Interreligious Encounter Between Chan/Zen Buddhism and Carmelite Spirituality: Updates and Interviews with Participants
By Daniel Millet Gil
As a consequence of the risks related to the healthcare crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Centre for Teresian-Sanjuanist Studies (CITeS), The University of Mysticism in Ávila, Spain, and the Centre of Buddhist Studies (CBS) at The University of Hong Kong—the co-organisers of the event—have decided to delay the 2nd World Encounter of Teresian Mysticism And Interreligious Dialogue: Chan/Zen Buddhism and Carmelite Spirituality: On Love And Compassion. To be held in the city of Avila, Spain, the event has been postponed for one year; the new dates for the encounter are 21–25 July 2021.
It is the second collaboration between CITeS and CBS. The 1st World Encounter of Teresian Mysticism and Interreligious Dialogue: Theravāda Buddhism and Teresian Mysticism: Meditation and Contemplation, Pathways Toward Peace, which was held in Avila from 27–30 July 2017, was a unique and unforgettable experience for participants. Over the course of four days, strong ties of friendship were forged between Carmelites and Theravada Buddhists in an atmosphere of remarkable vivacity and warmth. Buddhistdoor en Español reported extensively on this interreligious event.
As reported previously, this long-awaited second encounter will be graced with the participation of renowned Carmelite and Chan/Zen Buddhism experts from Canada, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Spain, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The proposed topic is cultivating love and compassion to achieve a kinder and more caring society. There will be lectures, talks, round tables, chanting, and worship—to name just a few of the activities—all aimed at an atmosphere of fellowship and solidarity.
Asked about the reasons for the postponement, Javier Sancho, a Discalced Carmelite and the director of CITeS, told us that the decision was made due to the uncertainty and hardships caused by the pandemic:
“Perhaps the best answer that would encompass all the reasons would simply be: extraordinary solutions for extraordinary situations. The situation has certainty taken us all by surprise. Along with the seriousness it involves in and of itself, the uncertainty it has engendered throughout the world and in all spheres of life offers no short-term certainty. And the evolution of the pandemic, as well as the measures being taken, make the possibility of holding an encounter of this importance highly unlikely. The danger of infection and fear of getting ill, closed borders, the difficulty of processing visas and the ever-changing regulations being enacted by different state authorities keep bringing us new surprises every day. Faced with the generalized uncertainty, in dialogue with the Centre of Buddhist Studies at The University of Hong Kong, we have made the tough decision to postpone the congress until July 2021, when we truly hope that the pandemic will have run its course and the world situation will have normalized.”
“We did briefly consider moving forward with the initiative, but hosting it online. We soon realized that this would not be feasible. Not due to technical issues, but fundamentally because it would mean renouncing one of the main values and purposes of the encounter. While we naturally consider specialized reflection and specialized study of utmost importance, along with dialogue and discussion, one of the objectives we set for these encounters is to go beyond this to favor the experiential dimension that is only possible when meeting and sharing the event together in person. The opportunity to share and interact was the most valued feature of the first encounter, leading to deep ties of friendship and mutual understanding and appreciation. Even though it means delaying the meeting for an entire year, we believe that it is worth it to ensure that the encounter is a time of true interreligious, human, and fraternal harmony and sharing. In short, what we hope for and expect from these encounters: that in addition to helping us to understand and learn more about the other tradition, they also help to enrich us with the experiences of each and every person and the chance to share who we are and what we have, especially the common concern to contribute to creating an increasingly more just and charitable society.”
Dr. María Jesús Hernando is the ecumenical delegate at the Getafe Dioceses in Spain. Her doctoral dissertation was on the dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism. We contacted Hernando for her perspective as a speaker at this 2nd World Encounter specializing in both traditions.
María Jesús Hernando: As the delegate at Getafe and, for that reason, also a member of the Spanish-wide Interreligious Dialogue Forums, I think, from my point of view, that in Spain the interreligious dialogue with Buddhism is quite weak. There are several Buddhist groups in our country belonging to diverse branches and schools of Buddhism. In our dioceses there is a group that participates without any problem, giving talks at interreligious conferences and congresses. However, it is difficult to rely on their regular presence and participation at our interreligious forums. With an eye toward the future, I would love to have hope, because especially for the Catholic part, they are constantly invited to participate.
MJH: The way I see it, Zen has two features that must be differentiated: the technique or methodology, based on the physiological and positional rhythms of the body, in order to obtain greater concentration. And the doctrinal-spiritual side, which seeks purification and mental internalization to feel good about oneself, which is based only on one’s own efforts—a reflection of the modern-day superman—and which does not require either God’s grace or salvation. And, consequently, it does not seek personal union with Him. So I believe that the methodological side could be valid for Christian meditation as well. The problem arises when one does not know how to distinguish between both features, leading to Christians who practice Zen only going within themselves and not enjoying the personal encounter with the Holy Trinity.
The third Saint Teresa of Avila and Interreligious Dialogue International Award, which was scheduled to be presented in July 2020, coinciding with the encounter, has also been postponed until July 2021.
The award was created by CITeS with private donations to expand the spiritual health of humanity and to promote true interreligious dialogue. This third edition centers on comparative studies between Carmelite spirituality and other religious traditions, with the winner receiving a cash prize of €6,000 (US$7,070). There is a €1,000 prize for each of the top four finalists. The articles honored will be considered for inclusion in a special commemorative volume.
The award will be presented on 24 July 2021, the third day of the convention, at the awards ceremony for the 3rd Teresa of Avila and Interreligious Dialogue International Award.
Violence, animosity, and hatred between people are painfully present in our modern age, but it is possible to go beyond enmity and aversion toward others. The idea for this interconfessional encounter was created to propose that the cultivation of love is the very best way to build a better world. The 2nd International Encounter between Buddhists and Carmelites in Avila will be a unique opportunity to learn how to cultivate kindness and compassion. This is essential because to achieve a more compassionate world, love and compassion must first permeate our own hearts.