VOLUME I, Number 1
January - June 2011


"To go where heaven urges us"

In the Introduction to his book A Trappist Meeting Monks from Tibet, Bernard de Give, a monk of Scourmont Abbey in Belgium, describes himself as having acquired a real sympathy for the Dharma and its adherents without being either a Buddhist or even a seeker. He provides the following insight into what prompted him to write this work:

"The overriding consideration for me (and I am not alone) is a very lively and undeniable feeling of encounter in depth.  The most real self of the persons with whom one is speaking, particularly if these are monks, meets a sister soul. . . . Whether one speaks or remains silent, a dialogue is definitely taking place” (p. 3).

The central theme around which de Give orders his book, therefore, is that of encounter in depth.  Moreover, and not surprisingly, this same theme can be regarded as central to his adult life.  This is borne out by even the briefest sketch of the more significant milestones in his quest to be faithful to the de Give family motto which is, we are told, “Go where heaven urges you” (Quo coeli issu).

Prior to entering the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, de Give was for many years a member of the Society of Jesus, and it was in this capacity that he served as a seminary professor for nearly a decade, first in Sri Lanka and then India.  Eventually, he was able to pursue Oriental Studies for a year at Oxford University in England, where he struck up a friendship with the young Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who in 1963 was at Oxford studying Comparative Religion, and the future Bönpo abbot of Dolanji, Sangye Tenzin Jongdong Rinpoche. 

De Give became a Trappist in 1972 and since then has been blessed with many opportunities to meet and befriend numerous Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist monastics under the auspices of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue.  Of the many and varied encounters that have taken place all over the world – in England, Scotland, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Spain, Holland, India, and Tibet, to be more precise – de Give states that the most fruitful have been with some of the greatest Tibetan lamas of past and present generations. When one considers just a partial list of the accomplished masters he has met over the years, one begins to understand how this could be: Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Sangye Tenzin Jongdong Rinpoche, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama, Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Tai Situ Rinpoche, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Rabjam Rinpoche, to name a few.

The structure of A Trappist Meeting Monks from Tibet allows the reader to enter into de Give’s own experience of the fruitful encounters he has had. The book is divided into three parts of four sections each.  Part one introduces the reader to the protagonists of the “meeting.” Insofar as it is intended to be “a general presentation of monasticisms brought face to face,” it focuses on the history and spirituality of the Tibetan and Cistercian monastic traditions.

Part two, which comprises “the body of the work,” describes de Gives’ personal encounters with various “monks of the East.” 

The third and final part consists of four theological reflections that are meant to acquaint the reader with “a more theoretical discussion of the philosophies” being compared.  The work is thus essentially part memoir, part travelogue, part historical survey, and part comparative study.  Nevertheless, it retains “a genuine unity of inspiration” that is to be found in the author’s rich experience of monastic interreligious dialogue, an experience that echoes that of the Benedictine Henri Le Saux (Swami Abhishiktananda), whom de Give quotes approvingly:

‘If everyone lives at the depth of himself, as intimate as possible with the Spirit who is in him, under whatever name or form by which he makes himself known, a marvelous communication is set up between persons, beyond words, at the level of the Spirit.  It is just such a communion of life and such a discovery of the Spirit, one in the other, that gives its momentum to the ecumenical movement, and to its pioneers their boldness in going forward and taking prophetic initiatives’ (p. 142).

A Trappist Meeting Monks from Tibet bears eloquent witness to the goodness, truth and beauty of these words and of the conviction that inspired them, a conviction that Bernard de Give shares.  We should be grateful for de Give’s witness as we honor and extend his own pioneering efforts by courageously going where heaven urges us.

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