Buddhists and Christian monastics share much in common

Joanne Kollasch, OSB Benedictine Bridge, Monastic Life Leave a Comment

gathering of monksPictured above: Mary David Walgenbach and Joanne Kollasch (back row, 4th and 5th from the right) joined members from a variety of Buddhist and Christian monastic traditions for Gethsemani Encounter IV at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky in May. Photo by Rev. Heng Sure. 

Bells ringing in a Benedictine monastery throughout the day are an unmistakable call. They mark the time for the community and guests to gather for common prayer, the Liturgy of Hours. Saint Benedict in his Rule titles this prayer “The Work of God,” and devotes several chapters to it.

For the monks and guests at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, the bells ring seven times a day—the first bell at 3:15 am for Vigils. Sister Mary David and I experienced the ringing bells first-hand while in the Abbey guest house. (Most of them. One of us managed to not hear the first bell all week!)

We, along with others from a variety of Buddhist and Christian monastic traditions, were attending the North American Commission for Monastic Interreligious Dialogue’s fourth Gethsemani Encounter, May 27-31, 2015 at the Abbey. The topic for dialogue was “Maturation in the Buddhist and Christian Monastic Traditions.” A short description of the topic as understood by the leaders follows:

Spiritual maturation is the intentional process of being engaged in a religious tradition with its practices, teachings and communal support in order to reach a certain goal.
The Gethsemani Encounter included lectures discussion, meditation, ritual and fellowship. In addition to the distinctive practices of the various communities, we found much we shared in common. In one discussion on formation I learned that preparation for both Buddhist and Christian candidates extends over five to seven years before one makes a final commitment to the community.The Abbey of Gethsemani was home to Thomas Merton from 1941 until his death in 1968. Merton was a prolific writer on contemplative life and prayer. In his later years he also wrote about race relations, violence, nuclear war and economic injustice, and he developed a deep ecumenical sensitivity.  (Information about Thomas Merton appears on the Abbey of Gethsemani website.)Before leaving the Abbey, I knelt at Thomas Merton’s grave in prayer and reflection. The words from a “Letter to Religious” by Pope Francis (November 21, 2014) came to mind: …instances, some long-standing, of inter-monastic dialogue involving the Catholic Church and certain great religious traditions… [and] …to consider what further steps can be taken towards greater mutual understanding and greater cooperation in the many common areas of service to human life.I concluded my reflection by thanking God for Thomas Merton and what Merton had begun over 50 years ago.

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