Il vialetto d'accesso a Fudenji

SHŌBŌZAN FUDENJI
ITALIAN SŌTŌ ZEN INSTITUTE

Course in Buddhist Theology


Outline



Scientific Consultants:
Roberto Tagliaferri, Theologian: Phenomenology of Liturgy and Ritual
Stefania Bandini, Scientist: Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science
Matteo Cestari: Historian of Easter Religions, expert in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism

Leading Teacher:
F. Taiten Guareschi: Zen Master, Abbot of Fudenji

Internal Teaching Staff:

Vera Myōsen Rovesti
Vincenzo Gengaku Crosio

Visiting Teachers:
Paolo Lagazzi – Writer
Carlo Saviani – Philosopher
Beppe Sebaste –Writer and Philosopher
Giuseppe Tribuzio – Professor of Sociology of Education

Admissions Office:
Administrative secretary: Giulia Myōshun Gussago
Course officers: Vera Myōsen Rovesti, Vito Sōen Colavitti, Elisabetta Jikō Calore, and Roberto Sōjun Francese.
Director of Studies: Vincenzo Gengaku Crosio





Course in Buddhist Theology


“Today, we must find the point where
religion, philosophy and science meet”
(Taisen Deshimaru Roshi)


The broad context of moral, intellectual and functional values, characteristic of any religious perspective, is highlighted when religion is understood as the human endeavour to access the symbolic realm through mythopoietic visions and cultual activities – a definition which is in accordance with the contemporary general consensus reached by historians, anthropologists, sociologists and theologians.

Religious culture, originating in a genuine experience of faith and intimately connected with non-utilitarian and non-ethical activities, is a vehicle of psychometaphysical tensions actualised in pragmatic actions and expressions. Therefore, religious culture promotes a critical, dialectical and not self-legitimazing attitude towards its own living experience, utilising appropriate epistemological tools.

Hence, any authentic religious training demands the capacity to combine one’s own living practice and experience with the ability to critically analyse it. At Fudenji, this is carried out within the context of our doctrinal tradition - in accordance with the definition of Tradition given in the Inspiring Principles of the Italian Sōtō Zen Institute’s charter, section 3:

“With reference to Śakyamuni Buddha’s Awakening and his Trasmission, an event pertaining to both history and soteriology, our Tradition is that of the Dharma as it has been passed down rightfully and without interruption from generation to generation (shōden no buppō), in communion and in direct (tanden) and personal (i shin den shin) communication, attesting to Awakening’s saving power and to our faith in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.”

Understanding Theology as the intelligence of one’s own faith, our Course in Buddhist Theology aims chiefly at nurturing this capacity both in general terms and also, more specifically, in developing Sōtō Zen theology from a liturgical and pastoral point of view.

The Theology Course consists of:

A three-year basic training programme, leading to a Diploma in Theology
A further two-year advanced course, leading to a Degree in Theology.

The Diploma is aimed mainly at furthering one’s own religious training, whilst the Degree qualifies to teach Theology.

The Course in Theological Studies is a training journey designed to acquire the essential tools to ensure a critical comprehension of the Buddha’s teachings (Buddhadharma), through an integrated plurality of perspectives (historical, philosophical, anthropological, linguistic, sociological and juridical). The underlying methodological principle is phenomenology: paying attention to the specific essence of religious experience and to its own peculiar languages (the sacred, myth and ritual).

Course Structure


The Course is structured in annual cycles of ten workshops, with lessons and assessments on each semester’s topic. The teaching resources are mainly notes from lessons, lectures and courses held at Fudenji over the past few years.

An awareness of the peculiar aspects of religious experience permeates each workshop. Each meeting will therefore include at least one zazen sitting, followed by a canonical reading.

Conferences, seminars and other study opportunities are periodically organised to consolidate and integrate the course’s teachings. A summer camp of further studies will take place in August.

Diploma in Theology
Year 1
Pre-course introduction: The fundamentals of Buddhist Teachings
(1st semester)
Introduction to the History of Buddhism (2nd semester)
Poetics and Aesthetics of Theology (1
stand 2ndsemester)

Year 2
Epistemology of religious experience (1
st semester)
Phenomenology of the sacred, myth and ritual (2
nd semester)
Poetics and Aesthetics of Theology (1
stand 2ndsemester)

Year 3
Phenomenology of the sacred, myth and ritual in Buddhism (1
st semester)
Poetics and Aesthetics of Theology (1
stand 2ndsemester)

The pre-course introduction on the fundamentals of Buddhist Teachings leads to an admission test at the end of the first semester, based on the text: ‘Essentials of Buddhism’ by Mizuno, K., 1996, Tokyo.
Students will be assessed at the end of each topic. The successful completion of all assessments leads to the Diploma.

Degree in Theology
Year 1
Religious experience and Cognitive Science (1
st semester)
Buddhist Hermeneutics (2
nd semester)
Poetics and Aesthetics of Theology (1
stand 2ndsemester)

Year 2
Liturgical Theology of Sōtō Zen Tradition (1
st semester)
Preparation for the final dissertation (2
nd semester)
Poetics and Aesthetics of Theology (1
stand 2ndsemester)

Students will be assessed at the end of each topic. The successful completion of all assessments and the public discussion of the dissertation will lead to Graduation. To qualify for teaching status, graduates must undergo an induction period of teaching practice.

Conferences on specific topics, seminars and graduate workshops will enrich and further the learning experience.

Epistemological orientation

The Course in Buddhist Theology is not only a school, but also a laboratory committed to researching adequate languages to enable contemporary man to access religious experience. Pointing directly to the nature of human experience, whilst phenomenologically considering previous understanding based on acquired beliefs, is one of the Buddha’s original teachings.

Kept alive especially by the Zen tradition, this teaching demands that we investigate the key issue of the cultural translation of this religious Tradition into our own times, being receptive and open to all contemporary developments of religious, philosophical and scientific thinking.

In our Western culture we can find several aspects that can contribute to formulating adequate languages to directly accessing the experience of Awakening – the goal of Buddha’s teachings. Furthermore, these dimensions cannot be eschewed, as they are an unavoidable and often unconscious part of Zen meditation practice.

On the other hand, awareness of the crucial role of mediations, which enable our access to religious experience, alerts us to the impossibility of a mere transposition of Buddhist and Zen traditional languages, which have been developed in a profoundly different historical and cultural context. If the experience of Awakening is quite universal, the ways of accessing it are necessarily particular, as they depend on man’s peculiar sensitivity, which is historically and geographically determined. All categories, key concepts and ways of communicating the Buddha’s teaching must therefore be re-shaped by the vital contact with any new environment, without ever assuming that their evocative potential will automatically remain intact when transitioning between cultures.

Based on the unsubstantiality of every phenomenon, Buddhism has always been revitalised by the contact with a new culture, allowing itself to be transformed, and thus intimately transforming the receiving culture that had welcomed it, creating new peculiar forms and expressions.
Our Course is inspired by this very teaching that comes from the history of Buddhadharma; hence, we are constantly seeking a fruitful exchange with those individuals who embody in their life practice the most significant manifestations of contemporary religious, scientific and cultural research.

Phenomenology, Hermeneutics and Cognitive Science form the epistemological context and are our main areas of interest. Despite coming from different paths, these schools of thought have renewed the possibility of questioning human experience in a new way, leading towards the overcoming of mind-matter dualism, which had long negated the epistemological importance of the body. Contemporary thinking has finally arrived at the threshold of redescovering ritual as the matrix of the most profound human knowledge, thus slowly re-opening for contemporary human beings a road to experiencing the sacred.
It is our Seminar’s firm belief that this is a most significant event in our times, and that this very process – mostly unnoticed - is the place for a genuine integration between Buddhadharma and Western culture.
In 1986, after working for some time on Buddhist history and teachings, we became interested in theology and its liturgical dimension. As a result, the focus of our Course has shifted towards religious experience and its peculiar languages: the sacred, mith and ritual. A critical rethinking of the importance of ritual to access any religious experience is today’s starting point of our Course, in order to develop a critical revision of Buddhist thought and experience. We believe that Buddhadharma’s transcendental nature, and especially Sōtō Zen’s, lies in its ritual and cultual aspects.

New horizons opened up from here, first of all philosophical ones: phenomenology and hermeneutics. We noticed that Buddhadharma seems to be inherently phenomenological and hermeneutical, as it is corroborated by Francisco Varela’s (epistemologist and neurophysiologist) research in neurophenomenology, which appears as natural interface of spiritual traditions, especially the neuropedagogical research undertaken by Taisen Deshimaru Roshi, Sōtō Zen pioneer in Europe at the end of the 1960s.
The contemplative practice of meditation not only shows a propensity for bringing consciousness to its pre-categorial level of experience (Husserl’s phenomenological heritage), but also leads to ego deconstruction ( Heidegger’s ontological and hermeneutical most original developments). Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and Derrida have also helped enormously to shift our contemporary thinking. Moreover, they have shed light on the burning questions of our Buddhadharma’s practice. The Course is currently focusing on rediscovering Aesthetics as the radical philosophical questioning of sensory experience and its meaning.

Meanwhile, our Course cannot ignore the epistemological achievements of Philosophy of Science and Cognitive Science, especially of Neurosciences and other Mind Sciences. The emphasis on the inherent mind-matter dialectics, together with the discovery of the physical basis of consciousness, are essential contributions to understanding the depth of Buddhadharma’s practice and experience. Moreover, they show us that we can re-energise our religious spirit through finding out how our brain works.
Nowadays, we are witnessing a battle between science and faith on this very topic. However, it seems to be a conflict full of ideological prejuidices and political implications, yet devoid of any epistemological value. It is our Course’s mission, on the other hand, to seek and find the
point of contact between science, philosophy and religion, as the true religious dimension dwells at the elusive crossroads where the languages of play, aesthetics and religion meet - in the epistemological rifts introduced by contemporary science.