Fr. Alloysius Pieris, S.J., founder and director of the Tulana Research Centre in Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, earned his first doctorate in Buddhist studies, the first ever awarded to a non-Buddhist by the University of Sri Lanka. A pioneer of Liberation theology in Asia, he teaches that spirituality is not the practical conclusion of theology, but the radical involvement with the poor and the oppressed, and is what creates theology. Pieris being what he is, no visit to Sri-lanka is complete without a visit to Tulana and a meeting with the well known theologian.
Listening to Aloy2Waiting for other peacemakers have waitedListening to AloyWaiting for AloyPieris seeks theology that has as its first step, the building up of basic human communities where Christian and non-Christian members strive together for a full humanity. Bitter memories of the aggressiveness of Christians in the earlier centuries cannot be erased from Buddhist consciousness unless Christianity undergoes a conversion to a humble way of dealing with other religions and a restoration of the spirit and style of Jesus again in the church. A theology of power, domination and instrumentalization must give way to a theology of humility and participation. The Church needs a new understanding of its role in a pluralistic society. The conversion Jesus advocated was a change of ways (metanoia). Then only can the church immerse in the cultural richness of a pluralistic society.
Illness, Old Age, and DeathHistory on a WallWashing of Jesus’ feetA true dialogue is not about comparing texts for texts however sacred are dead letters. Texts come to life only through living word of living persons. So theology is not about writing books that cite other books based on still more books, Fr. Alloy pointed out. Through paintings and sculpture interpretations by Sri-Lankan Buddhist artists, Fr. Alloy’s Tulana also makes Christian scripture come to life in ways that Buddhists can appreciate. At the extreme left, a time-line of the great thinkers who influenced the world includes Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Gandhi, Artistotle, and others. The bas relief beside it, also by a Buddhist artist, is of a woman washing Jesus’ feet. According to a Buddhist monk, the thought of Jesus, the master, washing his followers’ feet was most difficult for him to accept. The woman in the bas relief is a rich woman, apparently a buddhist. Is this a way of saying that because of Jesus’ humility, even Buddhists can bow before him? At right, we see the figures of the men who shocked the sheltered prince Gautama into an understanding that all human life is subject to suffering, illness, and death.
God doesn’t use people
Woman at the WellAs Catholics, we have been taught that in God’s plan of salvation, Mary was his instrument. God doesn’t use people and this sculpture of Mary shows what he means. Mary, the instrument she is playing, and her womb are inseparable. Mary herself is the one playing the strings although the child in her womb is also playing the strings. Aloy’s message is clear. There are no passive participants in God’s work. A similar message may be read in the larger than life interpretation of the gospel story about the samaritan woman at the well (right). The woman is the central figure and she oozes with sexuality as she pours water for the beggar, Jesus. The human Jesus needed water and the woman, representing humankind, also had the capacity to give. That the woman flirted brazenly with him is another indication of his humanity and his vulnerability.
Listening to a peace activist
Tulana is a center for peace in war-torn Sri-lanka. World leaders have visited Pieris in this haven. Sri-lankan activists also find refuge here. The pictures show EWA participants listening to a young peace activist describing the horrors of the long drawn war between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamils. In Sri-lanka, there is no escaping the reality of this war. Soldiers are everywhere, as are stories of ordinary people disappearing, only to be found later with their heads decapitated. Because of this cloud of fear and suffering around us, the 3rd EWA did not have the lightness of the first two conferences.
Tribute to Aloy
After the brief talk by Pieris, the tour of his center, the talk by the peace activist and by a priest who assists at the center, EWA had dinner with Fr. Pieris and time for casual conversation with him. The day ended with EWA’s paying tribute to the father of Asian Liberation Theology, and as our gift to him, the presentation of an autographed volume of EWA’s 2nd collection, Body and Sexuality, Theological-Pastoral Perspectives of Women in Asia.