Thursday, July 14, 2011

Buddhist-Christian Dialogue in Austin, TX

This article was originally published on the Austin Shambhala Meditation Center's Shambhala Times News blog.

Austin Shambhala Center Hosts Members of Cristo Rey Catholic Church

On a recent Thursday evening, members of Cristo Rey Catholic Church in East Austin visited the Austin Shambhala Meditation Center for an introduction to Shambhala Buddhism meditation practice. As a professor of religious studies and proponent of interfaith dialogue, I was thrilled to hear about this event. I had the opportunity to communicate with the leaders of both congregations about their experiences of the evening, as well as their reflections on interfaith communication more generally.

Cristo Rey’s pastor, Father Jayme Mathias, has been teaching a world religions course over the past year, in which the congregation’s predominantly Mexican-born, Spanish-speaking members have had the opportunity to learn about and visit a variety of religious centers, including a local Hindu temple, an Islamic Center, a Mexican Baptist church, and a Mexican indigenous spirituality center. Father Jayme’s request to visit the Shambhala Center provided a growth opportunity for both congregations. On the one had, the Shambhala Center had never before offered instruction in Spanish. On the other, as Father Jayme notes: “The course on world religions has been eye-opening for many. Because some 87% of Mexicans are Catholic, they are not so accustomed to thinking of faith traditions outside their own.” Indeed, both congregations challenged their comfort zones, opening their hearts and minds for an evening of learning and discussion.

When the members of Cristo Rey arrived, Austin Shambhala Center Director Billy Boyar welcomed them and offered an introduction to Shambhala Buddhism, with assistance from Rita Ricardo, providing translation and meditation instruction in Spanish, and Luis Iglesias reading passages from Shambhala: La Senda Sagrada del Guerrero (Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior) by Shambhala founder Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Gobierna Tu Vida (Ruling Your World) by Shambhala’s current teacher, the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Shambhala Center members Toby Bernal, Lynn Wolfe, Darren Dyke, and Ginny Foley also helped to welcome members of Cristo Rey for the evening.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in his efforts to establish Shambhala Buddhism in the West, was a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue and study, hosting a number of interfaith conferences and gatherings, and founding Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Billy Boyar recalls: “I mentioned that Trungpa Rinpoche was interested in creating a dialog between Christian and Buddhist meditators. To accomplish this dialog, Rinpoche had organized the Christian-Buddhist conference on meditation in Boulder in 1985. I had the good fortune of attending that conference, where I heard a number of excellent teachers, both Christian and Buddhist. Relating this history was an attempt to find common ground.”

Indeed, it seems that between these two religious communities in Austin, TX, common ground is alive and growing. Father Jayme, a frequent traveler to Asia, observed in a recent issue of the El Heraldo de Cristo Rey (The Cristo Rey Herald), his congregation’s weekly newspaper: “In Mexico, taxicab drivers place rosaries, images of saints, and other religious objects on their dashboards, rearview mirrors and visors. In Thailand, these same places are adorned with myriad buddhas and other Buddhist objects and images. Both in our Roman Catholic faith tradition and in the Buddhist traditions of Thailand, we find religious images and paintings, altars and incense, holy water and floral offerings. That is, despite our differences, there is also much that we share in common as members of the same human family.”

In the spirit of interfaith exploration, I recently ventured to Cristo Rey for the 11:30 a.m. Sunday Bilingual Mariachi Mass, and what a wonderful experience it was to hear Father Jayme lead the Mass in both Spanish and English with such a lively musical accompaniment! I would recommend this experience to anyone. And, as a member of the Austin Shambhala Center I can certainly recommend the Center’s offerings of meditation instruction, public meditation, and other classes and workshops on mindfulness practice, Buddhism, and the contemplative arts. The city of Austin offers such a rich variety of religious communities and experiences, and it’s heartening to see some of them genuinely reaching out to one another. For more information on interfaith efforts in Austin, check out the:
Interfaith Action of Centeral Texas (iACT)

--Article by Melinda Rothouse with gratitude to Father Jayme Mathias of Cristo Rey Church and Billy Boyar of the Austin Shambhala Meditation Center