The wrong person was sent to Rome for the Buddhist Catholic dialogue. I've been saying to people that it should be someone such as Taigen Dan Leighton here representing Chicago - someone well known with a track record of social justice work and dialoging with the Catholic Church. I feel very much out of my league although I'm enjoying talking to these heavyweight religious thinkers and activists who patiently put up with me.
I would like to think Taigen-sensei was invited but had to turn them down because he was too busy (he was at the recent White House conference of Buddhist leaders). I know I'll be referred to in the Lion's Roar blog as one of the questionable choices, a person without much authority as a spiritual leader or activist.
So as immensely undeserving as I am for the honor of meeting with this group of 50 or so esteemed masters and venerables and of being with them in the private audience with Pope Francis, I'm here and should at least write about it.
I could do a whole series of posts about all the stimulating discussions and experiences so far (I'm writing this as the conference is still in session). There's so much in Catholic thought that I don't understand such as the Trinity. I asked Rev. Ron Kobata (here along with Rev. Ron Miyamura as Dr. Ken Tanaka's referrals) if he knew much about the Trinity and he said "It's like the tri-kaya (Sanskrit for "three bodies")" and I said that didn't help me because I don't get that either - Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.
As if three Japanese American Jodo Shinshu ministers weren't enough, Bishop Noriaki Ito is here as well as the referral of Father James Fredericks (the priest that Dr. Haneda kept attacking at a panel discussion a few years ago in Los Angeles). I told Nori-sensei if anyone at Higashi headquarters asks how I got on this trip, tell them I was chosen by the Buddhist Council of the Midwest (and that's a messy story - BCM has a lot of teachers more qualified than me who could've been picked).
One observation Bishop Nori made is that the Buddhist presentations, Mahayana as well as Theravada, sound so far away from Shin Buddhism. I said it seemed Catholicism sounded closer to us. Hearing Father Jim Fredericks talking of the working of God beginning at the point of our despair sounds like what Kiyozawa, Akegarasu or Maida say - except they just say "working" (Father Jim used the Japanese term "hataraki") without the "of God" part.
When my roommate Sister Anne McCarthy (who gave a fiery presentation on women in the early Church) asked me about Pure Land Buddhism, I said "Other Power" (tariki) refers to that ground of being deeper than our ego-attached self. After that I kept hearing the term "ground of being" coming up in the Catholic presentations. Maybe it means I'm too much in the habit of talking about Shinran's teachings using Thomas Merton vocabulary.
So that's my initial stab at reporting on this historic gathering.