White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

Monastics' Reflections on Zazen

Peace be with you.
The following reflections written by monks who are members of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. These reflections appear, among some 40 reflections, in MID Issue 70 (March, 2003). Please visit http://www.wrmosb.org/zarflct.html: Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID) was established in 1978 in order to foster dialogue on the level of spiritual practice and experience between North American Christian monastics and contemplative practitioners from other religious traditions. The members of its board of directors are drawn from (Roman Catholic) Benedictine and Cistercian communities of the United States and Canada.

...David Steindl-Rast OSB

In the mid-1960s — I had been in monastic training at Mount Saviour for about 12 years —our prior, Father Damasus Winzen, sent me out, now and then, to lecture about monastic life at some university. At this time, Buddhist and Hindu monks made their appearance in the United States. Since monasticism was my topic, intellectual honesty demanded that I inquire into what we had in common with monks of other traditions. I started by reading D.T. Suzuki's The Training of a Zen Buddhist Monk, and was amazed: Down to small details of daily living, the similarities to our own monastic lifestyle were striking. Mindfulness was the goal in both traditions.

Friends to whom I spoke of my astonishing discovery put me in touch with Tai-san (now Eido Shimano Roshi), a young Japanese Zen monk who had recently arrived in New York. We met. In less than three minutes we knew that we were brothers: The cultural and religious differences were vast, yet we had more in common with each other than each of us had with non-monastics of our own tradition. Tai-san invited me to come and spend time at his newly established zendo in New York City. My prior and community wanted to meet him first. He came to Mount Saviour for a few days. The monks asked him theological questions. Tai-san and my brothers continually talked past each other, unable to find any common ground in the realm of concepts. He left. I thought the project had failed. But all the brothers agreed: "We didn't understand what he said, but the way he walks and sits and eats proves that he is a monk." Two weeks later I sat in Tai-san's zendo.

Beginning with this first encounter, my understanding of the spiritual life shifted. I had become a monk because I wanted to be not just a run-of-the-mill Christian who followed only the commandments, but one who followed even the evangelical counsels. Now I realized that one is, so to speak, first a human being, then a monk, and only then a Christian, a Buddhist, or whatever. Monastic life is, for certain people, their way of being human. A monastic vocation constitutes a deeper stratum of one's spiritual being than one's religious persuasion. I carne to see that we recognize the evangelical counsels in the Gospels only because we recognize them first in the monastic make-up of our psyche; we read them into the Gospels as much — as we find them there.

vv If I with my particular psychological make-up am to become the human being I can be at my best, it will be as a monk-a Christian monk, if I live in a Christian environment, a Buddhist monk, if I live in a Buddhist one. Through every encounter with monks of other traditions-and I was privileged to have many — my experience reinforced this insight. This had two effects: It made me strive to become an authentic human being (as monk) with the help of my Christian tradition, and it gave me a deeper sense of solidarity, with all those who are striving for the same goal with the help of other traditions. It saved me from the trap of trying to become a good Christian at the expense of being fully human, and I never joined the competition and enmity between those who identify themselves primarily by their religious labels.

The one-word answer is gratefulness-not, however, as a mere concept, but as a practice, the practice of grateful living. This integral practice is at the heart of our own tradition — Eucharist=Thanksgiving-and at the heart of all other religions. It comes as close as we can come to that Religion that finds its expression in all of the different religions. Grateful living is Trinitarian mysticism-in-action. It unites us in depth with our partners in interreligious dialogue, but what it does for ourselves as Christians is even more important. Receiving ourselves mindfully, moment by moment as gift flowing from the depth of the ultimate Giver, and giving all we are back in thanksgiving, makes us realize that we are immersed in the life of the Blessed Trinity. What characterizes our moment in history is the collapse of Christian theism. Gratefulness Mysticism makes us realize that Christianity never was theistic, but panentheistic. Faith in God as triune implied this from the very beginning; now we are becoming aware of it. It becomes obvious, at the same time, that we share this Trinitarian experience of divine life with all human beings as a spiritual undercurrent in all religions, an undercurrent older and more powerful than the various doctrines. At the core of interreligious dialogue flows this shared spirituality of gratefulness, a spirituality strong enough to restore to our broken world unity.

Br David Steindl-Rast OSB
Mount Saviour Monastery
231 Monastery Road
Pine City NY 14871 USA

Drinking from Many Springs
...Fr Bernard Durel OP

After my entry into Zen 30 years ago as a follower of Durckheim and without an explicit bond to the world of Buddhism, I benefited greatly from meeting with witnesses and masters (Castermane, A.M. Besnard, Lassalle, W Jager, B. Griffiths, Okumura, Kadowaki, Oshida, Le Saux, Merton, Panikkar etc.) and also from participating in DIM in Japan, Belgium and France.

No doubt it would be an exaggeration today to say that I pay allegiance to two camps, but I consider myself more involved with intrareligious dialogue (or rather, experience) than interreligious dialogue. I was brought to the conclusion in the past that ecumenical gatherings (between Christians) ended by confirming and consolidating denominational differences, rather than leading us back to our shared identity as followers of Christ. Similarly, interreligious dialogue should give way to intrareligious dialogue in which the "Corpus" of different Traditions can become connected (cross fertilization) in order to help the "seeker" awaken to the fullness of his or her humanity. Such an intrareligious path is alone equal to the challenges addressing post-modern men and women: those of globalization, of survival of the planet and of peace.

Thomas Merton and Raimundo Panikkar, each in his own way, seem to be pledged to this path. As I outlined in the paper "Priére du nom, priére du silence," I am no longer able to understand myself as a man, as a believer, or as a monk without drinking simultaneously from the springs of many different Traditions. What brings us together is always more important, more fundamental than that which divides us. The Danish pastor Grundvig said: "Human first, Christian second," Speaking for myself, the fact of living with several languages on a daily basis (and in contact with others that I don't speak) has made a deep impression on me of the possibility and the benefits of the intrareligious position. As a systematic study, D. Mitchell's work "Emptiness and Kenosis" seems to me to be the most closely argued.

I will end with Rumi's words taken up again by Dag Hammarskj¿jld at the end of his life: "The lovers of God have no religion but God alone."

It should be quite clear that what I have written here is the good fruit of a path already trodden together. Following Thomas Merton, I think that from now on the vocation of a monk consists in this achievement that goes beyond all borders

Fr Bernard Durel OP
Sandgatan, 8
S-223-50 Lund, Sweden

...Fr William Skudlarek OSB

My involvement in interreligious dialogue carne about by way of the back door.

In 1985, after having spent more than 20 years in higher education — as graduate student, theology teacher, faculty dean, and seminary rector — I asked my abbot for permission to devote some time to pastoral ministry in another culture. I entered the Maryknoll Associate program and spent five years in Brazil, living first in Sáo Paulo and then in a small village in Minas Gerais. I ministered to urban laborers and subsistence farmers, learning at first hand what it mean to be part of a Church that commits itself to a preferential option for the poor.

Sometime during those five years I heard or read — or maybe the thought just came to me —that the two main challenges of proclaiming the Gospel in the third millennium would be communicating its message to the poor and entering into dialogue with the great religions of the East. That idea continued to haunt me when I returned to my monastery and to the university and seminary classroom. And so, when my abbot asked me, a couple of years after I returned from Brazil, if I would he interested in becoming a part of our priory in Japan, I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to learn about Buddhism, and to do so not just by study, but through practice and dialogue.

Shortly after my arrival in Japan I began the practice of zazen with Ryóun Yamada Roshi. The demands of monastic life and of my ministry to Brazilians living in Japan, as well as the distance from our monastery to the zendo after we moved out of Tokyo, prevented me from as intensive an involvement in the practice of zazen as I would have liked. However, I was able to make several sesshins, and I began a rhythm of daily sitting.

Looking hack over my journal, I find that when Yamada Roshi asked me in my first meeting with him what I wanted, I said, "What I want is not to want. What I want is simply to listen, to be attentive. But to whom? Not to others, in the sense of always observing, judging, criticizing, but to myself, and ultimately to God. Unless I am still, I will never hear what the still, small voice says.

"To he attentive to myself is to become more deeply, more existentially aware of the nothingness, the mu of my life, the mu of all that is not mu."

Now, after almost seven years of zazen, I fine that what keeps me committed to the practice and to an ongoing dialogue with Buddhist and other practitioners is the conviction that Buddhism and the practice of daily sitting that is such an significant part of Zen Buddhism can teach me how to hear and obey the direct, forceful, and, I believe, central command of Jesus, "Do not judge!" (Mt 7:1).

A contemporary American Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, says, "When we judge, we reinforce our separate identity as a person who judges.... That's why the technique I have suggested [whenever we say the name of a person, we should watch to see what we add to the name] is really training in what Buddhism calls 'no self.' " (Nothing Special, p. 109)

Is it possible, I wonder, for a Christian to engage in a practice designed to bring one to the realization of "no self" without adverting to Jesus' insistence that you can only be disciple if you are willing to hate/lose your own life (see Mt 10:34-39; Lk 14:26)? When our dream of an ego that is separate from (and better than) others dies, then we are; freed from judging others, freed to love in truth and in deed.

And so I continue to sit with mu, letting go of my desires to he someone, to accomplish something. I do so in the hope that I will gradually - or maybe even through some sudden and undeserved breakthrough — be brought to an experiential realization that it is not I who live, hut that it is Christ who lives in me, the Christ who prayed that all be one as he and the Father are one (Jn 17:21), the Christ in whom all things hold together, and in whom all the fullness was pleased to dwell (Col 1:17-19). As this truth moves from my lips and mind down into the depths of my heart, purifying it from the peed to set itself over and above what it still thinks is outside itself, I believe my heart, my true self, will be set free from the the compulsion to judge, be set free for love. At that point, I believe, I will be able to realize that the reason Jesus tells us not to judge is ultimately because there is no one and nothing out there to judge. In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). In him, who is divine love incarnate, we are all one.

Fr William Skudlarek OSB
Saint John's Abbey
P O. Box 2015
Collegeville MN 56321-2015, USA

Loving the World of the Other
...Fr Notker Wolf, Abbot Primate OSB (2003)

My encounter with Buddhism happened by chance, but it nevertheless marked a turn in my life. From 1971 to 1977 I taught philosophy at the Benedictine Athenaeum of St Anselm in Rome and was Choir Master, responsible for the singing. Two Japanese ladies attended a Sunday Mass. One of them was a professional singer and the other, Miss Michiko Nojiri, a tea master. After the celebration we exchanged views on Gregorian Chant and its impression on the soul, as well as on the traditional Japanese way of serving tea. Then they invited me to a tea ceremony at the "Urasenke Centre" in Rome. It was there that I subsequently met Suzuki Sochu Roshi. He became my first Zen master, and I rook part in a sesshin.

In 1979 I took a further step when I came to meet a group of Japanese monks belonging to the Zen Shinto School. They had expressed the wish to experience a Spiritual Exchange in Europe. Miss Nojiri informed Fr Pierre-Francois de Béthune about what was being prepared and we volunteered to organize together the monastic part of that Exchange, contacting severa1 European monasteries. These Japanese monks had a very clear purpose: they wished to study Western spirituality in order to understand better the roots of the scientific and technological developments that had reached Japan. Therefore they wanted to meet Christianity in its fullest form, that is, as it is lived in monasteries. So they shared our life and stayed, among other places, at the Abbey of Sankt Ottilien where I had just been elected Abbot.

So I could summarize these first encounters by saying that the Buddhists took the initiative in the dialogue, but that we were able to welcome them according to our Benedictine tradition of hospitality.

Right from the start our contact with one another was not primarily at the verbal or intellectual level, but rather at an artistic and monastic level. It developed gradually as by a sort of natural deployment. The first element was the tea ceremony, then zazen, finally the sharing of monastic life. Later we were invited to pay a return visit to Buddhist monasteries in Japan, and such Spiritual Exchanges have continued up to now. This is why I call such a dialogue an "existential dialogue," a term that entered later into official documents.

Today I must acknowledge that these encounters, especially those experienced in Japan, have undoubtedly helped me as Abbot of a large monastery and at present as Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order: they helped me to reevaluate elements of our own monastic tradition. Comparing both traditions fosters a very helpful discernment in our time when many elements are called into question. On the other hand, the practice of zazen has helped me personally to live in the present moment, to distinguish the most important things in life and to maintain an inner tranquillity whatever happens. I learned to appreciate with wonder the tiniest things in daily life and in nature.

At a more essential level, interreligious dialogue has become for me the model for every encounter with others. It is actually the lame attitude of listening and respecting the other that is required for any encounter with people belonging to other religions or wish atheists, with young or old people: the same special effort is required whenever we encounter the irreducible and quite unique "other."

I have also come to understand better that in evangelization one must reject all forms of power, allow the Holy Spirit to work and wait for his action.

Yes, the core of the process of dialogue at this spiritual level is love of the world of the other.

Fr Notker Wolf, Abbot Primate OSB
Badia Primaziale, Sant'Anselmo
Piazza Cavalier di Malta,5
1-00153 Roma, Italia

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