...Buddhism for Urban America
Urban Dharma Newsletter... December 17, 2002
The Parable of the two Monks ... By Sat Chuen Hon
2. WORSE THAN HUNGER ... Rev. Rudolph Nemser
3. The Humbling of Arrogance ... Posted by Joel - August
04, 2002 09:56 PM
4. Sacramental Prayer Bowl ...for Christians
5. Book Review: Wandering, Begging
Monks: Spiritual Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism
in Late Antiquity ...by Daniel Caner, William J. Connell
6. Temple/Center of the Week: The
Barre Center for Buddhist Studies
The Parable of the two Monks
... By Sat Chuen Hon
long time ago, in China, there lived two monks, a rich monk
with a large following of devotee and a simple mud-hatched monk
living in solitary retreat. They happened to live in the same
day, the two monks happen to meet on the mountain pool.
What is your greatest wish?" asked the rich monk.
I have a quest to travel to the south sea to visit the Kuan
Yin Bodhisattva's holy shrine." The poor monk answered.
That is exactly my wish as well to go to the Holy Site of Kuan
Yin but the South Sea is more than a thousand miles away. I
have been preparing for the last 5 years for such a journey.
Would you like to join me? I am sure that we can make room for
one more. But we are not ready yet, I have to save up more money
and clothes and horses…" The rich monk rattled off
his list of itinerary.
So what have you been doing to prepare for the journey?"
the rich monk asked.
Just this." The poor monk showed him an old chipped begging
bowl, " and this." He pointed to his legs.
Oh, how wonderful," as the rich monk exclaimed—secretly
he thought the poor monk is a fool and will never make it to
the South Sea, " I wish you much good wind for your journey.
For me as I must take on the responsibility of my followers,
I have to do a bit more preparation."
parted ways. And the rich monk continues his gradual building
up of wealth and supplies for the journey.
few years later, they happened to meet again. The rich monk
greeted the poor monk with a nod, "My brother, how have
you been. Did you ever make it to the South Sea with your bowl
and straw sandals?"
Yes, twice I have made the journey." The poor monk bowed—he
had started the very day after their first conversation. Begging
and walking in meditation along the way. There was hardship
but also great opportunity to cultivate his compassion and equanimity.
After a year, he reached the South Sea and in a misty morning
during one of his meditation he felt the presence of Kuan Yin
sitting next to him. And there was the most beautiful rainbow
stretching over the sea. The local people told him that only
when the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin emerged does the rainbow appears.
It rarely happens but only occurs when there is a holy pilgrim
presence. The native bestowed gifts and food to the poor monk
but he only took just enough for one meal.
How is that be possible, you who have nothing already went twice!"
exclaimed the rich monk.
Here my dharma brother is a small jar of white sand that I have
brought back for you." The poor monk gave the other monk
a pure white bottle of sand. The white sand could have only
come from the South Sea.
Because I have nothing, that I can go twice. But after the second
journey, I realized that everywhere I go Kuan Yin is present.
That without even taking a single step I have arrived. That
is what I realized in my quest. Good luck my brother may you
rich monk felt hot tears rolling down his cheeks. He bowed low
to the poor monk and saw a soft luminosity the seems to embrace
his whole body.
deliberation, the rich monk strips away all the ornaments, the
gold walking staff, the silk saffron, the silk shoes and started
to walk toward the South Sea. His solitary figure slowly disappear
into the horizon as his devotee tried to call him back to wait
Walk alone, my brother, just keep walking alone." the poor
monk sang a gatha toward the diminishing figure. For in his
heart, he knew that the other monk has already arrived with
the first solitary step that he took.
WORSE THAN HUNGER ... Rev.
Several years ago,
in a book, Everyday Sacred by Sue Bender
I gratefully remember but cannot find,
I read of the ancient Buddhist custom
of the begging bowl.
Each morning the Buddhist monk
sets out on his day's journey
with an empty bowl.
All that the monk will eat that day
is what is placed in the bowl
by the people
among whose lives his path takes him
At night, if no food has been placed in the bowl,
the monk goes to his bed hungry;
if any food remains,
the monk is to eat it all...
not waste any...
so that the morrow
shall start out with an again empty bowl.
The reason for the monk's bowl
is a teaching that transcends hunger
That teachers instruct that, like the monks,
everyone of us should begin our day
with mind and spirit cleared and uncluttered.
We should be in a state of receptiveness without demand.
Thus our psyches will be able, like the bowl,
to be filled by the experiences
and the teachings
we encounter in the course of the day.
We will live in the present
and, to this point, be fed in the present.
Thus shall we be freed
of the demands of the past
as well as the claims of the future.
if we begin a day with our bowl filled with leftovers:
there will be room for nothing else.
We will live solely on the past
and what is no more.
If, on the other hand, during the day we turn the bowl topside
it will hold nothing to nourish us
when the day is ended.
We shall have to be fed only in the future.
We must, therefore, begin each day
with a whole and empty bowl
strong and open, able to retain
what others have the grace to put inside
Monks and charity.
Buddhist monks and their bowls.
Benedictine monks and abbeys.
What is the spiritual meaning
of the hunger and the giving?
Why does the Buddhist tradition teach
there shall be people of the begging bowl?
Why does the Christian tradition
teach the sacredness of the calling
of a life a prayer
dependent upon the gifts of others...
often with only unvoiced thanks?
What is the meaning of the people of hunger...
the people who are hungry
not as function of birth
but as deliberate path of choice.
Since I read Sue Bender's book of bowls
I have reflected on the meaning of hunger
and the plates which others must fill
if these people of the spirit
are to be fed and survive.
whose way of life is more rigorous:
the begging monk or his farming brother?
whose way of life is more demanding:
the celibate nun who prays half the night
and works all day
or the married merchant?
Who knows more fully the depth of hunger:
the monk with his bowl or the hunter with his bow?
The point which seems obvious to me
is that whatever the tradition:
monasticism is not chosen
as the easier or more pleasant
or even more certain way of life.
People do not become monks to be fed.
Nor are monasteries organized
as gourmet alternatives to the Four Seasons.
What, then, is the meaning of the self-imposed hunger
and the need to survive on charity...
I take there to be a larger meaning...
a spiritual dimension...
which the act of generosity
declares for the religious life.
Specific - spiritual - purposeful - necessary.
Hear these parallels:
It is wrong that people are hungry.
It is wrong that, in a world of abundance, we do not feed them.
It is wrong that people are destitute-
physically, emotionally, morally.
It is wrong that we who live with plenty...
and more than plenty...
do not share with the destitute.
It is wrong that people in our lives want.
It is wrong that, humble as our circumstances,
we do not give them the crumbs from our table.
The purpose of the begging bowl
is not to feed the monk,
but to offer each person
occasion to give to someone else.
I was hungered, and ye gave me meat:
I was thirsty, and ye have me drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me in.
I don't give to save them, she said,
I give to save myself.
Some of you will remember the familiar story
Susan Rak told a number of years ago.
It contrasted heaven and hell.
In hell, the parable goes, there is plenty of the finest gourmet
available to everyone.
But, alas, the residents all have long forks and spoons
attached to their arms:
so long that while they can reach the feast:
they cannot place any of the aromatic food
in their own mouths.
They cannot feed themselves.
So they live grimly in a desperate state of hunger.
In heaven likewise the banquet tables are laden
with the finest and most succulent of victuals.
In heaven, too, each arm has a long spoon or fork
that extends far beyond the hand.
So far that no individual
can feed him or herself.
But in heaven, in contrast to hell,
the people are of cheer and well fed.
For in heaven, the people feed one another.
The purpose of the Indian begging bowl
is not to feed the monk,
but to offer each person
occasion to give to someone else.
The reading from An Almanac for Moderns
from Donald Culross Peattie
for March 18th
speaks of life as "a green cataract"...
"a march against the slings of death
that counts no costs".
How shall we respond, he asks,
to earth's unconditional generosity?
When nature insists on giving us
as much or more than we can encompass?
-that which Peattie proposes-
is to be "greedy for the last drop of it" ...
to leave no part of what is given
unused, or unappreciated.
To take no part for granted.
To embrace the whole.
-also valid and necessary-
is offered by Maya Angelou
within her insistent reminder and admonition:
Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it our here alone.
It is our obligation
-each of our obligations-
that no one shall be alone
for lack of our effort.
Place part of what we have
-a precious part of what we have-
in someone else's bowl
A precious part of what we have
and yet the learning is
no matter how generously we give to one another:
we are not diminished by what we give.
Not long ago
I spoke with a man
who last year had given a million dollars away
to charity and to family.
I wondered how this would feel?
Obviously a person of financial substance,
he said he had drawn a sense of satisfaction
and peace of mind
from these acts of grace.
He realized, he went on to say,
that even though he had worked all his life
for the money he now had,
he somehow always believed
it was not truly his...
it was a loan,
a gift to accomplish something,
to share, to pass on.
He is a custodian and not an owner.
As are we all.
The money is not a possession to be hoarded
but an opportunity to be seized.
Charitable giving is his largest household expense...
as it is, I suspect, for many of us...
because it is the most satisfying
use of the resources with which he has been endowed.
I don't give to save them,
I give to save myself.
Our family, it seems to me,
like many Eastern Unitarian Universalist families,
has a Western child. Someone who,
for whatever reason,
while everyone else continues to leave east
and near one another,
chooses to stretch the continent.
My daughter Kate, an environmental lawyer
for the State of Idaho,
is our Western child.
She rarely comes east;
most of us go to Boise infrequently.
Last year when I went to Florida
only my Eastern daughters and grandchildren joined
Judith and me and my Florida nephew.
It was a very enjoyable vacation
with many good times..
but their was a deep sense of incompleteness.
So this year when I rented a condo
on the Inter coastal
and two streets for the ocean
I went out of my way to make certain
that Kate and her three boys would come.
For a couple of days at the height of the week
we were seven adults and eleven children
(Fortunately the condo had four bedrooms,
three bathrooms and three televisions.)
The week was pure confusion, greatness and joy.
A major factor creating its worth
was that were able to reach out to Kate...
tell her we had missed her,
that she is important to us,
the we love her.
We were able
to place what is of value to us...
our love and care...
in Kate's bowl.
And there in the sunny, bright warm Florida days
a lowering of barriers
a lessening of tensions,
a bridging of separation,
a soothing of pain.
For these are what hunger creates.
Just as surely
these are what ignoring the hunger of others creates.
The monk's purpose
(whatever the guise in which the monk appears)
is that he presents each of us
with the chance to reach
to someone beyond ourselves.
The presence of those who are hungry
reminds us - as it must -
that the world is not yet enough changed
The monk passing by with his bowl
bespeaks not only of his own privation
but hunger of all who pass each door.
So long as there is hunger
the world has not changed enough.
So long as there is hunger
we have not done enough.
We need to hear this message.
And we need to take it upon ourselves.
We cannot (only and always) count on others
to change the world for us.
We cannot (only and always) count on others
to change our family.
We cannot (only and always) count on others
to change our relationships.
We cannot count on others
to change the world.
We cannot (only and always) count on others to give on our behalf.
It is our privilege - and our salvation-
to do this our ourselves.
this is the lesson of the bowls.
Worse than hunger
is to be indifferent to the hunger of others.
While yet time remains.
The Humbling of Arrogance ... Posted by Joel at August 04,
2002 09:56 PM
went to the Asian Garden Mall in Little Saigon, Westminster,
yesterday. I was fascinated and intimidated as always by the
sacrifice of the Buddhist monk who stood outside the back door.
He stood barefoot. Looked down. Said nothing. His eyes were
shut, contemplating the nothing that falls short of the Real
Nothing which is Nirvana. The first time we encountered him,
I made a mistake. I didn't lift the lid of the begging bowl.
I just laid the cash out on the skin. A modest wind blew it
off. It swirled around in front of the double glass doors. The
monk made no attempt to pursue it. Nor did he thank me. I felt
confused. Had I acted wrongly? Why didn't he go after the money
that I had given him?
not going to get a thank you," my friend Tony Chen from
Hong Kong explained. Though his begging bowl looks like half
a bongo drum, he doesn't sing or dance for your donations. I
had not done wrong to give him money. I needed simply to make
sure that the money went into the begging bowl, to make it clear
that the money was certainly intended for him. He wasn't allowed
to ask me for it or to thank me for it. He couldn't chase the
loose change. For my part, I was to stay silent and not gloat
over my donation. If my soul is better or worse for the offering,
I could not tell you. One gives. One receives.
who aren't monks tend to see them as extremely unselfish and
humble. A monk doesn't share their opinion of him. He suspects
that he is both selfish and arrogant. He must stand there barefooted,
advertising his sorry state by the wearing of flaming robes,
the color of ripe peach flesh. To reaffirm that he is not an
extraordinary being capable of great deeds, he places himself
in a position where he must depend on others. I don't think
the word "shame" gets at what this is all about. Nor
does "self-sacrifice". The monk conditions himself
to have no feelings. When he stands with his begging bowl, he
merely stands. We are not to pity him -- he does not pity himself.
We give to validate the purpose for which he lives, that of
triumphing over our personal obsessions with the material. The
monk will not own things because that joy is, to him, a sickness,
a sickness unto death, the sickness of this world.
took a few quick pictures and then rushed in to buy some soft
egg rolls and a few t-shirts that were three for ten dollars.
I worried that he'd be gone when I finished. I wanted to give
him some money the right way. He was. I shyly took a few pictures
and gave the Empress a dollar to put in his begging bowl. He
gave no thanks. We walked away carrying the artifacts of our
own addiction to materialism in a pink plastic bag.
Sacramental Prayer Bowl ... for Christians
more senses we use in our prayer, the more we are spiritually
handmade wood-and-brass prayer offering bowl from Nepal is a
marvelously effective aid to engage hands and eyes as well as
heart and soul in our prayer. It adds a three-fold sacramental
dimension to our daily prayers.
Use as a Begging Bowl: One way to employ this Sacramental Prayer
Bowl in lifting up your prayer is similar to the practice of
monks in the Far East who use bowls for begging. Prayerfully
elevating this empty bowl embodies our complete dependence upon
God’s loving generosity. Jesus’ praising the widow’s
tireless begging the corrupt judge for justice suggests an image
of how we are to pray ceaselessly in this way.
Use as a Offertory Bowl: A second way to elevate your prayer
bowl is with the prayerful desire to offer up to God the fruits
of your labors and life of your day. This is an offering of
love filled gratitude for all the gifts you have been given
Use as a Gethsemane Bowl: A third way to elevate your prayer
bowl is with a prayer of holy and wholehearted acceptance of
whatever sufferings or joys, disappointments or blessings that
may come your way in the new day.
Wandering, Begging Monks: Spiritual Authority and the Promotion
of Monasticism in Late Antiquity
...by Daniel Caner, William J. Connell (Editor)
apostolic lifestyle characterized by total material renunciation,
homelessness, and begging was practiced by monks throughout
the Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries. Such monks
often served as spiritual advisors to urban aristocrats whose
patronage gave them considerable authority and independence
from episcopal control. This book is the first comprehensive
study of this type of Christian poverty and the challenge it
posed for episcopal authority and the promotion of monasticism
in late antiquity.
on devotional practices, Daniel Caner draws together diverse
testimony from Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, and elsewhere-including
the Pseudo-Clementine Letters to Virgins, Augustine's On the
Work of Monks, John Chrysostom's homilies, legal codes-to reveal
gospel-inspired patterns of ascetic dependency and teaching
from the third to the fifth centuries. Throughout, his point
of departure is social and cultural history, especially the
urban social history of the late Roman empire. He also introduces
many charismatic individuals whose struggle to persist against
church suppression of their chosen way of imitating Christ was
fought with defiant conviction, and the book includes the first
annotated English translation of the biography of Alexander
Akoimetos (Alexander the Sleepless). Wandering, Begging Monks
allows us to understand these fascinating figures of early Christianity
in the full context of late Roman society. 2 maps
Caner is Assistant Professor of History and Classics at the
University of Connecticut, Storrs.
The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies
Center for Buddhist Studies
Barre Center for Buddhist Studies is a non-profit educational
organization dedicated to bringing together teachers, students,
scholars and practitioners who are committed to exploring Buddhist
thought and practice as a living tradition, faithful to its
origins and lineage, yet adaptable and alive in the current
world. The center’s purpose is to encourage the integration
of study and practice, and to investigate the relationship between
scholarly understanding and meditative insight. It encourages
engagement with the tradition in a spirit of genuine inquiry.
study center offers a variety of opportunities for research
and study, including courses, workshops, conferences, retreats
and independent programs. The BCBS program is rooted in the
classical tradition of the earliest teachings and practices,
but its mission calls for the exploration of all schools of
Buddhism and for dialogue with other religious and scientific
on 90 acres of wooded land in rural, central Massachusetts,
just a half mile from the Insight Meditation Society (IMS),
BCBS provides a peaceful and contemplative setting for the investigation
of the Buddha’s teachings. Facilities include:
a lovely timber-framed meditation hall and classroom capable
of holding between twenty-five and a hundred students, depending
on the program;
a library and reading room containing about five thousand volumes
of Buddhist Studies books and primary texts;
a kitchen and dining room (with a view) which seats about forty
housing for between twenty (single rooms) and twenty-five (some
doubles) course participants at a time;
three forest cottages for independent study and program participants;
and miles of adjoining country roads and forest paths.
study center in Barre offers a variety of programs from two
resident scholars and a wide range of visiting faculty. A rich
diversity of topics are covered for those interested in the
Buddhist tradition and meditation practice. Programs range from
one-day and weekend offerings, to five or seven days; some are
as long as two weeks. Special programs include:
Nalanda Program offers a model for the serious academic
study of Buddhism, such as one might undertake at a college
or graduate school. Six to eight hours of daily classroom time
is balanced by morning and evening meditation sessions, as well
as informal time for discussion, reading or walking in the countryside.
Credit may be available from your college or university.
Bhavana Program offers a new model for combining the
benefits of meditation with insight into the teachings of the
Buddhist tradition. Most of the day is spent in silent meditation,
much like a classical vipassana retreat, but each day also includes
a morning study period focusing on texts carefully chosen to
complement and inform the on-going practice of meditation.
Buddhist Psychology Program investigates in depth the
early Buddhist science of mind growing out of its profound contemplative
practices, and explores the growing interface between Buddhist
thought and modern psychology. Through an affiliation with the
Institute of Meditation and Psychotherapy, CE credits are available
for most mental health and other professionals.
Independent Study Program is for experienced students
who may be looking for a quiet place to investigate the Buddhist
tradition on their own through the integration of study and
practice. We welcome scholars to come and experience the benefits
of a contemplative environment for their work, and we invite
meditators to explore the benefits of the academic inquiry into
the Buddhist tradition.
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