Nuns in the West II





















Photos and Reflections

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Recognizing that true dialogue begins with a

willingness to enter the consciousness of another

religion, the group set out with open minds and hearts

to understand and respect the other. Respect was

sustained and deepened throughout the weekend of

dialogue even when understanding eluded us, leaving

eager and willing dialogue partners with a keen

awareness of how little we truly understand. As we

voiced our hopes at the start of the exchange, many

expressed the desire to "go deeper" with our dialogue

—not knowing what that would mean. This, indeed,

happened. At moments we glimpsed the abyss that

divides our worlds and we groped for terms and

concepts that both groups could relate to. At other

moments, a profound resonance melted barriers. In all

cases, an authenticity, a willingness to address the

delicate issues of difference, a readiness to learn or to

be at an impasse characterized the spirit of the



The group grappled with a variety of dialogue topics

drawn from a précis of our 2003 dialogue and also

with topics proposed at the table this year. It would be

impossible to convey the full impact of our questing,

groping and pondering together. At best, I can only

mention topics and point to the substance of our

exchange. Indeed, it is the process itself more than

the content that achieves the goals of dialogue; this

was our experience at Nuns in the West II.

Among the topics addressed were the


Meditation Practice: The centrality in monastic life of

a meditation practice was a bond across traditions. We

spoke of the role of meditation in our lives and its

impact/fruit over time, e.g., equanimity. Different

meanings associated with the term "meditation" in the

East and West were acknowledged, i.e. "meditation" in

the West usually refers to a discursive form of prayer

whereas in the East it refers to what Christians mean

by "contemplation. "

Mindfulness: Some of us were surprised to discover

that we do not mean exactly the same thing when we

speak of mindfulness practice; however, we did seem

to connect with the phrase "being awake at all times"

or "inner connectedness."

Dialogue as a way to world peace: So much of the

work of all traditions represented seems to be oriented

toward peace within persons, groups and our world.

While we all value and desire peace, we encountered

widely disparate notions about the role of religions in

modifying social structures or engaging in political

action on behalf of the underprivileged, and we groped

for a common vocabulary and concepts available in

both traditions. For example, one Buddhist said that

"justice" is not a Buddhist concept, and the term

"prophetic" is also foreign to Buddhism. Work for

justice tends to be perceived by Eastern traditions as

an attempt to perfect the world and achieve rights.

Hindu and Buddhists emphasize instead non-violent

and non-political ways of helping people live peacefully

in the flawed world rather than changing those

structures. Mother Teresa was cited as an example of

ministering to people within a flawed social system,

making little or no effort to change the structures that

cause the suffering. We agreed that a purification of

the heart and clarity about social issues is gained from

the practice of contemplation/ meditation.

Balance between Contemplative Practice and Compassionate Service: All recognize the tension

in this area. Rather than complaining about the stress, we focused on criteria for decision-making in

this area.

Authority: This topic warrants a good deal more attention and might be a good focus for another

gathering. Questions centered on practices as well as structures. How can we have healthy

relationships in the area of authority? How do monastic norms and cultural expectations conflict or

support each other? What is the impact on monastics of changing cultural norms in the West,

especially for women?