Many New Collections Available for Use

During the tenure of my Luce-funded project archivist position at the Burke Library, I will be processing, arranging and describing all of the collections in the Missionary Research Library Archives and the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives. MANY new collections are available for use and research. These original, unique, primary source materials can greatly add to a Union student’s research. And, as the saying goes, ‘those who fail to study the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.’

Have you looked into any of these archives lately? You may be surprised how much they can add to what Union in Dialogue stands for: a discussion of social analysis, interreligious dialogue, embodiment, poverty, and a number of other pressing topics.

You can always look at the Burke Archives page, specifically at the Missionary Research Library Collection and William Adams Brown Archives links. We also make sure to post direct links through our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

One other option is through the Burke Archives Blog, which is specific to the Hidden Archival Collections of the Burke Library project. If you look at the tab called Completed Collections, you will see all of that which has been done since the project began in August 2011.

Any questions? Please don’t hesitate to contact me!


Master and Disciple — Buddhist & Christian

Everyday I receive via email from a Tibetan Buddhist organization  a “Glimpse” for the day.

Today’s “Glimpse” helps me, I think, come to a deeper sense of what it means to be a Christian, or of what it means to call Jesus Christ my savior.

Tibetan Buddhism understands the relationship between the disciple and the master like this:

When you have fully recognized that the nature of your mind is the same as that of the master,  from then on you and the master can never be separate, because the master is one with the nature of your mind, always present, as it is.

When you have recognized that the master and you are inseparable, an enormous gratitude and sense of awe and homage is born in you.

“Nature of your mind” would be another way of trying to refer to “our deepest self” or “my self-consciousness.”  For Tibetan Buddhists, the relationship between Master and disciple is to experience that one’s deepest self-awareness is really the same as the self-awareness of the Master. There is so separation.  The source of who I am and the source of who the Master is are both different and yet the same, distinct but not in any way separable.

When the student realizes this, there is a transformation of the sense of self. There is an awareness that who I am is so much greater that what I think I am or what I feel I am. To come to the awareness that “who I am” is “the same as that of the master” is to experience, within myself, a resource of peace, of freedom, and of compassion for myself and for others.

Once again, Buddhism offers Christians the opportunity to understand a little more deeply what St. Paul was trying to get at when he told the Galatians: “It is not longer I that live but Christ who lives in and as me.” (2:20)

The Miracle of Mindfulness and the Miracle of “Being in Christ Jesus”

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of “the miracle of mindfulness.”  Indeed, as so many people are discovering, the practice of mindfulness does have what seem to be miraculous powers. Something happens when we succeed in really being mindful of the thoughts and feelings and reactions that crowd into and try to take possession of how we feel about ourselves and what we think we are.

When we recognize a feeling of fear or discouragement or inadequacy or hatred, when we recognize a thought that tells us that this person doesn’t like me – when we identify such feelings as thoughts and, as it were, look them squarely into the eyes and face them for what they are – just thoughts or feelings –- then the miracle can happen. They lose their reality; or at least, they lose their power to identify who we think we are, or who we think other people are.

And when they lose their power to identify, something else can take their place.  “Something else” – that’s the mystery part of this experience; it’s something else that brings peace, or strength, or reassurance.

This is where “mindfulness” and my Christian experience seem to connect.  St. Paul identifies what it means to be a Christian in his powerful, pithy statement: To be a Christian means to realize – with a realization that is a transformation – that “it is not I who live but Christ who lives as me.” (Gal. 2:20) This is where mindfulness can perform its miracle for Christians, for in the practice of mindfulness, as Buddhists teach it, the exercise of being mindful of what I am feeling or thinking is an exercise that identifies this thought as “not I” –this is not who I really am.

Mindfulness, in other words, clears my consciousness of “I” so that the consciousness of “Christ” can move in.

Mindfulness is a means that Buddhism offers Christians to really allow the “it is not I” to be felt, to be realized.  And once that begins to happen, then the realization can take place that what really defines me, what I really am, is “not I but Christ.”

For Christians, to be truly mindful is to be “in Christ Jesus.”

A Buddhist Response to Christian Fanaticism (written on a return flight from Seoul, Korea to New York)

New Year Talk

For the past eight days, my wife Cathy and I have been rushing – or better, have been gently rushed – around the peninsula of South Korea as part of a project aimed at promoting a more fruitful dialogue between Buddhists and Christians.  The seed of this venture was planted, and then nurtured, by my Korean doctoral student, Mr. Kyongil Jung.  But because of unexpected political and religious developments, the seed produced a sprawling tree, rather than just a healthy bush.

The unexpected circumstances had to do with fundamentalist Korean Christians who over recent months have invaded Buddhist temples in Seoul and Daegu in an effort to exorcize the “demonic powers” there and proclaim the eventual triumph of Christianity.

So in the midst of this turmoil, a septuagenarian Christian scholar from New York arrives to talk about the value and need of Buddhist-Christian dialogue and to speak about his recent book Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. To talk about dialogue in the midst of such conflict had the semblance of urging relaxation in the midst of an earthquake. Still quaking, the Chogye Order of Korean Seon (Zen) Buddhists held to their invitation and asked this foreign Christian to come and talk.

Dialogue with Zen Master Jinjesunim

The media reacted with what seemed to me a journalistic feeding frenzy. With their cameras and recorders and interview-teams, they were swarming around almost constantly, eager to determine not only what I, the Christian theologian and foreigner, had to say, but also, and especially, what the Buddhist monks and laypersons were asking and how they were responding.

There were one-on-one dialogues with Seon Master Jinje-sunim,  the  most respected Buddhist teacher in Korea.  There were panel and community discussions with monks at the temples of Donghwa-sah (in Daegu), Haewoonjung-sah (in Pusan), and Gilsang-sah (Seoul) and many casual, but sometimes intense, conversations over meals.

The core of our conversations crystallized, I believe, in three different events.  On two different New Year’s celebrations (Jan 1 and 4), I was asked to follow the official Dharma talk of Jinje-sunim and address packed audiences of Buddhist lay people.  One of these talks took place at the very spot where Christians had invaded and desecrated.  So here was the Buddhist community responding to Christian hatred by inviting a Christian theologian and practitioner to speak to them – to enter into a dialogue with them!

And I was moved, almost to tears, when, after I assured them that many, many Christians disagreed with what these extremist Christians had done, and after I asked them to forgive and have compassion on these Christians – they responded with affirming bows and applause.

The other crystallized moment came when the abbot of Haewoonjung-sa asked Cathy to lead the monks and an assembly of about 50 laypeople, who were there for their 30 day winter retreat, in meditation!  They knew that she practices and teaches a form of Tibetan meditation that is quite different from their Zen practice. Still, they wanted to show their hospitality and their openness to learn.

With Executive Chief of the Korean Buddhist Chogye Order

The final event of our line up of dialogical encounters came on our last evening in Seoul, at the recently built and beautiful International Seon  Center.  There was a panel of four Buddhist and four Christian teachers/scholars who responded to my questions about with how to deal with Christian fanaticism and, more importantly, how to promote greater interreligious dialogue and conversation.  It was a fervent, forthright, and sometimes tense conversation. But there was agreement on the basics: the need for broader education and understanding of one’s religious neighbors, and the urgency and opportunity to bring Buddhists and Christians together to address these conflicts and to show that religion can be a greater source of peace than of violence.

The conversation at the Seon Center went on for almost three hours, with some 300 people in the audience, all of us sitting cross legged! (I managed the sitting part, but then could not get up afterwards!).

As 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 hatred of some of their fellow Christian citizens – I am extremely happy to do so.

The Passing of a Giant: Raimon Panikkar, RIP

Raimon Panikkar

Read this beautiful commentary on a man who was one of the greatest influences and inspirations in my life. For me and for my wife Cathy, one of the most telling tributes to the kind of person Panikkar was came from our kids, John and Moira. We visited him in 1991, on the long trip through Europe on our way to my sabbatical in India. Of all the many theologian-friends of mine whom John (14 at the time) and Moira (11) met as we tramped our way through Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany, Raimon was the only one they really enjoyed. He connected with them and engaged them. We still have a photo of Raimon showing John how to drink from a Spanish skin-canteen. … His dream of a world of greater interreligious and intercultural dialogue goes on through all the people whose lives he touched and inspired.