1 - Tuesday - April 29, 2003
Sister Mary (Meg) Margaret
SR. MEG: Good morning.
SR. MEG: What we have in mind
is to go through Benedict's Dharma, the book, more or less chapter
by chapter. We're going to do a Buddhist/Christian dialogue in the
light of the Rule of Benedict.
How this book came about was, we had a Gethsemani
encounter in 1996, which was a Buddhist/Catholic monastic dialogue.
We had the Dalai Lama and about 70 participants, in all about 120
people with the observers. At the end of the dialogue there was
a profound sense that we had come to a new place. It was Robert
Thurman and Patrick Henry who suggested that we not go back up to
superficial dialogue ever again, but to stick to the sense of the
monastic impulse in our lives. Patrick Henry said, the Rule of St.
Benedict is the centerpiece for monastics in the Benedictine tradition.
In fact, it's hallowed in all monastic traditions. We decided to
take the text of the Rule of St. Benedict for our next dialogue.
That had three parts to put together.
first part was to get a translation of the Rule of Benedict. I was
the executive director of the board, and then there was this committee
of Patrick Henry and David Steindl-Rast and the Buddhist writers.
It took us six years to do this, the first phase was this translation.
Brother David and I looked at the one we used to use, which has
the Latin and English, and the commentary, which is extremely fine.
I mean, this is such a treasure for us all. However, having used
it for a decade, we found that there were ways it could be improved.
We set about to write our own translation, what we called a wake-up
translation that was more Buddha friendly, it could be written in
such a way that we could move our dialogue.
I got up a half hour earlier every day for a year and a half, and
started writing, looking at the Latin and English. I understood
that David was going to do one, and I was going to do one, then
we were going to get together, and send it out to our board, abbots,
Well, I'm not a Latin scholar. I am a practitioner. But I figured
anybody can do it from the Latin to the English. It's hard to go
from the English to the Latin. So, I went ahead and did it chapter
Rule of Benedict is betweem 7,000 and 9,000 words depending on the
Rule of Benedict is betweem 7,000 and 9,000 words depending on the
translation -- 73 chapters with the prologue, written around the
year 520, or somewhere in there.
What we tried to do in this translation is make it more inclusive
of women, since there are more women than men monastics. We wanted
it to capture the mystical sense that Benedict used; not just the
historical critical methods of literature. We tried to capture the
sense of each verse and each teaching, like a counterpart to the
Buddhist teachings, rather than a literal translation.
It's only been since the 1930s that we've had a verse text of the
Rule of Benedict; these verses haven't been interpreted in the light
of meaning, to get verse and meaning together. If this sounds technical,
it is, so I'll fast forward. We tried everything, but it was impossible.
When we went to a more mystical unitive sense of what Benedict was
trying to say, we alienated the scholars. When we went to more inclusive
language, we alienated the feminists who wanted it more inclusive.
We even had Elias Mallon, a great Scripture scholar, an Atonement
father from New York, do a fresh translation of the 300 verses of
Scripture in the Rule. Well, Benedict didn't have the original text
of Scripture. I had on my desk 300 translations of text that Benedict
never had. Benedict was translating something else in the light
of this context, so we had to scrap it. We had to go back to the
way he used Scripture given the text that was available in the Sixth
We alienated the scholars, the feminists, the hermeneuts, the Scripture
people, and then we alienated the activists. Joan Chittister probably
has the finest readable translation of the Rule, but we were trying
to get more of the mystical sense, more unitive, more contemplative,
we thought we could satisfy some of the scholars' objections.
Well, I finished my translation, and David and I were going to get
together at Collegeville. Six years is a long time. We had trouble
getting together, and in the meantime he got busy and didn't do
his translation. He wanted to start over, and I would write down
Well, given the male/female thing today, I wasn't going to do that.
So, in the refectory we were reading Father Abbot Patrick Barry's
translation of the Rule, and I was just dumbfounded with how he
had transcended all those problems. I went back to our committee
and I said, "Can't we just use an existing translation?"
We did put the one we had out to the abbots and prioresses. We showed
it to the board. James Wiseman alone, gave us 70 corrections. It
was a huge problem... What did Benedict say and how do we interpret
it today. The important part is to live the Rule, rather than know
it, which is on the same page as our Buddhist friends. So, we humbly
put aside all our earlier drafts, accepted Abbot Patrick Barry's
who by the way, has a doctorate from Oxford and is a wonderful writer.
We amended it in 50 places with his permission to Americanize some
of the language. That's the text you have here. That's the first
phase of the book.
The second phase was... David was to gather the Buddhists together
to do a commentary on the Rule.
Well, that was hard, too, because the Buddhists were very busy Buddhists,
and so David called me. We were literally going to go through each
one of the Buddhists, sit down with them, read through the entire
Rule and talk about it and dialogue. Well, guess again. Finally,
we got together at Grace Cathedral and had a long weekend where,
after lots of work, we had the text of their commentary.
Patrick Henry a masterful editor put it all together, and then he
put the chapters together, and the issues together. But he also
assigned topics to the Buddhists -- Ven. Yifa, Judith Simmer-Brown,
Joseph Goldstein, and Norman Fischer.
The second phase was to write the book. We had a contract with Riverhead,
which was a marvelous contract, and they couldn't have been better
to work with. They were extremely patient and generous along the
The third phase... Was a conference at Beech Grove on Benedict's
Dharma, where we brought all the speakers and 50 or so monastic
who lived this Rule, and then another 50 or so were coming who lived
the Rule as lay practitioners, we had quite a cast of people coming.
Then 9/11 happened, and so many couldn't come, but we still had
All the proceedings are on the Web.
We taped it professionally.
It was a marvelous conference. We used the book Benedict's Dharma,
we had Benedictines who lived the rule and reacted to the writers;
and we had the Buddhists.
You who have gathered for this Benedictine Experience are the fourth
phase. You are another generation of people that are enjoying the
Rule of Benedict, and want to know more about being a lay practitioner
and using the Rule, and Buddhist commentary.
We are going to start right away with the first part of the book
and how it's divided. I want to give everybody one of these. It's
a flier from first Benedict's Dharma and has the outline of the
book in it.
I want to emphasize the book really doesn't matter. Even the Rule
doesn't matter. What's written in our hearts matters; so, the quicker
we can get to our hearts, the better. But it is nice to build on
those who have gone before us.
we're going to talk about the trellis, which is another word for
we're going to talk about the trellis, which is another word for
the rule. Tomorrow, we're going to do freedom and forgiveness; the
next day, discipline, spontaneity; the next day, tradition, adaptation;
and Saturday, leadership and humility.
These are the ways we are going to enter into the Rule. They are
like doors. We are going to walk into the Rule through these doors.
So, this first presentation is, what is the Rule, the trellis. Then
Rev. Kusala is going to respond from a Buddhist point of view.
History helps us understand how rules evolve. Iif we understand
the origin of a rule, we can know how it should reside in our heart,
the origin, the point of departure in our heart.
The Rule of Benedict, as you know, was written
around 520, but it stood on the shoulders of giants. In the earliest
Apostolic age were those who knew Christ and walked with him and
set down the Scriptures. The Scripture is the main rule for all
Christians. It is the central door.
We can't exaggerate the role of Scripture in our lives. Benedict
wrote the Rule, in 7,000 words and 300 passages all coming from
Scripture. In one sense the Rule is no more than a recasting of
Scripture in a particular way, for those who want to follow a contemplative
The first generation are those who followed Christ, witnessed to
what Christ said and did, and then wrote about it in our Scriptures.
The next phase, of course, was to interpret what those Scriptures
mean. Well, the earliest group of monastics took seriously that
the Scriptures meant a way of life, to pray without ceasing, to
seek God, they left everything and went to the desert. The desert
tradition is the centerpiece of Christian monasticism. In the desert
these individuals were awake and understood God's word and meditated
on it day and night, prayed without ceasing. They woke up in various
stages of enlightenment, and were very attractive to others.
Soon people from the towns, the villages, people crossing the desert
would go to them and pray for a word. "Father, give me a word
that I may live by."
At first those words were from Scripture, then they were interpretations
of Scripture. There's about 2,000 of them. Apophthegms, are the
sayings of the desert tradition.
Those sayings were written down in various ways: The alphabetical
collection, the seriate collection. They became the literature of
these desert fathers and mothers. Their deeds and stories were written
down. A literature arose around the enlightened teachers known as
the desert fathers and mothers.
The second generation came along and interpreted those sayings,
they were called the conferences and the institutes. The master
of that was John Cassian, who was born around 360 in the Balkans.
He was literate in both Greek and Latin. It took him from twelve
to fourteen years to go through the desert of Syria, into Egypt
and Palestine, he listened to those conferences given by famous
abbas and amahs. He put them down in the twelve institutes and twenty-four
conferences, and they are available today.
Later those conferences and institutes were given in cenobitic settings;
in other words, where a group of monks and nuns were living in a
community. Those were edited into rules, and out of that came the
Rule of Benedict. We also have the Rule of Augustine, and the Rule
of Basil. By the time Benedict put his Rule together, he had 40
sources. He was a great editor, a redactor. It's as important what
he took from all those who preceded him as what he left behind.
He was a genius at carving out a middle way to the ascetical life.
Rule of Benedict is just one of the many rules___
the Rule of Benedict is just one of the many rules, but it turned
out to be the most famous of rules, but not for 300 or 400 years.
Let me go back to the Rule of Saint Benedict, and share with you
what I think the idea of the Rule is. The Rule is just that: It's
one source of my inspiration for life. The other source, of course,
is Scripture in Christ. Another source is a teacher, or a leader,
or an abbot, or my spiritual director. And the other source is my
community, the way in which it's lived, the monastery. A lived experience
of the Rule in the light of Scripture and in the light of a teacher.
But, the main teacher is Christ. If you want to know who to follow,
return to Christ.
You can see this referent idea. In other words, I am in the center,
and in the center I listen to my teacher, Christ our Lord. I find
those teachings in Scripture, and it's interpreted by the church.
But, I live in a monastery, and who interprets the Gospel for me
and the Rule for me, my abbot. The abbot then becomes the interpreter
of the Rule of Benedict. But I have the Rule, too, so we can dialogue
about the Rule together. And that's the stuff of our individual
I also dialogue with my entire community, and that's the idea behind
a chapter: To keep central the word of God in our lived experience
as a community.
not linear at all; it's very dialogical. You have to know the Rule;
you have to know the Gospel; you have to have an abbot; you have
to have, a lived experience of a community.
One other part of the teaching that helps Benedict make sense that
you don't quite get just reading the Rule, it would be found --
the systematizer of the earlier tradition was John Cassian, and
I'd like to present his notion of the spiritual journey. His teacher
was Evagrius, and Evagrius's teacher was Origen, a great mystic.
Origen was the first to use the idea of a spiritual journey, a journey
of the heart, it's an invisible journey. You might say it's under
Most people are on an external journey. You know, they are born,
they live, they lead a good life, and they go to heaven. But some
are called to a spiritual journey underneath the river, to experience
heaven through the mystical senses that open up through a deeper
reading of Scripture.
That was Origen's contribution. Have I lost you yet?
PARTICIPANT: Not yet.
The journey is above the river and below the river. The spiritual
journey is below the river. Nobody sees it. It's your motivation.
It's your inner life. It's your heart.
the river is the church, the world, the people. They are living
a good life. They are out there doing God's work, and that's what
you see. When you are baptized, you begin the journey. You are on
the above the river journey.
of us are called, but all of us can enter into the spiritual journey.___
of us are called, but all of us can enter into the spiritual journey.
There are other metaphors, but I'm trying to give you the one that
underpins the Rule of Benedict.
The idea of entering a monastery is to do the below the river journey
instead of just living the worldly life; it's to renounce the world
for the sake of God. John Cassian was the one who put together these
ideas of renunciations. It's really a series of renunciations.
Renunciation is not an optional notion in
the Christian life, it's in the baptismal formula that we renounce
Satan. We renounce the ways of the world for the sake of God.
The first renunciation is to renounce your former way of life, which
is living externally. You have to renounce the good that is not
God. You have to renounce evil for sure! That's the first renunciation.
Over and over again we have to continually renounce our former way
The second renunciation is to renounce the thoughts of our former
way of life. John Cassian took the eight thoughts from Evagrius.
The first thought is food, food and drink, because if you are obsessing
about food and drink, you are not praying without ceasing. You are
not under the river. You are not with God. You are thinking only
of yourself. Those are thoughts of food, sex, things, anger, dejection
next one is acedia, and it really doesn't have a good translation.
I like to use the translation, spiritual fatigue. You just want
off the journey. It's too much work.
The last two thoughts are vainglory and pride. Those are what you
renounce over and over again, the eight afflictions.
are many tools in the Rule to renounce the eight afflictions, look
at Chapter 4. But even if you renounce our former way of life, and
follow the monastic way of life, conversatio morum -- that doesn't
have a good translation either. It means ongoing conversion to the
monastic way of life. It's not just a one-time conversion. It's
an ongoing conversion, turning toward a manner of life.
After you renounce your former way of life and you renounce the
thoughts of your former way of life, lo and behold, there's a third
renunciation, and that's to renounce your thoughts of God. Because,
as long as it's just a thought of God, it's not God; it's just thoughts.
Here is where we are really on the same page with our Buddhist brothers
and sisters. But they do it from the get-go. You're going to hear
a lot more about Buddhists renouncing the illusionary world of thoughts,
which is also a teaching found in the Rule of Benedict.
This third renunciation, is a very serious one, this is the stuff
of the dark nights. You don't have thoughts of God or devotions,
it's a very challenging time. But you can also wake up to the mystery
of God, and the light of God.
a powerful renunciation. If you get through the third renunciation,
guess what, there's a fourth one, and it's harder than the third.
thoughts of yourself,
___because any thoughts of yourself isn't yourself.___
I wrote Thoughts Matter I didn't put the fourth one in because I'm
so far from it, and I didn't notice it in Cassian either. Columba
Stewart, a monk of St. John's, a wonderful scholar monk, pointed
it out to me. He said, "Meg, there's a fourth renunciation."
It's to renounce thoughts of yourself, those thoughts are not you,
they are just thoughts. We seem to be on the same page as the Buddhists;
so the last one is to renounce thoughts of yourself.
The Christian renunciation theory and practice has four steps according
to John Cassian: to renounce ones former way of life, to renounce
interior thoughts that would move you back into acting like your
former way of life, to renounce your thought of God...since all
thoughts of God are not God, but just thoughts or concepts. The
fourth renunciation is the most radical. Its presumed in the
Rule of St. Benedict and we have saints, like Therese of Lisieux
who gave us a good example: to renounce the thoughts of self and
respond to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The self then merges
into the Beloved or mystery without any of the ego thoughts that
refer to the self.
RJH: I was just thinking about
what you are saying and imagining myself as an oblate, and thinking,
gee, it sort of sounds like I've got one foot on the dock and one
on the boat. And I'm wondering if that is a tenable position, or
place to be.
SR. MEG: It's stressful. And
you might get a stress fracture.
Spiritual direction is to help us live below the water, but in the
world. There are ways of doing this. And that's why Benedict's Dharma
2 is happening, to get this balance, so that we can live in peace
and equanimity. We have the tools in the rule.
BC: You mentioned a name, but
it went by, I didn't recognize it, somebody who was a practitioner.
KM: Therese of Lisieux.
SR. MEG: Teresa Little Flower.
She is just a wonderful example of no self.