- The Life and Writings of Edmond Pezet (1923–2008)
In the context of Buddhist-Christian dialogue in Thailand, the life and writings of Fr. Edmond Pezet (1923–2008) are remarkable. He lived among the poor and in a Buddhist monastery, and he also experienced the eremitic life in the forest. According to the Indian Zen master Ama Samy, “Pezet gained an intimate experience and knowledge of Buddhism by living with Thai monks.” Here I introduce a recent Society of the Auxiliaries of the Mission (SAM)1 work that offers a biography and some writings of Edmond Pezet, Edmond Pezet, a Priest among Buddhist Monks in Thailand.2
This publication is a collection of various writings of Edmond Pezet: correspondence and nine articles published in various magazines in French, Thai, and English. It has been edited by Henri Huysegoms, a Zen practitioner in Japan for the last forty-five years, and Pierre Liesse, an activist who worked for a couple of years in Thailand. These authors have been impressed by two characteristics of Pezet. First, because he was born in a very poor family in rural France, Pezet identified himself with poor people working hard to earn their living. Second, he was a very committed scholar who successfully learned to speak English, Thai, Lao, Sanskrit, and Pali.
Edmond Pezet did his military service in Vietnam, where he was the helpless wit was the helpless witness of torture committed by his regiment fellows on Vietminh suspects. This led him to return there in the future as a missionary, to compensate for the harm he saw caused to the Vietnamese people. Back in France, he completed his study of theology. In 1947, his father was crushed by a truck in front of his eyes. He managed to combine his study and work on the land to provide for his family’s needs. He served as a priest in the diocese of Cahors (France) for a few years. Afterwards, he joined SAM in Belgium.
At the end of 1956, he was sent in the northeastern part of Thailand. Faithful to the objectives of SAM, he wanted to serve the local bishop unconditionally, but he quickly noticed a painful reality. Christians and clergy alike followed “a religion, with a dreamlike heaven, rose-water-scented, as its goal, and, in order to get there without fail, certain ‘tricks,’ recipes, ceremonies and representations accompanied by a goodly number of rags and trimmings, where one cannot very easily see the connection between the two things.”3 He wrote that he was stunned to see the way religion was taught to catechumens. They were asked to assimilate, by memorizing [End Page 195] questions and answers, dogmatic assertions expressed with words borrowed from Sanskrit that nobody understood. This inadequate education went hand in hand with a lack of knowledge of Buddhism, sometimes accompanied by scorn. “The Christians were deliberately uprooted from the spiritual richness and religious experience of their race … especially the clergy! (kept apart from their people from the age of 10 to 27). They were taught to administer on the model of the French parish priest of last century.”4
His Thai bishop, to whom he opened his heart, did not see any problem in that situation and advised him to get used to it, but for Pezet it soon became unbearable. In 1970, Pezet’s life took a decisive turn. He went to Bangkok. There, he learned Sanskrit and Buddhism at the university level, and for three years lived in the house of a Buddhist monk, helping him to write introductions to Buddhism for foreigners. It made him discover a world of spiritual wealth he had not suspected.
What he learned was not a new doctrine presented as absolute truth, because Buddhism does not present its core teaching that way, but a “doctrine” that is expressed exclusively in existential values, something not to be taught, but experienced. Buddhism, he discovered, does not deal with transcendence, because it does not engage in speculative discussion. In Buddhism, this transcendence can only be perceived in the depth of immanence.
In a letter of that time, he noted that his bishop had warned him not...