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you a monk?

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Asked to introduce myself during a seminar recently, I said that I live as a lay monk in the Soto Zen tradition. I used “lay monk” as short-hand as I’m not a monk in the commonly-understood way, someone under such vows as obedience, chastity, and poverty. Yet I think of myself as one. In the Buddhist tradition, guidelines for living an ethically authentic life include not to do harm, to use sexual energy appropriately, to speak honestly, and to be of service.

I often wake up to the awareness that I’m given another day (or moment) to be alive; when this occurs I smile and bow towards the bed. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground, says Rumi. “If the first thing you think of in the morning when you wake up is God, then you are a monk!” says Br. David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and interfaith activist. According to Fr. André Louf, a Cistercian abbot in France, “a monk is a person who every day asks, What is a monk?

“The monk in all of us,” writes cross-cultural thinker Raimon Panikkar, “aspires to reach the ultimate goal of life with all his [or her] being by renouncing all that is not necessary to it, i.e., by concentrating on this one single and unique goal.” Panikkar speaks of the inner monk as essential to our humanity. And it doesn’t require an overtly religious context, he claims: “The monastic vocation as such precedes the fact of being Christian, or Buddhist, or secular, or Hindu, or even atheist.”

sources: For a general discussion and the Steindl-Rast and Panikkar quotes, I’m grateful to the late Wayne Teasdale, himself a lay monk in both the Roman Catholic and Hindu traditions. In: Teasdale, W. (2002). A monk in the world: cultivating a spiritual life. Novato, CA: New World Library, pp. xxiv-xxvi; also Panikkar, R. (1982). Blessed simplicity: the monk as universal archetype. New York: Seabury Press, p. 16. image: a youngish Dom Louf.


8 responses »

  1. by 23:00h of this post not one Comment. I’m not surprised, or maybe I am. Fromt time to time I use ths blog to work my way through a puzzling topic. So it is with this one. thank you for allowing me this forum to do so. p.

  2. i’d say it’s not important what we call ourselves, but how we live our lives…

  3. Prayer Of the Heart

    is it possible
    is it appropriate to revisit this post ?

    How does this…
    Chaplaincy Institute

    relate to
    your monastic journey?

    After two years in the experience at a nursing home
    I sent myself on Sabbatical to try to integrate
    what is it that the monastic journey can offer
    the elderly and the dying
    what is it that the elderly and the dying taught me
    I am beginning the third year this month….
    it has taken the first two years for turbulence of the experience
    to begin to settle….

    I found your post and your blog by a google search of Andre Louf
    a roshi on paper… as is Jean Vanier…
    and this “The monastic vocation as such precedes the fact of being Christian, or Buddhist, or secular, or Hindu, or even atheist.” is so what I discovered in service in nursing home and the Atlanta Federal Prison. The discovery was overwhelming in each instance… at least this time, I had the good sense to stop and let the practice soak in…

    can’t begin anything new
    I drink this cup of tea
    slow brewing
    in my heart

  4. in the school of my heart…

    my beloved of more than 30 years
    washes the feet of the not wanted
    through an NGO

    I understood with my head
    but not with my heart…
    There is a DVD…
    Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma
    by glimpsing the burdens of James work
    it helped me to understand with my heart the weight of my beloved’s daily-ness

    As Tenzo I asked
    what is it about the next handful of hours
    the tea, the bowl, the bow
    that will help to renew and refresh,
    so the next day would bear fruit.

    As Tenzo ….
    I’m the cook who rings the dinner bell….
    The more I deepen the monastic roots the more the wind can blow
    without uprooting the tree…
    the more renewal and refreshment soaked in…
    providing nourishment

    Jeremiah 17: 5-10
    like a tree planted by a river
    bearing fruit
    in a season of drought…..

  5. Dear Daishin…

    I’ve stayed too long…

    Because of my own experience, I was hoping to learn a bit more about Zen Buddhist involvement with hospice care and the chaplaincy program that is part of that formation for service. I made inquiry here and it seems for your ‘sangha’ on the internet it is more of a background topic and personal to you.
    I was going to leave then…

    When I heard from your post that you where going to Great Vow along with several hospice worker… for a retreat intended for such… I lingered hoping to hear how Zen and hospice care were meeting for tea. When you said that an American Zen Monastery wasn’t someplace to be sick at and were turning to home and that the kitchen there was all a tumble… no dinner bell would be ringing.

    I’ve visited elements of such a tea ceremony from both the East and the West. What is it, 78 million baby boomers over the next bundle of years… perhaps my error is trying to have tea on the internet! Or maybe my part is only to ask the questions and someone else will hear the answers in the years to come…

    I have stayed too long in internet country. If the internet were a country, I don’t know enough internet to get from the airport to my hotel without offending at least 10 along the way… I hope I haven’t caused too much turbulence. IYou could just edit my posts out. I never did learn how to join a thread! My posts are more like a letter to the editor when you really aren’t expecting a dialogue…

    In the main… I seem drawn to a much smaller scale than the internet. Postage stamps, an actual mail box… paper and pen. That side of the digital divide where the price of admission to the conversation is little more than a heart beat. … remember the bag lady I mentioned in a recent post… St. Francis’s beggar… the house of the dying…

    none of them were internet accessible…. none of them were virtual.

    one last thing…

    and as for how tall was Buddha?

    how tall are you?
    low bow

  6. yes, ruminate and share your questions – a wonder that we are here and doing what we do. how we live our lives, how we are with each other, how we pay attention to the miracle of everything around us, how we can be with this amazing place on earth – who is buddha? the little spider nesting in the corner, the raucuous raven, the person sitting beside, the pup laying in the garden? what aspirations do i have with each breath – a new beginning

  7. Your beautiful poems have swept over me like a wave. How I long to return to writing again. Thanks for sharing a part of you.


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