With the release in July of the Vatican document "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church," stating that churches and ecclesial communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic church "suffer from defects," the subject of ecumenical dialogue between Christian religions and beyond has been in the news.
Sr. Pascaline Coff is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration who is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition yet ranges far and wide to connect with people of other religions around the world. Her gift for interreligious dialogue has taken her to Shantivanam, an ashram in India founded by Benedictine Fr. Bede Griffiths, to Buddhist monasteries in Tibet and back home to the ashram she cofounded in Sand Springs, Okla.--Osage Monastery, near Tulsa.
She is a founding member of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, a group sponsored by North American Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries, and a member of the Bede Griffiths International Literary Trust.
NCR: What gifts have other religious traditions brought to your life?
Coff: The deepest understanding of hospitality is welcoming the divine in the other person. That's always been my own stance with regard to others, whatever their religion might be.
I spent a formative year among Hindus in India who believe strongly in the presence of God's spirit in everyone. They live it out in practice. Even the smallest child in India will give a profound bow of respect to a stranger by offering namaste, a profound bow of the head with their little hands folded over their hearts.
Hindu scriptures are filled with wisdom. The Bhagavad Gita, a Sanskrit text from the Mahabharata epic, much like our own scripture says that it takes a pure heart to see God. God says to us: Give me your heart, your offerings, your adoration.
There's a line from one of the Sanskrit Upanishads that was dear to my spiritual guide Fr. Bede Griffiths and to another of my mentors, Henri Le Saux or Abhishiktinanda. We use it often in our own liturgy at Osage Monastery. "I know that Spirit supreme, radiant like the sun, beyond the darkness. Who knows this One goes beyond death for this is the only path to life immortal." It's so similar to Jesus' saying that he is the way, the truth and the life.
Anyone with contact with Buddhism is impressed with their particular gift, their efforts both to generate and practice compassion. The Buddha devised the eightfold path, ways out of suffering and practical guidelines for ethical and mental discipline. For the Buddha, suffering is not the same as pain; suffering permeates all levels of our being--body, soul and spirit. Yet by means of the practices of right view, right intent, right action, right livelihood, right mindfulness, right concentration, and right effort--suffering can be transcended.
These practices bring about a nonviolent, gentle interface with all of life, especially with people. The Buddhist Sutras pray for release for people who are caught in suffering one way or the other so that they can attain Nirvana. We all have ways to name what we strive for--we Christians call it "heaven" or the "reign of God"--but the means are similar in all religious traditions.
If Buddhists teach compassion, then Muslims give important lessons on fidelity to prayer. Five times a day Muslims prostrate themselves. I've seen them in airports, for example, putting down their little mats and praying.
They practice surrender to the divine Word. The term "Muslim" itself means surrender. When we have dialogued with Muslims in Tulsa, they describe their religion as a passionate desire to be right with God. It's what we call doing the will of God. …