August 4th, 2005, Serial No. 03167

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Entirely different, and get it all right. And then somewhere in this wonderful process, you discover maybe they weren't completely wrong. Or maybe more bewilderingly, you discover you're becoming your parents. So I think for those of us who have set out on such a brave endeavor, maybe this dialogue offers us a way to almost, maybe it's even a way to look at our subconscious. What are the formative forces that have shaped our spirituality? Even if it's shaped them in as much as that we're pushing against them. Even that's an interesting notion, to feel the urge to push against theism.


And as we've explored it this week, this sense, this grind of being, this sense of presence, this sense of interbeing. And what cultivates that, and what brings that about, and what's the implication of that? And how does that influence and shape religion, whether we want to call it as Brother David was a couple of nights ago, with a small R or a large R. As an institution or a kindred spirit of activity. So this is the grind we would like to explore with you. And we would be delighted to pick up the conversation we had from a couple of nights ago and carry it forward. Are there any things you'd like to add to that? Just building on what you said about having met great luminaries of the spiritual life.


This is a tremendous privilege, and I realize that. And in some way, all of us bring all the people whom we have met here into this room now, because they have formed us. So they are all present now. I think that's a very encouraging thought. Thank you. Please, Steve. I have a question about, I don't know exactly what the question is, but something about the dark side of our nature. So I think that one of the problems with a fundamentalist attitude is that it projects the dark side or projects evil, bad out.


Because, oh, it's over there. And then the idea is to be completely good and to push away everything that's bad and evil, because it's somewhere else. And my sense of Buddhist practice is very wide and inclusive, even including our not-so-good nature, kind of like that. So I'm just interested in hearing what both of you have to say from a Buddhist and a deeply Catholic perspective about including the dark, including the devil. Please.


But he asked both of us, so you know. Stephen, this is a wonderful question and very deep, and I can't answer it as briefly as I would like to. Because the Christian way of embracing the shadow, as I see it, would come in with the understanding that, as Jesus says, your sins have been forgiven. And there you have to stop and then explain what you mean by sins. The notion of sin that most people have is that, and unfortunately also most Christians, is that there is some divine lawgiver up above us in some realm separated from us,


who imposes certain laws and then, if we don't follow these laws, punishes us or is apt to punish us if we don't ask properly for forgiveness and this sort of thing. And that notion no longer serves us. But even if you just stay with this notion, Jesus says God has forgiven your sins because your sins have been forgiven. And this notion is a way of saying it in Hebrew or in Aramaic that would be better translated as God has forgiven your sins. And since it's God, there isn't a particular point when God does something, but forgiven before always, before you ever committed them. So Jesus gives us this good news, brings to his people who were very much oppressed by their guilt feelings. This is the historic situation into which he comes. He speaks to people who are so oppressed by their guilt feelings that they get sick.


And many of these sicknesses that he heals are connected with telling them that their sins have been forgiven. He doesn't forgive the sins, he just assures them that God has forgiven. And that means that he brings them a completely different image of God, namely, what kind of a God would that be that first makes laws and then allows us to break them and then holds this against us. God has forgiven us before always, he says. And so he brings us a completely new kind of God, who is not the one that sits up there, but one that is closer to us than we are to ourselves, is our true self. And so, in this context of forgiving the sins, he also says, and he teaches us to pray, forgive us as we forgive. And he tells us, if you forgive somebody their sins, they are forgiven.


That means, again, God forgives them. But if you don't forgive others their sins, even God cannot forgive them. God has forgiven them, but God cannot reach that human reality in which you are unforgiving. So, if we take all that seriously, we come to a position that is very, very different from the fundamentalist position where we are right. All sin and all are forgiven and we forgive one another and so channel God's forgiveness to one another. That would be sort of the Christian way of embracing the shadow. And it is a way that, as you know, many Christians do not see because there are many reasons. But historically, this notion, this teaching of Jesus, was really lost or only seen by mystics and saints in the course of the history.


But the institution as such very strongly lives on making people feel guilty and then forgiving them and then they come back and need to be forgiven again. That keeps the institution in place. This institution is not going to last much longer, but this is what we are still dealing with. But this institution also, as Paul reminded me, is the one that carries the message of Jesus. And so, that's the good part of it. It's the rusty pipe syndrome. We drink our clean water out of pipes that are so rusty and ugly that if we saw the pipes, we would think twice before we drink our water. But I hope this shows a little bit how, in the midst of a not very healthy situation, the doctrine is still there and is intact.


That God's forgiveness embraces all, the good and bad, and we can enter into this forgiveness, into this embrace of good, of all that there is. And that there is something wrong that we call sin, that we all agree, because Buddhists call it dukkha and we call it original sin. And nobody knows exactly what it is, but it's a mess. And we have inherited it, so to say. Well, I would agree. I would agree that there is dukkha. But I would say that right in our own practice of awareness, we start to see the nature and the consequence of the separation of misguided view of assumptions. Those are the forces that cause this contraction, that cause us to have this notion that aggression and violence and other kinds of separation and assertion against what we've separated from, essentially, it's just mistaken view.


And nothing more. And whether you want to say, well, that's another way of saying, originally, our sins have been forgiven. I mean, I actually read, Katagiri Roshi said something very similar to that. He said, everything is originally forgiven. But personally, I would say, just in our own practice, in watching where we contract and where we separate, and how, when we pay close attention, we can see mistaken view. It scares me a little when it's reified and something like Satan, the devil, evil. As I was saying in the workshop, the words that work for me are kusala and akusala, that which leads to the interconnected awakening and that which doesn't.


Those two adjectives, to me, they're an operative activity. And I remember going back to Belfast to where I grew up and deciding, peacemaking means it's all us. And I think that works individually. Everything that arises is part of this being. There is no part that can be separate from that, and that collectively. And that in the process of peacemaking, my vow was to meet with everybody, to meet with politicians, to meet with paramilitaries, and have the most wonderful, engaging, and I would say, spiritual conversations. I'm thinking of one in particular with someone who was infamous for his brutal murders. And very interestingly, as we talked into the night, and he said, and then when I was in prison, I fell into this dialogue with my cohort, another famous murderer, and we asked each other, what is the most important thing?


And as they pursued that dialogue, the consequence for him was to try to bring peace. So, I think it's too easy to sort of say, oh, he did that? That's such an evil act, that's such an evil person. But you know, in his own reflections, he came to, do we want to call it redemption, or do we just want to say he came to his senses, he shifted his values, and he was released from prison, and he devoted his life to peacemaking. And he went back to his cohorts and said, I think we should make peace. And they looked at him and thought, ah, he's gone crazy. But to me, that says, within each being, this is a capacity. And collectively.


And maybe a key word that hasn't been mentioned in the context is still very important, is fear. Because all this non-forgiveness comes out of fear. And so, our most important task today, whoever you are, wherever you are, is to overcome fear. First your own fears, find them, identify them, overcome them, and overcome fear in society. There's so much fear-mongering, as we know, and by people who are interested in having everybody fearful, but even in little things, that you don't tell stories that are otherwise innocuous, but make people afraid. You hear of a murder, let it stop there, you don't have to tell everybody about it, or talk about it, the media do that anyway. Anything that you share with somebody else, if you catch yourself thinking that might make them a little more afraid than they are now, say the opposite, or say nothing.


Thank you. You know, there are actually two questions now. According to what you were saying, what are the consequences of non-forgiving, from your point of view? And another question would be for me, there are all spiritual paths, or religions, you know, if you don't want to call it religion, let's call it a spiritual path, but they all come from different directions, and if it is my point of view, we end up in the light of love. I would call it the Bhagavad Gita way. And what makes, if this is right, I don't know if you see me that way, but if this is right, what makes your spiritual path so precious that you want to go that path?


So where does it split up? We have some, in every spiritual path we have some kind of basic rules, I studied it, so that's, you know, a certain layer, and then there are little, you know, pathways around it, at the end we come out at the same end, I would say so. So I would like to know how you both are seeing that. So that's our two questions. Would you start, because I forgot the first half of my question. The consequence of non-forgiving. Oh, that's right. The consequence of non-forgiving, and the second part was, do all paths lead to the same place? Or why do you choose that particular… What makes our paths so precious to us? The consequence of non-forgiveness. The perpetuation of this contraction, of this separation, of this life based on fear that initiates hostility.


I mean, it makes sense that if you're afraid that some separate being threatens your well-being, well then it makes sense you should attack that other and diminish its power, so you'll thrive. That's the common way of thinking, I agree. Yes, so that would be, I would think would be, I mean, if one holds that thinking in a way, going to war, causing violence, trying to make, diminish the power of your enemies, makes sense, if you hold that way of thinking. And I think within ourselves, if there's some part of ourself that we set aside or separate from, we have that kind of inner war. You know, we struggle with ourselves, you know, and I think that can be enormously consuming. That struggling with ourself, you know, one part is trying to diminish some part of ourself, and then I would say some deeper wisdom knows that that's part of ourself and won't let it be crushed until we have this seesaw battle.


And then sometimes it leads us to, you know, having divergent behavior, you know, we so-called sin, and then we reform, you know, and then we fall off the wagon, and when we, you know, so we have this kind of bipolar existence, you know, that's living a double life, and they contrast. Are we trying to do this, and then this kind of sneaks in, and people say, well, that's the complete opposite to the life you're trying to live. Yes, because that's the shadow that isn't being addressed. I have hardly anything to add to it, I completely agree, but what makes it so difficult is that what makes us all happy is belonging, and the more people, that's what we all want. We want to belong, that's the essence of happiness, that everybody belongs together, and when we make somebody the enemy, we diminish this belonging, and so we make ourselves unhappy, and make society unhappy, the more it is divided, the less it belongs together.


And also that what we usually find most difficult to forgive others is what we haven't forgiven ourselves. That's what works most in others, so it is even a good method to come to know yourself, that you ask yourself, what bothers me most about other people, what bothers me about this person, or so, and then you can be sure that if you look closely, you have that within yourself. Whatever bothers you most, you have the seed in yourself, and that's why it bothers you so much. So it can be even turned around and be made useful. And then the other half is why it's your path. And one other ingredient, including happiness, is trust and mistrust. I think when there's pervasive mistrust, both in our community and in our society at large, that leads to fragmentation, that leads to superficiality.


That leads to a necessity for strict hierarchy and strict rules, and then the more trust there is, the more fluid and we could even say anarchistic a system can be, the more it can adapt to what needs to happen at that particular time. I think that's another element, both in ourselves. As there's a mistrust of our own abilities, then we'll become more rule-bound. This has to happen. And again, that will be problematic because some part of us will know that that isn't sufficient just to comply with rules. What brought me to the path that I follow? Hmm. I have two answers come to mind.


One answer is a particular moment when I was about 24 and I read a book on Zen, and it was like this exhilaration. And it was like, this is it, this is it, this is it. And I literally couldn't sleep that night. It was like all these ideas and associations and all going off together. That's one answer. And that's never gone away. It's just, quite soon after that, I went off and became a Theravadan monk, but I was a Zen Theravadan monk. Would you agree that we are ending up in the same place if we practice long enough?


Let me give you my other answer because it confuses it quite nicely. Then I think of kind of how the spiritual spark in my own life initiated, you know, was set in motion. I think it, you know, the story I have about it was that somewhere between three and seven, it started and it took shape and it had its own kind of involvement in life. And then another way I can look at my life and think, well, in my teenage years, I did my best to ignore it and do the opposite. But then about 22, I sort of like went, no, no, I just got to go back to that. That's really the only thing that makes sense. And it just seems like then my life has just been that, following that, you know, and it just turned out certain ways.


You know, I ended up in Japan and that's how it turned out. And I ended up here and then this is how it turned out. And it's so important to you because it's your path. Yes. Authentic path. Yes. It's you. Yes. Well, in my case, we started out very, very similarly, Paul and I. I think our childhood was so, so similar. We could have, he could have gone my way and I could have gone his way, actually. And I believe that the more I come to know him, the more I believe that both of us really authentically went, carried, developed something that was in that original possibility. So the outcome of the original possibility can be very different in both cases. In my case, this was so different because at the time, I grew up in a Catholic country where practically everybody was Catholic


and in a Catholic family and came into a wonderful Catholic school run by lay people, which I loved. They just loved this school and they were so dedicated. These teachers had started the school on their own and it was a kind of counterculture group. And they would every year add a class as years went on as to build the school. And the teachers would walk to school to save those 35 cents that the tram fare cost just to contribute to the school fund. And so it was a wonderful school, but that was only for two years and then the Nazis came. And all my teens, I lived under the Nazis in Austria. And they really were persecuting the church, not as dramatically as in some other places, but it was a clear persecution.


And for instance, in our school, they made every effort to take the dean away and exchange professors and so forth. It was pretty dramatic, really. And so in my teens, when I would have rebelled against the institution, which would have been the church, I rebelled against the institution which was persecuting the church. So more and more I got into it, more and more deeply. So it's for that reason that I grew deeply into it. And it means so much to me because it's better than others. I gave that up as soon as I came to know the other traditions. To the extent to which anybody knows other traditions than their own, they are almost immune from thinking that theirs is better.


If they have an open mind and meet other traditions, they see that the others are just as good. And they have just as good people and everything else. And so I gave that up. But still, I like my own tradition very much because I grew up in it. Little details mean a lot to me. It's largely cultural. The whole Christian monastic culture means a lot to me. It means a lot to me that my ancestors worshipped in that same way. That there's a kind of continuity. And the great teachers that I have. In no way meaning that others are not as good. But this is mine. Just as you may have your nationality, and that doesn't mean that other nationalities are not as good. But you're like yours. You have your customs, you like your language, and so forth. In that sense.


And then your last question was, don't they all come together? Well, I do think that every great tradition that I've come across preaches compassion, and love, and peace, and so forth. But the adherents of them very often fall short of that. So they also, as I understand it, all come from the same source, from the same root. They are just culturally different expressions of that deep religious longing, with a capital R, religion, of the human heart. So it's not surprising that eventually they would also come to the same point. And on the last part, I would say, I'm not sure. Did they come to the same point? Well, sometimes when I hear you speak, Brother David, and I hear the language of sin, and redemption, and Christ, and God,


there's a part of me that's just bamboozled. Maybe I just have a very simple mind. I just think of mindfulness, paying attention to my breathing, and the simple extensions of that. Somehow I find Zen simple-minded, and I'm kind of reassured. I don't know. Okay, I cannot know. I can do that, sort of. But at least I can get the notion. And certainly the more I dialogue and explore with Brother David, but really, when it all comes down to me,


what persuades me about Brother David is that I experience him as a person of the Spirit, a good person. And that sort of speaks much louder than the language he uses to describe what you might call the mechanisms of how that comes into being. I sort of think, well, okay. If that's the language that works for you, fine. It's almost as if my comfort zone, just on a personal level, is more around silence. Or those silly, pithy Zen statements that say nothing. It's like some part of me goes, ah! Nothing. I like nothing.


I understand that. Different traditions are different, but they also have some aspects that are better than others, and other aspects that are less better in the sense of helpful. And Zen has this directness, that direct approach. And in the Christian tradition also, we call it with the Latin term simplicitas cordis, the simplicity of heart. That's the highest goal. The monks have sort of like a target, and different things that they aim for, and the bullseye is simpleness of heart. So Zen is way ahead of us in that respect. It cuts through a lot of things. And in that respect, I don't see anything wrong with saying,


in that respect, this tradition is better, more helpful. And another tradition may say, and in your tradition, this is more helpful. Please, just a second. Short questions. Would you say what book you were reading, if you remember? And also, would you say something about being a Zen Theravada monk? What book I was reading? When you were 24. Oh, when I was 24. I read a book called The Iron Flute. It's probably up in the library. You know it? As a librarian, you know. It's what? It's even shelved correctly. It's even shelved correctly. That was the book I read. And what was the second part? Would you say something about what it means to be a Zen Theravadan monk?


Somehow or another, I don't know how, but I got this notion that monastic training was monastic training. And really, it didn't, whether I did that in a Zen context or a Theravadan context, was not primary. It was that I would engage in monastic training. I just want to say, I thought you were asking us what books we would recommend. I misunderstood. And so I'm happy to give me this opportunity. Because there is a book that in recent years I've been reading over and over and over again, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. And it's Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now. So really, this is a very important book, it seems to me. Would you comment a little bit on, I know you've said this, maybe it would be nice to hear people hear this,


the commonality of monastic training, how that seems to go across religious traditions in its essence. Yes. We were talking at supper about this, that really the monastic longing, which to a certain extent all of us have, but monks have it so strongly that they act upon it if they can. And some have it very strongly, and circumstances don't allow them to act upon it, or they grow up in a tradition that doesn't have a monastic tradition. But the monastic tradition is what Thomas Merton called an instinct of the human heart. And so I think it would be a misunderstanding to think that a monk is a super-Buddhist. And it certainly would be wrong to say that a Christian monk is a super-Christian. It just happens to be a monk that happens also to be a Christian.


And if that person had grown up in a Buddhist country, that person would have become a Buddhist monk. And if he or she had grown up in a tradition that has no monasticism, they would have become frustrated. There's a question back there. I understand more Buddha's way, and what I don't understand is what is the meaning really of God's will? I think that's for you. What does the expression God's will mean, right? Well, again, this is one of those points where you have to first see from what concept of God you come. And if you come from the notion that God is this cosmic potentate


who lays down the laws, then the laws are God's will, and then you carry them out and so forth, and there will be some intermediaries who tells you and spells them out, and what exactly God wants, and so forth. This is not what I understand by God's will, because I don't identify with that notion of God. We are totally immersed in God, and God is totally in us, closer to us than we are to ourselves. So God's will is... If you want to use this expression God's will, God wills whatever helps us to find fulfillment, wherever we find the direction towards fulfillment. That is for growth, spiritual growth. And wherever we see this, but we somehow can't get ourselves quite to follow that flow,


then our growth is a little bit stunted. That's the notion of sin that remains, it's kind of stunted growth. But that is not a fault, it is like a sickness, and that is why the mystics have said God loves the sinners more than the other ones, just like my mother runs to the child that has fallen and hurt herself, rather than to the child that hasn't fallen. So if anything God loves the sinner more. So the love of God, the power of that divine reality in which we are immersed, flows towards the stunted growth and helps it more, pushes it more to fully unfold. And the will of God is, as Jesus put it, that they have life and have it abundantly. One last question.


I think that's you, Danny. I was just curious, I'm somewhat familiar with Zen Buddhist practice and the practice of observing physical sensations, thoughts, and trying to understand the mind and habit energies, but I'm completely unfamiliar with how Christian tradition deals with that and how much you might speak to that a little bit, about the meditative side of Christian practice. So the question is, in Zen there is a great deal of attention to the psychological aspects of spiritual growth. More than the psychological, the immediate experience of awareness. Yes, it's something comparable in Christianity. And I would have to say, in Christianity it's really mostly in the monastic tradition,


and in the monastic tradition it's very much like that. There is probably a difference, because in Buddhism it's not only in the monastic tradition. Am I wrong there? I think Buddhism itself... In the West, we've taken what essentially in the East is considered to be a monastic tradition, and we've sort of said, no, we're all going to do this. We are all monastics, and we will all practice mindfulness and meditation. But in the East, you could argue that there is a demarcation. The monks, the monastics, the monks and nuns do this practice, and the practice of the laity is to support them to do that. And that would be the situation in the Christian churches. However, a very interesting phenomenon is taking place now,


for sociological reasons, and I guess other reasons, I don't know exactly all the reasons, but the monks in the Catholic Church are getting fewer and fewer, and not so many young people join. And instead, the extended family of the monastery, we call them oblates, they are really members of the monastic community, but they live their own lives in the world, and in any profession, and as householders, and so forth. But really, their spiritual life is formed by monastic life, and they are expanding by leaps and bounds. There are monasteries that have hundreds of these oblates, and some that have thousands of these oblates. And there are many books now, written by women very frequently, who are oblates, and write about mostly Benedictine monastic life,


for householders, as householders, and that is maybe something that points very much towards the future. Yes. So I think we should make some closing remarks. I would like to close with two ideas. One that I, just to repeat myself, I do think for many of us who grew up in a theistic spiritual base, that maybe there is something there for us to explore, or maybe to not feel like we need to push away. I mean, certainly, to be honest, I don't have an affinity towards theistic thinking, but certainly in dialoguing with Brother David, I start to have a deeper sense of where I came from,


and how it influences who I am now, and I find that useful. And then the other thought, quite a different thought, is this notion of the efficacy of monasticism, and how do we, because it strikes me, both when you look at Christian monasteries here in the West, and the shrinking population, and when you look at Buddhist monasteries in Japan, and in some other Buddhist countries, the shrinking population. You know, how do we enable and carry this practice beyond its traditional formal settings, and keep it alive in our everyday lives? I think that's part of the creative development of spirituality. And I think now, it seems to me like we don't have a need to be so sectarian.


You know, like to feel, I'm this and I'm not that. This is a diminishing thought for us. Kind of like, we're more like, what works well? You know, what's most appropriate and helpful? You know, that's what I want to do. It seems to me that's our more common experience, and that just fills my heart with joy, because this sort of evil as this source of disconnection and separation, I think coming together and cultivating this mutual trust and appreciation is also a very formative contribution that we can make in our time. I think I would like to close with a short poem, because we discovered that we both like Naomi Shihab Nye's poetry very much, and I have one of her poems. And the connection between what we have done tonight and the poem is this,


that I think in a conversation like that, we very frequently feel this kind of spark. Something lights up and invites us. And the great challenge is not now to go out and forget about it, but to somehow follow it up, and admit that something touched us deeply, and admit that, or be at least open when it comes, to be alert and not turn away from it. And this poem is called Missing the Boat. I hear you chucking, so some of you probably know it already. So this is Missing the Boat by Naomi Shihab Nye. But you had that idea you were going by train. You kept checking the timetable, digging for tracks.


And the boat get tired of you, so tired it pulled up the anchor and raised the ramp. The boat bobbed into the distance, shrinking like a toy, at which point you probably realized you had always loved the sea. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.