The Urban Dharma Newsletter - November 2012
In This Issue: Buddhism and Interfaith Dialogue
1. Overview of ‘Monks in the West III’ by William Skudlarek OSB
2. The Gifts of Zen Buddhism – An Interview with Robert E. Kennedy
3. Notes on an Intrareligious Dialogue by Br. Gregory Perron, OSB
4. Buddhist-Christian Dialogue – H.H. Dalai Lama
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HI… It’s been awhile since I’ve sent an Urban Dharma Newsletter, sorry for the delay… So here we go.
Had a chance to post the new 2013 Buddhist Calendar for free download - You can find it here:
A free download of The Path of Purification / Visuddhimagga / Translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and The Path of Freedom / Vimuttimagga / Arahant Upatissa can be found here:
For everyone who ever wanted a Kusala Tee-Shirt??? A Facebook friend made a graphic of a photo I posted on my Facebook page of me playing the ukulele - “Sharing the Dharma one note at a time”, I uploaded it to ‘Cafe Press’… My thinking was, this may be a way to generate cat food money in the future to feed our little IBMC cat colony. You can find the Tee-shirt and other stuff here:
I had a chance to go to the third ‘Monks in the West’ see below for more on that. And a chance of a lifetime to sit in with the “Walter Trout Band” and play some blues harmonica. So here we go…
If you’re on Facebook my page is:
Rev. Kusala sitting in with the ‘The Walter Trout Band’ – slide show:
Monks in the West III – Rev. Kusala video:
1. Overview of ‘Monks in the West III’ by William Skudlarek OSB
“Monks in the West” is a gathering of Buddhist and Catholic monks in North America who come together to reflect on the challenges of living the monastic life in an increasingly secular and materialistic Western culture. It held its third meeting October 8-11, 2012 at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, about 110 miles north of San Francisco.
The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is one of the first Chan (Chinese Zen) Buddhist temples in the United States and one of the largest Buddhist communities in the Western Hemisphere. It is also where the first Monks in the West gathering took place in October 2004.
The conveners and primary planners of this third meeting of Monks in the West were, (left) Brother Gregory Perron OSB of Saint Procopius Abbey in Lisle IL, President and Chair of the Board of the North American Commission for Monastic Interreligious Dialogue and (right) Dharma Master Heng Sure, monk of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and Managing Director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery. Seven Catholic and eight Buddhist monks participated; many of them had taken part in Monks in the West I and Monks in the West II. The Catholic monks represented the Benedictine, Camaldolese and Cistercian branches of Western monasticism. The Buddhist monks were from the Chan, Thai Forest, Vietnamese Zen, and Soto Zen traditions.
The general topic for this meeting was monastic formation. There were no formal presentations; rather each session over the three-day period was devoted to an open discussion of one of the following sub-topics:
initial formation for monastic life;
monastic formation for lay associates;
why people are drawn to the monastic life and why they leave;
generational differences within the monastic community;
monastic mid-life crisis and senior monastic burnout;
care for the aging and dying;
technology and modern means of communication.
Reflection on these topics quickly and easily evolved into personal conversation that was marked by a willingness to speak honestly and openly of our actual experience of the monastic life. Rather than theoretical discussion of the “meaning of monasticism for our time,” participants spoke in the first person to describe the benefits and challenges of living the monastic life and trying to find authentic ways to give contemporary expression to traditional monastic teachings and values.
For me, at least, one of the most moving and enlightening moments came during our conversation about monastic mid-life crisis and senior burnout. Several of the participants, Catholics and Buddhists, described their disappointment, even disillusionment, with monastic life. They had become monks in search of—and fully expecting to find—what our two traditions would refer to as enlightenment, holiness, freedom, or selfless love. Instead, they were becoming more painfully aware of the depths of their own weaknesses and limitations, and the apparent inability of monastic practices to transform them into the image of their aspirations. They were, it might be said, coming to a personal realization of the reality of monastic life as described—in admittedly Christian terms—by the Cistercian author, Michael Casey:
"Monastic life is not really about self-realization, in the immediate sense of these words: it is far more about self-transcendence. These are noble words, but the reality they describe is a lifetime of feeling out of one’s depth: confused, bewildered, and not a little affronted by the mysterious ways of God. This is why those who persevere and are buried in a monastic cemetery can rarely be described as perfectly integrated human beings." 
We zeroed in on the fairly common sense among middle-aged monks of being “disillusioned” by monastic life. As our conversation continued, it became more and more clear that it was a good thing—though definitely not an easy thing—to be “dis-illusioned”—stripped of our illusions, not only about monasticism, but about human life. As our Buddhist brothers pointed out, the goal of the monastic life is freedom: freedom from lust, hatred, and illusion. To be disillusioned is to recognize the truth that I stand on no ground, to discover how dependent I have been on everything around me, to realize that everything I was looking for, had I found it, would have been a substitute.
At the end of the day, if we end up with truth and acknowledge it, that is good, even though we may feel disappointed, disillusioned, and even totally lost. As one of the Catholic monks noted, the opening lines of Canto I of Dante’s Inferno can help us see a mid-life crisis not as a reason for throwing in the towel, but as a call to rediscover the path that had been lost:
Nel mezzo del camin, di nostra vita,
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
che la diritta via era smarrita.
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
The praxis, skopòs, and télos of Monastic Life
Monks in the West III reinforced an idea that emerged from our second meeting in 2007, when we dealt with the monastic practice of celibacy. The bromide about adherents of different religions being on different paths, but all walking to the top of the same mountain, did not seem to be an adequate way of describing the experience of Buddhist and Christian monks. Taking into account the remarkable similarities between our two ways of life, it might be more accurate to say that we are all on the same (or, at least, very similar) path, but moving toward different destinations.
At Monks in the West III, as we reflected on our experience of being formed in the monastic life, we again recognized that the rough and smooth places on the monastic path, whether Buddhist or Christian, are very similar, even though our way of describing our destination may be quite different. One of the participants proposed that we think in terms of the Aristotelian categories of praxis, skopòs, and télos. Our monastic practices are very similar, as are the ups and downs of monastic life. We meditate, recite and chant sacred texts, wear distinctive garb, do not amass possessions, do not marry. In fact, our praxis is as much about what we do not do as what we do do. A monk is essentially a renunciant. Going without and doing without is the monastic way.
Our skopòs is also remarkably similar. We promise to go without and do without because we are aiming for freedom. We recognize that the more attached we are to ego, pleasure, and possessions, the less free we become.
Where we differ, however, is with regard to our télos, or at least with the way we conceptualize and describe the goal that draws us—the télos that “may be either conscious or subconscious . . . works even unintentionally . . . is not arbitrary, but resides in activities as a submerged, enfolded, and implicit causa formalis.” When Christians describe the télos of monastic life, they speak of loving union with God, or being given a full share in the risen life of Jesus “forever and ever.” Such language elicits little if any response from the Buddhist. Christians, on the other hand, find it difficult, if not impossible, to relate to Buddhist language about putting an end to suffering by escaping from the cycle of rebirth.
It is certainly appropriate for theologians and philosophers to examine more closely the way Buddhists and Christians conceptualize and describe their respective téloi, and to try to determine if they really are different realities, and not simply different ways of describing the same reality. There may even come a time in our monastic dialogue when it will be appropriate to move beyond our present and, I believe, highly commendable, attitude of respect for one another’s understanding of the télos to which we hope to arrive at the end of our monastic journey, and to grapple with what it would mean if we came to the conclusion that these téloi are essentially different. For the present, however, it seems right that we concentrate on sharing our respective traditions regarding praxis and skopòs, and in this way encourage and support one another in reaching the télos that drew us to embrace the monastic life and that continues to illuminate our path.
Each day began at 6:00 AM with an hour’s meditation—that is, for those who were not up to joining the monastic community of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for an hour of chanting at 4:00 AM. On the second day the meditation was guided by a Buddhist monk, on the third by a Catholic. At 5:00 PM each day, a Mass was celebrated in the large Buddha Hall, which was attended by a good number of students from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas schools and other members of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas community.
On the afternoon of the penultimate day, we traveled to Abhayagiri Monastery (Thai Forest Tradition) in Redwood Valley, about 20 miles from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. We were welcomed by Ajahn Pasanno, the Abbot, visited several of the kuti (hermitages) on the property, and held our discussion in the recently constructed community center. That evening, about ten members of the group made short presentations at the daily one-and-a-half hour Dharma Talk in the Buddha Hall of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. During the course of our three-day meeting, participants also spoke to two classes at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas high school.
The final session took place on Friday morning when we traveled to Berkeley. There we stopped briefly at Incarnation Monastery, a branch of the Camaldolese monastery at Big Sur, met with the President of the Graduate Theological Union, Dr. James Donahue, and visited Berkeley Buddhist Monastery. After being offered a festive meal at the monastery, the Buddhist monks returned to their respective monasteries and the Catholic monks drove to Big Sur for the annual meeting of the board of directors of the North American Commission for Monastic Interreligious Dialogue.
Monks in the West IV is tentatively planned for July, 2015, possibly at the Abbey of Gethsemani, in tandem with Gethsemani IV. The year 2015 will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton, a monk of Gethsemani and one of the pioneers of monastic interreligious dialogue.
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 Michael Casey, Strangers to the City: Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict (Orleans MA: Paraclete Press, 2005), p. 4.
 The meaning of Praxis, at least as it is commonly used, is fairly clear. With regard to the other two terms, “Aristotle is not quite consistent in his use of the terms skopòs and télos. But, in summary, I think it is consistent with his intentions to say that every télos (end) is, or could be a skopòs (aim) as well, but not every skopòs is or could be a télos. A skopòs is conscious and intended, and may be set arbitrarily as an aim, and as a causa finalis. A télos or end may be either conscious or subconscious, and it works even unintentionally. It is not arbitrary, but resides in activities as a submerged, enfolded, and implicit causa formalis. It emerges and unfolds through praxis along the continuum from potential (dúnamis) to actualization (enérgeia) (cf. e.g. Metaph.1049b27-1050b5).” Olav Eikeland, The Ways of Aristotle - Aristotelian Phrónêsis, Aristotelian Philosophy of Dialogue, and Action Research(Bern: Peter Lang, 2008), p. 130.
William Skudlarek OSB is Secretary General of DIMMID, a monk of Saint John's Abbey in the United Sates, and currently a member of Trinity Benedictine Monastery, a dependent priory of Saint John's Abbey in Fujimi, Japan.
2. The Gifts of Zen Buddhism – An Interview with Robert E. Kennedy
Robert E. Kennedy, S.J., is an American Catholic priest and a Zen master (Roshi). Ordained a priest in Japan in 1965, he was installed as a Zen teacher in 1991 and was given the title Roshi in 1997. Kennedy studied Zen with Yamada Roshi in Japan, Maezumi Roshi in Los Angeles and Bernard Glassman Roshi in New York. He is chairperson of the theology department of Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, N.J., where he teaches theology and the Japanese Language. In addition to his work at the college, he is a practicing psychotherapist in New York City, a representative at the United Nations of the Institute for Spiritual Consciousness in Politics and the author of two books, "Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit" and, forthcoming in November, 2000, "Zen Gifts to Christians." Kennedy Roshi sits with his Zen students daily at the Morning Star Zendo in Jersey City and with students in 12 other zendos located throughout the tri-state area. He conducts weekend and weeklong sesshins (Zen retreats) at various centers in the United States and in Mexico. Anna Brown, an assistant professor of political science at Saint Peter’s College, conducted this interview.
[Q] How did you become involved in Zen?
I became involved in Zen through my work in Japan during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. At that time, there were many Jesuits who were engaged in interfaith work with Zen Buddhists. It was through these Jesuits that I came upon the Buddhist ideal of the enlightened life.
[Q] What is an enlightened life?
"Enlightened life" is a Buddhist term for a life that is based upon wisdom and compassion. Specifically, it is a Jesuit ideal to bring gifts of greater worth to the church. This experience of wisdom and compassion is a great Buddhist gift that I thought could enrich the church in an interfaith manner.
[Q] With whom did you study Zen while you were in Japan?
I studied with Yamada Roshi in Kamakura, Japan. Father Kakichi Kadowaki, a Jesuit Roshi, who, at that time, was also a student of Yamada himself, sent me to Yamada. I mention my work with Yamada because a distinctive characteristic of the study of Zen is both personal practice and an intimate sharing of that practice with a teacher. In addition, I was convinced that Yamada embodied, on many levels, the Buddhist ideal of an insightful and compassionate life. The reality of the enlightened life that he had realized and enfleshed beautifully was the gift that I wanted to share with the church.
[Q] What does it mean to "study Zen?" How does one go about it?
Zen must he understood as a verb. In other words, it is the act of doing. What you are doing when you study Zen is nothing other than practicing a compassionate life.
More specifically, the practice of Zen is the practice of paying attention in a way that is both sustained and communal. As we know from the work of Simone Weil, prayer is nothing other than paying attention.
The Buddhist practice of daily zazen, sitting meditation, encourages its practitioners to make attention a priority in their lives. Let me emphasize here the importance of training in Zen. Usually, there is nothing that can be done in life without sustained practice and training. There is no language learned, no art form mastered without effort and a competent teacher. In Zen, experienced teachers have themselves trained for many years. Their qualifications and ability to teach have been ratified time and time again over decades of their work with experienced masters.
Though we sit quietly when we sit zazen, it is not a period of time that we use to catch up on our sleep! It is, rather, a period of time in which our minds and bodies are employed fully at the highest level. Zen is an active effort to develop the unique and full-bodied contribution to life of which each of us is capable. What we attempt to move away from are the tired and repetitive responses to life that we may have carelessly accumulated throughout the years.
[Q] You were installed as a teacher of Zen in 1991. What has been your experience of teaching Zen since then?
The teaching of Zen is really the act of paying exquisite attention to the person who is sitting right in front of you. Through such attention, I try to empower students by helping them to realize their own unique gifts and qualities.
There is no Zen "itself." Zen is always the life of the individual at the highest level of that very life. It is not about teaching facts, but is about helping each person to find his or her own strengths. This is always based upon experience and allowing each student to experience the practice in his or her own way. Teachers must never attempt to clone themselves through their students. A teacher is simply a mirror to the student's own insight.
Once students are capable, they may become facilitators of a community of Zen practitioners and reach out to share their understanding of Zen. I have trained 30 facilitators now who are my students and who are leading such groups in the United States.
[Q] What do you emphasize in your interfaith teaching of Zen, particularly with those who accompany you on the weekend and weeklong Zen retreats that you conduct frequently throughout the year?
I ask students to trust in themselves and to develop their own self-reliance through the practice of Zen. Through self-reliance the student comes to see and to appreciate the many gifts that have been given to each. Is it not God's will that each of us comes to maturity and confidence in what we have been given? That we come to act like Christ through our daily work and relationships with others? We do so, I believe, when we learn to speak in our own voice.
Now having emphasized self-reliance and the expression of God's will through our own voice, I balance this emphasis by stressing, finally, the unknowability of God. Through Zen we are able to come to grips with the apophatic tradition, or the recognition of the utter mystery of God. Certainly, in our Christian faith, we are familiar with the apophatic tradition, the tradition of prayer that is beyond words. That God is unknowable, that knowledge of God is beyond words, beyond discussion, was clearly taught by the Greek Fathers of the Church. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, writes, "The man who thinks that God can be known does not really have life; for he has been diverted from true being, to something devised by his own imagination."
[Q] The balance you strike between self-reliance and not knowing seems to help your students better appreciate two other gifts of Zen that you emphasize in your book, "Zen Gifts to Christians," the gift of impermanence and the gift of emptiness.
Yes, that balance may work well for us when we come up against what is inevitable in life, when the impermanence of life is brought fully home in sickness and death, for example. Self-reliance means that the student comes to realize that his true nature is within himself. To cite a fundamental insight of Zen: there is no thing but the self and this self contains the whole universe. Accordingly, this gift of self-reliance makes one stronger in the determination to live ones own true nature to the fullest extent possible.
There will be moments in our life, of course, when we must draw upon such strength. When the reality of sickness and death hits us full force, we have the opportunity either to sink or swim. Zen offers a way to swim within the currents of life.
Content to walk along the path of not knowing and confident in her abilities, the Zen student is now ready to face the flux of impermanence and the reality of emptiness. To face the flux of impermanence means that the student appreciates the impossibility of clinging to things--all things must pass--and is encouraged to participate in the process of life. Let us look to the 27th koan of The Blue Cliff Record to illumine this point. In this koan, a young monk asks his master, the great Master Unmon, "What will it be when the trees wither and leaves fall?" This question cannot hide the pain the monk feels as he faces the question of his own death. Unmon does not lie to him about the painful reality of death but does offer this: "Become the golden breeze of autumn and the wind that blows across the plain, the soft rain that clouds the sky."
Furthermore, in coming to terms with the reality of emptiness, the student realizes that "fundamentally, not one thing exists." In other words, there is no free standing universe but rather a universe that is one with the mind that co-creates it moment by moment.
[Q] When you speak and write about the Zen gift of emptiness, you exercise great care. Why is this?
I do so because out of all of the gifts of Zen, this one is perhaps the one that is most misunderstood in the West. By "emptiness of all things" the Zen Buddhists mean the co-origination of all things; that is, nothing is separate. Let me emphasize that emptiness, as the Zen Buddhists understand it, is not a vacuum. Emptiness is all forms: men and women, mountains and rivers, moon and stars, but all seen as interdependent and integrated.
The great fear that we often experience in life derives from our misperception of emptiness as a vacuum. But in reality, therein may lie our greatest treasure. Our misperception of emptiness is that it means isolation; but in fact it is the revealer of our greatest intimacy, our connection with everything else.
Perhaps the Zen teaching of emptiness can help us understand that the command of Christ to deny our very self is not a harsh moral command but a compassionate invitation to experience that our true self can never be independent. Our true self is unthinkable apart from its union with the whole Christ.
[Q] St. Augustine exhorts Christians, when they partake of the Eucharist, to "become who we are." We are encouraged not to wither behind words or symbols but to embody Christ.
Yes, and I will as far as to say that enlightenment is also our birthright not just as Christians but as human beings. The fact that another tradition has preserved and developed this insight and way of living is not something that should arouse our suspicion. Instead, it should provoke our gratitude.
We have here, also, the opportunity for something that is simply imperative in the world today--the friendly accommodation between the Catholic Church and Asian religious institutions, devoid of the pitfalls that have ensnared efforts at accommodation in the past.
For the Jesuits, this kind of interfaith work is an apostolic priority. This is recognized formally in the Decree of the Thirty-fourth General Congregation, in which Jesuits are called to wholehearted cooperation in promoting and supporting the truths found within the multiplicity of our world’s religions.
[Q] Both in your writings about Zen and in the teisho [brief talk] that you give during sesshin, You cite the dictum of St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel always, and use words if necessary." Implied here is an active engagement in compassionate service to others. Is that the hallmark of your interfaith work in Christianity and Zen Buddhism?
From the hands of the truly enlightened person flows the work of compassionate service as naturally as the rivers of the earth flow through their muddy banks. The Ox Herding pictures, which date from the 12th century in China, illustrate this point. These pictures trace the process of human development and transformation that one undergoes in the practice of Zen Buddhism.
In the 10th and final picture of the series, the ox herder, the seeker after truth, enters the marketplace with open hands. He is able to enter with open hands because he is a complete human being, or one who knows he is one with all that is.
One who understands himself as complete in this way does not turn his gaze from the afflicted face of the other. His gaze upon the face of the afflicted other is steadfastly attentive. For him, that face is all that exists at that moment. In such a situation, words of sympathy or encouragement do not suffice. The seeker of truth now becomes a seeker of justice and attends, without trace of self-seeking, to the material needs of the other.
To serve the other without trace of self-seeking is the living embodiment of a Zen understanding of emptiness. It is then, to cite Master Kakuan, the artist and poet of the Ox Herding pictures, that we make "the withered trees bloom."
3. Listening to the Lion’s Roar – Notes on an Intrareligious Dialogue by Br. Gregory Perron, OSB
A relationship, a dance, begins to develop . . . you are not putting up any resistance. Whenever there is no resistance, a sense of rhythm occurs. The music and the dance take place at the same time. That is the lion’s roar. Whatever occurs . . . is regarded as the path; everything is workable. It is a fearless proclamation—the lion’s roar.—Chögyam Trungpa(1)
Everything I think or do enters into the construction of a mandala. It is the balancing of experience over the void, not the censorship of experience. And no duality of experience—void. Experience is full because it is inexhaustible void. It is not mine. It is “uninterrupted exchange”. It is dance . . . . Word. Utterance and return. “Myself”. No-self. The self is merely a locus in which the dance of the universe is aware of itself as complete from beginning to end—and returning to the void. Gladly. Praising, giving thanks, with all beings. Christ light—spirit—grace—gift. (Bodhicitta)—Thomas Merton(2)
Subsequent to a presentation that I recently gave to my community on the spirituality of interreligious dialogue,(3) I was asked to summarize how my experience of interfaith dialogue has affected or benefited me personally. Since then, as I have reflected on how Buddhism has had and continues to have a positive, subtle, significant, and pervasive influence on my life as a whole, I have realized that to try to summarize how my experience of dialogue has affected or benefited me personally is not simply a matter of stating what I have learned, or of enumerating the insights that I have come to. Rather, what I have learned is contained in what has happened to me as a person whose entire life in one way or another has been shaped or affected by his experience of interreligious dialogue, which at its truest and best is a matter of “cor ad cor loquitur”—heart speaking to heart.(4) Thus, in order to intelligently and responsibly address myself to such a question, I first have to be able to somehow articulate the essence of what has happened to me over these many years as a result of my deepening experience of both Buddhism and Christianity (i.e., of interreligious dialogue), which really has been the existential meeting and, as it were, ongoing interior marriage of two hearts, “of . . . two dimensions of human existence, the rational and intuitive, the conscious and unconscious, the masculine and feminine . . . the marriage of East and West.”(5) Then, once this has been done, I can begin to unpack at greater length some of what I have learned and what I am still learning as a result of this ongoing spiritual adventure. I can then try to bring these notes to some kind of conclusion. But how do I even begin to communicate the essence of what has happened to me in the course of this very wonderful and demanding “marriage”? In the space of a few pages, how exactly do I go about summarizing a lifetime of dialogical experience?
This is, admittedly, a difficult task. For it is one thing to say that, to the extent that I have been seemingly always attracted to Eastern religions in general and to Buddhism in particular, especially in its Zen and Tibetan forms, interreligious dialogue—or, perhaps more accurately, intrareligious dialogue(6)—has been an integral and constitutive element of my personal identity as such—that because this profound attraction has been a part of me for as long as I can remember (so long in fact that I cannot put an exact date to when it actually began), many times over the years it has seemed to me that I was somehow born with this deep affinity for the Buddhist religion in general and for Zen and Tibetan Buddhism in particular; that, this being the case, as a Benedictine monk who is dedicated to a life of contemplation and/or seeking God, I have always found interreligious and intrareligious dialogue to be at the very heart of my personal and monastic identity;(7) that, consequently, Buddhism has been and continues to become in ever more stimulating ways my natural partner in dialogue and in my quest for the Absolute or Supreme Identity;(8) that over the years my studious reading of Buddhist texts and my feeble, rudimentary efforts at Buddhist meditation practice have subtly and significantly influenced for the better not only my Christian faith but my understanding of what it means to be a monk and a person as well;(9) that, at this point, I cannot imagine being an authentic Christian monk and an authentic human being without Buddhism—it is one thing for me to say all of this; it is quite another to summarize its personal significance. And yet I know that this is not an impossible task, for it can be done. I just need to be more specific.
This being the case, how would I summarize what has happened to me as a result of my deepening experience of inter-/intrareligious dialogue? Simply stated, I can say this about my dialogue with Buddhism: It has made and continues to make me a better listener. And this has had a profound influence on my understanding of myself as a person, and on that of my monastic vocation as well. For as I presently try to take a retrospective look at this lifelong and ongoing “multireligious experience,”(10) this intrareligious dialogue, I can see how my reading of Buddhist texts and my practice of Buddhist meditation have indeed helped to open “the ear of [my] heart”(11) in such a way that I am better able to attend to and recognize the richness not only of my Christian faith and monastic heritage,(12) but that of my personhood as well, which transcends and includes both. In other words, through, with, in, and by my experience of Buddhism, I have become a more “heart-y” listener, with the result that I am repeatedly coming home to my Christian faith,(13) to my monastic vocation, and to myself in ever new and vital ways.
But what exactly is it about Buddhism that has made possible this growth in openness and listening? There are of course a variety of things that I could mention, but there are two specifically that I would like to touch on here. The first gift of Buddhism (and here I am speaking with specific reference to Tibetan or Vajrayana Buddhism) that I have found to be most enriching and with which I have resonated most strongly is its fearless, unconditional, utterly sacramental and non-dual(14) view of reality, the spiritual goal of which is “to integrate all aspects of life into one great poem”(15) of “cosmotheandric”(16) transparency. This vision of reality is of course firmly rooted in a deep contemplative(17) penetration or direct experiential knowledge of the ultimate nature of reality that is pure gift and unspeakable grace.(18)
It is important to note, however, that
The “reality” through which the contemplative “penetrates” in order to reach a contact with what is “ultimate” in it is actually his own being, his own life.(19) The contemplative is [thus] not one who directs a magic spiritual intuition upon other objects, but one who, being perfectly unified in himself and recollected in the center of his own humility, enters into contact with reality by an immediacy that forgets the division between subject and object. In a certain sense, by losing himself and by forgetting himself as an object of reflection, he finds himself and all other reality together. This “finding” is beyond concepts and beyond practical projects.
The contemplative does not set out to achieve a kind of intuitive mastery of history, or of man’s [sic] spirit, or of the things of God. He seeks [rather] the center of his own living truth, and there all that he needs to perceive of these other mysteries is granted to him at the moment when he needs it.(20)
Now, this is important to keep in mind because it points to the simple but utterly profound fact that contemplation “means precisely the overcoming of the spacio-temporal categories as the only possible way of being consciously in the world and of participating in the ongoing process of existence.”(21) That
Contemplation does not seek to understand rationally, nor is it an act of the imagination or a product of fantasy; it does not ignore or despise the life of matter, of the senses and of reason (for it is based on them), but [it] transcends them; it is actual participation in the reality one contemplates, real sharing in the things one “sees,” dynamic identification with the truth one realizes. Contemplation is [thus] not merely an act of mind, but is “touch,” real existential contact, to use a metaphor not only precious to Plotinus in the Western tradition but also to the early Tamil bhakti poet-saints of South India. Contemplation, to further trace this line of thought, implies an “eating” of the object and also a “being eaten;” it discloses the absolute mutual transparency of subject and object. Seen another way, contemplation is the actual building of the temple of reality, wherein the onlooker is equally part and parcel of the whole construction. This may be the reason why “concentration,” i.e., the ontic crystallization of what is, the condensation of reality in the self above and beyond the mere psychological state, is in all traditions one of the most important features of the contemplative mood. It is a vision of totality through the discovery of the center within: as above, so below, as the ancient hermetic formula put it. Nothing is then more obvious than that contemplation does not exclusively depend on the will of Man [sic] or the “nature of things.” It requires a higher harmony as an integrating force. Contemplation is an ontological phenomenon.(22)
“True contemplation is thus an experience, not an experiment.”(23) It is not some thing that one can use as a tool to be manipulated as the means by which to achieve a given end. It is, rather, an end in and of itself—“a totally uncluttered appreciation of existence, a state of mind or a condition of [being] that is simultaneously wide-awake and free from all preoccupation, preconception, and interpretation.”(24) And while
We may deny the truth-content of such an act [or experience], [while we may] refuse to accept it or even refer to it as pathological (a product of shamanic “madness” or the magical hallucinations of a bygone age), . . . if we speak of contemplation at all we have to take this claim seriously and deal with it accordingly . . . . The fact that not all [people] have access to such an experience does not deny the possibility or even the plausibility of such an experience, since there is hardly anyone who has not been called upon to transcend his own limitations by an experience of conversion into “something”—or rather “somebody”—else which will maintain alive his constitutive human openness.(25)
To say, therefore, that I have found Buddhism’s non-dual vision of reality to be most enriching is to say that I have benefited immensely from the primacy that this tradition has given to the experience of contemplation and from its elucidation of the same. It is thus also to say that I have gained and continue to gain an ever greater appreciation for the fact that “If there is any possible bridge between the different religious traditions (by which we understand ultimate forms or styles of life), only the contemplative can be in two or more traditions, and thus perform a mediatorial and integrating role.”(26)
Now, the second gift of Buddhism that I would like to consider is of course intimately related to the first. Because of this, and since the constraints of time and space (and my limited knowledge of the subject) currently prevent me from doing more, I will be able to make but brief mention of it here. The gift to which I am referring is Buddhism’s highly developed meditative psychology, known in its classical form as Abhidharma, which has been consistently systematized and refined for over 2,500 years.(27) This breathtakingly thorough and dynamic inner science of the mind describes in unrivalled detail the workings of perception, cognition, affect and motivation, and affords one numerous, varied, and invaluable insights into the nature of human awareness and consciousness, our potential for psychospiritual growth, as well as a wealth of skillful, gentle, and practical means (i.e., meditation practices) by which we can foster comprehensive psychological change and profound spiritual or contemplative transformation. Indeed, while Abhidharma is the classical system of Buddhist psychology (of which there are at present several versions), there are many more meditative psychologies or maps, especially in Tibetan Buddhism, each of which elaborates “its own practical applications in psychospiritual development.”(28)
This being the case, and even though I am only barely acquainted with Buddhism’s “inner science,”(29) though I have caught only glimpses of this tradition’s science of the mind, I can say from my own meager experience that I have benefited considerably from my rather limited exposure to it thus far. More specifically, I feel that I have gained some insight into the nature and workings of my own heart-mind. As a result, I feel that I am more aware of and, hence, a little more detached from all of the thoughts, stories, hopes, fears, dreams, plans, judgments, desires, and roles to which I was formerly so attached and with which I used to identify. Consequently, I feel possessed of a more creative freedom and a vaster or truer sense of self, that I am gradually coming to rest ever more in the sapiential knowledge of my constantly being born and dying into love—the hidden, undefinable wholeness of infinite, timeless, flowing activity(30) that is the mysterious, self-luminous, and life-giving essence of who we always and already are. In other words, my sense of personal identity has shifted(31) and continues to shift to such an extent that I can no longer recognize myself in many of the static descriptions or stultifying predicates that once seemed to define me or distinguish me from others. Thus, through this gift, through my study of Buddhist “mind science” and practice of Buddhist meditation, I feel that I am in more direct contact—which means direct experience—with my true self and with reality as a whole.(32)
Because of these two wonderful and priceless gifts of Buddhism, then, I feel that I have become a truly better listener. That is to say, in learning through study and meditative practice how to let go of myself, “to let go of all the information, all the concepts, all the ideas, and all the prejudices”(33) with which I used to normally or regularly identify, I have become more mindful of and attentive to the ground of my being which is beyond ego, and which is intimately, profoundly and inextricably one with the Groundless Ground from which all being flows. Indeed, through the mutually enriching gifts of Buddhism and Christianity, I have discovered for myself that meditation is the place where I can practice going beyond my senses, beyond my thoughts and feelings, to experience the unity of reality; that it is through, with, and in meditation that
I can become [increasingly] aware of the ground of my being in matter, in life, in human consciousness. I can experience my solidarity with the universe, with the remotest star in outer space and with the minutest particle in the atom. I can experience my solidarity with every living thing, with the earth, with these flowers and . . . trees, with the birds and squirrels, with every human being. I can get beyond all these outer forms of things in time and space and discover the Ground from which they all spring. I can know the Father, the Origin, the Source, beyond being and not-being, the One ‘without a second’. I can know the birth of all things from this Ground, their coming into being in the Word . . . . [which] is the self-manifestation of the Father and the Self of all beings. I have existed eternally in this Word and so have all these things, this earth, these flowers and birds and squirrels. We came forth in the Word from the Father beyond time and space, and there we stand eternally before him [in the Spirit].(34)
Thus through my multireligious experience, and that of having all of my illusions and fixed positions stripped away—i.e., my experience of the desert, the emptiness, the poverty, the silence, the questioning, the humility, “the exposure to what the world ignores about itself—both good and evil,”(35) the dying of the ego that is simultaneously an expansion into greater selfhood by which “I am all the more”(36)—an expansion so great that it touches, or better, embraces everyone and everything—which is an integral part of existentially incarnating oneself in two different but similar religious worlds, I have begun to learn the art of listening with my heart wide open. And one inevitable but vital requirement of this “listening dangerously” has been that I learn how to “co-create reality with the Spirit”(37) here and now by responding to all of life in a way “that deeply honors those things with which [I] have been entrusted.”(38) As a result, I am beginning to understand that “the everyday practice [of living] is simply to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws into oneself.”(39) Which is to say that I am beginning to embrace in its infinite variety the way of love, that I am beginning to run on the path of life(40) which is truly “a continual unmasking process—an ongoing celebration into nakedness”(41) and freedom, that I am beginning to surrender ever more completely to the unconditional openness of love that we always and already are, to the infinity of love that is in us and around us all, in which we live and move and have our being, that I am beginning to find myself, to be all the more myself, my Self, in an experience that is as human as it is divine.
Now, this intrareligious fecundation and the attendant art of listening dangerously that it has fostered have necessarily affected how I understand my monastic vocation as well. For if the call of the monk, and hence of humanity as a whole—insofar as there is an archetype of the monk in every human person(42)—is “to be open to [one’s] . . . eternal potential in God, in . . . the new creation that is already among us and around us,”(43) if the monk “is one who humbly searches for the way to realize this potentiality,”(44) then we have to regard the monastic life as being one that is primarily and “especially dedicated to self-renewal, liberation from sin [i.e., ignorance and fear], and the transformation of one’s entire [consciousness] ‘in Christ’.”(45) Or, to say the same thing in a slightly different way, “we must understand the monastic life above all as a life of [meditation and contemplative] prayer;”(46) a life that is dedicated to contemplation, to unveiling the illusions that masquerade as reality and to revealing the reality behind the masks.(47) As a monk, therefore, to remain true to my vocation, I must continually and truly “seek God.”(48) That is to say, I must continually deepen and develop “new areas of contemplative experience”(49) in “the desert, where comfort . . . is absent, where the secure routines of [the] city offer no support, and where prayer must be sustained by God in the [naked] purity of faith.”(50)
This of course means that the monk is and always must be a marginal person, one who is “essentially outside of all establishments,” “who withdraws deliberately to the margin of society with a view to deepening fundamental human experience.”(51) As such, the monk—like the poet(52) or other displaced persons—constantly lives “in the presence of death, which calls into question the meaning of life.”(53)
He struggles with the fact of death in himself, trying to seek something deeper than death, and the office of the monk or marginal person, the meditative person or the poet is to go beyond death even in this life, to go beyond the dichotomy of life and death and to be, therefore, a witness to life [—a witness to the heartbreaking beauty and joy of life fully lived].(54)
Such a marginal existence is thus by its very nature one of great risk and daring and simplicity that will ultimately cost those who truly seek to live it “not less than everything.”(55) For it demands of us that we have the courage to grow unceasingly as we continually explore the frontiers of human experience; that we let go of our armor and—“unshielded, vulnerable, but fully alive”(56)—dare to stand naked and “exposed on the [mountains] of the heart,”(57) where we humbly and bravely trust “to accept the ultimate gift: transformation into that which unawares we are;”(58) where every aspect of our seemingly fragmented lives teaches us to love and, perhaps more significantly, to accept love, and our identities are gradually woven into a hidden but more integrated wholeness.(59)
Understood in this way, then, the monastic vocation is one of both solitude and communion that “demands that I be truly myself so that I may share without encumbrances solidarity with the entire reality: Buddhakaya, karma, mystical Body, universal love.”(60) It is thus at once archetypal and ever new inasmuch as it is always embodied and lived individually in unique and unrepeatable ways. There really is “no blueprint,” and as a way of life “it is not prescribed by any law” save that of love. Because of this it needs to be not only discovered, “but created [every moment] by our cooperation with the very dynamism of reality, by holy “obedience,” that is, by attentive listening (obaudire) to the “divine” Voice”(61)—which is “the lion’s roar” fearlessly proclaiming that
Sharing in the unfolding of Life, assisting at the cosmic display of all the forces of the universe, witnessing the deployment of time, playing with the dynamic factors of life, enjoying the mysteries of knowing and no less the mystery of living, waking not haunted by the doings of the day ahead, but gifted with the being bestowed in the present, not wanting oneself to succeed at the price of others’ defeat, or wanting to “distinguish” oneself by doing something “extra”-ordinary, as if the ordinary were not enough, just walking in the divine Presence, as the ancients used to say, being conscious of the systole and diastole of the world, feeling the very assimilation and disassimilation of the cosmos on both the macro- and the micro-cosmic scales, lending sensitivity to the stars and atoms, being the mirror of the universe and reflecting it without distorting it, suffering as well in one’s own flesh the disorders of the world, being oneself the laboratory where the antibodies or medicines are created, not being unaware of the forces of evil or the trends of history, but not allowing oneself to be suffocated by them either, each of us overpowering these demons in our own personal lives, understanding the songs of the birds, the sounds of the woods and even all the human noises as part of the vitality of reality expanding, living, breathing in and out, not just to go somewhere else (and never arrive), but just to be, to live, to exist on all the planes of existence at the same time: the tempiternal explosion of the adventure, [the dance], of Be-ing . . . this is [humanity’s monastic or cosmotheandric vocation].(62)
This is “the general dance”(63) to which we are always invited, whose music strikes us as being strangely, even hauntingly familiar, whose steps appear to be at once unusually challenging and alluring, in whose intoxicating presence each of us is wisely and compassionately encouraged to ask ourselves anew the simple but all-important question: Will I falter, or fail to try, or will I dare to let the exhilarating rhythm carry me away?
These, then, are but some of the ways in which my experience of intrareligious dialogue has personally affected or benefited me. And as the two traditions of Christianity and Buddhism, especially in its Tibetan form, continue to mutually enrich each other in my experience of them, as they together continue to open me up to the truth and the beauty and the goodness of this evanescent world, and as I am thus ceaselessly schooled in the realization that “the more I am able to affirm others, to say “yes” to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am,”(64) that if I am to stay in touch with the present and with its obscure but dynamic possibilities, “[w]hat really matters is openness, readiness, attention, [and the] courage to face risk,”(65) to embrace the pain as well as the joy of life fully lived, as my multireligious experience continues to deepen, I am more convinced than ever of the fact that
The point of interreligious encounter is not to demonstrate that one religion is correct and another is not, or to assert that all religions really say the same thing. The point is to encourage each other to true practice, which requires everyone to go beyond ego, beyond the common religious claims of true pronouncements, established identities, etc. This is why it is the mystic [or contemplative] who is the archetype of a person who is able to reach out to people of other faiths and identities.(66) Conceptual clarification is important for hermeneutical awareness, and without this awareness we could not understand the other in [his or her] otherness, which again would deprive us of the real experience of learning and change. But beyond the clarification is the communion in mystery beyond the ego. The pioneers of dialogue, . . . are the genuine witnesses to this mystery.(67)
This having been said, I find that I am now faced with the task of concluding these notes on a lifelong and an ongoing intrareligious dialogue. But how does one bring to a close something that is always expanding and increasing in height, depth, width, and breadth? How does one end that which is always beginning anew, but at a different level? Perhaps the best way, inasmuch as it is open-ended, is to simply conclude with the following:
[Buddhist] and Christian. Two experiences—so different, rooted in cultures and histories worlds apart. And yet each has an authenticity for me, and each lays a claim on me . . . .
My quest . . . is being fulfilled through the particularities and relationship of [Buddhism] and Christianity. Like two prisms, they have reflected different light on the meaning of personal value and relationship to others. Different though [Buddhism] and Christianity may be, the double illumination has not produced for me contrasting glares or an inharmonious spectrum. As I try to understand how the light of one relates to the light of the other in me, I discover something deeper, namely, that I need the brightness of each, whatever the differences.
I am not claimed by such myriad perspectives that I find myself, as others today say for themselves, living in a world the center of which is everywhere and the circumference nowhere. My life has a circumscription, set forth by these two traditions. The task for me, in this age of new possibilities—in the words of a Zen master—is, “be limitless within your limits.”(68)
1. Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom (Boston: Shambhala, 2002), 70-71.
2. Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal (New York: New Directions, 1973), 68.
3. “Radical Openness: Toward a Christian Spirituality of Interreligious Dialogue in Depth,” in the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin No. 73 (October 2004), 38-40.
4. See Aloysius Pieris, “The Buddha and the Christ: Mediators of Liberation,” in The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, edited by John Hick and Paul F. Knitter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1987), 162-164; as cited in Paul F. Knitter’s “The Vocation of an Interreligious Theologian: My Retrospective on Forty Years in Dialogue”, in Horizons 31/1 (2004), 140.
5. Bede Griffiths, The Marriage of East and West: A Sequel to the Golden String (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1982), 8.
6. Recall the important distinction that Raimon Panikkar makes between inter- and intrareligious dialogue. See “Eruption of Truth: An Interview with Raimon Panikkar” by Henri Tincq and translated by Joseph Cunneen, 2; at http://www.emptybell.org/panikkar.html.
7. Because of this I readily and wholeheartedly agree with what Jef Boeckmans said in his conclusion to “Dialogue and Monastic Life,” in the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin No.70: “Our real home is the whole human world with all its diversity of religious and cultural expression, and to leave home is to find the very roots of our own religious tradition. Of course we must also reflect: we need a new Christology and a new pneumatology [and a new or more contemplative anthropology]. Without relationships, without love, there is no truth. Without deep respect there is no truth. We have a long way to go. But the core of our monastic vocation is to recognize Christ in all humanity and all humanity in Christ” (47).
8. See Alan Watts, The Supreme Identity: An Essay on Oriental Metaphysic and the Christian Religion (New York: Random House, 1972).
9. The same, of course, can be said for the reciprocal influence that my Christianity has had on my experience and understanding of Buddhism. As for what would be a specifically Christian contribution to this intrareligious cross-fertilization, and thus to the search for identity that has taken shape and is yet unfolding within this existential context, of paramount importance is the notion that God is unconditional love. Hence the significance of the following statement: “Christian faith is rooted in the unconditional love of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ in a unique way. This love extends to the whole cosmos in space and time, and perhaps embraces even more than that. Unconditionality implies that love cannot be limited spatially or temporally, nor can it depend on the condition of knowing this. Faith as trust in God’s unconditional love, therefore, is a pure gift of the loving God. In Christian theology, God is conceived in Trinitarian dynamics so that God’s actions ad extra are indivisible (opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt). Consequently, the very act of reconciliation is present in creation and in the free presence of the spirit everywhere and at all times, not only implicitly but also explicitly. What follows is that human beings in all their languages, religions, circumstances of life, and attitudes of consciousness are being reached by God’s reconciling presence” (Michael von Brück, “Christ and the Buddha Embracing,” in The Other Half of My Soul: Bede Griffiths and the Hindu-Christian Dialogue, compiled by Beatrice Bruteau [Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1996], 233-234).
10. Raimon Panikkar, The Intrareligious Dialogue, revised edition (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 50. For an eloquent sketch of the religious attitude required of one who embarks on such an intrareligious or multireligious venture see pages 50-51 of this same text.
11. See the first sentence of the Prologue of “The Rule of St. Benedict”, in RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes, edited by Timothy Fry et al. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1981), 157. Hereafter designated as RB.
12. Here it is worth noting that my being deeply rooted and immersed in the richness of the Christian mystical tradition—e.g., the desert fathers and mothers, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, to name but a few representatives of this tradition—has afforded me (and continues to afford me) valuable insights into the spiritual life that have resonated strongly with the spiritual wisdom of the East; that this is what has enabled me to enter into meaningful dialogue with Buddhism (and Hinduism, Judaism and Islam as well). These insights include but are not limited to the following: (1) the priority of experience over speculation; (2) the inadequacy of words to articulate religious experience; (3) the fundamental oneness of all reality; (4) the realization that the goal of all spiritual discipline is transformation of consciousness; and (5) “purity of heart” or liberation from attachment. See William H. Shannon, “Thomas Merton in Dialogue with Eastern Religions”, in The Vision of Thomas Merton, edited by Patrick F. O’Connell (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2003), 214.
13. An example of what I mean by this is how I have come to understand who Jesus Christ is for me/us today. And who do I say that Jesus Christ is? For my answer to this question see David Steindl-Rast’s, “Who Is Jesus Christ for Us Today?,” in The Christ and the Bodhisattva, edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. and Steven C. Rockefeller (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987), 113-115; 102.
14. Simply stated, a non-dual view of reality can be understood to hold that the Absolute, be it called God, Buddha, Brahman, or whatever, is not separate from us; that absolute reality and the relative world are “not-two” (which is the meaning of “non-dual”), much as a mirror and its reflections are not separate, or the sun is one with its rays, or the ocean is one with its many waves. Also, it is worth noting that the experience of the non-dual nature of absolute and relative reality is a direct, immediate, and momentary realization which occurs in certain meditative states—i.e., seen with the “eye of contemplation”—although over time and with ongoing meditation practice this momentary realization and contemplative perception can become a very stable, simple, constant, and extraordinarily ordinary perception or realization that is with one at all times, whether one is meditating or not.
15. Michael von Brück, op. cit., 225. See note 7 above.
16. See Raimon Panikkar’s extensive treatment of this theme in his Cosmotheandric Experience: Emerging Religious Consciousness (New York: Orbis Books, 1993), in which he defines the cosmotheandric intuition or principle as follows: “The cosmotheandric principle could be formulated by saying that the divine, the human and the earthly—however we may prefer to call them—are the three irreducible dimensions which constitute the real, i.e., any reality inasmuch as it is real. . . . What this intuition emphasizes is that the three dimensions of reality are neither three modes of a monolithic undifferentiated reality, nor three elements of a pluralistic system. There is rather one, though intrinsically threefold, relation which manifests the ultimate constitution of reality. Everything that exists, any real being, presents this triune constitution expressed in three dimensions. I am not only saying that everything is directly or indirectly related to everything else: the radical [relationality] or pratîtyasamutpâda of the buddhist [sic] tradition. I am also stressing that this relationship is not only constitutive of the whole, but that it flashes forth, ever new and vital, in every spark of the real. . . . The cosmotheandric intuition is not a tripartite division among beings, but an insight into the threefold core of all that is, insofar as it is” (60-61).
17. Here it is worth noting that the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism makes an important distinction between meditation and contemplation that is also found in the Christian mystical tradition. See Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2000), 112-113. See also Bede Griffiths’ conference entitled, “Dzogchen and Christian Contemplation,” in the AIM Monastic Bulletin No. 55 (1993), 122-123.
18. Here it is interesting to note that, contrary to popular opinion, “grace” is not a foreign concept to Buddhism. Indeed, as Marco Pallis noted in his A Buddhist Spectrum: Contributions to Buddhist-Christian Dialogue (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2003): “The important thing to recognize . . . is the fact that the word ‘grace’ corresponds to a whole dimension of spiritual experience; it is unthinkable that this should be absent from one of the great religions of the world . . . . [For] this is the function of grace, namely to condition [our] homecoming to the center from start to finish. It is the very attraction of the center itself, revealed to us by various means, which provides the incentive to start on the way and the energy to face and overcome its many and various obstacles. Likewise grace is the welcoming hand into the center where [we find ourselves] at long last on the brink of the great divide where all familiar human landmarks have disappeared” (66, 71).
19. This insight is perfectly consistent with the experience of the early (i.e., fourth-century) desert fathers and mothers, for example, Evagrius Ponticus, who wrote, “When the spirit has reached the state…of grace, then it sees in prayer its own nature like…the sky. In the Scripture this is called the kingdom of God” (On the Thoughts, edited by Paul Géhin, Claire Guillaumont, Antoine Guillaumont, Évagre le Pontique: Sur les pensées, SC 438 [Paris: Cerf, 1998], 39). It is also perfectly consistent with what Longchenpa, the great fourteenth-century Dzogchen master, wrote: “Investigate your mind’s real nature/So that your pure and total presence will actually shine forth” (You are the Eyes of the World, translated by Kennard Lipman and Merrill Peterson [Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2000], 33).
20. Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation, edited by William H. Shannon (New York: Harper San Francisco, 2003), 151-152.
21. Raimon Panikkar, Invisible Harmony: Essays on Contemplation and Responsibility (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1995), 26-27.
22. Ibid., 27, 28. Emphasis mine.
23. Ibid., 27.
24. Gerald G. May, Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1982), 25.
25. Raimon Panikkar, Invisible Harmony, 27.
26. Ibid. I am here reminded of a passage from one of the letters of the French Benedictine monk, Henri Le Saux (Swami Abhishiktananda), dated 9.2.1967: “It is precisely the fact of being a bridge that makes this uncomfortable situation worthwhile. The world, at every level, needs such bridges. The danger of this life as a ‘bridge’ is that we run the risk of not belonging to either side; whereas, however harrowing it may be, our duty is to belong wholly to both sides. This is only possible in the mystery of God.” See James Stuart, Swami Abhishiktananda: His Life Told through His Letters (Delhi: ISPCK, 1989), 213.
27. For much of what follows, see Daniel Goleman’s “Introduction” to MindScience: An East-West Dialogue, edited by Daniel Goleman and Robert A.F. Thurman (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), 3-6. See also his The Meditative Mind: Varieties of Meditative Experience (New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1988), especially Part One (1-38) and Part Four (114-188).
28. Ibid., 4.
29. See Robert A.F. Thurman’s “Tibetan Psychology: Sophisticated Software for the Human Brain,” in MindScience, 53.
30. See Beatrice Bruteau, “The One and the Many: Communitarian Non-dualism,” in The Other Half of My Soul: Bede Griffiths and the Hindu-Christian Dialogue, compiled by Beatrice Bruteau (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1996), 276.
31. See Beatrice Bruteau, “Prayer and Identity,” in Contemplative Review, Special Issue (Fall 1983), 2-17.
32. A significant corollary of this is that much of what earlier seemed incomprehensible to me about the spiritual life, about my experience of meditation and contemplation, is now more comprehensible. That is to say, the spiritual or contemplative or mystical life, the “science of love,” has been demystified somewhat. And to the degree that it has been, I am no longer inclined to take anything on mere belief. For, through the existential study of both Christianity and Buddhism, I am convinced that the various meditative disciplines of both traditions are really sets of experiments that have been tried and proven true over the millennia by numerous saints and sages, and that we are invited to test them for ourselves in our own awareness and experience—here and now—to prove the validity of their findings for ourselves; findings that these same saints and sages compassionately preserved for us in the contemplative maps of inner space, of the human mind/consciousness, that they charted. The laboratory is thus my own mind and heart and body, and the experiment is a given form of meditation by which I test my own experience against that of others who have performed the same experiment, so that I too may arrive at the experiential knowledge of certain laws of the spirit, which is wisdom.
33. Sogyal Rinpoche, Glimpse after Glimpse: Daily Reflections on Living and Dying (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1995). See the reading for May 4.
34. Bede Griffiths, Return to the Center (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1976), 36.
35. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), 27.
36. Raimon Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience, 133.
37. Parker J. Palmer, The Active Life: Wisdom for Work, Creativity, and Caring (New York: HarperCollins, 1990), 17.
38. Mark Brady, “What I’ve Learned from Listening,” in The Wisdom of Listening, edited by Mark Brady (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2003), 298.
39. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, as quoted by Pema Chödron in her book entitled, The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times (Boston: Shambhala, 2001), 99.
40. See RB Prol. 49.
41. Loppön Lodrö Dorje, “Ego’s Unmasking,” in Speaking of Silence: Christians and Buddhists on the Contemplative Way, edited by Susan Walker (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 94.
42. See Raimon Panikkar’s Blessed Simplicity: The Monk as Universal Archetype (New York: The Seabury Press, 1982).
43. John Main, Community of Love (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1990), 119.
45. Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998), 201.
46. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 19.
47. See Parker Palmer, op. cit., 17.
48. See RB 58.7.
49. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 27.
50. Ibid., 29.
51. Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal, 305.
52. I am here reminded of the observation made by Bernard-Joseph Samain in his “Is Poetry the Native Language of Dialogue?,” in the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin No. 70: “In order to elaborate a culture of dialogue, one path seems to me essential. I would like to sum it up in this formula: ‘Poetry, the native language of dialogue.’ By this I mean that poetry is a form of language that lends itself to dialogue. Poetry is a language-form that points towards that which is open, to what cannot be said, to what cannot be grasped, to the mystery that surpasses us. The poet is one who takes words very seriously and yet, at the same time, remains conscious of their poverty and of their limitations. Respect for words goes hand in hand with respect for the other and the mystery of the other” (29).
53. Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal, 306.
55. T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, “Little Gidding,” in >The Complete Poems and Plays (1909-1950) (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1971), 145.
56. David Steindl-Rast, A Listening Heart: The Spirituality of Sacred Sensuousness, revised edition (New York: Crossroad, 1999), 33.
57. Ahead of All Parting: the Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell, The Modern Library Edition (New York: Random House, 1995), 137.
58. David Steindl-Rast, op. cit., 81.
59. Here it is worth noting that one of the many distinct but basically related meanings of the Sanskrit word tantra refers to “the ‘expansive,’ all-encompassing Reality revealed by wisdom. As such it stands for ‘continuum,’ the seamless whole that comprises both transcendence and immanence, Reality and reality, Being and becoming, Consciousness and mental consciousness, Infinity and finitude, Spirit and matter, Transcendence and immanence [sic], or, in Sanskrit terminology, nirvâna and samsâra” (Georg Feuerstein, Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy (Boston: Shambhala, 1998), 2).
60. Raimon Panikkar, “The New Monk,” in the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin No. 72 (May 2004), 12.
62. Raimon Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience, 133; 132.
63. Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1972), 290-287.
64. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Doubleday, 1989), 144.
65. Ibid., 108.
66. Here I cannot help but recall the words of Karl Rahner, “In the coming age we must all become mystics—or be nothing at all.” See Frank X. Tuoti, Why Not Be a Mystic? (New York: Crossroad, 1995).
67. Michael von Brück, op. cit., 239.
68. John Dykstra Eusden, Zen and Christian: The Journey Between (New York: Crossroad,1981), 12-13; 174.
4. Buddhist-Christian Dialogue – H.H. Dalai Lama – His Holiness the Dalai Lama issued a special statement on Buddhist-Christian relations from Dharamsala on February 20, 1990.
The urgent development of understanding, friendship and respect among world religions through interfaith activities is important if religious movements are to contribute towards creating a new state of peace and prosperity on our highly endangered planet. International conferences and formal religious gatherings are certainly positive moves in this direction, but they alone are not enough to achieve the real goals. Developing closer relationships and understanding through the exchange of experiences at the community level are thus extremely important and necessary.
I am happy that Tibetan religious communities in exile have been able to establish various inter-monastic programs with Christian communities in America, Europe and Australia. These programs, including several rounds of monastic exchanges, are unprecedented and have been highly valuable to both religious traditions.
If we consider the basic principles of Buddhism and Christianity and their monastic precepts, they have a great deal in common. The three fundamental rules of the Buddhist monastic orders are: the study of scriptures, contemplative meditation and selfless service in the community at large. These rules, known in the Buddhist scriptures as the three wheels of spiritual activity, closely correspond to the Christian monastic rules of study, prayer and work. Similarly, embracing the conditions of solitude, simplicity and tranquility, while laying special emphasis on the maintenance of complete harmony and observance of basic rules within the community, are common to both the Buddhist and Christian monastic orders.
Our recent experiences, through Christian-Buddhist monastic dialogue, have revealed that there is a strong basis for a genuine give and take relationship between the two monastic traditions. For instance, members of Tibetan monasteries feel that they have much to learn from Christian monasticism in terms of community management, educational and economic systems, as well as charitable and social service activities. At the same time our Christian brothers and sisters have been deeply impressed by the Tibetan religious traditions of systematic and penetrating study and training, the richness of philosophy and epistemology and the unique tradition of uniting faith with discriminative investigation.
I believe that Buddhist-Christian inter-monastic dialogue can serve as an ideal model for relationships between various traditions and so make a valuable contribution to the universal cause of peace and happiness for all living beings.
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