August 2nd, 2005, Serial No. 03121

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I vow to taste the truth of the Tathāgata's words. Good evening. It's my honor and my pleasure. You can just keep coming in. We'll find space. Okay. It's my honor and my pleasure to introduce to you Brother David Standlerust. Brother David has been a Benedictine monk, sometimes known as a Zenedictine monk. For over half a century.


Has written many wonderful books, the quality of which shows their excellence is that they resonate with the heart of practice. They may be called Christian spiritual practice, or they may not. But they appeal and apply equally to all spiritual practitioners. He has traveled widely and lectured widely during that half century. And now lives back in his original monastery in upstate New York. Until this week we are co-leading a workshop on the spirit of practice. And tonight what we'd like to do is mostly engage in a dialogue. To hear from you the questions that you find relevant on the topic of the spirit of practice.


Brother David shared with me a basic three-fold perspective that he considers. Mysticism, monasticism and liturgy. And I was thinking of two threesomes in Buddhist practice. One of sila, samadhi and prajna. Is there a correlation there or not? That would be an interesting question. Another one I was thinking of, a more zen one, is the inner work of cultivating attention and connection. Silent illumination and bringing forth the mind of great doubt. The remarkable thing is when you relate from the heart of practice. The iconography, the methodology falls secondary to what we might call the heart, the spirit of practice.


And this is what we would wish to engage with in whatever way you wish. Whether you'd like to talk about particular aspects of Buddhism or Christianity. How they compare or contrast. And how to bring the spirit of monastic practice into everyday life. Whatever kind of question you would like to raise. Would you like to say some opening comments? I just want to thank you, Paul, for inviting me here. And thank all of you for coming. Especially the students here making me so welcome already for the days that we have been here. When I go to other places, it's different from coming to Tassajara to give a talk or engage in a retreat. It's like a homecoming. I really feel very much at home here.


And so I'm really grateful for that. And I'm always looking forward to those evening things. And particularly to the good questions that the students often ask. So we were both looking forward to that. One thing I didn't mention was that Brother David was a student here. And was known as an excellent dishwasher. At that time, we were still washing the dishes with the hot water that was coming from the spring somewhere down here. That was a very interesting experience. So, any questions? Please, Mimi. Could you please define mysticism in dishwashing? Well, I think it is necessary to define mysticism so that we, or at least for the evening, talk about the same thing or mean the same thing when we use the word.


And just as a simple definition, one could say it is the experience. That's always very important. Start with experience. It's not something abstract. It's the experience of communion with the ultimate. Whatever the ultimate is for you. But it's experiential. It's an experience of communion. And that may be oneness with the ultimate. Not just the ultimate in your frame of mind, but allowing that there is more to it than you can see. There is always more with that. And in that sense, every human being is a mystic. Mystics are not to be put on a pedestal and, well, that has nothing to do with me. I've often said, mystic is not a special kind of human being, but every human being is a special kind of mystic.


And the responsibility for us is to become that mystic that we are meant to be. Because we all have these quick flashes of communion with ultimate being. Everybody has them. If we pay attention to them. But the difference between the run of the mill and those whom we call the great mystics is that most of us either forget these moments or sometimes even wonder what happened to me there. And maybe that was just a moment of insanity or something like that. Even though it was probably your most sane moment. But the great mystics took this experience of communion with the ultimate and built their whole life on it. Made something out of it. And each of us can do that. We have these moments, we know what it's like and then everything can be done in light of it.


And so dish washing, for instance, can be really a mystic exercise. It can be practice. Everything becomes practice that you do in that spirit. And I'm not saying that as a joke, but really it's a deep reality. When you really pay attention to the water and to the smell of the detergent and to the weight of the dishes. And like in the tea ceremony, you lift all the heavy things as if they were feather light and all the light things as if they were very heavy. If you try that sometimes when you're washing the dishes, it will be a totally different experience. A mystic experience. What interests me most about having both of you here is that Paul, you're part of a monastic order that's fairly young in the West, I mean.


We will when he's finished speaking. I can speak louder. What interests me most about having both of you here is that Paul, you're part of a monastic order that's fairly young in the West. And so we're still kind of getting our grounding. And Brother David, your order is much older than ours. And for those of us who are concerned about establishing a vital monastic practice in the West within this tradition. What should we know? Is there anything we should look out for? Please. Maybe you should start something. Well, the Benedictine order is 1500 years old. But within that history, it goes in waves and we have been reformed many, many times.


There are other orders around that are really reforms of the Benedictine order. For instance, the Cistercians were a reform of the Benedictines about a thousand or so. And then the Trappists were a reform of the Cistercians. Every monastic order or community has a time when it flourishes and then a time when it becomes decadent. That's just the way things go and has to be renewed again. And my own monastery is a reform monastery. And so our order is not, my community is not that much older within the order than Stasahare's within the Buddhist tradition. We were founded in 52. I was lucky to join the monastery in 53. So it was really very pioneering and very much at the beginning, we still didn't even have buildings.


We slept in a barn and we had some drop sheets so that the pigeons wouldn't drop on us. And it was very pioneering because that's great for young people. And now, half a century later, we are a bunch of old men. And very few young ones. And so ready for another reform and another. So it goes in these waves. I don't know what we can learn. Of course, there are the original texts. In our case, it's the Rule of St. Benedict, which is a very small little book. That was written 1,500 years ago. And every reform tends to come back to that, come back to the source. Let's really take it seriously what St. Benedict wanted.


And so I suppose it is also in the Zen tradition that one comes back to this founder or that founder and to the texts of those founders. That gives a certain strength and stability. But one of the things that inspires me most when I think of the Benedictine tradition is that there were so many, many people. Thousands and tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people who over the millennia, centuries at any rate, have dedicated their life to this. And we are standing in a great tradition. That is inspiring. And I think that might be similar with you, even though it is a new foundation. I think even though right here physically we're a little over, getting close to 40 years.


I think the challenge for us is to blend the tradition with innovation, reformation to the current set of circumstances. And I think there can be a creative tension between the two. Sometimes I think that we need to hold the tradition until it's in our bones. That we need to be very careful with renovation and innovation. That it isn't just some kind of convenience or opinion or preference. In some way we're trying to make the tradition fit us rather than that we let the tradition reveal the wisdom that it's developed over the centuries. And then I also feel like in our tradition that our meditation tradition is so strong.


That if we can stay close to that and remember that every time we go to the Zen Do, that we can enact this core of mysticism. That there the access is and that that's also the touchstone and the watermark of our practice. And that if we're straying from that we should be thinking deeply about what we're doing. You used a phrase in your opening comments that had the word doubt in it. I did. Great doubt. And what was it? Was it cultivating or fostering or inviting it almost sounded like? I'm curious about that and what I know of the dark night journey. It sounded like you were talking about entering into doubt. Could you hear that question?


The question was to comment on the phrase great doubt and how that compares to the dark night of the soul. Great doubt within Zen practice is don't know mind. The mind that isn't predisposed to prejudice, assumptions, knowing the answer, knowing what should happen. The mind that comes with kind of naivety or innocence. If we go a little deeper into the methodology then this is both our innate state, but it's also because prejudice and assumptions are so readily ingrained and habits of thinking are so readily ingrained in our thinking and way of relating that there's a certain amount of undoing, there's unlearning and that's through direct experiencing.


So in the methodology of Zen we would pay attention, discover what it is to pay attention to what's going on beyond our own preoccupations and what we think ought to be going on. And then there's dwelling in that sometimes called silent illumination where we're taking in the world. We're being reformed by this direct experiencing. And then there's engaging the world. What is it to live in this century? What is it to be this person? What is it to live in this environment? There's nothing to know, everything to learn. This is the mind of great thought. This is Dogen Zenji's Genjokan. Does that mean not being sure of anything? I think cognitively, yes, not being sure of anything.


But that is supported by, from direct experience, a confidence in the practice. That in entering this completely, how to relate to it will manifest. So there is a trust that is the basis for the great Dao. See, this connection between doubt and trust or faith, because faith is not believing something in the first place, but faith is basically this existential trust. That's what we mean by faith. And that connection between faith and doubt, that seems very important in both traditions. And I told our group in the retreat earlier today, but I think it's worth repeating here, that in one of the lectures that I heard Suzuki Roshi give here, he spoke about faith. And I was very surprised that a Buddhist would talk about faith,


but faith exactly in the sense in which we speak about faith, not believing this or that, but trust, this existential trust. And then he says, don't worry about doubt. He said, the greater the doubt, the greater the faith, as long as the faith is a nose's length ahead of your doubt. And the dark night, it seems to me, would be when the doubt, not, as Paul Reilly says, not intellectual doubt, but existential uncertainty, you see, grows just so overwhelming that it seems almost impossible to stay a little bit ahead of it. But it is the challenge to so much greater faith, because the greater the doubt, the greater the faith will be, just as when you're driving on a bike, the stronger the headwind is,


the faster you're going. It just proves that you're going faster, so you have more headwind. And so the more dark night or uncertainty you have, pat yourself on the shoulder and say, it just shows how much faith I have, how daring I am. But I don't want to make fun of it, because from what we read of the great teachers who went through this dark night, it's just a devastating experience. And what we know from our own experience of our own dark nights, it's something very serious. But if you put it in this context of trust and doubt, uncertainty and trust, then I think at least we can somehow navigate it. Yes?


Could you talk a little bit more specifically about the meaning of the word faith to you? Yes. It's placed in your life and spiritual practice. Yes. Most of the time when people speak about faith in everyday language, we really mean beliefs. And when we speak about the faith, we mean a belief system. But that can get us very much on the wrong track. And it is, at least in the Christian context, not at all the original meaning of the word faith. In the English translation of the Gospels, the word belief comes very often.


But when you look at the Greek, it is always faith and not beliefs. It is always faith, always in the sense of trust. And when Jesus says to his disciples, O you of little faith, it doesn't mean you don't have the whole creed, but only half of the creed or a part of the creed, because there wasn't any creed around at that time. There were no beliefs around. There was only his way of living, and you either trust that, or you say this is a little too far out for me. And it is in this setting that faith is spoken about in the Gospels. Now, as I say, that's a dangerous way of speaking, so it's much safer to come back and think of trust and courage every time that you speak of faith. You had another word that you asked about faith, and?


Just faith, but you referred to it as existential trust. Existential trust, yes. I see. So, we know the difference between believing something about a person or believing something that a person says, and trust in that person. We know the difference. And existential trust is then not just in a person, but in the very being, because what's in doubt, in the great doubt, is just everything. Why is there anything? Why am I around? Is there any truth that can ever be found? The whole existence is in doubt, and when this whole existence becomes an object of your trust, and trust presupposes that you don't know for sure,


because if you know for sure you don't have to trust, you just take it as a fact, you don't know, that's why the doubt is necessary, but you trust, and the practice is the expression of that trust, and that is exactly the same in Christian tradition and in Buddhist tradition. We had a hand up back there last time. Yes, please. Yes, I've heard, I don't know if it's dialogues you've done, Paul, but kind of Zen Christian dialogues talk about inter-religious dialogues, and I don't know if I feel like I'm practicing a religious practice here, and Paul, I don't know if you feel that Zen is a religious practice, and I don't know if I feel that you could go that far to say that the practice is not actually a religious practice, but I was wondering maybe you could talk about, is this a religious practice? Is Zen a religious practice?


Is Zen a religious practice? Is that the question? Yes. Say once more what Zen is, that was so good today. Brother David said, say once more what Zen is, and I was thinking, what did I say? What did I say? I said that Zen, the root of the word Zen, Chan, Jhana, is absorption, absorption in the experience of being, which is possible because of the inherent nature of inter-being, that our life is interconnected, and that that is the realization that arises from practice. We realize the interconnected nature of all being,


and to extend it a little further, we realize what in Zen we call original mind, this open consciousness that experiences directly being. And the relationship between that and what arises as the personal experience, to give it one name. So this realization of inter-being and the relationship between what we might call small self and big self, or individual consciousness, or personal and original mind. I think that Zen can have a religious expression.


Fundamentally, it's this realization of interconnected being. Its heritage, it has a methodology to help realize that. As we see, especially in the West, that many Christian monks find it, that methodology enhances their Christian spirituality, and that it can also enhance our Buddhist spirituality. So that would be the relationship to it. And then Zen has in fact developed its own, what we might call its own liturgy. Now, is that a necessary part of realization? It seems like extra stuff to basic practice.


That is, the forms we've taken and that we're working with. Those forms seem maybe a little arbitrary and a little extra and useful, but not actually where the truth lies. We'll get Brother David to comment on that in a moment. I think that religious practice is the enactment of truth. It's the enactment of realization, as well as the vehicle of it. So, religion will be the activity of humans. It will be their endeavor to express and call forth something that's greater than our human endeavor. This is the nature of it.


And so, whenever we look at religions and see how they have acculturated certain ideas and put forth certain doctrines, and then from the light of history we can look at them and say, well, that seems to have a limitation or a misdirection to it. We need to realize that it is this human endeavor. But to simply say that it's extra misses something of its vital expression and something of, you know, basically its good-heartedness and its intention. It is offering us, albeit within whatever kind of limitations it has as a religious practice, it is offering us a vehicle of realization. Well, this is a very easy way of answering your question.


You asked about Zen and religion. Now, Paul has spoken about Zen, and if I oversimplify this, it is the practice of the awareness and practice of connectedness. Leave it at that. And then I will now say what I understand by religion, and you will immediately say we won't have to say much about whether it is religion or not, because the very word religion comes from the Latin, one isn't absolutely sure, but this is the best guess, in my opinion, that it comes from the Latin word religare, which means to tie again. Ligare is tie. I think we have it in English words, ligament, for instance. There is the tie.


So, ligare means to tie, and religare means to tie again. So, religion is the tying again of those ties that were broken between us and the ultimate, between us and ourselves, because we are alienated from ourselves, and between us and all other creatures. That is religion. And that is religion with a capital R, and that is the seed ground that underlies all the different religions that then grow out of it, because religion with a capital R is a basic human attitude. We are the religious animals, you could even say, and we need to be the religious animals, because all the other animals are by nature religious. They have never lost that connectedness, you see. We have lost it, and therefore we have to re-tie it.


That's why we are the religious ones. And in that sense, it's quite obvious that the practice of connectedness is religious, with a capital R, it's a basic religious practice. But your question, I understand, I think, where it comes from, because I am often asked that, of people who belong to another religion, now with a small R, one of those historic religions that have grown up in the course of history, and they say, well, we are Christians, or we are Jews, or we are Muslims. That's the little religions, all of them expressions of the big R religion in their own way. And they say, well, but we are Muslims, and is it okay for our children to practice Zen? If it's another religion, it isn't okay. But if it isn't another religion, it is okay. This is very often the attitude, you see.


And so, I would say, in that sense, it is probably not a religion with a small R. It has religious elements that are from Buddhism, and that's also, I think, why you were a little, oh, well, that's just the trimmings, let's come to the real thing. Maybe that wasn't behind your question. But I think it has some religious trimmings, and they could be called religious in the sense in which we normally talk about the religions. But that it nourishes the great religion, the great religious hunger that every human being has, that is its great strength, you see. It's very basic, deeply religious in that sense. And you could affirm it as being religious in that sense,


and yet deny that it is religious in the sense of being a competitor to any other religion. And in some cases, and I know that some of you may exactly need that to deal with your relatives, for instance. In some of the cases, it's very helpful to do it, to approach it that way. I think there's a basic difference. It involves God, the Catholicy, and, it's a basic difference, different answer to the existential question, whereas one says, well, he has God created us, and the other one is not really dealing with how we're created, but let's just sit, and it will come to us, or let's sit, and we'll get in touch with it. So maybe you can speak to the different approach to God. Yes, please.


We have already talked so much about it, so you know. No, no, no, no, no. Okay. Before we talk about God, we ought to pause and remind ourselves that unless we are just tossing words around that have no connection with our experience, we have to start with our experience. We experience something, and what we experience is that there is more and always more to everything, and not just more of the same, but new dimensions, and this word more is a word, I think last year we talked about it here,


that is very helpful to replace the word God in some circumstances. Now, if we start with our experience, that experience of being related to something or someone greater than us, with the experience, then we can also admit that speaking of this as God, with all the imagery that goes with it, or in any other image, is always image, and we must not get stuck in the image. It is the experience of our relatedness to the ultimate, and to that ultimate mystery from which we come, and to which we go, and which remains mysterious, and the more we know about it, the more mysterious it becomes. If this is true of your girlfriend or of your boyfriend, how much more of the ultimate mystery?


The more you come to know it, the more mysterious it gets. The more dimensions there are, the more and always more. And if we keep that in mind, then Zen is also an experiential way of getting in touch with that ultimate reality. And every other spiritual tradition that is healthy and valid is a way of getting in touch with that. And I say every other tradition that is healthy and valid because nowadays we have, in many parts of the world, and connected with many different religions, unfortunately also the Christian one, the phenomenon of fundamentalism. And fundamentalism is not a healthy religious attitude because it is not based on experience.


It is based on ideology. And it manipulates experience by means of ideology. And it excludes and it narrows. And the sign of true religion, true connectedness with all, with the mystery as well, is that it is all-inclusive. It must be all-inclusive. If it is exclusive, it has already disqualified itself from being called religious. So, that's why I mentioned that. In other words, if we insist on the word God, we might have at least original difficulties in saying that Zen also deals with that. But if we take the word lightly, what happens may be what happened to me when I was talking with my Zen teacher


and I was always carefully avoiding the word God so as not to offend, but it was clear what I was talking about. And it was also clear what he was talking about. And all of a sudden, he keeps talking about God and I get all nervous. I was talking about the ground of being and ultimate reality and he talks freely about God, no problem. I don't know. If this didn't really answer your question, don't hesitate to come back. Did that answer it? As much as your question, I think that it really is a fundamental difference. There is no attempt in Zen for us to explain our existence here based upon the creation myth, which is a very strong thing in religion. The creation myth, this is how we got here,


that basic explanation that I go through, it's a very different approach. So, I was just looking for some thoughts on that. I want to address that. Well, the creation myth, that moves in what one of the members of our group, Sina, calls the middle realm, the realm of the archetypes, which is a very, very important realm, the realm of poetry, in which we need to learn to live. We need to be able to express ourselves in this medium, so to say. And in the whole world, you find creation myths, and they all basically answer the same question. And they don't ask what happened long ago. That is already part of the story that is told in terms of long ago.


You could also replace the temporal metaphor by a spatial one and say, what is it basically all about? So, we're not talking about long ago, but basically, who are we? And what the creation myth then tells you, there are thousands of different creation myths, beautiful, different stories, and it's wonderful that they are so different, and yet give the same answer, is that we are practically nothing, one with the ultimate. That's what it tells you. In the biblical creation myth, God is presented, obviously, beautiful poetic image. God's created as like a potter making this little figure out of clay, and then breathing God's own life breath into the nostrils of this little figure. So, we are clay, mud, nothing.


Alive with the very life breath of the ultimate. It's terrific. And every creation myth, in so many different forms, will tell that same story. There are other myths of origin, just for precision's sake, that are not creation myths. For instance, heaven engenders life out of earth, kind of mating of heaven and earth. That's a different kind of myths of origin. But you asked about creation myths, and the creation myths all have this same pattern. And that's very beautiful, and is very compatible with any religious stance. Yes? What do you see as our role in mysticism?


How much is it developing a practice to bring about these moments of communion, and how much is it just developing an openness so that when they come you're ready to accept them? Does that differ within the two traditions? In one tradition does the ultimate have more of a will, does it choose who it speaks to, or is it just something there waiting for us to reach for? Could you say that last sentence again? In what sense do the traditions differ on their idea of the ultimate having its own will, and how much does it just exist, waiting for us to reach for it? And where does its own will, and who it reaches for, does it have its own will, and its own statements of communion? I muddled it up. Very good. Within the methodology of Zen, if you think of what I was saying earlier,


the silent illumination, or as maybe what we would call in the Zen school, shikantaza, to just sit with complete openness and receive. This is to be illuminated. Now whether we want to say that is other power, or whether we just want to say that, which is maybe closer to the Zen notion, that is the original state, that we allow what originally is to be what it is. But I think there is also, this may be a little different from your question, but I think it is a significant point. The interesting thing about the human condition is that we have both the power, the capacity to separate, and to reconnect.


And that in the reconnecting, there is a realization, there is a revealing. That something becomes apparent, that what is open to, and the realization that we were never separate, that the separation was the product of our own endeavor. And then we release that endeavor, the original being is manifest. So it is the realization that becomes manifest, not the original state. So we prepare ourselves for a moment in which this revealing will take place, or do we bring it about?


That is, I think, behind the question. Yes. So I talked about silent elimination. We avail ourselves of what is. We learn from it. And then the activity of great doubt is this process of finding it everywhere. Yes, that is important. In the Christian context, you said that the ultimate has more of a will. And I like to see it in the context of the giver, the gift and the thanksgiving. This is a view, a frame of reference that seems to speak to very many people today.


In the year 2000, at the end of the year 2000, we started a website on gratefulness. It is just called And we had no idea that this would speak to so many people. It has taken off like wildfire. We have every day between 7,000 and 10,000 individual people come from over 200 different countries to translate in different languages. So it has really taken off. And it is all about this gratefulness. So I like to think of it as this giving. Whatever is given to us comes from that great source that has a will to give, so to say. But when we slide into the misconception of that God that is separated from us, which is just wrong. There is no God that is separated from us.


We are all immersed in it. But when you slide to the God that is separated from us, well then, sometimes that God makes up his mind, dissolves his, makes up his mind to give us something and sometimes not. Leave that God out that is separated from us and the problem disappears. We are continuously in a stream of receiving, of gifts, continuously. The giver just pours out her gifts on us continuously. And we ourselves are gifts. We haven't made ourselves. We haven't bought ourselves. We just happen to be around. We are given to ourselves, so to say. And then the only appropriate attitude is that we give ourselves back to the source in Thanksgiving. And so we have this marvelous, what the early Greek fathers called the circle dance of the Trinity.


It's a circle dance in which the giver pours herself out into the gift and the gift gives everything back in Thanksgiving to the source. And in that reality, that's quite a different thing. And it solves your question. It's the same for both of us. It's the same for every human being. So, unfortunately, we need to stop. We'll have another dialogue the night, not tomorrow night, but the night after. So, save up your questions for that. And thank you. Sorry. Too short. We'll have another one. Okay. May our intention equally extend to every being and place with the true merit of Buddha's way.


Beings are numberless. I vow to save them. Delusions are inexhaustible. I vow to end them. Dharma gates are boundless. I vow to enter them. Buddha's way is unsurpassable. I vow to be honest. And let me also say, it's our joy to give you this gift. And we can do it every night if you want to. So, if you have a request, talk to the Yino. Thank you. Thanks for the many good questions.