Rim Report No. 41, June 2006
Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Comparative Perspectives from Asia and the West
Symposium summary by Pamela Nagashima
We gratefully acknowledge The Kiriyama Chair for Pacific Rim Studies
at the USF Center for the Pacific Rim for underwriting the publication
of this issue of Pacific Rim Report.
Pamela Nagashima, M.A., is a Kiriyama
Junior Fellow at the Center for the Pacific Rim and recipient in 2005
of the Center’s Summa Award for academic excellence in the USF
Master of Arts in Asia Pacific Studies program.
The University of San Francisco Center for the Pacific Rim presented a one-day symposium on “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola: Comparative Perspectives from Asia and the West” on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the University of San Francisco on Friday, March 3, 2006 at USF.
Introductions by Barbara Bundy, Executive Director, USF Center for the Pacific Rim, and John Nelson, Symposium Co-chair and Associate Professor of East Asian Religions, USF Department of Theology and Religious Studies.
Keynote by Francis X. Clooney, SJ, Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology, Harvard Divinity School.
(The handout distributed as part of Fr. Clooney’s talk is availale as a PDF file.)
opening, Dr. Barbara Bundy welcomed speakers and guests and also recognized
a special guest in attendance, Tenzin Choegyal, the brother of the
Dalai Lama. Discussing the genesis of this symposium, she noted that
this year is the 150th anniversary of the founding of the University
of San Francisco, the oldest university in the city. In conceptualizing
this event, its planners wanted to recognize and locate USF’s
history and tradition in a Pacific Rim context. Given the state of
the world today and the importance of multicultural and interreligious
dialogue, it is fitting to look at the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
in a comparative context in relationship to Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.
Cosponsors of the conference included The Ricci Institute, Department
of Theology and Religious Studies, The Joan and Ralph Lane Center for
Catholic Studies and Catholic Social Thought, the USF Jesuit community,
The Interfaith Center of the Presidio, The San Francisco Zen Center,
and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at UC Berkeley. Special
thanks were extended to Professor John Nelson and Professor Yoko Arisaka
(currently on leave), to Krysten Elbers at the Center for the Pacific
Rim and to the student worker, Kristine Arangcon, and May Lee at the
Center’s Ricci Institute.
Professor Nelson gave the introduction to the symposium explaining
that the organizers were working off of the idea of how this text,
the Spiritual Exercises, affirms the potential of humans to cope with
the forces that oppose their spiritual development in the world today
by discovering paths in service through prayer, contemplation, and
direct engagement in life-enhancing activities. With those themes serving
as a bridge, the day’s speakers represent Hinduism, Buddhism,
Islam, and Christianity as all of these traditions promote ways of
being human by engaging in meditation, yoga, prayer, pilgrimage and
rituals that empower both individuals and communities. Interreligious
dialogue is, perhaps, at the heart of how the 21st century is ever
going to be a century of peace and harmony rather than one of bloodshed
Introducing the keynote speaker, Francis X. Clooney, Professor Nelson
noted Fr. Clooney’s very prolific output of published articles
and, referring to his bio, noted especially the commitment that he
has had to interreligious dialogue and its promotion in diverse ways.
(NOTE: Fr. Clooney’s talk, “Practicing St. Ignatius’s
Spiritual Exercises in Asia: Imagination, Certainty, and Insight in
Interreligious Encounter” is published as Pacific Rim Report
Panel I: Relevance of the Spiritual Exercises to the Contemporary World
Steven Schloesser, S.J., Chair, LoSchiavo Chair of Catholic Social
Thought at USF’s Ralph and Joan Lane Center for Catholic Social
Thought and Assistant Professor of History, Boston College
Christopher W. Gowans, Professor of Philosophy, Fordham University
Thomas Lucas, S.J., Associate Professor, USF Visual and Performing
Professor Gowans introduced the Spiritual Exercises as being, for Ignatius,
a set of activities the purpose of which is to free our soul from inordinate
attachments and to find the will of God in the disposition of our life.
Gowans chose to talk about just two of the many religions with spiritual
exercises by presenting a power point on “Divergences and Affinities” between
Santideva (from Buddhism) and Ignatius, arriving at the question of
whether or not interreligious dialogue itself isn’t a spiritual
exercise. Moral psychology, confessions, nonattachment and meditation
were some areas of comparison and contrast. Preliminary affinities
between the two religious traditions are extensive discussions of desire
(in a dualistic framework), use of military metaphors, and envisioning
radical transformation, but these comparisons require great effort.
One divergence would be that Ignatius promotes an attachment to God
as preliminary to love of persons, an action that is an expression
of God. For Santideva there is no mediation by God, although the aid
of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is welcome on the route to love of all
living beings. However, a kindred movement from love of self to love
of others would be another affinity.
Finally, Ignatius’s assertion that we should be more ready to
put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn
it as false might suggest that persons of other religious faiths may
be sources of wisdom. The emphasis he places on “interpretation,
imagination, and flexibility” might be redirected to persons
of different traditions. And Gowans (projecting on the screen a Chinese
postage stamp picturing Ricci, to the appreciation of the audience),
suggested that “Ricci’s flexibility could be continued
into our own day…as we try to comprehend the perceptions of
Fr. Lucas introduced himself by saying, “I am an artist” and
also “a sometime practitioner of the Exercises.” (He is
Director of USF’s Thacher Art Gallery as well as currently serving
as the design consultant on the restoration of the Cathedral of St.
Ignatius in Shanghai, China.) His caveat is that his approach to Buddhism
has been through art, rather than through careful parsing of sacred
text. He proposed to “underline not only some of the affinities
that have already been alluded to but some of the challenges that need
to be addressed honestly” about what the Spiritual Exercises
are and how they relate to other religions. The major issue for Lucas
is “the conundrum of the terminus ad quem,” (translated
as the “final or latest limiting point”) based in the riddles
of the two rich young men, Ignatius and Siddhartha, and their parallel
process toward enlightenment. The question is “What does enlightenment
hold?” For the Buddha, it led to the dharma, for Ignatius to
the Spiritual Exercises.
The Spiritual Exercises are for the person leading the retreat, not
for the retreatant. It is not a work of literature or a devotional
book, it is a work of process and methodology. It is a religious and
cultural artifact, and there is a risk, in inculturating the Exercises,
of ignoring its Christological/Trinitarian focus in the name of dialogue,
ignoring very real teleological differences among religious traditions.
In profound contrast to the Buddhist and many other Asian traditions,
Ignatius is a sturdy realist in the Aristotelian-Thomist mode. Positively
stated, Lucas exhorts us to respect the integrity of the Exercises
as religious/cultural artifact and methodology and to respect the integrity
of host religious and cultural beliefs, structures, and processes.
Panel I: Q & A
A questioner from the audience asked Clooney about what seemed to her
a discrepancy between the Catholic church’s PR problem, (that
is, how it seems to her as a lapsed secular Lutheran), and how impressed
she was with his speech (“Are the Jesuits a radical spearhead?”).
She also asked him to expand on the role of women in both the Catholic
tradition and in those of the countries being discussed at this symposium.
Clooney repeated that the Exercises have to be seen as a product of
the Roman Catholic Church and not “overlaid” with a neutral
philosophy; it’s very complicated and doesn’t do to make
a split between the Jesuits and the church. He emphasized that because
the Exercises could always be framed in terms of some dogma, conservative
or liberal, practitioners must always focus on what comes forth from
them personally. He hoped that some of the issues the questioner had
mentioned wouldn’t be obstacles to getting started.
A second questioner commented that although the Jesuits had been in
Asia for centuries it is now Madison Avenue that has captured hearts
and minds there, convincing these countries that the people there should
live western lives, have western lifestyles and western values. Lucas
mentioned his work on the restoration of the Ignatian church in Shanghai,
close by one of the largest shopping centers he has ever seen. More
frightening to him than the loss of traditional religions in China
is the rampant secularism there and how much they have embraced everything
bad about our culture.
Clooney agreed that the practice of the traditional religions has become
counter-cultural and resistant to this “infatuation,” and
the levels of dialogue between the practitioners of the different positions
indicate we need to find a way to have a more multicultural conversation.
Gowans, acknowledging particularly the cities in China, thinks that
people will always come back to traditions and so the task is to try
to show people there is something to come back to, and to keep that
A third questioner, who is “trying to survive the Silicon Valley
culture,” asked in what way these traditions say something to
a highly technical culture (such as in this area) and specifically
how we are changing as human beings because of the emergence of new
technology. How do the Exercises speak to this?
Clooney said the Jesuit tradition had always tried to keep up with
where education and technology and knowledge are in its time, but that
simply presenting the Exercises to Silicon Valley is too retrograde.
We have to be able to show a more complex, multi-dimensional possibility
of entering the spiritual realm.
Lucas said we are not talking about evangelization here, and we are
not talking about the means to get thinking people to do the Exercises,
but to think about meanings and values in their lives—Ignatius
didn’t give the Exercises to everyone in their full form.
Gowan pointed out that, as was clear from his power point presentation,
he has no objection to technology; he even owns an iPod. That we are
living in a fast-changing world has to be addressed, but the themes
he discussed in that power point don’t change. He doesn’t
think human life is any different than it ever was.
The final questioner asked about how the Jesuits practicing the Exercises
would “go only so far” and then fall back into an orthodoxy
that Clooney referred to. Did this have to do ultimately with their
being “missioned”? Was this “stopping” part
of the practice of the Exercises by the people in those particular
contexts and, if so, what does that say about our practice now?
Clooney said that indeed he was saying that there is a context of Jesuit
life that did not give permission to be whatever you wanted to be,
but it is never completely articulated what the Exercises mean and
so they are in danger of being co-opted by another ideology and that
is, in fact, the genius of the Exercises.
The questioner asked how we today stay faithful to the Exercises in
our current contexts.
Clooney said that the indeterminacy of the Exercises could be a great
Lucas said one has to be careful not to be anachronistic and “read
back” and expect that people in the 1600s thought the same as
we do now. One has to remember the evolution of the Exercises, from
an informal beginning to codification, and how despite having left
some “elbow room” the Exercises are Christian artifacts.
Panel II: Comparative Perspectives on Spiritual Discipline and Practice
in the Asia Pacific Region
Reverend Victoria Austin, former President, San Francisco Zen Center
Vijaya Nagarajan, Associate Professor, USF Department of Theology and
Reza Aslan, Ph.D. candidate in History of Religions/ Global Studies,
UC Santa Barbara
“Buddhist Practices and Spiritual Discipline”
Rev. Austin began with the practice of placing hands together to acknowledge
the divinity in everyone, indicating the different placings of the
hands in different traditions (at the heart, at the face…) After
hearing the previous speakers, she decided to discard her carefully
prepared notes and speak extemporaneously about the practices that
are shared by traditions, reflecting her opening concerns, with respect
to today’s topic, about what is able to be said in words, what
is nameable. She began with Buddha nature: an awakening being. We don’t
all have Buddha nature, we all are Buddha nature. “No person
is who or what we think they are. They’re bigger than that, not
nameable as what we perceive.” This conference is important because,
given the state of the world, “We do not have the luxury of misusing
our time together.” In addition to citing some parables, Austin
recited the 16 Precepts of Zen (she is an ordained priest in the Soto
Zen lineage begun by Dôgen), and discussed upeksha, “special
use of ordinary activity” or “indifference/disgust”,
a kind of aversion therapy accomplished by sitting with truths about
small-mindedness. We give up our attachment of a fixed idea of a permanent,
unchanging self. “I think that St. Ignatius would agree that
souls are capable of transformation,” she summed up, before concluding
with a discussion of karma and over attachment to ideas of “good” and “bad.”
“Islam in Southeast Asia: Islamic Practices and Spiritual Discipline”
Mr. Aslan arrived fresh from a nearly year-long book tour (No god but
God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam; New York: Random
House, 2006) that included an appearance on “The Daily Show”,
discussing the Sufi branch of Islam and the Spiritual Exercises. (Sufism
is an Islamic mystical tradition.) Aslan outlined some important differences
with Christian mystical traditions, mainly that Sufism is anti-monastic
because it is a communal religion, that it categorically derides celibacy,
and that Islam must eventually be cast off to attain true knowledge
of God whereas Christians are permanently attached to their source
religion. Though Muslims, Sufis regard all orthodoxy, law and theology
as inadequate in attaining true knowledge of God. As one Sufi master
said, “Why spend time reading a love letter [the Koran] in the
presence of the beloved who wrote it?”
Sufism shares with traditional forms of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu
mysticism Ignatius’s goal of ‘conquering the self’.
The Sufis understand this goal as “becoming one with God,” as
in the story about the Sufi martyr, Husayn Al-Hallaj who declared, “I
am the truth [God],” and was viewed as heretical and was sentenced
to death. His infamous statement was the result of the arduous path
of spiritual self-reflection, with some differences and some likeness
to the Exercises, that Sufis call ‘tariqa’ or ‘the
way’. A parable, “The Conference of the Birds,” represents
the stations and perils of this journey. At the end of the journey,
the birds discover themselves, thus learning that for all their travails
it was themselves they sought. Aslan’s presentation included
a summary of key concepts of Sufism including nafs, ruh, qalb, fana,
ahadiyyah, and variations on the exercises (vocal, silent, dance—whirling
dervishes, calligraphy and others) known as dhikr.
“Hindu Practices and Spiritual Discipline”
Professor Nagarajan introduced herself as “a Hindu among the
Jesuits.” She opened with a slide presentation of kolam, a traditional
practice performed by women in India to honor and recognize the goddess
Lakshmi by making geometric patterns on doorsteps and in rooms. Nagarajan
proceeded to a brief “history of my own doubts about interreligious
encounter,” primarily stressing her father’s experiences
with Jesuit schooling in India. Some of these doubts include the lack
of symmetry in interreligious dialogue and whether or not there are
preconceived notions of the end results of such dialogue (“Whenever
I meet Christians, I am always aware of that imagination of me within
their mind”). The notion of ‘idol’, as one example,
is problematic in a dialogue between Christians and Indians. Also,
the notion of ‘sin’ and how to approach it cross-culturally.
Another example from her own experience was that of having attended
a Southern Baptist school in the United States and the strong need
she felt the practitioners of that religion had to make her into one
of themselves in the form of “being ready to accept Jesus Christ
as her savior,” to which her answer was always, “Not yet.” The
idea of what Nagarajan calls “this imagination of similarity,” which
she felt Clooney was cautioning against in his earlier talk and comments,
is one of the aspects that she has doubts about as well. Nevertheless,
referring to Clooney’s outline and the statement in it that, “There
is an immediacy to encounter with God, in experience and by way of
practice,” she said, “A Hindu could just as well as have
said that.” She closed by mentioning Clooney’s book, Divine
Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary (USA: Oxford
University Press, 2004) as a “great bridging work.”
Panel II: Q & A
A questioner asked Nagarajan to elaborate on her father’s experience
being educated by the Jesuits and what came through in that experience
that she can relate to the Spiritual Exercises. She said that her interview
with him on the subject revealed that he left as much a Hindu as he
had been when he started and that he was very grateful for the experience.
He also said that at that time it was fashionable to not have faith
as a Hindu if you were pursuing an English education, although he was
comfortable with certain practices considered “rational” such
as yoga and meditation.
Dr. Bundy asked Aslan what dialogues, formal or informal, are going
on now between Sufis, or Muslims, and Christians, what those dialogues
focused on, and whether or not there are comparable or incomparable
Aslan responded that there are certainly a number of Christian, Jewish,
and Muslim groups that are deeply engaged in this kind of dialogue
and it is probably most vibrant within the mystical traditions of these
three faiths. Unfortunately he has found that most of the dialogue
is along the lines of what they each stand against rather than what
they stand for, standing together against abortion and homosexuality,
for example. Regarding mysticism, Sufis in the United States (a very
large part of a very large group: Muslims are the largest religious
minority in the U.S.) are currently undergoing significant mystical
Professor Nelson asked Austin if she would like to respond to the idea
about Buddhist missionaries in North America. After giving a brief
summary of the Zen priest Suzuki’s story in America, beginning
in 1959, and his accidental mission among the beatniks and “proto-hippies,” she
said that her own invitation from the Soto Zen leadership to be a missionary
troubles her because her understanding is that the tradition discourages
missionary work. Asked by a questioner why that is, Austin answered
that the core of the tradition is to live in enlightenment with all
beings and not engage in risky behavior. And, “There is a risky,
fine line between sharing and proselytizing.”
Another questioner asked about themes of spiritual growth that are
common to all the traditions being discussed here with relation to
the Spiritual Exercises.
Aslan answered that this is why he was emphasizing the idea of commonality
and unity, which are the very foundations of Sufism. Nagarajan agreed,
referencing “that moment of connectedness” between the
individual and the larger self. Austin added that in Buddhism there
is a strong tradition of confession and repentance, moment by moment,
so that non-attachment is actually a process not a concept.
The final questioner asked Aslan to talk more about dhikr and the direct
supervision needed when performing this. That dynamic is expressed
metaphorically as a path that is dangerous and dark on which it is
easy to get lost; you need a guide there to make sure that you come
to a real internal understanding at each step of it. One master pours
his knowledge into a disciple who finishes the path and then becomes
a master and pours that knowledge into the next disciple—a chain
of transition of religious authority. The master is referred to as
Universal Man. The perfect man who has achieved this is seen as the
mirror that reflects the universe. That sense of unity has to be very
carefully supervised. Al-Hallaj was not condemned for the content of
his statement but because he revealed the secret to the spiritually
The same questioner asked where we move on to from enlightenment. Is
the next step service? Aslan said to remember that Sufism is not a
monastic tradition. Nagarajan said that Hinduism was a tradition of
devotion as expressed by service.
Panel III: Roundtable Discussion: “Comparative Perspectives Featuring
All Symposium Speakers”
James Bretzke, S.J., Chair, Associate Professor and Chair, USF Department
of Theology & Religious Studies
Francis X. Clooney
Christopher W. Gowans
Thomas J. Lucas
Professor Bretzke began with a “provocative observation”:
Do we not have an elephant in the room? Where do we find elephant tamers?
Is bridging a positive concept? It isn’t in disease transmission.
Bridges go both ways, so how do you inoculate yourself against aggressiveness?
Blessed ignorance is the beginning of conversation, of dialogue. There
needs to be a bilateral ceasefire, a recognition that neither of our
traditions has all the answers to allow for a genuine talking through.
Clooney said that doing dialogue has to be a long-term process, otherwise
it’s like doing yoga once a year. The dangers of this process
are the reason for the need for a guide or a guru. But, teachers and
retreat directors need to stay out of the way. There is a trade-off
between internal dialogue and interpersonal dialogue. When is it appropriate
not to say what is going on and how is one able to say what’s
happening in a fruitful way?
Gowans reiterated that dialogue has nothing to do with conversion.
There is a danger of imposing oneself on others. There is also a danger
of success: you lose a sense of what you’re about. If someone
says that Jesus is the only savior, do others encounter this statement
as an obstacle or a difference? Dialogue is not aiming at conversion
or an ultimate unity. It is just an exploration and doesn’t see
difference as a problem.
Lucas said that western hegemony is not a given or a given as good.
There has been a lot of apology lately. But he doesn’t want to
see the Baby Jesus thrown out with the bad bathwater.
Austin said she wanted to acknowledge that this is probably the first
generation in a long time for which such an interreligious dialogue
could be possible, that we have an unprecedented collection of spiritual
traditions that are confident enough in their own groups to be able
to actually speak with each other. When Buddha was about to die, he
said to follow the important forms. Since this is about spiritual exercises,
she suggests that we use those forms. One of the first steps would
be to acknowledge what has been deformed by sin. Other elephants in
the room that deform the potential for dialogue are the teacher-student
relationship, power issues concerning majority and minority cultures,
gender, and the history of traditions (what hasn’t been acknowledged
by traditions that needs to be acknowledged). She believes that the
second, third and fourth weeks of the Exercises are particularly valuable;
who do we model ourselves on? Her experience with interreligious conversations
is that it can take years to have good conversations.
Nagarajan asked what in the Hindu traditions would be equivalent to
the Spiritual Exercises, though she felt it was hard to represent Hindu
Clooney wanted to add his thoughts about the many good things that
have come from evangelizing and that he suspects that each tradition
has some kind of genetic need to get outside of itself, and that removing
the energy of the missionary tradition would have been a loss to both
the missionaries and those they taught and learned from. Specific losses
would include the dictionaries, the travel experiences, the international
Austin spoke of a church in England whose enormous beams had rotted,
leaving people wondering what to do until a very old forester came
forward and said people had been growing the trees for that purpose
for 800 years. The question for us now is: What do we want to grow?
Clooney offered that we have to learn across religious boundaries,
and for this to work we cannot lapse into a language of despising the
other, condescending to the other, or denying to the other some value
or some voice. Once we do this, it has a significant transformative
effect on us. Ideology and its authoritative structure has tried to
prevent all that from happening. Ideology is the elephant in the room
that says there is no process, nothing to be learned, let’s just
go back to our roots. But, finally, it doesn’t have to be ideological.
Still, you have to have some sense of remembering where you come from,
and then creatively cross over ideology.
Lucas warned that there is a temptation for cultural amnesia. When
we look outward, we find it difficult to look back. In terms of the
success of the Jesuit missionaries in Asia, where they tried to engage
the culture on its highest level they had a limited amount of success.
They were more successful with the middle and lower classes in terms
of religious headway and spiritual activities.
Nagarajan said that when talking about ‘conversion’ of
the individual and the community, she was on the edge of her own thinking,
conceptually. Conversion is a loaded term, politically. This is particularly
true now, among Hindus in India and with respect to the right wing
there. She loves the notion of ‘sharing the good news’,
but what does that mean? What are the realities on the ground?
Austin noted that the last questioner began by saying, “If we
could remove politics…” and asked if there had ever been
a time when we could remove politics. She questioned whether, as soon
as ‘truth’ is codified, it is still truth? There are several
levels that things take place on: enlightenment happens on a personal
level; teaching on an interpersonal level; lineage and dogma on an
institutional level; and prejudice on a cultural level.
Gowans referred back to the story of Suzuki, and how people came to
him and then he responded. Interreligious dialogue is different than
even trying to attract people to come over to one’s side. Interreligious
dialogue shouldn’t aim for that.
A questioner asked how we can bring the discussion to people who are
completely turned away from organized religion because of the history
of violence and exclusion associated with many of the traditions. She
asked if there were any inter-faith dialogues that include atheists.
Gowans mentioned conferences between Buddhists and people who are not
committed to any tradition as examples of this. Clooney said any dialogue
of that kind has to be between people who are somewhat interested in
spiritual matters, and that kind of dialogue in itself would be part
of letting people in who are put off by religion. Austin asked him, “Are
the Buddhists atheists?” (Laughter.) “Technically not,” he
replied. “I can’t tell,” Austin said, “Because
when people asked the Buddha he just remained silent.” Gowans
said, “The philosophers will tell you that it depends on what
you mean by God.” (More laughter.)
The next questioner said he’d had a struggle finding a copy of
the Exercises, which he had wanted to read before the conference, and
that he wanted to know more about why they were not to be read but
to be experienced.
Lucas warned about the translation of the Spiritual Exercises currently
on the web, that it was the 1914 translation and doesn’t reflect
recent scholarship. He said again that the Exercises are a methodological
text about how to teach the experience, not a first-level book. The
full Exercises are not for everybody. It’s a process that’s
rare rather than frequent and Jesuits themselves will do it maybe twice
in a lifetime.
Clooney summarized the panel discussion and the conference itself by
asking the following questions. What kind of reflection does someone
doing the Spiritual Exercises make at the end of the day? What worked
and what didn’t? Did I actually find God present? Where? Go to
that place again and stay with it. After this, one should ask, What
should I do tomorrow?