Extra Credit

Extra Credit

The autumn foliage along the Charles River at St. Stephen Priory retreat center in Dover is a boon to meditation, says a resident Dominican friar, Rev. Louis Roy, OP, an associate professor of theology whose latest book explores commonalities between the contemplative traditions of West and East.

Rev. Louis Roy, OP (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
Arched branches evoke the vaulted ceilings of the Gothic cathedrals, and as an aid to contemplation, a tree makes a fine icon, says Fr. Roy, who says a Zen monk would counsel walking "mindfully" through the woods on a beautiful fall day.

"Mindfulness is a Buddhist practice, to be fully aware of what your body is experiencing," he said one recent afternoon. "Walk slowly. Be attentive to breathing, to the movements of one's body, to smells to light. Yesterday, about four o'clock, the sunlight through the trees made for a symphony of colors - yellows, browns, reds."

Now, where a Christian would strive to see the hand of the Creator in a tree, a Buddhist would strive to perceive the tree-ness: Christianity and Buddhism differ significantly, said Fr. Roy, in that where one finds God, the other finds nothingness.

But Thomas Aquinas shares with the Dalai Lama a belief that "what is most important cannot be a thing, an object, a being," said Fr. Roy, whose office wall is hung with a portrait of the Doctor of the Church who is his revered Dominican forebear.

The God of the Burning Bush who described himself to Moses as "I Am Who Am" is, he said, like the Zen tree, an un-quantifiable essence, beyond biological analysis.

In his latest book, Mystical Consciousness: Western Perspectives and Dialogue with Japanese Thinkers, Fr. Roy engages Zen philosophy in the light of the Neoplatonic tradition of third-century Greek philosopher Plotinus, the 14th-century German Dominican Meister Eckhart - whose epigrams savor of Zen riddles - and the 19th-century German Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher.

"I am attracted to those Western thinkers who have something of the East," he said. "All three have in common with the East [a sense of] going beyond an ordinary consciousness..."

The paths of Buddhism and Christianity are different, Fr. Roy emphasized, but parallel: Buddhism's main concept after emptiness is compassion toward other living beings, he said, whereas the first two Commandments are to love God, and then, one's neighbor.

Fr. Roy said he touches on related theme in a book published last year, Self-Actualization and the Radical Gospel. "To be radical in Jesus is to give up one's ego: He who gives up one's life receives it," he said.

"My intention in writing these two books is to build bridges between Christianity and the people of today," he said. "Christianity always has to redefine itself. My joy is to be working at that."

-Mark Sullivan


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