The Urban Dharma Newsletter - November 7, 2006
In This Issue: Monks in the West II
1. My Interview with Rev. Heng Sure...
2. Buddhist and Catholic Monks Talk About Celibacy -- Father Thomas Ryan, CSP
3. A Reflection on the “Why” of Catholic Monastic Celibacy – by Brother Gregory Perron, OSB
4. Celibacy in The Serene Reflection Tradition (Soto Zen) - by Rev. Jisho Perry
This UD Newsletter is about the “Monks in the West II” Conference held at ‘Saint John’s Abbey... There is an audio interview with Rev. Heng Sure, co-organizer of the gathering... An overview of the conference and two papers submitted to the group, I thought you might find of interest... The topic itself can be a bit uncomfortable to talk about, even for monks, but it was useful to hear monastic men speak about their inner life and training.
A new web site is under construction... www.theMITW.org - All about the ‘Monks in the West’ gatherings... If you find the time check it out.
1. On Being a Monk - Part 8 - 11/2006 - 1 hr 3 min - MP3 - 14.5 MB
My Interview with Rev. Heng Sure the Abbot of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery in Berkeley, CA. Both Rev. Heng Sure and myself attended the second "Monks in the West" Conference... We found some free time and did this interview... Rev. Heng Sure talked about the conference, celibacy and his first CD of original Buddhist folk songs... More on Rev. Heng Sure at - http://paramita.typepad.com/ - and audio at - http://www.dharmaradio.org/
2. Buddhist and Catholic Monks Talk About Celibacy -- Father Thomas Ryan, CSP
The electronic sign at the Minneapolis-St Paul airport was flashing “Orange Alert” as a dozen Buddhist monks arrived in their burnt orange robes from around the country. They were on their way to Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville Minnesota for three days of dialogue on celibacy with a similar number of Catholic monastics.
As he opened the October 26-29 meeting, Rev. William Skudlarek, executive director of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID), said “You (Buddhists) have been at this for some five-to-seven hundred years longer than we have. We have something to learn.”
This was the second Monks in the West interreligious dialogue; the first took place in 2004 at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in northern California. On the Catholic side, the participants came from Saint John’s Abbey, five other Benedictine monasteries and two Cistercian monasteries. The 12 Buddhists represented the Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan traditions.
The first session dealt with Theory, the “why” of celibacy. Buddhist participants explained that their teachings focus on seeing how suffering is created and cured. Attachments give rise to suffering, so advancement in the spiritual life requires letting go of one’s attachments. Attachment to desires, among which are sexual desires, is a hindrance to spiritual progress.
“Raging desire takes away choice, freedom,” said Rev. Kusala Bhikshu a Buddhist chaplain at UCLA in his opening presentation. “The senses must be controlled in order to be free.”
Brother Gregory Perron from St. Procopius monastery in Illinois spoke of how monastic life demands a profound understanding and acceptance of solitude. “Celibacy is a tool,” offered Perron, “a skillful means like intentional simplicity of life, by which our heart is burrowed out and the core of our being laid bare. By embracing it, the monk accepts the aloneness that characterizes every human being.”
In response to Buddhist reflections on the illusory nature of the body, Catholic participants pointed out Christianity’s remarkably positive evaluation of the body in the doctrines of the Incarnation, bodily Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Both sides acknowledged balancing points of reference as well, such as, in Christianity, Paul’s “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24); and, in Buddhism, the teaching that humankind, while eighth from the bottom in the 31 realms of its cosmology, is the only one in which spiritual growth can happen. Thus human form is in the end praised by the Buddha.
In the second session the participants moved from Theory to Practice. Rev. Jisho Perry from the Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery in California said that “the whole thrust of training is not to give in to desire that arises.” He described the Buddhist method of accepting sexual feelings without either acting on them or repressing them, but just letting them pass through. “The right use of will is willingness, not will power—the willingness to sit there and let that feeling pass through,” he said.
Fr. Skudlarek expressed appreciation for the Buddhist approach to transforming the sexual energy. “Our training did not teach us to accept sexual feelings with awareness and then let them pass without acting on them. You had to fight them! And the more you resisted, the stronger they got!”
Rev. Heng Sure who teaches at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, presented celibacy as the first step in a three step process that goes from celibacy to stillness to insight. “It should not be seen just as a difficult adjunct to the spiritual path, but as essential to it,” he said.
The practice of meditation calls for daily periods when the senses are stilled and not allowed to pursue sense objects. “Something happens to the energy in the stillness,” said Heng Sure; “the pressure goes away.” In married life, he explained, spiritual practice is “partial and piecemeal,” making celibacy a more effective means to move toward insight, and the peace and happiness that flow from it.
In the discussion, Fr. Mark Serna, president of MID, pointed out that “in Christianity married people can be holy, too; one doesn’t have to be celibate to go to heaven.”
Catholic monastics emphasized how, in Christian faith, motivation for celibacy is strongly relational. “For me,” said Fr. Terrance Kardong of Assumption Abbey in North Dakota, “it’s the deep personal relationship with Jesus that enables me to do something this hard.” Fr. Michael Peterson from Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota drew a laugh when he shared, “When some college kids asked me: ‘How can you live without sex?’ an answer came that wasn’t even planning on: ‘God’s a better kisser.’ In celibacy I transfer my desire for fulfillment to God.”
Heng Sure said that the idea of embracing celibacy because it leads to love is not a Buddhist approach. “A Buddhist would say ‘It leads to liberation from further suffering—both personal and, in the Bodhisattva path, for everyone.”
Lama Norbu added that the relational dimension, while not highlighted in the Buddhist practice of celibacy, is not absent either. “Monks choose to live in community,” he said. “And the core of their spirituality is compassion for others.”
The third session focused on how the two traditions handle transgressions and failure. Ajahn Punnadhammo from Ontario delineated the “Four Defeats” in Buddhist monasticism—sexual intercourse, stealing above a trivial amount, killing a human being and falsely claiming superior spiritual achievements—and explained how, if a monk should do any of these four actions, he is no longer a monk and is not allowed to be readmitted into the community. Responses to lesser sexual infractions are spelled out in detail in the monastic code.
Buddhists listened with keen interest to Abbot John Klassen of Saint John’s Abbey as he related how, in response to the exposure of sexual misconduct by Catholic clergy and religious, the bishops ruled that transgressions against minors would result in expulsion from the priesthood.
But, said Klassen, “leaders of religious communities took a fundamentally different stance. They had to agree to remove any offender from ministry, but they were not willing to throw them out of the community. They agreed to do risk assessment and develop supervision for offenders. Offenders have understood that because of recidivism and lack of public trust, supervision plans are necessary.”
Klassen described how, in the 1970s, “our awareness of failures moved from the moral arena to the psychological arena, and now to the awareness that the sexual abuse of minors is a crime. New guidelines provide a level of behavioral specificity that we’ve never seen before.”
In the closing session, the monks discussed both what contributes and detracts from the development of friendship and healthy intimacy in celibate communities.
Through the event, participants began the day with an hour of quiet sitting in meditation, and joined the monastic community at Saint John’s for their rhythm of daily prayer.
At the end, Lama Norbu passed around Buddhist prayer flags for all the participants to sign. “I will return to Tibet next summer,” he said, “and erect these flags on the highest mountain in the world where the dedicated energies of those here and all the communities they represent will fly up to heaven.”
3. A Reflection on the “Why” of Catholic Monastic Celibacy – by Brother Gregory Perron, OSB presented this paper at the second "Monks in the West" conference held at Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, October 26-29, 2006.
“ To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love.
“ Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.”
“There is no force in the world but love, and when you carry it within you, if you simply have it, even if you remain baffled as to how to use it, it will work its radiant effects and help you out of and beyond yourself: one must never lose this belief, one must simply (and if it were nothing else) endure in it!”
“The divine Word speaks in the depth of every being, and it speaks within our own selves. To find it we do not have to travel far, we do not have to go out of ourselves. And we do not have to travel far to find happiness; it suffices to descend into the depth of our own being to discover our true identity (that is, God). However, modern man always tries to flee from himself. He can never be silent or alone, because that would mean to be alone with himself, and this is why the places of amusement and the cinemas are always filled with people. And when they find themselves alone and are at a point where they might encounter God, they turn on the radio or the television set.”
“The voice of the Beloved is existential rather than vocal. It causes no echo in the ears nor in the mind but resounds in much greater depth, in that ground where God dwells, that is, in the innermost depths of man. . . .Thus God’s call is a constant challenge, a call into the unknown, into adventure, into following Him into the darkness and into solitude.”
“The Christian is, I believe, one who sacrifices the half truth for the sake of the whole truth, who abandons an incomplete and imperfect concept of life for a life that is integral, unified, and [whole]. Yet his entrance into such a life is not the end of the journey, but only the beginning. A long journey must follow: an anguished and sometimes perilous exploration. Of all Christians the monk is, or at least should be, the most professional of such explorers. His journey takes him through deserts and paradises for which no maps exist. He lives in strange areas of solitude, of emptiness, of joy, of perplexity and of admiration.”
Why do Catholic monks practice celibacy? This is an important question that all too often monks have not been very good at answering. Why? In part, it is because the vast majority of us are not only reluctant to talk about matters of sexuality in general but of our experience of living celibacy in particular. Consequently, when asked to explain our choice, if we answer at all, we tend to fall back on a familiar set of responses that, though true as far as they go, do not really say that much: “For the sake of the kingdom,” we say, or “in order to love everyone and not just one person, “ or “to be more available to others.” Then, once we have given one or all of these reasons, we have been known to clear our throats nervously, look at our feet, and take a deep breath and hope that no one asks us any further questions. Because of our reticence, it is little wonder that over the years some have come to think of celibacy as an unnatural aberration that is responsible for everything from the scarcity of vocations to the monastic life and priesthood to the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Church.
Be that as it may, I think our reluctance to talk about matters of sexuality and our experience of living celibacy is only part of the reason we find it so difficult to explain why Catholic monks practice celibacy. The other part of the equation is spiritual and has to do with monastic spirituality, with what it means to be a monk—not a priest or professor, but a monk. Thus, it has everything to do with how we identify ourselves, with whether we identify ourselves primarily with what we do or with what we are. Hence, I would contend that in far too many instances we male monastics find it difficult to answer questions about the practice of celibacy because we have failed to confront what it means to be a monk.
In order to answer the question of why Catholic monks practice celibacy, it seems to me important to define the terms that I am using in posing the question itself. By taking this approach I hope to formulate an answer to our question that goes beyond pious platitudes and actually shed some light on “the heart of the matter,” to borrow a phrase from Thomas Keating, who, in turn, borrowed it from Graham Greene. And so, first of all, what do we mean by monasticism? What does it mean, from a Catholic Christian perspective, to live the monastic life? What does it mean to be a monk?
The Witness of Solitude and Freedom
The first thing to note about Catholic Christian monasticism is that its significance does not derive, nor has it ever derived (as some have mistakenly believed in both theory and practice), from its being “an ecclesiastical job corps or. . . .an exotic spiritual subculture or. . . .a comfortable lifestyle enclave for the religious elite.” On the contrary, it has always and everywhere been the case that the monastic life has been significant “because of what it is and not just because of what some monks, in fact, do (however valuable that may be) because monastic life is not merely a collection of individuals who engage in a variety of good works but a distinctive state of life in the Church.”
The expression “state of life” means “a permanent, stable, and public form of consecrated life in the Church. . . .which raises to visibility in a special way some aspect or dimension of the Christian mystery which all. . . .are called to live but to which all do not witness in the same way.” This being so, we do well to ask: “To what aspect or dimension of the Christian mystery does the monastic life witness in a special way?”
Simply stated, the aspect or dimension of the Christian mystery to which the monastic life bears witness in a special way is the radical, existential solitude of every human person. And this solitude, which is the heart of our emptiness and the center of our fullness, of our true self—a Self that, according to the Christian mystical tradition, is understood to be one with Christ in a nondualistic way—this solitude is the place where we encounter ever more profoundly “the God Who is our Origin, our loving and benevolent Father and Mother, our Savior, [our Dangerous Friend,] our unconditional Lover.” Indeed, this interior solitude “is the place where our own hearts uncover our deep yearning to be loved unconditionally, and to love with our whole being.” It is “the place of the great encounter, from which all other encounters derive their meaning.” For it is in this solitude that, paradoxically, we discover that we are not alone; that there is “a presence within our presence,” one that is “within us and around us. . . .and beyond us, and beyond what is around us.” A presence that is “infinite, and infinitely loving, merciful, and beautiful. It is God as the Beloved who blesses us and calls us the Beloved.”
Hence, in our existential solitude, we come to discover that there is something about us that is “brighter than the sun and more mysterious than the night sky.” Here “we leave behind our many activities, concerns, plans, and projects, opinions, and convictions (as well as those of others) to enter into the presence of Love, naked, vulnerable, open, and receptive.” Here we fall completely into our “mysterious essence” and know a self-emptying Love that is beyond all being, a Love that unites within its vast embrace eros and agape, masculine and feminine, subject and object—a hidden Love that is “the sourceless source, the ground of all creativity.” Here, in the solitude of our heart, we are led to a personal and intimate relationship with the radical solitude of God, with the emptiness or great fullness of Love—with “the inconceivable profundity of ultimate reality” that is the ground of our freedom and the source of our true identity, both as human beings and as monks.
Solitude is the dimension of the Christian mystery to which the monastic life bears witness in a special way. Hence, we can say that our “monastic life demands first of all a profound understanding and acceptance of solitude.” The essence or spirit of this particular state of life, even in its cenobitic or communal form, “is the spirit of solitude and of the desert, the spirit of the life lived like that of St. John the Baptist, Elijah, and St. Anthony,” men of disciplined wildness who dedicated their whole lives to wrestling with their solitude, men whose life-work was “to remain in the ‘cell’ of their aloneness, whether it be a real cell in the desert, or simply the spiritual cell of their own incomprehensible emptiness,”and, I would add, their fulness, men who knew in their bones that, as Abba Moses once said, their “cell will teach them everything.”
Thus, to the extent that the Christian monastic life embraces and actually embodies this spirit of the desert, it proclaims the truth that “this capacity for solitude is nothing else than the full affirmation of one’s identity, that is to say, the complete acceptance of oneself as willed by God and of one’s being as given by God. It is also the complete and loving acceptance of the ability to choose and to love, the capacity and the necessity for choice which one must make in the presence of God, under the eye of God, in the light of His truth and of His redemptive love.” Or, to put it a slightly different way, to the extent that such a state of life is true to its deepest meaning and inspiration, it bears vigorous witness to the fact that each and every one of us has to take responsibility for our own spiritual life, being willing to face the full mystery of our lives by taking upon ourselves “the lonely, barely comprehensible, incommunicable task of working our way through the darkness of our own mystery until we discover that our mystery and the mystery God merge into one reality, which is the only reality. We dedicate ourselves to a life of solitude because we believe that God lives in us and we in God—not precisely in the way that words seem to suggest (for words have no power to comprehend the reality)” but in a way that makes words lose their shape, as it were, and become “not thoughts, not things, but the unspeakable beating of a Heart within the heart of our own life.”
Consequently, it “should be quite clear that the failure to accept and understand the basically solitary character of the monastic life [constitutes]. . . .a failure of the monk to fully achieve his identity and authenticity in that life.”
Moreover, it also should be quite clear that the Christian monk is (at least ideally) someone who has responded to an authentic call of God to live a “desert life” of solitude and freedom that is “outside normal social structures,” a life of unbounded wholeness or purity of heart, in which a “magnificent spacious passion” is to be found, a passionate nonattachment or radical openness that is “an embracing surrender” to the alluring and “inscrutable mystery that glows deep in all human love, hope, and possibility,” a mystery that, while embracing “every hinted sense of being alone” in our particularity, is also our true, universal identity – our true, timeless, and utterly vulnerable Self—that is always and already one with Christ, who “prays. . . .in us, suffers in us, dies in us. . . .sees through our eyes, listens through our ears, loves through our hearts.”
The monk is one whose life is entirely committed to discovering and embodying ever more fully the true unity of the solitary life “in which there is no possible division,” in which he loses or forgets himself so as to become all, so as to identify “himself with that ground in which all being. . . .knows itself.” And what is this ground? Simply stated, it is Love. Thus “The paradox of solitude [and, hence, of the monastic life] is that its true ground is universal love—and true solitude [true monasticism] is the undivided unity of love” for which there is no justification or determination or explanation.
Because of this we can say that in its essence the life of the Christian monk is “dedicated completely to love,” the love of God, humanity, and all creation, “but a love that is not determined by the requirements of a special task.” For the Christian monk is, or should be, someone “who is mature enough and decided enough to live without the support and consolation of family, job, ambition, social position or even active mission in the apostolate.” That is to say, the monk is, or should be, mature enough and decided enough and free enough to live beyond all definition, beyond all conventional notions of productivity or usefulness; for in truth the monk’s task or mission is not to do anything. Rather, it is to simply be ever more consciously what each and every one of us is called to be, and what in reality each of us always and already is: a selfless Self, without fixed reference point, “silent and alone everywhere. . . .not ‘divided,’ but one with all in God’s Love. . . .in the infinite silences of the Spirit, out of whose abysses love wells up without fail and gives itself to all. . . .in which the meaning of every sound is finally clear and the truth of words is to be distinguished, not in their separateness, but in their pointing to the eternal unity of Love” and to the truth that all words “say one thing only: that all is Love.” Those who are truly alone, and who are conscious of what their solitude really means, find themselves simply being in the hidden ground or mystery of life, “in love with all, with everyone, with everything,” accepting “the wholeness and completeness of everything in God’s Love,” in that brilliant emptiness, that luminous darkness, which is our very fulfillment and plenitude, in which, as St. John of the Cross said, “the All and the Nothing encounter one another and are the Same.”
Furthermore, we can say that Christian monasticism, like all authentic forms of monasticism, “aims at the cultivation of a certain quality of life, a level of awareness, a depth of consciousness, an area of transcendence and of adoration,” of openness and freedom which are not usually possible in other forms of existence that often are more characterized or defined by “the senseless tyranny of quantity.” Hence, in summary, we could say that it is and always has been “the peculiar office of the monk” (be he Christian or otherwise) to completely dedicate himself in a radical way to such a life of inner transformation in love, to the “deepening of consciousness toward an eventual breakthrough and discovery of a transcendent dimension of life beyond that of the ordinary empirical self,” a dimension that simultaneously transcends and yet includes that same ordinary self.
Celibacy and the Monastic Life
Now, it is important to keep all of this in mind because it will help us to better understand how the monastic life and the practice of celibacy are intimately related or even, in a certain sense at least, mutually constitutive. And this in turn will make it possible to answer the question “Why do Catholic monks practice celibacy?” in a way that speaks to the experiential heart of the matter. That is to say, it will allow us to further demonstrate how celibacy, if it is to have any real meaning for us as monks, has to be understood as being most truly rooted in and, hence, an expression of our solitude, our love, our awareness of what it means to be wholly human and thus fully alive.
So, when we turn our attention to the practice of celibacy, one of the first things we can note about it is that in the monastic context it is in fact an actual practice, a tool, a skillful means, if you will, by which Catholic monks seek to “put on the mind of Christ” (see Philippians 2:5). In other words, it is a tool of the spiritual craft – like obedience or stability or intentional simplicity of life—and a form of renunciation by which we let go of “anything in our experience that is a barrier between ourselves and others,” by which we become more available and open as we seek to enter the very heart of Jesus, the center of his being, which means also “entering into our own heart, the center of our being, the core of our existence.” Celibacy is a vital means by which “our heart is burrowed out and. . . .the depth of our being is laid bare: that [solitary] core of ourself” that mysteriously embraces both the darkest depths of being alone and the brightest heights of being all one in love, that is to say, in Christ.
But like other traditional monastic practices, celibacy helps us to do this in a very specific way. How? Generally speaking, it helps to re-examine the basic elements of our sexuality—“lovemaking, gender, passion, the body, relationship, and procreation”—from a deeper and broader perspective that is rooted in the paradox of solitude, a perspective, in other words, that fully recognizes and appreciates the fact that we all have an unbearable longing to unite with the Heart of Being, the naked Reality, “the empty, immaculate, brilliant space of our own true nature”—which we know, in some intuitive way, is not only our true home and who we most fundamentally are,” but that to fully realize this and embody it we must renounce everything, be stripped of everything that separates or puts a barrier between us and God and our fellow beings. Anything that serves as “a substitute structure or representation of the Real has to go,” has to be surrendered. For “only when we are [thus] empty of everything that is not God—only when we are thus beyond identifying with every definition, with every fixed reference point—can we receive the whole of what life has to give and be fully attentive to what actually is. That is to say, only then can we become utterly free and realize our [abiding] union with the Living One who simply IS” within and around and beyond everything that arises in our experience moment by moment. Only then can we pass from depth to depth in the solitude of our own heart and reach the ultimate depth of the heart of Christ Jesus, where, having passed beyond all, and freed from all bonds, we finally come to the Source in whose eternal awakening we discover that we are always and already fully and nondualistically one with the radiant, all-pervading I AMness of God. We realize, in other words, that the All and the Nothing, the Lover and the Beloved, the freedom of Emptiness and the fullness of Form are united in the great embrace of One Taste. We see that even here and now, in the deepest part of our very own heart, we are the natural radiance and the unbounded openness of Love.
From this perspective, then, we can understand that the practice of celibacy is a practical means by which the monk bears witness to the paradoxical depth of his being. That is to say, celibacy establishes the monk in solitude and makes possible a more visible witness to the fact that solitude or “aloneness is…the inner structure of the [monastic life just] as faithful and fruitful mutuality is the inner structure of matrimony.” As such, the practice of celibacy itself proclaims—first to the monk himself and then to everyone with whom he comes into contact—the truth that there is at the heart of all human being an existential solitude, an inescapable aloneness “which no bonds, however deep, of friendship, community, or solidarity. . . .can mitigate.” This solitude is also at the same time a radical emptiness or openness, a sacred space, a “holy vacancy” that belongs to, is reserved for—or, better yet, is a reflection of—the One who dwells within us, who is that Love which is “the beginning, the source, and the goal” of all human life and activity.
Thus, “by not marrying and by abstaining from the most intimate expression of human love, the celibate [monk] becomes a living sign of the limits of interpersonal relationships and of the centrality of this inner sanctum that no human being may violate,” that nothing can destroy. Indeed, it is in large part by means of his practice of celibacy (which in a very real sense can be regarded as “a sort of ongoing street theater”) that the monk is constantly raising in his own mind and in the minds of others questions about the deeper meaning of human existence. The monk’s life, therefore, is a sign of contradiction and of foolishness to many, even at times to himself most especially. Yet the monk, like the clown, chooses this particular form of foolishness because he knows on some deep intuitive level that it contains a rich store of wisdom. What is more, he knows in a similarly profound fashion that the path he has chosen to tread is a dangerous one that is possessed of its own alluring passion. Indeed, he knows it is a consuming path of utter humility that, it must be repeatedly acknowledged, he is “both. . . .incapable of [treading] and even more incapable of abandoning the attempt to do so.”
A Path of Foolishness and Hope
And so the monk, the solitary celibate, chooses to walk a path of foolishness. But he does so in the certain hope and with the naked trust that what he has come to know as the God of Love, the Living One who simply IS, is and always will be enough. The foolishness that the monk chooses, therefore, is in reality a blessed foolishness, a “holy madness,” if you will, that itself bears witness to the profound truth of his life as a whole. And what truth is that? Simply this: that the monastic life is a journey through, with, and in ordinary human solitude “into that reality which is the ground of our being and, if we are authentic enough in the journeying, the blossom of our becoming.” It is a life of “existential risk” that—if we are honest enough and courageous enough to be true to its solitary nature, to its inner structure of aloneness—takes us into the center of ourselves and beyond ourselves “into the center of reality. . . .into the very heart of life,” the heart and true center of which is love. As such, the monastic life is a search for “what is most real and most true in our existence,” and the practice of celibacy is an important means by which this search is carried out.
Yet, as a parenthetical aside, and by way of bringing this reflection to a close, it is important to note that (from a Catholic monastic perspective at least) the practice of celibacy also constantly serves to remind us, and everyone whom we encounter, that our way of life is not so much “the heroic quest of the spiritual athlete” as it is “a wrestling in the dark of ordinary human beings who, for some reason known only to God, have been attacked by a messenger who holds the secret of their name and will not release it without wounding them,” that is, without plunging them into the heart of their existential solitude, their inescapable aloneness, and piercing them with the life-giving knowledge of the fact that this aloneness, “if cherished, attended to, and dwelt in as the heart of one’s vocation, finds its positive meaning” in “the contemplative intuition of loving wisdom,” which, at this level of the heart, or the “profoundest depths of the self,” signifies an abiding state of contemplative prayer, of inner union with God, with the pervasive presence of unconditioned and unconditional love. In this union all apparent contradictions and all fragmentary attachments are “dissolved in an indescribable simplicity, that is, an exceedingly intricate complexity that flashes into a oneness” that is, in truth, “another marriage,” but a timeless one that continually invites us to realize ever more fully that this is the ultimate reason why we as monks practice celibacy. Indeed, the heart of the matter is to be found in the reassuring promise and the constant challenge of this one contemplative truth that bears repeating: “If we dare to penetrate our own silence and dare to advance without fear into the solitude of our own heart, and risk the sharing of that solitude with the lonely other who seeks God through us and with us, then we will truly recover the light and the capacity to understand what is beyond words and beyond explanations because it is too close to be explained: it is the intimate union in the depths of our own heart, of God’s spirit and our own secret inmost self, so that we and God are in all truth One Spirit.”
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1972), 60.
The Poet’s Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke, edited and translated by Ulrich Baer (New York: The Modern Library, 2005), 187.
Ernesto Cardenal, To Live is to Love, translated by Kurt Reinhardt (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972), 30.
Thomas Merton, as cited in Angelic Mistakes: The Art of Thomas Merton by Roger Lipsey (Boston: New Seeds, 2006), 128.
See “Celibate Chastity: One Way to be a Sexual Person” by Sean D. Sammon at http://vocation-network.org/articles/read/58
See “The Heart of the Matter: A Dialogue between Father Thomas Keating and Andrew Cohen,” at http://www.wie.org/j13/keating.asp?pf=1
Sandra Schneiders, “Religious Life: The Dialectic between Marginality and Transformation,” at http://www.spiritualitytoday.org/spir2day/884056schneiders.html
For an understanding of the way in which I am using the term “nondualistic,” see Ernesto Cardenal, op. cit., 37: “And man made in the image of God, is likewise nothing but love. When man awakens…, he becomes aware of the fact that his entire being is one single desire, one single passion, one single thirst and shout of love.” “The unadulterated substance of our being is love. Ontologically we are love. And God, like ourselves, is likewise a single call and shout of love, an infinite passion, an infinite thirst for love. This love is the reason of our existence.” “And this love of God and our own love are one and the same love, a love which we can never extinguish.”
See Rig’dzin Dorje’s Dangerous Friend: The Teacher-Student Relationship in Vajrayana Buddhism (Boston: Shambhala, 2001).
Henri J. M. Nouwen, Clowning in Rome: Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy, Prayer, and Contemplation, revised edition (New York: Image/Doubleday, 2000), 27.
See Robert Jonas, an interview in “The Empty Bell,” at http://www.emptybell.org/articles/jonas-interview.html . Note: In this citation and in others that follow I have sometimes taken the liberty of altering pronouns or substituting “we” for “man,” when “man” is used in the generic sense.
Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2006), xix.
See Nouwen, ibid.
See Shirley Du Boulay’s Beyond the Darkness: A Biography of Bede Griffiths (New York: Doubleday, 1998), 225.
Sean Caulfield, The God of Ordinary People (Kansas City, MO: Sheed & Ward, 1988), 32.
The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: A Mahayana Scripture, translated by Robert A. F. Thurman (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001), back cover. Here it is worth noting that my understanding of the central Christian concept of love is very similar to, if not identical with, Professor Thurman’s understanding of the central Buddhist concept of emptiness or voidness “as the joyous and compassionate commitment to living beings born from an unwavering confrontation with the inconceivable profundity of ultimate reality.”
Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1973), 93.
See William McNamara, The Human Adventure: Contemplation for Everyman (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1974) 162-79.
Thomas Merton, Disputed Questions (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Cudahy, 1960), 181.
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: the Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward, revised edition (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 139:6.
Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action, 94.
Merton, Disputed Questions, 180.
Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action, 94.
Ngakpa Chögyam, Wearing the Body of Visions (New York: Aro Books, 1995), 26. See also 101-103.
Stuart Sovatsky, Eros, Consciousness, and Kundalini: Deepening Sensuality through Tantric Celibacy and Spiritual Intimacy (Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1999), 162; 7.
William Johnston, The Inner Eye of Love: Mysticism and Religion (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978), 51.
Thomas Merton, Love and Living (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1985), 16.
Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action, 26.
Merton, Love and Living, 21.
Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action, 27.
Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal (New York: New Directions, 1975), 317; 309.
Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior (Boston: Shambhala, 1988), 66.
Beatrice Bruteau, “Entering the Heart of Jesus: Devotion, Renunciation and Faith,” in Cistercian Studies Quarterly 20:2 (1985), 120; 121.
André Louf, Teach Us to Pray, trans. Hubert Hoskins (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1992), 69.
Reginald Ray, “Our Unbearable Longing,” at http://dharmaocean.org/
Bruteau, op. cit., 124.
See Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux, OSB), Guru and Disciple (tr. Heather Sandeman), Author’s Preface, xiii. As cited in Bruteau, 121.
Schneiders, op. cit.
Nouwen, op. cit., xv.
Schneiders, op. cit.
See Nouwen, op. cit., xv.
See Georg Feuerstein’s Holy Madness: Spirituality, Crazy-Wise Teachers, and Enlightenment, revised and expanded edition (Prescott, AZ: Hohm Press, 2006).
Augustin Belisle, Into the Heart of God: Spiritual Reflections (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications, 1989), 1.
David M. Knight, Cloud by Day, Fire by Night: The Religious Life as Passionate Response to God, vol. 1 (Denville, NJ: Dimension Books, 1969), 61.
Schneiders, op. cit.
Thomas Merton’s Introduction to Ernesto Cardenal’s To Live is to Love, 12.
Louf, op. cit., 10.
Sovatsky, op. cit., 163.
Thomas Merton, The Monastic Journey (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1992), 173.
4. Celibacy in The Serene Reflection (Soto Zen) Tradition as defined by the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives - by Rev. Jisho Perry
From The Scripture of Brahma’s Net:
On entertaining lustfulness
“Disciples of the Buddha, should you give yourself over to lustfulness,* willfully cause another to engage in lustful practices, encourage someone to do so, or participate in any way in such behavior, you are committing a serious offense warranting exclusion. Pray, do not willingly and knowingly give yourself over to lust for anyone. Should you participate in lustful or licentious behavior involving a human, an animal, a deva, a dead person, or a spirit, you are committing a serious offense warranting exclusion. As a Bodhisattva, cultivate a respectful and dutiful heart in order to rescue all sentient beings, ferry them to the Other Shore, and purify humanity. If, on the contrary, should you deliberately set in motion, or be the instigator of, anyone’s lust—not excluding your mother, daughter, sister, or anyone closely related to you, or even an animal—and act in a dissolute manner, thereby revealing your lack of benevolence or compassion, you are a Bodhisattva who is committing a serious offense warranting exclusion.
*That is, the deliberate encouragement of sexually related sensual greed, which uses others to satisfy that greed. It is implicit that standards for the laity and monks differ on this Precept; the requirement of monastic celibacy has been made explicit within most Mahayana traditions from the days of the earliest Mahayana Vinaya writings. What is intended here is to encourage the lay reader to find the Middle Way between a puritanical fear and a libertine greed.
From: Buddhist Writings on Meditation and Daily Practice: The Serene Reflection Meditation Tradition. Rev. Hubert Nearman, O.B.C. translator, Rev. Master P.T.N.H. Jiyu-Kennett, M.O.B.C. and Rev. Daizui MacPhillamy, M.O.B.C., consultants and editors.
Shasta Abbey Press, Mount Shasta, California 96067, 2nd. Ed. 1998, p. 129.
“‘Do not covet. The doer, the doing and that which has the doing done to it are immaculate therefore there is no desire; it is the same doing as that of the Buddhas.’ Thus there is nothing to be coveted and no one that covets. ‘Now you have, so guard well,’ says the scripture. Since there is nothing from the first, how can there be anything to guard well? ‘The white snow falls upon the silver plate; the snowy heron in the bright moon hides. Resembles each the other yet these two are not the same.’ Thus we think there is a difference; thus we think there is an ability to covet and something to covet; thus man makes mistakes. Indeed, there is nothing from the first.”
Kyojukaimon and commentary, from Serene Reflection Meditation by Rev. Master P.T.N.H. Jiyu Kennett, M.O.B.C. and Monks of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, 5th ed. 1989, Shasta Abbey Press, Mount Shasta, California 96067, p.73-74.
From: The Rite of Semi-Monthly Recitation of the Precepts
“ The third is indulging in sexual intercourse; he or she who indulges in any sexual act with a man or woman or a male or female animal, whether or not the act is completed, commits a serious offense. This transgression is inclusive of all masturbation.”
From The Liturgy of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, © 1987 P.T.N.H. Jiyu Kennett, Shasta Abbey Press, Mount. Shasta, CA 96067 p. 753. (At Shasta Abbey we generally use the Scripture of Brahma’s Net or The Kyojukaimon for the semi-monthly renewal of vows.)
Rules of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives - OCTOBER 2000:
SECTION XI CELIBACY
All persons receiving monastic ordination in the Order must agree to remain celibate. All postulants must agree to be celibate during their postulancy.
A vow of celibacy shall indicate an agreement to the following:
a) That a person will not have sexual intercourse with another person, whether of the same or opposite sex, or with an animal.
b.) They shall not make advances to anyone of the same or opposite sex. Wet dreams, orgasms that may occur spontaneously or accidentally when in bed or at other times, and other natural phenomena are not regarded as a breach of a celibacy vow.
3. Those who have committed themselves to celibacy may not be together with a member of the opposite sex unless the door of the room is unlocked, the curtains are undrawn, and there is no unintelligent person within earshot.
In addition to the OBC rule on celibacy, the Order also prohibits sexual harassment [Sec IV. Monastic Discipline: Rule 12] and sexual abuse [Sec IV. Monastic Discipline: Rule 13].
Rules of Shasta Abbey:
1. The Community of Shasta Abbey regards masturbation as intentional sexual activity and prohibits it as a breakage of the Precepts and the celibacy vow. Masturbation is defined as intentional sexual self-stimulation whether orgasm is achieved or not. Breakage of this rule requires public confession and subsequent meetings of the Community. A period of penance and probation shall be required.
2. The following sexually oriented activities are also prohibited as encouraging sexuality and compromising to one's vow of celibacy: fetishism, voyeurism, pornography, sexual enticement, or any other intentional sexual contact (contact with the intention to sexually stimulate oneself or another). Breakage of this rule requires public confession and subsequent meetings of the Community. A period of penance and probation shall be required.
3. Deliberately encouraging sexual intimacy, defined as contact with the intention to sexually stimulate oneself or another, especially on the pretext of teaching the Dharma, is prohibited. Breakage of this rule requires public confession and subsequent meetings of the Community. A period of penance and probation shall be required.
4. A monk or postulant who engages in masturbation, as well as any of the other activities listed in rules 2 and 3, is jeopardizing her/his religious life. Due to the spiritual necessity of celibacy in our religious life and the gravity of entertaining lustfulness, engaging in any of these activities requires public confession and subsequent meetings of the Community in order to determine whether the monk or postulant concerned is really suited for monastic training and should remain in the Community. In the event that the monk or postulant is permitted to stay in the Community, a period of penance and probation shall be required. A monk who has broken these rules more than once may be asked to leave the Community.
A monk or postulant who breaks these rules on celibacy and does not confess to the breakage not only breaks the vow of celibacy, but also lies in attempting to conceal her/his breakage of the Precepts, deceives the Community, disturbs the harmony of the Community, and receives alms in a dishonest manner and under false pretenses.
History of Celibacy in the Soto Sect in Japan and at Shasta Abbey and The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives:
After the Meiji Emperor was restored to power in the later part of the 19th Century, an edict was made to weaken the power of Buddhism, as it had been a dominant force during the Tokugawa Shogunate from the 16th to the 19th Centuries. Buddhism was viewed as a foreign influence which those in power wanted to remove, or at least, to weaken. The edict said that no religion could require celibacy. The result was that priests began to marry and the temples became family “businesses” passed on from father to son. This meant that most of the people becoming priests were inheriting a family obligation and were not strictly speaking volunteers. It also meant that the priest had the responsibility of raising a family as well as doing his or her own spiritual training. This meant that priests had to be concerned with the financial and practical realities of raising and supporting children, in addition to exploring their spiritual lives and performing the duties of priests. It is not surprising that having to provide financially for a family and spend the time and energy necessary to have a married life and raise children, left less time for developing a spiritual practice in addition to performing the duties of priests. Also it meant that monastic communities were not the central focus of the practice, but small parish temples were the predominant place of practice. The ordained members of the Sangha would spend short periods of intense training in a monastery similar to seminary training. The monastic setting was not necessarily a life long commitment. Many of the priests who were officers of the big training monasteries also had their own temples. This also created a division of time and attention. Up until just recently all the female monastics in Japan were celibate. This has been changing in recent years.
The result of having married priests in Japan has caused the religion to decline in popularity. Thousands of temples do not have priests as the numbers of people wanting to enter the monastic Sangha have seriously declined. If reports from people who have lived in Japan are to be believed, the Buddhist priests are not treated with great respect, but are seen as any other lay persons, in contrast to the way priests were seen in past centuries. Apparently, the edict of the Emperor has had the desired effect.
Although the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives traces its spiritual lineage through the Soto Zen Church in Japan, Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett, the founder of the Order, was ordained initially in the Chinese Mahayana tradition prior to going to Japan. This tradition has the practice of celibacy. In Japan she was the disciple of Keido Chisan, Koho Zenji, the Abbot of Sojiji, one of the two headquarter temples of the Soto Zen church in Japan. Koho Zenji was celibate and never married. He was very instrumental in fostering the education of women in Japan, founding many schools for girls and women from pre-school through university. He invited Rev. Jiyu-Kennett, a Western woman, to attend a previously all male seminary program at Sojiji. Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett was a life long celibate.
After the death of her teacher she came to the West and settled in America. Because of the tradition in Japan, she initially allowed monastic trainees to marry and she ordained married couples. However, it became apparent that having a monastic commitment and a family commitment simultaneously created a conflict in priorities. Financial and practical considerations made the single-minded devotion to the spiritual life extremely difficult. The decision to return to the traditional rule of celibacy for Buddhist monastics was made about 20 years ago. It has allowed us to clarify our spiritual purpose. Although it also may have initially limited the attractiveness of the monastery as a training place for those who would prefer to pursue a sexual life, those who are members of the Order have made a clear commitment to the spiritual life. The practice of celibacy is essential for the conversion of desire and for reaching the highest spiritual levels of understanding. The purity of practice is dependent on the single-minded pursuit of the spiritual life. Sexuality and the emotional consequences that follow from its pursuit are a serious distraction and many abuses have occurred when monastics attempt to maintain an active sexual life.
The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives is made up of the disciples and grand disciples of Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett. There are about 100 monastic members and several hundred lay ministers with approximately eight temples in the U.S., three in Canada, one in the West Indies, nine in the U.K., two in Holland and one in Germany.
How I see the reason for celibacy
The movement of the body’s energy in meditation flows up the spine and over the head and can be likened to a spiritual generator. The movement of this energy is invigorating and leads to deeper spiritual awakening, while the use of the same energy in the sexual act takes the energy down and out leaving one feeling spent and feeding the delusion that pursuing this pleasure is necessary. The strength of the sexual act on the mind is not unlike the habitual dependency one finds in addictive drugs. To be successful in the spiritual life requires being able to let go of one’s attachments. Sexuality works to create attachments.
Great Master Dogen who brought this meditation tradition from China to Japan in the 13th Century mentions: “there are four needs, not five.” The traditional needs for monastics are expressed as food, clothing, shelter and medicine. The fifth one, presumably, was sex. The body can get along quite well without it, as long as the person does so willingly and freely.
Within our Order the refraining from sexuality is not seen so much as a moral prohibition, but an aspect of the renunciation of the world in order to put an end to suffering. A major aspect of this training is the relinquishment of the attachment to desire. It is very difficult to give up desire while actively pursing sexual gratification. As expressed in the Scripture of Brahma’s Net: the prohibition is about “not entertaining” lustfulness. The fact that desire arises is not the problem, but how it is greeted, nurtured, entertained or simply allowed to depart without acting on it determines the consequences. The spiritual expression of not coveting found in the Kyojukaimon explains that spiritual adequacy is found in letting go of desire. If one knows one’s true adequacy there is nothing more to be desired. Indeed, all of human desires can be seen as an expression of the one desire to know True Peace, the fundamental tranquility of the Buddha Nature. Meister Eckhart expressed this in his definition of spiritual poverty: “To want nothing, to know nothing and to have nothing.” The Buddhist expression of this is: “To live a normal life in the world, to want nothing, have nothing, and know nothing, to be serene in all trouble and compassionate to all life, is to be Buddha, an iron being.” In Buddhism this “nothing” has many meanings and is expressed in a multitude of ways. It is, however, not a negative void, but more of an expression of what can be called “Emptiness”, “Ultimate Truth”, “Mu”, “Buddha Nature”, “The Unborn”, “The Lord of the House”, “The Deathless” and many other terms. My teacher, Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett, referred to It as the “Fullest Emptiness you will ever know.” It can be experienced as the giving up of desire, knowing the Truth, casting off of body and mind, dissolving into the universe, the giving up of the self and many other expressions, which are very similar in all the mystical traditions of religions. The spiritual aspiration in Buddhism is to work for the good of all living things and is expressed in the monastic commitment to renounce the world, for which celibacy is supremely beneficial, if not essential. If celibacy is seen as a repression of sexuality, it would be harmful. Without accepting desire as a natural part of the human condition, one cannot transcend it. “Nothing to be desired” has multiple meanings, one of which is to see all of our desires as the desire to know this “nothing” of Meister Ekhart or the “nada” of St. John of the Cross.
One of the meanings of “nirvana” is to have no hindrances or no desires. Having had experience of sexuality is not a hindrance to eventually knowing a complete understanding of The Truth, as the life of the Buddha demonstrates. He was married and had a child before renouncing the world and becoming a monk. Attachment to desire, however, is a hindrance to spiritual progress. The whole-hearted commitment required of the monastic life requires the relinquishment of all the distractions that create a barrier or hindrance to spiritual development. Celibacy is a powerful force to allow one to see through the delusion of desire and know True Peace. Celibacy allows the energy of the body and mind to be used in harmony to go deeper into spiritual understanding and know both Great Compassion and Great Wisdom. The difficulties and conflicts created by and with self-restraint are clarified by spiritual insight and understanding that comes as a result of the training. One has to be able to find a True Refuge in the spiritual practice in order to do this. It is necessary to find that one is more at peace by not engaging in sexual relations than by doing so. The cultural delusion being sold to all in the West is that sex is necessary, pleasurable, essential to good health and has no harmful consequences. My own experience has proved this to be otherwise, especially the parts about being essential and having no harmful consequences. One who is at peace can see others without regard to gender, attractiveness, likes or dislikes, expectation, jealousy, hurt feelings and all the other emotional consequences of attachments which generally follow from sexual contact. Without looking at others through the filter of desire, one can see everyone as a Buddha.
The sexual act with another person involves the most powerful form of contact. This contact is central to the grasping that creates attachment. That grasping is the source of suffering. The Buddhist teachings are focused on seeing how suffering is created and how suffering is cured. Letting go of the things that have, in the past, created attachments and suffering is essential to a successful Buddhist practice. Celibacy plays an important part in the conversion of our ignorance with regard to desire. I think that one must have a clear sense of spiritual purpose to be able to relinquish sexual desire in order to know one’s “True Wish”. I don’t think it is helpful to see sex as bad or harmful; it is more important to know that there is something far better.
At a recent monastic conference for Western Buddhist monks1, one of the Tibetans mentioned that one of the things that is relinquished when renouncing the world is one’s gender. It may be important to look at and discuss the issue of gender and its relinquishment in both spiritual development and how celibacy may contribute to letting go of one’s attachments. When there are separate monastic traditions and separate monasteries for men and women does it create or foster a opportunity to discriminate against women?
With regard to the issue of “intimacy” within monastic communities:
Great Master Dogen says: “Within the monastic Sangha there is a greater intimacy than most people have with themselves.” To live in a monastic community is to be constantly confronted by the presence of our old habits of like and dislike, fear and anger, and all the emotions produced by previous unenlightened actions. There is a natural friction in rubbing up against the things in others that we have yet to resolve within ourselves. This creates an atmosphere where nothing is hidden, unless we refuse to look at ourselves. This intimacy is found in the necessity of accepting the fears, desires, angers and all the aspects of suffering as seen in others and found also resonating within oneself. Monastic training brings this suffering to the surface, as that is where the karmic consequences, feelings, are manifested. By learning to be spiritually still when desire, anger, fear or any delusion arises and allow that feeling to just pass through is how I understand that the karmic consequences are converted or cleansed. When a person acts on any of the three poisons of greed, anger or delusion, there are consequences manifested as feelings which we experience as “suffering”. One of the ways of defining suffering is “wanting things to be other than they are.” Accepting of these feelings without either acting on them or repressing them, but just letting them pass through, is central to the practice of meditation and results in spiritual growth. The intimacy of the Sangha is found in knowing both ourselves and others and accepting all beings as they are. This acceptance is not a passive act but an active spiritual process of changing our relationship to feelings of suffering, feelings of desire, anger, fear, etc. These are the doorways of ignorance through which we are able to learn if we can change our behavior and grow in understanding through self-restraint. Celibacy is a necessary aspect of creating the intimacy that Dogen was referring to. When people are opening their heart in order to know the Unborn, they are quite vulnerable and need the protection of celibacy to allow the heart to be fully open. To confuse this intimacy with sexual contact would be quite damaging to the opening of the heart for spiritual growth.
At Shasta Abbey and in the temples of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives both men and women can train together. Although the traditional view might be that single gender communities are less distracting, creating an artificial separation can also have problems of exaggerating the fear of sexual desire, fostering a tendency to gender discrimination, and creating a false sense of protection from desire. Having a mixed gender community allows beings of either gender and any sexual preference to benefit from accepting all beings as Buddhas without looking through a filter of desire. This can only be done successfully within a community committed to celibacy.
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