Dilatato Corde 4:1
January - June, 2014

22-24 OCTOBER 2013

We are not yet mature enough for dialogue, nor do we have an adequate vocabulary for it. We may use the same words, but their meaning is different. Our starting point has to be shared experience. [Dialogue] cannot be based only on words from books. The words of dialogue are words come from the life we share. These are the words that “work” when we engage in dialogue because they express a common experience rather than just ideas. . . . [We need] to learn how weighty words are and then be willing to speak the words of faith, even if we stammer as we do so. (Pierre Claverie, Bishop of Oran, Algeria) 

Christian: Fr. William Skudlarek (DIMMID general secretary, Fujimi); Br. Matteo Nicolini-Zani (Italian DIM coordinator, Bose); fr. Giandomenico Placentino (Italian DIM secretary, Bose); Br. Benedetto Doni, OCist (Pra ‘d Mill); Br. Lorenzo Mauri OSB (Germagno); Br. Andrea Oltolina OSB (Dumenza); Br. Benigno Berthaut OSBoliv (Monte Oliveto); Br. Daniele Chiletti OCSO (Agliati); Br. Cesare Bovinelli OSB Cam (Fonte Avellana); Sr. Clelia Ruffinengo (S. Biagio, Mondovì); Sr. Luciana Mirjam Mele OSB (Lecce); Sr. Laura Natali OSB (Pontasserchio); Sr. Felicia Travaglino and Sr. Stella Maris OSB (Assisi); Sr. Chiara Angela Bianchini, Sr. Chiara Carla Cabras and Sr. Chiara Micaela Ferrari OSCCapp (Urbino); Sr. Chiara Francesca Lacchini, Sr. Agnese Pucci and Sr. Maria Teresa Madeddu OSC Capp (Fabriano); Sr. Stefania Monti and Sr. Michela Argiolas OSC Capp (Rome). 

Buddhist: Ven. Losan Gompo (Raffaello Longo, Istituto Lama Tsong Khapa, Pomaia), Ven. Guglielmo Doryu Cappelli (Centro Zen Anshin, Rome), Ven. Elena Seishin Viviani (Enku Dojo, Turin).  

Hindu: Sv. Hamsananda, Sv. Priyananda, Sv. Atmananda and Sv. Durgadayananda (Gitananda Ashram, Altare).  

Taoist: Ven. Li Xuan Zong (Vincenzo di Ieso, Chiesa Taoista d’Italia, Caserta).  

Muslim: Imam Yahya Sergio Pallavicini (Co.Re.Is. italiana, Rome-Milan).  

Guests: Fr. Indunil Janakaratne (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue), Prof. Paolo Trianni (Pontificia Università Gregoriana and Pontificio Ateneo Sant’Anselmo, Rome), Prof. Laurence Koppe (Fonte Avellana), Mr. Paolo Gherardini (Centro Interreligioso, Agliati). 


Tuesday, October 22, 2013 

Over the course of the afternoon thirty participants arrived at the Camaldolese monastery of Fonte Avellana from different parts of Italy. For many it was a long journey. The monastery is located in a remote but magnificent setting in the Umbria-Marche Apennines. It was founded by hermits around the turn of the millennium and once presided over by Saint Peter Damian.  

After vespers and dinner, we were welcomed by the prior of Fonte Avellana, Don Gianni Giacomelli. He spoke of interreligious dialogue as interhuman dialogue and emphasized the prophetic character of interreligious dialogue in today’s world. Introductions then followed, especially of those who were taking part in the meeting for the first time.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 

Wednesday morning began with a period of Zen meditation in the ancient scriptorium of the monastery led by Guglielmo Doryu and Elena Seishin, and then lauds with the Camaldolese community. The day’s session began with the coordinator’s presentation on the meaning, purpose, and method of our dialogue. We enter into dialogue in order to become better acquainted with one another and to become more aware of our specific monastic identities. Three things seem clear to those who hear the call “to become monks interreligiously”: 

Our monastic ”identity” is not static, not is it put in place once and for all. It is always becoming, always subject to change, always open to the future. 

Our discovery of diversity—of how different the other is from me, how different I am from the other, how different the world’s way of life is from ours—can bring about an immense feeling of gratitude and, at the same time, cause us to examine the way we are living our monastic life. 

Within our own “truth” and our monastic “traditions,” which call us to constant conversion, we accept encounter and dialogue as a challenge and experience it as a “blessed opportunity.”  

We have therefore decided to embark on a common ”pilgrimage” to rediscover our identity as spiritual seekers and as monks, and to find ways to tell each other who we are in order to come to a better understanding of ourselves and thus to become better Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist monks.

We set out on the first leg of this journey with the question “Whom do we identify as a monk in the various religious traditions?” In this first session, entitled “Monasticism as an Anthropological Phenomenon,” presentations were made by Giandomenico, Paolo, and Clelia.  

Our discussion was guided by a common conviction, expressly stated by Giandomenico and Paolo in their presentations: ”Because the monastic life is a human life, its goal is to enable the monk to become a fully developed and mature human being. Monasticism is a school of humanization” (Giandomenico). ”Since monasticism is a human reality—even before it is a religious one—it will have pre-denominational and over-arching characteristics that are common to every faith” (Paolo). But, as Paolo also reminded us, the connection between monasticism and anthropology is not immediately obvious. Indeed, some would find it rather strange to link the two. Monasticism is often regarded as a freely chosen lifestyle that at odds with normal human life. In certain secularized settings, monasticism is even seen as anti-human because monastic solitude, silence, obedience, chastity, and asceticism involve sacrificing some basic instincts.

It is therefore necessary to ask a more fundamental question: “Are there some elements that are always present when monasticism is looked at as an anthropological phenomenon?” 

Giandomenico responded to this question by pointing to the three identifying marks of Christian monasticism: marginality, celibacy, asceticism. These three elements are at the service of a fundamental monotropia, that is, a “striving towards a single purpose.” As Clelia pointed out in her presentation, this is how Panikkar defines a monk: “By ‘monk,’ I understand the person who aspires to achieve the ultimate goal of life with all his being, giving up everything that is not necessary and focusing on this one and only purpose.” 

Paolo helped us apply this perspective to other religious traditions through the contributions of philosophy and religious studies, giving special attention to Hinduism. He also noted that that there are a number of tensions that need to be addressed when, in an interreligious setting, we set out to portray monasticism as a universal human phenomenon: 

The tension between doing and being, between action and contemplation. Panikkar (cited by Clelia) said, “One does not become a monk to do something, or to get something, but to be.” Hence there is need for a better understanding of asceticism and what it means in different monastic observances. 

The tension between fuga mundi and immersion in the humanum, between incarnation and “acosmicism” between humanism and “angelism.” This tension is experienced differently in different forms of monasticism, but it is also an internal tension in each monastic tradition. At this point Yahya offered a contribution from the Islamic point of view: “With regard to detachment from the world, the Islamic tradition interprets the ‘desert’ as a process of distinguishing rather than separating, as detachment rather than contempt. The ‘monk’ contributes to a universal order of world and exerts a spiritual influence on the world.” 

Paolo concluded his presentation saying that “when we look at monasticism anthropologically and interreligiously, it is appropriate to make use Panikkar’s understanding of monasticism as a human archetype. The novelty of Panikkar’s approach to monasticism is that he does not understand it in opposition to our humanity, but as essential for the full realization of our humanity.” This was, in fact, why Clelia presented us with a selection of texts from Panikkar’s writings that express his vision of the monk. These texts portray the monastic archetype as the symbol of the fully human and give rise to the following two corollaries: 

Monasticism as a specific form of life (one characterized by celibacy, marginality, and asceticism) is essentially a humanizing way of life, an itinerarium libertatis. 

The essence and the goal of this way of life are open to everyone. That is to say, this way of life is not closed or turned in on itself—or worse still, self-referential. Rather, its otherness, its specific way of being, symbolizes a universal call to the fundamental “vocation” (destiny, ultimate purpose) of every human being: to become fully and authentically human. 

The ensuing hour of discussion was extremely articulate, rich, and stimulating—and therefore difficult to summarize. Among the issues raised, I believe the following are most deserving of further consideration: 

“The Monk is a person who experiences a thirst that is difficult to explain. It is both a summons and a response. When you arrive at the top of the world, you then have to take flight. The monastic life is a constant search for truth: the swan soars ever higher, knows neither rest nor peace in its endless journey” (Hamsananda). 

“We are not all meant to be monks. Panikkar keeps us alert, urging us to return to what is specific to monasticism. For us monks, discipline and practice are essential” (Elena). “If it is true that there is an impulse, a desire, a path towards the light in the heart of every person, the ways to realize it are different and not possible for everyone, since they require different conditions. The monastery is for the few, not for everyone” (Chiara Francesca).” “While it may be true that there is an ‘inner’ or ‘internalized’ monasticism, we cannot be open to endless possibilities. Monasticism has boundaries. We choose a particular state of life and live within defined structures” (Matteo). 

Many emphasized the common life as an essential element of monasticism. “The cenobitic way of life is of the essence. This stable form of life in community is oriented to the implementation of a program that all have in common” (Chiara Francesca).” “It is true that you can be a monk even if you do not live in community, but choosing the monastic way of life means entering into the dynamics of community life and becoming a mature monk with the help of many brethren. Celibacy and community life (in all its forms and expressions) are what make a way of life monastic. Why only these two? Because in community life, all the rest are present: poverty, obedience . . .” (Cesare). “The hermit is not a solitary in an absolute sense, but in relation to a community” (Cesare).  

Some also pointed to the importance of liturgy. “Liturgy is a central and vital element of monastic life, making it more expressive and open” (Benedetto).  

At the beginning of the afternoon session the coordinator first noted that each religious tradition speaks its own language. As we listen to and learn the language of others, including that of other believers, we learn that the same word can have a different meaning as it moves from one religious way of life to another. The differences are not resolved simply by choosing the right word in translation. Entering the language world of another believer involves entry into another and different symbolic universe. When we become aware of this, it is clear that the word “monk” is fundamentally untranslatable. We may say, “The terminology we use is the same; we are all speaking about of ‘monks.’” But, because of our own particular religious traditions, we mean different things by that word. The challenge, therefore, is to go beyond a lexical definition and pay attention to the specific way of life that this term refers to in the various religious traditions.  

The afternoon discussion, which was based on well prepared and stylistically very different presentations, allowed the participants to come to a better understanding of the identity of the monk in Hinduism (Hamsananda), Buddhism (Raphaello, Elena, Matteo), Taoism (Vincenzo) and Christianity (Benigno). As we became more informed about what it was that made someone a monk in a particular religious tradition, we also sought to determine if it might be possible to come up with a definition of “monk” that could apply to and be shared by the various religious traditions—a definition that would, as Paolo put it, be “transversal and common.”  

Thursday, October 24, 2013 

The discussion on the following day expanded on some of the points made by Benigno in his presentation yesterday. Are celibacy, marginality, asceticism, and community life common to all forms of monasticism? 

“Celibacy is the practice that is specifically monastic—which is not to say that it is better than other monastic practices” (Andrea). It goes hand in hand with life in community.

Celibacy and community life are a means to an end. “They direct us to thirst for oneness, to return to the source. They are tools that the monk makes use of to seek freedom and grow in love” (Hamsananda). The monk must therefore be on guard lest celibacy become a form of attachment (Elena).

The marks of the monk are openness and expectation. “Who is a monk? Someone who listens, talks, encounters, questions, is not satisfied with having ‘found’ God. I believe that this meeting has brought us to the threshold of experiencing what it means to be a monk. The monk is one who is open to being surprised by God and is attentive to the other” (Luciana). 

“Our monastic identity is not absolute. It is always related to the way we actually live the monastic life and to the many other ways monastic life is actualized. The main criterion for identifying what is monastic is thus to be found by looking at the road that is travelled rather than the destination to which it leads” (Matteo). 

The last presentation, one that was much appreciated by all, was given by Imam Yahya. In it he noted that in the Sufi tradition of Islam, men and women who respond to the call to devote themselves to a more intense spiritual quest embark on a way of life that is very similar to monasticism.  

Following this presentation we invited Father William to tell us about the third Buddhist/Christian “Monks in the West” meeting that was held in the United States in 2012. Among the many points that we can reflect on is his observation that when monks of different religious traditions come together, they find that their practices are very similar, as are the effects of these practices. But the goal, the purpose for which they are adopted, is different. As monks, therefore, we seem to be walking on the same path, but it is leading us to different destinations.  

To conclude, we made a summary assessment of the work of these days and sketched out our future itinerary. We were happy with the way the meeting was organized, but emphasized that we need to focus on the sharing of experience rather than on an academic approach to the question of monasticism. “If we have come together here, we have done so to go beyond our particular theologies. We are not equipped for the task of doing sociological, theological, or philosophical analyses. We are here because we want to share our experience of the monastic life with other monks and nuns. We did not come here to exchange theories. We are not in the business of organizing symposia” (Cesare). ”Our contextual setting is that of a narrative; what we talk about is experience” (Stefania).  

While it is true that a prepared text is not the main object of our being together; nonetheless, our coming together should be focused on a theme or topic we have decided on ahead of time rather than on whatever happens to come up during our meeting.

With regard to the content of our future meetings, we want to continue a dialogue aimed at depicting the “ideal" or “model” of the monk in different religious traditions, doing so by looking again at the classic texts of our various traditions. An anthology of such texts, along with our lived experience, will serve as a starting point for our continuing inter-monastic reflection on what it means to live a monastic life. 

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