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Introduction to the thought of Fr Aloysius Pieris, s.j. — article by Peter Pham in National Catholic Reporter

The balance of the content on this page is mirrored from the Tulana web site

TULANA is a Sri Lanka Jesuit Province Apostolate mandated by the Superiors and founded in 1974 by its current Director, the Asian Jesuit Theologian, Indologist and Buddhist Scholar, Fr. Aloysius Pieris, s.j.

“The name TULANA has its roots in Sanskrit and means four things taken together: elevation, weighing, comparing and deciding for the weightier things – in short DISCERNMENT.”

Its primary founding motivation was as a response to two challenges – the challenge of the spirituality and philosophy of Sri Lanka’s major religion, Buddhism, and the challenge of the socio-political aspirations of the highly educated but marginalised rural youth.


BOOKS BY ALOYSIUS PIERIS, S.J.

1. an asianAN ASIAN THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION

Faith meets Faith Series
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 1988.

In the essays that make up this volume, Aloysius Pieris confronts two of the most urgent, complex, and therefore promising questions that face the Christian religion —or any religion — today;  ……… the question of the many poor and the question of the many religions. Pieris finds himself in a situation where he has no choice but to face these two issues. As he reaches out into the Asian context ……… he is met by the realities of Asian poverty and Asian religiousness …..(and) he has come to realize not only that Christianity must respond to both these issues, but that it must respond to both of them together.

Herein lies the creativity and the challenge of Pieris’ thought – in the way he argues, from a variety of perspectives, that Christians will not adequately address the problem of Asian poverty unless they do so within the context of dialogue with Asian religions, and that they will not carry out an authentic and successful interreligious encounter unless they base that dialogue on a concern for the poor. Asian theology of liberation will take shape out of a Christian dialogue with Asian religion. Dialogue and liberation call out to each other (Paul F. Knitter)


 

 

LOVE MEETS WISDOM
A Christian Experience of Buddhism
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 1988

Within the framework of a pluralistic theology of religions, Pieris explores the social as well as the spiritual dimensions of Buddhism, its doctrine and political vision, and issues pertinent to an interreligious understanding between Christians and Buddhists.

In Part 1, he presents the history of western Christian and Asian Buddhist encounter, discusses the merits and drawbacks of an academic approach to interreligious dialogue, and explores the spiritual dimensions of West and East. Part 2 provides a window to understanding Buddhist religious life, not only its basic tenets but how it is experienced in the lives of its adherents. Pieris explores the spiritual and then the social and political vision of Buddhism, the most pervasive of what he calls the “metacosmic” religions. Part 3 takes up the challenges of dialogue between Christians and Buddhists from the struggle to overcome the many divisions of culture, politics and religious belief, through to the basic core of sharing that is essential to a truly dialogical encounter. An extensive “Glossary of Buddhist Terms” adds to the usefulness of this volume, particularly for those participating in, or just encountering, the Buddhist-Christian dialogue.


 

 

FIRE AND WATER
Basic Issues in Asian Buddhism and Christianity
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 1996

The essays in this book bring together two processes which are seemingly divergent as fire and water, but are really two very different poles of the same religious energy —the mystical and the prophetic. Throughout these essays, Pieris contrasts and connects dyads which, like fire and water, are not synonymous with, but related to, the creative tension between mystical and prophetic contrasts, and connects the creative tension between mystical and prophetic experience: the unifying transcendent and the engaging particular, the metacosmic (transcending the finite) and the cosmic (informing the finite), the detachment of wisdom (prajna) and the engagement of love (agape).


 

 

4. bryan de kretser

BRYAN DE KRETZER 
Frontierless Christian and Servant of the Powerless

[The first Bryan de Kretzer Memorial Lecture delivered by Fr. Aloysius Pieris s.j. at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute and organized by the Prithipura Infants Home on 2nd May 1998. (Published by the Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue)]

“Dr. Bryan de Kretzer was the founder of the Prithipura Infant Home, Ashram and Spiritual Centre. He was the author of the book “Man in Buddhism and Christianity” for which he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the University of Edinburgh. It indicates his interest in the theme of inter-religious dialogue at a time when such interest was rare. He was also a man of vision and action. The Prithipura Infant Home was the fruit of such a vision. He began in a small hut with a few children – mentally and physically handicapped. He looked after them and cared for them. He saw a vision and he responded in faith and action. This was the beginning of the Pritihipura Infant Home – an inter- religious Home for the handicapped. A man like Bryan appears very rarely and it was a privilege to have known him. We thank God for his life and service to the unwanted children of our society” (Rev. S.K. Perera)

“ …….This revelation was enough for me to understand two dimensions of Bryan de Kretzer’s frontierless vision: the way he promoted the core values of other religions, specially of Buddhism; and the way he cared for the most helpless of persons. He became for me a great object lesson in what I have been personally trying to articulate in whatever I have been writing and teaching during the last twenty five years. I held firmly to the belief that in any part of Asia, the context that gives meaning to what we think and do is determined by two things: the religions of Asia and the poor of Asia. Yes, the profound and multi-faceted religiousness of our people and the abject and scandalous poverty that plagues our continent are the two poles of the tension that characterize the Asian dilemma. They must be considered in their dialectical mutuality”  (Aloysius Pieris s.j.)


 

 

5. gods reign

GOD’S REIGN FOR GOD’S POOR
A Return to the Jesus Formula
Tulana Jubilee Publications, Kelaniya,1999.

This book is a lament, a critique and an appeal all in one. It laments the fact that in the very early centuries of Christianity we had abandoned the evangelical mode of expressing the two basic and inseparable dimensions of Christian existence: the mission we have received from Christ and the spirituality which is defined by that mission. Our mission manifesto, therefore, has to be concurrently a declaration of our spirituality. But this is not the case with the dominant paradigm of theology we have inherited from the past and which refuses to be dislodged. The persistence of this paradigm retards the renewal of the church’s mission and its spirituality. Even the so-called new evangelization, also conceived and expressed within this same theological language, continues to lead us further away from what we like to call here the Jesus  Formula. The whole thesis defended in this little book is as simple as the gospel which it claims to re-state.


 

 

6. mysticism

MYSTICISM OF SERVICE
A short course on Christian Spirituality
Tulana Publications, Kelaniya, 2000

As a Roman Catholic Priest and a Jesuit, Aloysius Pieris is heir to a rich tradition of Christian Mysticism, which he generously shares with his readers in a simple and readable style. He addresses himself in particular, to Christian lay-persons fully engaged in the duties of their state, to pastors spent out in ministering to their flocks, and finally to religious brothers and sisters who have consecrated their entire lives to the service of the needy. To them he offers a sound theology of prayer which has been aptly recapitulated in the title: Mysticism of Service.

“My reflections revolve round a theology of prayer which takes for granted that everyone knows to pray. According to this theology, God does not leave us alone; She speaks and we somehow or other respond. This mysterious conversation, which we call prayer, at times takes the guise of a creature denying the Creator or just ignoring Her in practical life. Even this twofold reaction (that of the “atheist” and the “agnostic” respectively) is warmly welcomed by God as a legitimate response to Her gentle and incessant communication with His creatures. God’s conversation with us never ceases even when it is dismissed as a learned illusion.

Our regular chats with God can sound illusory only when they fail to bring life abundantly to the world around us. The authenticity of our prayer is tested by our deeds of love and service. What I offer, here, is a theological reflection on the traditional art of allowing our drugged and deadened consciousness to wake up to a life-bringing conversation with the life-giving God in and through a life-consuming commitment to the coming of God’s Reign in the midst of God’s Poor” (Aloysius Pieris)

 


7. christhood

THE CHRISTHOOD OF JESUS AND THE DISCIPLESHIP OF MARY
An Asian Perspective
LOGOS (39), Centre for Society and Religion, Colombo 2002.

“Pieris questions the speculative model of the Western Patriachate and proposes a daringly new approach to both Christology and Mariology in the process of expounding the Word of God in the context of scandalous poverty and the profound religiousness of the Asian Masses. The fiercely disputed questions in each of these two areas, such as the ‘uniqueness of Jesus’ and the ‘virginity’ and ‘motherhood’ of Mary are discussed with an Asian sensitivity.” (Oswald Firth OMI)


 

 

8. buddhist studies

STUDIES IN THE PHILOSOPHY AND LITERATURE OF PALI ABHIDHAMMIKA BUDDHISM
Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue, Colombo, 2004

“This book is the humble beginning of an ambitious project, the first in a series of several such volumes envisaged for publication in the near future. The ten chapters of this first volume have already appeared in print as separate essays in various journals or anthologies. Their sequence, here, corresponds more or less to the chronological order in which they were first published, revealing a time-span of twenty six years between the first (1978) and the last (2004). Traces of their origin as disparate essays may still be noticed despite my editorial effort to bring consistency and coherence in the cross-references as well as in the use of certain terms. The original source is indicated at the beginning of each chapter” (Aloysius Pieris).


 

 

9. prophetic

PROPHETIC HUMOUR IN BUDDHISM AND CHRISTIANITY
Doing Inter-Religious Studies in the Reverential Mode
Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue, Colombo, 2005

Humour and reverence blend in true religion.  To laugh Evil out of existence is more religious than to be morbidly obsessed by it.  Those over-defensive about their religion and over-critical about that of others reveal an irreverence born of ill-humour. All religionists and ideologists who claim to be the sole saviour of human kind turn out to be pathological messiahs, intolerant crusaders and fundamentalist evangelizers. They have taken their own religiosity too seriously and their religion too lightly. Their humour is in the wrong place. The converse would help them to acquire a reverential mode vis-à-vis the religions of their neighbours.


 

 

10. psalms

PSALMS, POEMS AND SONGS
Theographical Sketches from a Jesuit’s Diary
Tulana Publications, Kelaniya, 2006

Personal creative pieces written over many years by Aloysius Pieris s.j. :  “The Psalms Prayed, The Poems Wrote, The Songs Sang” are gathered here and presented to Sr. Frances de Silva, RGS, in grateful acknowledgement of her 30 years of dedicated service to the Tulana Community as its Financial Supervisor and Archivist from 1976 to 2006”


 

 

11. give vatican

GIVE VATICAN II A CHANCE
Yes to Incessant Renewal, No to Reform of the Reforms
Tulana Jubilee Publications, Kelaniya 2010;
Second Edition; Claretian Publications, Bangalore, India, 2012

This is not an academic theologian’s analysis of the teachings of Vatican II but a pastorally solicitous presbyter’s passionate appeal to all Asian Christians to understand, appreciate and appropriate the paradigm shift which this most ecumenical and authoritative council in history has offered us in order to make us think, act, pray and live ecclesially as a symbol of hope and a sacrament of reconciliation in the cultures round us.


 

 

12. our unhidden

OUR UNHIDDEN AGENDA
How We Jesuits Work, Pray and Form Our Men
Tulana Jubilee Publications, Kelaniya 2010

In Part One, Aloysius Pieris s.j. discusses the thinking that animates the mission of all Jesuits. He looks at what constitutes the true “heart” of Jesuit spirituality within the context of the current popular devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and links it to the prophetic mission to the poor; he also revisits the Faith-Justice Mission mandate, and studies again the “Two Standards” in the Ignatian Exercises in terms of the struggle between the Politics of Power and the Spirituality of Service.

In Part Two, he talks about the prayer that accompanies the actions of the Jesuits. Considering spirituality as a constant daily “mindfulness”, he goes back to Ignatian and biblical sources to distinguish between formal and informal prayer, dismissing the contemplation-action binomial in the process of answering the often asked question about Prayer and Work – which takes priority ?

Part Three looks at the process of formation which maintains the Jesuit identity in their mission as ‘frontier’ men. Jesuit Governance is argued as being neither monarchic or monastic and he makes a case for training Jesuit Communicators of the Word, starting from the Juniorate level. He also distinguishes between ‘priests’ and ‘presbyters’ in an effort to re-read and re-capture the true Jesuit charism, specially after the Second Vatican Council and the Jesuit General Congregation (GC) 31 of the 1960’s.

Although the chapters of this book originated as many talks and articles addressed to the members of the Society of Jesus, they are published here also for the benefit of non-Jesuits who are actively engaged in the affairs of the church and the world, either as lay Christians or as diocesan clergy of various denominations, and specially the members of non-monastic apostolic Religious Congregations. For what is advocated here is the Christ-centred lay spirituality that Ignatius of Loyola had discovered as a layman for us from an ecclesiastical tradition that goes back to St. Paul and the nascent church. What is new in this anthology is the author’s attempt to bring out clearly the biblical foundation of this spiritual tradition.


 

 

13. fr frank

FR FRANK’S CONFESSIONS
Seven Days From His Diary (Fiction)
Centre for Society and Religion, Colombo, 2013

‘Fr Frank’s Confessions’ is more than a mere ‘mixture of facts and fiction’. Rather it is a species ofapocalyptic literature. Whenever an institution like the church is passing through a dark period, when cheap and vindictive politics rather than the gospel of Jesus determines the ecclesiastical order in such matters as the quality of the pastorate, the mode of worship, the recruitment and formation of ministers or the church’s relationship with Caesar, then the despondent laity invariably resorts to an apocalyptic language to express their silent verdict. Their cryptically symbolic idiom, nevertheless, can be easily decoded by all God’s People, not only by the faithful who see in such literature a ray of hope beaming from the Future which is our God, but also by the unfaithful Christians to whom this esoteric message comes as a threat. It is revealed in the very manner in which it is concealed…

This is a fictional Diary of a Country Priest which contains the aspirations that God’s People entertain about the role of presbyters and bishops in the church as well as a frank discussion of the various challenges that the churches everywhere are facing in these our times. It covers seven days from Monday to Sunday during a conclave to elect a new pope. The diary entries from Wednesday onwards record Fr. Frank’s joy at the election of Pope Peter Paul 1 from South America (“We have got our Pope at last”).

[This piece of fiction was written by Aloysius Pieris and kept ready for publication in manuscript form many months before the election of Pope Francis 1 in 2013]


 

 

14. providential

PROVIDENTIAL TIMELINESS OF VATICAN  II
A long-overdue halt to a scandalous millennium?
Tulana Jubilee Publications, Kelaniya 2013

Presented here are a series of acts that stare at the face of those who care to trace the story of the church over the past two millennia. Aloysius Pieris believes in the providential timeliness of Vatican II that it was intended to expose the root cause of all the ills that befell the Catholic Church specially (not exclusively) in the second millennium. Selecting twelve abuses that marred the image of the Roman Catholic Church in the ten centuries that followed the schism of 1054, he argues that one reason for these “horrendous scandals” was that the Western Patriarchate in Rome had lost all ecumenical contact with the other four (eastern) patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria, which in the first millennium exercised a salutary restraint over each other, including Rome.


 

 

15. genesis

THE GENESIS OF AN ASIAN THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION
An Autobiographical Excursus on the Art of Theologizing in Asia
Tulana Jubilee Publications, Kelaniya 2013

This book was completed long before our dear Franciscan Jesuit inaugurated a new spell of papal ministry  witnessing  to and restoring the prophetic vision of the “Church Poor” and “Church for the Poor” that Vatican II and Pope John XXIII had projected before us, but which had gradually faded away from the church’s horizon during the last thirty five years. Much of what is proposed in this book is bound to be less difficult to assimilate today than during the past three decades during which its contents were churned out with the co-operation of many colleagues in the academe and many collaborators in the field.