A TIO Book Review
The Lotus & the Rose by Reverend Matthew Fox and Lama Tsomo
by Paul Chaffee
The Lotus and the Rose (2018) is probably different from any faith, interfaith, or interspiritual book you’ve encountered. It is the fruit of a 12-year friendship, a conversation that has allowed two spiritual leaders, over the years, to explore and compare their personal experiences, perspectives, and practices.
These two come from totally different arenas. On one hand, Matthew Fox is an Episcopal priest who blends his Roman Catholic roots with a deeply mystical perspective and an urgent social justice agenda; he is a prolific theologian, having written 35 books and been translated into 60 languages. His exploration of Creation Spirituality has offered millions of Christians a way to affirm and live their faith, seeking to reform rather than endorse or abandon religious institutions.
On the other hand we meet Lama Tsomo, one of a very few Americans ordained as ‘lamas,’ a term for venerated spiritual leaders in Tibetan Buddhism. Tsomo grew up happily ensconced in a Jewish home. She discovered Tibetan Buddhism, pursued it, and became learned, as these conversations demonstrate time and again. Her Why Is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling? A Westerner’s Introduction and Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Practice won a 2016 Independent Publisher award.
On meeting each other, the two noticed their compatibility and shared pleasure in exploring the life of the spirit. They agreed to have conversations in different settings over the next dozen years. Their sessions were recorded in a Sante Fe home surrounded by friends, in Stanford University classrooms filled with students, at the Jung Center in Houston, and at Tsomo’s home in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, where it was just the two of them and a tape recorder. At the end, each is individually interviewed by Michael Frisbie and Katy-Robin Garton. The whole book is conversational, personal, filled with anecdotes, and frequently interspersed by the spiritual practices they used to punctuate the dialogue. They talked about the rituals as well as practiced them.
Tibetan Buddhism and mystical Christianity have enough in common to keep their conversation rolling for nearly 500 pages. At each site where the two meet, they have an agenda, a set of subjects that gives their conversation context and direction. At the opening series in Santa Fe, for instance, we read an index of subjects for their first set of conversations:
Wave metaphor (where Tsomo discusses her understanding of Buddhism)
Cosmic Christ lineage
Compassion and generosity
This is not a book you need to read cover to cover, all at once, though some will devour it. A couple of pages, a chapter can suffice. After a particular ritual is explored, for instance, you may want to try it yourself.
No surprise to Fox fans, one spiritual pivot between Tsomo’s Buddhism and Matthew’s cosmic Christ is Meister Eckhart, the medieval Christian mystic much admired by Buddhists. But this book is not pedantic. This is teaching without the footnotes, a personal, spiritual rather than academic journey, though you may learn more here than in any religion class you’ve ever taken.
The Lotus and the Rose is an extraordinary example of what can happen when spiritual leaders from different traditions open up and speak from the heart. These two share certain ‘mystic’ assumptions about reality, which helps! But the clear resonance that can be felt between a decidedly Buddhist perspective and a decidedly Christian perspective is a wonderful demonstration of how deeply interfaith dialogue can reach and how related we all are to one another.
If you’ve ever felt the call for a dive into Buddhism or into Creation Spirituality, this accessible book is a gift, a treasure. News junkies, materialists, and social media mavens may find little to savor here, absent some sort of transformation. Many who hunger for the Spirit, though, will be fed here.
Header Photo: Pxhere