Graduate Theological Union

Integrating Practices: Christianity and Buddhism

Daeseop Yi

Daeseop Yi is a Ph.D. candidate who hails from South Korea. He came to study at San Francisco Theological Seminary in 2004 in the Doctor of Ministry program. During his program, he discerned a desire to study more deeply about how transformation within the spiritual process occurs. With this focus he entered the Ph.D. program.

“While I was doing coursework in the Christian Spirituality Area, we had to study a religion and a discipline in addition to Christianity.” He became fascinated with Buddhism, he focused on comparing Christian and Buddhist traditions. “I realized that I had been living, integrating, and adopting Buddhist and other Indigenous practices, but studying in an academic way made it really interesting for me.”

Yi was motivated to study the integration of Buddhist and Christian practices based on a profound experience that blended the two for him in his native Korea. “I experienced an 8-day retreat on the [Ignatian] Spiritual Exercises with a Jesuit. That experience of contemplation made for a profound transformation. The priest integrated it with Buddhism. Three hours a day of Buddhist meditation, four to five hours Ignatian contemplation. That contemplation made me go deeper. As a Protestant I didn’t know what silence means or how to get there. Without saying anything, these Buddhist meditations made me go deeper with God and the Bible.”

“That experience nurtured me and expanded me. It doesn’t mean that Christianity is not enough, rather, that experience nurtures me to understand my own religion too.”

Yi has since been on the retreat for the Spiritual Exercises three times. Since coming to the GTU, he has studied the Spiritual Exercises academically and has been trying to structure them towards his own community, as well as his own academic endeavours.

Yi recently taught a course, via a Newhall Fellowship, that focused on Christian Buddhist Interreligious dialogue by looking at the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and Theravada Buddhism. This course combined both traditions by alternating between Christian and Buddhist theologies (on the understanding of human beings, God, and ultimate goals) and also incorporating practices of both traditions. For Yi, the practices are where transformation occurs. “Understanding practice makes doctrine more understandable. Then, reading made me practice more deeply. It’s like a circle, they promote each other.”

“Through learning, struggling, and working, the GTU has learned how to live together and learn from each other.”

— Daeseop Yi, Ph.D. Candidate

“An openness to other religions is the primary ethos of the GTU’s environment.” For Yi, the GTU’s interreligious context is more than just academic, it’s a way of living. The GTU has a space and an openness to study between the boundaries of religions, but also practices and openness to difference and different needs on a very practical level. “The GTU is more inclusive and embracing as an ESL student. They care about my English but they also care that we study in a comfortable way.”

As a Korean and now also as an American and raising a family, Yi lives out the tension of being more than one identity at once, while holding onto both. “It’s not possible to leave a totally Korean mindset. I’m living between religions and cultures. This makes me excited and worried that I might lose both of them. That makes for a struggle that influences me, my work and my life.”