The Urban Dharma Newsletter... April 27, 2004


In This Issue: Buddhism and Christianity

0. Humor/Quotes...
1. Parallel Sayings of Buddha and Christ
2. "Benedict's Dharma:
Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of Saint Benedict'
3. Temple/Center/Website:
Benedict’s Dharma: The Conference
4. Book/CD/Movie: "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring."


0. Humor/Quotes...

A 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 Twain

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. - Mark Twain

A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval. - Mark Twain

Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more. - Mark Twain

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest. - Mark Twain

An 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

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint. - Mark Twain

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. - Mark Twain

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear. - Mark Twain


1. Parallel Sayings of Buddha and Christ


These 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.

Although 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.

The 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 and John.

Buddha: They agreed among themselves, friends, here comes the recluse, Gotama, who lives luxuriously, who gives up his striving and reverted to luxury.

Jesus: The son of humanity came eating and drinking and they said look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

Buddha: With the relinquishing of all thought and egotism, the enlightened one is liberated through not clinging.

Jesus: Those who want to save their life will loose it. Those who loose their live for my sake will save it.

Buddha: 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.

Jesus: 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.

Buddha: 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 world.

Jesus: 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.

Buddha: 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.

Jesus: Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, so you have done it unto me.

Buddha: Consider others as yourself.

Jesus: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Buddha: One who acts on truth is happy, in this world and beyond.

Jesus: You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

Buddha: 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 by truth.

Jesus: 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.

2. "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


This 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.

Like 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.

Perhaps 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 speaks.

Catching 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.

However 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.

Just 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?

Buddhists 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.

As 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 monumental task.

Steindl-Rast 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 .

In 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.

The 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.

The 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 do.

Most 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 .

To 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.

But 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 be destructive.

Simmer-Brown's 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.

The 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.

One 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 deifying light.

That 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.

This 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.

The 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 and condescending.

Oblates 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.

The 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.'

When 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.

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

The 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.

3. Benedict's Dharma: The Conference


Benedict’s 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.

Hosted 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.

In 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 Institute.

The 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

You 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.

4. MOVIE REVIEW - "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring." A stunning tale of now and Zen

By Ty Burr, Globe Staff | April 16, 2004

The 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.

The 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.

Each 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.

And 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, poetic impact.

Shot 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.

Films 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 tburr@globe.com.


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