http://www.UrbanDharma.org ...Buddhism for Urban America


The Urban Dharma Newsletter... December 17, 2002


In This Issue:

1. The Parable of the two Monks ... By Sat Chuen Hon
... 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 (Editor)
6. Temple/Center of the Week: The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies


1. The Parable of the two Monks ... By Sat Chuen Hon

* http://users.erols.com/dantao/twomonks.html

A 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 mountain.

One 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."

They parted ways. And the rich monk continues his gradual building up of wealth and supplies for the journey.

A 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 start soon."

The 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.

With 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 for them.

" 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.

2. WORSE THAN HUNGER ... Rev. Rudolph Nemser

* http://www.uucinch.org/U-FromTheMinister/worse_than_hunger.htm

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
            -each 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
                    physical hunger.
That teachers instruct that, like the monks,
            each morning
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.
For, consider:
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 down:
            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...
                            freely given
                                    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
                    -self imposed-
            and the plates which others must fill
if these people of the spirit
are to be fed and survive.
I ask:
                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...
            need self-inflicted?
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 food
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"...
            "an inundation",
"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?
One answer
            -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.
Another answer
            -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...
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.

3. The Humbling of Arrogance ... Posted by Joel at August 04, 2002 09:56 PM

* http://www.notfrisco2.com/webzine/Joel/archives/000065.html

We 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?

"You're 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.

People 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.

I 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.

4. Sacramental Prayer Bowl ... for Christians

* http://www.forestofpeace.com/prayer%20aids/prayer_bowl.htm

The more senses we use in our prayer, the more we are spiritually enriched. This

beautiful, 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 by God.

• 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.

5. Wandering, Begging Monks: Spiritual Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism in Late Antiquity ...by Daniel Caner, William J. Connell (Editor)

* http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0520233247/wwwkusalaorg-20/

Book Description

An 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.

Focusing 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

About the Author

Daniel Caner is Assistant Professor of History and Classics at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

6. The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies

* http://www.dharma.org/bcbs/index.htm

Barre Center for Buddhist Studies

149 Lockwood Road

Barre, MA 01005

(978) 355-2347


General Info

The 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.

The 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 traditions.


Located 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 five people;

* 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.


The 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:

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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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