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Monastic Inter-Religious Dialogue European Commissions:

East-West Exchange

Institute for Zen Studies of Hanazono University
June 3-28, 2005 
Summary by Fr. Pierre de Bethune

        The European Commissions together organized the tenth spiritual East-West Exchange held June 3-28, 2005. Invited by the Institute for Zen Studies of Hanazono University, nine nuns and monks (from England, Scotland, France, the Low-Countries, Norway, Portugal and the United States) spent some time in Zen monasteries in Japan
        As a conclusion to these visits there were two days of evaluation and reflection at the University itself. The Bishop of Ky?to, Paul Otsuka, was present, together with a large number of Masters and Professors. Two monks who are living in Japan came to participate at this symposium, Fr. Kieran Nolan, from the Benedictine monastery of Fushimi and Fr. David Lavich, chaplain of the Trappist monastery of Nasu. The Reverend T?ga Masataka, General Secretary of the Institute for Zen Studies, gave the first presentation of these initiatives of dialogue. This was followed by a celebration in memory of Pope John-Paul II, presided successively by the Rector of the University, for the Buddhist part, and by the Right Rev. Otsuka who celebrated the Eucharist.
        Finally two lectures recalled the history of the ten Spiritual Exchanges, which started in 1979. The Reverend Yasunaga S?d? described the Japanese approach and Fr Pierre-François de Béthune presented the history of this dialogue, from the European point of view. 

Participant Testimonial
Sister GilChrist LaVigne, OCSO
Mariakloster, Tautra, Norway, July 3, 2006

        The experience in Japan was so full that it is really difficult to convey it in words. Certainly it will take me a long time to integrate it. I feel a deep sense of gratitude first of all to the Japanese in their wonderful gift of hospitality and all their magnificent planning of each detail, and their complete generosity, then to DIM (and Fr. Pierre de Bethune) for inviting me to come, and to DIM’s own background work and planning to bring this meeting to birth, to the Church for having initiated this form of dialogue, to my own Cistercian community in Norway for taking over my duties and allowing me to partake in the hospitality program.
        Perhaps what stands out the most in my mind was a new sense of “community” and what it means. First of all, our own group of Christian monks/nuns was so cohesive and got along so well together. But the sense of community was much deeper than “getting along” – and it was palpable at the celebration of Eucharist each day. Usually there were also some Buddhists sharing the Eucharistic Celebration with us. Even though they could not receive communion, they were visibly touched by the experience. So Eucharist also became “hospitality” at its deepest level.
        I was also touched by many of the persons we met, the various Buddhist monks and nuns: both the student practitioners and their teachers, especially the roshis. Often when they chanted, I felt like every cell and blood vessel in their body was participating in that chant. It was all such a lesson in mindfulness … to a degree I had never seen before. But even beyond this example of living one’s practice, there was our own sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, the Christians with the Buddhists, a sense that came from our shared monastic life and values, even if we lived that life/those values very differently in our respective monasteries. We knew we were engaged in a common journey together, but each of us living out the journey in our own way and with our own particular faith-experience.
        Even if difficult at times, (and we learned a lot about physical pain on this journey), I found that some of the meditation practices were personally helpful to me. Living the “zendo life” during the sesshin (meditation retreat) certainly will never be forgotten. It was perhaps one of the strongest moments of the experience for me.
        The contrast between normal life in large cities like Kyoto, Osaka, and Nagoya, and the monastic life lived in the Buddhist temples was overwhelming. The two were so far apart from one another that I wondered if the temple life can survive. I hope and pray that it can. Perhaps it needs to undergo some changes in the future, but certainly it carried its own life and vitality and held seeds of promise for the future of Japanese culture and society, in my estimation. I also saw how important it was for some of the Japanese to have visits in Christian monasteries in the West. All those we met who had had this experience had greatly benefited from it, and were so grateful for it.
        So I end these few reflections with feelings of immense hope and gratitude. I hope that more Christian monks and nuns will have this experience in the future (whatever form it takes) and that the Buddhists will also be able to continue to visit our Western monasteries. I feel that together, we carry seeds of hope for the future of our respective societies and we need to carry that message together. As a Christian nun, I would say with St. Paul, that it’s a “faith that expresses itself in love” and my Buddhist brother or sister might express it in their own way…perhaps as the journey to their original face. How we express it is perhaps not so important, but that we do express it some way, is essential, and doing it together, gives an even stronger message to the world around us.