An Interreligious Symposium on Grace
Report by Fr John Dupuche and David Schütz
“What is the value of suffering according to your tradition? Can it be seen as a sign of grace?”
This dramatic question was put to Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist teachers at the ‘Interreligious Symposium on Grace’ on Sunday 14 October, 2012 to an audience of about 40 people at the Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre in East Melbourne. The Symposium was hosted by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission in the context of the Year of Grace being celebrated throughout the Catholic Church in Australia.
The responses to this fundamental question from Dr Rosemary Canavan, Rabbi Ian Goodheart, Ms Ayse Guc, Swami Paramananda and Ven. Toby Gillies showed the diversity of the religious traditions, but also how fruitful dialogue and collaboration between the traditions can be.
Indeed, the theme of grace is found in all the religions, but differently. We can therefore learn from each other and enhance our understanding of grace, that fundamental concept.
Rosemary, Ian and Ayse showed that the sacred scriptures of the Christians, Jews and Muslims have a large degree on commonality, in both vocabulary and conception, concerning God's grace, mercy and favour toward people. Differences arose, however, according to language and translation of these ideas.
The Ven. Toby Gillies spoke of the contrasting views in Buddhism where, on the one hand, strong emphasis is placed on the "practice" and effort of meditation, while on the other hand it is acknowledged that the moment of "enlightenment" is pure gift. He spoke of his own experience of sitting in the presence of his teacher, where all issues and difficulties disappeared; but after leaving his master’s presence, he realised how imperfect his realisation still was. The presence of his teacher an experience of grace.
With regard to the question of suffering, Rabbi Ian and Swami Paramananda differed sharply on the whether grace is experience through detachment from material things (Hinduism) or precisely in the midst of this created world (Judaism). Christians can reflect on the positives and negatives of both points of view.
The Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission is now preparing to hold a similar symposium next year for the Year of Faith. The Symposium on Faith, however, will be an ecumenical symposium with other Christian traditions rather than an interreligious event, and will be on the theme of “Reason in the light of faith; and faith in the light of reason.”
Our speakers were:
- Dr Rosemary Canavan (Associate Dean and lecturer in the Department of Biblical Studies, Catholic Theological College)
- Rabbi Ian Goodhardt (Blake Street Hebrew Conregation, South Caulfield)
- Ms Ayse Guc (PhD candidate in Asia-Pacific Centre for Interreligious Dialogue at Australian Catholic University)
- Venerable Loden Jhampa / Toby Gillies (Ordained monk of the Tibetan Buddhist Society)
- Swami Paramananda Saraswati (of the lineage of Adi Shankaracharya and Swami Chinmayananda)
To download an MP3 recording of the discussion after the presentations, please click here.