Monks in the West - October 12th to 15th 2004 - City of Ten Thousand
Monastic Men Gather to Promote a Sharing
of Inner life and Training
Album --------------- Photo Album --------------- Photo Album
of Ten Thousand Buddhas - Abhayagiri
Buddhist Monastery - Mt. Tabor Monastery
Monks in the West was sponsored by the Monastic Interreligious
Dialogue (MID), Institute for World Religions, City of Ten
Thousand Buddhas, and Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery. The conference
organizers were - Catholic: Father William Skudlarek Buddhist:
Rev. Heng Sure
The conference was held at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is situated in Talmage, Mendocino
County, California about 110 miles north of San Francisco.
It occupies an area of 488 acres, of which about 80 acres are
presently been used. The rest of the land includes meadows,
orchards, and forests. Large institutional buildings and smaller
residential houses are scattered over the west side of the
property. The main Buddha hall and monastic facilities, the
educational institutes, the administrative offices, the main
kitchen and dining hall, the vegetarian restaurant, and supporting
structures are all located in this complex.
An outline of proposed topics and decorum was emailed to each
Overall - Whenever possible, speak in the first
person, that is, speak about your experience of being a monk,
about "the monastic life" The four sessions on Wednesday
and Thursday will begin with each participant giving a short "first
person" response to the topic or questions.
Tuesday, October 12, afternoon/evening - Introductions: Who
we are, what drew us to monastic life, what it has been like
to be a monk, what we hope for, etc., etc. What are some of
the topics we would like to discuss at this gathering of monks?
Wednesday, October 13, Morning - What are the
changes in life-style, attitude, and expectations that are
necessary for those who
ask to be admitted into the monastic way of life? How much
of the "world" (specifically the contemporary American
world) can be brought into the monastery? What needs to be
left at the door? What are the particular challenges faced
by those who come to monastic life having been formed by contemporary
Wednesday, October 14, Afternoon - How is authority
or leadership to be exercised in the monastic community?
Is there a place
for individual initiative or personal independence in monastic
life? Can monastic life be "democratic"?
Thursday, October 15, Morning - What is the
function, importance, and place in monastic life of such "externals" as
dress, diet, schedule, and the like. How "different" should
monks be from those who are not monks? In what does this "difference" consist?
Thursday, October 15, Afternoon - What is the place of celibacy
in the monastic life? Of poverty? Poverty obviously means different
things in different cultures; how is the meaning and practice
of celibacy affected by cultural differences?
Father Joseph Wong, OSB (Cam, Big Sur, California)
Father William Skudlarek, OSB (St. John's, Minnesota)
Father David Bock, OCSO (New Mellery, Iowa)
Abbot Mark Serna, OSB (Portsmouth, Rhode Island)
Father James Connor, OCSO (Gethsemani, Kentucky)
Father Daniel Ward, OSB (St. John's, Minnesota)
Brother Gregory Perron, OSB (St. Procopius, Illinois)
Ajahn Pasanno, (Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery, Redwood Valley,
Ajahn Sudanto, (Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery, Redwood Valley,
Rev. Heng Sure, (Berkeley Buddhist Monastery/Institute for
World Religions, Berkeley, CA)
Abbot - Dharma Master Heng Lyu, (City of Ten Thousand Buddhas,
Rev. Kusala Bhikshu (International Buddhist Meditation Center,
Los Angeles, CA)
Lama Norbu (San Jose, CA)
Jang Chup Phelgyal (Santa Rosa, CA)
Monks in the West - 2004 Conference Schedule
6:00 pm - Dinner
7:30-9:30 pm - Introductions & pre-planning
6:15 am - Sitting Meditation
7:00 am - Breakfast
8:00-9:00 am - Tour of City of Ten Thousand Buddhas - (Photo
9:00-10:20 am - 1st council: Spiritual Biographies
10:30 am -12:00 pm - Lunch Offering
2:00-4:00 pm - 2nd Council: Spiritual Biographies (continued)
4:30 pm - Evening Mass
5:15-6:00 pm - Dinner
6:30-8:00 pm - 3rd Council: Spiritual Biographies (continued)
8pm - Presidential Debate (tape-delayed)
6:15 am - Sitting Meditation
7:00 am - Breakfast
8:15-9:30 am - Tour of Mt. Tabor, Holy Transfiguration Monastery
(Redwood Valley, CA) - (Photo
10:00-11:30 am - 4th council at Abhayagiri: General Discussion
and themes from Bio's
11:45 pm - Lunch Offering
12:30 pm - Tour of Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery - (Photo
2:30-4:30 pm - 5th Council: General Discussion & Planning
for 2006 Conference
4:30 pm - Evening Mass
5:15-6:00 pm - Dinner
7:30-9:00 pm - Closing Gathering: Planning for 2006 Conference,
Slideshows, and Dedication of Merit (Rev.
6:15 am -Sitting Meditation
7:00 am - Breakfast
7:45 am - Departure
End of Conference
the West - October 2004 - City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
L to R - Ajahn Sudanto, Fr James Connor, Rev. Heng Sure,
Abbot Mark Serna, Rev. Kusala Bhikshu, Bro Gregory Perron,
Jang Chup Phelgyal, Fr Joseph Wong Front Row, L to R - Fr
David Bock, Ajahn Pasanno, Fr William Skudlarek, Dharma Master
Heng Lyu, Fr Daniel Ward, Lama Norbu
Afterword ...by Fr William Skudlarek
A gathering of “Monks in the West” was first proposed
at the annual meeting of the Board of Directors of Monastic
Interreligious Dialogue in October 2003. At that meeting the
Board received an enthusiastic report from five of its members
who had participated in the first “Nuns in the West” meeting
the previous May at the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights,
California. After hearing how beneficial it was for Buddhist
and Catholic nuns to reflect together on what it means to be
a nun in the United States today, the board appointed a committee
to explore the possibility of sponsoring a similar meeting
for monks. It suggested that the topic for such a gathering
be the meaning and practice of celibacy in the monastic life.
Organizing the First Meeting of “Monks
in the West”
The committee began its work by seeking advice
from the Board’s
advisors, one of whom suggested that it might be better to
initiate an interreligious dialogue on monastic life with a
somewhat “milder” topic: novice training, for example.
The committee then contacted the Buddhist monks who had participated
in the second Gethsemani Encounter in 2002 to determine whether
or not they or someone from their respective sanghas would
be interested in a meeting of this kind. The response was very
positive. One of the Buddhist monks, the Reverend Heng Sure,
an American Chan (Chinese Zen) monk, proposed that the meeting
be held at his monastery, located at the City of Ten Thousand
Buddhas near Ukiah, California. He also offered to help plan
for and organize the encounter.
We agreed that this first meeting would take
place October 13-14, 2004, immediately prior to MID’s
annual board meeting, which was to be held at the New Camaldoli
in Big Sur, California. We also decided that the gathering
would be relatively small and that one of the items on the
agenda would be to determine whether or not to plan for a future,
larger gathering of Monks in the West.
Seven of the fourteen monks on MID’s
Board of Directors were able to participate in this first
gathering: four Benedictines
(Daniel Ward, Gregory Perron, Mark Serna, and William Skudlarek),
two Cistercians (David Bock and James Connor), and one Camaldolese
(Joseph Wong). Seven Buddhist monks also participated: Heng
Lyu and Heng Sure (Chan); Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Sudanto (Thai
forest tradition); Norbu Lama and Jang Chut Phelgyal (Tibetan);
and Kusala Bhikshu (Zen).
Two Buddhist Settings
The Abbot of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Master Heng
Lyu, and the Reverend Heng Sure went out of their way to provide
a gracious and hospitable setting for our dialogue. We were
invited to join the monks and nuns (about 30 of the former
and 70 of the latter) for their chanting services in the Buddha
Hall. They had a huge cross placed in the Hall of Confucius,
where we celebrated the Eucharist each day.
Since the monks and nuns eat only at mid-day, breakfast and
dinner were provided for us in the renowned vegetarian restaurant
that is run by lay affiliates.
We were given a special visit to the shrine in which are venerated
the sharira of the Venerable Master Husan Hua, the Founder
of the Dharma Realm Buddhism Association and the City of Ten
Thousand Buddhas, who died in 1995. Sharira, the gleaming crystals
that sometimes are formed when a body is cremated, are regarded
as a powerful sign that a person has entered Nirvana.
During our short two days we were also able to visit and conduct
part of our dialogue at the near-by monastery of Abhayagiri,
the first monastery in the United States to be established
by followers of Ajahn Chah, a respected Buddhist Master of
the ancient Thai forest tradition of Theravada Buddhism.
We also took time to call on their next door neighbors, the
Ukranian Catholic monks of Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Mt.
Tabor), founded by Archimandrite Boniface Luykx, a recognized
theologian and liturgist who died in Belgium earlier this year.
Our first day of dialogue was devoted to listening
to the spiritual autobiography of each participant, and was
by a frankness that was both striking and refreshing. Each
monk spoke of what drew him to – and keeps him faithful
to – the monastic way of life. A list of possible topics
for discussion, drawn up by the planning committee, suggested
areas that might be explored (See Above).
Some of the participants spoke of being attracted
to the monastic life when they were still young boys; others
only thought of
becoming a monk later in life, after undergoing an existential
crisis (“I am going to die”) or experiencing the
bitter aftertaste of material success and sensual pleasure.
For some becoming a monk meant going off to a distant land
and embracing an entirely different culture; for others life
in the monastery was not all that different from the life they
had experienced growing up in a rather closed ethnic or religious
community where all shared the same values and customs.
In some cases becoming a monk meant expanded opportunities
for education, work, and travel; for others it demanded renunciation
of success and advancement in a chosen profession.
Some came to the monastic life with a good
deal of experience in the “ways of the world”;
others confessed that they became monks so as not to have
to deal with their sexuality
or other personal issues, only to find that denial and repression
made these same issues more difficult to deal with later in
There were stories of difficult relationships with superiors
or confreres, some of which continue to cause pain and distrust.
Others spoke of how superiors trusted and supported them during
times of vocational crisis, thus helping them to trust themselves
and to deepen their commitment to the way of life they had
Again and again one heard of the struggle to
remain faithful to contemplative monastic practices while
responding to the
many demands that are made on monks – especially superiors – either
by their own communities or by others. “How can we keep
our best monks from burning out?” was a question that
was asked repeatedly.
Similarities and Differences
After listening to each other’s spiritual
autobiography, we named some of the common questions or concerns
as well as differences we perceived between the Buddhist and
Catholic expressions of the monastic life:
* How do we keep our life authentic?
* How do we integrate human happiness and development with
a spiritual life?
* How can we articulate and witness to the monastic vocation
as an alternative to the marketplace’s emphasis on pleasure
and possessions, showing that humans are more than the body
and its appetites, that “Las Vegas is not the highpoint
of a life well lived.”
* What does it mean to be in community in the new millennium?
* What happens to a community when women and children are removed
* Are we dealing with two different understandings of monasticism
based on different understandings of the human person?
* How does one balance the need for solitude and for community
in human and monastic life?
* Does one become a monk to do something, or to be something?
The former understanding seems more typical of Buddhists; the
latter of Christians.
* When is suffering fruitful?
* What is the place of renunciation and abnegation in the monastic
* How do our different traditions relate to celibacy?
* What is the place of authentic celibacy in the modern world?
* What has happened personally or institutionally that has
distanced us from a more heart-centered intimacy?
A Second “Monks in the West”
Finally, we took up the question of whether we would meet
again, and if so, for what purpose. The rapport, friendship,
and encouragement that we experienced left little doubt that
we would want to continue our relationship and invite other
monks to benefit from engaging a specifically monastic interreligious
dialogue. Several of the participants remarked that they wished
they could experience more often in their own communities the
level of conversation we had with one another.
The topic for a follow-up meeting emerged quickly
and was unanimously accepted: “Authentic Practices of Celibacy
and Intimacy in Monastic Communities of Men.” We are
looking at May 2006 as the time to bring together about 30
Buddhist and Catholic monks to examine the teaching of our
monastic traditions on celibacy as well as to look into more
contemporary insights into sexuality and human development,
all for the purpose of helping one another live the monastic
life more authentically.
Personal Reflections on 'Monks in the West' ...by Abbot Mark
The most powerful and fundamental experience
for me as I lived the three days of dialogue with my Christian
and Buddhist monastic
brothers was the deep sense of honesty, fraternity, mutual
warmth, and depth of desire for authentic living. Only with
hindsight can I see that, perhaps, each monk brought to the
experience a desire (maybe not even conscious) for connection,
a space in which to speak and “be” in ways that
we at times find difficult or obstructed in our own communities.
The experience, therefore, was both refreshing and alarming
(in the literal sense of alarms being set off!). Consequently,
it is not surprising that the group should have organically
settled on the topic of celibacy and intimacy for its next
gathering. After all, in wholeness were we fashioned from our
mother’s womb, and our hearts thirst for a life of integrity
which takes account of our entire selves.
shared in silent meditation at the beginning of each morning,
the laughter at meal times, the conversation about
personal matters (both serious and light), all punctuated the
fact that supporting the dialogue between practitioners of
different religious traditions there is a commonality of human
experience. For example, as I talked with one of my Buddhist
brothers about being an abbot (we both assumed the abbatial
role early in life), it was wonderful and strangely consoling
to see that his experiences were very much like mine in terms
of what happens to the psyche and life of one who is promoted
into leadership at a very young age.
So I am left with an ongoing desire to reconnect to my brothers
with whom I spent these days of dialogue. I am also left with
the intuition that the horizon for interreligious dialogue
may be a more stable or ongoing/daily experience of monastics
of different religious traditions living together in some form;
each tradition maintaining the integrity of its practice, while
living together in a way that supports and nourishes all that
is shared and mutually builds up.
It's a Monk Thing ...by 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.
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.
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
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.
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.