This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Some Observations on Interreligious Dialogue
Raimon Panikkar from Bulletin 74, April 2005 Virtually everything in what follows is an exact citation of the words of Raimon Panikkar given at a conference in Monserrat, November 28, 2004. The shaping of the text, however, is the work of the redactor, Fr. Pierre-François de Béthune. I. THE RISKS OF A WESTERN MINDSET A. An Analysis of the present situation Once upon a time there was an anguished lover who, over the course of many years, sent passionate love letters to his beloved in a far distant land. At long last she wrote back to say she had married the mailman! Like her, the West has fallen in love with the messenger. It has become infatuated with a rational approach to reality. But reason, the reign of rationality, is only an intermediary. Religion in the West has sacriﬁced too much for it. It is time to realize that our task is to forget the letter and hold fast to the Lord. The West has also insisted on the importance of history. We see missionaries trying to convince Hindus that Christianity is true because Jesus is an historical person, while Krishna is only a myth. But for a devout Hindu this way of thinking makes no sense at all. Napoleon was also an historical ﬁgure—but what of it? “Krishna is alive in my heart!” Different cultures have different understandings of time. In Sanskrit the same word can mean yesterday or tomorrow! In like manner, the West has all but deiﬁed law. But a lawmaker God has little meaning for the non-Westerner.
We in the West try to pinpoint what is essential and speciﬁc. The advantage of such a reductionist approach to reality is that we can then dominate it. The success of Western culture shows how effective this method is. But what is the sense of monks trying to pinpoint “the speciﬁcity of monastic interreligious dialogue”? Finally, we need to point out the risk of always emphasizing the measurable and the quantitative. Does it really make any sense to report on an encounter in terms of percentages? “My thinking is now 50% Buddhist!” B. What is at stake in this way of thinking It is absolutely necessary to take account of the risks involved in a way of thinking that has been used to justify cultural imperialism and that excludes the very possibility of dialogue. To believe that our Western categories make it possible for us to understand everything is a ﬂagrant manifestation of cultural imperialism, even cultural colonialism. This sort of violence has become widespread; we must constantly ask ourselves whether or not it still has inﬂuence over us. When we say that Brahman is the God of the Hindus, we imply that we know perfectly well what a god is. However, for the Hindus Brahman is neither a creator nor a provider; Brahman is not masculine, is not transcendent. Is it possible for us to admit that there are limits to the understanding of God we received from the Semitic and Greco-Roman traditions? Can we admit that there are also limits to our understanding of religion (“Is Buddhism a religion?”) and prayer (“Can we pray with those who do not believe that God is a person?”). As should be clear, the interreligious and the intercultural are inseparable.
In addition, in spite of all its good qualities, the Western way of thinking has impeded the development of certain features of Christianity. When the “symbol” of the Apostles became the “teaching” of the Apostles, Christianity was on its way to becoming an ideology. A critical reﬂection on the meaning and the risks of our Western way of thinking is therefore necessary when we take part in interreligious dialogue. II. THE TASK OF CONTEMPLATIVES IN THE THIRD MILLENNIUM Monastics have an historic mission. Today their task, like that of all contemplatives, is to free the Christian faith from the bonds of Western culture. This task is not a new form of iconoclasm, but rather the continuation of what was begun at the Council of Jerusalem. We will only be able to go beyond Western culture if reason, which has so dominated it, is put in its place. In any event, the practice of interreligious dialogue takes place within a cultural context. Before becoming more speciﬁc about the method of this form of dialogue, we need to recall some basics. A. Embracing the whole of reality A “reformation” is not enough; we must commit ourselves to a “transformation” (even more, that is, to a change of mind and heart— literally, to a surpassing of rationality. The mystics of the West are fully aware of what is involved. The Victorines of the 12th century already said that alongside the oculus sensuum and the oculus rationis there is the oculus ﬁdei. It is true that the word “mysticism” carries negative connotations. But until we ﬁnd a better way of expressing this reality, we cannot put it aside. Mysticism is not a substitute for truth or something extra—a luxury for people with
leisure time on their hands. It is an integral part of reality; without it reality is deformed. God is not a monad, a substance, but a Trinity, a relation. That is why we have to go beyond a monotheism that would express itself by means of a simplistic reductio ad unum. Meister Eckhart said that God is at one and the same time innominabilis and omninominabilis. If the mystical “third eye” is open, one can encounter God everywhere. For this reason we can say that pluralism, correctly understood, is one of the best features of mysticism. If emphasizing and isolating what is speciﬁc simply means identifying that which distinguishes one thing from another—for example, what distinguishes monastic interreligious dialogue from other kinds of dialogue—there is very little to be gained from it. The essence of something does not consist in that which makes it different, but rather in its aroma, in that which makes it unique—and that is ineffable. If you insist on speaking about the speciﬁcity of monks, then I would have to say that it consists in the fact that monasticism surpasses all speciﬁcity! The unity for which we thirst is that of “blessed simplicity” and “new innocence.” Advaita is not “non duality” (a refusal of duality, which would imply that there is still something “out there”!), but aduality (the “a” here is an “a” privative). That is why speaking of “double belonging” in certain religious settings is not a very good way of stating the case, because the point of departure is still dualistic. Wisdom is to be found in transforming destructive tensions into fruitful polarities. “But if you feel that your belonging is two-fold, then decide for one or the other. You can’t hang out in the middle.”
B. Consenting to Kenosis Over the course of two millennia the Christian tradition in the West has worked out a symbiosis of two or three cultures. We can rightfully be proud of this accomplishment. But at the beginning of this third millennium, even if the majority of humanity is barraged by the American way of life, we know that three quarters of the world’s population remains basically a stranger to this Christian and postChristian culture. And so, if we believe in the mystery of Christ, then the time has come to become truly “catholic,” that is to say, to belong to the entire world. For that to happen it is not necessary to come up with new ways of giving expression to the mystery, but rather to consent to an impoverishment and even a stripping away. We have to begin by stripping Christ of all the Western garments we have clothed him with. We will then be able to bring about a change analogous to that which the Apostles dared to enact when they did away with circumcision at the ﬁrst council of Jerusalem. It’s time to prepare for Jerusalem II! But the way of “kenosis” is extremely demanding. To go beyond deeply anchored convictions involves a harsh spiritual asceticism. You risk losing everything. To be more precise, kenosis demands that one commit oneself to a radical reassessment of one’s faith. At this stage it is important to distinguish between faith and belief. Beliefs are many and often incompatible (We might note in passing that even if they are incommensurable—like the radius of a circle with its circumference—they are still related to one another, as in the case of the example given, and therefore a dialogue can be established between them.) As for faith, it is beyond these incompatibilities because it does not have any object properly speaking; it is, rather, an act of adhering. To become truly free we have to develop a faithfulness that knows no limits.
However, a refusal to absolutize our beliefs does not imply an intention to absolutize our doubts! Faith and doubt are not incompatible as ﬁre and water are. Both are part of life. C. Working out a Method for Dialogue So what kind of dialogue are monks called to? It would be good to recall the way of dialogue that many monastics have already been involved in: First of all, one has to agree to an out-and-out conversion in order really to accept the otherness of the other. The other is not just another—one in a series—but an other, someone who is different, unique. In these times we can no longer pretend to know our own religion if we do not know another religion. As is so often said today, in order to be religious one has to be interreligious. Words can deceive us. Translations are often approximations and terms evolve over the course of history. The teaching of Confucius on the politics of words is still valid today. We know how often our misunderstanding—worse yet, our caricatures—have disﬁgured other religions. The ﬁrst thing we have to do is remedy this situation and avoid every sort of distortion. While it is obvious that we have to study other religions, it is especially important to remember that the essence of dialogue is a meeting of persons. In order to under-stand the other we have to listen with humility. A meeting happens when persons are vulnerable. Such meetings lead to friendship. It would even be more correct to say that without friendly and trusting interpersonal contacts, dialogue cannot even begin. The particular characteristic of the interreligious dialogue of monastic men and women is that it is a “dialogue of experience.” Coming together in silence, working together without expecting any personal gain,
participating in intrareligious dialogue—every form of dialogue that is not exclusively intellectual is an experience, a common experience. There is no such thing as experience pure and simple, but sometimes it is possible to experience profound communion in silence. What is the meaning of such experiences? There comes a time when we have to try to explain them, but we know that the heart of such experiences—which cannot be expressed in words—is that they bind us together more closely. This kind of dialogue needs a special “methodology” that is still to be worked out. Finally, it must be said that this kind of dialogue takes time, many years. Those who sense that they are called to become more deeply involved in the work of interreligious dialogue will have to become immersed in another religion. Lest this immersion simply become a form of spiritual tourism—worse yet, a form of colonialist “inculturation”—at least a year would be required. There are not many who would be able to make such a commitment. But let us not give in to the tyranny of numbers. History shows us that a few pioneers can do wonders. III. RECOLLECTIONS OF PERE HENRI LE SAUX—SWAMI ABHISHIKTANANDA I am reluctant to speak about my friend Abhishiktananda, because to speak about him is also to speak about myself. I will try to be discreet. Together we made two major pilgrimages—to Arunachala (Tiruvanamalai) and to Gangotri, at the source of the Ganges. These common experiences drew us very close to one another. We talked together at great length. (He loved to talk.) In the course of these conversations I was able to help him become reconciled with himself. He needed to bounce his doubts and questions off someone else, especially since he tended to be a little scrupulous. As a theologian I
helped him relate our experience to the Christian tradition. In this way he was able to bring together his initial intuitions—which were often at odds with those of Père Monchanin—and his later insights. I think it is possible to say that a great transformation took place in the cave of Arunachala in 1952. There he understood that what was demanded of him was not simply being “open to the other”—something he had control over—but letting the other convert him. When he ﬁnally had two disciples, he realized what it means to be a father. It was moving to see him recognize that he was a man capable of forming intense and transformative relationships. In spite of all the progress he made, I sensed that he remained torn right up to the very end of his life, at least until his heart attack in July 1973. It was then that he “found the Grail,” as he put it in a letter to me. The image of the Grail says much about his inculturation in Indian religion. In order to speak about his discovery of interior unity within the Indian tradition of advaita, he used an expression that he received from the culture of his childhood in Brittany. He was no longer alienated from himself. He died believing that his life was a failure. In fact, he was a genius without knowing it.
The New Monk
Raimon Panikkar from Bulletin 72, May 2004 One of the leading ﬁgures in interreligious dialogue over the past halfcentury has been Raimon Panikkar. His pivotal talks on “Blessed Simplicity” given at Holyoke, Massachusetts, in November 1980 were mentioned several times in the previous issue of this bulletin by persons who were reminiscing on important events during the ﬁrst twenty-ﬁve years of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. We are delighted to offer here these current reﬂections of Professor Panikkar, who generously responded to our request for such an article. When as a teenager I met the abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat, a “high place” for my family and myself, I jokingly told him: “You are, Father, a great temptation for me! I am such an impractical fellow, and here on the holy mountain I could ﬁnd all the practical problems of life solved for me—a good library at my disposal, excellent company, material needs covered, and above all, time to spend praising God and scrutinizing his Mystery. But, somehow, I feel that my ‘monastery’ is the wide world.” And I have always considered myself such a monk. However, these few paragraphs are not about me, they are about the New Monk. A quarter of a century has passed since we met to speak of “Blessed Simplicity,” and this marks an appropriate span of time for revisiting some of those themes. Before our event at Holyoke, I remember asking a dear friend if he would agree to present himself not as a “Benedictine monk” but as a monk (who happened to be a) Benedictine—which in French needed only a pause between the noun and the adjective. One simple—but profound—way to interpret this opening between the person and the modiﬁer is to say that the pause prevents life circumstances from drowning out the call of the monk to fulﬁllment. Without forfeiting any allegiance to monastic family, or even to religious
family, the monk is ﬁrst and foremost a person who has placed the realization of the plentitude of existence at the center of life. This applies as much to the Buddhist as to the Christian or any monk. There is a distinction between monastic organizations and the monastic vocation. The former, East and West, are in crisis, while the latter belongs to the very essence of Man (with capital M), essential participant in the triple dynamism of reality. Perhaps monks will allow me a condensed “theologumenon” about the Western propensity toward dominance of circumstance over experience, afﬁliation over existence, or—in the broadest terms—the juridical order over ontological structure. Reinforced by the Jewish tradition of the Torah and impregnated by the Roman genius for administration, Christian ways of thinking have tended to elevate the juridical order (Law) to an ontological rank since almost the very beginning of Christendom. Oversimplifying, I would say that historically this way of thinking has percolated into all the monotheistic traditions, including the secular. Thus, this understanding of reality has created the project of a “world civilization,” an imposition of a monolithic legal order that justiﬁes itself by claiming to reﬂect the very order of being. It sufﬁces to glimpse into other cultures to realize that for them the juridical order is not the same as the ontological structure of reality. I am reminded here of the development of the Bodhisattva ideal, which had a historical impetus (loss of patronage, shift of focus from the sangha of arhats to the laity, expansion into new cultures, etc.) accompanied by a genuine deepening of spiritual understanding (svartha versus paramartha, karuna, the bodhisattva vow, etc.). Although the new Mahayana sutra sometimes made the arhat a straw dog or a caricature, on the other hand, Mahayana and Theravada monks often lived together
under the same vinaya or discipline. The old and the new Buddhists could live together when the rules were not ontologized. In contrast, by ontologizing the Law, the dominant technocratic culture has developed a vision of reality that is not only at the source of many a political and religious misunderstanding and armed conﬂict, but is how we have come to deﬁne ourselves on a daily level. I am not defending anarchy or claiming the opposite position that the law has no relation to being. I am only saying that the monk, having experienced the mystical dimension of reality, is capable of making the distinction without indulging in a separation. We do not need to betray our monastic calling to feel that in some way we share in the same vocation as that of a Buddhist monk, for instance. This does not mean that we should ignore the rules of our order or disobey the laws of the land, but only suggests that we should not ontologize them. Neither shallow eclecticism, nor shrewd dialectic. Let us not forget that the “Dialogue” about which we speak so much suggests not only “duologue,” but “dia ton logon,” piercing the logos and transcending (not forgetting) it. Any Christian monk having meditated on the Trinity should be able to distinguish without separating the Logos from the Pnêuma. It is an optimistic feature of our times that monks are meeting other monks“Christian, Buddhist, Hindu”speaking about what is central to their lives as religious persons. We ﬁnd ourselves sharing a common silence, and in and through it discovering the possibility of a dialogical and not only dialectical dialogue. This intercultural encounter that leads to an intrareligious fecundation has the potential to liberate us from one more barrier to the realization of a fuller religious life—without a shallow eclecticism. The “persons” of the Trinity are inﬁnitely different precisely in their relationship (perichôresê).
What changes when we free the monastic vocation from the attitude of mono-cultural dominance? Nothing and everything. Let me give three examples of traditional values of the religious, East and West, that can be reinvigorated by the encounter of monks in dialogue qua monks. Paradoxically enough, the ﬁrst, the classical contemptus mundi of the monk, today takes a new and more subtle turn: not abandoning the world (which is practically impossible), but swimming against the current, like living ﬁsh in the rivers, without rage or violence, but with poise and elegance, that is, with love and patience. “La paciencia todo lo alcanza,” used to say Teresa of Avila. Patience does not give up, rather, it perseveres and insists. It never gets discouraged, because it does not believe that a single individual, system, doctrine, or religion has the total answer. Humility, to me, means the courage to be imperfect, not ﬁnished. Secondly, the monastic vocation has meant “solitude.” But solitude does not mean isolation. On the contrary, solitude demands that I be truly myself so that I may share without encumbrances solidarity with the entire reality: Buddhakaya, karma, mystical Body, universal love. The greatest scandal of human history is religious wars—be they explicitly or implicitly religious. Even the fact that sometimes they can disguise themselves under the cloak of religion shows our responsibility: “Not of the world,” but in the world—which the “Father” loved so much. Thirdly, the monastic “calling” is ever new. It does not repeat itself, and it has no blueprint; it is not prescribed by any law. It needs to be not just discovered, but created by our cooperation with the very dynamism of reality, by holy “obedience,” that is, by attentive listening (obaudire) to the “divine” Voice—which is the Hindu name for revelation (sruti). It is not enough to “imitate” the Buddha, Christ, God. We have to become the Buddha, Christ, God—without asking like Peter, “What about John?” “You follow me” was the answer.
The Prayer of Our Being
Raimon Panikkar from Bulletin 57, February 1997 This talk was given at the John Main Seminar of 1996 and provided as part of the Program leaﬂet. The exhortation of the Lord, later repeated by St. Paul, to be always vigilant, to pray ceaselessly, has ever been taken literally by the contemplative souls at all times. In the East, as well as in the West, the Christian ideal is continual prayer. The hesychasm of the Oriental Church is something more than a simple method; it is one of the traditional efforts for carrying out that exhortation of the Lord without abatement. Synchronized with throbbing, the prayer of the heart permits the contemplative to live praying. Breathing is just the other side of praying and vice versa. Apart from this predominantly anthropological aspect, though not merely psychological, another tradition of continual prayer exists in a diffused way, which we would call ontological. It underlies most of the theories and practices of prayer. When St. Augustine speaks of love as a weight—amor meus pondus meum—when St. Gregory the Great is pleased to describe the burden of ﬂickering—mutabilitatis pondus—when St. Bernard speaks of the constitutive tension of the realm of inauthenticity—regio dissimilitudinis —when St. Thomas writes of the dynamism—desideriumof nature as well as of grace, to cite only a few of the Fathers and Doctors of the West (this would be even easier in the East), they start from this conception of continuous prayer as an underlying presupposition. W. R. Inge also wrote that “the essence of mysticism . . . is just prayer”. I shall try to describe in brief this Christian prayer.
Prayer is something more than action. Prayer as an action is actualized by something anterior to and more internal than action. The act of praying is rather the effect of praying as a habit, as a mode of being, although an inverse repercussion may take place later; the act of praying may reinforce the life of prayer. But this is not all. Prayer is more than a mere habit, a contingent manifestation of our mode of being. It is not a simple disposition of our nature, or of grace. All of this is certain, but it is neither the whole nor the profound truth. Christian life as life, as Christian existence, in itself is prayer. And I would say the same of any human life but I am restricting myself to the Christian tradition. The Christian, being at the same time just and sinner —simul justus et peccator—exists in this very tension between the weight of love and the burden of sin, between the aspiration of the spirit and the desire of the ﬂesh, as it is put in the favorite expression of Pope St. Gregory and the medieval monks echoing St. Paul. In other words, prayer is an awareness of our own itinerant being, the experiential discovery of our pilgrim being, of our state of wayfaring; it is the recognition of the ontological urge of our own existence—already and not yet fully—transformed by Christ; it is the consciousness of being a “displaced person” and nevertheless with a mission to fulﬁll in this world (regio dissimulitudinis) of which we are part—as much as we also belong to the “place” of our origins. Moreover, prayer is the personal and somehow incommunicable experience that our itinerant condition is to some extent no longer so, because it has been surpassed—conquered by one who has triumphed over death. The second death has no more power over us (John the Evangelist). It is all in one, that “touch” (St. John of the Cross) which lets us realize that the Way and the Goal have already met within us, that we are, to be sure, pilgrims, but coming back, returning as it were from where we have yet never been “before”— although we “were” and are there. Going, returning and being-BeingCoalesce. Prayer is the sharing of the divine life in us.
For the life of constant prayer, a Christian need not add anything to life. It is enough to remove obstacles. The genuine aspiration of our being, the authentic dynamism of our own existence, our essential thirst for the Divine cannot emerge if we are attached to creatures, if our love is “curved” as the School of St. Victor would say. It is just the same, comments St. John of the Cross, to be attached to heavy chains (of vice) as by the thin thread of a spider. Unless the soul breaks it, she cannot ﬂy. In a word, we do not make ourselves free from the burden of dissimilarity if we are not possessed by humility, i.e. by truth. We cannot possess truth, as St. Thomas reminds us, but truth can possess us. To pray is to emancipate oneself; it is a real liberation. It comes to unfastening the strap, to detaching oneself from all contingent events, to throwing the ballast of sin over the edge of our creatureliness. To pray is to aspire, but it is neither psychological desire nor sentimental caprice, nor the ﬁckleness of the sinful creature; it is rather the same aspiration of the entrails of our being, the very ontic inclination that constitutes us, the gravitational force of our existence. To pray is to live, to reach the level of the speciﬁc Christian life. Prayer is the dynamism which is inserted in the heart of a being that has yet to reach its real being, it is this tearing up that makes us cry out in ineffable groans (as St. Paul says), because we are still not God, because we have not reached the Divine yet, because we are still at a good distance, and possibly we may stumble on the way. To pray is to love, as love on this earth is the urge of our existence. To pray is to hope. To pray is to suffer, because of the divine impact in the painful passivity of suffering produced by the call of the Mystery that uproots our attachments, which we feel are part of our being. To pray is to live, inasmuch as the genuine Christian life is the movement of our entire being towards the inﬁnite divine Light. Constant prayer, then, is not interrupted as in breathing, but is continuous like being itself. Any Christian “act” (actus humanus, not actus hominis) is prayer. Prayer is the authentic attitude of our being. Life is desire, aspiration, movement and longing. God is the end, and
prayer is the way. But the way would be no way if the end were not there. It is the goal that makes the way. A no–thoroughfare is not the way. When our being is no more than our “desire of God” (in the double sense of the genitive, objective and subjective) and is not corrupted by pseudo–ontic crust of sin (not deﬁled by the conversio ad creaturas, by falling down to things) our life, then, is prayer. I am only repeating traditional sentences—although I would prefer to speak of aspiration rather than of desire. We pray inasmuch as we are. (Thus the complete powerlessness of the human person in respect to praying; we cannot pray beyond what we are—and we cannot be beyond what we pray.) We are, on the one hand, as much as we pray. (From that comes omnipotence of the praying soul: we can do and be everything in as much as our prayer is and our being is.) Christian prayer is constant: it has no more hiatus than those of our own being. It is not only the heart’s respiration, it is the palpitation of our own being, the incessant rhythm and the beat of which we are divinized, the highs and lows of the ravishing love to the sound of which we sing with the same chords of our being the sanctus, sanctus, sanctus of the Creation and of the Trinity.
10th Anniversary Issue: North American Board for EastWest Dialogue
Fr. Bede Grifﬁths, OSB, Raimon Panikkar from Bulletin 31, January 1988 On this occasion of the 10th anniversary of the AIM’s North American Board for East-West Dialogue, we share here some reﬂections on intermonastic dialogue during the past decade and the role NABEWD has played since its beginning in January, 1978. Ramon Panikkar The awakening of a truly ecumenical consciousness in monastic circles these last ten years is inspiring. The “conscientization” done by the AIM North American Board for East-West Dialogue has contributed to it in great measure. We are also thankful for this activity of keeping the networks of the heart alive. The changes are visible. I still remember some twenty years ago how many Christian monks were shocked by the idea that to be a monk is substantive, and to be Catholic, Buddhist or whatever, is adjectival. To be sure, in every monk the adjective is transcendentally united with the noun. I am a Christian monk, as I am human, male, Indian, and so forth. But a Buddhist monk qua monk is not less a monk than a Christian monk, as a black qua black is no less a person than a white for that matter. We are now discovering that ﬁdelity and love for one’s own tradition does not entail considering other traditions as inferior. The deeper we are steeped in Christ, for instance, the more our fear to “lose him” disappears, and all the more we are able to understand and to accept symbols so central for other people, without diluting our commitment to and belief in the uniqueness of our way and of our symbols.
The inﬂuence of modern scientiﬁc thinking on matters spiritual and of life has been deleterious. Something is unique, not when it is better or worse, but when it cannot be compared. It is incommensurable. Any comparison misses the point. Comparison is a quantitative category, and life is incomparable. Not all is reducible to scientiﬁc calculus. But all these ideas would have remained barren if the praxis had not accompanied and even preceded them. We may reﬂect on the praxis. But praxis is primary in as much as life is spontaneous. Saint Dionysius the Aeropagite (let us leave academic quibbles apart) wrote to the monk Caius that “if someone seeing God would know what he saw, he did not see God.” (Si quis videns Deum cognovit quod vidit, ipsum Deum non vidit.) The Desert Fathers liked to repeat that if the monks knew they were praying they were no longer praying. If Christians know they are unique by despising, neglecting, or even feeling superior to others, they cease to be unique and are no longer Christian. If monks know themselves to be better (or even worse—a Buddhist will understand!) they cease to be monks. “Do not judge” has been written. We have been engaged these last ten years in listening more, loving more, learning from all quarters and we are happy about this. Blessed are those who don’t do Comparative Mysticism! They know there is no yardstick. *** Fr. Bede Grifﬁths, OSB In 1974 Cardinal Pignedoli, the then President of the Secretariat for Non-Christians, wrote to the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order: of the “primary role that monasticism plays in the meeting with nonChristian religions.” The presence of monasticism in the Catholic Church, he said, is a bridge linking us to all other religions, since the monk is the most typical example of the homo religious and as such represents a point of contact and mutual understanding between Christians and non-Christians. It was as a result of this initiative on the
part of the Holy See that the Benedictine Order through the agency of AIM (Inter-Monastic Aid) took up the work of dialogue with other religions through the organization of DIM (Inter-religious Monastic Dialogue) in Europe and the North American Board for East-West Dialogue in the United States. The NABEWD has been continuing this work now for ten years and it is worthwhile reﬂecting over what has been achieved in these years. One may best begin with the work of the Bulletin which began publication in 1978 with an initial circulation of 250 and has continued ever since to present a fascinating survey of the different forms the dialogue has been taking allover the world, while its circulation has grown to 1800. This alone is a remarkable achievement as it has kept the monastic world aware of the work of dialogue with other religions throughout the world more effectively than any other work in English. The focus is, of course, on inter-monastic dialogue but this alone gives an insight into the gradual growth of mutual understanding which is the effect of dialogue. Another work of the Board has been the sponsoring of conferences and symposia among Christian monastics to make them more aware of the value and signiﬁcance of dialogue and promoting books and tapes of Christian monks engaged in dialogue. But more important than this has been the actual collaboration with monks of other religions, particularly Buddhists in conferences and seminars. Above all, I would emphasize the organization of programs of monastic hospitality, especially with Tibetan monks. It is well known that the Dalai Lama has been extremely open to such meetings and the actual experience of living with monks of another religion is a unique experience for a Christian monastic. It is with Buddhists on the whole that dialogue has been most enriching and perhaps we need to look more to dialogue with Hindus and Muslims, especially the Suﬁs. It is difﬁcult to assess what has taken place in these last ten years. The change of attitude on the part of the Church towards other religions has
been so dramatic that it is as though we were living in another world. How deeply it has affected the monastic order as a whole it would be difﬁcult to say, but certainly there is a new openness to eastern values among monks today. But we have still a long way to go. The real encounter of the Catholic Church with the religions of Asia has hardly begun and the challenge before the monastic order today is to enter in depth into the experience of God or, as in Buddhism, of ultimate Reality, in the religions of Asia and relate that experience to the experience of God in Christ in the West.
The Sermon on the Mount of Intrareligious Dialogue
Raimon Panikkar from Bulletin 27, October 1986 When you enter into an intrareligious dialogue, do not think beforehand what you have to believe. When you witness to your faith, do not defend yourself or your vested interests, sacred as they may appear to you. Do like the birds in the skies: they sing and ﬂy and do not defend their music or their beauty. When you dialogue with somebody, look at your partner as a revelatory experience as you would—and should—look at the lilies in the ﬁelds. When you engage in intrareligious dialogue, try ﬁrst to remove the beam in your own eye before removing the speck in the eye of your neighbor. Blessed are you when you do not feel self-sufﬁcient while being in dialogue. Blessed are you when you trust the other because you trust in Me. Blessed are you when you face misunderstandings from your own community or others for the sake of your ﬁdelity to Truth. Blessed are you when you do not give up your convictions, and yet you do not set them up as absolute norms. Woe unto you, you theologians and academicians, when you dismiss what others say because you ﬁnd it embarrassing or not sufﬁciently learned.
Woe unto you, you practitioners of religions, when you do not listen to the cries of the little ones. Woe unto you, you religious authorities, because you prevent change and (re)conversion. Woe unto you, you religious people, because you monopolize religion and stiﬂe the Spirit which blows where and how she wills.
Homepage Welcomes July - December 2009
Fr. William Skudlarek, OSB from Bulletin 83, July 2009 An Interview with Raimon Panikkar Travels in the Borderland between East and West St. Francis: Model of Dialogue An interview with Raimon Panikkar on interreligious dialogue that originally appeared in the August 16-23, 2000 issue The Christian Century is now available at religion-online An example of what you will ﬁnd: You believe in interreligious dialogue. On what conditions can it succeed? The days are over when religions could take refuge in splendid isolation. In Europe, for example, religious people can no longer ignore the existence of the millions of foreigners with different cultures who are now living there. They can no longer ignore the fact that, across three quarters of our planet, the dominant religion is not Christianity. Hence there must be dialogue; the question is, what kind? As long as I do not open my heart and do not see that the other is not an other but a part of myself who enlarges and completes me, I will not arrive at dialogue. If I embrace you, then I understand you. All this is a way of saying that real intrareligious dialogue begins in myself, and that it is more an exchange of religious experiences than of doctrines. If one does not start out from this foundation, no religious dialogue is possible; it is just idle chatter.
Travels in the Borderland between East and West Notto R. Thelle I shall never forget my ﬁrst meeting with a Zen master in Kyoto. “Why have you come here?” he asked. “You Christians too have meditation and prayer!” I answered that we did indeed possess these things, but that I wanted to see Buddhism from within; and Buddhists surely had something to teach us Christians too. “But why on earth are you so keen to learn about Buddhism—or indeed about Christianity?” I must admit that I no longer felt quite so self-assured. “It is raining outside tonight,” continued the master. We sat in silence and listened. The rain fell gently on the moss and herbs in the monastery garden. Then, suddenly, there came the impossible question: “Is it Buddhism or Christianity that is raining?” My thought darted around in the silence. But the rain gave me no answer. “It is quite simply raining,” he observed. “This is a question of being. All your theoretical thoughts about Buddhism and Christianity are separating you from the simple and fundamental matter: to be.”
This was the ﬁrst time it dawned upon me that faith could separate me from life, or rather, that speculations and pious explanations could build walls that shut out reality. Perhaps my faith would have to be demolished, if I was to become a true Christian? And if the encounter with Christ did not help me to be in a way that was true, had I in fact encountered him?
Notto R. Thelle, D.Th., is a senior professor in the Faculty of Theology, the University of Oslo, Norway. Having studied Buddhism at Otani University in Kyoto, he acted as associate director of the NCC (National Christian Council) Center for the Study of Japanese Religions in Kyoto 1974-85, where he was a visiting scholar 1999-2000. He is the author of numerous books and articles. This excerpt, posted with his permission, is from is an unpublished translation of his book Who Can Stop the Wind? Travels in the Borderland between East and West.The work was originally published in Norway: Hvem kan stoppe vinden? Vandringer I grenseland mellom Ǿst og Vest (Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, 1991).
Saint Francis: Model of Dialogue
Fr. Pierre de Bethune reﬂects on the witness of Saint Francis of Assisi toward other religions. This excerpt is taken from his article “Christian-Buddhist Dialogue as Spiritual Experience,” which appeared in Bulletin 52, (January, 1995).
As long as our meeting with others is limited to a search for proﬁt, albeit spiritual, a true encounter is not possible, because it is not so much the person of the other believer that we encounter, but his/her riches, received as “things.” However, at this point if we consent to go further with our companions on the Buddhist way, we are gradually brought to a change of attitude. We realize that this meeting in depth brings about a real impoverishment. There are the various roads which converge towards this evangelical beatitude. In experiencing other religious traditions we discover other images and names for the Absolute. We see how the spirit is equally at work, and this discovery can help to liberate us from our possessiveness in this domain.
Here St. Francis of Assisi enlightens our path. His biographer, Thomas of Celano, sites the practice of the Poverello to treat sacred texts with great respect, even those from secular authors. A brother asked him one day why he so carefully collected the writings even of the pagans, where the Name of the Savior was not present. He answered: “My son, it is because we ﬁnd in them the letters that spell out the glorious Name of Our Lord God. All that is good in these writings belongs neither to the pagans nor to anyone else, but to God alone, from whom we receive every good.” A particular good does not belong to us. We do not possess the truth. Then we can “rejoice in the truth” that we ﬁnd in others and purify ourselves of an exaggerated attachment to our truths of the faith.
Listening to the Lion’s Roar
Notes on an Intrareligious Dialogue Br. Gregory Perron, OSB from Bulletin 74, April 2005 A relationship, a dance, begins to develop . . . you are not putting up any resistance. Whenever there is no resistance, a sense of rhythm occurs. The music and the dance take place at the same time. That is the lion’s roar. Whatever occurs . . . is regarded as the path; everything is workable. It is a fearless proclamation—the lion’s roar.—Chögyam Trungpa(1) Everything I think or do enters into the construction of a mandala. It is the balancing of experience over the void, not the censorship of experience. And no duality of experience—void. Experience is full because it is inexhaustible void. It is not mine. It is “uninterrupted exchange”. It is dance . . . . Word. Utterance and return. “Myself”. Noself. The self is merely a locus in which the dance of the universe is aware of itself as complete from beginning to end—and returning to the void. Gladly. Praising, giving thanks, with all beings. Christ light—spirit —grace—gift. (Bodhicitta)—Thomas Merton(2)
Subsequent to a presentation that I recently gave to my community on the spirituality of interreligious dialogue,(3) I was asked to summarize how my experience of interfaith dialogue has affected or beneﬁted me personally. Since then, as I have reﬂected on how Buddhism has had and continues to have a positive, subtle, signiﬁcant, and pervasive inﬂuence on my life as a whole, I have realized that to try to summarize how my experience of dialogue has affected or beneﬁted me personally is not simply a matter of stating what I have learned, or of enumerating the insights that I have come to. Rather, what I have learned is contained in what has happened to me as a person whose entire life in one way or
another has been shaped or affected by his experience of interreligious dialogue, which at its truest and best is a matter of “cor ad cor loquitur”—heart speaking to heart.(4) Thus, in order to intelligently and responsibly address myself to such a question, I ﬁrst have to be able to somehow articulate the essence of what has happened to me over these many years as a result of my deepening experience of both Buddhism and Christianity (i.e., of interreligious dialogue), which really has been the existential meeting and, as it were, ongoing interior marriage of two hearts, “of . . . two dimensions of human existence, the rational and intuitive, the conscious and unconscious, the masculine and feminine . . . the marriage of East and West.”(5) Then, once this has been done, I can begin to unpack at greater length some of what I have learned and what I am still learning as a result of this ongoing spiritual adventure. I can then try to bring these notes to some kind of conclusion. But how do I even begin to communicate the essence of what has happened to me in the course of this very wonderful and demanding “marriage”? In the space of a few pages, how exactly do I go about summarizing a lifetime of dialogical experience? This is, admittedly, a difﬁcult task. For it is one thing to say that, to the extent that I have been seemingly always attracted to Eastern religions in general and to Buddhism in particular, especially in its Zen and Tibetan forms, interreligious dialogue—or, perhaps more accurately, intrareligious dialogue(6)—has been an integral and constitutive element of my personal identity as such—that because this profound attraction has been a part of me for as long as I can remember (so long in fact that I cannot put an exact date to when it actually began), many times over the years it has seemed to me that I was somehow born with this deep afﬁnity for the Buddhist religion in general and for Zen and Tibetan Buddhism in particular; that, this being the case, as a Benedictine monk who is dedicated to a life of contemplation and/or seeking God, I have always found interreligious and intrareligious dialogue to be at the very heart of my personal and monastic identity;(7) that, consequently, Buddhism has been and continues to become in ever more stimulating
ways my natural partner in dialogue and in my quest for the Absolute or Supreme Identity;(8) that over the years my studious reading of Buddhist texts and my feeble, rudimentary efforts at Buddhist meditation practice have subtly and signiﬁcantly inﬂuenced for the better not only my Christian faith but my understanding of what it means to be a monk and a person as well;(9) that, at this point, I cannot imagine being an authentic Christian monk and an authentic human being without Buddhism—it is one thing for me to say all of this; it is quite another to summarize its personal signiﬁcance. And yet I know that this is not an impossible task, for it can be done. I just need to be more speciﬁc. This being the case, how would I summarize what has happened to me as a result of my deepening experience of inter-/intrareligious dialogue? Simply stated, I can say this about my dialogue with Buddhism: It has made and continues to make me a better listener. And this has had a profound inﬂuence on my understanding of myself as a person, and on that of my monastic vocation as well. For as I presently try to take a retrospective look at this lifelong and ongoing “multireligious experience,”(10) this intrareligious dialogue, I can see how my reading of Buddhist texts and my practice of Buddhist meditation have indeed helped to open “the ear of [my] heart”(11) in such a way that I am better able to attend to and recognize the richness not only of my Christian faith and monastic heritage,(12) but that of my personhood as well, which transcends and includes both. In other words, through, with, in, and by my experience of Buddhism, I have become a more “heart-y” listener, with the result that I am repeatedly coming home to my Christian faith,(13) to my monastic vocation, and to myself in ever new and vital ways. But what exactly is it about Buddhism that has made possible this growth in openness and listening? There are of course a variety of things that I could mention, but there are two speciﬁcally that I would like to touch on here. The ﬁrst gift of Buddhism (and here I am speaking with
speciﬁc reference to Tibetan or Vajrayana Buddhism) that I have found to be most enriching and with which I have resonated most strongly is its fearless, unconditional, utterly sacramental and non-dual(14) view of reality, the spiritual goal of which is “to integrate all aspects of life into one great poem”(15) of “cosmotheandric”(16) transparency. This vision of reality is of course ﬁrmly rooted in a deep contemplative(17) penetration or direct experiential knowledge of the ultimate nature of reality that is pure gift and unspeakable grace.(18) It is important to note, however, that The “reality” through which the contemplative “penetrates” in order to reach a contact with what is “ultimate” in it is actually his own being, his own life.(19) The contemplative is [thus] not one who directs a magic spiritual intuition upon other objects, but one who, being perfectly uniﬁed in himself and recollected in the center of his own humility, enters into contact with reality by an immediacy that forgets the division between subject and object. In a certain sense, by losing himself and by forgetting himself as an object of reﬂection, he ﬁnds himself and all other reality together. This “ﬁnding” is beyond concepts and beyond practical projects. The contemplative does not set out to achieve a kind of intuitive mastery of history, or of man’s [sic] spirit, or of the things of God. He seeks [rather] the center of his own living truth, and there all that he needs to perceive of these other mysteries is granted to him at the moment when he needs it.(20)
Now, this is important to keep in mind because it points to the simple but utterly profound fact that contemplation “means precisely the overcoming of the spacio-temporal categories as the only possible way of being consciously in the world and of participating in the ongoing process of existence.”(21) That
Contemplation does not seek to understand rationally, nor is it an act of the imagination or a product of fantasy; it does not ignore or despise the life of matter, of the senses and of reason (for it is based on them), but [it] transcends them; it is actual participation in the reality one contemplates, real sharing in the things one “sees,” dynamic identiﬁcation with the truth one realizes. Contemplation is [thus] not merely an act of mind, but is “touch,” real existential contact, to use a metaphor not only precious to Plotinus in the Western tradition but also to the early Tamil bhakti poet-saints of South India. Contemplation, to further trace this line of thought, implies an “eating” of the object and also a “being eaten;” it discloses the absolute mutual transparency of subject and object. Seen another way, contemplation is the actual building of the temple of reality, wherein the onlooker is equally part and parcel of the whole construction. This may be the reason why “concentration,” i.e., the ontic crystallization of what is, the condensation of reality in the self above and beyond the mere psychological state, is in all traditions one of the most important features of the contemplative mood. It is a vision of totality through the discovery of the center within: as above, so below, as the ancient hermetic formula put it. Nothing is then more obvious than that contemplation does not exclusively depend on the will of Man [sic] or the “nature of things.” It requires a higher harmony as an integrating force. Contemplation is an ontological phenomenon.(22)
“True contemplation is thus an experience, not an experiment.”(23) It is not some thing that one can use as a tool to be manipulated as the means by which to achieve a given end. It is, rather, an end in and of itself—“a totally uncluttered appreciation of existence, a state of mind or a condition of [being] that is simultaneously wide-awake and free from all preoccupation, preconception, and interpretation.”(24) And while
We may deny the truth-content of such an act [or experience], [while we may] refuse to accept it or even refer to it as pathological (a product of shamanic “madness” or the magical hallucinations of a bygone age), . . . if we speak of contemplation at all we have to take this claim seriously and deal with it accordingly . . . . The fact that not all [people] have access to such an experience does not deny the possibility or even the plausibility of such an experience, since there is hardly anyone who has not been called upon to transcend his own limitations by an experience of conversion into “something”—or rather “somebody”—else which will maintain alive his constitutive human openness.(25)
To say, therefore, that I have found Buddhism’s non-dual vision of reality to be most enriching is to say that I have beneﬁted immensely from the primacy that this tradition has given to the experience of contemplation and from its elucidation of the same. It is thus also to say that I have gained and continue to gain an ever greater appreciation for the fact that “If there is any possible bridge between the different religious traditions (by which we understand ultimate forms or styles of life), only the contemplative can be in two or more traditions, and thus perform a mediatorial and integrating role.”(26) Now, the second gift of Buddhism that I would like to consider is of course intimately related to the ﬁrst. Because of this, and since the constraints of time and space (and my limited knowledge of the subject) currently prevent me from doing more, I will be able to make but brief mention of it here. The gift to which I am referring is Buddhism’s highly developed meditative psychology, known in its classical form as Abhidharma, which has been consistently systematized and reﬁned for over 2,500 years.(27) This breathtakingly thorough and dynamic inner science of the mind describes in unrivalled detail the workings of perception, cognition, affect and motivation, and affords one numerous, varied, and invaluable insights into the nature of human awareness and consciousness, our potential for psychospiritual growth, as well as a
wealth of skillful, gentle, and practical means (i.e., meditation practices) by which we can foster comprehensive psychological change and profound spiritual or contemplative transformation. Indeed, while Abhidharma is the classical system of Buddhist psychology (of which there are at present several versions), there are many more meditative psychologies or maps, especially in Tibetan Buddhism, each of which elaborates “its own practical applications in psychospiritual development.”(28) This being the case, and even though I am only barely acquainted with Buddhism’s “inner science,”(29) though I have caught only glimpses of this tradition’s science of the mind, I can say from my own meager experience that I have beneﬁted considerably from my rather limited exposure to it thus far. More speciﬁcally, I feel that I have gained some insight into the nature and workings of my own heart-mind. As a result, I feel that I am more aware of and, hence, a little more detached from all of the thoughts, stories, hopes, fears, dreams, plans, judgments, desires, and roles to which I was formerly so attached and with which I used to identify. Consequently, I feel possessed of a more creative freedom and a vaster or truer sense of self, that I am gradually coming to rest ever more in the sapiential knowledge of my constantly being born and dying into love—the hidden, undeﬁnable wholeness of inﬁnite, timeless, ﬂowing activity(30) that is the mysterious, self-luminous, and life-giving essence of who we always and already are. In other words, my sense of personal identity has shifted(31) and continues to shift to such an extent that I can no longer recognize myself in many of the static descriptions or stultifying predicates that once seemed to deﬁne me or distinguish me from others. Thus, through this gift, through my study of Buddhist “mind science” and practice of Buddhist meditation, I feel that I am in more direct contact—which means direct experience—with my true self and with reality as a whole.(32) Because of these two wonderful and priceless gifts of Buddhism, then, I feel that I have become a truly better listener. That is to say, in learning
through study and meditative practice how to let go of myself, “to let go of all the information, all the concepts, all the ideas, and all the prejudices”(33) with which I used to normally or regularly identify, I have become more mindful of and attentive to the ground of my being which is beyond ego, and which is intimately, profoundly and inextricably one with the Groundless Ground from which all being ﬂows. Indeed, through the mutually enriching gifts of Buddhism and Christianity, I have discovered for myself that meditation is the place where I can practice going beyond my senses, beyond my thoughts and feelings, to experience the unity of reality; that it is through, with, and in meditation that I can become [increasingly] aware of the ground of my being in matter, in life, in human consciousness. I can experience my solidarity with the universe, with the remotest star in outer space and with the minutest particle in the atom. I can experience my solidarity with every living thing, with the earth, with these ﬂowers and . . . trees, with the birds and squirrels, with every human being. I can get beyond all these outer forms of things in time and space and discover the Ground from which they all spring. I can know the Father, the Origin, the Source, beyond being and not-being, the One ‘without a second’. I can know the birth of all things from this Ground, their coming into being in the Word . . . . [which] is the self-manifestation of the Father and the Self of all beings. I have existed eternally in this Word and so have all these things, this earth, these ﬂowers and birds and squirrels. We came forth in the Word from the Father beyond time and space, and there we stand eternally before him [in the Spirit].(34)
Thus through my multireligious experience, and that of having all of my illusions and ﬁxed positions stripped away—i.e., my experience of the desert, the emptiness, the poverty, the silence, the questioning, the humility, “the exposure to what the world ignores about itself—both
good and evil,”(35) the dying of the ego that is simultaneously an expansion into greater selfhood by which “I am all the more”(36)—an expansion so great that it touches, or better, embraces everyone and everything—which is an integral part of existentially incarnating oneself in two different but similar religious worlds, I have begun to learn the art of listening with my heart wide open. And one inevitable but vital requirement of this “listening dangerously” has been that I learn how to “co-create reality with the Spirit”(37) here and now by responding to all of life in a way “that deeply honors those things with which [I] have been entrusted.”(38) As a result, I am beginning to understand that “the everyday practice [of living] is simply to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws into oneself.”(39) Which is to say that I am beginning to embrace in its inﬁnite variety the way of love, that I am beginning to run on the path of life(40) which is truly “a continual unmasking process—an ongoing celebration into nakedness”(41) and freedom, that I am beginning to surrender ever more completely to the unconditional openness of love that we always and already are, to the inﬁnity of love that is in us and around us all, in which we live and move and have our being, that I am beginning to ﬁnd myself, to be all the more myself, my Self, in an experience that is as human as it is divine. Now, this intrareligious fecundation and the attendant art of listening dangerously that it has fostered have necessarily affected how I understand my monastic vocation as well. For if the call of the monk, and hence of humanity as a whole—insofar as there is an archetype of the monk in every human person(42)—is “to be open to [one’s] . . . eternal potential in God, in . . . the new creation that is already among us and around us,”(43) if the monk “is one who humbly searches for the way to realize this potentiality,”(44) then we have to regard the monastic life as being one that is primarily and “especially dedicated to selfrenewal, liberation from sin [i.e., ignorance and fear], and the
transformation of one’s entire [consciousness] ‘in Christ’.”(45) Or, to say the same thing in a slightly different way, “we must understand the monastic life above all as a life of [meditation and contemplative] prayer;”(46) a life that is dedicated to contemplation, to unveiling the illusions that masquerade as reality and to revealing the reality behind the masks.(47) As a monk, therefore, to remain true to my vocation, I must continually and truly “seek God.”(48) That is to say, I must continually deepen and develop “new areas of contemplative experience”(49) in “the desert, where comfort . . . is absent, where the secure routines of [the] city offer no support, and where prayer must be sustained by God in the [naked] purity of faith.”(50) This of course means that the monk is and always must be a marginal person, one who is “essentially outside of all establishments,” “who withdraws deliberately to the margin of society with a view to deepening fundamental human experience.”(51) As such, the monk—like the poet(52) or other displaced persons—constantly lives “in the presence of death, which calls into question the meaning of life.”(53) He struggles with the fact of death in himself, trying to seek something deeper than death, and the ofﬁce of the monk or marginal person, the meditative person or the poet is to go beyond death even in this life, to go beyond the dichotomy of life and death and to be, therefore, a witness to life [—a witness to the heartbreaking beauty and joy of life fully lived].(54)
Such a marginal existence is thus by its very nature one of great risk and daring and simplicity that will ultimately cost those who truly seek to live it “not less than everything.”(55) For it demands of us that we have the courage to grow unceasingly as we continually explore the frontiers of human experience; that we let go of our armor and—“unshielded, vulnerable, but fully alive”(56)—dare to stand naked and “exposed on the [mountains] of the heart,”(57) where we humbly and bravely trust
“to accept the ultimate gift: transformation into that which unawares we are;”(58) where every aspect of our seemingly fragmented lives teaches us to love and, perhaps more signiﬁcantly, to accept love, and our identities are gradually woven into a hidden but more integrated wholeness.(59) Understood in this way, then, the monastic vocation is one of both solitude and communion that “demands that I be truly myself so that I may share without encumbrances solidarity with the entire reality: Buddhakaya, karma, mystical Body, universal love.”(60) It is thus at once archetypal and ever new inasmuch as it is always embodied and lived individually in unique and unrepeatable ways. There really is “no blueprint,” and as a way of life “it is not prescribed by any law” save that of love. Because of this it needs to be not only discovered, “but created [every moment] by our cooperation with the very dynamism of reality, by holy “obedience,” that is, by attentive listening (obaudire) to the “divine” Voice”(61)—which is “the lion’s roar” fearlessly proclaiming that Sharing in the unfolding of Life, assisting at the cosmic display of all the forces of the universe, witnessing the deployment of time, playing with the dynamic factors of life, enjoying the mysteries of knowing and no less the mystery of living, waking not haunted by the doings of the day ahead, but gifted with the being bestowed in the present, not wanting oneself to succeed at the price of others’ defeat, or wanting to “distinguish” oneself by doing something “extra”-ordinary, as if the ordinary were not enough, just walking in the divine Presence, as the ancients used to say, being conscious of the systole and diastole of the world, feeling the very assimilation and disassimilation of the cosmos on both the macro- and the micro-cosmic scales, lending sensitivity to the stars and atoms, being the mirror of the universe and reﬂecting it without distorting it, suffering as well in one’s own ﬂesh the disorders of the world, being oneself the laboratory where the antibodies or medicines are created, not being unaware of the forces of evil or the trends of
history, but not allowing oneself to be suffocated by them either, each of us overpowering these demons in our own personal lives, understanding the songs of the birds, the sounds of the woods and even all the human noises as part of the vitality of reality expanding, living, breathing in and out, not just to go somewhere else (and never arrive), but just to be, to live, to exist on all the planes of existence at the same time: the tempiternal explosion of the adventure, [the dance], of Be-ing . . . this is [humanity’s monastic or cosmotheandric vocation].(62)
This is “the general dance”(63) to which we are always invited, whose music strikes us as being strangely, even hauntingly familiar, whose steps appear to be at once unusually challenging and alluring, in whose intoxicating presence each of us is wisely and compassionately encouraged to ask ourselves anew the simple but all-important question: Will I falter, or fail to try, or will I dare to let the exhilarating rhythm carry me away? These, then, are but some of the ways in which my experience of intrareligious dialogue has personally affected or beneﬁted me. And as the two traditions of Christianity and Buddhism, especially in its Tibetan form, continue to mutually enrich each other in my experience of them, as they together continue to open me up to the truth and the beauty and the goodness of this evanescent world, and as I am thus ceaselessly schooled in the realization that “the more I am able to afﬁrm others, to say “yes” to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am,”(64) that if I am to stay in touch with the present and with its obscure but dynamic possibilities, “[w]hat really matters is openness, readiness, attention, [and the] courage to face risk,”(65) to embrace the pain as well as the joy of life fully lived, as my multireligious experience continues to deepen, I am more convinced than ever of the fact that
The point of interreligious encounter is not to demonstrate that one religion is correct and another is not, or to assert that all religions really say the same thing. The point is to encourage each other to true practice, which requires everyone to go beyond ego, beyond the common religious claims of true pronouncements, established identities, etc. This is why it is the mystic [or contemplative] who is the archetype of a person who is able to reach out to people of other faiths and identities. (66) Conceptual clariﬁcation is important for hermeneutical awareness, and without this awareness we could not understand the other in [his or her] otherness, which again would deprive us of the real experience of learning and change. But beyond the clariﬁcation is the communion in mystery beyond the ego. The pioneers of dialogue, . . . are the genuine witnesses to this mystery.(67)
This having been said, I ﬁnd that I am now faced with the task of concluding these notes on a lifelong and an ongoing intrareligious dialogue. But how does one bring to a close something that is always expanding and increasing in height, depth, width, and breadth? How does one end that which is always beginning anew, but at a different level? Perhaps the best way, inasmuch as it is open-ended, is to simply conclude with the following: [Buddhist] and Christian. Two experiences—so different, rooted in cultures and histories worlds apart. And yet each has an authenticity for me, and each lays a claim on me . . . . My quest . . . is being fulﬁlled through the particularities and relationship of [Buddhism] and Christianity. Like two prisms, they have reﬂected different light on the meaning of personal value and relationship to others. Different though [Buddhism] and Christianity may be, the double illumination has not produced for me contrasting glares or an inharmonious spectrum. As I try to understand how the light of one relates to the light of the other in me, I discover something
deeper, namely, that I need the brightness of each, whatever the differences. I am not claimed by such myriad perspectives that I ﬁnd myself, as others today say for themselves, living in a world the center of which is everywhere and the circumference nowhere. My life has a circumscription, set forth by these two traditions. The task for me, in this age of new possibilities—in the words of a Zen master—is, “be limitless within your limits.”(68) 1. Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom (Boston: Shambhala, 2002), 70-71. 2. Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal (New York: New Directions, 1973), 68. 3. “Radical Openness: Toward a Christian Spirituality of Interreligious Dialogue in Depth,” in the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin No. 73 (October 2004), 38-40. 4. See Aloysius Pieris, “The Buddha and the Christ: Mediators of Liberation,” in The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, edited by John Hick and Paul F. Knitter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1987), 162-164; as cited in Paul F. Knitter’s “The Vocation of an Interreligious Theologian: My Retrospective on Forty Years in Dialogue”, in Horizons 31/1 (2004), 140. 5. Bede Grifﬁths, The Marriage of East and West: A Sequel to the Golden String (Springﬁeld, IL: Templegate, 1982), 8. 6. Recall the important distinction that Raimon Panikkar makes between inter- and intrareligious dialogue. See “Eruption of Truth: An Interview with Raimon Panikkar” by Henri Tincq and translated by Joseph Cunneen, 2; at http://www.emptybell.org/panikkar.html. 7. Because of this I readily and wholeheartedly agree with what Jef Boeckmans said in his conclusion to “Dialogue and Monastic Life,” in the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin No.70: “Our real home is the whole human world with all its diversity of religious and cultural expression, and to leave home is to ﬁnd the very roots of our own religious tradition. Of course we must also reﬂect: we need a new
Christology and a new pneumatology [and a new or more contemplative anthropology]. Without relationships, without love, there is no truth. Without deep respect there is no truth. We have a long way to go. But the core of our monastic vocation is to recognize Christ in all humanity and all humanity in Christ” (47). 8. See Alan Watts, The Supreme Identity: An Essay on Oriental Metaphysic and the Christian Religion (New York: Random House, 1972). 9. The same, of course, can be said for the reciprocal inﬂuence that my Christianity has had on my experience and understanding of Buddhism. As for what would be a speciﬁcally Christian contribution to this intrareligious cross-fertilization, and thus to the search for identity that has taken shape and is yet unfolding within this existential context, of paramount importance is the notion that God is unconditional love. Hence the signiﬁcance of the following statement: “Christian faith is rooted in the unconditional love of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ in a unique way. This love extends to the whole cosmos in space and time, and perhaps embraces even more than that. Unconditionality implies that love cannot be limited spatially or temporally, nor can it depend on the condition of knowing this. Faith as trust in God’s unconditional love, therefore, is a pure gift of the loving God. In Christian theology, God is conceived in Trinitarian dynamics so that God’s actions ad extra are indivisible (opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt). Consequently, the very act of reconciliation is present in creation and in the free presence of the spirit everywhere and at all times, not only implicitly but also explicitly. What follows is that human beings in all their languages, religions, circumstances of life, and attitudes of consciousness are being reached by God’s reconciling presence” (Michael von Brück, “Christ and the Buddha Embracing,” in The Other Half of My Soul: Bede Grifﬁths and the Hindu-Christian Dialogue, compiled by Beatrice Bruteau [Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1996], 233-234). 10. Raimon Panikkar, The Intrareligious Dialogue, revised edition (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 50. For an eloquent sketch of the religious
attitude required of one who embarks on such an intrareligious or multireligious venture see pages 50-51 of this same text. 11. See the ﬁrst sentence of the Prologue of “The Rule of St. Benedict”, in RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes, edited by Timothy Fry et al. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1981), 157. Hereafter designated as RB. 12. Here it is worth noting that my being deeply rooted and immersed in the richness of the Christian mystical tradition—e.g., the desert fathers and mothers, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, to name but a few representatives of this tradition—has afforded me (and continues to afford me) valuable insights into the spiritual life that have resonated strongly with the spiritual wisdom of the East; that this is what has enabled me to enter into meaningful dialogue with Buddhism (and Hinduism, Judaism and Islam as well). These insights include but are not limited to the following: (1) the priority of experience over speculation; (2) the inadequacy of words to articulate religious experience; (3) the fundamental oneness of all reality; (4) the realization that the goal of all spiritual discipline is transformation of consciousness; and (5) “purity of heart” or liberation from attachment. See William H. Shannon, “Thomas Merton in Dialogue with Eastern Religions”, in The Vision of Thomas Merton, edited by Patrick F. O’Connell (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2003), 214. 13. An example of what I mean by this is how I have come to understand who Jesus Christ is for me/us today. And who do I say that Jesus Christ is? For my answer to this question see David Steindl-Rast’s, “Who Is Jesus Christ for Us Today?,” in The Christ and the Bodhisattva, edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. and Steven C. Rockefeller (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987), 113-115; 102. 14. Simply stated, a non-dual view of reality can be understood to hold that the Absolute, be it called God, Buddha, Brahman, or whatever, is not separate from us; that absolute reality and the relative world are “not-two” (which is the meaning of “non-dual”), much as a mirror and its reﬂections are not separate, or the sun is one with its rays, or the
ocean is one with its many waves. Also, it is worth noting that the experience of the non-dual nature of absolute and relative reality is a direct, immediate, and momentary realization which occurs in certain meditative states—i.e., seen with the “eye of contemplation”—although over time and with ongoing meditation practice this momentary realization and contemplative perception can become a very stable, simple, constant, and extraordinarily ordinary perception or realization that is with one at all times, whether one is meditating or not. 15. Michael von Brück, op. cit., 225. See note 7 above. 16. See Raimon Panikkar’s extensive treatment of this theme in his Cosmotheandric Experience: Emerging Religious Consciousness (New York: Orbis Books, 1993), in which he deﬁnes the cosmotheandric intuition or principle as follows: “The cosmotheandric principle could be formulated by saying that the divine, the human and the earthly— however we may prefer to call them—are the three irreducible dimensions which constitute the real, i.e., any reality inasmuch as it is real. . . . What this intuition emphasizes is that the three dimensions of reality are neither three modes of a monolithic undifferentiated reality, nor three elements of a pluralistic system. There is rather one, though intrinsically threefold, relation which manifests the ultimate constitution of reality. Everything that exists, any real being, presents this triune constitution expressed in three dimensions. I am not only saying that everything is directly or indirectly related to everything else: the radical [relationality] or pratîtyasamutpâda of the buddhist [sic] tradition. I am also stressing that this relationship is not only constitutive of the whole, but that it ﬂashes forth, ever new and vital, in every spark of the real. . . . The cosmotheandric intuition is not a tripartite division among beings, but an insight into the threefold core of all that is, insofar as it is” (60-61). 17. Here it is worth noting that the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism makes an important distinction between meditation and contemplation that is also found in the Christian mystical tradition. See Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2000),
112-113. See also Bede Grifﬁths’ conference entitled, “Dzogchen and Christian Contemplation,” in the AIM Monastic Bulletin No. 55 (1993), 122-123. 18. Here it is interesting to note that, contrary to popular opinion, “grace” is not a foreign concept to Buddhism. Indeed, as Marco Pallis noted in his A Buddhist Spectrum: Contributions to Buddhist-Christian Dialogue (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2003): “The important thing to recognize . . . is the fact that the word ‘grace’ corresponds to a whole dimension of spiritual experience; it is unthinkable that this should be absent from one of the great religions of the world . . . . [For] this is the function of grace, namely to condition [our] homecoming to the center from start to ﬁnish. It is the very attraction of the center itself, revealed to us by various means, which provides the incentive to start on the way and the energy to face and overcome its many and various obstacles. Likewise grace is the welcoming hand into the center where [we ﬁnd ourselves] at long last on the brink of the great divide where all familiar human landmarks have disappeared” (66, 71). 19. This insight is perfectly consistent with the experience of the early (i.e., fourth-century) desert fathers and mothers, for example, Evagrius Ponticus, who wrote, “When the spirit has reached the state…of grace, then it sees in prayer its own nature like…the sky. In the Scripture this is called the kingdom of God” (On the Thoughts, edited by Paul Géhin, Claire Guillaumont, Antoine Guillaumont, Évagre le Pontique: Sur les pensées, SC 438 [Paris: Cerf, 1998], 39). It is also perfectly consistent with what Longchenpa, the great fourteenth-century Dzogchen master, wrote: “Investigate your mind’s real nature/So that your pure and total presence will actually shine forth” (You are the Eyes of the World, translated by Kennard Lipman and Merrill Peterson [Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2000], 33). 20. Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation, edited by William H. Shannon (New York: Harper San Francisco, 2003), 151-152. 21. Raimon Panikkar, Invisible Harmony: Essays on Contemplation and Responsibility (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1995), 26-27.
22. Ibid., 27, 28. Emphasis mine. 23. Ibid., 27. 24. Gerald G. May, Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1982), 25. 25. Raimon Panikkar, Invisible Harmony, 27. 26. Ibid. I am here reminded of a passage from one of the letters of the French Benedictine monk, Henri Le Saux (Swami Abhishiktananda), dated 9.2.1967: “It is precisely the fact of being a bridge that makes this uncomfortable situation worthwhile. The world, at every level, needs such bridges. The danger of this life as a ‘bridge’ is that we run the risk of not belonging to either side; whereas, however harrowing it may be, our duty is to belong wholly to both sides. This is only possible in the mystery of God.” See James Stuart, Swami Abhishiktananda: His Life Told through His Letters (Delhi: ISPCK, 1989), 213. 27. For much of what follows, see Daniel Goleman’s “Introduction” to MindScience: An East-West Dialogue, edited by Daniel Goleman and Robert A.F. Thurman (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), 3-6. See also his The Meditative Mind: Varieties of Meditative Experience (New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1988), especially Part One (1-38) and Part Four (114-188). 28. Ibid., 4. 29. See Robert A.F. Thurman’s “Tibetan Psychology: Sophisticated Software for the Human Brain,” in MindScience, 53. 30. See Beatrice Bruteau, “The One and the Many: Communitarian Nondualism,” in The Other Half of My Soul: Bede Grifﬁths and the HinduChristian Dialogue, compiled by Beatrice Bruteau (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1996), 276. 31. See Beatrice Bruteau, “Prayer and Identity,” in Contemplative Review, Special Issue (Fall 1983), 2-17. 32. A signiﬁcant corollary of this is that much of what earlier seemed incomprehensible to me about the spiritual life, about my experience of meditation and contemplation, is now more comprehensible. That is to say, the spiritual or contemplative or mystical life, the “science of love,” has been demystiﬁed somewhat. And to the degree that it has been, I am
no longer inclined to take anything on mere belief. For, through the existential study of both Christianity and Buddhism, I am convinced that the various meditative disciplines of both traditions are really sets of experiments that have been tried and proven true over the millennia by numerous saints and sages, and that we are invited to test them for ourselves in our own awareness and experience—here and now—to prove the validity of their ﬁndings for ourselves; ﬁndings that these same saints and sages compassionately preserved for us in the contemplative maps of inner space, of the human mind/consciousness, that they charted. The laboratory is thus my own mind and heart and body, and the experiment is a given form of meditation by which I test my own experience against that of others who have performed the same experiment, so that I too may arrive at the experiential knowledge of certain laws of the spirit, which is wisdom. 33. Sogyal Rinpoche, Glimpse after Glimpse: Daily Reﬂections on Living and Dying (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1995). See the reading for May 4. 34. Bede Grifﬁths, Return to the Center (Springﬁeld, IL: Templegate, 1976), 36. 35. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), 27. 36. Raimon Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience, 133. 37. Parker J. Palmer, The Active Life: Wisdom for Work, Creativity, and Caring (New York: HarperCollins, 1990), 17. 38. Mark Brady, “What I’ve Learned from Listening,” in The Wisdom of Listening, edited by Mark Brady (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2003), 298. 39. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, as quoted by Pema Chödron in her book entitled, The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difﬁcult Times (Boston: Shambhala, 2001), 99. 40. See RB Prol. 49. 41. Loppön Lodrö Dorje, “Ego’s Unmasking,” in Speaking of Silence: Christians and Buddhists on the Contemplative Way, edited by Susan Walker (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 94.
42. See Raimon Panikkar’s Blessed Simplicity: The Monk as Universal Archetype (New York: The Seabury Press, 1982). 43. John Main, Community of Love (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1990), 119. 44. Ibid. 45. Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998), 201. 46. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 19. 47. See Parker Palmer, op. cit., 17. 48. See RB 58.7. 49. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 27. 50. Ibid., 29. 51. Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal, 305. 52. I am here reminded of the observation made by Bernard-Joseph Samain in his “Is Poetry the Native Language of Dialogue?,” in the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin No. 70: “In order to elaborate a culture of dialogue, one path seems to me essential. I would like to sum it up in this formula: ‘Poetry, the native language of dialogue.’ By this I mean that poetry is a form of language that lends itself to dialogue. Poetry is a language-form that points towards that which is open, to what cannot be said, to what cannot be grasped, to the mystery that surpasses us. The poet is one who takes words very seriously and yet, at the same time, remains conscious of their poverty and of their limitations. Respect for words goes hand in hand with respect for the other and the mystery of the other” (29). 53. Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal, 306. 54. Ibid. 55. T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, “Little Gidding,” in >The Complete Poems and Plays (1909-1950) (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1971), 145. 56. David Steindl-Rast, A Listening Heart: The Spirituality of Sacred Sensuousness, revised edition (New York: Crossroad, 1999), 33.
57. Ahead of All Parting: the Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell, The Modern Library Edition (New York: Random House, 1995), 137. 58. David Steindl-Rast, op. cit., 81. 59. Here it is worth noting that one of the many distinct but basically related meanings of the Sanskrit word tantra refers to “the ‘expansive,’ all-encompassing Reality revealed by wisdom. As such it stands for ‘continuum,’ the seamless whole that comprises both transcendence and immanence, Reality and reality, Being and becoming, Consciousness and mental consciousness, Inﬁnity and ﬁnitude, Spirit and matter, Transcendence and immanence [sic], or, in Sanskrit terminology, nirvâna and samsâra” (Georg Feuerstein, Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy (Boston: Shambhala, 1998), 2). 60. Raimon Panikkar, “The New Monk,” in the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin No. 72 (May 2004), 12. 61. Ibid. 62. Raimon Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience, 133; 132. 63. Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1972), 290-287. 64. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Doubleday, 1989), 144. 65. Ibid., 108. 66. Here I cannot help but recall the words of Karl Rahner, “In the coming age we must all become mystics—or be nothing at all.” See Frank X. Tuoti, Why Not Be a Mystic? (New York: Crossroad, 1995). 67. Michael von Brück, op. cit., 239. 68.John Dykstra Eusden, Zen and Christian: The Journey Between (New York: Crossroad,1981), 12-13; 174.
Toward a Christian Spirituality of Interreligious Dialogue in Depth Br. Gregory Perron, OSB from Bulletin 73, October 2004 Br. Gregory, a member of the MID Board, gave the following presentation to his own monastic community, St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Illinois, on January 23, 2004. Slightly revised for publication here, it provides a lucid and concise overview of what pioneers like Bede Grifﬁths, Thomas Merton, and Raimon Panikkar said about the practice of intrareligious and interreligious dialogue. Br. Gregory chose as an epigraph for his presentation the following passage from Raimon Panikkar. We must distinguish between interreligious dialogue and intrareligious dialogue. The ﬁrst confronts already-established religions and deals with questions of doctrine and discipline. Intrareligious dialogue is something else. It does not begin with doctrine, theology and diplomacy. It is intra, which means that if I do not discover in myself the terrain where the Hindu, the Muslim, the Jew and the atheist may have a place—in my heart, in my intelligence, in my life—I will never be able to enter into a genuine dialogue with him. As long as I do not open my heart and do not see that the other is not an other but a part of myself who enlarges and completes me, I will not arrive at dialogue. If I embrace you, then I understand you. All this is a way of saying that real intrareligious dialogue begins in myself, and that it is more an exchange of religious experiences than of doctrines. If one does not start out from this foundation, no religious dialogue is possible; it is just idle chatter.(1)
The Pontiﬁcal Council for Interreligious Dialogue is presently developing a document on the spirituality of dialogue. This document will be called “A Christian Spirituality of Interreligious Dialogue,” and it will attempt to clarify the Church’s “profound motivations” for engaging in interfaith dialogue and “to encourage its practice.”(2) In so doing, it will undoubtedly seek to address some of the many fruitful demands that this dialogue makes upon those who enter into it at the level of theological discourse and religious experience. What I would like to do in this paper is basically anticipate the PCID’s forthcoming document by (a) brieﬂy sketching some of the constitutive theological underpinnings of any Christian spirituality of dialogue, and (b) reﬂecting at greater length on the actual religious experience of interreligious dialogue so as to better understand the kinds of demands that this practice makes on a person at this level. A. The Theological Underpinnings of a Christian Spirituality of Dialogue To begin, let’s look brieﬂy at some of the theological bases for a Christian spirituality of interreligious dialogue. For a Christian, the spirituality and practice of dialogue “ﬂows from the heart of faith in God, a God of [love] and communion, which the mystery of the Trinity enables us to glimpse, a God who is Father for all human beings, Son who has come among us, and Spirit who works in all hearts and religions.” This spirituality is necessarily(3) centered on the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father who sends the Spirit. It invites the Christian to contemplate Jesus in the Gospels so as to understand his way of meeting every person, even someone from another culture or from another religion. In fact, it is a matter of having the same mind as was in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 2:5), with all the exigencies that this imitation of Christ involves.(4)
Those who are involved with meeting people of other religious traditions
will often have the impression of being on the frontiers of the Church or even going beyond. For this reason it is important to maintain links with the Christian community, to share with it the experience of dialogue and to ﬁnd support in its prayer. This spirituality of dialogue is therefore also profoundly ecclesial.(5)
Finally, the Christian who is wholeheartedly engaged in the spiritual practice of interfaith dialogue will discover that it opens us to the dimensions of all humanity and supports us in our traveling with our brothers and sisters of other religions on this “brotherly journey in which we accompany each other towards the transcendent goal that…God has set for us” (John Paul II, “Speech at the Conclusion of World Day of Prayer for Peace,” Assisi, 22 October 1986).(6)
Such then are some of the theological underpinnings of a Christian spirituality of interreligious dialogue. I would now like to share with you some reﬂections on the actual religious experience of dialogue in order to get a better idea of just how this profound spiritual practice does indeed open us to “the dimensions of all humanity.” To this end, therefore, we can begin by asking: What is at the very heart or center of the spirituality—any spirituality—of interreligious dialogue? B. The Call to Intrareligious Dialogue In answering this question, we need to be mindful of two things. The ﬁrst is the fact that, “[w]hile the sincerity and the honesty of interreligious dialogue with members of other religious traditions presuppose that one enters into it with the integrity of one’s personal faith, it also requires openness to the faith of the other, in its difference.”(7)
Each partner in the dialogue must enter into the experience of the other, in an effort to grasp that experience from within. In order to do this, he or she must rise above the level of the concepts in which this experience is imperfectly expressed, to attain, insofar as possible, through and beyond the concepts, to the experience itself.(8)
The second thing that we need to be mindful of is that this experience of mutual presence and communion that is itself ultimately “beyond words, and beyond speech, and . . . beyond concepts,”(9) this effort or act of interior “comprehension” and “empathy” that Raimon Panikkar has termed “intrareligious” dialogue, is that which constitutes the experiential heart of and indispensable condition for interreligious dialogue.(10) Indeed, while there are many different forms of dialogue that can take place within the overall context of interreligious dialogue —such as the “dialogue of life,” the “dialogue of works,” the “dialogue of theological exchange,” and the “dialogue of religious experience” (with which MID is primarily concerned)(11)— intrareligious dialogue deﬁnes the ultimate spiritual task and religious horizon of all authentic dialogue in depth. In fact, one could say that intrareligious dialogue points in an experiential or existential way to that “depth of ﬁeld” which alone “allows dialogue to be engaged in . . . at the spiritual and religious level.”(12) But exactly what is intrareligious dialogue? In terms of its actual practice, what does it entail? What does this dialogue in depth, at the spiritual and religious level, actually look or feel like? We can begin to better understand the precise nature of intrareligious dialogue if we keep in mind that it is in itself above all “a religious act—an act that neither uniﬁes nor stiﬂes but re-links us (in all directions). . . by helping us discover the ‘other’ in ourselves.”(13) As such, it is an act that
takes place in the core of our being in our quest for salviﬁc truth. . . . We engage in such a dialogue not only looking above, toward a transcendent reality, or behind, toward an original tradition, but also horizontally, toward the world of other people who may believe they have found other paths leading to the realization of human destiny. [In this], the search becomes an authentic prayer, a prayer open in all directions. . . . [It is] open [because] it is no longer locked in the jail of egotism; it is open to the religiousness of our neighbors, [whom we come to love as our very selves, as] [t]heir beliefs become a personal religious question. [And this prayerful dialogue] is also profound [since] it is no longer concerned with mere formulations [but, rather, with]. . . the meaning of reality [or] salviﬁc truth. . . .(14)
Through, with, in and by this internal or intra-religious dialogue, then, we learn to contain both our faith tradition and that of the “other” in ourselves and to transcend them both in an experience of surrender to a Truth that is greater than and incorporates both self and other. Consequently, we can say that, in Christian terms, intrareligious dialogue is, of its very nature, a perichoretic and kenotic act of eucharistic assimilation that “tries to assimilate the transcendent into our immanence”(15) by means of what one author has referred to as a continual “passing over and returning,”(16) where “passing over” means “encountering both the other and the religious experience which that other bears within, together with his or her [world view]; [while] ‘returning’ stands for reﬂecting on [and learning from] the impact made by the faith of the other on one’s own faith.”(17) Moreover, insofar as this eucharistic act constitutes the very heart and horizon and center of interreligious dialogue and, hence, any spirituality of interreligious dialogue, we can say further that interfaith dialogue, when properly understood, is not a compromise with error but a process of enrichment by which each religion opens itself to the truth to be found in the other religion, and the two parties grow together in the
common search for truth. . . . Thus we begin to realize that truth is one, but that it has many faces, and each religion, is, as it were, a face of the one Truth. . . .(18)
In light of this, when we attend to the depth dimension of not only interfaith dialogue in particular but of the spiritual practice of dialogue in general, it is clear that, at the level of religious experience, genuine dialogue is, fundamentally, “opening myself to another so that he [or she] might speak and reveal my [truth to me] that I cannot know by myself because it is [in a certain sense too close or too]. . . self-evident [to me].”(19) In this, Dialogue is a way of knowing myself and of disentangling my own point of view from other viewpoints and from me, because it is grounded so deeply in my own roots as to be utterly hidden from me. It is the other who through our encounter awakens this human depth latent in me in an endeavor that surpasses both of us. [And in] authentic dialogue this process is reciprocal. Dialogue [therefore] sees the other not as an extrinsic, accidental aid, but as the indispensable, personal element in our search for truth, because I am not a self-sufﬁcient, autonomous individual. In this sense, dialogue is a religious act par excellence because it recognizes my religatio to another, my individual poverty, the need to get out of myself, transcend myself, in order to save myself.(20)
It is thus a truly spiritual practice of “radical openness,”(21) of personal exposure, without fear, to an often painful struggle with both impoverishment and enrichment—a struggle that simultaneously presupposes and fosters forgetfulness of self and unconditional welcome of the other; a struggle therefore that “faces the untidiness of life, and bears this encounter . . . without imposing judgments and dogmatic truths.”(22) Viewed from this experiential perspective of depth, then, dialogue is seen for what it essentially is at its most authentic: a religious
practice that points beyond itself to, and in a certain sense embodies, an order of being that is ultimately beyond words, beyond speech, and beyond the concepts of sameness and difference, self and other. As such it is a detachment from the constructed languages and identities with which we clothe and hide ourselves that frees us to bear in our hearts both the opaqueness and transparency of the human condition and spirit. Spiritually it is a surrender to the ambiguity of life and to the mysterious remainder that exceeds and surpasses all containment.
Conclusion Such, then, are the kinds of demands that this practice of dialogue in depth makes on a person at the level of spiritual and religious experience; such are the demands of the call to the communicatio in sacris(23) that is intrareligious dialogue. In conclusion, therefore, I would just like to note that any spirituality of interreligious dialogue, be it Christian or otherwise, must take these demands and this experience into adequate account. For, at its very heart, the spirituality of dialogue in general and of interreligious dialogue in particular is and always will be a spirituality of radical openness and surrender that is lived out courageously in faith, hope and love.(24) Notes 1. “Eruption of Truth: An Interview with Raimon Panikkar” by Henri Tincq, translated by Joseph Cunneen. 2. See the “Letter of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, President of the Pontiﬁcal Council for Interreligious Dialogue,” Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin, issue 70 (March 2003), 25. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid. 7.
Jacques Dupuis,“Renewal of Christianity through Interreligious Dialogue.” 8. Ibid. 9. Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (New York: New Directions, 1975), 308. 10. See Dupuis, “Renewal of Christianity through Interreligious Dialogue”, 2. 11. See The Gethsemani Encounter: A Dialogue on the Spiritual Life by Buddhist and Christian Monastics, edited by Donald W. Mitchell and James Wiseman, OSB (New York: Continuum, 1999), xv. 12. Pierre-François de Bethune,“An Experience of Impoverishment,” Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin, issue 70 (March 2003), 32. 13. Raimon Panikkar, The Intrareligious Dialogue, rev. ed. (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), xvii; xix. 14. Ibid., xvii. 15. Ibid. 16. See John S. Dunne, The Way of All the Earth: Experiments in Truth and Religion (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978), ix. 17. Jacques Dupuis, “Renewal of Christianity through Interreligious Dialogue,” 2. 18. Bede Grifﬁths, The Marriage of East and West: A Sequel to The Golden String (Springﬁeld, IL: Templegate, 1982), 25. 19. Raimon Panikkar, Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), 242. 20. Ibid., 242–43. 21 . Beverly J. Lanzetta, The Other Side of Nothingness: Toward a Theology of Radical Openness (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001). 22. Ibid., 118. 23. Aloysius Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom: A Christian Experience of Buddhism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988), 41. 24. See Raimon Panikkar, The Intrareligious Dialogue, revised edition (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 69–70: “By faith I mean an attitude that
transcends the simple data and the dogmatic formulations of the different confessions as well; that attitude that reaches an understanding even when words and concepts differ because it pierces them, as it were, goes deep down to that realm that is the religious realm par excellence. We do not discuss systems but realities and the way in which these realities manifest themselves so that they also make sense for our partner. “By hope I understand that attitude which, hoping against all hope, is able to leap over not only the initial human obstacles, our weakness and unconscious adherences, but also over all kinds of purely profane views and into the heart of dialogue, as if urged from above to perform a sacred duty. “By love, ﬁnally, I mean that impulse, that force impelling us to our fellow-beings and leading us to discover in them what is lacking in us. To be sure, real love does not aim for victory in the encounter. It longs for common recognition of the truth, without blotting out the differences or muting the various melodies in the single polyphonic symphony.”
John Main Seminar Led by Panikkar
Fr. Laurence Freeman, OSB from Bulletin 57, February 1997 “The Silence of Life” was the topic for the John Main Seminar held at Ascot, England from August 22–25, 1996, led by Ramon Panikkar. His erudition is obvious to all who hear him, but more than this he spoke from a spiritual vision which conveyed not only the learning of a scholar but the experience of a practitioner and the authority of a prophet—one who does not predict the future but helps his contemporaries to see the present with insight. Panikkar stated that Life is ontologically silent. Silence, therefore, is not the repression of thought or expression, even though “silence says nothing.” It is simply the realization of our true nature. In his talks on the silence of the body, the mind and the will, and his concluding discourses on the Resurrection and Fullness of Life, he opened up for his listeners not just a deeper but for many a quite new understanding of human nature in its solitary and social aspects, as well as in its human and divine dimensions. Moving easily from Christian theologians and mystics to the traditions of India and Islam, Panikkar expounded his Christian anthropology of human wholeness and its destiny of divinization: God became Man so that Man might become God, as the earliest Christian thinkers proclaimed. This basic Christian dogma was explored and opened up to display fresh ﬁelds of understanding. Most Christian thinkers, Panikkar said, remain neo-platonists in their assumption that life means only the “life of the spirit.” Life however means not just bios (biological life) but zoe, and that fullness of life which Jesus promises demands a full integration of the body. It is a view that is truly obedient to Jesus’ promise not of immortality but of eternal life and of resurrection as a dimension of present reality rather than just a future event. This emphasis on the bodiliness of the spiritual life is not superﬁcial. It inculcates a lived humility and nurtures a healthy
asceticism devoted to the guarding and training of the senses not to their repression. When he turned to the silence of the mind, Panikkar showed how afﬁrmative of the potential of the human person the apophatic approach of silence can be. Neither repression of thought nor the thought of thoughtlessness, silence is the ascent of consciousness which allows full knowledge to awaken. God, the one who knows all, is the Knower. But the knower can never be known or he ceases to be the knower and becomes merely another known—which is how many theologians treat God. We come to know not by knowing the knower but becoming the knower. If this seems to some Christians to smack of pantheism, Panikkar described it as being in fact the true meaning of our adoption in Christ; the destiny which leads from kenosis to theosis, from the cross to the resurrection, in which the whole of divinity is shown to dwell in us. So as the mind becomes silent the third eye of human consciousness opens and the teaching of Jesus on the sound eye giving health to the whole person (Matthew 6:22) is realized in personal experience. The last step of the mind is thus to discover its own limits. In his teaching on silence Panikkar showed the inﬂuence not only of his study of Indian tradition (where philosophy and theology are not split as in the West) but also of his years of spiritual practice in the East. Friendships with Indian masters as well as the great pioneers of HinduChristian dialogue: Jules Monchanin, Henri Le Saux and Bede Grifﬁths taught him that while religions cannot teach one another, they can and are meant to learn from one another. One thing we learn from the meeting of the hemispheres in the human spirit is that “God has no will.” This assertion can shock but can also liberate us from the near divinization of the human will in western culture and philosophy. To silence the will is to go beyond the will. It is the work of grace and the outcome of purity of heart. But liberty of spirit arises in as the desire of God, which is the greatest obstacle between us
and God, gives way to the aspiration for God which is integral to our nature. The lethal dichotomies of life which inhibit our realization of the fullness of life lose their tension and power to deform. For the Christian the silence of body, mind and will frees us to know Christ as a person not merely an individual. An individual is isolated while a person is a “knot in a net of relationships.” Christianity is not a religion which makes Christ another idol in the pantheon of human gods, but precisely what Jesus himself tells us he is—a teacher, way, truth and life. To complement the famous Buddhist saying, “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” Panikkar suggests “if you meet Christ, eat God.” The concluding Eucharist sacramentalized the enlivening and freeing teachings of the seminar. Reminding us that liturgy means public worship, Fr. Panikkar celebrated a long, reverent and joyful Mass, which integrated the elements of creation as well as the minds and hearts of the participants. In leading the seminar, Panikkar showed himself to be a great Christian mind and heart, an inspired and inspiring teaching, treating his audience as friends and adults and urging them, as a much earlier teacher once told his people, “Christians, recognize your dignity!”
A Monastic (Contemplative) Contribution to Global Healing
Br. Wayne Teasdale from Bulletin 46, January 1993 This paper was given at the Buddhist–Christian Conference in Boston, August 1992. The monastic or contemplative way, as an intensiﬁed spiritual life—one that aims at totality in attention and commitment and integrates the various aspects of human being—can contribute a precious resource to the formidable task of healing the Earth in all its dimensions: the natural world, relations with other species, relations within the human family as a whole, within our communities, and the healing of the person. All these dimensions comprise what Thomas Berry calls the “Earth Community.”(1) Monasticism, particularly in its pure or contemplative form, its mystical ideal, is this precious resource. In what follows, I would like to explore the universal and perennial nature of contemplative monasticism, its goal and details; consider contemplation itself and spiritual practice, nature-mysticism, the transformative effect of contemplative life on the individual, the community, and the new perspective on the world that is the fruit of mystical prayer. In the ﬁnal section, I would like to mention the idea of a new civilization, and initiatives in progress, especially the Universal Declaration on Nonviolence and the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The Universal and Perennial Character of Monasticism Monasticism has taken many forms: large or small communities in somewhat permanent institutions, ashrams, temples, retreat centers, hermitages, monastic schools, the master–disciple relationship, and the wandering ascetic like the sannyasis of India or the mendicant friars of Medieval Europe. The master–disciple relationship, however, is the most primitive and perennial form of monasticism; it even predates the great
religions and is, in some sense, the origin of these traditions. It is the prototype of all monastic life. The list is long, and it includes: the rishis or forest dwellers and Upanishadic seers as the founders of Hinduism; the Buddha and his followers as the source of the Dharma;(2) Moses and the prophets mediating the revelation coming from Yahweh; Jesus and his disciples as the origin of the Church; and Mohammed, his followers and the later Suﬁs as the progenitors of Islamic faith and spirituality. The roots of monasticism are to be found in this unique and intimate relationship, a relationship grounded in authenticity and depth, the realm of the heart. Brother David Steindl-Rast calls this timeless movement we ﬁnd at the dawn of religious consciousness and in every age “primordial monasticism,”(3) and sums it up in this incisive aphorism: “Monasticism of the heart is the heart of monasticism.”(4) Whatever form it may assume, the monastic or contemplative spirit arises from a fundamental human need that is more ontological than psychological. The contemplative has an essential thrust towards the fullness of Being and Truth, Love, Immortality and Peace. This dynamic thrust possesses a simplicity and veracity which together specify the depths of human nature in its spiritual authenticity. The human person has an innate capacity for depth—what the German theologian Karl Rahner calls a “capacity for God.” It is this depth that is the basis of all monasticism and, indeed, of every kind of spirituality, not to mention art, philosophy and literature. This capacity for depth is activated and cultivated in the search for God, or the quest for the Absolute, however that may be understood. In his seminally insightful work Blessed Simplicity,“(5) Raimundo Panikkar speaks of a “monastic dimension” in each person. He calls this dimension an “archetype,” which is another way of saying a capacity or potentiality for this depth, the depth of relatedness to the Ultimate. “Monkhood” is a further designation Panikkar assigns to the archetype, the activity of contemplation in every person. He defends “monkhood”
in opposition to simply “monk,” for he regards “monk” as an expression of the archetype itself.(6) “Monkhood” is the quintessential search for the center, whether approached immanently, that is, within oneself, or in a transcendent way, as something to be attained. “Monkhood,” as the pull of contemplative interiority, is an anthropological factor, representing a genuine part of human life. That is Panikkar’s whole point. For this reason, monasticism is a universal and perduring fact of humankind’s spiritual nature, its contemplative being. Speaking of this primordial monasticism, of monkhood, Panikkar declares: Monasticism is not a speciﬁcally Christian, Jaina, Buddhist or sectarian phenomenon; rather, it is a basically human and primordially religious one. . . . The Christian, the Buddhist, the Jaina . . . are only qualiﬁcations of the search for that center, for that core which monkhood seeks. The monastic vocation as such precedes the fact of being Christian, or Buddhist or Hindu. . . . In short, we must recover the monastic dimension of Man as a constitutive human dimension. Every human being has a monastic dimension that everyone must realize in different ways.(7)
What Panikkar is suggesting is that “monkhood” is the mystical capacity of the human, the contemplative roots of life, the realm of deep subjectivity, the domain of the heart, where the person can make contact with the Ultimate Mystery. Like everyone else, however, the monk receives his or her vocation from this dimension of depth, from the contemplative possibility of human nature, that is, from the monastic sphere of the heart, from “monkhood.” The monk is a professional of “monkhood”; this is part of his function, and ideally he or she should realize it in practice. Hopefully, the monk is in the vanguard of contemplation, the life of depth in the cave of the heart. His or her life should be a living example of the absolute reality and value of the spiritual nature inherent in our humanity, a witness to the human
vocation of mystical vitality, the call to life in the Spirit, or more universally expressed, the call to Wisdom. “Monkhood” being the search for the ultimate center, the eternal foundation of existence, is also the quest for a permanent initive relationship with this center, with what dwells in this center, whether God or some absolute state of bliss, etc. This wholehearted quest, this commitment to the life of depth, is the unum necessarium, the “one thing necessary”(8) in the Mary and Martha story of Luke’s Gospel. Panikkar calls this single-minded quest for the Absolute, or the search for God, “blessed simplicity.” He identiﬁes in this notion the monastic principle pure and simple, the sin qua non of the contemplative journey. Panikkar elaborates: . . . this blessed simplicity appears to be the monastic principle as such, as so many witnesses from different traditions conﬁrm. It could be said that the Quest for the Absolute is also another name for it. . . . I call it principle because it is at the very root of the monastic aspiration and it characterizes monkhood generally, serving as a criterion to distinguish the monastic dimension from any other.(9)
Whatever term we may use to designate the monk, whether sannyasi (renunciate) or muni (silent one) in Hinduism, bhikkhu (mendicant or monk) in Buddhism, monachos, the solitary one, the hermit or more profoundly, the uniﬁed one in Christianity, the total focus on the quest, the cultivation of the inner life, or blessed simplicity is deﬁnitive of the monastic call. It is the norm in terms of which the monk evaluates everything, the supreme measure of his existence. On a primordial level, then, and as an anthropological category that names the contemplative, mystical or “monastic” archetypal dimension of the heart—the wholehearted commitment to a life of depth, of searching the inner spaces for traces of the Source—the quest for the Absolute, or blessed
simplicity is what unites all genuinely spiritual traditions, what gives them something essential in common. Monasticism as Acosmic, Countercultural and Prophetic Monasticism in its purest form, in its contemplative expression, its commitment to the spiritual journey, or blessed simplicity, is categorically acosmic; it is not of this world. The goods of this life are beside the point. The Eternal is what inspires and motivates the monastic or contemplative quest. Whether in the East or the West, the monk is essentially acosmic; he or she transcends society and its ways of doing things. Monastics don’t reject the world; they simply refuse to play its game. They ﬂee the values of this world in order to live the values of the Kingdom. This acosmic element is present in all genuine monastic observance, no matter how simple and unadorned, or sophisticated and complex. It is true of the rishis, the forest sages of Indian antiquity, the founders of India’s spiritual tradition and civilization, just as it was true of the Desert Fathers in the third and fourth century in the Christian Middle East. It is also true today of sannyasis, Buddhist monks and Christian monastics. The Rig Veda provides a classic description of this acosmic aspect of the monk. It refers to him as a muni, a silent one, and a kesi, a long-haired ascetic. The munis are totally free from society and free from desire, and are the former because of the latter. As the Veda puts it, they are “ . . . clothed with the wind . . . (and) maddened with ecstasy . . . ”(10) They have achieved the psychological freedom of nirvana, the “blowing-out” of craving, the apatheia (dispassion) of the Desert Fathers and Eastern Orthodox spirituality. They have achieved detachment, a fundamental requirement for a monk or contemplative. The Dhammapada which itself means “The Path of Truth or Nirvana,” counsels the monk to ﬁnd the inner path to nirvana. When monks discover nirvana, they become, like the Buddha, Tathagatas, the “Thus gone” (to nirvana) . . . (and) have crossed the river of time and they have overcome the world.”(11) The whole point of withdrawal from the world is to facilitate the acosmic attitude, a radical change of perspective. The monk, contemplative, mystic, the spiritually awake and morally alive
person has acquired this acosmic attitude because he or she is not bound to the world psychologically, that is, by the fetter of desire. The contemplative relates to society, to others and to the natural world on a deeper, more authentic level, as has been shown. Contemplatives don’t reject the world or engagement with it, but they do reject the world’s illusions about itself and all the negative and sinful patterns of social interaction that arise from these illusions. Monasticism engages the world from the dimension of depth, of the quest for God, the Absolute, from blessed simplicity. For this reason, the monastic way is countercultural. It lives the vision of blessed simplicity in the cave of the heart, a place that is uncorrupted by time and the world. Monasticism, as an organized spiritual journey, is further countercultural because it offers another way to society. Its very existence calls into question the assumptions of society which are usually based on a limited understanding that does not challenge the individual to grow either morally or spiritually or intellectually, but is satisﬁed with conformity. The masses have become enslaved to conformity through the hypnotic trance of entertainment and pleasure, the chief agent of which is the television and video medium. This medium has helped create a culture that is spiritually illiterate, morally shallow, psychologically dysfunctional, addictive and violent; a society and culture that is inwardly disordered. The monastic or contemplative call challenges this social milieu by offering a vision of peace, holiness, integration and the unmistakable reality of the inner life; it offers clarity and focus on what is essential. Contemplation changes our perspective. It allows us to see through the illusions and negative patterns of society and ourselves. It holds a mirror to us, revealing our hidden motives. It calls us to change, to metanoia, to conversion, to strive for happiness in a different way; it awakens us and invites us to grow up. As it does this and critiques our society and its myopic values, it performs a critical and necessary prophetic function in
the world, and has always done so. It draws our attention to the primacy of the inner journey that we are all meant to make. But it also calls us to change, to transformation of our perspective, our heart and actions, what the inner journey itself demands. As our perspective changes or expands, we are empowered to respond with compassion, kindness and love. Part of the monastic way is openness to the world, others and creation in a spirit of hospitality and service. Service takes many forms, but if we examine the monastic scene on this level, we will discover how profoundly engaged and available contemplatives are in teaching, writing, interreligious dialogue,(12) spiritual direction, retreat work, conferences and even in social service. Thomas Merton, Bede Grifﬁths, Thomas Keating, George Maloney, Basil Pennington, David SteindlRast, Mother Teresa, Bernadette Roberts, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama are some well-known examples of engaged contemplatives, trying to awaken others to “blessed simplicity.” Contemplation and Spiritual Practice Monasticism is acosmic, counter-cultural, prophetic and yet meaningfully engaged with the world precisely because it has something to give that the world itself lacks. The monastic way has a heart, and this heart is contemplative experience, the wisdom of blessed simplicity, the life of depth, the dwelling in the Presence of God or the Ultimate Reality. Thomas Keating, one of the great Christian spiritual masters of our age, expresses this insight succinctly: “The essence of monastic life is not its structures but its inner practice, and the heart of interior practice is contemplative prayer.”(13) Contemplation itself, especially within a monastic context, presupposes a spiritually supportive environment, with periods of silence and solitude —two elements that contribute to growth in awareness, self-knowledge and perspective—renunciation of self-will and the false (empirical) self, a healthy ascetical discipline, and some form of contemplative prayer, a regular way of making oneself available to Divine Love, really a way of
progressive self-surrender to God. Thomas Keating, who has founded and developed a contemplative movement within the Christian tradition, calls his method of prayer Centering Prayer, but this is essentially a way into contemplation itself, or rather is a method to develop interior quiet, which is necessary for contemplation. It is also known as a form of meditation, as the term is understood today. Centering prayer, as a contemplative discipline, is designed to awaken and develop the contemplative capacity in its practitioners. It is the fourth stage of a more ancient form of prayer called lectio divina. Abbot Thomas provides a clear summary of this tradition within the Church: The method of prayer proposed for lay persons and monastics alike in the ﬁrst Christian centuries was called lectio divina, literally “divine reading,” a practice that involved reading Scripture, or more exactly, listening to it. Monastics would repeat the words of the sacred text with their lips so that the body itself entered into the process. They sought to cultivate through lectio divina the capacity to listen at ever deeper levels of inward attention. Prayer was their response to the God to whom they were listening in Scripture and giving praise in the liturgy.
The reﬂective part, pondering upon the words of the sacred text, was called meditatio, “meditation.” The spontaneous movement of the will in response to these reﬂections was called oratio, “affective prayer.” As these reﬂections and acts of the will simpliﬁed, one moved on to a state of resting in the presence of God, and that is what was meant by contemplatio, “contemplation.”(14) Lectio divina, as a method, is what is known as “acquired contemplation,” since the emphasis is on one’s own effort in prayer or the spiritual practice. When God takes over, however, it quickly becomes “infused contemplation,” in which the Divine is doing everything, and the soul is simply making itself more and more receptive
to God’s action. Everything then becomes quite effortless for such a person. St. John of the Cross identiﬁes infused contemplation with the Presence of God Himself, and His Presence stirs up love in the soul. In these eloquently simple words, he deﬁnes contemplation as “nothing else than a secret and peaceful and loving inﬂow of God which, if not hampered, ﬁres the soul in the spirit of love . . . .”(15) Abbot Thomas, through Centering Prayer, is trying to spark contemplation in people, and ultimately to lead others to the experience of infused contemplation, which is an intense intimacy with God, an intimacy of love. He remarks: “In practice, I think we can teach people to proceed in tandem toward contemplative prayer, that is, to read and reﬂect on the Word of God in Scripture, make aspirations inspired by these reﬂections, and then to rest in the presence of God.”(16) Contemplation is a mystical process, a journey to union with the Source. Much of the effort in the acquired state concerns the will and its conformity to God. The celebrated deﬁnition of Gregory the Great emphasizes this point: “Contemplation is a loving gaze at God through the will.” It is a gradual process of interior conformity to God through a spiritual discipline, acts of the will and virtuous actions. Such is acquired contemplation. But when it shifts to a permanent, effortless and transforming union with God, it becomes infused. This stage is often called the ”spiritual marriage.” Blosius or Louis de Blois, a seventeenth century Benedictine Abbot and spiritual writer, comments on the nature of mystical union as an intimate participation in God’s being to the point of “becoming” God. He says: . . . all liquiﬁed by love and, as it were, reduced to nothing, it (the soul) melts away into God. It is then united to God without any medium, and becomes one spirit with Him, and is transformed and changed into Him, as iron placed in the ﬁre is changed into ﬁre, without ceasing to be iron. (17)
Union means “becoming” God to some extent. But here we are up against the limitations of language. Our human language is derived from a dualistically conceived world, the domain of the subject–object dichotomy. There is simply no escaping this problem. We need a mystical language, a way to express the experience and reality of unity, such as the rishis developed in their time. They had evolved a highly subtle language for discussing their mystical wisdom among themselves. (18) There is of course a metaphysical component to contemplative experience, and some mystics have stressed the knowledge aspect over affectivity. This would certainly be true of Buddhist and advaitic (Hindu) forms of mysticism, and in large measure was true of the Greeks. The knowledge–love debate has been going on since the early Middle Ages in the Latin West, while the Orthodox East retained a deep sense of the heart from the teachings of the Desert Fathers. At the same time, the contemplative theology of the Byzantine Church has been greatly inﬂuenced by Neo-Platonism and the metaphysical mysticism of the Pseudo-Dionysius, who himself belonged to this historical stream of tradition. Whatever form contemplation takes, however, knowledge plays a role, especially self-knowledge, knowledge of the mysteries of nature and life, and the knowledge of God, the Source or Ultimate Reality. Ecstatic states in Christian contemplation, or experiences of rapture and transport have similarities to the experience of samadhi in Hindu mysticism and satori in Zen. There are parallels and convergences, but no one can say for certain that ultimate contemplative experience is the same in all traditions, that they are in touch with the same Ultimate Reality. There are instances of bridging the gap, if you will. A recent instance is Bede Grifﬁth’s very profound experience. He went through a mystical process for some months following a stroke in early January
1990. In the midst of this process he proclaimed: “I ﬁnd myself in the Void, but the Void is penetrated on all sides by Love.”(19) Surely relevant to our time and the theme of global healing is “natural contemplation,” which is a form of nature-mysticism. This is based on a sacramental view of creation, and actually it is in harmony with the aims of the ecological movement and what is called Eco-Spirituality. This whole approach can be summed up in a metaphor popularized by the Franciscans in the Middle Ages, particularly St. Bonaventure, but echoing St. Francis and reﬂecting a much more ancient and universal wisdom tradition, the philosophia perennis, behind which stood an experience of the Divine in creation or the natural world. This metaphor is reading the Book of nature or creation. Creation as a great “Book” implies a whole symbolic order that sums up in natural objects the wisdom of God. There is not room here to explore this rich insight, but it is an important resource we might tap in the future. It is not something one can learn from ordinary books, because it is a way of seeing that must be taught by the Spirit, the Ultimate Presence in and surrounding all things. It is contemplation, and thus the product of both effort and grace. It is without question the link between ordinary sense experience and philosophical or metaphysical reﬂection, as well as contemplative wisdom. The Impact of Contemplation on the Person, Community and the Planet Monastic life, which ideally is the matrix for the unfolding of the spiritual journey within a contemplative mode, just by being what it is meant to be, is a powerful light in an often dark world. Oriented to the contemplative or mystical dimension of the Gospel, monastics attempt to cultivate the Presence of the Divine in themselves and one another in the community, in their guests, in the surrounding society, and in the natural world. Contemplatives are attuned and sensitive to this Presence. They refract the light coming from the Source, and live the implications of the Gospel in relation to one another and the world. They witness to Divine
Love in the world. By their hospitality and openness to others they are real teachers of this Divine Love, and, hopefully, incarnate it in their lives. The monastic ascesis and its contemplative discipline reﬁnes and transforms monks; they are radically changed by their continual exposure to God’s Love in Itself and in each other. They grow in compassion, wisdom, humanity, humility and service. Love sparks a transformation in the consciousness, character, will and actions of the contemplative. Love changes him or her for good; it is not a casual thing, but a serious and full-time commitment. The individual’s consciousness grows immeasurably beyond its old limits. New vistas on the horizon are apparent. One’s knowledge greatly increases, especially self-knowledge in relation to God. The person acquires some wisdom. The character goes through a similar transformation, and this transformation is the result of puriﬁcation, inner suffering, prayer and interactions with others in community. Divine Love refashions the person’s character into a Christlike character. Love becomes the motive. This is the transformation we all know as holiness. The will is changed, and now it can only intend the will of God. All selﬁshness is burnt away in the will’s inner puriﬁcation, what is often called the “dark night of the soul.” The individual’s will becomes identiﬁed with God’s. There is a union of will, of the human with the Divine. One’s actions are similarly transformed by grace, so that one never acts from a selﬁsh motive, but only from love. Transformation affects the whole of the person. The Christian Contemplative Tradition calls the fruit of transformation deiﬁcation since the person achieves a likeness to God, a certain degree of perfection, like Thomas Merton’s description of ﬁnal integration. Final integration is a state of transcultural maturity. . . . The person who is ‘fully born’ has an entirely ‘inner experience of life.’ Such a one apprehends life fully and wholly from an inner ground that is at once more universal than the empirical ego and yet entirely one’s own. Such a person is in a certain sense ‘cosmic’ and ‘universal.’ He or she has
attained a deeper, fuller identity than that of one’s limited ego-self which is only a fragment of one’s being. Such a one is in a certain sense identiﬁed with everybody. . . .That one is ‘all things to all people.’ . . . Such has attained to a deep inner freedom—the Freedom of the Spirit we read of in the New Testament.(20)
This description applies equally to a Christian contemplative, a sannyasi, a bodhisattva, a suﬁ or a mystically actualized being in any tradition, for what brings actualization is not so much the transcendent experience and the wisdom derived from it, but the enﬂeshment of it in one’s character and actions. The impact of such people within their own community, whether a monastery, the family or the larger society, is incalculable. They become sources of empowerment in the spiritual evolution of countless lives. The contemplative experience of transformation radically alters our relationship to the natural world, sensitizing us to the goodness, value and role of the created order, its need to be respected and protected by the human family. In the Rule of St. Benedict, an attitude of reverence prevails for the tools, property etc. of the monastery. They are to be treated “ . . . as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar.”(21) This attitude was extended to the natural world, and a great reverence for the land was evident in the operation of monastic farms. A non-exploitive relationship existed over the centuries; a bond of harmony was characteristic of this relationship between monks and the land. Wonder prevailed rather than manipulation. Monks, contemplatives, were and are so awake interiorly that all of nature is a theophany, a place of God’s manifestation. They could see God giving himself in the created world, human life and in the heart. We need this kind of wisdom to heal our relationship with the Earth and with one another. We must regain a sense of reverence for life in all its forms. That is the challenge and the goal for humankind as the third millennium approaches.
Finally, I feel that this attitude of reverence for our planet and all life must be incarnated in a new civilization that is global in scope and truly universal in its principles and concerns. Contemplatives, all men and women of good will, should commit themselves to work for such a vision of civilization, a civilization with a heart, one in which economics and politics are not in control, but compassion, caring, mercy and sharing. Such a civilization would be ecologically responsible, just, equitable, promoting respect for pluralism, collaboration among the religions, education, proper nutrition, the eradication of hunger, disease and homelessness, the moderate and careful use of technology, and the espousal of nonviolence. The value of nonviolence will encourage the attitude of reverence. Recently Christian monastics and the Dalai Lama joined together in formulating and cosigning a historic document, The Universal Declaration on Nonviolence,(22) which has since been signed by numerous communities, groups and individuals. The context of the document is the prospective civilization of love and compassion, and it constitutes a declaration of independence of the religions from war, terrorism and violence in any form. This statement is only a ﬁrst step. The next may come in the establishment of a permanent Parliament of the World’s Religions stemming from the deliberations of the representatives present during the centennial events at Chicago. The Parliament could then become the vehicle for promoting the vision of a new civilization on our planet. But in the end, the healing of the Earth requires a new vision of reality, society and the human relationship to the environment. The contemplative dimension, present in all the religious traditions, is a vital resource in calling forth a civilization governed by love, compassion and kindness. As the task before us unfolds, it becomes clear that the religion of the human family equals the religions working together in harmony and mutual respect to implement this monumental transformation in culture, life and international relations.
Notes 1. Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), pp. 6-12. 2. Dharma refers to the name for the teaching, the faith, etc. 3. David Steindl-Rast, OSB, “Monastic Parenthood”, ABBA: Guides to Wholeness and Holiness East and West, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1982) p. 368. 4. Ibid., p. 369. 5. Raimundo Panikkar, Blessed Simplicity: The Monk as Universal Archetype, (New York: Seabury Press, 1982). 6. Ibid., p. 14. 7. Ibid., p. 16. 8. Luke 10:42. 9. Panikkar, op. cit., p. 33. 10. Rig-Veda 10.136. 11. Dhammapada18. 254. 12. There is the pioneering work of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue whose membership is composed of Benedictines and Cistercians. 13. Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (Rockport, MA: Element Books, formerly Amity House, 1986), p. 29. 14. Ibid., p. 20. Another excellent book is Thelma Hall’s Too Deep for Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina (New York: Paulist Press, 1988). 15. Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington DC: ICS, 1973) p. 318. 16. Keating, op. cit., p. 29. 17. Ludovicus Blosius, Speculum Spirituale, cap. XI. 18. Jeannine Miller, The Vision of the Cosmic Order in the Vedas (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985) pp. 28–29, 266. 19. In a letter to the author dated May, 1990. 20. Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (Garden City, NY: Doubleday-Image, 1973) Chapter on “Final Integration” p. 225. Text altered to make pronouns inclusive.
21. St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, trans. Leonard J. Doyle (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1948), ch. 31, p. 49. 22.This was announced and signed during a joint news conference of the North American Board for East–West Dialogue (recently renamed Monastic Interreligious Dialogue) on April 2, 1991 in Santa Fe, N.M. If further information on the Universal Declaration or a copy of it is desired, or if anyone would like to sign it, please contact: Sr. Katherine Howard, OSB, Committee for the Universal Declaration, St. Benedict’s Convent, 104 Chapel Lane, St. Joseph, MN 56374– 0277.
Mysticism of Integration MID Directors from Bulletin 10, February 1981 This is a report of a conference called “Mysticism of Integration” held at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts from November 19-23, 1980, and featuring the thought of Raimundo Panikkar. “Blessed Simplicity is the monastic principle par excellence”, Fr. Raimundo Panikkar told the more than 80 participants of the East–West monastic Symposium at Holyoke, Massachusetts, November 19-23, 1980, as he "struggled with all to describe the monk in our modern day.” The event, sponsored by the AIM North American Board for East–West Dialogue, was experienced as superb by an admixture of monks, nuns, scientists, scholars, professors, contemplatives, psychoanalysts, therapists, artists, masters and disciples, seekers and the sought. “The monk”, Fr. Panikkar contended, “is not the paradigm for the fullness of the humanum but rather the monastic dimension is one constituent which every human being has and must cultivate in one way or another.” The monk is the one who before all else aspires to be whole, one, uniﬁed, integrated, centered. This monastic dimension is the primordial religious dimension, previous to all divisions, previous to and different even from the way it is lived by individual monks. Fr. Panikkar, professor of religious studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, spent the past year at Buddhist and Hindu spiritual centers as a pilgrim in India, the home of his own spiritual rootedness. Asked to speak at the Symposium on “The Monk as Universal Archetype: East and West”, he offered his Sutra (a discourse by the Buddha or a disciple, accepted as authoritative teaching; literally, a thread on which jewels are hung) in essence as: “Blessed Simplicity”— the monastic principle par excellence! Human life, he maintained, is
utterly complex. We live under the very sign of multiplicity. Through all this, he sees the monk as one who “sails through the stream. . . . ” The speaker said he called simplicity holy in this monastic dimension because it reveres the real in a harmonious respect. The division today is not so much between East and West as it is between tradition and modernity. The mysticism of transcendence (West) and immanence (East) is being supplanted by the mysticism of integration. The modern monk does not want to renounce the created world nor deny the fullness of his/her humanum, but rather to transform, build and assimilate. Uniﬁcation by simpliﬁcation is what is desired. Fr. Raimundo gave seven basic elements which to him constitute the strands of his Sutra, “Blessed Simplicity”, elucidating each thread with a vibrancy and enthusiasm that was dynamic: 1) Primacy of Being Over Doing: All monastic spirituality afﬁrms that the fullness of being is the real thing, not becoming, not doing. In the West we have been, since the time of Parmenides, preoccupied with doing. The technology in our modern world characterizes this preoccupation. But contemplation is that activity from which we can observe and contribute to the world. It is that activity which delights in the well-being of all beings (cf. Gita 12,4). Contemplation is a life which need not be justiﬁed, it is an end in itself. Contemplation becomes the fullness of existence, the very discovery of the person. The value of being lies in what it is, not in what it does. The dichotomy between being and doing does not exist—here contemplative action is the sharing of this being—allowing oneself to be stripped by the sharing. Often our desire to have and to do prevents us from contemplation. The monk does not aim at washing his/her hands of material things but rather tries to free these hands of things through simpliﬁcation. 2) The Priority of Silence: Priority here does not mean exclusivity. True silence allows one to view all with a new innocence which no longer has anything to say. “The poor in spirit (the totally empty) shall see God.”
Silence belongs to nature, whereas the word belongs to culture. While the traditional monk’s conversation has been in heaven, the modern monk wants to listen to the world. . . . The priority of silence is not just the lack of speech—true silence explodes in prayer! 3) Mother Earth is Prior to the Brotherhood of Man: The monk through ora and labora has always cultivated him/herself and mother earth. The modern monk has an important role to play in establishing a more vital relationship with the earth, which has become victim of modern exploitation. The uniﬁcation of life cannot be carried out without the earth. The monk sits in solitary places, but roots him/herself in the earth. 4) Overcoming Spatial-Temporal Involvement: Reality goes beyond space and time and is therefore “trans-tempora1.” There is a tension for the monk between traditional monasticism which often attempted to transcend space and time to dwell in heavenly realms and modern monasticism which sees the sacred in the secular. Today the monk sees true wisdom in the transﬁguration of all our values. The modern monk does not cultivate hope of the future so much as delight in the present. The modern dilemma of our time is to unite opposites: the masculine and feminine, the secular and the sacred, etc. The modern monk seeks a spirituality which is not exclusively spiritual. The challenge lies in the truth that one only has what one is! The new dimension is in assimilation vs. “getting away from it all.” It is necessary for everyone to live this dimension. Christ alone is the primordial unity who cannot be divided. Today we need more than ever specialists, God-intoxicated persons, whose lives are centered, and for whom God is a ﬁre they must pass on. 5) Trans-Historical Consciousness is above the Historical Task: The monk lives constantly yearning for total uniﬁcation. Whereas time is always fragmentary, peace does not exist in history because it must always look back and move ahead. There is something besides history to which the monk bears witness, i.e., the “trans-historical” awareness of reality. “Tempiternity” is that perfect integration of time and eternity in
one single awareness, not as two realities. The monk must bear witness that the historical is not the only dimension. Through experience of the Taboric revelation the monk perceives the non-dualistic nature of reality which when shared with others reminds the world that we cannot be reduced to a mere historical being. Trans-historical consciousness leads to true happiness. 6) The Fullness of the Person Over the Individual: The notion of the “individual” is the result of the expediency in dividing the humanum into single units for the sake of manipulation. Monastic asceticism strives to overcome this dualism. Monastic consciousness has been universalized. Perfection for the monk consists in the realization that one is already the comprehender, no longer with one’s face to the Absolute and one’s back to the relative. Through obedience (ob-audire) the monk has traditionally reached perfection. In the East, it is ﬁdelity to a master that frees us from our selves. In the West, the monk has had to discover this same power in the command of the abbot. The person is not just an “I” because person presumes a “thou”. The idea of the person is to create a “we”. If the “I” is strong enough in us, then the “we” can exist without either pomp or weakness. Today there are three areas which are important to the fullness of the person, all vitally interrelated and not to be seen out of context. These are the theoretical framework for modernity, for the potentialities of ourselves: • corporality—body • intimacy—sex • uniﬁcation—politics
Corporality: There has been an anthropological change in our times regarding the consciousness of the limits of the human being. In the past, we were a clan, a tribe, a church, an order. The contemporary world places the limits of the person in a more global sphere. There has been a certain neglect of the body and corporeal values in traditional
monasticism; the body has been the servant, but a dead weight. True, the body is not yet resurrected but, in this meantime, the ﬂesh can be treacherous! Today the monk ﬁnds the body not a servant but rather the body is him/herself. This is non-dualistic language—we are the body and without the body we would not be persons. Asceticism, therefore, is not mortiﬁcation of the ﬂesh but rather viviﬁcation of the body. In the East, the sadhu at times goes naked in pursuit of the Absolute; in the West we have tended to overclothe the body with robe upon robe. In Yoga, the ascetic tries to keep the body docile. This effort has expanded to mean the integration of the two poles. The very word meditation is linked with “medicine” salvation has to do with health, “salva”, whole. To be holy (saved) is not only to be healthy but to be whole. Intimacy: Human perfection has to sublimate the androgynous character of the individual. Eschatological perfection has no sense of sex. Sex has been seen as the sign of the differentiation of human beings. If sex makes itself felt we must simply overcome it. This has been a test of the authenticity of the monastic vocation. In the East, the best in Tantra indicates a trend to the sacramentarian concept of the whole world. For the contemporary monk there is a positive function of sexuality: sex is not merely genital, nor even merely physical. We need an exogenous (outer) complement and not merely an endogenous (inner) complement. In China, the Tao Te Ching speaks of the “friend, the beloved.” It embraces the area of love and intimacy. Perhaps marriage is not the real issue today but rather friendship. The shakti has to be there, shakti internalized, tantra internalized, but not by oneself. The problem of celibacy does not have to do with intimacy or sex but rather with the problem of non-attachment and freedom. The essence is to be free without bondages. If we really deal on the sexual level with the other, we will not deal with the other as male or female but rather as person. Fr. Panikkar said that he does not support women’s ordination for the same reason he does not support the ordination of men. “I believe,” he said, “in the ordination of persons!” Until we can deal with one another as persons rather than as male and female we as a whole are still in
immaturity. Because of this, the question of women’s ordination is secondary. In past times (in some countries today) marriage was never linked with love. What binds one is the children, what bonds is the spouse. The ideal of the gospel is non-attachment. Celibacy is requested of us because we have to be non-attached. Uniﬁcation or Politics: Man/woman has always recognized that perfection is reached by contact with the Absolute. Striving for perfection in traditional monasticism meant isolation from others, i.e. enclosure. Politics is a matter of awareness of what is good for the community, the well-being of the polis. Contemporary man/woman is unable to believe one can fulﬁll this responsibility in this way. The monk still wants to be solitary but without isolation. The world belongs to God but he renders it to the highest bidder. If we are not willing to pay the highest price, we cannot complain! There is no possibility for a neutral place today. We are in the crucible of the contentions of human beings. Of the great religious problems of our day, all have their basis in political problems and therefore these cannot remain apart. 7) The Primacy of the Sacred: The unity sought by all has traditionally been realized under the sages of the sacred. Reality is complex, so too is human existence. The monk endeavors to be the very manifestation of the sacred. The sacred is the center of everything, of every activity. Monastic spirituality is the center, but is not the whole of reality. It is a part, a dimension of human life. The secular also pertains to the center of all things. Monasticism claims to be secular (not profane), but still no less sacred. It will abandon neither time nor space. In the East, all is sacred; therefore, the monk stands at the top of the hierarchy; whereas in the West the sacred is in dialogue with the profane. This is a mutation of considerable import for our times and may be the most signiﬁcant change of all: “the sacredness of the secular.” The sacred is the center of the secular and often challenges it. The monk is placed therefore in the center of our times.
The problem of secularity lies in overcoming the split between the temporal and the eternal. The separation between the sacred and the profane is no longer tenable. The secular is no longer that which is ﬂeeting but is that which is the very clothing of the permanent; the true life is hidden in the reality of the present moment. There are four fundamental sociological groups: the Church—religion; Academia— teaching, research; Government and military; and Industry—commerce, poets, craftsmen, artists. To none of these does the monk strictly belong. But he/she belongs by vocation to a ﬁfth group: the Renunciates, those who have abandoned the world. The contemporary world has another category to which the monk belongs by association, e.g. the Guerrilla, the dissident, revolutionary, those not content with the system, yet who depend upon that very system which they seek to overthrow. The contemporary monk may very well belong to this last category as one who liberates self from the system in order to take a radical outlook toward a totally new system. The monk establishes an association with this sixth group and also with the seventh: the True Marginals. A Symposium participant, impressed with the urgency of the immanent mutation in modernity, asked the question: Where do we begin? Begin by being present was the response still resounding in the hearts of the group during the ﬁnal 21/2-hour liturgy which featured the singing of bhajans, the arati (Eastern ﬁre blessing) at the doxology and contemplative dancing with the gifts. . Others who ﬂanked the rostrum with Fr. Panikkar were Professor Michael von Bruck of East Germany; Sr. Myriam Dardenne, OCSO, Whitethorn, California; Ewert Cousins, Bethlehem, Connecticut; Abbot Cornelius Tholens of Amsterdam; Basil Pennington, OCSO Spencer, Massachusetts; Armand Veilleux, OCSO, Quebec; Paolo Soleri, Arizona and Odette Baumer, Switzerland. . Monastic communities represented at the Symposium included: Benedictine Grange, Conception, St. Procopius, Assumption,
Transﬁguration, Osage, St. Mary’s (Wrenthem), Sacred Heart (Yankton), Hampton, Redwoods, St. Benedict’s (Spencer, Massachusetts), Mistassini (Quebec). Fr. Felix, a priest from Bombay, assisted with the liturgies during the ﬁve days, as did Sr. Marie Therese Archenbault, OSF, Sioux Indian from Denver, focusing the indigenous contemplative presence for the group. Kalpana Das, Hindu from the Monchanin Crosscultural Centre in Quebec, was also present. Workshops and meditation sessions of various forms were offered to the participants during the Symposium supplying a fruitful cross fertilization of the new monastic synthesis being offered by Fr. Panikkar and others. A public communication issued from the Symposium stated that a network of the heart in common concern for the contemplative dimension in everyone has been forming, which itself has to be the common ground for every effort to build a world of well-being and mutual support. These insights constituted a challenge for all to join hands across walls and barriers of exploitation and destruction, in mutual understanding and respect. The Symposium urged Churches and institutions to stress what is common among them and respect their differences. All divisions between action and contemplation must disappear, all polarization between East and West, right and left, must be overcome. The urgency of a common effort to avert the threat of disaster was recognized, as well as our individual responsibility to be well informed, to “think globally and act locally” now.
Biography of Raimon Panikkar
Sr. Pascaline Coff, OSB from Bulletin 8, May 1980 Born in Barcelona, Spain in 1918, Fr. Raimon Panikkar has been striving since his early years towards the harmony of a pluralistic world. Born in two major religious traditions, the Catholic-Christian and the Hindu, he began his higher education with the study of science (Universities of Bonn and Barcelona) and eventually earned a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Madrid in 1958. At this same university, Panikkar earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1946 and after a short time in the world of industry, undertook theological studies, receiving his doctorate from the Lateran University in Rome in 1961. Professor Panikkar, presently a citizen of India, is resident professor of Religious Studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He has lived half of his life in Europe, a quarter in India and the last quarter in the United States, although he keeps close contact with Europe and spends some months every year in India. He has published twenty-eight books and hundreds of major articles from philosophy of science to metaphysics, comparative religion and Indology, His philosophical life can be summed up under two headings: existential risk and intellectual burden. Existential risk applies to a life incarnated in more than one culture and religions, engaged in orthopraxis as much as in orthodoxy. His personal circumstances (biological and biographical) led him to accept the risk of conversion without alienation, assumption without repudiation, synthesis or symbiosis without syncretism or eclecticism. Dr. Panikkar is aware of the hazards involved; but the challenge remains. The mutual understanding and fecundation of the different world traditions can be accomplished only by sacriﬁcing one’s life in the attempt to sustain the existing tensions without becoming schizophrenic and to maintain the polarities without personal
or cultural paranoia. The intercultural dialogue has to begin as an intrareligious experience. The intellectual burden is no lighter than the existential risk. It consists in expressing these basic experiences in an intelligible way. Can the pluralism of one’s own experiments and experiences ﬁnd comprehensible expression? The thematic study of the religions among cultures has led Panikkar to develop what he calls diatopical hermeneutics, which differs from the morphological and diachronical types in that it takes as its point of departure the awareness that the topoi, the loci of various worldviews, cannot be bridged by using the tools of understanding from one single tradition or culture. Religions—rightly understood—are the base of culture. It is futile to reduce Man to a mere bundle of psychological or economic needs. Unless we come to a religious understanding of humanity, we will perpetuate destructive tensions, both cultural and ideological. Granting that the West has been heavily inﬂuenced by Christianity, the question can be asked: Is it possible today to be Christian, i.e., a person with an allegiance to a concrete tradition, and at the same time universal? Panikkar is working on what has been hailed as a “Christology” for the future. Some four or ﬁve essays have already appeared, all of which are to be integrated into The Supername, a “Christophany” which hopes to help overcome the identity crisis of Western Man. At the same time he is preparing a similar work from an Indian perspective. Ramanalda is its working title. It is a study on pure awareness as the central and often forgotten element of human consciousness. It attempts to combine the epoch-making insights of the West with those of India as already adumbrated in the pre-Socratics and Upanishads.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.