Volume XII:2 July - December 2022
Dōgen Kigen (1200 - 1253)
Dōgen Kigen (1200 - 1253)
A Paradoxical Detachment
The Resonance of Early Christian Monastic Witness
with Dōgen’s Zen Vision of shukke 
English translation of the Italian original: “Un paradossale distacco. Risonanze monastiche cristiane alla visione zen di shukke in Dōgen”, in La dimensione mondana e il distacco. Zen e le altre tradizioni religiose a confronto, edited by Anna Maria Shinnyo Marradi, Ikuko Sagiyama, and Aldo Tollini (Milano-Udine: Mimesis, 2022), pp. 189-205. 


The concept of fuga mundi that characterizes Christian monasticism finds important consonances with the Zen Buddhist vision of “abandonment of the world” (shukke 出家) elaborated by Dōgen. This study juxtaposes voices from Christian monastic sources with some passages from the Shōbōgenzō and Dōgen’s other works in an interweaving of related themes. Emerging from this juxtaposition of teachings peculiar to each Way are fruitful resonances of a common monastic aspiration to understand and practice an authentic “spirituality of detachment” capable of educating people for a life in the world that is liberated from the enslaving power of worldliness.


La fuga mundi qui caractérise le monachisme chrétien trouve des consonances importantes avec la vision bouddhiste zen de “ l’abandon du monde “ (shukke 出家) élaborée par Dōgen. À certains passages du Shōbōgenzō et d’autres de ses œuvres, cette contribution juxtapose des voix de sources monastiques chrétiennes dans un entrelacement de thèmes connexes. Des résonances fructueuses émergent, spécifiques à chaque Voie, d’une quête monastique commune visant à comprendre et à pratiquer une authentique “spiritualité du détachement”, capable d’éduquer à une vie dans le monde libérée du pouvoir asservissant de la mondanité.



If you once penetrate by detachment and purity of heart
to the inner secret of the ground of your ordinary experience,
you attain to a liberty that nobody can touch, that nobody can affect […].
Somewhere behind our [Christian] monasticism, and behind Buddhist monasticism,
is the belief that this kind of freedom and transcendence is somehow attainable
(Merton 1975, p. 324, emphasis added).


For spiritual seekers, be they Christians or followers of other religious traditions, “detachment from the world” is a complex and multifaceted—one might even say ambiguous and insidious—component of the spiritual life. Its complexity, ambiguity, and insidiousness have always been acknowledged and reported in the spiritual texts of all the different religious paths of the world. Detaching oneself from the world is a pursuit that borders on the impossible but is at the same time necessary for the very survival of the spiritual life. It is necessary to find a balance between living in the world and distancing oneself from a spirit of worldliness that is not open to the eternal and is therefore deadly. To find this balance, what is needed is the kind of “right relationship” that is found in the double movement of “rejecting everything on the one hand and concurring with everything on the other,” as Christian Bobin succinctly put it in his general rather than strictly religious treatment of “detachment from the world” (Bobin 2005, p. 9).

The theme of detachment lies at the heart of every human, spiritual, and religious quest because it concerns freedom, that is, a free relationship with one’s “self” and a free, loving, and lifegiving openness in one’s relationship with others. The theme of detachment is especially central to the path of those who, like the monastic, also want to recognize and reject the deceptions of the world’s appearances in order to gain access to the truth of a radically authentic life that is as transparent and free from compromise as possible. “Detachment from the world” deeply engages such seekers. It challenges the gravitational force of the attachment of the “I” to the world and of the world to the “I.” It involves an arduous struggle against our “constant efforts to put the entire world at the service of our little ‘ego’” (Bobin 2005, p. 13). The monastic is well aware that such an ego-centric drive can pervert the asceticism of right detachment into indifference, resignation, or even contempt for the world, all of which are merely other ways the “ego” asserts itself.

Over the course of centuries, Christian monastic, ascetic, and spiritual authors have reflected deeply on the Christian practice of detachment and are thus able to offer a word of wisdom that can provide helpful practical advice even to those who are not monastics or follow other religious paths.[1] The way I have chosen to relate some traits of this rich Christian monastic tradition is to do so from the perspective of resonance, that is, of “spiritual harmonies” that are created when the Christian monastic vision is brought into dialogue with some passages in which Dōgen Kigen 道元希玄 (1200-1253), the great master of Zen and founder of the Sōtō 曹洞 school in Japan, speaks of “abandonment of the world” (shukke 出家) in his major work, the Shōbōgenzō 正法眼蔵,[2] and in his other teachings. Unlike a naïve, improper, and sometimes even harmful concordism, this approach rests on a dialogical (and theological) conviction that was best expressed by Edmond Pezet (1923-2008), a Belgian priest who devoted his life to attending to the resonances between Christianity and Buddhism in Thailand:

In the frank companionship of the two Paths [i.e., Christianity and Buddhism], free from any compromise through sentimental and facile conciliation, would there not be immense benefit merely from discovering points of closeness of experience through an attitude of humble and patient listening on both sides and allowing lengthy silences to mature? Would there not be mutual enrichment from certain aspects of profound spiritual attitude which may be more explicit in one Path than in the other? Who can say how far one might travel down such a road? (Pezet 2012, p. 313).


“I cannot be at the same time”: Detachment that is necessary and authentic

The earliest Buddhist and Christian monastic texts speak of a radical “alternative” phenomenon of flight, separation, and detachment to describe what characterizes monastic life. In both monastic traditions, the monk’s first and essential act is an exodus from a previous situation. “Separation from the world” defines the identity of both the Buddhist and the Christian monk (Boisvert 1992; Wijayaratna 2002, pp. 37-69).

Buddhist literature speaks of this separation in terms of pravrajyā or pravrajita (pāli pabbajjā), literally “going away,” “abandoning,” or “coming out of.” These terms imply that such an exodus is a separation from and renunciation of the civilized world, with its social obligations and family ties. The Sino-Japanese translation of the Sanskrit term makes this meaning explicit: 出家 (Chinese chujia, Japanese shukke) literally means “leaving home,” “abandoning the family.” The lives of Śākyamuni Buddha and the patriarchs model this understanding of separation.

Firmly grounded in the tradition that defines the monk as one who is “self-exiled” from the world, Dōgen offers his reflections to the monks of Eiheiji 永平寺 in the chapters of the Shōbōgenzō in which he addresses leaving the world (“Shukke” 出家, 1246), in those he devotes to meritorious virtues of leaving the world (“Shukke-kudoku” 出家功徳, 1255),[3] and also in passages from his other works (Pulido Moyano 2020).

Dōgen’s first and most fundamental admonition centers on the capital importance of “abandoning the world,” understood as a necessity for entering the monastic order. “Abandoning the world” can also to be taken, as some translators suggest, in a broader sense to mean what is required “to transcend the values of secular society” (Nishijima – Cross 2007- 2008, vol. IV, p. 153, n. 2), “to letting go of worldly values” (Nearman 2007, p. 898):

Clearly know, the buddhas’ and the patriarchs’ realization of the truth is nothing other than their leaving family life and receiving the precepts. The lifeblood of the buddhas and the patriarchs is nothing other than their leaving family life and receiving the precepts. Someone who has not left family life is never a Buddhist patriarch. To see the buddhas and to see the patriarchs is to leave family life and to receive the precepts. […]

In the Buddha’s teaching just to leave family life is fundamental, and that which has not left family life is not the Buddha-Dharma. […]

Someone might ask, in conclusion, “How important is the virtue of leaving family life?” I would say to that person, “As important as your head!” (Shōbōgenzō 83, trans. Nishijima – Cross 2007-2008, vol. IV, pp. 148, 150-151).

The necessity, articulated here by Dōgen,[4] of abandoning the “world” from which we come, in which we are immersed and held hostage, is also prominent the Christian monastic tradition, which for centuries has succinctly described the monastic vocation in terms of “detachment/distance/separation from the world.”

While the most common expression in ancient monastic literature is “renunciation” (apotaghé or apótaxis) of the world, the term most widely adopted throughout the history of Christian monasticism is “flight” from the world (fuga mundi, fuga saeculi). The demands to flee society and to choose the solitude of the desert are unconditional in the apophthegmata of the desert monks of the early centuries.

While still living in the palace, Abba Arsenius prayed to God in these words, “Lord, lead me in the way of salvation.” And a voice came saying to him, “Arsenius, flee from men and you will be saved.”

Having withdrawn to the solitary life he made the same prayer again and he heard a voice saying to him, “Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness” (Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection, Arsenius 1-2, trans. Ward 1975, p. 9, emphasis added).

It was clear to the desert ascetics that this separation was solely the necessary consequence of giving priority to God. Another apophthegma makes it clear that it was not meant to harm communion:

Abba Mark said to Abba Arsenius, “Why do you avoid us?” The old man said to him, “God knows that I love you, but I cannot live with God and with men” (Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection, Arsenius 13, trans. Ward 1975, p. 11).

Also widespread in the ancient monastic tradition is the terminology of “anachoresis” (anachóresis), or “retreat” to a secluded place (see, for example, Basil of Caesarea, The Long Rules 6, trans. Wagner 1962, pp. 245-247). If such a retreat, which took various forms of separation from the world, involved physical distancing from the city, it was especially and most profoundly a resolve “to uproot passions completely from the soul,” as Basil himself states (Letters 2,trans. Way 1951, p. 7).

But the most spiritually fruitful term is certainly “foreignness” (xeniteía), which indicates becoming estranged from the world in order to live in a different way. Without physically leaving one’s homeland, that is, one’s “origin,” one cannot be re-born into one’s new monastic identity. However, the spiritual and inner attitude of xeniteía is more important than material abandonment. According to some desert fathers, it was not necessary to go very far from one’s homeland in order to “be a stranger.” However, the monk, while living in this world and loving humanity, the earth, and creation, does not look upon the earth as a homeland, as an ultimate goal (Guillaumont 1979; McGuckin 2000). In his rule for monasteries, Benedict of Nursia takes up the legacy of monasticism that preceded him and sets out a wise balance between separation from the world and openness to it (Böckmann 1984). He summarizes the need to be estranged from the world in the exhortation: “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way” (saeculi actibus se facere alienum: Rule of Benedict 4:20, trans. Fry 1982, p. 27). He then indicates that the reason for this is because “the love of Christ must come before all else” (nihil amori Christi praeponere: ibid. 4:21, trans. Fry 1982, p. 27).

Returning to Dogen, we are struck by the audacious perceptivity he exhibits in two other works, Eihei kōroku 永平広録 and Shōbōgenzō zuimonki 正法眼蔵隨聞記, when he praises genuine renunciates who have abandoned the world with integrity and righteous intention, and denounces those false renunciates who have only apparently, partially, or outwardly abandoned the world:

Those who appear as home-leavers but do not have the strong aspiration of home-leavers are not truly home-leavers (Eihei kōroku 8, “Hōgo” 法語  5, trans. Leighton – Okumura 2010, p. 507).[5]

Some people seem to have abandoned the world and left their homes. Nevertheless, when examining their actions, they still haven’t truly left home, or renounced the world (Shōbōgenzō zuimonki 5:20, trans. Okumura – Wright 1988, p. 191).

No monk or nun attains it [i.e., the Way] unless he or she has the mind of one who has left home. […] If you abandon the world, you should abandon it completely (ibid. 3:2, trans. Okumura – Wright 1988, p. 111).

Here, too, we find important resonances in those passages of Christian monastic literature that denounce the incongruity of choosing to renounce the world without abandoning a worldly way of thinking and acting:

Amma Synklētikē said, “There are many in mountains [i.e., monastics] acting like city dwellers who are perishing and many in cities doing the deeds of the desert who are being saved” (Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Systematic Collection 2:27, trans. Wortley 2012, p. 21).

So what is the world? It is sin, brethren, and attachment to things and passions. […] If we, then, who have left all the world behind and fled from it and have become naked do not beware of these things, what would it profit us merely to have withdrawn [from the world]? (Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses 5, trans. De Catanzaro 1980, p. 109).


“Being emptied of the world”: Dis-occupied and re-oriented

Continuing his reflection in the chapter “The Merit of Leaving Family Life,” Dōgen presents an insightful and many-faceted treatment of the excellence of abandoning the world with respect to family life. Resonating with particular intensity is the passage in which he speaks about the immediate reason the monk leaves the world, doing so in both body and mind, which in the non-dualist view of Zen constitute a unity (shinjin 身心),

Although both [laypeople and monks] can attain salvation, still there is difficulty and ease. Laypeople’s livelihoods have all sorts of jobs and duties; if they want to concentrate their minds on the truth and the Dharma, their trade will deteriorate; and if they concentrate on practicing their trade, matters pertaining to the truth will deteriorate.

They should be able to practice the Dharma without selecting and without abandoning [one or the other], which is called “difficult.” If we leave family life and part from secular society, to eradicate miscellaneous irritations and disturbances, and to concentrate the mind solely on practice of the truth, is called “easy.” Further, family life, being disorderly and noisy, with many jobs and many duties, is the root of hindrances and the seat of many sins. It is called “very difficult.” If we leave family life, we are like, for example, a person going off to stay in a deserted place, among empty fields, and making the mind whole so that there is no mind and no concern: we are already rid of inner thoughts, and external matters also have departed (Shōbōgenzō86, trans. Nishijima – Cross 2007-2008, vol. IV, pp. 177-178).

We hear Dōgen’s final warning in another translation of Shōbōgenzō where he writes, “Our heart is as one, being beyond intentions and beyond fear. Our expectations have already been removed. And our wayward ways have also departed” (Nearman 2007, p. 905). With these words, he indicates that a liberated and dis-occupied spirit is the aim of detachment, and the way he describes such a spirit resonates with what Christian monastic literature calls undistracted stillness (hesychía) and the absence of passionate impulses and worldly concerns (apátheia or amerimnía). Moreover, Dōgen’s expression “unified mind” or “one heart” (isshin 一心) cannot fail to evoke obvious correspondences with similar expressions found in Christian monastic literature that point to an “undivided heart” as the proper trait of the monachós, the “unified.”

Abandonment of the world, then, is not so much nor is it only physical distance from the outside world; it is primarily inner distance from one’s “self.” “As a monk who has left home, first you must depart from your ego,” Dōgen states in Shōbōgenzō zuimonki 5:20 (trans. Okumura –Wright 1988, p. 191). There must also be a distancing from the mushrooming activity of thought and mind:

To shave one’s head and dye one’s clothes are just to convert one’s mind and to enlighten one’s mind. To scale the city walls and go into the mountains [i.e., to leave home and become a monk] is to leave one mind and enter another mind. […] That the world is being abandoned is “non-thinking” (Shōbōgenzō 37: “Shinjin-gakudō” 身心學道, trans. Nishijima – Cross 2007-2008, vol. II, p. 306).[6]

In the vision and experience of Christian monasticism, distance from the outside world is also oriented to taking another, equally necessary but far more difficult kind of distancing, namely, detaching oneself from the inner world, the seat of enslaving attachments and self-centered thoughts (loghismoí),[7] in order to be able to convert, purify, and evangelize one’s own mind-heart:

One cannot approach God unless one turns away from the world. [...] I do not speak of detachment from the body, but from that which is his. Here is what is excellent: to be in one’s thinking empty of the world! As long as the senses are occupied with the things [of the world], the heart cannot find rest from their illusions. Without the desert and without a desolate place, the passions are not quenched nor do evil thoughts cease (Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Discourses. First Collection 1:3, trans. Chialà 2021, p. 48).

The fathers repeatedly remind us that the asceticism of emptying/purifying the mind-heart is so arduous that it can sometimes happen that the distance between the “outer monk” and the “inner monk” becomes tragically wide:

The one who renounces the passionate representations […] makes a monk of the inner person, that is, of the mind. Anyone can easily make a monk of the outer man if he really wishes to, but it is no small struggle to make a monk of the inner man (Maximos the Confessor, The Four Hundred Chapters on Love 4:50, trans. Berthold 1985, pp. 80-81).

For Dōgen, the moment of leaving the world does not take place at a point in time. Instead, it is the entry into another, unconventional dimension of space-time in which there is no longer any separation between practice and enlightenment. Leaving the world is a particular expression of the unity of practice and enlightenment (shushō ichinyo 修証一如). For Dōgen, “‘leaving home life’ is simultaneously to sit face-to-face with the Buddha (i.e., achieve enlightenment)” (Bender 2020, p. 56) . Thus, breaking with family/social ties and abandoning the world are not just a prelude to spiritual realization, they are spiritual realization. Those who have taken these steps it are, in Dōgen’s words, “nets and cages are broken open.”

The supreme state of bodhi [“enlightenment”] is perfectly satisfied at the time of leaving family life and receiving the precepts. It never becomes perfect on a day other than the day of leaving family life. […] This leaving family life, which is to somersault, is the turning of the splendid Dharma wheel. […]

Remember, in truth, that the day of leaving family life is beyond unity and difference. […] On the day we leave family life, we abide in the ocean of infinite kalpas[8] and turn the splendid wheel of Dharma. […] The day of leaving family life has transcended already the day of leaving family life. And though this may be so, when nets and cages are broken open, the day of leaving family life is just the day of leaving family life, and the day of realizing the truth is just the day of realizing the truth (Shōbōgenzō 83, trans. Nishijima – Cross 2007-2008, vol. IV, p. 149).

For Dōgen this “somersault,” i.e., the abandonment of the world that is the door for entering into “emptiness” (śūnyatā), is itself the practice and realization of “emptiness.” For the Christian monk as well, distancing oneself from the world is the door for entry into an “emptiness,” a “being empty of the world,” that enables one to acquire the ways of Christ and assimilate the thoughts of God. For both Buddhists and Christians, the monk’s “going out of the house” has no other meaning and purpose than to be the doorway to another house: for the Buddhist, the house of the Buddha, forgetting oneself and becoming non-dual with the Buddha-Dharma (cf. Shōbōgenzō 92: “Shōji” 生死);[9] for the Christian, the kingdom of God, “making room” for it within oneself, becoming the existential “empty space” that allows the Lord to dwell within oneself (cf. Matthew 19:11-12) and thus become one with the Lord (cf. Galatians 2:20). Stripped of the “world” and of “self,” the monk is now re-oriented toward another goal: to be clothed with Christ (cf. Galatians 3:27).


“Sweetening the wildness”: Not of the world but with and for the world

For Dōgen, the realization of truth is the realization of the non-duality of the “I” and the “world.” Therefore leaving family life and encountering the Buddha-Dharma coincide with the realization that there is nothing more to leave behind that is of the order of “me” or “mine.”

To meet the Dharma of the buddhas and to leave family life is the most excellent effect and result. Its method is neither for the sake of me, nor for the sake of mine, nor for the sake of body and mind: it is not that body and mind leave family life. The truth that leaving family life is beyond me and mine is like this. Because it is beyond me and mine, it may be the method of the buddhas. It is simply the usual method of the buddhas. Because it is the usual method of the buddhas, it is beyond me and mine and beyond body and mind. It is beyond comparison with the triple world (Shōbōgenzō 86, trans. Nishijima – Cross 2007-2008, vol. IV, p. 191).

On the basis of the concept of “interdependence” and making his own the words of the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, Dōgen goes so far as to state that “the inherent nature of leaving family life is ‘to have compassion for all living beings as if they were children’” (Shōbōgenzō  86, trans. Nishijima –Cross 2007-2008, vol. IV, p. 188).

This leaving family life itself causes innumerable sentient beings not to regress or to stray from the supreme state of bodhi. Remember, the situation in which self-benefit and benefiting others become perfectly satisfied at this concrete place […] is the leaving of family life and receiving of the precepts (Shōbōgenzō 83, trans. Nishijima – Cross 2007-2008, vol. IV, p. 149).[10]

Dōgen points to an intimate interconnection between self-benefit and the benefit of others as the outcome of a necessary distancing from the world realized in monastic life. That connection is fully consonant with the doctrine and experience of separation in Christian monasticism. Even though the concept of contemptus mundi has had a fair amount of success in the history of Christian spirituality, especially since the Middle Ages (Certeau et al. 1965), there is no doubt that from the earliest days of Christian monasticism there was perfect awareness that detachment is indeed necessary but can never be an expression of contempt for the world:

[Abba Theodore of Pherme] also said, “The man who has learnt the sweetness of the cell flees from his neighbour but not as though he despised him” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection, Theodore of Pherme 14, trans. Ward 1975, p. 76).

On the contrary, as Antoine Guillaumont has so well pointed out, monks experience the healing of their minds and hearts and the most radical way to purify and heal the mind and heart of the world:

The monk, the anchorite, is seen [...] as one who sustains the world, but in a paradoxical way, since monks are separated from the world. [...] This idea [...] is based on the principle, constantly recalled in ancient monastic literature [...], that in order to be able to heal others one must have healed oneself [...]. What one must be healed of are the passions, those “diseases of the soul” [...] caused and nourished by the objects of the world. Hence, in order to achieve healing, one must be removed from the world, from anachóresis. [...] Paradoxically, [...] the more monks are separated from the world, the more they are united to it and can become its support (Guillaumont 1996, p. 111).

Ephrem the Syrian offers us a concluding image that powerfully summarizes the universal fruit of the monk’s rightful detachment from the world. Just as John the Baptist, who in ancient monastic literature has often been taken as the prototype of the monk, “did not withdraw into the wilderness to become a wild man, but to sweeten in the wilderness the wildness of the inhabited land” (Commentary on Diatessaron 3:9, trans. Leloir 1966, p. 87), so monastics, by distancing themselves from the world to seek clarity in themselves, can help the world “to have a clearer vision” (Merton 1992, p. 153), and through their living otherwise “must be as trees which exist silently in the dark and by their vital presence purify the air” (ibid., p. 38).


A paradoxical detachment

The harmonic notes of Dōgen’s reflection on shukke also resonate deeply with a Christian reflection that in recent decades has sought to uncover the authentic meaning of detachment from the world for monastic life and beyond. In Dōgen’s view, “the whole institution of Zen monasticism is an attempt to overcome itself, […] it is an ‘ironic monasticism’ in that Zen monastic life takes in those persons ‘seeking enlightenment’ who have ‘left home life’ only to lead them to the overcoming of such practices” (Bender 2020, p. 57). For Dōgen there is no duality between practice and enlightenment, just as there is no duality between practitioner and world.

A vision such as this, one that transcends the separation of “self” and “world,” invites Christian monasticism to a biblical reformulation of its concept of the “world,” which has been universally redeemed by Christ (Hale 1971), and to rethink Christian and monastic life according to the evangelical paradox of being “in the world but not of the world” (cf. John 15:19; 17:14), to be present in the world in a way that conforms to the gospel and not to the world’s logic (cf. Romans 2:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but let yourselves be transformed by the renewal of your mind”) (Cantalamessa 2006).

A vision that transcends the separation of practice and enlightenment invites Christian monasticism to rediscover the primacy of grace over ascetic effort. “Abandoning the world” thus becomes nothing less than “abandoning the ‘I’” in a movement of stripping away that resonates with Dōgen’s “to let our own body and mind fall away” (shinjin datsuraku 身心脱落) (cf. Shōbōgenzō 3: “Genjō-kōan” 現成公案, trans. Nishijima – Cross 2007-2008, vol. I, p. 42). In doing so, one comes to the realization that the only true name for detachment is love, because only “love is detachment, self-forgetfulness” (Bobin 2005, p. 11). The monastic is drawn to imitate God, who so loved the world that he went out of himself to give himself, in Christ, to the world (cf. John 3:16), to imitate the Lord Jesus, who “emptied himself” (cf. Philippians 2:8), that is, by detaching himself from himself, he “loved his own who were in the world . . . loved them to the end” (John 13:1). The Christian monastic’s detachment, therefore, can only take this one form, that of unconditional love, that is, of true freedom. Fuga mundi cannot but take on—paradoxically—the form of fuga ad humanitatem, cannot but experience itself except as a way toward humanity, in a renewed choice for the world (Fernández-Miranda 2002).

Thomas Merton (1915-1968), the American Trappist monk who offered fundamental and unsurpassed reflections on rethinking Christian monastic life in relation to the world, offers us, as he did at the opening of this essay, the most definitive words with which to conclude our excursus, now that we have attended to the resonant echoes of Zen and Christian monastic voices:

As long as I imagine that the world is something to be “escaped” in a monastery—that wearing a special costume and following a quaint observance takes me “out of this world,” I am dedicating my life to an illusion. […]

Do we really choose between the world and Christ as between two conflicting realities absolutely opposed? Or do we choose Christ by choosing the world as it really is in him, that is to say, created and redeemed by him, and encountered in the ground of our own personal freedom and of our love? Do we really renounce ourselves and the world in order to find Christ, or do we renounce our alienated and false selves in order to choose our own deepest truth in choosing both the world and Christ at the same time? If the deepest ground of my being is love, then in that very love itself and nowhere else will I find myself, and the world, and my brother and Christ. It is not a question of either-or but of all-in-one. […]

The world cannot be a problem to anyone who sees that ultimately Christ, the world, his brother and his own inmost ground are made one and the same in grace and redemptive love (Merton 1966).

Translated by William Skudlarek



Bender, J.

2020     “Dōgen’s ‘Leaving Home Life’ (Shukke 出家): A Study of Aesthetic Experience and Growth in John Dewey and Dōgen,” in Philosophy East and West LXX:1, pp. 42-62.


Berthold, G.Ch. (trans.)

1985     Maximos Confessor, Selected Writings, Paulist Press, Mahwah (Nj).


Bobin, Ch.

2005     Il distacco dal mondo, Servitium, Sotto il Monte.


Böckmann, A.

1984     “Ouverture au monde et séparation du monde d’après la Règle de saint Benoît,” in Collectanea Cisterciensia XLVI:3, pp. 161-176.


Boisvert, M.

1992     “A Comparison of the Early Forms of Buddhist and Christian Monastic Traditions,” in Buddhist-Christian Studies 12, pp. 123-141.


Cantalamessa, R.

2006     “Nel mondo, ma non del mondo,” in S.M. González Silva (ed.), I frutti del cambiamento. A 40 anni dal “Perfectae caritatis,” Àncora, Milano, pp. 88-105.


Certeau, M. de, et al.

1965     Le mépris du monde. La notion de mépris du monde dans la tradition spirituelle occidentale, Les éditions du Cerf, Paris.


Chialà, S. (trans.)

2021     Isacco di Ninive, Discorsi ascetici. Prima collezione, Qiqajon, Magnano.


De Catanzaro, C.J. (trans.)

1980     Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses, Paulist Press, Mahwah (Nj).


Egender, N.

1961     “La séparation du monde dans le monachisme oriental,” in La separation du monde, Les éditions du Cerf, Paris, pp. 53-73.


Fernández-Miranda, R.

2002     “Fuga mundi versus fuga ad humanitatem,” in Nova et Vetera 53, pp. 29-49.


Fry, T. (trans.)

1982     The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, Liturgical Press, Collegeville (Mn).


Guillaumont, A.

1979     “Le dépaysement comme forme d’ascèse dans le monachisme ancien,” in Id., Aux origines du monachisme chrétien. Pour une phénomenologie du monachisme, Abbaye de Bellefontaine, Bégrolles-en-Mauges, pp. 89-116.

1996     “La séparation du monde dans l’Orient chrétien: ses formes et ses motifs,” in Id., Études sur la spiritualité de l’Orient chrétien, Abbaye de Bellefontaine, Bégrolles-en-Mauges, pp. 105-112.


Hale, R.P.

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[1] I would like to thank Br. Luigi d’Ayala Valva, a monk of Bose, for sharing with me an unpublished summary of his work on this topic, which I have found to be a valuable reference in the elaboration of this essay.

[2] Douglas K. Mikkelson’s comparative studies of “leaving the world” to enter monastic/religious life in Dōgen and Thomas Aquinas are especially helpful and enlightening. See Mikkelson 1996; 2005.

[3] “Shukke” and “Shukke-kudoku” constitute chapters 83 and 86, respectively, of the 95-chapter version of the Shōbōgenzō translated by Gudo Wafu Nishijima and Mike Chodo Cross, the translation that I refer to in this essay. In other translations “Shukke” and “Shukke-kudoku” correspond to different chapter numbers.

[4] Dōgen had already expressed this necessity assertively in the chapter “Sanjūshichi-bon-bodai-bunpō” 三十七品菩提分法 (“Thirty-seven Elements of Bodhi,” 1244): “None has succeeded to the right action of the Buddha-Dharma, and none has received the authentic transmission of the great truth of the Buddha-Dharma, without leaving family life. […] When we arrive at the truth, we inevitably leave family life” (Shōbōgenzō 73, trans. Nishijima – Cross 2007-2008, vol. IV, p. 14).

[5] Parallel to the “strong aspiration” Dōgen speaks of is monastic literature’s emphasis on the “burning desire” (epithymía) to follow Christ, the only force that can enable the monk to accomplish renunciation and make light of the toil required to accomplish it (see, for example, Basil of Caesarea, The Long Rules 8, trans. Wagner 1962, pp. 254-255).

[6] These words of Dōgen are echoed by those of Jiun Sonjia 慈雲尊者 (1718-1804), a master of the Shingon-risshū 真言律宗 school, in his teaching on the merits proper to the condition of one who has abandoned the world for the monastic life (“Shukke-kudoku,” 1764): “[He who has abandoned family life], when he meditates walking under the moon, his mind is surely emptied of the myriads of perceived objects; when he meditates sitting under a tree, all the teachings of enlightenment are revealed in his mind. [...] He himself does not know that he is a monk or even a human being. How could he care about gain or loss, truth or falsehood?” (trans. Rommeluère 2020).

[7]  According to Antoine Guillaumont, “in ascetic literature, the word ‘world’ comes to designate not an objective reality, external to human beings, but the set of impulses that evoke the objects of the world and their memory, that is, the passions” (Guillaumont 1996, p. 108).

[8] To express the duration of time in relation to the evolution of the different existing worlds, Indian culture developed the notions of kalpa and yuga, which were later assumed by Buddhist philosophy. Four cosmic eras (yuga) cycle through the life of the universe: production or formation, duration or maintenance, destruction, emptiness or reduction to a “remainder” that is necessary for the activation of the next cycle. Four yugas together form one mahāyuga; one thousand mahāyugas form one kalpa, or twelve hours of Brahmā’s life.

[9] “When we just let go of our own body and our own mind and throw them into the house of buddha, they are set into action from the side of buddha; then when we continue to obey this, without exerting any force and without expending any mind, we get free from life and death and become buddha” (trans. Nishijima – Cross 2007-2008, vol. IV, p. 300, emphasis added).

[10] The aforementioned Master Jiun Sonjia, in his short poem “Shukke-kudoku,” concludes by stating that the monk, by virtue of exiting the world, “becomes a field of merit for beings; the reason is that the monk is the embodiment of compassion. [...] All beings are the monk’s children. [In the monk] there is only compassion without any notion of enmity or affection, near or far” (trans. Rommeluère 2020).

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