The Promise of Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
God Alive (Vaughan Weekly Newspaper)
May 31, 2006

This week I would like to tell you a bit about the life and thought of a Canadian religious leader I had the privilege to meet this past weekend.

The Rev. Fredrich Ulrich was the key note speaker at the Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada (the annual gathering of United Churches in the GTA). Nothing extraordinary in that, is there?

Except that Rev. Ulrich is Sensei (Rev.) of the Manitoba Buddhist Church of the Jodo Shinshu or New Pure Land Buddhism of Japan.

I asked him why he chose to speak to a gathering of Christians. Sensei Ulrich replied that he sees a dangerous trend of an exclusive and aggressive kind of fundamentalism spreading throughout the world religions, leading to increased intolerance and violence being done in the name of religion. He says that "the answer to Fundamentalism is a [rapprochement between] Christianity and Buddhism", and that he wants to be “part of a movement where these two religious traditions find common ground.”

He sees the two traditions complementing each other. “Dialogue with Christians,” says Ulrich, “has led Buddhists to explore ways of expressing their beliefs through social commitment. Dialogue with Buddhists has helped Christians rediscover their meditative and non verbal traditions.”

He believes that both Buddhism and Christianity can help each other overcome problems inherent within each tradition. The energy of unconditional and unlimited Christian love (agape) has often been channeled negatively toward the achievement of power over others and world domination. The pursuit of detachment by Buddhism has often caused it to withdraw from the reality of universal suffering.

Ulrich suggests the differences of each of these religions do not make them mutually exclusive. Nor do we have to convert one another to be unified in truth and community.
As he puts it: “Consider the “christ” of Dharma is Amida Buddha, who through selflessness transforms emptiness into love. The Christ of God is Jesus, who through selflessness transforms selfishness into emptiness.”

Or, “Buddhists through the experience of selflessness generate infinite love. Christians through the experience of infinite love generate selflessness.”
Sensei Ulrich was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1939 into a Metis family of German-Iroquois-Winnebago heritage. He studied for a Methodist preacher’s license and at one time was pastor of a small country church.

Given his rich multi-cultural, multi-religious makeup however, and given the religious structures of the time, he could find no place in the Christian tradition where he could authentically express who he was, feel good about who he was, and pursue the ultimate questions of life as who he was.

While studying at University of Denver, he found himself being attracted to Buddhism. His grandmother, familiar with First Nations traditions, encouraged him to take a spiritual journey which led to two major Vision Quests, two minor Vision Quests, and the study of Buddhism at the Denver Buddhist Temple.

He holds an MA in Language Studies from the University of Colorado, which gave him the opportunity to study and teach at the University of Alberta in Edmonton for four years, during which he became a Canadian citizen. After ten summer semesters of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, he became an ordained Buddhist Priest.

He is active in the Interfaith Centre in Edmonton and has been pastor of the Manitoba Buddhist Church since February of 1999. His daughter and son in law are both United Church ministers.

I’ll leave Rev. Fred with the last word
, a word of wisdom and hope we could all do well by pondering deeply: “No human mind can ever fully understand God. In the space of that ignorance there is room for Buddhism. No Buddhist can ever fully understand the totality of Dharma. In the space of that ignorance, there is room for Christianity!! Therefore, a profound experience with our own limitations is the basis of our unity in humility and mutuality!!”

originally posted by New Hope United Church