September 16, 2011

Buddha Buzz: Buddhism & Interfaith Dialogue

The September 12 issue of The New Yorker features T.K. Nakagaki, a Japanese monk and former abbot of the New York Buddhist Church, and his work organizing a floating 9/11 lantern ceremony on the Hudson River. The article takes a look at interfaith dialogue in light of 9/11-commemoration gatherings. After Rudy Giuliani failed to invite a single Buddhist to a prayer event at Yankee Stadium that included all other major faiths of NYC, Nakagaki convinced the city's Buddhist Council to make some noise about the omission. From "All Together Now":


They sent the Mayor a letter of grievance and began organizing ceremonies of their own—interfaith undertakings that included, but did not rely on the hospitality of, their Abrahamic counterparts. If the Buddhist point of view was to be heard, the Buddhists, against their nature, were going to have to assert it more loudly. This was New York.


The article also references the "war-scortched relic" statue of Shinran in front of the New York Buddhist Church, featured on the cover of the Summer 2011 issue of Tricycle.

Over at The Huffington Post, Dr. Paul F. Knitter, a Christian scholar, writes about a trip he made earlier this year to the South Korean peninsula, as part of a project promoting dialogue between Christians and Buddhists. In the midst of Buddhist-Christian tension in Korea, he gave a talk to the Chogye Order of Korean Seon (Zen) Buddhists. (The head of the Chogye Order, Master Jinje, spoke in New York last night.) From "A Buddhist Example of Interfaith Dialogue":


I realized over the course of these few but intense days, the Korean Buddhists of the Chogye Order had invited me not only to learn more about Christianity, but also to ask that I help make their teachings better known in the United States. Having witnessed the seriousness of their practice, having been moved by the openness and compassion with which they reacted to the outbursts of hatred shown by some of their Christian citizens—I am extremely happy to do so.


While we're on the subject, champion of Buddhist-Christian dialogue Thich Nhat Hanh posted a talk this week called "Energies of Buddhism." Thay says that mindfulness, concentration, and insight are the energies of Buddhism, much like the Holy Spirit is the energy of God.

Clearly, all the world's religions are talking about the same thing—like the mystics have been saying all along. When you get a direct look at the transcendent reality behind appearances you realize that you have no real self. You have a unified, True Self. Right? Ummmm, probably not. In a very thorough post on his blog, David Chapman refutes the "unification" theory put forth by mystics. I would quote it here, but it's probably best if you read the entire post.

Image: "The Temple of the Rosy Cross," Teophilus Schweighardt Constantiens, 1618

 

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Alan Shusterman's picture

Thanks for this combination of posts and links. A really nagging question that arises in my practice is, "Have I fallen once more into the trap of trying to do 'this' (this practice, this view, this awareness, this breath, this moment) right?"

Trying to answer the exam questions right seems like a helpful strategy. Trying to get life right seems to make me suffer. So what should I do during an interfaith dialogue? Is my reason for being there to 'pass the exam' (and convince everyone I have the right answers?) or is it to open my heart-mind to another moment of my life even if the words I hear sound wrong? And does opening up like this mean I should say, "We are just traveling different paths to the same destination" when it doesn't always seem like we are?

These are more than rhetorical questions for me. "I" really like to be right and my desire to be right nearly always pops up ten steps ahead of any mindful awareness I can bring to my life. What do others bring to, and take from, interfaith dialogue?

Sam Mowe's picture

Alan, I think I know what you mean; I like to get things right too. Trying to let go of that—especially when it comes to those with different religious beliefs—is difficult, but it's also extremely rewarding/liberating when you're able to do it. Connecting with 'the other' is a great way to get some self-perspective.

Two things that help me do it: 1) The Zen idea of "Don't-Know Mind." We often put others in boxes they don't belong in, by misinterpreting their words and making up our stories about them, and 2) Remembering Rita Gross's suggestion (originally the Buddha's suggestion) to judge people not by their beliefs/practices, but by the effects of their beliefs/actions-- are they harmful or beneficial? If you find them harmful then I think it gets trickier...

Alan Shusterman's picture

Sam, You've sliced through this problem in a really great way. One thing that often happens to me when I try to practice 'don't-know mind' is a feeling of disconnection. 'Connecting with the other' is great advice. Thanks.

Dominic Gomez's picture

It would seem that the first order of business should be determining what each person has in common. The most obvious is that we are all human beings. For Buddhism, at least, that is its starting (and ending) point.

Alan Shusterman's picture

Thanks. Any suggestions as to what the 'second' order of business might be? Somehow we all have to live together.

Dominic Gomez's picture

My experience of what works is to be constantly mindful of the other person's humanity. The truth is that because of our existence as human beings there is suffering, this suffering has a source, suffering can cease, and there is a path to the cessation of suffering.
From here, it gets interesting. Depending on the other partcipants' belief systems, the cause of human suffering and what one can do about it (if anything) produces quite lively dialogue.