June 4, 2024
Meet Dario Girolami, A Zen Teacher Engaged in Interfaith Work

Photo by Tova Green


by Tova Green

Dario Girolami, Abbot of Centro Zen L’Arco Roma, has been immersing himself in interfaith study, teaching, and social engagement since his college years in Rome. A former SFZC resident who was ordained by Zenkei Blanche Hartman and received Dharma Transmission from Eijun Linda Cutts, he currently is a leader in the international interfaith group Religions for Peace. He is co-president of Religions for Peace Italy and is on the Board of Directors of Religions for Peace Europe.

Religions for Peace, based at the United Nations building in New York City, has chapters in every nation represented in the U.N. as well as regional chapters. Religions for Peace, as stated on their website, “is committed to leading effective multi-religious responses to the world’s pressing issues. We believe that ambitious goals and complex problems can best be tackled when different faith communities work together.”

Dario describes his path to Buddhism in this way: “Although I was born in Rome, and was baptized and received communion, I have always been attracted to Buddhism. My first encounter with the Dharma was in 1973, when I was six years old. My homeopathic doctor and acupuncturist was also a yoga teacher. I don’t know exactly why, maybe he had seen something in me, but the fact is that he started teaching me yoga and gave me the first rudiments of meditation. The doctor also gave me books on meditation by Chogyam Trungpa and Thich Nhat Hanh. I then began to meditate quite regularly. Since I was a child I had great joint fluidity, and sitting in full lotus was easy for me. Meditation was a game to me, but at the same time something worked and I began to encounter states of deep absorption, perhaps because my mind as a child was not yet too contaminated.”

“This meditation game has always been with me, as are the books by Trungpa and Thich Nhat Hanh, which I still keep, all yellowed,” recalls Dario. “As I entered adolescence, I began to develop questions about life, death, and reincarnation, and I realized that I really liked the answers Buddhism offered. I therefore began to study Buddhism with more awareness and no longer as a game. Seeing my thirst for knowledge on topics of Eastern religion, I started to study Philosophy at the University of Rome, and began taking courses in Religions and Philosophies of India and the Far East and Sanskrit. As I studied at the University, I quickly realized that it was not so much theoretical study but practice that was essential.”

“I’ve always been interested in inter-religious dialogue,” Dario said. Although his PhD is in Buddhism, he studied world religions in college, and taught classes in World Religions and Comparative Religion at the American University in Rome. Now Dario is putting what he learned into action.

Dario Girolami and Tova Green.

Dario studied with Riccardo Venturini, a professor of Psychology who became his friend and mentor. Venturini, a teacher in the Tendai Buddhist tradition, was a founder of Religions for Peace Italy. Dario began attending meetings with Venturini. When Venturini died over ten years ago, Religions for Peace Italy asked Dario to take his place.

What he enjoys most about Religions for Peace is “the friendships that have grown among us. Every meeting is like a party, joyous, like a brotherhood and sisterhood.” He feels that he is with his interfaith family. Over time they have come to trust each other. They bring this trust to their communities, and their communities become good friends. They meet in one another’s places of worship—a synagogue, a mosque, a church. Some of Darios Zen students join him at these meetings.

In the past, in inter-religious dialogue, mainly the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) were represented. “At first they just tolerated us Buddhists.” Slowly, Dario has been working on allowing more Buddhist voices to be heard. Already people are starting to ask about a Buddhist view on AI or abortion.

Dario was instrumental in paving the way for Religions for Peace Europe to attend meetings of the Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, as listeners. Soon Religions for Peace will become a full member, widening the group’s influence. They will be able to propose items and issues for the Council to take up. Dario believes that Religions for Peace can be part of the solution for the world’s problems, since the group focuses on developing friendship and trust across religions. The group works with sensitive issues that affect all, such as climate change, migration, and mental health.

On Earth Day this April, Dario took part in a panel that met at Villa Borghese in Rome to discuss the climate crisis. All of the largest religions were represented: Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Baháʼí. Each person answered two questions: how their faith deals with climate change, and what actions people of their faith are taking. Dario’s Buddhist perspective—about interdependence and co-creating solutions—was different from most of the other panelists, who spoke about the world as God’s creation, which we humans need to take care of. He thought the other panelists appreciated his point of view.

Interreligious panel met in Rome to discuss the climate crisis. April 2024.

As a member of the European Buddhist Union (EBU), Dario is responsible for the network of Buddhist Chaplains around Europe. He is developing the first course for Buddhist Chaplaincy in Europe through the EBU and Dharma Gate University in Budapest, which will grant participants an adult learning degree.

The two-year program will start in September 2024; faculty are all Dharma teachers from Theravada, Mahayana, or Vajrayana traditions. Most of the students are new to chaplaincy. Dario has obtained a grant from the Italian Buddhist Union that will cover 80% of tuition costs.

In the course, Dario will teach prison chaplaincy. Fifteen years ago, when he was a student at Green Gulch Farm, he visited San Quentin’s BuddhaDharmaSangha. On that visit he remembered a book his father had given him when he was a child, The Star Rover by Jack London, about an incarcerated person in a straitjacket who began to meditate. After he returned to Rome, Dario and members of his sangha began teaching meditation in Roman prisons.

Dario founded Centro Zen L’Arco in 1986 as a sitting group affiliated with Fudenji, the Italian Zen Monastery where he began his Zen training. He later studied at San Francisco Zen Center where he was ordained and received Dharma Transmission. He became Abbot of Centro Zen L’Arco in May 2019. Dario’s Dharma name is Keimyo Doshin (Joyful Life – Heart/Mind of the Way).