Catholic Buddhist Dialogue in Cambodia
Catholic Buddhist Dialogue
Vira Avalokita, Sthera
Preface to the Dialogue
In the world today there is a great diversity of religious thought, however, one of the greatest World Religions is Buddhism and it differs from all the others in one respect, it is not a religion. However, in Buddhism religious forms are used as Skillful Means to teach universal ethics. One of greatest proponents of this Idea was Phra Buddhadasa, Bhikkhu of Thailand, my teacher.
This gave Buddhism flexibility since it was not inspired by a god or dogma, it could easily bend and be inclusive of other ideas outside itself. The paper here presented explores this idea with Cambodian Buddhist monks about the Catholic Buddhist phenomena in the West.
Venerable Vira Avalokita, Sthera
General Principles of Free Thought about Religion
- 1. The Human Person has a right to Freedom of Thought. Freedom of this kind means that all persons should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, no one is forced to act against his/her convictions.
- 2. It is in accordance with their dignity that all humans, because they are persons, that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore bearing personal responsibility, are both impelled by their nature and bound by moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth.
- 3. The search for reality, however, must be carried out in a manner that is appropriate to the dignity of the human person and his / her social nature, namely, by free enquiry with the help of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue. It is by these means that all persons share with each other the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in such a way that they help one another in the search for truth. Moreover, it is by personal assent that persons must adhere to the truth they have discovered.
- 4. It is through human conscience that a person sees and recognizes the demands of Dharma. The person is bound to follow this conscience faithfully so that he or she may come to realize what has been experienced. Therefore the person must not be forced to act contrary to conscience. Nor must the person be prevented from acting according to their conscience.
- 5. Religious communities that express different understanding of reality have the further right not to be prevented from publicly teaching and bearing witness to their beliefs by the spoken or written word. However, in spreading religious beliefs and introducing religious practices everybody must at all times avoid any action which seems to suggest coercion or dishonest or unworthy persuasion especially when dealing with the uneducated or the poor. Such a manner of acting must be considered an abuse of one’s own right and an infringement of the rights of others.
These General Principles are found in Buddhism and the Roman Catholic Church of Vatican II. His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama when giving a lecture is always perceived by his listeners that “he is not there to convert you”.
Dr. Robert F. Thurman writes in his article, Hope for the Third Millennium, reflects on this Freedom of Thought in the following:
- Materialism is an ideological distortion, and people are beginning to turn to religious traditions for alternative perspectives on reality, in some cases trying to resuscitate modes of belief long discredited by science. The Buddhist tradition of Spiritual Science can make a key contribution. Because its emphasis on examination of reality, it can help bring inner and outer sciences together to achieve real benefit for individuals and also leave room for spiritual awareness.
- Science, as the organized pursuit of knowledge of reality through precise observation and critical reasoning, is not the problem of materialism. The carefully inquiring mind that science nurtures was celebrated by the Buddha as the highest human enterprise long before modernity. The challenge posed by the Enlightenment Traditions, Buddhism, is not fundamental rejection of science or a regression to non rational consciousness. It is rather the critique of the dogma of materialism and the resurrection of the spiritual sciences to complement the material sciences. The Enlightenment Movement ( an alternate term used for Buddhism), as taught by the Buddha, was and still is a discipline of the inner science, an organized and systematic pursuit of the knowledge of the reality of self and environment through precise observation and critical reasoning. It posits that it is possible to achieve a complete knowledge of all reality, a knowledge that does enable perfect mastery of all conditions of life and death in order to attain perfect happiness in the here and now. It further postulates that this knowledge can be taught and shared with other human beings, so that eventually all will come to the full understanding of which all are capable. Therefore, the Enlightenment Tradition welcomes the aspiration of progress that drives material sciences.
- The Enlightenment Tradition does not demand even that inquirers believe that there is such a thing as enlightenment. It urges them only to critique more carefully their metaphysical presuppositions and to augment their methods to include interior observation, using contemplative techniques to make the subjective mind itself a polished instrument of penetrating and transformative insight; to think critically; to doubt all things under the sun and beyond the moon, within as well as without; to challenge even Descartes on the seemingly self-evident thinking self that seems indubitably to be here.
- The Enlightenment Movement does present historical evidence about the efficacy of its methods and the desirability of its results, as witnessed in the lives of its practitioners in many cultures over millennia. And so it presents itself as an excellent stimulator of other religions to bring forward their spiritual sciences, as an ideal partner for modern sciences. This New Harmony between inner and outer science should be a major element of life in twenty-first century.
Buddhism is a Practice and not a religion. This can be seen by the descriptions of the teacher, student and lessons as found in Buddhism, sutras and its various methods. This is attested to in the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910 edition, where Buddhism is referred to as a defective religion since it purports no god or soul belief.
Buddhism demands Freedom of Conscience to choose a belief, or no belief to describe the experience. The Buddha did not claim that he had uttered a revelation of a supernatural order; he never propagated any dogma; he never appealed to any faith. He simply offered to humanity, for their examination, a method which it would be well for them to utilize for their own benefit, and of which the declared aim is the Destruction of Suffering (Nirvana). This left room for the individual to see clearly and choose how he or she could describe in a language the experience of viewing the Reality through the practice which Buddha taught.
This Freedom in Buddhism was not recognized or it was misunderstood when it was encountered by Western Missionaries who saw everything in their own cultural terms. This problem still can be seen in dictionaries and books trying to define Buddhist terms in Theological concepts i.e., Nirvana as a paradise, heaven and return to the One Mind or a super-soul.
In the early 20th century, Rev. Mr. Timothy Richard, a Protestant missionary in China, who could read Chinese and did translations of Buddhist Texts of the Mahayana School, came to the following conviction:
- If it be, as it is more and more believed, that the Mahayana Faith is not Buddhism, properly so called, but an Asiatic form of the same Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in Buddhist nomenclature, differing from the old Buddhism just as the New Testament differs from the Old, then it commands a world-wide interest, for in it we find an adaptation of Christianity to ancient thought in Asia, and the deepest bound of union between races of the East and West, viz., the bond of a common religion . . . The almost universal reception of the doctrines contained in this book by the East and the West constitutes to my mind its claim to our attention…
- Men look to their different religions for an answer to the unsolved riddles of human existence…What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is upright behavior, and what is sinful? Where does suffering originate, and what end does it serve? How can genuine happiness be found? What happens at death? What is judgment? What rewards follows death? And finally, what is the ultimate mystery, beyond human explanation, which embraces our entire existence, from which we take our origin and towards we tend?
- The Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, 28 October, 1965
- Buddhism in its various forms testifies to the essential inadequacy of this changing world. It proposes a way life by which men can, with confidence and trust, attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by aid of divine help…
- The Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, 28 October, 1965
- Therefore, the minds of the students must be opened and refined so that they will better understand and appreciate the culture of their own people; in philosophy and theology they should examine the relationship between the traditions and religion of their homeland and Christianity.
- John XXIII, Princeps Pastorum,
- Acta Apostolicae Sedis 1959, 843-844.
- . . . Religious institutes which are working for the implanting of the Church…should strive to carefully consider how traditions of asceticism and contemplation, the needs of which have been sown by God in certain ancient cultures before the preaching of the Gospel, might be incorporated into the Christian life.
- Ad Gentes Divinitus, 7 December, 1965
And further it is stated:
- The various undertakings aimed at establishing the contemplative life are worthy of special mention; some aim at implanting the rich tradition of their own order and retaining the essential elements of the monastic life, others are returning to the more simple forms of early monasticism. All, however, are eagerly seeking a real adaptation to local conditions. The contemplative life should be restored everywhere because it belongs to the fullness of the Church’s presence.
- Ad Gentes Divinitus, 7 December, 1965
The special community established by the Buddha was called the Arya-sangha (The Assembly of the Nobles), was intended to be a cradle for the birth of Noble Persons. Buddha often asserted that in his own community there would be no distinction between persons. Anyone who joined the Sangha would have an equal opportunity for learning and training. The Buddha often remarked that the word Arya was to be applied to persons of knowledge and wisdom but not to birth or caste. Thus the object of the Buddha was to create a Noble Personage, Arya-pudgala i.e., a Noble Personage.
The path to be pursued by the noble aspirant is the Ayra-astangika-marga (Noble Eightfold Path) and the Catvari-arya-satyani (Noble Fourfold Truths). It should be noted here, that these are not noble in them selves, but are truths and ways that Noble Persons know.
The perfections attained by the noble ones were Ayra-phala (four noble fruits) and wealth to be possessed by the noble was Sapta-arya-dhana (sevenfold noble charity), all being spiritual qualifications.
The careful application of the word arya to each of the important points of his Sangha must not be overlooked. The Buddha thus seemed to have endeavored to revive the original meaning of arya in personality and the daily life of his religious community.
In this regard the Sacred Council has much to say concerning this condition. The human condition in a materialistic world is most distressing to Catholics and Buddhists alike for both respect Nobleness and reject the unrighteousness.
- May St. Benedict return to help us to recuperate the personal type of life which today we anxiously long for; which the development of modern-day living, on whose account we feel the exasperated desire to be ourselves, suffocates while promoting, deludes while making us conscious of it … Commotion, din, feverish activity, outward appearances and the crowed all threaten man’s inner awareness. He lacks silence with its genuine voice speaking in the depths of his being; he lacks order, he lacks prayer, he lacks peace, he lacks himself.
- Pope Paul VI, Acta Sanctae Sedis: 56 (1964), p. 987
- . . .resolute men are able to recollect themselves and, so to speak ,to dwell within themselves as much as they please, cultivating the buds of virtue and feeding happily on the fruits of paradise. Here one strives to acquire that eye by whose limpid glance the bridegroom is wounded with love and in whose purity alone may God be seen. Here one is occupied in busy leisure, and rests in quiet activity. Here for fatigue undergone in strife, God grants His athletes the reward they have longed for, namely a peace unknown to the world and the joy of the Holy Spirit. . . This is the better part that Mary chose, that shall not be taken away from her.
- Ad Radulphum 6, S. Ch.88, p. 70
- O Mahamati, when you wish to know that all things, inner and outer, are produced by your own mind, separate yourself from noise, sloth, and sleep, and
make a thorough survey of all the different aspects of the self-discriminating mind.
Now Buddhism has moved out of the traditional Buddhist countries just as the Catholic Church has from Christian ones. People in Traditional Buddhists countries changed to other Christian Religions by a process of Colonialism, war, Globalization and poverty; without these the East would still be Buddhist.
Buddhism does not view the Catholic Church as an oppressor. It did at one time when the Church was wrongfully used by Colonial Masters for control of the masses so they could be exploited and their cultures destroyed.
- The Church, nevertheless, has no desire to become involved in the government of the temporal order. It claims no other competence besides that of faithfully serving men in charity with the help of God.
- Pope Paul VI, Acta Sanctae Sedis: 56 (1964), p. 1013
This is a wonderful statement by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, but too few people have read it or believed it. Old fears are hard to forget especially when they were enforced by the Colonial Powers of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries. A year or so ago a Korean Catholic nun asked me where she could learn Buddhist Meditation; she wanted to learn more about it since her grandmother had been a Buddhist. She was a product of the Bishop Henry’s rebuilding of Korea by United States AID. She was a Catholic, but still her grandmother’s life had an impression on her. She had a need, how should we respond?
The current Catholic Archbishop of Colombo while yet a young adult wanted to become a Catholic and his parents brought him to their Buddhist Abbot to talk to the boy, to their surprise the Abbot encouraged him to follow his convictions.
- …I’ve had a lot more interaction with Catholic monks/nuns during the last year. When I was in Crestone, Colorado last month, I visited a Carmelite Monastery of monks and nuns who lived together, and they were very Buddhist-friendly. Buddhist nuns were there and received communion…but more and more Catholics seem to embrace Buddhism and Buddhist monks over here. Lots of books about double-belonging and articles in the papers calling themselves Catholic-Buddhists, etc…
I find this interesting since Buddhists are not trying to convert Catholics, we are happy that they are interested in the practice to become Noble Persons. This does open an interesting discussion and it should be discussed in Cambodia, especially the term Buddhist-Catholic which I have heard Khmers call themselves.
The Bhikkhu Sangha is not like a Catholic Order this is due to its purpose. The goal of the Bhikkhu Sangha is Awareness but the goal of the Catholic Religious is to become like Him, the Christ. Vowed persons in the Catholic Church take the Three Evangelical Counsels the Buddhist bhikkhu takes none. There are no vows there are only training rules. Training rules can be completed; vows like the Evangelical Counsels are offerings to God and for life.
The Buddha Dharma is only a course in Awareness which leads the individual to see clearly without obstruction. Once this clarity is obtained he or she advances to what ever level they want to achieve. The way is self willed and is perfected by practice. Once the level of no more learning is achieved the person is free, and can escape the world of birth and death, a concept yet to be defined and only by the person.
The Bhikkhu Sangha has no priests, no advocate, no sacrifice and no gods. In the clearest Western term is Socratic, therefore ignorance has no virtue and virtue can be taught and this is ignorance’s cure.
To inquire of this further the term Śramana must be understood. It is difficult to find in any European language a word which is a correct translation of the term. The things represented by Śramana do not exist in the West, and it is simply an Indian concept. The Concept of a Śramana is as follows:
- 1 Śramana means ‘Renunciation’, ‘rejection’. They were in no way a monk; he or she is an independent seeker who has ‘rejected the three worlds’: the world of men, that of our ancestors (posthumous fame), and that of the gods.
- 2. The ‘rejection of the Śramana differs completely from the ‘rejection’ of the Christian monk or nun who abandons the ‘good things’ of this world in order to win the joys of heaven, or from that of the mystic who burns with longing to unite with his god, and thinks to succeed by this surrender as a sacrifice.
- 3. The ‘rejection’ regard as the ‘good things’ and the ‘joys of the world by a Śramana is aversion, repugnance for these things of the world.
- 4. Śramana is not a ‘means’ which one uses to attain an object;
- 5. Śramana is an end in itself, joyous liberation.
- 6. Moreover, the Śramana is always freed from social and religious laws; freed from all bonds, walks on a path which is known to him or her alone, and is responsible only to him or herself.
As it has been stated before Buddhism in the strict sense is a psycho-logical aversion technique to awake the mind to the here and now. It is not a revelation. Once the mind is freed by this technique it is opened to other views, and understandings. Once one can See, everything is put in place. True self-awareness, according to Saint Bonaventure ( 1218-1278 ), will lead us almost by instinct back to faith in a triune God . . . interesting concept by a Franciscan.
The Buddhist Community has had a continual conversion, within it’s self for thousands of years, about things after the mind is made free from obstruction, however, these are not considered revelations, but they are seen as to contain truth either whole or in part, and this has led to many different points of views, but these are decided by each individual not dictated by outside.
One of the most interesting conversations is that concerning the Dharmakaya and it is in every Buddhist School discussed and believed. The general explanation is that the Dharmakaya is the permanent, undifferentiated, comprehending Truth, but the detailed explanation differs from school to school in Buddhism. It is Primary Truth. The Prajnaparamitas take the Dharmakaya as produced by the Dharma, the highest being; The Dharmakaya is Prajna, the highest knowledge. Eon in the Daijogisho says of the Dharmakaya that it is the beginningless body of Being itself. In the Butsujikyo, we read that the Dharmakaya is the Tathagata’s self–nature, permanent and unchanging, the real nature of every Buddha and every being. The Madhyamika meant by Dharmakaya to mean Reality which cannot be expressed in words. The Yogacharas meant the Absolute.
The Dharmakaya is viewed as personal, manifested compassion and activity, saving beings by preaching to them, not only as impersonal and transcendental. Buddhism also stresses the supreme enlightenment which expresses itself actively in compassion and forms a true personality which an enlightened person can perceive and know. It is not an abstract metaphysical principle, but it is a living spirit that manifests in nature as well as in thought. Buddhism ascribes to the Dharmakaya innumerable merits and virtues and an absolute perfect intelligence, and it is an inexhaustible fountainhead of love and compassion.
- Because the utterly pure and the most absolute being . . . is the very first and last, it is the origin and final end of all things. Because it is eternal and all present, surrounding and penetrating all duration, it is, as it were, both their center and their circumference. Because it is utterly simple and utterly great, it is wholly interior to all things and wholly exterior to them. ‘It is an intelligible sphere, the center of which is everywhere, and the circumference no where. ’ Because it is supremely actual and immutable, ‘while remaining unmoved, it imparts motion immeasurable, it is interior to all things, yet not enclosed; exterior to all things, yet not excluded; above all things, yet not aloof; below all things, yet not their servant. For, truly, it is supremely one and all inclusive: therefore, even though all things are many and pure being is but one, it is all in all.
- Works of Bonaventure, St. Anthony’s Guild, 1960
When Buddhism was first encountered in the 16th Century C.E. by Catholic missionaries in Cambodia they were astounded that there was such an order as the Bhikkhu Sangha and it was so pure like the Reformed Orders of the Counter Reformation.
The Benedictine missionaries came to Cambodia because of a remark that it was a Kingdom of monks and only monks could relate to monks. Because of this the Wat of the Peaceful Sea was created, a Catholic Benedictine Abbey, to be a light of the Gospel in a Buddhist Tradition. In India, Farther Dom Bede Griffith did the same work but in a Hindu tradition. Dom Griffith work goes on, but the Wat of the Peaceful Sea ended in an unmerciful sea of communism.
In the Catholic Contemplative life there shows up in a very unique person in the 13th Century, all Buddhists recognize that this person is a buddha, his name is St. Francis the founder of the Franciscan Order. St. Francis was content to leave us simply his example. His personal prayer life defies any attempt to box it within a method, and no early biographer ever attempted to synthesize his mystical prayer.
We know that the hermitages served as centers for Franciscan ministry. As Cardinal Jacques de Vitry says in his letter of 1216, during the day they go into cities and villages, giving themselves over to active life of the apostolate; at night they return to their hermitage or withdraw into solitude to live the contemplative life. So did Bhikkhus at the time of the Buddha.
Thomas of Celano (13th Century) remarks on St. Francis way of life as follows: He . . . frequently chose solitary places so that he could direct his mind completely to God; yet he was not slothful about entering into the affairs of his neighbors . . . Walking, sitting, eating, or drinking, he was always intent upon prayer.
Almost all the Church fathers attest to the perfection of this mixed life and lived it themselves to the benefit of themselves and others. Like wise, almost the whole body of early Franciscan sources portrays even the hermit-friars as striving toward the perfection of this way of life. Anyone who knows Buddhism sees that there is a likeness even if it is different in time and place.
St. Bonaventure encourages the reader of The Tree of Life to picture in your imagination. He then goes on to develop a detailed visualization of the Tree of Life which symbolizes the life of Jesus and His Church in vivid images, some what like Tantra. St. Bonaventure saw a personal love relationship with Jesus as the Beloved as being the end of all Christian meditation.
Of course the development of devotional practices and art in Franciscan tradition demonstrates what priority visualized meditation had in the mystical life. One such example is the Way of the Cross, developed by Leonard of Port Maurice (1676-1751) at the hermitage of Fonte Columbo.
Imagination assists understanding says St. Bonaventure and St. Kobo Daishi, of mystic Buddhism pointed out, because mystic teachings are too profound for verbal explanations; their truth has to be experienced directly and for that very reason, are best presented in images. What is common to both is that it is an aid for realizing the ultimate goal the Lover and the Beloved in Christianity and becoming a Buddha in this very body in Buddhism.
- As regards to religion there is a completely new atmosphere that conditions its practice. On the one hand people are taking a hard look at all magical world-views and prevailing superstitions and demanding a more personal and active commitment of faith, so that not a few have achieved a lively sense of the divine. On the other hand greater numbers are falling from the practice of religion. In the past it was the exception to repudiate God and religion to the point of abandoning them, and then only in individual cases; but nowadays it seems a matter of course to reject them as incompatible with scientific progress and a new kind of humanism.
- Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, Introduction, sec.7 December 1965
His Holiness the Dali Lama in a lecture in Australia talked about this same issue to an audience just a few years ago; what was interesting is that Buddhism is now the fastest growing religion in Australia. In 1965 this would have been thought impossible by all Christian Churches. At the same lecture His Holiness made an unusual remark, he said:
- I was talking to a Physicist and he said that he wished people would not call him so because science is so broad he did not want to be limited. Then I thought, maybe I should not be called a Buddhist because it is limited too.
Śramana Shinzen living in the late eighth through the early ninth century relates about a unique person his teacher, Śramana Kukai, who had transported a new form of Buddhism to Japan. He was a cultural envoy sent by the Emperor of Japan to obtain knowledge of the great Táng culture of China. He established the Shingon School of Buddhism that was Sarvāstivādah. Śramana Shinzen writes:
- There was a great Śramana who was named Śramana Vairocana-vajra. . .‘Now that Buddhism exists truly . . . He neglected narrow knowledge . . . yearned lofty and profound teaching beyond the world and from all indications he found it in Mahavairocana, the shining one who’s light comes from within and not from outside.
- Kobo Dashi is remembered, however, not only for establishing the Shingon school and constructing the great monastic complex . . . Koyasan, but in addition for such works as building a reservoir . . . school for common people . . . comprehensive education . . .including funding. . . Shugei Shuchiín was the first privately funded university . . . marks the first appearance of equal opportunity in education. . . Kukai . . . a social activist of unparalleled proportion in Japan.
- The Dharmakaya is a soul, willing and knowing being, one that is will and intelligence, thought and action, not a metaphysical principle like Suchness, but it is a living spirit that manifests in nature as well as in thought. . . an absolute perfect intelligence. . .an inexhaustible fountainhead of love and compassion.
- Mikkyo (Shingon School) does not deny various gods. . . Our Daishi (Kukai) puts the existence of Dainich-Nyorai( Dharmakaya) beyond those. . .We know it not by theory but by experiential intuition (grace).
- Because the utterly pure and the most absolute being . . .is the very first and last, it is the origin and final end of all things. Because it is eternal and all present, surrounding and penetrating all duration, it is, as it were, both their center and their circumference. Because it is utterly simple and utterly great, it is wholly interior to all things and wholly exterior to them. ‘It is an intelligible sphere, the center of which is everywhere, and the circumference no where. ’ Because it is supremely actual and immutable, ‘while remaining unmoved, it imparts motion immeasurable, it is interior to all things, yet not enclosed; exterior to all things, yet not excluded; above all things, yet not aloof; below all things, yet not their servant. For, truly, it is supremely one and all inclusive: therefore, even though all things are many and pure being is but one, it is all in all.
- Works of Bonaventure, St. Anthony’s Guild, 1960
What is interesting is that in the Old Testament God is called, King of all gods, showing that even the Jews believed in other gods, but they were not like the God of Israel. Dianichi-Nyorai is like the latter and not the former. The Jews did not see Christ but only saw a fore shadowing of what was to be, the Gospel. Vatican II talks about the seeds sown by God, so they would sprout and grow when the time was right.
We have direct records to show where Śramana Kukai received his understanding, and it is sure that it was from Buddhism since we have the names of his instructors and where they came from. The Catholic Church was not in China or Japan at this time therefore it must be concluded it was either an independent discovery on his part or transferred by his teachers from original sources which we do not know.
The mind of Śramana Kukai was the same all human minds, therefore they were inter-connected, and a spontaneous generation of thoughts could occur in Japan and other places. To Śramana Kukai it was simple; Mahavirocana the Dharmakaya was the source and the cause of all. The process was Practice and he had an experience which he called Okaji (Grace).
Okaji, the Grace of the Dharmakaya, could and would transform a mortal into a cosmic person. Once the Emperor asked Śramana Kukai to show him Mahavirocana and he did. It is said that the Śramana shone like the sun in front of the Emperor when he concentrated his mind in the Vajara Samadhi of Mahavirocana. It is not stated how he did it, but it was proof enough to the Emperor and all Japan. Today Śramana Kukai, Kobo Daishi, still sits in Samadhi is incorrupt, waiting to be resurrected and is still alive in heaven.
This Mantrayana Buddhism that Kobo Daishi transferred from China is the second largest Buddhism in Japan and is a part of a world wide Buddhist movement, Vajarayana. It is not like Zen in as much as it has a scriptural base, but even this is still developing and could include the New Testament for Shingon regards all Truth to be the Words of the Dharmakaya.
Shingon means True Word and like Christianity the concentration is on the Word, in this case of Mahavirocana. Catholic Priests are ministers of the Word and Sacrament, in many ways so are Shingon monks. The Shingon Meditations use forms differently than in the use of sacramental elements in Catholic Church. The highest communion in Shingon uses no forms, where the Church uses bread and wine, Body and Blood of Christ, in the Sacrament of the Altar. It must be said at this point there is a form of communion in Shingon, but it is in no way comparable to the Sacrament of the Altar.
A Catholic Priest’s role in the sacraments is imitating Christ, because Christ is the Prime Actor. A Shingon monk or lay person is an actor along with Mahavirocana and together they are one; Grace is transferred from a unity and not from one to another.
In Sacraments of the Church the Holy Spirit brings about the miracle of Sanctification for the Holy Spirit is the sanctifier of the faithful, the third person of the Blessed Trinity. The person does have a role in the sacraments in as much as he is a believer, in a correct condition and willing to receive of the grace transmitted. An example of this is the Sacrament of the Altar. When a person is in a state of grace, receives the Body and Blood of Christ, under the forms of bread and wine; the grace of the Sacrament are the forgiveness of sins, strengthening and preserving body and soul until life everlasting. If person is not in a state of grace it is to the person’s damnation. This is the reason why confession is required, an examination of the soul’s condition, before person partakes of the sacramental elements.
In contrast to this, in the mysticism of Mikkyo, man conducts a mystery because it is a fundamental of his thought and that the Dharmakaya and human person is essentially one. This means that man does super-natural deeds; this leads to the Buddhist outlook on life. We must remember that in Buddhism everything is expressed as one, non-dual. In this state the person is related in the present only therefore in Awareness or Samadhi which is the fundamental ground of the person. There is no concept of sin as found in Christianity, except for a state of ignorance where the person is not rightly educated and education is the cure.
Shingon Meditation is not like a Sacrament of the Catholic Church, because it does not function in the same way. Grace is conferred when the mind is in Samadhi using the power of a human will connected with the will of the Dharmakaya, together, there is not two, but one.
This Practice of Okaji is explained by a Master Teacher, not a priest, instructing a student who has been admitted into an Okaji Practice of a Mandala. This is a one on one instruction, only the student hears and sees the Master. Teaching is very personal and especially designed for the student. The object here is the experience of Grace and not its application. The key to this is the Mandala.
- The Aspiration to Enlightenment, Bodhicitta, and reason which every person possesses fundamentally . . . and we practice pursuit to the Buddha Nature which is original ground in us we can reach the Truth, Mahavairocana.
- the meaning of the word Kaji is that ka is to see the image of Mahavairocana tathagata, on the surface of the water of my mind and ji is when this happens in my mind makes me feel him in my heart (my mind).
- that is, our own mind, in which is reflected His very image . . . by entering our own self, as if leaving the outer court, we must endeavor to see God through this mirror . . . the light of truth is ever our on the face of our mind; which is to say that the image of the most blessed Trinity very brightly shines upon it. . . Go into yourself, therefore.
There are forms in Buddhist Practice that could be view as foreshadowing some of the Sacraments of the Church, but this would diminish the uniqueness of both the Buddhist Practice and the Catholic Church. The Buddhist Practice and the Christian Religion are unique to their own founder and led humanity to a more Noble way of life, in no means does this hinder a Buddhist to accept Catholic Teachings and remain a Buddhist. Likewise this does not mean that the Catholic Church can not use Buddhist Meditations since they do not transgress the first commandment, you will not have other gods before me, to increase awareness of the human condition.
Since both the Catholic Church and Shingon Buddhism practice contemplation this could be the answer to Kobo Diashi teachings being so remarkable and sometimes Christian. I should say that the heart that seeks will find, for in both there is a ready listener; The contemplative life should be restored everywhere because it belongs to the fullness of the Church’s presence ( Ad Gentes Divinitus,) and Shingon too.
- Mikkyo says that ‘substance’ and ‘mind’ is Mahavairocana. Apart from the way of calling them, we can understand that the human body is connected with the great cosmos, the great life, by seeing our body affected by natural forces.
- This means that ‘substance’ and ‘mind’ are also influenced by these. ‘Shoho-muga, phenomenal things are in existence only by conditions; thus they have no substance. We do not exist in this world only by ourselves but are existing dependent upon our surroundings. It is necessary to recognize that nobody exists without the existence of others.
- The importance is that we the human beings who can not live without recognizing others hold the invaluable method of communication, that is, ‘mind’.
- It now remains for the soul . . . to transcend and go beyond not only this sensible world, but even its own self . . . If this passing over is to be perfect, all intellectual operations must be given up . . . let us pass out of this world to the Father.
‘Let us pass out of this world to the Father’ maybe St. Bonaventure has given a key so we can understand Shingon contemplative experience. Buddhism does not know the full revelation of the Trinity. Beatrice Suzuki writes that,
- The Dharmakaya corresponds to the Godhead in Christianity. . . God in his unknowable aspect, the source of all, yet not realizable except through mystical experience. (Mahayana Buddhism, pp.62).
Franciscan Contemplation even though it looks Buddhist it is grounded in the Crucified Christ and His Cross. St. Kobo Daishi contemplates in a form of Old Testament contemplation without the Cross; as it is written by St. Paul, God spoke to them in signs and symbols, but in the fullness of time he spoke through a Son, an image of the invisible God.
Even though St. Kobo Daishi lived after the Cross, does not mean God would not respond; the house of St. Cornelius is a prime example of this in the Book of the Acts. Even while I was at Saifukuji, Shingon Buddhist Temple in Kagoshima, Japan; many persons were showing the Gifts of the Spirit even though they were Buddhists. St. Cornelius was in favor with God when his prayer and alms came up for a memorial before God that is before he believed in Christ. God is not respecter of persons and as it was shown to St. Peter in a vision ‘What ever I have cleansed, do not call common’
It is known from Church History that in the beginning the church used Jewish symbols and images but these in time had to be changed to become Greek and Roman. Many Christian rituals were an adoption of Greek and Roman religious symbolism. An example of this is kissing the Altar at the beginning and ending of Mass. This comes from the Roman household for the father always kissed the table from which the family ate or the sign of the Cross made on the forehead at Confirmation by the Bishop which is from the Centurion Guard, there are so many that I can not list them all. It is just not ritual things but ways of thinking, St. Thomas Aquinas is said to have baptized Aristotle in his work on Summa Theologicae.
Dom Bede Griffith in India uses sannyasin garb instead of traditional Benedictine robes. The robes, precepts and holy days of Buddhism are from another religion but now are just thought as Buddhist. These types of things are hard to understand when religion gets in the way.
Bhikkhus in the beginning were not Buddhist, but Śramanas and it was from this group that the first Buddhists emerged. The Bhikkhu Sangha took ways of doing things from an Indian Culture that gave it birth; old forms were given new meanings. The same method that the Catholic Church used in Roman times, but six hundred years earlier. Old symbols were redefined by expressions of new thought and that made it easier for non-educated persons to believe in the new ways. Thus there was an orderly transition from the old religion to the new religion.
In California there is a Sotoshu Buddhist Temple (Shasta Abbey), it is remarkable because the monks and nuns wear a clerical collars with their robes, chant in Gregorian Plain Chant and do many things that are Christian. The Jodo Shinshu, Buddhist Churches of America, adopted a protestant tradition and use pews, pulpit and organ music.
The Sangha is composed of persons who are Noble and it includes everyone who is Noble even non-Buddhists. The translation of the word Sangha is not the Church for it is not an Ecclesiarum, ekklēsia, ekkalein < ek-, out + kalein to call, ekkētos summon. The Sangha is not called from anywhere or by anyone. If anything the Sangha is known by its fruit Ayra Phala that is nobleness, right living, right action and right speaking. As the Lord says in the Gospel, by their fruits you shall know them.
An interesting article appeared on IgnatiusInsight.com as follows,
- A contemporary priest, Robert E. Kennedy S.J. Roshi (Zen Master) holds Zen retreats at Morning Star Zendo in Jersey City He states. . . I ask students to trust themselves and develop their own self-reliance through the practice of Zen. Meanwhile, the St. Francis Chapel at Santa Clara University hosts the weekly practice of “Mindfulness and Zen Meditation.” Similarly, there are a growing number of Buddhist retreats and workshops being held in Catholic monasteries and parishes.
- IgnatiusInsight.com, Feb.5 2005
Fr. Laurence Freeman, O.S.B., of the Monastery of Christ the King in London, U.K. has a net-work of international meditation centers, World Christian Mediation Community, their meditation halls are designed in a Zen style, and however the religious symbolism is Christian. This movement originated from Fr. John Main, O.S.B., of the same monastery, who wanted to return to a more simple way of meditation of the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert.
Are Catholic Christians members of the Sangha? The answer is yes in the broadest sense of the term. There is the Ideal Sangha, what people think the Ideal is, there is the conventional Sangha what we see in institutional images but the Sangha of the Buddha are persons who practice what he taught and that is, To purify one’s own mind, to avoid ignorant actions that do harm to others and to do good. These things a Catholic Christian, one who lives their faith, can do.
Buddhism asks no joining, no rites for a person who wants to practice. So Catholics are free to Practice what the Buddha taught freely.
There is cultural buddhism and cultural buddhism does what a specific culture thinks a person should do. Once His Holiness the Dali Lama was asked, How many different sects were there in Tibetan Buddhism? His reply was, Every monk thinks he’s right.
Can we ask the question in another way, ‘Can a Buddhist practice the Catholic Faith?’ The answer is yes. ‘Can he or she still practice Buddhism?’ The answer must be yes because many Catholic priests, monks, nuns and lay-persons already do in the West. If you need to check this out, just look on the Internet under, Catholic-Buddhist, Zen Catholics and you will find that there are many! And while you are there check, Zen Christians, Zen Methodists and Zen Jews.
Another one of the main questions is, ‘Can a Buddhist just walk up and say, I am a Catholic, like a Catholic can claim to practice Buddhism?’ The answer is, ‘No.’ The person must say, ‘God has called me through the Holy Scriptures and the preaching there of and I want to receive Holy Baptism’. There is a foundation of Faith and it is the call of the Holy Spirit to the person for an adoption as a ‘Child of God’ so there begins a relationship that grows so the person can call him ‘Abba’, Father. Buddhism has none of this because it does not direct the person to a god, but when the person is in the correct position God responds as the Holy Spirit ‘knocking at the heart’s door.’ St. Irenaeus writes,
- The Word existing with God, through whom everything was made and who was always present to the human race. . . From the beginning, the Son, being present in his creation, revels the Father to all whom the Father desires, at the time and in the manner desired by the Father.
- Patrologia Graeca vol. VII, 932; IV, 6-7
Once the person responds to the call of the Holy Spirit and receives the Sacraments of Christian Initiation they are a Christian; this is unlike Buddhism where there are no initiations for it is a process of education and the person or the teacher can decide. Christian Initiations are not signs of the final ending of the process but only give strength to the good work that has already begun through the gift of faith from God; some Buddhist schools teach there are empowerments but these are not the same as sacraments and should not be confused with them.
There is a different process in Buddhism then in Christianity and the two processes can be viewed as compatible only when they are taken as two complete systems. The goal of Buddhism is Awareness and the goal of Christianity is reconciliation with God. The compatibility is that the Buddhist Awareness appears first and the Christian Reconciliation is the final step and the ending. His Holiness the Dali Lama once remarked that it is no problem for Buddhists to believe in the resurrection of Christ, but on the secondary level, i.e. not in a resuscitated corpse.
The Bhikkhu Sangha is sometimes is looked upon as monastic in the original sense it is not. Bhikkhus live in hermitages and are independent from each other unless they live with four others or more. Śramanas in no way are monastic, that is the reason for over nine hundred hermitages at Koyasan, and there maybe nine hundred different ideas of how and what should be done, however they did have an association but it was and still is not a catholic system, i.e. a hierarchy.
Now, I hope that it is firmly established in the reader’s mind what Buddhism is and what it is not, so I can now explain what the Bhikkhu Sangha is. It must be clear to the reader that any thought of priesthood is foreign to Buddhism. The word priest is a mistranslation of the word Bhikkhu or Bhiksu which means a left home person.
Bhikkhus are trained in a school, not a temple, to be teachers. The major study in this school is Inner Science or Buddhist Psychology along with language, Science, Logic, Mathematics and Medicine; the duration of this major course is ten years. The Bhikkhu Sangha is the oldest continuing association of teachers in the history of the world. Each School was identified by its uniform which does have variations, by this means the who’s of one school were known to who’s of the another school and society.
In ancient India education was not like it is today. The students were boys and young men who were under a teacher (guru) who met in a non-formal education center, Guru Kula (Guru< teacher >Kula <family), but it was the formal educational method in 6 B.C.E. The closest method to this in our Western tradition was the Socratic Method which was the foundation of the Academy of Plato and Aristotle which in turn became a foundation for the Jewish Academy after the destruction of Herod’s Temple. This gave rise to the Rabbinic School founded by Ribbi Johanan ben Zakkai which took the place of the Sanhedrin in 68 A.D. All Buddhist temples were named school in their national languages, and this is shown in all places where the Teachings of the Buddha were taught. It is noted in the Chinese Buddhist history that the Emperor Ming Ti invited Buddhist monks to be teachers and to set up schools and this they did; even to this day Se means school and Su means teacher.
So now we have it, the Buddhist Religion is no religion; a school misinterpreted by Western Missionaries of the past who took experiences of the Church with the Greek and Roman world and then tried to define something that did not exist in the West. I hope that this is firmly understood so I can move on to the next question of great importance for both Buddhists and Catholics.
‘Can the Buddhist School be integrated into the Catholic Church?’ It is obvious that this has already occurred in the West or Catholics would not call themselves ‘Catholic Buddhists’ and be doing Buddhist traditional meditations; how can this be done and how to keep the uniqueness of both systems in tact is even a larger question.
Vatican II can help us in this regard for the Church Fathers explained in the Gaudium et Spes, in the following way:
- Nevertheless, the Church has been sent to all ages and nations and therefore, is not tied exclusively and indissolubly to any race or nation, to any one particular way of life, or to any customary practices, ancient or modern . . . faithful to its traditions . . . its universal mission; it can, then enter into communion with different forms of culture, thereby enriching both itself and the cultures themselves.
- Gaudium et Spes, Section II, Chapter, December 7, 1965
- One must never lose sight of the fact that the Church’s objective is to bring the Good News, not to civilize.
- (Semaines socials de France, Versailles, 1936, pp. 461-462).
The direction is clear, telling the Good News within a context that all people of all races and cultures can relate. Should the people of the East loose their Buddhist Culture but then to rediscover it in the West Christianity; will they wonder why the missionaries destroyed it in their home lands? Do Western Christians fear loosing their cultural context as Christianity more than Asians hearing the Gospel? This is the reason why Vatican II sees enrichment with the application of the Gospel and not negation.
The scriptural aspect for the Catholic Church and Buddhism is different since Buddhism is still in a process of experimentation with the mind in a discipline of psychology and this is open to question and change. Where as the Scripture of the Catholic Church is a closed Canon and therefore there are no further revelations outside the life of Christ as recorded in the Four Gospel Narratives of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. There is no conflict here since Buddhism respects the right of the individual and specific groups to follow what they choose and so does the Catholic Church.
In essence a body of Buddhists could incorporate into their understanding and process of experimentation, other areas of a world view, a process of Inner Science of the mind from other sources outside Buddhism and remain true to the founder’s thought. This is all possible since Buddhism is a non confessional and Dogmatic process. Even if the adopted new understanding seems to be in conflict with the founder of Buddhism the authority is based on experimentation in the present context and not on Gotama or his times. This is an on going process which never stops. All Truth is from one source and Truth does not conflict with Truth. This gave raise to newer ways of looking at old or new experiences that led to formation of new schools of Buddhist thought, i.e. Pure Land and Zen.
Shingon Buddhism holds the key to the spiritual understanding between the Buddhism and the Catholic Church, because it is product of contemplation. The similarities between itself and the Catholic Church are remarkable. St. Kobo Daishi is a man of Faith in One God, the Father of Light from whom all things come and return.
The first step in Shingon is Kanjō, translated into English as baptism. Kanjō is abhiseka an initiation that marks the entry of the sādhaka into a new plane of spiritual awareness. Kanjō literally means “head-sprinkling,” The Hizōki defines Kanjō as the bestowal of Mahavirocana’s Great Compassion upon human beings to enable them to attain the highest perfect Awakening. This is shown as a gate in the Mandala for there is only one way in. Beyond this gate is a fountain of living waters of compassion, here is the door to the Practice of Awareness, Kanjō. Holy Baptism in the Catholic Church is the door to the life faith in Christ through the Sacraments to strengthen and preserve until eternal life.
Kanjō and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism are the beginning of a process of liberation in the two systems. All the steps beyond this are an extension of the beginning. Both in Shingon Buddhism and in the Catholic Church everything is related to this original commitment. The person is committed to Practice and a Holy Life in Shingon and a Life in grafted in Christ and Holiness in the Catholic Church. This becomes the foundation for the Religious Life in both traditions. Christ and St. Kobo Diashi both demand Holiness and commitment of their disciples without these they are disowned.
Now with these things in mind let us look at the Bhikkhu Sangha and how it could be incorporated into the Catholic Church. Since the Sangha is an Association of Buddhist Teachers and not a church. It does not have the problems of joining as non-Catholics Churches with the Catholic Church since there are no dogmatic questions to be resolved, no rites to discuss and no priesthood or ministry to be transferred because there are two complete systems that are not poised against each other.
The Sangha has already taken a place within the Catholic Church through individuals and their own private associations. Fr. Robert E. Kennedy, S.J. Roshi has his own Zendo, Fr. Laurence Freeman; O. S. B. has the World Christian Meditation Community, Fr. Hunt, C.S.O. St. Joseph Abbey, and hundreds more.
When Fr. Hunt was installed as a Roshi, Easter 2010 at St. Joseph Abbey, Spencer Mass. U.S.A., by Fr. Robert E. Kennedy, S.J. Roshi he received greetings from the Superior of the Society of Jesus and from H.H. the Dalai Lama. Both the installer and the installed were Catholic priests, members of Catholic Religious Communities. At the ceremony Fr. Kennedy, invested Fr. Hunt in a Zen Rope and Kasaya, (Bhikkhu’s robe), a Roshi’s Staff and then laid his hands upon his head and prayed, something very non-Buddhist. Fr. Hunt from then on could take students and teach them Zen Buddhism in a Catholic Buddhist context.
On the other side of the world Christians both lay and ordained are being invested in Buddhist robes, taking Bhikkhu Training Rules, given permission to practice, receive new names and living a life of a left home-person. However, they do teach Buddhism be it in a Christian context or not. "I don't think Buddhism is interested so much in learning from us, but they are open to us," said Fr. Kennedy, who holds doctorates in theology and psychology and is the author of "Zen Gifts to Christians" and "Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit."
Yes, Buddhists are open to Christians, however we have a view “You are the same as the Brahmanism” and you say “we are like the Greeks and Roman pagans” both of us are wrong. What is necessary? An understanding what constitutes a Religious in the Catholic Church. This is very simple Buddhists are not religious since Buddhism is not a religion, so how do they become religious? They do by receiving the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.
St. Kobo Daishi started the Buddhist system of meditation with a commitment and in the Catholic system of Sacraments there is the same type of design. Holy Baptism is the first of Christian Initiations, the door to the mystic life in Christ. Holy Baptism is not an end in itself but a beginning in living a life patterned after Christ. It is the foundation of the Faith and a person is given grace through this sacrament. The word sacrament means to make holy; however, if there is not a holy life, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism just remains a place to begin. Saving grace is applied to a person when the life of holiness is lived. This is confirmed both by the Buddha and Christ.
The Bhikkhu Sangha can be incorporated into the Church through the Sacraments and in reality it already has been done since Catholics Christians have embraced Buddhism, everywhere. Once the Sacramental Life is in place, then a person can receive the Evangelical Councils, a Call to Holy Orders within their heart and then the priesthood is established.
- The principal duty of both men and women is to bear witness to Christ. . . They must give expression to this newness of life in their own society and culture in a manner that is in keeping with the traditions of their own land. They must be familiar with this culture, they must purify and guard it, they must develop it in accordance with present-day conditions, they must perfect it in Christ so that the faith of Christ and the life of the church will not be something foreign to the society in which they live, but will begin to transform and permeate it.
- Ad Gente Divinitus, 7 December, 1965 Chapter III Particular Churches: 21
Submitted by Vira Avalokita