Tibetan Buddhism and Carmelite spirituality: an interreligious meeting in Ávila, July 2024

- through Francois Leclercq

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Image courtesy of CITeS

The Catholic Order of Discalced Carmelites was founded in 1593 by two mystics, Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross. These figures of immense importance in late medieval Spain set out to reform an earlier order which takes its name from the biblical Mount Carmel, Palestine, and upholds the example of the Old Testament prophets and the first Christian hermits.

In 1986, the Order founded the International Teresian-Sanjuanist Center (CITeS) in the Castilian city of Ávila, birthplace of Saint Teresa. It is a school with mysticism at its heart and is famous throughout the Catholic world as the highest academic representative of Carmelite spirituality. The CITeS headquarters is an impressive star-shaped building with spacious, bright spaces and excellent learning facilities. CITeS is located within the medieval fortified walls of Ávila, known as the city of stones and saints, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.

In collaboration with two Buddhist institutions, the Center for Buddhist Studies (CBS) of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the Dharma-Gaia Foundation (FDG), the Catholic Order of Discalced Carmelites and CITeS, organize the third interreligious dialogue of this type, entitled “3rd World Meeting of Teresian Mysticism and Interreligious Dialogue”. This year's interfaith dialogue, which will take place on July 25 and 26, will have the theme "Tibetan Buddhism and Carmelite Spirituality: Guidelines for Visualizing, Contemplating and Finding the Sacred."

CITeS has been active in promoting Buddhist-Christian dialogue for years. In 2016, CITeS announced its intention to organize a series of meetings to establish a dialogue between Carmelite spirituality and the great traditions of Buddhism. The “1st World Meeting of Teresian Mysticism and Interreligious Dialogue: Theravada Buddhism and Teresian Mysticism: Meditation and Contemplation, Paths to Peace” took place from July 27 to 30, 2017 in Ávila, in the presence of many participants. The second congress, scheduled for July 22 to 26, 2020, “Chan/Zen Buddhism and Carmelite spirituality: on love and compassion,” was canceled due to the pandemic, but the articles prepared for the congress will be published.

With travel around the world having returned to normal, this third meeting is proud to welcome to CITeS a delegation of scholars, monks and experts in Tibetan Buddhism from Austria, Bhutan, Germany, Greece , Hong Kong, India and the United States. They go to Ávila for four days of friendly dialogue and fraternal discussion: conversation without conversion, religions in search of mutual understanding.

Among the speakers are some of the most recognized representatives of their respective traditions. The tradition of Tibetan Buddhism will be represented by renowned scholars and experienced meditators. A meditation workshop will be led by an Indian meditation master. A group of monks will recite sutras and chants every morning after Christian mass. On the Christian side, speakers will include noted Catholic academics and contemplatives.

The proposed theme for the meeting is to explore the role of revelation and visions in attaining wisdom (Skt. prajna), a critical concept in Buddhism and Christianity. In both the Carmelite tradition and Tibetan Buddhism, visualization, contemplation, and encounter with the ultimate are considered fundamental practices for fostering spiritual growth and deepening the relationship with the sacred. Although these traditions have different cultural, philosophical and theological contexts, they share important commonalities in their emphasis on the importance of prayer and contemplation as means to achieve union with the "ultimate" , whether with the void (Skt. shunyata) or God.

It is worth noting that although God is not equal to the void, the experience of God in the Carmelite tradition is surprisingly apophatic and indicates a dissolution of the self. Carmelite and Buddhist mysticism seeks the wordless and ineffable ultimate through different paths.

The first seeks knowledge of self and Jesus Christ, which involves loving attention and connection with the divine presence. For their part, Buddhists seek enlightenment through meditation and cultivation. Both forms of mysticism share the importance of discipline and contemplative and ritual practices, overcoming the ego through a process of purification and enlightenment, the role of suffering as a means of spiritual growth and the world as a manifestation of the divine .

The congress will be held in English and Spanish, with simultaneous interpretation. The meeting will also be livestreamed and recorded, and the proceedings will be published. Buddhadoor Global and Buddhadoor en Español will cover this special event comprehensively.

The purpose of the conference is to foster a mutual understanding of the religious beliefs, practices and purposes of believers and scholars of these two traditions. During four days of exchange, participants will have numerous opportunities for spiritual enrichment, discovering the beliefs and practices of both traditions, as well as exploring common affinities and differences in a spirit of union, integrity and mutual respect. In that same spirit, we had the chance to briefly interview CBS Director Dr. Georgios T. Halkias, an expert on Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet, Central Asia and the Himalayas, to discuss this upcoming event.

Taken from translationintibet.wordpress.com

Buddhadoor en Español: What are your expectations for the next Carmelite-Tibetan Buddhist Congress?

Georgios T. Halkias: The diverse traditions of Christianity and Buddhism have a rich history and philosophy. An academic meeting between the two, conducted in a spirit of dialogue and openness, could lead to increased mutual understanding and respect for the similarities and differences between these two profound religious traditions. Participants in such an encounter can gain new and transformative insights into their own religious beliefs, rituals, and contemplative practices. They may also wish to promote common goals, such as social harmony, contemporary ethical values, and compassion in our world. It is commonly expected that a significant academic contribution of the conference will be published in print to further promote the need for interfaith collaboration and dialogue and studies in comparative religions.

BDE: In your opinion, is there common ground between Christianity and Buddhism that could be explored at the conference?

GTH: Buddhism and Christianity are two sophisticated soteriological systems that emphasize the importance of compassion, forgiveness, the pursuit of peace, and the value of living a moral and ethical life. Christians and Buddhists are committed to alleviating suffering in the world and facilitating the vision and circumstances of individual and collective spiritual development. There are also similarities in terms of the spiritual methods employed to lead a meaningful life, enriched by contemplation, worship and prayer. These are common grounds that we could explore with representatives of the Carmelite and Vajrayana traditions.

As on previous occasions, this third congress will offer presentations of communications, meditation workshops, rituals and songs, to name just a few of the many activities, all carried out in an atmosphere of conviviality and fraternity. Presentations from both sides on the topic will be followed by panel discussions led by a moderator familiar with the topic in both traditions.

The city of Ávila at night. From wikipedia.org

Once again we will have the pleasure of visiting our hosts in Ávila, a World Heritage city located an hour by train from Madrid. Ávila has a rich cultural and architectural heritage, which is reflected in its old town. Jews, Muslims and Christians coexisted there for centuries. Congress participants will be able to appreciate the context of the convention after walking the 2,5 kilometer medieval wall and visiting places such as the convent and museum of Saint Teresa. Additionally, Ávila is close to other interesting destinations in Spain, such as the historic city of Toledo a few kilometers away, as well as other major European cities.

Congress program and registration form

The “IV International Thérèse of Jesus and Interreligious Dialogue Prize” will be awarded on the third day of the congress. CITeS established this award through private donations to increase the spiritual health of humanity and promote authentic interfaith dialogue. This third call focuses on comparative studies between Carmelite spirituality and other religious traditions, and the winner will receive a prize of €6. For the four finalists, the prize is €000 each. Award-winning works will be considered for inclusion in a special commemorative volume.

About the IV International Thérèse of Jesus Prize and interreligious dialogue

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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