Benedict's Dharma 2
2 - Wednesday - April 30, 2003
Questions and Answers
KUSALA: Sr. Meg, a few months ago I was invited to
St. Monica's Church in Santa Monica as a presenter on Buddhist meditation.
It was an all day interreligious event.
After my presentation, I went to listen to a presentation on Thomas
Merton. An older couple came up afterwards and said, "My husband
has terminal cancer and is afraid to die, could you tell us how he
is supposed to die."
Meg, how does a Catholic die?
Meg, how does a Catholic die?___
MEG: First of all, I want to thank you for the question
of how does a Catholic die, or for that matter how does a Christian
die. Because what they say is true, we die as we live. Death pulls
together all that we practice, what we believe, and who we are.
says, keep that daily before your eyes. That's in the context of the
Rule... We walk in the presence of God, always aware that God sees
us, and we go from a kind of presence in faith, to a of presence in
I have to live in a faith-filled way to make God part of my life,
here and now.
I went to the hospital this past Sunday, to visit a woman I've known
for over 40 years, a cousin by marriage who was dying of acute leukemia.
I asked her, "Are you at peace?"
"Do you mean with dying?" I
said, "Yes, are you at peace with dying?"
She said, "I've not thought about it. I buried my parents as
you know, and I buried my uncle."
"Yes, but what about yourself?"
"Well, my grief now is for my sons and my husband. You know,
my husband is totally helpless."
"Yes, you're right on that. He has depended on you in business
and relationship." So, we spent some time celebrating her marriage.
I asked her if she was afraid of letting go, and she shared her grief
and fear. Then I said, "Well, where do you think you're going?
Is it scary? What's it going to be like?"
She talked about God, and about her mother's faith, how her mother
taught her to pray, and how she still does that practice of prayer
"Did you bring your rosary?" She said, "Oh, no, you
know the boys never think of things like that." So I gave her
one of mine.
I always carry two rosaries, so I can give one away. I've got more
rosaries than you'll ever know. I get all my rosaries from the nuns
who have died in the Hermitage. I only want the rosaries used by people
When I gave her the rosary and she said, "You know, I can't pray
"What do you pray?" We went through the prayer a few times
and I said, "This is it, Elaina. This is the dying. You pray
and you endure the few days you have left. I'll be around and we can
have this conversation again."
really about her faith in God. She already had faith in her husband
and her four boys.
I blessed her, we said a prayer, and I left.
REV. KUSALA: Thank you
believe the last thought of this lifetime, is the first thought of
the next lifetime.
all the many ways a Buddhist can die,
___here is one best case scenario of a patient dying in a hospital.___
the many ways a Buddhist can die, here is one best case scenario of
a patient dying in a hospital.
or she is lying in bed, close to death, a monk enters the room. The
patient's eyes fall on the image of the monk, he remembers the Buddha
and his qualities. The Buddha was a person, who through his own effort
and volition found the answer to suffering, attained perfect wisdom
and gained great compassion. These ideas would circulate through the
mind of the patient.
Next, the monk would light some incense. The smell would remind the
patient of all the times he had gone to the temple to practice and
listen to the Dharma. The Dharma in this case would be the ultimate
truth found in Buddhism. The patient's mind would be filled with thoughts
Like the Catholic rosary, Buddhist's have a string of 108 beads called
a Mala. The monk would place the mala in the patient's hand. The patient
would recall all the years of Buddhist recitation and chanting he
did with his mala. The body is now touching the Dharma.
early Buddhist tradition of Theravada, the monk would begin chanting
from a Buddhist text. He is chanting the sutras, the talks and blessings
of the Buddha. The ear would be filled with the sound of Dharma.
The monk would encourage the patient to turn his heart and mind away
from his loved ones, his parents, wife, children, and friends. To
turn away from thoughts of his job, car, house, and hobbies. Away
from this unsatisfactory existence filled with pain and suffering.
To turn away and not be distracted by grief, sadness, anger, or confusion.
To let go of all things, forever in this world.
There is no one to save him now, his only refuge is the Buddha, Dharma,
and Sangha. The blessings offered by the Buddhist monk encourages
acceptance of death, and future rebirth.
the patient takes his last breath, the monk encourages him to watch
and be mindful.
MD: On a personal note,
my father was dying, and my family went back to see him. My sister
and I spent a whole night's vigil with my father who was in a coma,
we said Psalms together. It was reminiscent of what you are talking
about here, you know, the senses. We touched him a lot, and we scratched
him a lot. He was dying of liver cancer, and he itched.
But the ironic thing was, he didn't die that night, even though the
doctor was sure he would. We waited two or three more days, but he
died alone, after all our vigils with him. We had gone home for lunch,
and he died all alone. There was a lot of grief about that.
We tried so hard to be with him, and at the end he was alone.
A dear nun friend of mine said to me later, "He was beyond you
at that point, and with God." From a Christian perspective I
believe there comes a point, by the grace of God perhaps, when letting
go becomes possible for a person of faith.
Perhaps he didn't even want us there. Perhaps his letting go had already
happened. I'm not sure, but it comforts me to think so.
REV. KUSALA: I think
even if we're surrounded with friends and family, we still die alone.
A story comes to mind about Abraham Lincoln.. It's said he gave a
good speech to a rather large audience. After the speech he sat down
crying. His wife leaned over and said, "Why are you crying? It
was a wonderful speech, Abe."
Abraham Lincoln said, "Because I looked out into the audience
and realized, in a hundred years we're all going to be dead."
LH: I appreciate the
fact that you talk about the transition from life into death, and
I think we so often forget that; that it's not just life and death,
but there is a space in between, and a lot more occurs in that transitory
I'm reminded that it parallels the birth process, because birth is
not always smooth and easy, for the mother or the child. That helps
me keep the perspective of death in mind.
There is a space of time between life and death, and birth and life
even if it's just a split second.
REV. KUSALA: There is
also a space between each breath.
CEE: I felt that both
your presentations were very moving, but you were really saying the
same thing. Manifesting love and compassion to the person who was
I think when Jesus died he said, "Father, into thy hands I commend
my spirit." And instead of just letting go, the love that you
were talking about manifested in that moment, and he went into love.
I'm so grateful that both of you have the kind of compassion that
can be expressed in this way. I think it's Christian, whether you
call it that, or not.
I'd like to point out the difference between suicide and dying in
a state of grace. It's about offering: "Into your hand I commend."
It's really about making an offering, a kind of sacrifice. It's a
joining with the universe. It's a handing over.
There is a very fine line, between the two especially with older people,
because a lot of elderly die depressed. Clergy can help them through
this period, so they can give consent to the offering of love.
quick story. When I was a superior, we had a lot of elderly nuns.
I buried thirteen of them in those eight years.
That night we had a chapter meeting, and the next morning everybody
went to prayers. I was downstairs drinking a cup of coffee. When one
of the nuns said, "You know, Sr. Joanie didn't come to prayers
know, Sr. Joanie didn't come to prayers this morning?"___
went up to her room, and the door was locked; so I went downstairs
to get the key. When I opened the door there she was, her name was
Joan and she was seventy-six years old. Her blue eyes were wide open,
and she had this huge smile on her face. Her hair was flung back beautifully
and the covers on the bed were perfect, couldn't have made them nicer
myself. Her hands were open palms up, and there was this wonderful
smell in the room. I just stood there in amazement.
I've had that experience, it's hard to be afraid of death. I've seen
hard deaths, but when you see somebody taken like that, well it just
doesn't seem all that bad!
We paged the other nuns... They came to her room, we said prayers
and closed her eyes. It's funny she really wasn't a holy nun, she
kept saying "damn" and "hell" all the time.
LH: What you are saying
reminds me about how judgmental I can be; that we judge who is holy
and who is not. It seems to me, we all have an interior life that
people never see.
SR. MEG: But that's
our purification, to just accept what's arising and notice it. We
need tools to put those arising's aside, we're so conditioned. It's
all about training the mind! I found it in the Christian tradition,
but I learned it first in the Buddhist tradition. We've got the tools
in our own tradition to redirect our thoughts away from our motivations,
inclinations, intentions, and back to our hearts.
Kusala, have you been at the bedside of anyone, at the moment of death?
REV. KUSALA: No, never
at the moment or death.
got a call from a palliative care nurse about a fellow named George.___
last person I helped die, was a patient in a Veterans Administration
hospital in West Los Angeles.
a call from a palliative care nurse about a fellow named George. He
didn't have many friends and his family lived out of state. He had
been coming to my meditation classes for about three years.
I went to see George and brought some stuff to help him die as a Buddhist.
The first thing I did, was turn off the TV in his room.
REV. KUSALA: The last
thing you want to do, is die with a Ford commercial in your head.
brought some Buddhist chanting tapes and a picture of Quan Yin Bodhisattva.
She is similar in a lot of ways to the Virgin Mary. The picture and
chanting tapes helped to make his space in the hospital scared.
The palliative care nurses asked if I could find a picture of George
in his youth so the nurses could see what he used to look like before
the cancer. George at that point was in pretty bad shape. Towards
the end, George couldn't even talk. He would respond by jerking his
practice meditation in his room. Over the years George and I had talked
about an inner light that appeared in deep states of tranquility meditation.
In Buddhism inner light doesn't have any special significance, but
it does seem to generate a kind of peace and serenity. I encouraged
George to think of the light, as the doorway to his next lifetime.
The last time I saw George he was pretty close to death. A few hours
after that visit, a palliative care nurse called and said I didn't
have to come back the next day, George had passed away.
MGC: When Father Bede
was here, I had some wonderful moments with him -- he told me the
most important thing was discernment, and that's what we were talking
But the other thing he always said was, we must continually go beyond.
It's all the mystery, as far as I'm concerned.
I just think we go beyond even in death. We are continually going
into the mystery, whatever the mystery is. From that point of view,
you could be a Buddhist or a Christian.
RVM: Well, I don't know
what to say at this point, but I was deeply moved by what Sister Meg
and Kusala just said. You both gave me so much instruction.
My brother died in October. We didn't know what to do. We didn't expect
him to die. We
couldn't get our minds around it. To this day, every time my sisters
and I meet we are still trying to find closure.
Meg and Kusala, thank you. It really got to my heart.
I still can't believe my brother is gone. He was so young. There was
nothing we could do, and we just -- we weren't expecting it at all,
not at all. We got a phone call at nine o'clock, "Come. He's
going to die. He doesn't have long."
It was -- I don't know what to say, but thank you. I have some tools
for the next time. The questions that still bother me are... Was he
ready? How did he feel about the Lord or whatever? We knew he believed
in God, but was he ready? How was he going to -- I can't even say
it. I'm sorry.
MML: I have a question,
well it's more of a question-question.
I wonder if the two of you could speak about the connection that we
have -- I don't know what kind of words you would use -- the connection
that we're looking for in life that continues, something about connection.
REV. KUSALA: Connection
MML: Well, you talked
about connection. You said if we were mediators we connect in silence,
Buddhists in suffering, and Christians in God.
Is there a connection that goes beyond death? I guess I don't even
have the words, what would you two offer?
I'll offer a story. A few months ago, because I my work as a volunteer
police chaplain, I was invited to go to the Orange County coroner's
was invited to go to the Orange County coroner's office.___
Death is really the last great secret. Nobody wants us to see dead
people. If you called the coroner's office tomorrow and said, "Can
I come and see dead people today?" They would say, "No,
I'm sorry, nobody gets to see dead people without a pass."
How lucky was I, and the other twelve chaplains, to be able to see
dead people in the Orange County's coroners office. The Baptist Chaplain
for some reason brought muffins and coffee for afterwards. I was thinking
it might be part of their spiritual tradition.
My first insight was... What a miracle life is, because when the life
energy goes, this body we spend some much time in, and are so attached
too, is absolutely worthless. It doesn't even make a good doorstop,
because it smells.
During the tour I found myself in a large room with a bunch of desks,
this is where the deputy coroners do their work. One deputy corner
had pictures of her children on the desk and a little sign that said,
"I see dead people." I thought to myself, it must be from
the movie "The Sixth Sense." Even in the midst of all this
death, humor was alive and well.
Now, I'm standing at the back of the room listening to the presentation,
and someone gently touches my shoulder to get my attention; I turn
around, and there is no one within ten feet of me. I look around the
room and I start to notice a kind of spiritual density, sort of like
a hot humid day in the South. "There is something after death,"
I say to myself, "And I'm in its presence."
A lot of the dead folks I saw that day probably didn't think to much
about their own death. They probley never went to their church, or
temple, or whatever, and asked, "How am I supposed to die."
Then, all of a sudden their bodies dropped, and they didn't know what
thinking... This strange person -- the coroner -- comes a takes their
body, and with nothing better to do, they end up following it back
to the coroner's office, hoping to find a new home. Big problem, half
the homes are occupied and the other half aren't renting.
I'm the Buddhist chaplain, and a bit different from the other chaplains
in the police department, I raise my hand as we're eating our muffins
and drinking our coffee. I say to the deputy coroner in charge of
our tour, "Do you find this to be a very spiritual place?"
He said, "This is the most spiritual place I have ever worked.
I've been here two years, and the energy here, well you can almost
touch it. It is constantly changing, and we can't point our finger
at any one thing and say that's the reason."
So now, I'm thinking, the one thing we all have in common is an afterlife
of some kind. You know, even an atheist has an afterlife, it's called
KS: I want to venture
a comment, but I'll probably get in trouble for it. I'm an architect,
I think materialism comes in buildings, what I see in the event of
a vessels is timelessness.
Here we are in a room that will transcend us all, it's already transcended
some significant people who were here before. I feel a great sense
of presence which is beyond life through people like George MacLeod,
and Phillip Newall, in some ways they are still here.
The artifacts of human achievement, which are these buildings, extend
our participation. But they all have time limits, regardless of how
special they are.
I really do think the spirit can be present beyond death, and that
we can know that connection through past experience.
SR. MEG: Let me pick
up on that, because I think it's a critical point, you are very astute.
There are two things and their presence is without a doubt. There
are many realms, and some people don't move on, and some people don't.
When a nun dies in the monastery, we used to pray for her soul, now
we are asking her for favors. It's based on experience. We tend to
get a big favor from them after they die.
When I go up to the casket of a sister I've lived with, I might say,
"Sister Helen, you know," and I'll say something she knows,
and then I'll say, "Can you help me with that?" And I get
help. There really is an intercessory thing happening.
Meditation practice and cultivating our religious way of life, sharpens
our spiritual awareness. There is no doubt in my mind, this is so.
But we experience these subtle spirits only in presence, not in form.
As we open our hearts through these practices, what arises is a true
It's like taste, sound, smell, but it's as if -- JO
do you mind talking a little bit about your mother?
JO: You mean, what I
just shared with you today?
SR. MEG: Yes.
JO: Well, I was with
my beautiful mother when she made her transition, and the room was
filled with light. I'd never seen so much light from a human being.
My father died in an accident so I wasn't with him, but I was with
my mother. Her face was so radiant, so beautiful. There was this light,
and all I could think of was Moses in Exodus saying that those who
see God will die because they can't bear the light. So maybe in the
next world, we will be able to bear the light.
SR. MEG: That shifts
the whole burden, about how her mom was, through seeing the light.
It seems, you weren't angry with your mother. You weren't worried
about your mother. Because, you saw her light and how beautiful it
KM: I've been wondering,
what is the role of love in the transition from life to afterlife,
and in feeling the spirits and presence of others? I feel very comfortable
in a Christian tradition thinking that God's love is the essence of
everything, and so you are just going from the human shadow of it,
to the real thing.
I wonder, in the Buddhist tradition -- it seems to me that both of
you in helping people with death were very loving, and referred to
it as compassion. But do you use that word, love, in relating to other
Not really, the word we use is loving-kindness. Compassion is the
activity created by the minds intention of loving-kindness.
is the activity created by the intention of loving-kindness.___
love is a simple word with a very complicated definition. It's applicable
to shoes, and cars, and God, and house, and job.
Buddhists consider most forms of love to be sort of mundane until
it's connected with kindness. When love and kindness are connected
it becomes unconditional. Conditional love is so full of attachment;
when you compare it to the unconditional love of loving-kindness.
Our practice pretty much determines our response to situations. If
our practice has enabled heart and mind... Compassion and wisdom to
be present, our activity becomes pretty skillful. But, I don't know
if you could call it love.
KM: So you don't necessarily
think a person is going "Into Love" as they die?
REV. KUSALA: We hope
they go to heaven or Nirvana, rather than into into love.
SR. MEG: There is a
difference. They're different realms?
REV. KUSALA: Yes, there
are different realms. An easy way to understand the different realms
of afterlife found in Buddhism is the through something called the
"Six Realms of Existence" model.
"Six Realms of Existence"___
realm is heaven. It's perfect. It's just like Christian heaven in
some ways. The main problem with the Buddhist heaven is, it's impermanent.
You can't stay there forever.
The second heaven realm is filled with desire. I call this the Donald
Trump heaven. If only you had one more building, or one more wife
this would be a perfect heaven.
The third realm of existence is the human realm. It's the only place
we can achieve Nirvana, the end of suffering. Nirvana can't be had
in heaven because everything is so perfect there is no reason to practice.
Nirvana is impossible to achieve in hell, because everything is so
bad all we do is suffer. The human realm gives us a little bit of
pleasure, and a little bit of pain and discomfort, it keeps us honest
The first hell realm is called the animal realm. It's often described
as always wanting to
eat, always wanting to sleep, always wanting to have sex, and being
totally confused. Which sort of describes me when I was teenager.
The next hell realm is called the hungry ghost realm. In this hell
realm you have a very small mouth, and a really big stomach. No matter
how much food you put in that little mouth, your stomach is never
Finally, we come to the worst hell realm of all, and yet it looks
pretty normal. You'll be walking through a forest, and all of a sudden
all the leaves turn into razor blades and fall off the tree, and they
cut you into million pieces. You cry out in pain, and your karmic
energy is resurrected into another hell body, so you can be killed
again, and again, and again.
when all that suffering purifies the karma that put you in hell, you
are reborn into a higher realm.
This in a nut shell, is Buddhist heaven and hell.
asked earlier, how I knew for sure these realms really exist. Well,
it's not my job to say whether afterlife is real or unreal. My job
is to explain Buddhist afterlife, according to Buddhism and the teaching's
of the Buddha.
Nirvana is really the Buddhist goal, not heaven. Nirvana is the end
of existence and nonexistence at exactly the same time. It goes beyond
The Buddha said all forms of existence lead to suffering, even heaven
for a Buddhist, because you have to leave sooner or later.
This existence and nonexistence at the same time is really hard understand
because it's non-dual. This is how I explain it. You have this coin,
one side of the coin is nihilism, the other side externalism, the
coin itself is Nirvana. When a Buddhist achieves Nirvana, he gets
point of interest... In Buddhism heaven is up and hell is down, go
CEE: Coming back to
love, when you started talking about distinctions in love, in the
Greek New Testament, I believe there are three words for love instead
of one: Eros, which is attraction, sexual attraction but probably
much more than that, attachment to things.
And then filia is human love. It means brotherly love.
The Christian term is agape, which was invented, or which I heard
was a very obscure word that came into the New Testament to describe
another indescribable-in-any-other-way kind of love, which is the
center of Christ in the New Testament Christian belief.
REV. KUSALA: That's
KP: Craig, isn't that
the word that's sometimes translated as charity? Is that the one?
CEE: Yes. And just think
the way the word, charity, has changed -- suffereth long, is kind,
the wonderful description of St. Paul. And it came in English to mean
giving to the poor. Love is a slippery word.
PDP: There is another
Greek word that's mentioned, too, and it's mother love, so there is
a fourth dimension to it.
CEE: Could you give
it to us?
PDP: I want to say stoma,
but that's not right.
MGC: C.S. Lewis wrote
the book The Four Loves, and those are the four loves.
I hear the Buddhists talk about emptiness instead of love.___
MEG: Kusala, sometimes I hear the Buddhists talk about
emptiness instead of love.
Can you translate that? Because, it sounds like emptiness is love.
How can they be the same thing?
REV. KUSALA: Yes, difficult
to understand how they might be the same thing. I really think they're
different. Emptiness in Buddhism is known as Sunyata in Sanskrit,
and Anatta in Pali. Sunyata means having no original essence, and
Anatta means having no soul or 'not self.' My definition of emptiness
is... Understanding through a direct experience, that all things are
interconnected and interdependent. That nothing can exist separately.
There is no 'one thing,' ever. There is only process. Emptiness in
Buddhism means, empty of independent existence.
SR. MEG: So, is that
REV. KUSALA: That's
SR. MEG: Ego death?
REV. KUSALA: Ego is
the thing that keeps us separate. When the ego is anesthetized through
meditation or spiritual practice, we can reconnect to the world around
us in a very special way. I call that connection Enlightenment. When
ego is missing, so is the illusion of oneness. This 'unity of diversity'
is the ultimate reality found in Buddhist emptiness.
the ultimate reality of the "unity of diversity" is directly
experienced, the great compassion arises from the heart. The heart
is forever broken, and cannot be mended. If one person is dying, starving,
or homeless, there is a part of you that is dying, starving, and homeless.
Service to others, the Bodhisattva ideal, springs out of this ultimate
reality of unity and the great compassion.
I am helping someone die, in a very real sense, I am dying with them.
SR. MEG: It seems to
me there is a large group of people attracted to mystery and undifferentiated
transcendence or even eminence. There is another group that finds
more at-homeness with love and a personal God and/or a face, Jesus,
through Mary, a more beloved or a betrothal mysticism compared to
-- this is considered apophatic.
Apophatic is mystery. Kataphatic is more going through the images
and feelings. They are both good, but they are mutually exclusive.
But, some people can access both in their lifetime.
When I find somebody that is totally into the mystery, they'll catch
that the word "emptiness" is just as good as the word "love."
The people that are totally more into a mystical sense with our Lord
in this more personal presence through the Trinity but the human Jesus
that swept us up into the Spirit and the Father, that's much more
And so I think there are two major ways of going in spiritual direction,
again. It's good to know those two major divides, and they are in
all the religions, and then there is distinctions within that. But
Buddhism as such is pretty much the mystery, the apophatic, the emptiness.
And then some of the Tibetans have these other realms that are more
of the personal, but they are alien to the Zen people, right?
REV. KUSALA: Yes, and
SR. MEG: And the Theravada.
I was at the Abbey of Gethsemani with the Dalai Lama, and we were
going through the chapel into the scholas.
We believe that Jesus's presence is in the Blessed Sacrament, so all
of us were going by and bowing to the Tabernacle. Now, I didn't see
this myself, but one of the monks told me that the Dalai Lama stopped,
looked around, and went (indicating "high five" gesture).
JO: It is said that
Voltaire, who claimed to be an atheist, was standing when a funeral
cortege went past, and he tipped his hat. And his friend said, "I
thought you didn't believe."
Voltaire said, "I'm speaking to an acquaintance."
SR. MEG: Speaking to
an acquaintance, well there is some explanation.
getting ready for death, it's important to know how to approach it.___
think in getting ready for death, it's important to know how to approach
it. Is it through emptiness and mystery, or is it through the Lord
and in connection with love? I'm certain there is a transcendent experience
that puts it all together.
When I interview a person one-on-one, I try to find the doorway to
their heart. That can put you in touch with their sentiments, the
way they experience mystery. Is it through a personal God, or is it
more through a mystery, an emptiness, an apophatic?
We have these books at the convent called the "Dead Books."
They have a gray binder, and in them is the Office of the Dead. All
the prayers we say to a nun who is dying.
You might be resting and get a knock at your door, someone says so
and so is dying.
Well, we all get our gray books and go down to be with the nun, we
may end up singing all night long. We always make sure that the real
good singers get out of bed. If there are too many of us to fit into
a room, we take turns.
There is nothing more beautiful than to hear the Psalms being chanted.
In a way every time we chant the Psalms, it's like getting ready for
our own deaths.
One nun recently didn't die, even after singing the Psalms all night
long. She insisted on three performances.
Are these special songs that you are singing?
SR. MEG: They are just
the Office and Psalms and hymns, and we have a list of readings from
the Old Testament, and New Testament. It takes us about an hour to
do them. We know a lot of them by heart.
BC: That puts me in
mind of something I read in Benedict's Dharma when the Buddhists were
talking about forgiveness, and they had a ceremony where they would
confess to one another the faults of the day.
I think somebody asked them the question about, well, who are you
asking forgiveness from?
This person in the book was describing it as the teacher, the lineage
of teachers, those who had been faithful or had found the path, kind
of going back to the person before them and the person before them.
It made me think of this idea of this great cloud of witnesses that
we sometimes speak of being surrounded by angels and archangels or
some kind of larger communion that transcends death, transcends our
lives. I just wondered if the two of you have a response to that?
Does that ring true for you, or is that just a different concept?
REV. KUSALA: In a more
traditional setting, than the one I live in, there is a monthly full
moon ceremony. All the monks gather in one plase and the nuns would
gather separately, they would start with the recitation of precepts,
and then there is a question and answer period. Monks don't have to
proclaim themselves as having broken the precepts. The other monks
would do that for them. Then the head monk might say, "Is that
true, Kusala? Did you break that precept?"
And I'd say, "Well, yes, but..." And then the head monk
might say, "For the next week you'll eat last, this will give
you time to reflect on your unskillfulness."
It isn't punishment. It's really a kind of 'time out,' a chance to
reflect on your practice. It's said that you don't really break the
precepts... The precepts defeat you.
When I was a volunteer at Los Angeles County state prison for men,
I put together a purification ceremony for the Buddhist prisoners.
It consisted of meditation and chanting, the purpose was to purify
all past intentions, speech and action; their karma from many past
lifetimes as well as this lifetime.
The big question from them was, who the heck were we talking to.
We don't have a God or a divine law giver, but we do have a lineage
that goes all the way back to the Buddha. I've often thought real
forgiveness starts with me forgiving myself. Then I ask friends and
family, strangers and enemies, for forgiveness. And finally all the
Dharma protectors, Buddha's, and Bodhisattvas that have ever lived
and ever will live. In a way, it starts with forgiving my ignorance
and ends with my accepting enlightenment.
The practice of asking for forgiveness is a practice of the heart.
The Buddha said, our entire world exists in this fathom long body.
If I can change my heart, I am changing the world and everything in
MC: I just wanted to
react to what you said about the apophatic and kataphatic. The apophatic
is mystery, and the kataphatic is personal God, and that the love
You know, one of our greatest Christians is William Johnston, a Jesuit
priest who lived the last half of his life in Tokyo, and was a Zen
practitioner. He has written the best edition of The Cloud of Unknowing
that I've ever read, and he distinguishes apophatic and kataphatic.
My feeling is everything you said is correct except that love can
be in the mystery as well as in the kataphatic.
SR. MEG: Right. It's
just it's undifferentiated.
MC: Yes, but it's still
a sense of mysterious love.
SR. MEG: Right. Good.
KS: Two years ago we
went to St. Meinrad where the monks who chanted last night came from.
At one point I felt a tremendous sense of death. In their cemetery,
they are all lined up in order. And as they die, their stones turn
dark from time, so you can see the clean, recently chiseled stones,
and the old dark ones. The most recent deaths have black crosses,
they are moving in a constant march, in this open square.
I found it very moving because I felt in talking with them, they had
a sense of time on earth, and the door of death.
PDP: Where was that?
SR. MEG: St. Meinrad.
I've been to their funerals. They are like Buddhist funerals in that
the guy is just on a slab, and they throw the dirt right on the body.
Wait, I think at Gethsemani it's right on the body, but they put a
lid on at Meinrad's. How do you bury people?
REV. KUSALA: In a variety
of ways, but cremation seems to be the most popular. My teacher was
cremated, but then again some choose burial.
sent me a picture in an email of his teacher in a casket.___
MEG: Kusala sent me a picture in an email of his teacher
in a casket, it's the first one I had ever seen. I was glad because
I knew him, it made me feel closer.
REV. KUSALA: I felt
comfortable in sending the picture. But, I think it probably surprised
The morning he died, one of the monks from his residence came over
and said, "Your teacher just died. Would you like to see him?"
I went over to see the body, and took my camera.
Even in his last breath he was courteous. He had himself all fixed
up so nobody had to do anything. His hands were folded, and the sheets
and covers were placed just so. It was like he was saying, I don't
want anybody to work any harder than they have to.
I took some pictures, and sent them by e-mail to a few people. Some
folks were really surprised when they received a picture of my dead
teacher, but in Buddhism death is just another part of life. Everything
that is born has to die. It's not a big surprise to die, but maybe
to get a picture of it in your e-mail is.
He was cremated, I have a pictures of him in the casket and then being
pushed into the fire, with all the monks chanting, it was a wonderful
ceremony. Life goes on, but so does death.
Shasta Abbey, a monastery in Northern California, buries their monks,
right out in back. They have a cemetery for their pets too.
When you approach Shasta Abbey by car, there is a wire fence that
surrounds the whole place, and up in one of the corners of the fence,
is a little sign that says "Cemetery." I sort of like that,
because when you go to Shasta Abbey as a monk, you really are going
to a cemetery, in a sense. When you check in at Shasta Abbey, you
don't check out. Talk about commitment.