Minutes of Monthly Meeting

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October 12, 1997

Location: Alumni Hall, University of Dayton

Meeting Topic: What Draws Christians and Jews to Buddhism?

Speaker: Donna Denman

Host: Edith Holsinger

PRESENT: Connie Breen, Co-chair; Donna Bealer, Elaine Bealer, Bert Buby, Al Denman, Donna Denman, Phyllis Duckwall, Paul Flacks, Shirley Flacks, Eric Friedland, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Agnes Hannahs, Edith Holsinger, Bette Jasko, Robert Jasko, Sophie Kahn, John (Jack) Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry, Koenigsberg, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, Emanuel Kritzer, Barbara Levine, John Magee, Barbara Levine, John Magee, Eileen Moorman, Ruth Precker, Bill Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Lou Ryterband, Robin Smith, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk.

Connie called the meeting to order at about 7:50 PM. Edith delivered the invocation which contained a poem by Robert Browning involving the two sides of man's nature, and readings from the reform prayer book for the Jewish high holidays, Gates of Repentance. These readings focused on the ideas of self improvement and forgiveness which are characteristic of the period known as the Days of Awe which contain the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the hope that God will speed the day when prejudice and poverty are done away with, the weak become strong, and the strong become compassionate. Edith said that her 26-year old son is to be operated on for cancer in the coming week, and she asked for the prayers of the Dialogue members.


Connie announced two recent newspaper stories which involved Dialogue members. Paul Flacks had a letter to the editor published in the Dayton Daily News. Also, there was an article in the Dayton Jewish Advocate recognizing the contributions of Lou Ryterband to the Dayton community over many years. Someone else announced that there was a nice article in the Dayton Daily News about Harry Koenigsberg's extensive service activities. Eileen announced Dieter's newly published book.1 Dieter has been thinking about writing this book for years, ever since he has been engaged in interreligious dialogue. His main thesis is that both faiths are valid, but both are flawed. Are two camps possible, given the statement in Exodus, chapter 30 verse 3, that "I am the only God." Ideas that were addressed in the book included: why did God choose Abraham, and why are there covenants. Also, why were Jews not included in the Christian covenant? Because they were already included. God calls us to be one, not through syncretism, but by recognizing that both covenants are one. Eileen suggested purchasing the book and using it for the retreat scheduled in April, 1998. The book can be obtained from the International Fellowship of Christians & Jews in Chicago (telephone (312)554-0450. Eileen said the book is an amazing compendium of wisdom. Dieter noted that he donated the book to the International Fellowship. Jerry suggested that the ideas sound like the ideas of "dual covenant" of the Protestant Christian scholar, Van Buren. Jerry suggested that the appropriate metaphor for God is parent. What is the most difficult job for parent? To love both children. God makes sure that both children feel they are loved equally.

Someone announced that Eric Friedland's book is soon to be published; there will be a book signing at Temple Israel on November 16, from 2 until 4 PM. Eric's book is about developments of Jewish liturgy in the last century and a half.

Ken passed around a beautiful Jewish New Years greeting from the Gesellschaft fuer christlich-juedische Zusammenarbeit, Augsburg und Schwaben (Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation--Augsburg and Swabia). He also announced the Second Ohio Muslim-Jewish Conference. The topic of the conference is Muslims and Jews: Exploring our Future Together. The conference will be held at the Radisson Hotel in Columbus on Sunday, November 9, 1997, and is cosponsored by Congregation Tifereth Israel and the Islamic Foundation of Central Ohio. For more information, contact Helene Cweren at (614)237-7686.

Paul Flacks discussed an article from the Catholic News Service which reported that the Vatican is preparing to confront openly the Church's treatment of the Jewish People in history. Catholic theologians will meet to discuss this topic. Not everyone is agreed on what should be said. In the face of strong criticism, the Pope does not want to focus on the questionable actions of a single pope (specifically Pope Pius XII during the Second World War). Cardinal Ratzinger has said recently that the church should ask forgiveness for the Inquisition. Eileen explained that the impending pronouncement on this subject will not be a Papal statement, but rather a statement of one of the Vatican Commissions. However, the Pope may identify himself with it.

Father Kelley just came back from a meeting of the Christian Scholar's group on Judaism and the Jewish people in Baltimore. Three wonderful papers were given at the conference. Erica announced that on November 21, her daughter Janice will be ordained as a rabbi of a synagogue in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Eleanor announced the Holocaust exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. Since the January 11 meeting still does not have a speaker, Ken suggested the Dialogue invite the new rabbi of Temple Israel, Rabbi Mark Gruber, to speak. Felix offered to contact Rabbi Gruber about speaking, and he was authorized by the Dialogue to do so.

Donna Denman's Presentation

Phyllis introduced the meeting speaker, Donna Denman. She grew up in Idaho and attended Boston College and Wright State University. She has served on the Green County Metropolitan Housing Authority. Donna is highly respected by HUD (Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development) for her innovative approaches to the poverty problem. Al, Donna's husband, is a lawyer and Presbyterian minister; he currently teaches at Antioch College.

Donna began her presentation at about 8:30 PM by describing her journey to interest in Buddhism. She grew up as a Presbyterian. Her mother was tolerant, expressing the view that all paths lead to God. As a child, Donna felt very close to God, and her goal was to give her life to God. She became a Buddhist after she and Al took a trip. Al wanted to visit different countries for his own research on law. Donna had become very discouraged about her own life. After reading about the religions of the various countries they visited, she felt drawn to Buddhism. The last country they visited was Japan, where she studied meditation. She felt she had come home. Donna is now a board member of the Yellow Springs Darma Center. At this point, Donna asked the group to meditate with her. This involved getting comfortable, breathing deeply, and becoming aware of ones breath. Donna said, "may all beings live in harmony, may all beings live in peace.

Donna attempted to answer the question, "why is Buddhism attractive to Westerners." Travel has opened up opportunities for Westerners to visit nations where Buddhism is actively practiced. Also, as a result of persecution, Tibetan Buddhists have spread out over the world. The Dalai Lama has opened up many hearts to Buddhism. Donna explained that Buddhism is a very practical religion; it is not theoretical. Buddhism focuses on what causes us unhappiness and what causes others to be unhappy. One is not asked to believe, but to come and see Buddhism. One must try Buddhist practices for oneself, after which one sees that they work. Therefore, Buddhism appeals to our scientifically oriented Western mind. Many of its views are in line with what scientists are telling us. Buddhism focuses on the impermanence of life. Every seven years, we have a new body. The mountains are changing. Time is measured in eons, not just this moment. Consciousness of impermanence makes us focus on the present moment because it will never come again. Another focus is interdependence. We are all dependent on each other. Because of this interconnectedness, the emphasis is on oneness. What you do has a profound effect on everyone around us. Buddhism is a highly ethical religion. It appeals to people concerned with ecology. Some of the most influential ecologists are Buddhists. One must not take more than is needed. Also it is very psychological. The religion stresses looking inward at ourselves. When one sees things about oneself., one begins to change. When one becomes angry, ones throat tightens up. Ones awareness of this tightening can help one to change. Buddhism is existential; it asks the questions who am I and why am I here? It also trains one for death. In Zen Buddhism, the focus is not on physical death but rather on psychological death. What is born after death is a greater self. The appropriate metaphor is of waking up. In Buddhism, the focus is not just on human beings. All organisms must be treated with respect. Donna sees a parallel to Christianity in that we search for our larger self by sacrificing our smaller self. Buddhism seeks to discover the God which dwells within us. Buddhism is compatible with Judaism and Christianity because it emphasizes the ethical society and because it is not doctrinal.

Donna wanted to make some announcements. Her teacher is a Catholic priest named Amasami from Amarillo, Texas. Amasami teaches meditation and serves the Eucharist. He will be returning to Xavier University in the near future. Donna noted that our religious divisions arise primarily when we try to talk about religions. Also, there is a book by Sylvia Boorstein about how Judaism and Buddhism are related. Another book is by Bernard Glasman. There have been several books on Buddhism by a Vietnamese author, including Living Buddha, Living Christ. Buddhism encourages one to find ones roots and be the best Jew or Christian one can be.

Open Discussion

Open discussion began at 9:00 PM. Harold asked what was the meaning of Zen. Donna said that Zen is related to meditation. Edith asked about Tibetan Buddhism. Erica asked about nirvana. Eric asked how one makes the leap from contemplation to social activism. Donna replied that meditation changes us, and thus it leads to social activism. Erica asked about one focus of meditation--understanding another person. What if that person is an evil person? Donna replied that in Buddhism, you do not hate the person, but rather the hateful action. Bert was deeply impressed by the fact that Donna started her presentation by talking about loving compassion. He stated that this is the link between Buddhism and Judaism and Christianity. Lorraine asked whether Donna could remain a Christian while practicing Buddhism. Donna stated that the only problem she has being both a Buddhist and a Christian is with theology. Donna does not concern herself with the theology. She stated that nothing in Buddhism contradicts Christianity. Eileen said that one concept of love is wanting what is best for the other. It does not have to mean loving the person in the conventional sense. Felix complimented Donna by saying her talk was very clear. However, he did not understand the differences between Zen and Buddhism and Shintoism. Donna said that Shintoism is a native religion of Japan that is a nature religion. When Buddhism came to Japan, it incorporated Shintoism. Buddhism refers back to the life of the Buddha. Zen emphasizes the enlightenment of the Buddha. One Tibetan teacher said that one is in this body like one is occupying an apartment. One should use the time in this body well. Another branch of Buddhism, called Mapasina, is from southeast Asia. Nechiran Buddhists do a lot of chanting. Felix asked whether Buddhist teaching acknowledges there is a soul. Donna said there is a belief that there is something that persists after death, but not all Buddhists believe that. Donna said she did not believe in reincarnation when she became a Buddhist. However, she now does believe in it. Edith asked how the soul can get to the next body. Donna replied that Tibetans believe that a soul which is released at death from one body is drawn to a compatible family to be reborn in another body. Ones intention influences where one will be reincarnated. We learn something in this lifetime that takes us to the appropriate place in the next life. Donna's husband Al is very skeptical of this. He believes there is nothing after death. Donna noted that The Buddha did not talk about afterlife. Edith stated that her son is a Jewish Buddhist. Edith noted that she perceives Buddhism to be very self-centered religion. It focuses on personal self- improvement. In contrast, Christianity and Judaism seek to improve the larger world. Edith expressed the view that meditation wastes time that could be used for improvement of the world. In response to Edith's question,, Donna noted that she is more effective as a peace maker because of her meditation in the Zen tradition.

Ken asked how one could be a Buddhist and a Jew. Eric replied that David Ben Gurion was attracted to Buddhism and engaged in some Buddhist practices. He felt no conflict between Judaism and Buddhism. Jerry Kotler asked about the Buddhist canon. Donna replied that precepts of Buddhism are primarily moral and social in nature. Eileen asked whether there is an initiation ritual in Buddhism like there is in Christianity and Judaism. Donna stated there may be a public ceremony. Phyllis said in response to Edith's question about the self-centered nature of Buddhism, that people become self-absorbed in all religions. Paul observed that Buddhism seems to embrace all people. He asked how Donna reacts to the political realities of today. Donna said she works on the local level. She has been very involved with a housing controversy in Yellow Springs. She does not concern herself with international affairs, except to cringe with horror. Donna said the group should not take Donna as typical of Buddhist political action. Donna is trying to learn as much as possible about being a peacemaker so she can be a better peacemaker in the next life. Donna feels she is trying to make herself act in accordance with her beliefs. Lou also expressed concerns about the self-centered nature of Buddhism. Lorraine said that Tikkun Hanefesh (repair of the soul) comes before Tikkun Olam (repair of the world). Therefore she feels that Buddhist meditation is very consistent with Judaism. Bill asked what kind of structure exists in Buddhist communities. Donna replied that the Darma Center in Yellow Springs is not affiliated with any particular Buddhist tradition. It allows different events from different traditions. Jerry asked when Buddhists study the canon or holy texts. Robin asked whether meditation is sitting with God. Harold asked an economic question--is there a positive relation between Buddhism and poverty. Harold said he is implying that Buddhism is related to poverty because people are meditating rather than earning money. A lady asked how time-consuming is meditation and what is enlightenment. Donna replied that she makes meditation a part of her life. Enlightenment means becoming fully aware.

The meeting was adjourned at about 9:50 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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1 Dieter Walk, Machnaim, The Two Camps of God, Chicago, International Fellowship of Christians & Jews, 1997, 69 pages.
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