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Christian, Buddhist clergy call for commitment to overcome evil, greed

By  Beth Griffin, Catholic News Service
  • May 8, 2012

GARRISON, N.Y. - Combating greed in contemporary society requires a personal commitment to overcome an ancient moral evil, according to speakers at a Buddhist-Christian dialogue May 5 at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center in Garrison.

"A Buddhist & Christian Understanding of Greed: Personal and Structural" was the topic for the ninth annual dialogue between the two religions sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.

Presenters said both Christian and Buddhist scriptures decry greed, but prescribe different solutions.

Greed, anger and ignorance are linked in Buddhist tradition and are the source of all human woe, said the Rev. Kenjitsu Nakagaki. He is a vice chairman of the Interfaith Center of New York and an ordained Buddhist priest in the Jodoshinshu sect of Pure Land Buddhism.

While it is almost impossible to eradicate greed, Rev. Nakagaki said it can be controlled and minimized by observing the precepts or rules of Buddhism.

"Greed, anger and ignorance are three poisons which control us sometimes," he said. "Observing the precepts will remove the impurity of greed, concentrating the mind in meditation removes anger and gaining wisdom removes the impurity of foolishness or ignorance."

The preciousness of life can be seen when greed and self-centeredness is removed, he said. One way to do that is to practice compassion. Another is to lead a simple life that finds satisfaction in minimal food and clothing.

Rev. Nakagaki said Buddhism addresses personal, rather than structural change. "You can't change others. You can change yourself," he said. Nonetheless, each person can take a unique approach to reducing greed by listening humbly to others, building awareness and acting with respect.

"How you set your mind to where you're going is crucial," Nakagaki said. "Good aspiration is better than ill will and respect is very important to keeping harmony."

Father Francis X. Mazur, ecumenical and interreligious officer for the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., traced the biblical injunctions against greed and said St. Augustine described it as "a disabling sin that leads to envy, hated and detraction."

Father Mazur said contemporary society promotes greed. "It's blessed are the geek versus blessed are the meek; it's the corporate world versus the beatitudes and it's instant gratification versus delayed glorification," he said.

Resistance to personal, corporate and governmental greed is countercultural and rooted in Scripture, Father Mazur said. In practice, philanthropic organizations such as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development offer an opportunity to seek systemic change and turn scriptural edicts into practice for the benefit of the outcast and the oppressed, he said.

Father Mazur said greed comes from within and clergy should use preaching to challenge people to overcome it individually and within society.

He said the television show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" is an iconic example of greed, but also offers enlightened guidance for Christians seeking an antidote. Where the program allows a contestant to "poll the audience, phone a friend or reduce the choices by 50-50," Father Mazur said Christians are wise to seek the support of the faith community in difficult times, call on Jesus for advice on how to live and rely on the word of God to avoid bad choices.

Atonement Father John Keane, who directs the Buddhist-Christian dialogue for the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, told Catholic News Service that the program seeks to promote understanding between religions by exploring philosophies of how life is lived in the two traditions.

"We're not trying to convert each other, but to understand and to try to make the world a safer place to be," he said.

Father Keane said the dialogue is inspired by the axial period, a time of resistance to violence 2,600 years ago by Buddhist, Hebrew and Confucian thinkers. "Society today is built on certain principles that foster violence," he said, but dialogue may diffuse it.

"Religions all have the same questions. Their answers are different, but not wrong. Buddhists are particularly interested in how a person faced with suffering can have peace and happiness in life. Confucians try to get rid of disharmony by promoting harmony for society and the Jewish prophets described a concept of God who honors justice. The prophets said the solution to injustice perpetrated by violence is a world ordered by the dictates of God in the Ten Commandments," Father Keane said.

"All of these religions are no longer divided from one another by geography," he explained. "Are we entering a second axial period in which religions see that our closeness can benefit us by discussing what principles we have to overcome the violence we see in society?"

The dialogue at Graymoor was followed by lunch and meditation at the Buddhist Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel.

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