundaries of a faith tradition.
As the title of the conference indicates, the conferees shared their experiences of spiritual and social engagement in a multifaith and multisuffering world. For four days they exchanged their ideas and experiences of responding to the five faces of eco-human suffering in today’s world: economic injustice, war and violence, sexism, racism, and ecological crisis. These five issues were discussed comparatively and interreligiously. In each session, two participants, one Buddhist and one Christian, presented their ideas followed by discussion among their fellow participants. Along with those five topics, there was also a special session on spirituality and liberation in which Buddhist and Christian participants talked about how their spirituality supported and strengthened their social action for liberation. Every night there was a public presentation in which distinguished scholars and activists from the two spiritual traditions spoke about listening to the world and to the heart. In addition, the conference offered various smaller workshops, seminars, and informal conversations between the conferees and with general participants, such as “Buddhist and Christian Grassroots Organizing,” “Socially Engaged Buddhism: East-West Dialogue,” “Occupy Society and Religion: A Buddhist-Christian Conversation,” and “Buddhist and Christian Nuns Compare Notes.” In all this, dialoguers spoke to and listened to one another as openly and accurately as they could.
Another mutually enlightening and empowering experience at the conference was that it created an interspiritual space. Every morning during the conference two conferees, one Buddhist and one Christian, co-celebrated interfaith meditation. It was initially designed as a spiritual exchange between Buddhism and Christianity. Yet, interestingly, that exchange took place not between but within each of the participants. In other words, it was not a Buddhist and Christian practice, but rather a Buddhist-Christian practice. In addition, the conference offered various opportunities for interspiritual interaction, such as “Ecological Worship Service,” “Compassion Meditation for Social Activists,” “Question-and-Answer Dharma Talk,” and “Buddhist-Christian Communion,” in which Buddhist and Christian participants shared their spiritual practices and techniques respectfully and mindfully. Such spiritual components of the conference proved that silence could be a wide door through which Buddhists and Christians can meet one another deeply and perceptively. Paraphrasing interreligiously the...