There is a growing number of contemporary Catholic monasteries and parishes that hold Buddhist retreats and workshops. A Jesuit priest come Zen master, Robert E. Kennedy, holds Zen retreats at his “Morning Star Zendo”. Kennedy asks “students to trust themselves and to develop their own self-reliance through the practice of Zen.” ( I’m not recommending Kennedy’s Zendo, but merely citing my sources, which I like to do not just now and zen, but often).
It’s difficult to understand how one can be both a good Zen Buddhist and a good Catholic. It seems he was more interested in converting Catholics to Buddhism than in Catholicism itself. “The future of Zen is in the West,” he says. And the future of Catholicism? That was too limited in scope, too Roman; not universal enough, not catholic enough. The future lay in the emergent union to be born out of the merger between East and West. Merton had the backing of his illustrious and saintly predecessor, St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who proclaimed: “All that is true, by whomever it has been said, is from the Holy Spirit.” Could we also say “all that is deep, by whomever it has been said, is from the Holy Spirit.”
Merton was influenced by Gandhi who advocated that the way to finding the deeper roots of one’s own religious tradition is by immersing oneself in other religions, and then returning “home” to see one’s own traditions and beliefs in a clearer light. The Catholic Church, since Vatican II (1962), has radically changed its attitude towards inter-religious dialogue. Merton and other Catholic devotees of Eastern thought had a significant influence on changing Rome’s attitude to non-Christian religions. The papal encyclical Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”) states:
(Nostra Aetate is the Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, October, 1965)
“The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture” (Nostra Aetate 2).
Wayne Teasdale comments that the (Catholic) church has yet to realize the full implications of the above statement.
The encyclical Nostra Aetate started out (in 1961, the year of Vatican II) as a “Decree on the Jews.” The final text of Nostra Aetate consisted of five sections:
- Hindus, Buddhists, and other religions.
The Vatican starts out with the best of intentions towards the Jews. Let’s try and sort out this Jewish millstone hanging round our necks of Pope Pius and the Holocaust. (Pope Pius XII was on the papal throne during the Holocaust). The Jewish view is that he could have done more to save the Jews. We’ll stop telling the Jews that they killed their Messiah. We’ll write an encyclical and say, “it is wrong to call them an accursed people,…or a deicidal people,…”. Hang on. Why waste a whole encyclical on the Jews. While we’re about it, let’s go the whole hog and bring in the Muslims and the East as well. Let’s be truly catholic.” The monotheistic Jews end up as the last item behind the monotheistic Muslims. But who gets first prize? The new darlings on the Catholic block – Buddha and Krishna.
In October 2010, “Why Israel” reports, a Catholic synod called at the Vatican to discuss increasing persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Much of its final statement was related to the Vatican’s demand to Israel to end its “occupation” of Arab lands. In his final statement at the synod, Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros of Boston said that Biblical promises made by God to Israel “were nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people.” The Editor of “Why Israel” concludes, “the Vatican’s commitment to its earlier declaration regarding the Jews and God’s promises to them remains at least partially in question.” What commitment? It’s all tripe.
I’ve been scathing, which most would consider inimical to interfaith dialogue. My view is that much interfatih dialogue is mostly, and often sentimental; but not spiritual. In interfaith dialogue, there are religions that have contradictory revelations from the same God. Only one can be true. Each of these religions, if they want to remain faithful and true to their own, should not budge on their major doctrines (which they believe comes from God). What, therefore, is there to dialogue about except “let’s respect the UN Charter on Human Rights, and not violate our right to free speech and free assembly, and so forth”? In a nutshell “Let’s not harass or persecute one another, and let’s also try to find a way to make the world a better place for all;” which is the clarion call of all (secular) humanists.
Let me consider further the problem of interfaith relations. Here is the attitude of a Rabbi and a Priest (Catholic?) to each other. Rabbi Blech sincerely wants his fellow Jews to have more respect for the goyim. He mentioned a “priest” he met at an airport who asked him for a blessing.
Priest: “May I ask you a very important favour?”
Rabbi Blech: Sure
Priest: All my life, I’ve been waiting to meet a rabbi because I know that you are God’s chosen people, and all my life, I’ve been waiting to ask a rabbi for a blessing. I would love a blessing from a rabbi, could you do that for me.”
Rabbi Blech: (To his audience) By the way. How would you respond. Some people would say, “Ah, a goy,” – and I gave him a blessing. I said a posik (portion) for him and translated for him and this man walked away as if he had been given the greatest gift in the world, a brocha (blessing) from a Jew. Do you understand where the Bible belt in America is today? Do you understand how much respect there is in America today for Jews? There’s a whole world out there that thinks that knows that acknowledges that recognises that we are God’s chosen people, that puts us on a higher level. I said to myself I was a Rabbi in young Israel for 40 years, nobody came to me and said, Rabbi, you know you are the ultimate, give me a brocha..
Blech believes we are living in the pre-messianic soon return of Messiah. “One of the signs is that the goyim will start to do tchuva (Repentance). What I have written above is part of a much longer piece. I go on to speak of Pope John Paul’s desire to do tshuva (repentance). I wonder how much influence Thomas Merton and his sympathizers had in the drafting of “In Our Time” (Nostra Aetate). Earlier I quoted from the Nostra Aetate:
“The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture” (Nostra Aetate ).
I quoted Wayne Teasdale earlier: “the (Catholic) church has yet to realize the full implications of the above statement.” The Vatican was cautious of Thomas Merton. It had reason to be so.
Merton doesn’t worry about the radical differences between the two faiths. But then “differences” imply dualism. Religions shouldn’t duel because dualism is an illusion. Merton’s universalistic monism defies logic. Some may argue that logic is a Greek fabrication. Aristotle says that A cannot be not-A. Aristotle cannot be and not be (Aristotle). Who says? Aristotle. But listen to “The science of sciences and the mysteries of mysteries” of the Bhagavad-Gita: I am Being and Not-Being (Chapter 5). The Jews, and ergo the Catholics are unscientific.
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:13-14).
Here is the Buddhist adaptation:
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am NOT . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM-NOT-AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:13-14)
A Buddhist ditches the law of contradiction into the ocean of life and death, but no Catholic can do so. Catholic theology without logic is like Socrates without his dialectic: a diuretic. But we don’t have to appeal to theology. We can go right to its source: the Christian scriptures. But the Buddha first.
Buddha’s final words to his disciples were:
“Make of yourself a light. Rely upon yourself; do not rely upon anyone else. Make my teachings your light. Rely upon them; do not depend upon any other teaching.”
Contrast that with the words of John the Baptist: “He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light” (John, 1:8). John the Baptist continued to proclaim that Christ “is the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world” (John, 1:9). Christ says “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). Christ is the light. No human being has any light IN himself waiting to shine forth.
To return to the Jews, the original inspiration for Nostra Aetate. The Pontifical Biblical Commission statement (2002), entitled “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible,” states: “The Jewish messianic expectation is not in vain. It can become for us Christians a powerful stimulant to keep alive the eschatological dimension of our faith. Like them, we too live in expectation. The difference is that for us the One who is to come will have the traits of the Jesus who has already come and is already present and active among us.”
How could such an expectation be not vain, given that they refuse Christ, the only Messiah, who has already come? This means, if taken to its logical conclusion, that the refusal of the mystery of the Incarnation, of the birth of our Divine Savior in the flesh, is no longer a sin of infidelity, is no longer a grave sin against the Faith. If this were the case, how could it still be true for Our Lord to say to the Jewish false believers:
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
These were “Jews who had believed him.” This belief was obviously not in who Jesus said he was but in what these Jews wanted to believe about Jesus. In sum, according to Jesus, they were sons of the father of lies.