It's a Monk Thing ...by
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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?
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.
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.