I just read a piece on America’s website written by a Jesuit who was asked by a Buddhist group in San Francisco to sit with them and then give them a talk about Thomas Merton and his dialogue with Buddhism. Early in the column, the author, John Coleman, S.J., observed that “Merton who early on in his career showed a keen interest in dialogue with the religions of Asia ( Hinduism, Sufism as well as Buddhism) tended to think such dialogue should, primarily, focus on practice and experience and less on doctrine or beliefs, as such.” (The column is well-worth reading in its entirety.)
I would not advance the proposition that doctrine and belief are unimportant. But, as a meditator and as a retreat leader, I agree with Merton’s conclusion that there is richer fruit when inter-faith dialogue focuses more on practice and experience.
That is the thought behind my forthcoming book, Growing in Love and Wisdom, which presents adaptations of meditations drawn from the Buddhist tradition for Christian prayer. (The book will be out the end of October and can be pre-ordered at the links on the sidebar.)
Like Merton, I believe there is much drawn from the Buddhist tradition that can benefit Christians. As then Cardinal Ratzinger recognized in a 1989 letter to Catholic bishops issued by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, “genuine practices of non-Christian meditation” may “constitute a suitable means of helping the person who prays to come before God.” Similarly, the 2000 letter Dominus Iesus acknowledges that prayers and rituals from other faith religious traditions may be “occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to be open to the action of God.”
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be posting dates and locations of book talks/signings. I hope to meet some of you at them!