Inauguration Weekend Includes “Naropa Dialogues” Interfaith Discussion
In honor of Naropa University President Dr. Stuart Lord‘s commitment to interreligious understanding and community service, the university will hold an interfaith dialog titled “Spiritual Practice and Social Engagement” during his inauguration. The event will be held on Oct. 29, 2009, from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. at Naropa’s Nalanda campus, 6287 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, Colo., 80301.
The participants will be:
- The Sakyong, Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche. He is the head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and the spiritual director of Shambhala, a borderless kingdom of meditation practitioners.
- Father Thomas Keating. He helped found the Snowmass Interreligious Conference, as well as Contemplative Outreach, Ltd., which teaches Centering Prayer and the Christian contemplative tradition.
- Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He received his rabbinic ordination in 1947, and has since been earned consideration as one of the world’s foremost teachers of Hasidism and Kabbalah.
Naropa has a history of hosting interfaith discussions and conferences, including a groundbreaking series held yearly from 1981-1988. In fact, Fr. Keating and 2009 event moderator Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown, Religious Studies professor at Naropa, were both at the first event in 1981, which was titled “Prayer and Meditation.”
Simmer-Brown added that Fr. Keating and Rabbi Schachter have a long history of participating together in dialogue, but this will be the first time that the Sakyong will join Keating and Schachter in a dialogue, which will be a “very big deal” in part because the Sakyong is the son of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Naropa’s founding director.
According to Simmer-Brown, Lord wanted Naropa to hold an interfaith conversation, and she suggested a dialogue that would lead to an investigation of whether spiritual practice and social engagement are polar opposites – or whether the two practices need not be mutually exclusive.
“Do we, as individuals, have a choice whether to pursue spiritual practice versus getting involved in activism, or are they related in some way? There have been long-time conversations about this in the West,” said Simmer-Brown. “When you are in the world of interreligious dialogue, you begin to discover that there aren’t particularly two poles, but there are some very interesting things that these various people and these various traditions have to say about these two themes.”
While Lord was not involved in the 1981-1988 Naropa conferences, he has personal experience with interfaith interaction. He served as university chaplain for DePauw University from 1988-1995, and the ordained Baptist minister said one of his roles there was to cultivate an environment where members of all faiths could thrive.
“One of the ways of doing that is to create opportunities for dialogue, for people of different faiths to come together and talk about some of the challenging things that are interfaith-related, and where there is common ground for greater understanding,” said Lord.
Naropa will be doing just that again on Oct. 29, but the seeds of Naropa’s involvement in interfaith discussions were actually sown well before its 1981-1988 series.
Trungpa Rinpoche developed his interest in dialogue as a young lama in Tibet, according to a preface written by Simmer-Brown to the book Speaking of Silence: Christians and Buddhists in Dialogue . Trungpa was a student of a movement called Ri-me (pronounced ree-may), which is literally translated to “without bias.” According to the essay, followers of Ri-me were to “follow your own chosen path with dedication, while maintaining respect and tolerance for all other valid choices.”
Trungpa then met a Trappist monk named Fr. Thomas Merton in Calcutta in 1968, and Trungpa found that Merton was a “kindred spirit who had Ri-me sensibilities and interests.” Merton passed away shortly after meeting Trungpa, but Trungpa launched the series of Naropa conferences in 1981, dedicating the gatherings to Merton and believing that the conferences could be held in an environment of respect.
Simmer-Brown directed the 1982-1988 conferences, and has been involved in a number of dialogue groups since then. She believes that one of the benefits that comes from dialogue is a form of “mutual transformation” that can occur among participants, as they recognize the common ground that can be found between different contemplative and spiritual practices. And in 2009, she has a direct opportunity to pass the lessons onto younger generations, since she teaches a course at Naropa called “Interreligious Dialogue: Theory and Practice.”
“Over the years it has been a very powerful influence in my own life, and I try to introduce students to it because I think it will have an impact on them,” said Simmer-Brown. “And that’s what I hear from them long after they graduate.”
Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Naropa University is a private, nonprofit, nonsectarian liberal arts institution dedicated to advancing contemplative education. This approach to learning integrates the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions, helping students know themselves more deeply and engage constructively with others. The university comprises a four-year undergraduate college and graduate programs in the arts, education, environmental leadership, psychology and religious studies.