Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue — Insights After Reading Coffinman

A "Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue" was held online on April 21 — a total of 7 people. In the beginning, convener Michael Kerze invited everyone to share their perspectives with one another after reading the book Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician and its film adaptation “Departures”.

Prof. Fredricks mentioned the protagonist's journey, who was a cellist to become a coffinman in the movie. That is precisely the idea of “metanoia” in Catholicism. The coffinman’s wife could not accept her husband’s profession but had changed her mind after viewing his meritorious deeds of clothing the dead. Father Alexei also shared that before he became a pastor, he worked as a funeral manager and had held thousands of funerals. He confirmed that dating was somewhat of an issue because women were often put-off by the notion that he was working in the funeral industry.

Ven. Hui Ze, from Hsi Lai Temple, expressed that Venerable Master Hsing Yun had always said all beings are equal. Therefore, no career is superior to others; any profession following the Noble Eightfold Path should be considered “Right Livelihood”. When the rest of the town rejects the funeral industry, the protagonist takes up the responsibility to become a coffinman, showing the bodhisattva spirit of “who else but me?”

For the following dialogue, convener Kerze wants to explore the notion of what is pure and impure, hence suggesting exploring the Buddhist term “Icchantika” and the meaning behind “The Parable of the Good Samaritan”.