Monday, April 13, 2009

Interreligious Dialogue Part II by Sr. Kathy Smolik, OSB

In the March 31st post I introduced the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Board and in particular one of the events that the men and women religious of this board sponsor, “Nuns in the West.” This time I would like to briefly share some of the content of our sharing.

While there is a vast array of religious topics that could be discussed, we choose those that pertain to monastic life. Although some of the topics are not exclusively monastic, such as meditation and prayer, still our perspective comes from a particular lived experience or vocation.

During our most recent dialogue, Labor Day weekend of 2008, we focused on the topic of the “Meditation and Prayer.” We grouped our questions to be discussed into two main categories:

Inner Life of Training:

1. What do meditation, prayer, contemplation mean in your tradition?
2. Can you describe your practice?
3. What do you do with your mind?
4. What is the purpose of your meditation/prayer?
5. What are the short term/ long-term goals?
6. To whom do you pray?
7. What is right effort?
8. How do you practice mindfulness?
9. Unity vs. Duality –what is the starting point in your tradition?
10. Is Buddha as essential for Buddhists as Christ is for Christians?
11. Are there cautions for Christians wanting to take up an Eastern prayer or meditation practice?
12. What teachings support your practice?
13. What can we learn from each other?

From whom do we learn?

1. Who are our teachers?
2. What is the role of the teacher?
3. Do we have enough teachers?
4. How do we recognize our teachers?

During our dialogue a few points of interest really became important for me.

First, as we discussed our search for God or Buddhahood the fact that we come from two very different foundations or starting points became even more apparent. In Buddhist meditation, the Buddhist starts from a point of “oneness” or unity. As Christians, we start as creatures totally dependent on God our Creator. We go to the Father through Jesus Christ, reaching full union with the love of the Trinity after death. This is duality (not dualism) and we must accept the fact that we are creatures - not God - but we are made in the image and likeness of God.

Second, achievement of Buddhahood is a matter of self-effort. The Buddhists have been taught over millennia to train their minds. Their meditation practices are precise and effective and they have well trained teachers. However, one’s progress depends entirely on one’s own effort. In Christianity, the opposite is true. It absolutely essential, of course, that we make an effort to train our minds using Christian practices, but ultimately we must rely on the grace of God. We cannot ignore the need for this grace and must beg most earnestly to God to pour out His grace upon us.

Thirdly, there is a need to recognize that the energies from the different streams, East and West, are vastly different. Buddhist meditation practices can open up us Westerners to energies that may be good in themselves, but we are not used to these strong streams. For the most part, our bodies and psyches cannot handle these energies, nor do we have the teachers. As Christians, we have a particular “psychic imprint”, that is, Jesus Christ. This imprint was given to us as a gift and must be nurtured in the tradition handed down to us by our Judeo-Christian heritage. As Sr. Meg wrote, “I understand other religions but practice my own” ( Humility demands that we accept the orientation given to us by God out of love.

In my next reflection I will share what I see as the fruits of our dialogue that have both enriched and challenged me.

For more teachings on our “psychic imprint” and Christian meditation please see:

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