Dharma II - The
Making of Benedict's Dharma
Sister Mary Margaret: What we have in mind between is to go through
Benedict's Dharma, the book, more or less chapter by chapter. But
the centerpiece is the Rule of Benedict and our own experience. We're
going to do a Buddhist/Christian dialogue in the light of the Rule
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, and prioresses.
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 by chapter.
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 Century.
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 his translation.
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 way.
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 the conference.
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.