The Urban Dharma Newsletter... August 20, 2002


In This Issue:

1. Understanding the Art of Buddhism
2. Internet puts world of religions, sects at your fingertips
3. Interfaith summer school teaches values
Sparing a thought for today
5. Book Review: The Deepest Spiritual Life
6. Temple/Center of the Week:
Abbey of Gethsemani


1. Visions of Enlightenment: Understanding the Art of Buddhism

Pacific Asia Museum... 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena

* http://www.pacificasiamuseum.org/ 

Buddhist paintings, sculptures and ritual objects from India, Tibet, China, Thailand and Japan.

Sep. 29, 2002 - Jan. 12, 2003

Wed.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fri., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Tickets: Box office: 626-449-2742.

Internet puts world of religions, sects at your fingertips

BY BILL BROADWAY Washington Post Service

Of the scores of new websites on religion, a few have emerged as particularly useful to anyone interested in learning more about different expressions of faith.

Enthusiasts can thank people like Preston Hunter, a computer programmer in Texas who developed Adherents.com, perhaps the most extensive Internet bank of membership statistics, and Harry Plantinga, a computer science professor in Michigan who spent thousands of hours scanning texts to create the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Here is a list of some informative and helpful sites developed by individuals, institutions or organizations. All can be accessed without a fee and without registering for membership.

Adherents.com (http://www.adherents.com)

This site breaks down more than 4,200 religions, denominations and other faith groups throughout the world by size and geographic area. It also includes such facts as the religious affiliations of U.S. presidents, actors and science fiction/fantasy writers.

American Religion Data Archive (http://www.thearda.com)

This Lilly Endowment project maps major religious affiliations by state, county and metropolitan area using data from national surveys and studies.

Black and Christian (http://www.blackandchristian.com)

Founded by Harvard Divinity School graduate Jacqueline Trussel, this two-year-old site provides news, histories and features about black denominations, plus chat rooms and tips on preaching and worship.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library (http://www.ccel.org)

This volunteer-run service presents hundreds of works in the public domain -- meaning it's legal to download them -- as text or MP3 audio files.

DavidWiley.com (http://www.davidwiley.com/)

Dozens of sacred texts of world religions -- Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and the Baha'i faith among them -- plus such works as the Egyptian Book of the Dead and Dead Sea Scrolls.

e-library (http://www.lib.iastate.edu/)

This Iowa State University site offers dozens of links to religious resources on the Internet. Similar services include the Internet Resources in Religion and Society (http://www.users.drew.edu/epullen/).

Freedom Forum (http://www.fac.org/first)

The Nashville-based First Amendment Center offers guidelines, updates and curriculum packages on such issues as prayer in public school, school-voucher programs and censorship.

Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (http://www.wheaton.edu/isae)

Wheaton College in Illinois, the alma mater of the Rev. Billy Graham, is considered by many the spiritual and intellectual center of American evangelical Protestantism. History, resources and news appear here, along with a glossary that clarifies such terms as evangelicalism, fundamentalism and pentecostalism.

Patron Saints Index (http://www.catholic-forum.com/)

The number of entries on this site has increased rapidly with Pope John Paul II's unprecedented rate of beatification pronouncements. Profiles include portraits, biographical information, areas of patronage and readings.

Pluralism Project (http://www.pluralism.org)

Harvard University's Pluralism Project has emerged in recent years as a premier observer of America's rapidly changing religious landscape.

More than a listing of sites and resources, this University of Virginia project has originated 150 profiles of religious movements, including recently formed sects and cults. This expansive resource also houses the archives of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Worldwide Faith News (http://www.wfn.org)

An interfaith group of two dozen U.S. denominations supports this database of news releases on religious events, activities and developments worldwide.

Interfaith summer school teaches values

Maria Lockwood... The Daily Telegram

Lani is a gymnast. Meg loves to dance. Katie plays piano and Libby is a basketball player. Susan came hoping to make crafts and play games. Jacob came because his mom made him.

These six children embarked on a journey Monday. They are pioneers in the first Interfaith Summer School, which takes place in the Twin Ports Baha’i Center in Superior this week.

By Friday, students will have spent time with teachers from many faiths — including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

“You are going to meet people from all religions,” Marj Johnson of the Baha’i community told the children. “You’ll find we’re all alike.”

The summer school is not based on religion, however. It’s based on virtues.

“What we’re going to be talking about is values,” said Joanne Blyler, a member of the Christian community. “No matter what religion you are, there are values which are common to all faiths.”

“That’s what the program is,” said Peggy Guello of Superior, who signed her children up for the program. “That’s what is so neat about it.”

Monday included introductions, lemonade and the story of a conceited raindrop. Jeff Ballou of the Baha’i community talked about the virtues of unity and assertiveness, incorporating nature into the theme.

The groundwork for the course was laid. Unity, said Libby, “means we all can work together.”

“It means we can be together but still be different,” said Susan.

Tuesday the children each put together a collage of dreams and listened to stories from former University of Minnesota Duluth professor Robert Powless, known in the Native American community as “Dr. Bob.” He told Chippewa stories of Winibozho — “the flood story” and one entitled “Winibozho sets fire to his rear.” Then he told a story from his own Oneida tribe, that of the husk-face doll. The story dealt with the virtue of humility and gave listeners a glimpse into the Oneida culture.

“I imagine they are stories that are not often told to children in Superior,” said Powless. “I think it’s important, since every culture has its stories, that these get shared more often then they do.” Stories, he said, light up the imagination and make things memorable.

“It’s important for us to understand that all cultures passed down values through their stories,” said Powless.

Which is why Koresh Lakhan of the Hindu community plans to illustrate his lesson on loyalty with the story of an Indian hero who would not enter heaven without his dog. Don Pearce of the Buddhist community will use stories to illustrate compassion, the virtue of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Parents were excited about the possibilities offered by the summer school.

Tom Reierson of Duluth looked at the five-day course as a chance for his youngest daughter to learn more about the stories and mythologies of many religions.

“I guess it will give her a base from which to ask more questions,” he said.

“We need to get to know each other better, understand our similarities and celebrate our differences,” said Blyler, whose granddaughters are in the class.

“I think it’s a real unique opportunity, a wonderful opportunity,” said Guello. “It’s a really neat group of people putting this forward.”

The concept of holding an interfaith summer school started with one of the common virtues — friendliness.

“The Baha’i center wanted to find a way to be of service to the neighborhood,” said Johnson. They wanted to offer something for children, but with a twist.

“We wanted to model people of all faiths working together,” Johnson said.

Already, plans are in the works to hold interfaith summer school in both Superior and Duluth next year.

“There’s a lot of interest,” said Johnson.

Powless said he was happy to be part of the inaugural course.

“On my reservation in Wisconsin we’ve had every denomination, every religious group in the continental U.S. come to save the Oneida,” he said. “Because of that it’s easy to have to pick up their stories. But I’m hoping some of them picked up our stories as well.”

The success of the Interfaith Summer School, he said, will be where the stories go from here. That rests in the hands of six pioneers — a dancer, a gymnast, a pianist, a basketball player, an artist and an honest son.

“If even one or two of them will pass one of these stories along to a brother, sister, friend,” said Powless, “then maybe to some degree it has served its purpose.”

Sparing a thought for today

Thought for the Day, BBC Radio 4's daily religious ponder, has again secured its position as one of broadcasting's most controversial spots. Could the latest quarrel point to a larger debate in society?

In seeking to represent the major religions in the UK, contributors to Thought for the Day are drawn from Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Sikhism, as well as the variety of Christian denominations.

Some of there religions have common ground, most have some shared values. But religions by their nature are not easily interchangeable, and it is a risk acknowledged by the Daily Telegraph that in seeking to please everyone, no-one may be pleased.

If we include secular voices, we undermine the slot's distinctiveness

Christine Morgan

"With very few exceptions, what you get from rabbi, priest and mullah alike is Religion Lite: doctrine so watered down as to be inoffensive to all - or, rather, offensive only in its patronising banality," it said.

Ethically valid

And now the humanists and atheists are wading in to the debate. Madeleine Pym, policy officer of the British Humanist Association, says that the UK has now nominally accepted that non-religious people do have a ethically valid set of values. This should be reflected in Thought for the Day.

"There is a coherent and valuable system of non-religious ethical and moral beliefs that goes back at least 2,500 years to the philosophers of Ancient Greece, with which Humanism shares its origins.

"These beliefs are at least as valid as those of the major (and, let's not forget, minor religions). And they are alive and well in the views of modern philosophers and in the everyday moral perspective of many of the 30-40% of non-religious people in this country."

Unique insight

Christine Morgan, the series producer of Thought for the Day, has said that opening it up to people non-religious voices could destroy it.

"This short strand is unique, offering a faith perspective within a news programme. If we include secular voices, we undermine the slot's very distinctiveness."

But it does highlight the debate about what the relationship is between religious beliefs and secular standards.

Default position

Humanist philosopher Professor Peter Simons, of Leeds University, says there is widespread unease that matters of ethics are so "dictated or influenced" by religious opinions.

"There's a kind of default position which is a reflex that if people are in a medical or ethical dilemma, they should go and see a priest or a rabbi or an imam who will tell them the right thing to do."

Having a humanist input into Thought for the Day could add this extra dimension, he says, although he predicts that he or she would not necessarily stick out from the religious contributors.

Dr Colin Morris, a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC, likens claims that Thought for the Day discriminates against atheists as being like saying the Proms discriminates against the tone-deaf.

"Their ears are tuned to a different wavelength," he says.

It is perhaps ironic that on the day the slot was being criticised for being bland, regular contributor Anne Atkins made what many listeners will have found a particularly moving broadcast about the grief for the parents of the two missing Cambridgeshire schoolgirls.

Missing girls

Nearly in tears herself, she tussled with a perennial thorn in the sides of many believers and non-believers alike - namely how can a caring God permit such suffering.

"What possible reasoning can reconcile us to the absence of two children? What philosophy can teach parents to endure such a terrible night of waiting? What theology could have given this morning's hope or arguments ease the ongoing pain?

"So we naturally ask where was [God] through the night, and why he does so little in the face of suffering... Sometimes there aren't any answers, or the answers we get are worse than no answers."

She concluded: "[God] was there [with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane]. He was there in the tears, and the watching and the waiting through the long night. He was there in person, in a frightened man clinging to hope and facing an uncertain future."

Dr Morris says the slot is there either to challenge or to comfort. Both sides in the debate will agree that it is certainly doing at least that.


Religious or secular...

Religion is for control of people's minds and against free thinking. Enough said.

Mark Judd, Britain

Atheism like any other religion is a matter of faith.

Simon Richardson, UK

A parable with a moral or ethical issue, embedded within a religious context, remains a moral or ethical issue, nonetheless, and as such is relevant to anyone with morals or ethics, be they religious or not.

Kaye Elling, UK

Let no one tell you who God is, they have no more idea than you do

Brendan MacLean, Birmingham

How about "Today, I shall not inflict my beliefs or opinions upon others"

Chris Moore, UK

If God said he would no longer interfere, why do we look to him so much for help?

Steve, England

Wouldn't the world be a much nicer place if everyone wasn't on the make but instead did things out of kindness for one and other?

Simon Cambridge, England

What use is religion if those who "believe" fight more than those who don't?

Lee R, UK

Let us assume God is not there and try to build better world. In this shrinking world it is not very easy to have so many religions and beliefs.

Prakash , India

Do we seriously expect God to be in our lives, when we spend so much time and devote so much effort, to shutting Him out?

Matt Haywood, England

I pray for the safe return of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells

Sue Sinden, Kent

In the darkest times; light a candle and enjoy its simple, silent warmth.

Chris, UK

My thought for today, as it is most days, is "Roll on tomorrow"!

Ian, Scotland

How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.

Chris, US

Has anyone ever known a fanatical atheist? Hopefully one day everyone will see the benefits of humanism.

Andy Lilley, UK

5. The Deepest Spiritual Life
...Susan Quinn

* http://www.thedeepestspirituallife.com/

Susan Quinn is a practicing Zen Buddhist and an active member of the Three Treasures Zen Community in Vista, CA. She attends intensive retreats three to four times a year, and has been an active volunteer and board member of her Zen community. She has been involved with Zen Buddhism for nine years, practicing shikantaza and working with a certified teacher on koans. Currently she is the shuso, or head trainee of her Zen community, a position that recognizes her progress on the path, as well as her aspiration to deepen her spiritual life. She is also a Jew, and practices Jewish prayer and meditation.

THE DEEPEST SPIRITUAL LIFE: The Art of Combining Personal Spiritual Practice with Religious Community reveals that many mainstream religious communities are beginning to teach, guide and support their congregants in both developing individual meditative and prayer lives, as well as in following traditional religious practices within a communal context. Religious leaders, spiritual directors, meditation group leaders and congregants describe in this book how religious community and individual spiritual practices combine to enrich one's life with meaning, love, compassion and an intimate connection with the Divine. The voices of the many spiritual and religious leaders I interviewed add substance to the narrative. In THE DEEPEST SPIRITUAL LIFE, ideas and viewpoints are expressed in the words and beliefs of 27 individuals representing a wide variety of religious practices: Roman Catholic, United Methodist, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Buddhist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Quaker, Judaism, Islam, Presbyterian, the Vedanta Society (Hindu) and Science of Mind.

In another approach, I weave my own experiences into the text, sharing my personal shortcomings, frustrations, challenges and successes. I've tried to share my own insights along with practical and empathetic counsel, and worked to communicate in a manner accessible not only to spiritual and religious practitioners but to any dedicated and inquisitive layperson who is open to the spiritual wealth of the journey.

(White Cloud Press, Ashland, OR, ISBN 1-883991-44-7, $16.95)

6. Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky

* http://www.monks.org/

We are Trappists, Cistercians, Benedictines, monks. Trappists are a kind of Cistercian; Cistercians are a kind of Benedictine; Benedictines are a kind of monk. It is a question of different ways of being monks, of seeking silence, solitude, discipline for the sake of living the gospel well, for the sake of growing in love.

Other religions have monks. Around 300 AD Christians began to seek solitude as a means of drawing closer to God and coming to love their neighbor. Some lived by themselves, hermits. Some lived in communities where silence and simplicity helped them focus on God.

Shortly after 500 AD in central Italy, St. Benedict wrote a rule for monks living in community. St. Benedict led his monks to God by a searching obedience, fraternal charity and a balanced way of life that, while exacting, remained within in the reach of the average Christian. Eventually, this rule came to be followed by most of the monasteries of the western Church. Those who live according to the rule of St. Benedict are called Benedictines.

As the rule of St. Benedict spread to different times, places and situations, it gave rise to different interpretations and adaptations, to different observances. In Burgundy, France, just before 1100, the Cistercians accented poverty, work to support themselves, separation from worldly affairs, a measure of common prayer that left ample time for individual prayer and reading.

The 17th century reform spearheaded by the monastery of la Trappe (hence the name "Trappist") aimed at recovering the austerity of the early Cistercians and their interpretation of the rule of St. Benedict. Mitigations in the areas of silence, diet, manual labor, recreation, contact with the outside world were rejected.

One of the communities following the Trappist reform was Melleray in western France. By 1848, Melleray was so flourishing that overpopulation made a foundation necessary. Friendship with the aged Bishop Flaget drew them to Kentucky. On December 21, 1848, 45 founders from Melleray settled at the Gethsemani, into buildings and property purchased from the Sisters of Loretto.

The Trappist Cistercian Order

Worldwide there are 100 monasteries of Trappist monks and 67 of Trappistine nuns. In the U.S. there are twelve of men and five of women. Five of the U.S. houses were founded from Gethsemani: Holy Spirit in Georgia, Holy Trinity in Utah, Mepkin in South Carolina, Genesse in New York and New Claivaux in California. In addition, Gethsemani has a daughterhouse in Chile.

The communities of our order are bonded into affiliations rather than provinces. This means that a community retains a certain responsibility for any communities which it founds. Thus Gethsemani maintains a special relationship with Melleray, from which it was founded, and also with the houses founded from Gethsemani.

While each house has considerable independence, the order as a whole does have a rule (rule of St. Benedict) and constitutions. Every three or four years, the abbots and abbesses gather to consider matters of concern to the whole order. This assembly is the general chapter. Between chapters, the abbot general and his council handle the ordinary affairs of the order.

The Abbot

The word "abbot" comes from Aramaic and means "father." He is considered to hold the place of Christ in the community. Elected by all those who have permanent vows, he is ultimately responsible for the spiritual and temporal well-being of the community and each member. Within the framework of the rule of St. Benedict, the abbot works out with each monk his own balance of common prayer, lectio divina an work. He assigns each monk his particular tasks, generally after dialogue with the individual. The monks are to be open enough with their abbot that he can make these arrangements intelligently. Through his administration, through talks with individuals and conferences to the community, the abbot is spiritual guide and father for the community.

The Apostolate

We do not engage in teaching or ministry outside the monastery. We do have a thirty room retreat house which welcomes men and women to share in our life to some extent.

Apart from this, our apostolate is simply being monks, fulfilling our particular role in the mystical body of Christ. This is to say: our apostolate is to live the gospel in our particular way for the sake of all our sisters and brothers. This includes praying for them.

Ultimately, the only justification for our way of life is the fact that the Holy Spirit seems to keep calling people to it. Is it unreasonable for some to dedicate their lives more exclusively to loving, serving, being attentive to God?

If there is a witness value in this, reminding the others of God's rights in their own life, this is a by-product of a life primarily centered on God.


The fundamental discipline is surrendering our will to God and submitting ourselves to the guidance of another. This does not at all exclude a personal search for the will of God but it does mean we bring more important decisions to the superior for discernment.

The pattern and regularity of the daily schedule can be a searching discipline. When it is time for the office or other community exercise, the monk goes.

Living a community of love with 65 other persons, year in, year out, implies a willingness to sacrifice oneself.

Bringing our best effort to prayer, whether we feel like it or not, can be costly. The relative lack of recognition for achievements that comes from being hidden in a community goes far to tone down excessive self-concern.

Friendship is encouraged. Community amounts to a network of friendships. Yet these must be balanced with the need for solitude and with our radical commitment to Christ.

These are the real penances in Trappist life, moreso than fasting, abstinence from meat (actually, the meals are well-balanced and well-prepared), silence, vigils.

A Monk's Day

Vigils, lauds, terce, sext, none, vespers and compline are the seven "hours" of the liturgy of the hours or opus Dei (work of God) as St. Benedict called it in his rule. They are common prayer services, the prayer of the Church as well as the prayer of our community. None of these "hours" actually lasts an hour. All seven add up to two and a half or two and three-quarters hours.

The backbone of these services is the 150 psalms, sung or recited according to a two week cycle. At each hour there is also a hymn, reading from Scripture, prayer of the day and commemoration of Our Lady. Some of the brothers recite a simple office of Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Be to the  

The purpose of these seven times of prayer is to praise, thank and petition God as a community and to foster prayer throughout the day. The monks and others who pray the liturgy of the hours do so on behalf of the Church and of all human-kind.

Guests are welcome to join us for any of these services as well as for the community Mass.

Reading and Individual Prayer

Besides the liturgy of the hours, the typical prayer of the monk or nun is lectio divina (divine or holy reading). It consists of a reading ordered to prayer. Material will be selected on the basis of whether it is conducive to prayer. A bit of the text is read, then reflected on in order to grasp its meaning in itself and its meaning for us. This leads naturally to prayer: praise, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, repentance, resolve. At times, the monk is led to rest in God's loving presence with few or no words.

Such reading allows the brother or sister to spend time with God and builds up the habit of doing so. It nourishes faith in such a way that they come to see and value things as God does and to live from this vision.

Work At Gethsemani

We earn our living by making cheese, fruitcake, and bourbon fudge. The community has to be fed, clothed, housed. The needs of the guests are cared for. Newcomers to the community must be initiated into monastic living. Those with particular talents will probably have a chance to use them. Thus we have musicians, artists, gardeners, craftsmen.

According to the needs of the community and the gifts of each monk, the abbot assigns work. Work is seen as service and preference is given work favorable to prayer.


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