Urban Dharma Newsletter...
April 27, 2004
This Issue: Buddhism and Christianity
1. Parallel Sayings of Buddha and Christ
2. "Benedict's Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule
of Saint Benedict'
Benedict’s Dharma: The Conference
4. Book/CD/Movie: "Spring,
Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring."
banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is
shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain. - Mark
lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting
on its shoes. - Mark Twain
man cannot be comfortable without his own approval. - Mark
acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off
their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more. - Mark
do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
- Mark Twain
Englishman is a person who does things because they have been
done before. An American is a person who does things because
they haven't been done before. - Mark Twain
careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
- Mark Twain
make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
- Mark Twain
is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.
- Mark Twain
Parallel Sayings of Buddha and Christ
parallel sayings of Buddha and Christ were shared with people
at the joint Buddhist/Christian religious service held at Lake
Street Church in Evanston, IL in May.
the Buddha and Jesus lived hundreds of years and cultures apart,
there are striking parallels to the sayings attributed to them.
It is not that they said exactly the same things, it is rather
that their distinctive and independent sayings pierce the veil
of illusion, reminding us that God, or truth (Dharma) or whatever
word that we choose to call that which is ultimate, binds us
together in a timeless and infinite garment of mutuality.
parallel teachings of Buddha and Christ are from the book Jesus
and Buddha, the Parallel Teachings by Marcus Borg, Jesus scholar
and Buddhist writer, Jack Kornfield. The Buddha sayings are
taken from the Dhammapada and the sutras of the Buddha. The
Jesus sayings are taken from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke
They agreed among themselves, friends, here comes the recluse,
Gotama, who lives luxuriously, who gives up his striving and
reverted to luxury.
The son of humanity came eating and drinking and they said look
a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
With the relinquishing of all thought and egotism, the enlightened
one is liberated through not clinging.
Those who want to save their life will loose it. Those who loose
their live for my sake will save it.
One is the way to gain, the other is the way to Nirvana, knowing
this fact, students of the Buddha should not take pleasure in
being honored, but, should practice detachment.
No slave can serve two masters For a slave will either hate
one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the
other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of
her own life, even so, cultivate a boundless heart towards all
beings. Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have
loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's
life for one's friends.
If you do not tend to one another then who is there to tend
to you? Whoever who would tend me, he should tend the sick.
Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of
these, so you have done it unto me.
Consider others as yourself.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
One who acts on truth is happy, in this world and beyond.
You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.
Hatred do not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love;
this is an eternal truth... Overcome anger by love, Overcome
evil by good. overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those
who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. From anyone who
takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to
everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods,
do not ask for them again.
"Benedict's Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of Saint
Benedict' ...by Norman Fisher,
Joseph Goldstein, Judith Simmer-Brown,Yofa(Editor), Patrick
Henery(Editor). / Book Review by Christina Fox - Reprinted
courtesy of Golden String Publication
book is the child of the Gethsemani Encounter, a seminal and
extended dialogue between Buddhist and Christian monastics which,
at the request of the Dalai Lama, was held in 1996 at the monastery
of his friend Thomas Merton. The purpose of the meetings was
to explore the monastic archetype which in their distinctive
ways each tradition exemplifies. As Patrick Henry listened to
two of the Christian monastics, it occurred to him that, if
a few of the technical terms were changed, it might just as
well have been a discussion between two Buddhists. From that
flash of insight this book emerged, in which Buddhist monastics
from several traditions and states of life respond to the distinctive
character of that very explicitly Christian document, the Rule
of St Benedict.
almost all such encounters in our time, Benedict's Dharma walks
the tightrope between cultures, doctrines and experiences; between
patterns of difference and of similarity. In dialogue between
Buddhists and Christians, one sometimes senses an undercurrent
of anxiety. We are frequently exhorted not to attempt to put
a yak's head on a sheep. All this is quite understandable. No
one wants to see either tradition treated as another commodity,
to be packaged attractively with an eye to the Western market.
We ought not to sell the Gospel, the Dharma or the Benedictine
Rule, through superficial syncretism or any other means. One
of the strengths of Benedict's Dharma is that it moves beyond
this anxiety, to face with trust the cost and promise of deep
ecumenism; a gift which will inevitably change both traditions,
not by sacrificing their distinctive gifts and insights, but
by an undefended and receptive listening, a mutual lection in
which each tradition becomes for the other a living and holy
text. As we breathe each other's spiritual atmospheres in this
way, we will be changed, in ways that we cannot wholly predict.
as Christians we might see this as a participation in the death
and resurrection of Christ. After all, we have been there before,
as primitive Christianity absorbed and was transformed by Greek
philosophy. We are placing ourselves in a crucible, as the Buddha
himself taught: testing, rubbing, refining, purifying, not only
the teachings and traditions of the other, but also our own.
From the crucible comes pure gold. As Steindl-Rast reminds us
in his invaluable concluding essay, Benedict's Rule is written
in letters of fire. In reading it, much less attempting to live
by it, we are on holy ground. In a website devoted to discussion
of this book, Steindl-Rast reminds us that baptism was once
known as photismos, - illumination, enlightenment. Baptism begins
the opening of our eyes to the deifying light of which Benedict
even a glimpse of this light, thousands of people, including
that glittering prize, 'youth', are turning from a materially
glutted and spiritually famished culture, and flocking to Buddhist
centres and Buddhist masters. A startling number of them were
brought up as Christians. Many of them are attracted to Buddhist
paths because they need to find enlightenment embodied, not
only in a text or a tradition, but also in living teachers,
in whom they see an extension or manifestation of the Buddha
himself. They display a longing for authentic teachers and teaching.
When they sense this authenticity, they willingly entrust themselves
to the demanding disciplines of the ancient paths, and to teachers
who make little allowance for the sensibilities of post-modern
Western egos. The youthful David Steindl-Rast's response to
the Rule illustrates this: he felt that what we in practice
had now, fourteen hundred years after Benedict, was not Benedict's
Rule; and it was Benedict's Rule that inspired him. It was like
reading a score that had never been performed. He is not alone
in this response; yet aspirants to Benedictine monasteries are
seldom encouraged to retain it.
obscurely or confusedly, such aspirants, Buddhist or Christian,
seem to know instinctively that what we long for is in us, whether
this is understood as Buddha-nature or as the interior presence
of the divine energies, commonly known as the image of God.
Without ever having heard of Origen, they sense the truth of
his words: Understand that you are another universe ... that
in you there are sun, moon, and stars too ... Sensing this,
they want to do what the Magi did. As children of their culture,
they want to follow the stars, those whom they take to be the
manifestation in outward form of their inner teacher, the star
within. Benedict's Dharma sheds light on two paths which flow
with this inclination and energy, instead of eyeing it from
afar with apprehension and disapproval.
about everything in our Western Christian experience clouds
our vision here. Unlike the Buddhists, some denominations have
a three-fold order of ministry, an institutionally transmitted
lineage, through which the ordained are held to be drawn into
the Apostolic Succession in virtue of their ordination, ex opere
operato. The validity of the Sacrament of Holy Order (as of
all Sacraments) is considered to depend upon neither the personal
holiness and wisdom of the ordaining bishop, nor that of the
ordinand. For a Buddhist, to be ordained means simply, to be
a monk or nun. Benedict writes of the abbot as the one who holds
the place of Christ in the community; but except in the case
of founders, this text refers to an elected figure, who is seen
in this way in virtue of his office, whether he is also a charismatic
teacher or not. As with Christian ordination there is no question
here of the direct transmission of wisdom and holiness through
a living charismatic lineage. In the monasteries of the Eastern
Orthodox, however, one may meet living lineage-holders, spiritual
fathers or mothers who do not necessarily hold any institutional
office at all. These charismatic lineages are regarded as themselves
a form of Apostolic Succession, by the direct and living transmission
of grace from heart to heart, across many generations. From
time to time new lineage-founders emerge. Was not Father Bede
Griffiths such a one, as abbot and guru?
take this ongoing supply of stars as a given. Many Christians
do not. The primacy of office over charism in the life of the
Western churches and of text over image in the Protestant mind
undergirds the deep reserve which many contemporary Christians
feel towards gurus of every description. Yet it was surely Benedict's
desire that the abbot be a person in whom the graces of office
and charism were fused. A star is a ball of fire whose light
reaches us through almost unimaginable space-time. Lovely as
it is, we know that the source of the starlight is dead. It
was not so for the Fathers themselves; and the light of these
spiritual stars is inextinguishable. Moreover, as Kallistos
Ware reminds us, who are we to say that the age of the Fathers
is over? Who knows but that God will send us another Basil?
Or indeed, although Ware does not say so, another Macrina? Here,
it seems to me, is a nettle which contemporary Christian monastics,
and, indeed, the Western churches themselves, are still struggling
to grasp. Folk wisdom assures us that nettles don't sting as
long as we take hold of them boldly. In the book, the nettle
of charismatic leadership has several companion-plants: obedience,
humility and lay monasticism. Among a number of other significant
topics, these three will be the focus of this review.
the Zen priest and abbot Norman Fisher says of the charismatic
teacher, in the beginning, a Buddhist monastery is created around
such a figure, and everyone who has come is there because of
the leader's charisma. In a sense, the monastery's lifeblood
and the person of the superior seem to be one and the same.
In a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, a reincarnate successor is
sought; in a community in the West, a local leader may be appointed
as the representative of the lineage-holder. When the first
charismatically graced founder of a Zen monastery dies, the
community must perforce elect a successor or dissolve itself.
At least in Christian monasteries, the choice is seldom considered
so bluntly. A tacit decision to proceed to election is virtually
built into the fabric of modern Christian monastic life. Where
there is no charismatic successor to hand, no obvious Dharma-heir,
Buddhist monastics are quite free to go to another monastery,
whereas it is far harder for Benedictines. Monastic constitutions
and the sheer weight of common practice, together with canon
law, make the transference of one's stability a very serious
matter. Both Buddhist and Christian monastics are walking a
path which becomes incandescent when it is embodied in a living
teacher, not just in a text. Clearly, then, the selection of
a successor, like the choice of whom to follow in the first
instance, as founder or root lama, is a mysterious and religiously
points out that the Rule of St Benedict offers a specific and
detailed blueprint for our journey into the deifying light.
It is by no means the only blueprint that can be trusted, but
it has worked. The marvellous intricacies of a great cathedral
depend on the ground-plan, and its practical enactment. An indispensable
part of Benedict's ground-plan is his teaching on obedience
to the abbot. Under the Gospel and the Rule, a wise and discerning
abbot provides a thread through the labyrinth of our own cloudy
minds and wills. There is no glorifying of impulse here. Yet,
no matter how often we are reminded that it means 'listening',
many Christians, and some monastics, dislike the very word 'obedience.'
Mutual, horizontal obedience may in practice be considered more
appropriate to adult monastics today than is the Rule's strongly
vertical emphasis on obedience to the abbot. There may be much
talk of personal responsibility, delegation and initiative.
In the daily give-and-take of monastic life, where the abbot's
wishes are at least implicitly known, they may be quietly resisted
surprisingly often, especially in small things. If the horizontal
perspective is too dominant, we may end by obeying the collective
ego, or the one who shouts loudest, with the abbot as a rubber-stamp.
Yet there is more to the minutiae than meets the eye; they too
are part of the enactment of the ground-plan, and so It is not
all right to treat practical injunctions of the Rule cavalierly
the mandala of community, as Judith Simmer-Brown, a Vajrayana
practitioner, notes, the abbot or guru is at the centre and
the others are the perimeter; centre and perimeter are constantly
interacting. Teacher and student must listen to each other;
the guru must decide, and the others follow. If they don't listen,
his wisdom will not benefit them because they will be unable
to receive it, and if he doesn't listen it will be an unnatural
graft that does not take. Attachment or resistance to his personality
is an obstacle to the listening of the student; a defensive
refusal to consult or to be spiritually visible and vulnerable
is an obstacle to the listening of the teacher.
charisms and disciplines of leading and following, as all the
traditions represented in this book seem to realise, are inter-dependent.
In the book, a lot of energy seems to constellate around these
delicate and profoundly formative visions of leading and following.
The Burmese nun Yifa's polite and pointed reservations about
the teaching of the Rule on obedience, for example, represent
a cutting-edge of dialogue. For Theravadin practitioners sometimes
express similar reservations about the place of guru-devotion
in the Vajrayana tradition, in which the teacher is seen as
the embodiment of the enlightened state; our inner teacher,
which is ultimately the awakened mind, manifest in the external
form of the outer teacher - star mirroring star, as we saw above.
misunderstanding of Benedictine obedience which, in my view,
she expresses, is alive and well in wider Christian circles
too. A naive or simplistic conflation between institutional
authority and the authority of God is a fertile breeding-ground
for abuse of authority, and an ongoing temptation for all Christian
institutions. Moreover, I suggest, we have been radically impoverished
by our excessive focus on the authority of office to the exclusion
of charismatic authority. When Adalbert de Vogue, author of
many scholarly and theological commentaries on the Rule, pointed
out some years ago that a Benedictine monastery was a community
gathered around an abbot, there was an outcry. This neglect
and resistance seems to be com-pounded of inculpable ignorance
and fear. Contingent historical circumstances have obscured,
and to some extent ruptured, the continuity of our Patristic
and monastic heritage for us. Predatory 'gurus' abound in the
West, and we have all seen something of the damage they can
of us, however, have seen it from afar; most Western Christians
have no experience at all of following a charismatically gifted
teacher. One of the great gifts of this book is its steadfast
refusal to leave the fresh fields of lived experience. There
is nothing purely speculative or theoretical in what the authors
say. Few Western people could be more qualified by experience
to speak about the teacher-student relationship than Judith
Simmer-Brown, a thoroughly modern, intelligent and sane American
academic, who was a student of the controversial Chogyam Trungpa
until his death. She writes peacefully, after years of living
what she writes, that the commitment and devotion to the root
teacher require putting aside personal preferences in following
the spiritual counsel of the teacher. This touches on another
very sensitive area for Western Christian monastics. It goes
far beyond just obeying orders, which may be little more than
a joyless and grudging resignation, draining one's energies.
For Simmer-Brown is talking about radical and highly interpersonal
renunciation. This is only possible and life-giving when it
springs from a foundational trust in the teacher of a kind that
many Christians find positively alarming, as we saw. At the
same time, it challenges us to look more closely at our own
defences. For the Buddhist, disobedience, pride, and murmuring
are more than momentary gestures of autonomy or independence.
They are all expressions of self-absorption [which is] a defence
against our own spiritual development .
expose that self-absorption in a way that neither breaks the
rusty vessel nor crushes the bruised reed is one of the principle
tasks of the spiritual teacher. Speaking of Chogyam Trungpa's
various ways of exposing her stubbornness, Simmer-Brown writes:
Even if he said nothing, my awareness of my confusion and self-absorption
became highlighted in his presence. The shock and nausea of
seeing our own self-absorption can be overwhelming for a time.
We may find ourselves awkward or tongue-tied when we are around
our teacher, our neuroses heightened, as our self-absorption
rises to the surface. Simmer-Brown says she was often unable,
in the presence of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, to hold a single
coherent thought in her mind. Vulnerability of this kind opens
the heart to the teacher's skilful means. A teacher who lovingly
does this for us, showing us our shortcomings and his view of
them, is a revealer of hidden treasures, inviting us to a true
change of heart.
what if the fortress of self-absorption seems impregnable? Then
the utmost delicacy, clarity and firmness are required for the
good of all. One truly incorrigible and self-willed person can
destroy a community. But careful discernment is essential, as
rebellion can be a sign of breakthrough rather than of breakdown;
it can mean that one is approaching fresh frontiers of practice.
The disciplines of monastic life and obedience may be serving
to exaggerate [self-absorption and rebellion] to the point of
self-awareness. Either way, the community needs skilful means
to deal with intransigent and disruptive self-absorption, and
to care for the rebel. In the Rule, excommunication is presented
as a final and very drastic circuit-breaker. It is ordered towards
restoration and healing. Actual dismissal is held in reserve
for those whose continued presence would clearly and irremediably
exploration of this aspect of the teacher-student relationship
occurs in the context of Benedict's teaching on humility. A
significant proportion of this chapter is quite alien to Buddhist
sensibilities, as it is thick with images and ideas derived
from the highly stratified world of the sixth century. For much
the same reason, this chapter is also notoriously difficult
for contemporary Westerners to interpret. If Western monastics
are still exploring this issue, little wonder that Buddhists
find it opaque. Yet the Zen Buddhist Norman Fisher offers one
of the most illuminating analyses of it that I have ever seen.
Rule likens our life on earth to Jacob's ladder; our body and
soul are its sides, and the degress of humility are its rungs.
Fisher prefers to see it as a bridge across the chasm that separates
the shore of selfishness and ignorance from the shore of love
and true vision. Wise and loving monastics are always going
back and forth across this bridge, until finally they can't
see the difference between the two shores. There is only the
bridge, the bracing, wide-open view of the chasm itself, and
the movement between. A horizontal perspective alongside Benedict's
vertical one, each reflecting its own cultural milieu. Paradoxically,
in the profoundly vertical perspective of the Scriptures and
the Fathers, and indeed of traditional high Christology, one
ascends by descending. The horizontal perspective of Fisher
the Zen Buddhist simply turns the whole image on its side; ladder
becomes bridge, earth and heaven become parallel worlds or shores.
Here, perhaps, it is easier to see that the journey is essentially
interior; that the two shores co-exist in every human heart,
as do heaven and earth. In each case, the polarities dissolve
in the depths of humility and pure perception.
would at first expect that once this dissolution is accomplished,
the means to it - ladder and bridge - would also disappear,
themselves dissolving into the fusion of horizons towards which
they are ordered. Fisher's interpretation recalls for me Teresa's
Interior Castle, in which the closer one moves to the centre,
the larger, not the smaller, each room is, until one reaches
the largest of all, the limitless spaciousness of the Seventh
Mansion. At this point, neither the acquired nor the infused
virtues - the 'bridge/ladder' - disappears; rather, each becomes
a distinctive and scintillating point of radiance, like the
gems of Indra's net. Each part reflects and refracts the whole.
So the ordinary, mundane interior and exterior acts and attitudes
of humility express and direct the limitless energies, the ceaseless
perichoresis of a life transfigured by the deificum lumen, the
light lives within and is offered to all, without distinction.
In particular, it is offered as freely to lay people as to vowed
monastics.This leads us naturally to the final issue to be highlighted
here. The monastic heart is alive and well in lay practitioners
of both traditions. As Steindl-Rast notes, lay practitioners
are running away with the monastic ball. The laity deliberately
cultivate the contemplative dimension of life. Oblates outnumber
the others by as much as ten to one; and this figure is growing.
In Rumer Godden's In this House of Brede, a fine novel of life
in a great Benedictine monastery for women caught in the upheaval
that followed Vatican 2, an abbess observes ironically that
since contemplatives now want to do the work of the active orders,
and the active orders want to do the work of the laity, perhaps
the laity will turn to contemplation. And so they have.
is not universally recognised. Some monasteries seem to fear
that their own monasticism will be diluted to the point of disappearance,
if the obvious distinctions between lay people and monastics
are played down or even dissolved. Where this fear prevails,
oblation tends to be largely a matter of pious association,
with oblates given no real monastic formation. This book invites
monasteries and oblates to get real about each other. It has
been well-said that apples and oranges don't mix only if you
are determined never to enjoy a fruit salad. Zen monasteries
in particular have something to teach us here. Temporary membership
of their monastic communities is seen as part of one's ongoing
life of formation and practice, not as failure. As the 'householder
monastic', Norman Fisher, says in the website mentioned above,
he repeatedly enters and leaves by ritual gates. So the enclosing
walls of the monastery become, in Steindl-Rast's words, a permeable
membrane; a shimmering threshold, not a barrier; a translucent
stream within which monastic and lay practitioners alike may
be at home, like fish in the sea.
monastery is a place of intensive practice, the world of the
laity, extensive, expansive and diffused. In the monastery,
the bell rings and it's time to go to the Office, whether you
feel like it or not. In many households, one must, each day,
consciously and deliberately renegotiate a space for the Office.
We need each other's complementary charisms. The imploded world
of the monastery offers a highly focussed and intentional sub-culture
in which everything is consciously oriented to the path. Without
regular access to something like this, it is almost impossible
for lay practitioners to keep going. Without regular contact
with those seriously pursuing the monastic ideal in 'the world',
monks and nuns can all too easily become insular, defensive
ought, therefore, to be especially welcomed in our Christian
monasteries. And this means more than the exercise of the expected
social graces - the superficial smile or the warm reception
of expected guests - more than a meticulous and thoroughly controlling
courtesy by which monastics and oblates keep each other's distinctive
charisms at a comfortable distance. Preserving the peace and
silence of the monastery need not involve distancing the oblates,
keeping them at bay by rigid enclosure or an obvious and intimidating
reticence, especially if they are members of the opposite sex.
Rather, it could mean asking them to give themselves seriously
and humbly to the disciplines of monastic formation and life;
drawing them into lifelong, non-trivial formation, acknowledging
and nurturing the monastic charism within them, however untutored
it may be.
abbot, obedience and humility, lay monastics: these are by no
means the only issues explored in Benedict's Dharma; but I have
focussed on them in this review because for contemporary Benedictine
monastics they are among the most thorny. We stand at something
of a crossroads. Are the hundreds of oblates gathering around
our monasteries a field ripe for harvest, or, albeit unwittingly,
a swarm of locusts? How do we listen to the voices of our Buddhist
brothers and sisters in the monastic life? Is this a new Pentecost
or a new Tower of Babel? Will we allow the immense reverence
and devotion offered to the teacher, especially within Vajrayana
practice, to cast new light on what the Rule says about the
abbot? Will we allow it to speak into our experience of choosing
and learning from our own abbots or spiritual teachers? If we
do these things, where will it all lead? Joseph Goldstein, faced
with the claim that Dudjom Rinpoche was a reincarnation of Sariputra,
perhaps the closest disciple of the Buddha, was at first confused.
He, a Theravadin who did not believe in rebirth after enlightenment,
had to own that he did not know whether this claim was true.
And this 'not knowing' became a place of great openness and
freedom. 'A breath of fresh air blew through my mind, sweeping
out many previously held opinions, conclusions, and certainties.'
you come to a fork in the road, take it, a master once said.
These are brave words, pointing to a path which is not to be
entered lightly; for it asks much in the way of discipline,
detachment, surrender, and eyes that are brimful with Benedict's
deifying light, so beloved of Steindl-Rast, and so often concealed
by the circumlocutions of nervous translators. The editor and
participants in this venture are among those who have entrusted
themselves to the fork in the road, not quite knowing where
it will take them or us. They are unfailingly courteous and
sensitive, yet always, so it seems, honest, as they gaze with
eyes not ours on the very foundations of the Western monastic
life as mirrored in the Rule of St Benedict. Benedict's Dharma
is a complex book, never settling for superficial agreement,
unusually willing to speak openly and strongly about points
of union and mutual illumination. The boundaries between the
Buddhist and Christian monastic traditions are still there;
but this exploratory book weaves across them many subtle, delicate
threads of experience and reflection.
the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
little Rule for beginners lends itself well to such exploration.
The Buddhist commentators approach it with a mixture of awe
and reverence. They recognize it as belonging to monastics of
all traditions. The large-hearted Benedict would surely agree.
Benedict's Dharma: The Conference
Dharma: A Conference of Buddhist and Christian Monastics gathered
on September 19-21, 2001 at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech
Grove, Indiana to launch and discuss the book, Benedict’s
Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of St. Benedict, edited
by Patrick Henry and published by Riverhead Press.
by Sister Mary Margaret Funk and Fr. William Skudlarek, the
conference was convened only just over a week after the events
of September 11, the conference was without two participants
in the book, Joseph Goldstein and Norman Fischer, who felt it
was more appropriate to be with their Buddhist communities at
the time. However, the editor, Patrick Henry, and contributors
Judith Simmer-Brown and Ven. Yifa were able to attend, along
with about 100 attendees, both from Buddhist and Christian communities.
addition to these, there were talks from Sr. Sarah Schwartzberg,
Fr. Francis Kline, Ven. Heng Sure, Fr. Columba Stewart, Fr.
Patrick Barry, Fr. James Wiseman, and Brother David Steindl-Rast.
There were also many contributions from the attendees, and each
day began and ended with a ceremony. The Conference was sponsored
by Monastic Interreligious Dialogue with a grant from the Fetzer
conference was brought to a close by a ceremony that affirmed
the two religious traditions and called for healing and peace
in the wake of September 11th
are invited to follow the conference day by day, or to go to
the list of speakers for a particular talk. You may also read
the reflections of many of the attendees on the conference or
follow the links to other organizations working on interreligious
and Buddhist-Christian dialogue.
MOVIE REVIEW - "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . .
. and Spring." A stunning tale of now and Zen
Ty Burr, Globe Staff | April 16, 2004
big movie news this week is Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill,
Vol. 2," a glitteringly busy antihero sandwich of borrowed
Eastern and Western elements. Opening much more quietly is its
polar opposite, Korean writer-director Kim Ki Duk's Buddhist
fable "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring."
The film is as spare and unvarnished as a wooden temple floating
on a lake, but its reflections run deep, and it can ripple your
thoughts for months. If Tarantino's film is built to thrill,
"Spring, Summer" is made to last.
plot is deceptively simple. An aging monk (Oh Young Soo) lives
in a shrine on a lake with his sole companion, a child apprentice
(Kim Jong Ho). The boy, as boys sometimes will, spends one afternoon
casually tormenting animals, tying rocks to a frog, a snake,
and a fish. The monk responds by tying a rock to the boy's back
and instructing him to rescue the animals he has burdened. Two
survive but one does not, and that figurative rock will stay
with the boy for a long time.
season is a chapter in the young monk's life, separated by a
decade or so. As summer arrives, so does a sickly but attractive
adolescent girl (Ha Yeo Jin), and the teenage apprentice (now
played by Kim Young Min) is pulled into a raw, urgently sexual
relationship. Director Kim gets the pulse of young hormones
going haywire, but the film sits on the fence: We applaud the
boy's ardor even as we fear where it will lead him.
we're right to. If you know your Buddhism, you know the "noble
truth" that desire is the root cause of suffering, that
craving nothing is the path to everything. The young monk learns
this the hard, human way, leaving the island and returning years
later, still carrying that invisible stone (and played, at last,
by the director himself). His aging master sets an absurd task
that flowers into something monumentally pointless and profound,
and while there's more, I think I'll keep it to myself. You
might guess where the tale goes from here but not its sneaky,
by cinematographer Baek Dong Hyeon in the environs of Jusan
Pond, a 200-year-old man-made body of water in Korea's North
Kyungsang province, "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. . .
and Spring" has a rural beauty so timeless that it's a
shock when the director drops hints that we're in the present
day. The images turn pungent, hyperreal, and mythic over the
course of the decades: The boat that ferries the elder monk
to shore becomes both a symbol and a plain-hewn character in
its own right, as does the ornamental gate on the shore, and
the wintry ice that chokes both. A cat's tail becomes a calligraphy
pen; a foundling child becomes a savior; the seasons swing 'round.
that hope to distill the essence of belief are often willfully
naive and "Spring, Summer" occasionally leans too
hard on its own simplicity. This is anything but a fuzzy new
age bath, though. If the film is a meditation, it's the lean,
unyielding sort, with muscles honed by the act of observing
human struggle against a backdrop of ceaseless change. And if
it doesn't offer transcendence, it shows, like a finger pointing
at the moon, how we might spin toward it. - Ty Burr can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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