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Benedict’s Dharma

James Wiseman Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin

The book Benedict’s Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of Saint Benedict was pub- lished by Riverhead Books in the late summer of 2001. Several years in the making, the volume was edited by Patrick Henry, director of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. It contains the reflections of four Buddhist authors—Norman Fischer, Joseph Goldstein, Judith Simmer-Brown, and Yifa— on selected parts of the Rule of Saint Benedict and has already met with such success that plans are underway to have it translated into several foreign languages. To coincide with the publication of the book, the Monastic Interreligious Dia- logue (MID) board decided to hold a conference at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana, from September 21–23, 2001. Originally all four of the Buddhist authors had intended to come, but in light of the terrorist attacks of Sep- tember 11, Norman Fischer and Joseph Goldstein felt it was more important that they remain with their own communities during those days. However, Judith Sim- mer-Brown and Yifa did attend, along with more than a hundred other persons. The attendees included Father Patrick Barry, the former abbot of Ampleforth Abbey in England, who is currently residing at St. Louis Abbey in Missouri. His sensitive trans- lation of the Rule of Saint Benedict is included as an appendix to Benedict’s Dharma. On the opening evening, Father William Skudlarek, OSB, the chair of the MID board, extended a warm welcome to those attending and then introduced Patrick Henry, who served as moderator of the entire conference. Brother David Steindl- Rast, OSB, who had worked closely on the project from its inception and had writ- ten an afterword to the book, spoke on the Rule of Benedict as a “trellis,” which is the root meaning of the Latin and Greek words translated as “rule.” Just as a trellis in a garden provides a structure for the plant climbing on it, so does the Rule of Saint Benedict establish a framework on which a life can grow. Brother David’s talk was followed by the assigning of “dyads,” groups of two participants each; the pairs would use allotted times during the conference for dialogue about matters raised in the gen- eral sessions. The next day, Saturday, September 22, began with sitting meditation in the mon- astery chapel, followed by the service of Morning Praise with the resident commu- nity of Benedictine sisters. Various other activities were in the conference schedule,



but especially prominent were talks given by Christian monastics as their responses to the book out of their own experience of living according to the Benedictine Rule. The first of these talks was given by Sister Sarah Schwartzberg of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Her assigned topic was the section of the book Ben- edict’s Dharma dealing with the themes of “freedom and forgiveness.” Following a late-morning Eucharist and lunch, two presentations were made in the afternoon:

Abbot Francis Cline, OCSO, of Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina, reflected on “dis- cipline and spontaneity,” and Father Columba Stewart, OSB, of Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, spoke on the part of the book focusing on “tradition and adaptation.” Those attending the conference again joined the resident community for vespers in the monastery chapel and then, after dinner, heard Father James Wise- man, OSB, of Saint Anselm’s Abbey in Washington, D.C., speak on the themes of leadership and humility” as these had been treated by the Buddhist authors in the last section of the book. The Sunday schedule began in a way similar to that of Saturday, with morning talks by the Buddhist scholar the Venerable Heng Sure and the MID chair Father Skudlarek. After Eucharist, Judith Simmer-Brown made some extemporaneous clos- ing remarks to thank persons who had worked so hard to make the entire project a success. She also expressed pleasant surprise at how positively the book had been received. In her own words, “I think I speak for all the Buddhist commentators in saying that we are astonished at the kind of response we have received to reflections that we did out of our own pleasure and a desire to deepen our understanding of our

own practice, traditions, and contemplative

wonderful, but I find myself still astonished that there could be benefit from some- thing that was such an enjoyable process.” The entire conference then concluded with an outdoor ceremony called “dedica- tion of merit.” While some who had registered found themselves unable to come because of flight cancellations in the aftermath of September 11, all those present expressed deep appreciation for what they had experienced during their days together. Further details about the conference, including the complete texts of the various talks, may be found at the MID Web site: <>.

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