Nov 3, 2006

Monks in the West Conference

I've just gotten back from attending an inter-faith conference at St. John's Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey in Minnesota. Monks from various Buddhist schools and Catholic orders met to discuss the role of celibacy in religious life. I must say I enjoyed it very much and learnt a lot.

Two things I picked up that I'd like to note briefly;

1. Although the metaphysics of the two systems are almost as different as could be, the experience of contemplatives is very similar. My feeling is that we are all straining to find words to express the inexpressible. As the Buddha put it, the Third Noble Truth (the Unconditioned, the Absolute) can be experienced (or penetrated, patisamvedhi) but cannot be understood.

2. I had thought previously that the biggest doctrinal differences between Buddhism and Christianity revolved around the Transcendent (God vs. the Unconditioned) but it seems that the real practical differences concern the attitude toward the Conditioned (or in Christian terms, the Created.) In Buddhism, the world is samsara, something that is suffering and delusion. In Christianity, the world is sacred, if flawed after the fall. This has repercussions on attitudes towards the body, sexuality and celibacy as well.

But most important, it was good to meet all the brothers from various traditions and places. Monasticism may seem like an anachronism, but like I always say, in times like these if you're not an anachronism you're part of the problem.

LINKS-

Press Release for the Monks in the West 2006 conference (click on the link at the bottom)
Home Page of St. John's Abbey.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Could you please elaborate on the terms "the Unconditioned" and "the Conditioned"? I'm pretty informed about Buddhism, but I'm not familiar with such terminology. Thanks.

e.m. said...

And why exactly is it that Buddhist monks are so eager to glad-hand with Catholic monastics?

History seems to be swept under the carpet every time the Vatican is willing to pay for a pot of tea and invites the saffron robe crowd.

Over the years, I've seen it all. Cardinals and Bhikkhus making vaguely worded statements about how meditation and prayer aren't really so different (hint: they're profoundly different), or Aquinas's theory of the soul and the Buddhist theory of no-soul aren't so different (hint: they're profoundly different), or even how how the Catholic creator god and Buddhism's mix of animism and atheism aren't really all that different (hint: they're profoundly different).

All such profundities are thrust aside for the chance to rub shoulders with the Catholics; and why? Do the Buddhist monks expect that some aura of authority, or Western acceptance of their tradition, will rub off on them by proximity?

Bhante, I would really like to challenge you to justify why you think it is appropriate to your role (as a monk, or simply as a "full-time Buddhist" generally) to show up and smear the (none-too-fine) distinctions between the religions, and roll out the whitewash and red carpet for one of the most infamous, brutal, corrupt organisations in the world (leaving aside the fact that it is a "false" religion), viz., Catholicism.

You may indeed recall the "Blind from Birth Sutta" --habitually mistranslated and misinterpreted on such occasions.

The flattery of Theravada monks seem to come cheap these days; the Japanese, the Chinese, and even the Catholics, seem to have no trouble rounding up flatterers in ochre robes, whenever they pay to fill up the teapot. I really think this is a striking (and shameful) contrast to the conduct of the Buddha himself in debating (and, indeed, confronting) other religions (and other philosophies) and the misconceptions their "faiths" presuppose.

P.S. Please don't "elaborate on the terms Unconditioned and Conditioned" --it is pretty well clear why you've fallen back on such abstruse and vague terms in seeking out a "common ground" with the religion that arrived in S.E. Asia with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other --and burned down so many libraries across Sri Lanka, and, indeed, the world.

jen said...

You wrote: "Monasticism may seem like an anachronism, but like I always say, in times like these if you're not an anachronism you're part of the problem."

Aren't there ANY forward-looking (i.e non-anachronistic) non-monastics that are contributing to the solution?

That's why the monastic community is tied to the lay community for basic requisites - so that there is a constant trickling of beings achieving liberation while SOMEONE stays behind to make the rice and bring in the water. Bodhisattvas come in handy that way...:-)

In any case, I think it'd be better to say: there is a problem and there is a solution, and, at this moment, the whole of us have not yet arrived.

Ajahn Punnadhammo said...

jen said...

"You wrote: "Monasticism may seem like an anachronism, but like I always say, in times like these if you're not an anachronism you're part of the problem."

Aren't there ANY forward-looking (i.e non-anachronistic) non-monastics that are contributing to the solution? "

I said "anachronistic" not "monastic." You can be thoroughly anachronistic as a lay person too.

Anonymous said...

Banthe, you've said: "it seems that the real practical differences concern the attitude toward the Conditioned". The christians see the world as sacred, because created by God.

The buddhists see the world as 'Samsara'. So, the world is the opposit of a sacred thing - only Nibbana could be sacred.

Well, the Mahayana schools seems to see the world as sacred too. Don't they?

The Mahayana is away too far from Theravada then the Catholic Church and all the others christians?

Fernando said...

Hi, nice blog you have here. I'm making one also, but in spanish, and not just buddhism, but other related things like psichology for example.

I'm wondering as others did ask you, what did you mean by the unconditioned, I'm trying to think what can that be, may be is the emptyness, the voidness? The real nature of the mind, like the nature of budhahood?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts...

Best wishes,

Fernando.