Dilatato Corde 3:2
July – December, 2013
Sister Lucy and Ajahn Amaro
Sister Lucy and Ajahn Amaro


On June 5, 2013, members of the British and Irish Commission of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue gathered for their final meeting as a DIMMID commission at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery. Included in the program for the day was a discussion with members of the Amaravati community on the values monastic life can contribute to modern society.

At their June General meeting, the members of the Union of Monastic Superiors discussed the situation of the MID-GBI commission. Since 2011 the Commission has had no Coordinator. Following feedback from the communities involved, it was decided by the assembly of Superiors that it is no longer possible for the monastic communities in Great Britain and Ireland to sponsor an active regional commission of DIMMID. Therefore the MID-GBI Commission has been closed.

The newsletter, Monastic Encounter, will no longer be published and the MID-GBI web site will be closed down. However, the websites of Turvey Abbey and Mucknell Abbey sites will contain information and reports from the MID-GBI web site. It is also hoped that communities will continue to be involved in interreligious dialogue on the local level, and will advertise events on a database of monastic interfaith events in Great Britain and Ireland.

At 11.30 several Buddhist monks and samaneras came to escort us to the Sala for our meal with the monastic and lay Buddhist communities. Ajahn Amaro met us there and explained the meaning of the chants and the offering and receiving of food, all of which was donated to Amaravati. Monks and nuns took their food from different serving areas and then left the Sala for separate dining areas. Both groups ate in silence and then, after the meal, engaged in conversation about matters of general monastic interest.

After a short break, all reassembled in the Bodhinyana Hall where the actual dialogue meeting took place. Several monks and nuns of the home community joined Ajahn Amaro and Ajahn Candasiri to participate in the dialogue.

After a period of meditation, Ajahn Amaro introduced the day's topic. Abbot Francis Baird of Prinknash was the first to speak, and his remarks set the tone for the whole meeting. He pointed out that in our monastic tradition, prayer, silence, community, and stability are basic and speak to the needs of our time. His comments led to a lively and quite deep discussion about each of these practices. For example, we explored the different ways of understanding “stability” in the Benedictine and in the Theravada Buddhist worlds. During the discussion various other elements of our lives were mentioned as having great value to our modern society: celibacy, simplicity of life—Ajahn Candasiri called this “being satisfied with little”—hospitality, “receiving” people as they are. Amusing anecdotes were not lacking in our discussion of each of these topics. We all agreed that monastic life has a great deal to offer to our society, as is borne out by the stream of visitors constantly coming to our monasteries. As Saint Benedict famously says in in Rule: “Guests are never lacking in a monastery”.

Some young monks and a nun in formation were asked to describe what had attracted them to their monastery, Mucknell Abbey. In their comments, there was an interesting contrast and overlap between those who were drawn to the monastery because of what they found lacking in the “outside world” and those who came because the monastery very much is “the world.” We cannot make a false dichotomy; we find within our own hearts the various temptations and sufferings of the ego that are so glaringly obvious in our secular society.

Both Christian and Buddhist monastics agreed that there is an intense longing in secular society for what we do offer: acceptance, peace, silence, space, a prayerful rhythm. Someone mentioned that guests spoke of being “at home.” In the discussion that followed, it became clear that while our guests do feel “at home” in the monastery, the monastery is very different from the “home” they live in.

The Oblates present spoke movingly from their own life-experience about what had drawn them—and still draws them—to their particular monastery. The gift that is silence was mentioned often, along with peace and prayer. One oblate spoke warmly of how the Rule of Saint Benedict and regular contact with the prayer of the monastic community helps her maintain balance and calm in a busy life.

Following a meditation period at the conclusion of the discussion, there was a short visit to the Temple in which there was now an exhibition of various Buddha images and souvenirs that had belonged to Ajahn Sumedho, the former Abbot. An unusual object for a Buddhist display was an icon of Ajahn Chah, the revered founder of the lineage to which the English Theravada monasteries belong. Ajahn Amaro explained that it been written by the sister of Ajahn Sumedho, whose Christian teacher instructed her in the techniques and symbolism of iconography and then challenged her to produce her own Buddhist version of this Eastern Christian religious art form in her icon of a renowned Buddhist holy man.

Our leave taking was more prolonged than usual as we realized that this particular group would not be meeting again. When we parted, it was with a deep sense of gratitude for the work and experiences we have shared together over the years and with confidence that God will show us his will for the future.

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