When SVD priest, Fr Anthony Le Duc chose the topic of Theravada Buddhist Environmental Spirituality for his Doctoral thesis, he was hoping to go beyond theory and to help provide practical resources for local communities living in environmental crisis.
Fr Anthony is a missionary in Thailand, which is part of the AUS Province. He is due to graduate soon with a Doctorate in Religious Studies.
He acknowledges that some people have questioned why a Catholic priest would choose to study on the topic of Theravada Buddhist Environment Spirituality, but says for him, living and working with the Thai people, it makes perfect sense.
“The reason I chose this topic is because for me it encapsulates many things about what it means to be a Divine Word Missionary and what we deem as important in our charism,” Fr Anthony says.
“When I decided to do research on Theravada Buddhist environmental spirituality, I was able to do so with great interest and enthusiasm because I realized that it was not only an intellectually stimulating endeavour for me, it was also completely congruent with my SVD spirituality and charism.”
He says the topic crosses over into four key areas which align with SVD values.
The first is a crossing over to other cultures.
“Theravada Buddhism is part of the cultures of Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Sri Lanka,” he says. “One cannot understand the cultures of these countries without also understanding Theravada Buddhism.”
It also crosses over to other religions, and to the poor.
“Theravada Buddhism is one of the major religions in the world, and its philosophy is influential in both Eastern and Western societies.
“It is part of our SVD charism as well as our Catholic responsibility to enter into dialogue and collaboration with other religions. This demands openness and deeper understanding of other religious systems.
“The environmental crisis will affect first and foremost the poorest people/countries in the world. Addressing the environmental crisis needs to be done in a multidisciplinary matter employing social and political will as well as religious commitment.”
And finally, it crosses over to creation.
“Creation is something that human beings must enter into relationship with in such a way that promotes well-being for both ourselves as well as nature,” says Fr Anthony.
Fr Anthony says that not everyone has understood how his Doctoral research topic contributes to interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
“One of my Facebook ‘friends’ sent me a message to say that before God’s eyes, I was a complete failure because instead of researching on a topic related to God and Christianity, I chose to study Buddhism,” he says.
“I am sure there are people who feel this way. I can only quote to them from our Church document Nostra Aetate (1965), which says: ‘The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and teachings, which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men…. The Church, therefore, urges its sons and daughters to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions’.”
Fr Anthony says he doesn’t have an expectation that his research will necessarily contribute to the field of interreligious relations or intercultural understanding.
“But I do believe that local problems need local solutions; and I hope that my work contributes to the task of addressing the environmental crisis in Theravada Buddhist countries by employing cultural-religious resources available in their contexts in creative and productive ways.”
PHOTO: Fr Anthony, left, is pictured at at an international conference in Bangkok last year where he presented on the Buddhist environmental ethic.