White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

An Abbatial Instruction: A Monk's Reminder

Peace be with you.

Being a monk, sitting zazen, following the Holy Rule, and bringing our practice into the world, we realize the Earth as our monastery, the school of the Lord's service as St. Benedict described the monastery. The Rule speaks at length about humility, obedience, and service. What follows may serve as yet another vehicle for us to constantly examine our habits, our way of doing things.

Through zazen and bringing the Rule into our daily life as we inter-related with our Sisters and Brothers, be they our spouses, children, co-workers, family members, friends, and strangers we unfold a presence of selflessness.

As Mark Episetin, M.D., in his Thoughts without a Thinker, (although not currently on the reading list, I highly recommend it), we find that Selflessness is NOT:

  1. liberation from all constraints of thought,logic, rationality.
  2. indulgent or acting out emotions thoughtlessly.
  3. returning to a childlike forthrightness (childishness).
  4. forgetting the ego.
  5. some kind of oneness or merger (an ecstatic union, simultaneously forgetting the self and identifying with the surroundings nor a symbiotic and undifferentiated union with no troubling emotions).
  6. annihilation of emotions.
  7. controlling, managing, or suppressing emotions.
  8. subjugation to a higher power (thinly disguised masochism where the reality of God/Teacher/Guru is accepted and revered and the self is denied).
  9. egolessness as a developmental stage beyond ego.
  10. disavowal or disowning or pushing aside troubling emotions (emotions being a stage a person goes through, not left behind).
  11. transcending ego, eliminating something real.
  12. an "empty mind" free of thoughts or intellectual vacuity.
  13. a refutation of all views, dismissing the meaningless of language, or being devoid of any conviction or holding no views, knowing nothing, and forgetting all learning.
  14. "AHHHH, this is the real me!"

We read that Selflessness IS:

  1. non judgmental awareness.
  2. realizing essential groundlessness for what it always has been, i.e., essentially groundless.
  3. knowing that self-representation lacks concrete existence.
  4. identifying as nonexistence that which always has been nonexistent.
  5. knowing "self" as something that never did exist.
  6. subjugating (sourcing), rather than suppressing (forcing down) or sublimating (diverting), emotions.
  7. learning to experience emotions in a new way.
The opposite of selflessness is self-indulgence. Our society generally encourages self-indulgence — the more the better. In the monastery we acknowledge each other as one in Christ. In the subway, would we push one another to get in or to get that seat before anyone else? In the monastery, we serve one another. In the world, would we take from one another? A change of heart, a change in behavior, a change in the world — letting ourselves be compassionate lets the world be more compassionate. If there is a question: WHY be a monk? the answer is: to let the world be a more compassionate place.

As a White Robed Monk of St. Benedict, our practice is not about isolating ourselves in some monastic compound, dwelling in supposed idyllic tranquility while rejecting the hustle and bustle of the world. Our practice is to manifest Compassionate Presence in everything we do so that the secular is indeed the sacred. (p. 169)* We realize Zen Master Dogen's meaning when he wrote "Those who regard secular life as an obstacle to the sacred know only that there is sacredness in secular activities, they do not yet know that no secular activities exist in the sacred." (p, 179)

Just as clouds and water do as they are wont with the Earth, so too does a White Robed Monk of St. Benedict, an unsui. In the Rule we read:

"They have come through the test of the desert. They have passed beyond optimism, pessimism, and mysticism. They know that silence is the total manifestation of our whole personality. Being so, they are like clouds and water.They are able to wander across the world as free as a cloud, educating or bringing-out from others Truth. They live in the monastery of the world — in the world and not of it. As water, they have the strength to wash away every mountain that may stand in their way. They do not instruct or train others. They instruct only themselves. Thus, they attain the mind of The Word, not leaning backward or forward in response to people or things. The Word responds to people and things, concealing nothing of its own. Therefore, they are able to deal with people and things without injury to their reality, for the benefit of one and all. In short, they do not possess fame nor are they storehouses of schemes. They do not take over the function of things, nor are they the master of knowledge. They personally realize the infinite to the highest degree and travel in the realm of which there is no sign. They exercise fully what they have received from the Father and Mother and Son without any subjective viewpoint. In one word, they are empty, still and thus able to contain all. They are still and know God. (Ps<46>:10)."

In short, the White Robed Monk of St. Benedict is free: he or she has responsibilities and obligations. The responsibilities and obligations do not have the person. They have merged unity and difference as described by Shitou Xiqian (Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien (709-788) in Can Tong Qi:

"The mind of the great sage of India is intimately communicated between east and west. People's faculties may be keen or dull but in the path there are no southern or northern ancestors. The spiritual source shines clearly in the light. The branching streams flow in the darkness.

Grasping things is basically delusion. Merging with principle is still not enlightenment. Each sense and every field interact and do not interact. When interacting they also merge, otherwise, they remain in their own states. Forms are basically different in material and appearance. Sounds are fundamentally different in pleasant or harsh quality. Darkness is a word for merging upper and lower. Light is an expression for distinguishing pure and defiled.

The four gross elements return to their own natures like a baby taking to its mother. Fire heats. Wind moves. Water wets. Earth is solid. Eye and form, ear and sound, nose and smell, tongue and taste. Thus, in all things the leaves spread from the root. The whole process must return to the source.

Noble and base are only manners of speaking right. In light there is darkness, but don't confront it as darkness. Right in darkness there is light, but don't see it as light. Light and dark are relative to one another — like forward and backward steps. All things have their function. It is a matter of use in the appropriate situation.

Phenomena exist like box and cover. Joining principle accords like arrow points meeting. Hearing the words you should understand the source. Don't make up standards on your own. If you don't understand the path as it meets your eyes, how can you know the way? As you walk, progress is not a matter of far or near. But if you are confused, mountains and rivers block the way. I humbly say to those who study the mystery, don't waste time."

With Earth as our monastery, we take to heart the ancient symbol of the Lotus Flower. If we planted the lotus in clear water, it would die. "The lotus can live only in mud and decay — in the midst of things breaking down. Heaven is earth (The Kingdom of heaven is at-hand. Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:7. Mark 1:15; Luke 21:31.) Earth is necessary for heaven, they are co-dependent entities. In the midst of the fire of greed, anger, and ignorance of the world, the lotus blooms. This is our practice. This is home practice ... The fire burns, the lotus blooms. Indeed, it is because the fire burns that the lotus blooms." (p. 207)

Only-just-sit.

"But even through they live at home, and remain among wordily cares, they are like lotuses, which are not soiled by the mud in which they grow, are liked jewels, which are immune to contamination by dust. Even though there are karmic conditions (i.e., the human condition), so they have spouses, or children, they consider them without attachment. They do not covet anything, like the moon suspended in the sky. Like a ball rolling on a tray, they live in a noisy city, and see the one who is leisurely in the three times of past, future, and present. They clarify the fact that they are timeless, they realize that exterminating the passions is a sickness, that aiming at ultimate reality is wrong. Both (heaven and earth) are illusions, and they are not attached to either enlightenment or the passions." (Vimalakirti Sutra) (p. 214)

Only-just-sit.

"Non-attachment is not about not caring, or not loving, or not doing. It is just non-attachment. Not holding on. Not attempting to control or manipulate. Not sticking .... It is alive and vital, functioning freely. What is yourself? Is it body? Is it mind? Is it neither body nor mind? Is it both body and mind? Self is an idea. It does not exist. We create it, moment to moment to moment. Whatever we hold on to creates a self ... It is not until we are really free of our attachments that we realize the complete falling away of body and mind. The true self. The ground of reality." (p. 218f)

"And what about us who follow Christ? Ibsen's Peer Gynt represents us when we asks: 'Where is my true self that came from the hand of God?' We may imagine Jesus answering Peer Gynt, and through him us: 'Your true self is found in every word that comes from the mouth of God.' Our true self is given to us moment by moment. We live, we find ourselves, to the extent that moment by moment we turn to the will of God. And to the extent that we turn from the will of God to something else we have imagined (as our delusions, illusions, and allusions), we cease to exist. ... If in prayer and in life, moment by moment, we turn from self preoccupation to the Kingdom of God, we will have the joy promised to those for whom Christ grows greater and greater, and the 'self' less and less... Listen to the Muslim mystic, Al-Bistami:

"For thirty years God was my mirror,
now I am my own mirror.
What I was I no longer am, for 'I'
and 'God' are a denial of God's unity.
Since I no longer am, God is his own
mirror. He speaks with my tongue, and
I have vanished."**

Be still and know that I am God.
(Ps<46>:10)

Only-just-sit.

Thank you.

Peace and Joy to you and yours!

Footnotes

* Page notations in parenthesis refer to The Eight Gates of Zen: Spiritual Training in an American Zen Monastery by John Daido Loori (New York: Dharma Communications, 1992).

**from Robert F. Kennedy, SJ; Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit: The Place of Zen in Christian Life. New York : Continuum, 1995; p 63f.)


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