The Christian-Buddhist Interfaith Dialogue

( Thai Mission Report – January 2015)

thai-mission-rep1-Interreligious dialogue Christianity-Buddhism is one of the hallmarks of the Franciscan Mission in Thailand. Interreligious dialogue is a fruit of the Vatican II Council that opened the Church to the world, understanding this dialogue as “mission” and expression of the “dialogue of salvation” that God establishes with the whole humanity. This is a dialogue without limits or borders, dialogue with faithful human being, dialogue with non-believer or with agnostic people…, this is a dialogue about life and creation, about human being in the variety of choices, visions and worldviews in our globalized world with so different cultures, peoples and religions.

For the Franciscans, interreligious dialogue is an essential part of “our charisma” and this dialogue for peace we can live as prayer in the “spirit of Assisi” promoted by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and also present in the ministry of Pope Francis.

In the Mission in Thailand, the Franciscans we have understood the dialogue with Buddhism as dialogue of life, prayer and solidarity. The mother house of the Franciscans in Thailand, in Lamsai-Lamlukka, summarizes these ideals in the life of the Franciscan Fraternity, in the Retreat House for Christian and Buddhist groups, and in “Ban Clara” or Hospice terminal patients of AIDS, which recovers many persons thanks to the advance of the treatments in the last years.

From the smallness of our reality, because our Franciscan presence is small in number of friars and places, but with the “interfaith dialogue” we want to live our presence as “dialogue of life”, training our Franciscan students for dialogue, and also preparing materials of reflection about Christian-Buddhist dialogue from our Franciscan vision that we want to offer in our environment. These are some aspects that I want to share:

thai-mission-rep2-The dialog of the life

To be “Friars Minor” is to be the “Friars of the people” and this asks us to live our life as solidarity. In the care of the AIDS sick in Lamsai,we received many testimonies that express the gratitude of many people and Buddhist families who have felt support in times of pain and abandon, help by the Franciscans, Hospice staff and volunteers working in this dialogue of life. The same is true of other projects of solidarity and life that bring us to the most marginalized classes, ethnic groups and migrants from neighboring countries, especially Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, which found in Thailand better living conditions that in their countries due to war situations or political regimes that restrict freedom. It is my experience and that of other Brothers in the Northern provinces, as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, or in the South provinces as Prachuap Khirikhanor Yala-Betong, border with Malaysia.

thai-mission-rep3-Training for dialogue

One of the aims of the”Franciscan presence in Thailand” is the implantation of the Order is the Southeast Asian countries, such as this Franciscan Foundation dependents of the General Minister OFM in Thailand and Myanmarand we begun a new collaboration with the Franciscan Province of Vietnam that experiences a great flowering vocations. Also the period of Novitiate in the Philippines is opportunity for our candidates to experience the Christian life in this Catholic country. Educating for interreligious dialogue, we prepare our Franciscan students from these countries to develop the beautiful Franciscan ideal of fraternity in the variety of peoples, cultures and religions. Very enthusiastic groups are the Sisters Poor Clare Capuchin; they have 7 monasteries in Thailand. Their enthusiasm and desire to live the contemplative vocation in a Buddhist world I am a witness from our formation meetings especially with the Poor Clare of Saeng Arung in the province of Prachuap Khirikhan, with which we have reflected in this “Year of Consecrated Life”.

thai-mission-rep4-ChristianBuddhist dialogue from the Franciscan vision.

The Franciscan contribution to interreligious dialogue is, in my opinion, one of the biggest challenges that we Franciscans have in Southeast Asian countries, predominantly Buddhist. Our Franciscan vision is an opportunity to bring creativity to the interreligious dialogue in these three areas: anthropological, cosmological, and theological (it is to say, in the dialogue on the vision about the human being, the creation and God).

Buddhism in Asia is a “movement of life” that has shaped the identity of so many peoples and suggests to us and challenges the Franciscans to be also a “movement of life” in Asia sharing the spiritual experience of Jesus and Francis with the followers of Buddha. Certainly we are in two different cultural and religious worlds but united in the search for truth that liberates, of goodness and kindness that make us be more human, and search for the inner peace, source of all social peace and conviviality.

Both the Buddhist world as the Franciscan worldview they feel very comfortable in the middle of symbolic and emotional language, in the mutual acceptance and compassion, in tenderness and peace. The “Smiling Buddha” is no stranger to the “Franciscan Joy”: are common values for both visions the search for meaning, inner freedom, simplicity and frugality in life, and love as the foundation of brotherhood that makes itself dialogue and presence.

thai-mission-rep5-Buddhist Ethics and Christian ethics

In Buddhism the ethical rules are not so much as imposition but as practical guide of life; there exists a moral common core that identifies Buddhist ethics, despite the different Buddhist schools and teachers. Buddhist education is based on three aspects: the “wisdom”, the “ethical conduct” and “mental discipline”. In Christianity the goal of Christian ethics is to live the freedom of the children of God, the transformation of the heart, the passing of the status of “old man” to the life of the “new man” in Christ Jesus. We should live through the ethic of freedom, of the man renewed in the image of the Creator; a relational ethics and fraternity, a creative ethics of peace and reconciliation.

Today ethics, bioethics, ecological ethics or environmental ethics are questions that invite us to a reflection and dialogue between believers of different religions because they are issues that concern human life and, I think, address to the Franciscans about the creational care of the universe: This is “dialogue life” in the defense of the family, in the equal human dignity male – female, in the meaning and experience of sexuality; in bioethical issues, ecology or gender, in the techniques of assisted reproduction, human cloning; in issues as suicide and euthanasia, etc.

In Buddhism, the own ethical rules are a guide in the defense of life and peaceful conviviality; in the Christianity is the “theology of creation” and of the human being as “image of God” that founds the dignity of the human person, in the balance between “bios” and “ethos”. The “environmental ethics” questions us about inter-generational justice, respect for nature and compassion for animals, the preservation of biodiversity and ecosystems; it is an ecological ethics that waits from us Franciscans something to offer about the care of creation and of Mother Earth that nourishes us and gives us life and warmth.

thai-mission-rep8-Meditation and eastern methods

Pope Francis: “Yoga is not enough to feel the fatherhood of God… Only the Holy Spirit can “move the heart” and make it “docile to the Lord, docile to the freedom of love”. (Santa Marta, Vatican, January 9, 2015)

Sitting cross-legged, one who meditates places his left hand on the palm of his right hand, touching both thumbs” … “the theory on which the meditation is based is that there is a profound spiritual awareness within our mind” (about Buddhist meditation).

With the expression “eastern methods” we understandmethods inspired by Hinduism and Buddhism, such as “Zen”, “transcendental meditation” or “yoga”, that is to say, the methods of meditation of the not Christian Far East that are used also by some Christians in their meditation. Today the ever more frequent contact with other religions and with their different styles and methods of prayer leads us to consider the value that can have for Christians all these non-Christian forms of meditation. In spite of the difficulties in the modern culture towards the requirements of silence, concentration and prayer, the desire to learn to pray in an authentic and deep way is alive in many Christians of our time. Some of them resort to these methods for therapeutic reasons: the spiritual restlessness of a life submitted to the rhythm of our time also drives them to seek the path of inner peace and psychic balance.

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions” (Decl. Nostra aetate, n. 2.), and with the evangelical and Franciscan freedom we can take from these methods what they have of usefully, alwaysthat we maintain the Christian conception of the prayer: “In Christian prayer shines the truth of God and creature. Therefore it is defined, properly speaking, as a personal, intimate and deep dialogue between the man and God”.

thai-mission-rep7-Saint Francis when he contemplates the creation and the dignity of God’s creatures, sings the “Canticle of Creatures” and in the Letter to all the faithful he is directed to “every creature in heaven and on earth, in the sea and the abyss (Rev 5, 13) for give God praise, glory, honor and blessing, for He is our virtue and strength, He alone is good (Luke 18, 19).

May the meditation and contemplation lead us to live through the inner freedom: “For freedom Christ set us free” (Galatians 5: 1).

With best wishes for peace and good!

Prachuap Khirikhan, on January 31, 2015.

Jesús Galeote Tormo, OFM

Misionero en Tailandia

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