It's a Monk Thing Kusala Bhikshu

October, 2004-- I found myself on Interstate 5, zooming along at 75 miles an hour, sun shining, with light traffic, headed for the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (C.T.T.B). The first 'Monks in the West' conference was about to take place, and I'd been invited to participate. Monastic Men from the Catholic and Buddhist traditions gathering to share training and inner life for three days.

I live in a mixed gender Buddhist community, the I.B.M.C.-- The International Buddhist Meditation Center was founded by a Vietnamese Monk in 1970. I received both my novice Zen monk ordination (1994) and full ordination (1996) at the I.B.M.C. I am a member of the Los Angeles Buddhist/Catholic Dialogue and knew some of the Catholic monks and most of the Buddhist monks from previous conferences or gatherings.


We shared our first meal Monday evening, a wonderful array of Chinese food, made especially for us. As we sat and talked, I felt a kinship with my fellow monks. For many different reasons we had renounced main stream life for the monk's life. Some reasons were secular, some were spiritual. Some came from outer life, some from inner life. Some of us were chosen, while others made the choice. It was a great way to launch the conference, getting to know each other over a meal of Chinese noodles and tofu.

Tuesday morning we gathered early for meditation. I had a chance to shave and shower afterwards, and found breakfast waiting for me in the little cafe at C.T.T.B. The morning meal consisted of hot rice gruel, tea and coffee, and a variety of delicious Chinese food.

As I drank my morning coffee, I noticed there seemed to be a problem. A couple of the Catholic monks were talking to a Chinese nun. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but there seemed to be a certain urgency in their body language. I heard words of assurance from the nun, that it would be taken care of. I wondered, what could possibly be wrong?

We had our main afternoon meal with the larger C.T.T.B community, and gathered again at the Cafe for supper. I noticed a few of the Catholic monks looking at the food table with a sense of relief. What had our hosts forgotten to offer them? Was it some kind of obscure Catholic dietary thing?

I moved across the room towards the food line in a slow unassuming way, and there on one end of the table lay two loaves of bread and a large jar of peanut butter. As each Catholic and Buddhist monk moved through the food line that evening, one by one they stopped in front of the peanut butter, and made a peanut butter sandwich. Our plates were overflowing with noodles and rice, green beans and tofu, and peanut butter sandwiches.

It wasn't a Catholic thing at all; it was a monk thing. Men like peanut butter, it's a comfort food. As I spread the peanut butter on white bread that evening, I looked around and felt a deep connection to every man there. Common ground had been discovered in the food line. We had gathered not as monastic men, but as men with monastic lifestyles. I felt confident now-- Although religious differences may come up, we could always reconnect in that special monk way, around the peanut butter jar.