- Using The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola as a Basis for a Buddhist-Christian Retreat
origin of the retreat
Jesuit (Catholic) universities have struggled to preserve their religious worldview and pass it on to their students, faculty, and staff. Given that most faculty and administrators at these universities are laypeople and many are not Catholic, the universities depend largely on their campus mission/ministry offices for this purpose. One of the primary methods of sharing their worldview has been to provide retreats for students.
The retreats are introspective with a religious and Jesuit orientation. Most student retreats are conducted over a weekend; some over a full week. Most Jesuit universities get fewer than ten percent of their students to attend one retreat in their four years on campus. Far fewer students attend more than one retreat. These schools also attempt to encourage faculty and staff to attend similar retreats, and participation in these retreats is similarly modest.
Retreats have been a primary tool for the formation of Jesuit priests. Their formation program includes taking at least two retreats of twenty-eight to thirty days each. These retreats use the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, a specific pattern of reflective meditation and introspection over twenty-eight days that leads to greater clarity about one’s life. The Spiritual Exercises are deeply theistic and are focused on the person of Jesus.
Jesuit universities have an increasing number of non-Catholics and non-Christians. For most Christians, shorter retreats or spiritually directed meditations based on the Exercises and undertaken over a number of weeks (referred to as the nineteenth annotation form) are the preferred form. However, there have been limited resources for juxtaposing the Ignatian Exercises with non-Christian traditions.
With the above in mind, the authors designed a three-day retreat that follows the pattern and purpose of the Exercises for a Christian, but which presents in parallel [End Page 213] meditations and reflections from the Buddhist tradition. (Sarita Tamayo-Moraga, Bo Tep, and Juan Velasco were co-designers of the retreat and co-authors of the manuscript for the retreat.) This allows Ignatian perspectives on the unfolding spiritual journey and Buddhist wisdom to be shared between Christians and Buddhists. To test our design, a first retreat was undertaken by spiritually mature adults with some experience with the interface between Buddhism and Christianity.
The Spiritual Exercises are published with contemporary commentary in a number of books. Originally written in the early1500s, they have been rewritten or interpreted for modern times. Often both the original commentary by Ignatius and a contemporary interpretation are provided. Since our retreat was only three days, the essence of each section of the Exercises was summarized in a page or so. With the help of three Buddhist teachers (Sarita Tamayo-Moraga, Bo Tep, and Juan Velasco), we then spent the better part of a year meditating with the Ignatian passages and then searching a variety of Buddhist writings for passages that spoke to a similar spiritual challenge within the Buddhist worldview. A manuscript (Andre L. Delbecq, Sarita Tamayo-Moraga, Bo Tep, Len Tischler, and Juan Velasco, Ignatius and the Buddha in Conversation: A Resource for a Religiously Plural Dialog, self-published, 2014) was created that comprised six sections, each containing a summary of the essence of a section from the Exercises followed by the related Buddhist writings. Original artwork related to both traditions was prepared by a talented Zen artist.
For the initial retreat we chose people who had a deep background in both traditions with approximately an equal number of Buddhists and Catholics. Since our focus was Jesuit universities, we chose mostly academics, but there were also two executives. Participants were asked to read the manuscript containing the reflections from the Exercises and Buddhist wisdom before the retreat so that they would be familiar with the content. Catholics and some Buddhists also read the Exercises in full. There were twelve participants.
The retreat was structured into six parts. Each part began with two thirty-minute meditations, one on the Ignatian Exercises in the corner with the Ignatius icon, the other on the Buddhist quotes in the corner with...