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


The Urban Dharma Newsletter... December 2, 2003


In This Issue:

1. Benedict's Dharma 2 the Web Site...
2. From Day 3, Benedicts Dharma 2, Questions and Answers...
3. A Buddhist in Catholic Clothing
...Charlotte McGuinn Freeman
4. Jesus through Buddhist Eyes

5. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week: Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID)
6. Book/CD/Movie Review: Free Offer - The MID Bulletin/Magazine


1. Benedict's Dharma 2 the Web Site...


After six months and what feels like a thousand hours BD2 is up and running, please visit when you find the time, I think you will find interesting dialogue, thought provoking questions, and some creative answers. Peace... Kusala

From the index page...

Sister Mary Margaret Funk, OSB, executive director of MID, and the American-born Buddhist monk Kusala Bhikshu joined Mr. Karl Peterson, a specialist in early Christian music, in leading participants through a week-long Benedictine Experience... Benedict's Dharma 2... Forty men and women from around the country gathered for this very special "Benedictine Experience" inspired by the book, "Benedict's Dharma," in New Harmony, Indiana.

In Benedict's Dharma the book, a Zen priest Norman Fisher, meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein, professor Judith Simmer-Brown, and Yifa, a nun of the Chinese Buddhist tradition, flesh out The Rule of Saint Benedict, which has guided the organization and daily life of the Western Christian monastic tradition since the ninth century. Time after time, these Buddhists find in The Rule of Saint Benedict, which is included in its entirety, points that resonate with the their own experiences--points such as an emphasis on reverence, a pragmatic mindset, and the need for hard work and practice.

Sister Meg and Rev. Kusala went through Benedict's Dharma chapter by chapter during the week long experience adding their own unique perspective.

Day One Topics:

Sister Meg - The History of Benedict's Dharma the Book, History of the Rule of St. Benedict, The Spiritual Journey, Christian Renunciation and Practice.

Rev. Kusala - God, Heaven, Sin, The Eightfold Path, Relative and Ultimate Reality, Unity and Diversity.

Q&A - Levels of Dialogue, If someone breaks a Monastic Rule, IBMC and the Formless Rule, Monastic Accountability, Formless Practice, Goals.

Day Two Topics:

Sister Meg - The Effects of Original Sin, The Art of Discernment, The Essence of Vigils, The Difference Between Therapy and Spirituality.

Rev. Kusala - What is Freedom, Is Ownership Real, Forgiveness and Acceptance, Patience.

Q&A - How Does a Catholic Die, How Does a Buddhist Die, The Difference Between Suicide and Dying in a State of Grace, A Visit to the Coroner's Office, Compassion and Loving-Kindness, Getting Ready for Death.

Day Three Topics:

Sister Meg - Monastic Way of Life, Community is Not Optional, Accountability and Obedience, Ritual, Prayer, and Work, Being Celibate.

Rev. Kusala - The five precepts, Buddhist Meditation, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, Impermanence, Unsatisfactoriness, and Not-Self.

Q&A - Extrasensory Perception, Balance and the Middle Way, Not-Self and Ego, Jesus Christ/Human, Christianity and Suffering, Dogma, Inter-religious Dialogue.

Day Four Topics:

Sister Meg - American Benedictine Monasticism, The Divine Office, The Essence of Monastic Life, The Essence of Contemplative Life.

Rev. Kusala - A Short History of Buddhism, Buddhism in the West, Ultimate Authority, Monks and Dharma Teachers, Unity and Diversity, Ordination.

Q&A - Pureland Buddhism, Tibetan Mandala's, Refuge in Buddhism, Dangers in Meditation Practice.

Day Five Topics:

Sister Meg - Seeking God Through the Rule of St. Benedict, The Practice of Silence, The Unskillfulness of Murmuring, Pan in Kusala's Room, Ghosts and Demons, Leadership and Humility.

Rev. Kusala - Spirits of the Dead, Life in the Monastery, Where Does Humility Come From, My Ultimate Authority.

Q&A - Where the Dharma Came From, The Pitfalls of Christian Meditation, People with Powers - Good or Evil, The Danger of Oneness, Emptiness.

2. From Day 3, Benedict's Dharma 2, Questions and Answers...

Benedict's Dharma 2

Day 3 - Thursday - May 1, 2003

Questions and Answers

Topics: Extrasensory Perception, Balance and the Middle Way,

Not-Self and Ego, Jesus Christ/Human, Christianity and Suffering,

Dogma, Inter-religious Dialogue.

SR. MEG: As Christians, we would say matter is Jesus. Jesus became matter with us, so all human matter is as matter deified. So matter is in its, not in its essence but in its existence is holy. It's sort of like we become holy diving into our human being through Christ Jesus. And we're graced humans, really.

So, the incarnation is not to transcend through higher states of consciousness into Nirvana, but somehow embodying it.

Now, do we die? Yes. Do we have carnal body? Yes.

I don't know how this works, but something about matter is much more defined than it is in your tradition.

MGC: Kind of like Chardi, isn't it?

SR. MEG: Yes.

JO: George MacLeod, matter matters.

SR. MEG: But we are pointing out, then, why to critically meditate in that tradition and go up the stiles of that philosophy is pretty serious, depending on which school you are meditating in.

Whereas, if you stay in the Christian tradition, this whole human -- and that's why, for instance, Adrian Montcalm, he would have in the center of his formation field in anthropology, Christ is our center. Christ and all is taken up in Christ.

So, to your distinction between Nirvana and enlightenment, we would say we just enter into as humans through Christ. And then whatever is the experience is the experience, but it's Christ that is our desire. And, so, we don't desire anything beyond Christ, really, because as Christ is taken up through the Holy Spirit and the Father, that's kind of like their job; not our job. We just totally surrender.

And so our effort is just to be in the presence, and so our meditation practice is more like that.

REV. KUSALA: Is it to be in the presence?

SR. MEG: Yes.

REV. KUSALA: Our job is to be in the present!

SR. MEG: You are to be in the present. Now, how we get to the presence is to be in the present moment, because all we have is right now.

REV. KUSALA: I'm just curious now, do you have a self, and does it go anywhere when you have spiritual attainment?

SR. MEG: Okay. This is the big difference between Thomas Keating and myself. I think we have self, big time. Thomas would say there is a no self, but I think it goes too much in your direction.

I think the self, even back to the apophatic or kataphatic tradition, the self is, because of Christ Jesus being human, we have that whole experience of being human. And we cannot negate the human experience which has, and I think it's that healthy thing you were talking about, it has the sense of ego. But what we do is we surrender it, and then couple it with our love, which is Christ.

So our chatter then, instead of back to our self, self-centeredness, we make Christ our center, the mystery our center. So that any self that we have, if you are apophatic, you just throw that self, but it's still duality.

And there is another problem when people think they are in a nondual unitive consciousness too soon, I say, "Well, who's got that experience?" They say, "I do." And I say, "Well, who's telling me about it?" It can't be nondual. You may access the experience of -- how would you say that?

REV. KUSALA: A nondual experience?

SR. MEG: Yes.

REV. KUSALA: In my understanding of Buddhism I would call that an enlightenment experience.

SR. MEG: You would access enlightenment, but then where do you live?

REV. KUSALA: You live in samsara, the world of constant change, birth, death, and suffering, samsara.

SR. MEG: What suffers in samsara?

REV. KUSALA: The self sufferers, it wants things to be different than they are. This body of ours can't suffer, it can only feel pain. Our body is always stuck in the present moment experience of samsara, and subject to sickness, disease and death, but our mind isn't. Our mind has the potential of transformation, Enlightenment.

SR. MEG: Are we losing anybody here?

CEE: What keeps going through my mind is Buddhism seems to try to solve the problem of suffering and pain. Christ suffered, and Christianity as a whole essentially grew out of that.

Some people are going to the St. Francis Chapel, and there are symbols of creation there, but his great attainment was to get the stigmata and to find so deeply the reality and meaning and substance of life in the suffering of Christ that he was able to take it onto himself and share in it.

And Pope John XXIII, when he was dying, refused chemicals that would alleviate his pain, and he offered his suffering as a prayer for the healing and the bringing together of the church. So, I think suffering is not to be welcomed, but in the center of suffering you can find God. And the word, you said one of the basic things is compassion. Well, that means calmness, too. With compassion is suffering, suffering with another person. It's a positive attitude toward suffering.

SR. MEG: Again, we had this conference at Gethsemani on suffering just recently, and the book is over there about it, and we came to three stages of suffering, and then you are already beyond that. But the first is when you see it, we must alleviate it. First of all, we must prevent it wherever we can.

Then, if we can't prevent it, the second stage is alleviate it, stop the suffering any way we can. Third, if we can't prevent it and stop it, we must transform it. And this is the transformation of suffering through the Bodhisattva idea, or we say through Christ Jesus lifting up all suffering, and even in the mystical sense taking on, transmuting suffering, taking on another person's suffering for the sake of the world.

So, we were really, by the end of that we were really quite compatible. The difference is the way in which you envision the human body and because we have a human God mediator.

Yours is unmediated.

SR. MEG: Their self effort mediates their enlightenment. And we have Christ Jesus who mediates our enlightenment, and that's a big difference.

REV. KUSALA: So, if we could take suffering out of Christianity, would you still call it Christianity?

SR. MEG: What do you think, Dr. E?

CEE: No.

SR. MEG: I don't think so. This is such a stumbling block to the Buddhists. (Indicating the crucifix.)

3. A Buddhist in Catholic Clothing ...Charlotte McGuinn Freeman


I went to Good Friday Mass this afternoon in my usual state of bemused and bewildered attendance. As the song says, Here I am Lord. Thing is, I'm not entirely sure why. I'm no longer filled with that blissy joyous heart that characterizes the early years of faith practice. Nor am I cast out into the desert of the dark night of the soul. The best I could come up with as I was driving over there this afternoon is that we are asked to take refuge in the Buddha, the Sangha and the Dharma ... and Catholic Mass is, for better or worse, where I experience the Sangha and the Dharma. (As for the relationship between the Buddha and Jesus, well, that's a different blog entry.) My attitude right now toward my faith seems to be mostly a strong sense that it's important to show up. Here I am Lord.

In general, I'm much more interested in the practice of faith than I am in the object of faith (including doctrinal disputes), and so, Good Friday is a little odd for me, being as it's really all about Jesus sacrificing himself for us. I'm not a very good Christian because I don't actually believe that Jesus is the one and only road to salvation. I'm not so sure I even believe in salvation, in the traditional going-to-heaven sense (I'm enough of a Buddhist to think that being stuck in heaven with my own personality for eternity sounds dreadful). But there's no point in celebrating Easter if you skip Good Friday, and my dark writerly sensibility likes the dark holidays. As I listened to our priest and two older ranchers do the dramatic reading of John's version of the passion story, what struck me today was not the story of Christ's sacrifice, but the righteous vehemence with which the crowd, that is, all of us, demanded Christ's death. We sacrificed him. John's Passion emphasizes the many many times Pilate offered to free Jesus, and his ultimate refusal to carry out the death sentence because he could find no evidence of guilt. Christ was frightening, and the crowd wanted killed that which frightened them. I couldn't help but think of the violence with which many who have advocated peace these past months have been met, the thirst for blood and the righteousness of those who advocated this war. I mean in no way to suggest that Saddaam Hussein was not evil or was in any way Christ-like, but listening to the Passion this afternoon, what struck me was how very often we human beings are wrong about our judgements. How prone we are to lashing out. How easy it is for us to justify violence. How hard it is to be good.

This Good Friday, I'm planning to spend the afternoon rereading Elaine Pagels remarkable book, The Origin of Satan, which traces the evolution of scapegoating those who don't believe in Jesus and branding them as satanic (I hate to think what google searches this entry is going to cough up). On the stereo for this rainy Good Friday afternoon are the following CDs: Johnny Cash's God, Iris Dement's Infamous Angel (what better for Good Friday than "Let the Mystery Be"?), The Roches' fabulous post-9/11 project Zero Church, The Great Aretha Franklin: The First 12 Sides and Odetta: The Best of the Vanguard Year.

As with the precepts, what is important to me about Good Friday, what is important to me about all religious holidays, is that they ask us to look inside our own hearts and confront the hard questions. What would we have done? What have we done?

4. Jesus through Buddhist Eyes


Third Conference of the European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies

St Ottilien, Germany, 26 February - 1 March 1999 *John D'Arcy

This ambitious conference, attended by well over one hundred participants including a number of practitioners of Buddhist meditation from southern Germany and Austria, has put the European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies firmly on its feet.

Intended mainly for academics working in the field and held entirely in English, the conference, on "Buddhist Perceptions of Jesus," traced various paths from the polemics which characterized relations between Buddhists and Christians well into the century now ending to the remarkable progress made by Buddhist-Christian dialogue in recent decades. The Archabbey of St. Ottilien has itself been the scene of intermonastic exchanges between the Benedictine monks and their Japanese Zen counterparts.

The architecture of the conference brought out clearly the distance that has been traveled. Iso Kern (Berne) examined the missionary methodology of the Jesuits in 16th and 17th century China. He showed how they preferred to rely on arguments from reason rather than affront the Chinese with the full implications of Christian revelation, treading a thin line between absorption into harmony with Chinese religion as "a special type of Buddhism" and controversy about the uniqueness of Jesus and his redemptive death on the cross. The Christian idea of a Creator who redeems a sinful world by the substitutionary sacrifice of his own Son was so repugnant to Confucian sensibility that the Jesuits chose a different route, though Prof. Kern defended them against Pascal's accusation that they "hid" the scandal of the cross. Heinz Mhrmel (Leipzig, in a paper read in his absence) sketched the sterile polemics which characterized early Buddhist-Christian encounters in Ceylon/Sri Lanka, while frank Usarski (São Paulo) analyzed the equally bitter exchanges between early German converts to Buddhism and their Christian opponents. we were to find not only that these controversies are still remembered in Southeast Asia, but that the obstacles to understanding encountered by the Jesuits in China and Japan still cause problems in Buddhist-Christian relations today.

Of fundamental importance to the development of the conference was a difficult paper by Shizuteru Ueda (Kyoto) on "Jesus in Contemporary Japanese Zen." Starting with his teacher Nishitani's presentation on "Nietzsche and Eckhart" to Heidegger's seminar in 1938, Prof. Ueda set out to show how both European nihilism and Christian absolutism can be overcome by Nishitani's understanding of Shûnyatâ: "The last ground of 'I am? is without ground and groundless." Shûnyatâ is itself subject to Shûnyatâ: nihilism can only be surmounted through nihilism itself. This dynamic relationship between Into-Nothingness and Out-of-Nothingness is Zen's point of access to Paul's characterization of Christian life-out-of-death: "I live no more, Christ lives in me " (Gal 2:20). Confronted by the question "Who said this?," as Nishitani confronted his Christian friend Muto, the Christian challenged to ask whether he or she can actually say it, thereby bearing true witness. Ueda's problem is not with this witness, but with the Christian claim that Jesus is unique, for god is not only infinite Person but infinite Openness (basho).

Some of these themes were echoed by two speakers who based themselves on experience rather than philosophy: Karl Schmied, a lay associate of Thich Nhat Hanh, and Than Santikharo Bhikku, an American monk at Suan Mokkh and Buddhadâsa's translator in the last eight years of his life. Without repudiating his Catholic roots, Mr. schmied said that he had simply found more joy in Buddhism. If Jesus is Son of Man and Son of God non-dualistically, could not the relationship between Buddhism and Christianity be one of non-duality, despite obvious differences (rebirth/historical uniqueness; no-self/person; emptiness/being). Cannot Jesus be seen as a universal bodhisattva whose "center" is everywhere rather than as God's "only" son?

Santikharo Bhikku, who still visits the Christian congreation in which he grew up, said that he also foumd it impossible to accept that Jesus should be the only "incarnation" of the divine rather than a universal prophet, adding tht his work with Catholic priests and nuns in the Philippines had enriched his Buddhist practice. Buddhadâsa had found Christian equivalents for dharma, law, duty and thefruits of practice in nature, God, redemption and salvation, though the concept of a "good" creation appears naive to Buddhists, for whom this world arises out of ignorance and craving and is characterized by suffering.

How are Christians to respond to this sympathetic but demanding Buddhist agenda? The cudgels were taken up by two Lutheran theologians with long experience of Buddhism. Notto Thelle (Oslo) suggested that Buddhists will have to become more daring in crossing boundaries now that Buddhism is spreading in the West. Their assumption that Buddhism is unsurpassable has the effect of "neutralizing" all other traditions and amounts to the same strategy as Christian "inclusivism," which Prof. Ueda had rightly found to be inadequate. Prof. Thelle developed interesting complementarities between Buddhism as a "religion of the eye," which begins as philosophy and grows into story, and Christianity as a "religion of the ear," which initially takes a narrative form but gives rise to philosophy. It is beginning to exist, not ceasing to exist, that is the true mystery, The Christian concept of creation, traditionally couched in the language of being, could more appropriately be seen in terms of nihility as c component of all things. The Christian emphasis on reconciliation and communion suggests the Buddhist "between " (basho) and is ne way off speaking of the "suchness" of reality as revealed by the Tathâgata Jesus. Whereas Buddhists stress compassion, for Christians the responsibility that leads to action is important: should Buddhists be more "disturbed" by social injustice?

This theme was also taken up by Michael von Brhck (Munich), who pointed out that all religion, inasmuch as it is asocial construct, is also a social factor. His main concern, however, was with the spirituality beyond religion, the reality beyond distinct identities, to attain which "you have to Shûnyatâ Shûnyatâ," as Prof. Ueda had said, just as Christians must avid trying to "grasp" God. Both Buddhism and Christianity are ultimately about death and dying. The test of whether Buddhists and Christians have really heard the "lion's roar" of the Buddha or Jesus is their response to suffering. Understanding -- not the same thing as agreement -- will be built on this, not on the "hermeneutic devices" of doctrines. Not pluralism, but what he called "relationalism, a partnership in identity" will disclose the universality of our attitudes, e.g., to social reality. For Christians, spirituality means accepting God's unconditional love and ourselves as expressions of its power. The lotus and the cross are not in opposition!

Profound and comprehensive as it was, this conference opened up still further areas for exploration, among them the Buddhist and Christian teachings on nature/ creation. the Network's next meeting will be held in Lund, Sweden, in2001. questions were raised about the conference methodology (underrepresentation of women, more interactive process), but it definitely marked a new phase in relations between Buddhists and Christians in Europe.

*John D'Arcy May teaches interfaith dialogue and ethics at Irish School of Ecumenics, Dublin, Ireland.

5. Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID)


MID Mission Statement

In response to the Vatican’s request that Catholic monks and nuns assume a leadership role in the dialogue between Christianity and the great religions of the East, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue—Dialogue Interreligieuz Monastique—was established by the Benedictine Confederation in 1978.

In North America, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID) is an organization of Catholic monastic women and men who bring their charism of listening and hospitality to interreligious dialogue. Dialogue is conducted at the level of spiritual practice and experience for the purpose of mutual spiritual benefit and communion.

Over the past 25 years we have learned from happy experience that monastic interreligious dialogue, while increasing our understanding and appreciation of other religious traditions, also helps us come to a deeper comprehension and a fuller expression of our own spiritual and theological heritage.

At the annual meeting of the Board of Directors in October 2003, the following mission statement was approved and adopted:

MID fosters dialogue at the level of spiritual practice and experience between North American Catholic monastic women and men and contemplative practitioners of diverse religious traditions.

We engage in dialogue to promote the unity of the human family and mutual understanding among the world’s religions.

6. Free Offer - The MID Bulletin/Magazine

For the month of December, MID is offering the latest MID Bulletin free of charge. Simply email your name and address to Sister Mary Margaret FunK at <megfunk@earthlink.net> and she will send you a free copy.


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