The rapport with the Buddhist faithful has been a significant part of the Focolare Movement’s history in dialogue. Although Focolare foundress Chiara Lubich intuited as early as the 1960’s that it would be possible to construct genuine fraternal relationships with persons of different religions and cultures, it was not until 1979 that she personally met a leader from another religion, the Rev. Nikkyo Niwano founder of the Rissho Kosei kai. The freindship that developed between them was based on deep mutual respect. In 1981 Niwano invited Chiara to speak of her Christian experience before 12 thousand Buddhists in Tokyo. This marked the historical beginnings of a genuine experience of fraternity. This relationship has gone on for many years now and was recently rienforced by Maria Voce’s visit to Tokyo in 2010.
Paths of cooperation and understanding were later opened with other Mahayan currents in Japan and Taiwan. The meetings with Venerable Etai Yamada of the Tendai School remains an unforgettable moment. Chiara loved to quote the motto of the Grand Master Saicho: “Forgetting yourself and serving others is the apex of compassion-love,” words that were also cited by John Paul II during the meeting with representatives of other religions in Tokyo in 1981.
Currently there are very fruitful relationships with the Nichiren School. And there have been contacts with the Chinese Buddhist Monastary of Fo Guan Shan and with the Monastary of Dharma Drum Mountain.
Over the years, paths of knowledge and encounter have also opened with the world of Therevada Buddhism. During an extended visit at the international town of Loppiano two Thai monks – Grand Master Ajhan Thong and Phramaha Thongratana – came into living contact with Christianity. When they returned to their land, they shared their disovery and invited Chiara Lubich to offer her experience at a Buddhist university and in a temple in Chiang Mai. The Great Master Ajhan Thong presented the founder of the Focolare saying: “The sage is neither man nor woman. When a light is lit in the darkness no one asks whether it was a man or a woman to light it. Chiara is here to give us her light.”
From 2004 until the present several symposiums have been held. The fifth was held on 28-31 May 2012, following those held in 2004 and 2008 at the Mariapolis Centre in Castelgandolfo, Italy; and in 2006 and 2010 in Osaka, Japan and Chian Mai, Thailand that included people from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, England, USA, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. The variety was not only to be found in geographical origins, but also in the traditions that were represented. Among the Buddhists there were representatives – both monks and laity – from the Theravada and Mahayana traditions and, among the Christians, representatives from the Anglican Communion and from the Reformed Church.
Over the years, a deep mutual trust has developed among the participants of these gatherings which has allowed for an open discussion of the Scriptures without misunderstanding. The Castelgandolfo meeting was attended by His Eminence Cardinal Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and by the president of the Focolare Movement, Maria Voce.