Dilatato Corde 1:2
July - December, 2011
Rule of Saint Benedict<BR>MS A.D. 1129<BR>British Museum
Rule of Saint Benedict
MS A.D. 1129
British Museum


Listen my son to the instructions of your Master, turn the ear of your heart to the advice of a loving father; accept it willingly and carry it out vigorously; so that through the toil of obedience you may return to him from whom you have separated by the sloth of disobedience. (Prologue, 1-2; the translation is that of Abbot Parry [Gracewing 1990])

One may ask: What has prompted a newly ordained Buddhist monk who was raised in a secular Jewish family in New York City to turn to the Rule of Saint Benedict for inspiration and solace? I have no easy answer. While part of me wants to abort this unexpected journey, part of me refuses to listen to this frightened part of me. The fact that I am a monk following the teachings of the elders in one of the strictest Buddhist monastic traditions has indeed something to do with Christian monasticism, albeit in my idealized and almost certainly unrealistic view. I imagine the sacred space of the cloister, the silence of my footsteps, the calm of my mind, the dark, musty smelling ancient stones, a place where so many black-robed monks gave their minds and hearts to the other-than-worldly, the supra-mundane, the spiritual – this draws me in. I see the Buddhist Monastery where I now live through these eyes. I walk the rectangular cloister in front of the Thai-style Temple around and around. I consider my vocation: I am a monk, one who has renounced worldly life. I am striving for liberation from the mundane, from ignorance, seeking to re-unite with my pure Buddha-Nature.

At one time I would have been put off by the “Christian” language of the opening statement: “son” and “master” do not normally sit well with me. I escaped the limited world of my family decades ago, escaped from the prison of the mundane, though good-natured, middle-class American values which are not conducive for exploring the supra-mundane. I am uncomfortable in the role of “son” and balk at anyone claiming to be my master.

But here, as a monk in a Buddhist monastery, I can re-view this relationship. During my first pre-ordination training (in the Tibetan tradition of the Dalai Lama) in India, I was moved by the words recited by the nun who oversaw the training of novices: “To the Buddha I dedicate this body and life, and in devotion I will walk the Buddha’s path of awakening. For me there is no other refuge. The Buddha is my excellent refuge. By the utterance of this truth, may I grow in the Master’s way….” Saint Benedict’s invitation, command, and implied admonishment SPEAK to me. The Buddhist community of monks (the “Sangha”) are in fact sons of the Buddha, born of the Dhamma (Teachings/Doctrine) – not the historical Buddha, but the living Buddha, the one who lives through the teachings. We listen to our master – the Buddha-Dhamma and the Vinaya (Monastic Code) – and obey this voice. I turn the ear of my heart/mind to the loving words of the Master; for the advice of the Master is for my benefit, for my liberation from endless suffering. These words were originally given by Buddha Gotama out of the pure altruistic wish to alleviate the mental and physical suffering of those who came to him. These words are now addressed to me – a monk who having renounced worldly life has chosen to follow the advice of a loving master. Thus, I should not mindlessly and unreflectively reject the personal language used by Saint Benedict; rather, I should open myself, open my mind/heart to another perspective and approach. I have gone forth from home to homelessness, reduced my possessions to the minimum, but there is an enormous possession I still carry around with me every moment: my SELF. May I willingly accept the advice of a loving father who wishes nothing else but to lead me back to the Unconditioned, the Unborn – my pure nature that is actually right here with me and only needs to be dug out from under the piles and piles of self-created debris! I cannot afford to be slothful or disobedient any longer. May I walk every moment in the sacred space of the cloister, the ideal monastery – the one in my heart. May my footsteps echo purely without the taints of selfishness. May I truly grow in the Master’s Way.

In monastic life, I have to accept the training rules willingly. No one forced me to ordain – and I’ve done it twice! I willingly left the monastic Tibetan tradition (because I perceived it as being too lax in upholding the “Vinaya”) in search of a monastic life of discipline and mindfulness. I accept the wisdom of the Buddha, who devised rules as a result of misconduct of the early monks. I must also accept the protocols of the particular monastery where I live, and defer to my elders, even if they do not demonstrate wisdom. But here, Saint Benedict is referring to the instructions given by one’s Master – one who is speaking from God within him. One cannot easily question the wisdom of the instructions without questioning the wisdom of God. One suspends doubt about whether the instructions have been tampered with by human imperfection. If one trusts the source of the instructions, one can and must carry them out vigorously. If not vigorously, with full effort and energy, then one is not truly a monk. If one does not vigorously live the monastic life, obedient to the rules of conduct that such a life requires, then one is merely wasting one’s life and doing more harm than good both to oneself and to others. Saint Benedict’s words, because they are full of love and parental care, make it easier to carry out. Perhaps this element is missing in the Buddhist monastic code, and only implied in the Buddha’s dispensation as a whole.

Saint Benedict’s words awaken kindness that lies dormant in my heart – kindness towards the authors of the rules (The Buddha and Saint Benedict) and to the countless monks who have tried to follow them vigorously in the 2500-1500 years before me. How wonderful it is to place the ear with my heart, and my heart with my mind. The instructions are lovingly given to alleviate present and future suffering, lovingly given to lead the way back to the pure abode of being, coming home to that which is unconditioned by the created world. It is only natural to carry out such instructions vigorously. For the monastic path is very difficult and without tremendous motivation and inspired energy, I will stumble, fall, and worst scenario of all, turn back and give up. Many do and have done. But I am resolute, determined and willingly accept the challenge.

It can be very hard to obey. The key is having faith in the instructions. Monastic life can test the strength of one’s faith. I must remind myself innumerable times throughout the day that I have chosen to lead a life of renunciation in this monastery in order to die here. An elder Tibetan (Western) monk gave me this advice shortly after my initial entrance into the “homeless life” of a novice monk: “You must be prepared to die in the monastery you go to.” At first, I thought he meant that I must commit the rest of my life to that particular monastery. But, I don’t think that’s what he meant because that is not standard practice at Tibetan monasteries. Rather, the monastery is the place where I put the ego-self permanently to rest. It is the home where the “I” dies, not to be reborn or resurrected. However, the “I” will not die without a fight; it is an immensely difficult task to destroy the foundation of habitual patterns of thought and reactions. Obeying the Master’s instructions is the only way to accomplish this enormous feat. One must thus be acutely mindful of every action of body, speech, and mind. This is far heavier toil than physically moving bricks or rocks. When my “buttons” are pushed by another monk, or when someone’s un-mindful behavior irritates me, it takes great effort to feel only love and compassion for him. The slothful way is to react without thinking, to be critical, to be selfish. Saint Benedict is absolutely right that my sloth of disobedience to the Master’s instructions has separated me from the Unconditioned, the Transcendent. That I am so far removed from this pure state is due to my taking the “easy way” of disregarding the true teachings. Monastic life can indeed offer the support one needs to travel back to the pristine mind, to God.

So, brothers, if we wish to reach the highest peak of humility, and to arrive quickly at the state of heavenly exaltation which is attained in the present life through humility, then that ladder which appeared to Jacob . . . must be set up, so that we may mount by our own actions. (7:5-6)

It might seem that the expression, the highest peak of humility, is an impossible metaphor, but for me it offers a fresh look at the spiritual power of genuine humility. This is not just humility, expressed in a single gesture of self-effacement or a moment of stepping out of the way, letting someone else go before you, or not claiming praise for a deed well done. In all of these cases, one would be humble in that he would not be putting himself forward or patting himself on the shoulder. But genuine humility cannot be aligned with self-centeredness – they are at opposite ends of the spectrum of behavior and thought. Just as one climbs a great mountain slowly, diligently progressing ever upwards, perhaps resting periodically, and avoiding having to go downhill (as that would undo some of the progress already made), in the same way, each minor, daily act of humility weakens the ego-self and the habitual urge to commit self-centered actions. This gradual process builds momentum. When selfish thoughts or habitual behavior motivated by “me” arise, one catches them immediately and hurls them off the mountain of humility. Even though the mountain is frightfully high, we can reach the summit in this lifetime. As our self-less footsteps get stronger, the selfish baggage we are carrying gets lighter and lighter and eventually disintegrates. We then reach the peak of the mountain of humility, without ego-self (and, therefore, there is no-one to celebrate the accomplishment). The climber rests in the ultimate realm of the Unconditioned/God. There is no further climb and no chance of slipping back down. This life has been used to its utmost, one has utilized this body and is, at last, at-one with the Ultimate Oneness. As Saint Benedict states, we mount by our own actions – it is up to us to use the grace of God/our good karma to become, in essence, pure humility; and this happens the moment we are no longer aware that “we” are humble.

The first step of humility, then, is for a man to set the fear of God always before his eyes, and utterly to avoid forgetfulness. He must always remember all God’s commandments, and constantly turn over in his heart how hell will burn those who despise him by their sins, and how eternal life has been prepared for those who fear him. (7:10-12)

A literal, simplistic understanding of having the fear of God before one’s eyes can mean being afraid of an authoritative father-God who will punish severely – eternal punishment – his disobedient children. But as Thomas Merton wisely pointed out, “God is not someone else.” So, of whom (or what) should we have fear? I understand “fear” more in the sense of “awe” – awe in its raw, powerful, mystical sense. One is naturally humbled when the power of the Ultimate is perceived, or better yet, when experienced in the heart. Keeping the commandments in mind refers not only to the original ten but also those expressed in the monastic rule. Those who despise God will easily commit grave sins/unwholesome actions of body and speech because they are helplessly under the sway of the deluded ego-self – a self that cannot tolerate the will of God. The hell that will burn such misguided monks is not necessarily conceived as a physical place “down below” with unimaginably fierce flames. This is poetic imagery. One can “burn” in hellish mind states right in this life in this earthly realm. A monk should indeed turn over in his heart the karmic results of evil actions. There is certainly a “price” to pay for sinful actions. But the suffering that will ensue is not really coming from God but rather from the causes and conditions initiated by one’s misdeeds. One generates both the cause and the result. That payment will be due is the natural effect of a divine “balancing of accounts” – the workings of which cannot be comprehended by limited human understanding. However, the humble heart that embraces and dwells in the Cosmic Christ/the Deathless tastes eternity now. The goal is to make it truly eternal.

At every moment a man must be on his guard against sins and vices – vices of thought, word, hand, foot or self-will, and also against the desires of the flesh. (7:12)

To be on one’s guard is to practice mindfulness or heedfulness diligently. The key is to catch sins and vices before the intention to commit them arises in the mind; before an action of speech or hand or foot occurs, is the thought to say or do something. It could be a split second before, and barely perceptible unless one is particularly vigilant. While this attentiveness is the guard against committing any unwholesome act, in order for one to really be mindful, with undistracted attention, one needs periodically to stoke the fire of faith and devotion to God/the Transcendent. The real punishment I inflict on myself through vices and sins is that such acts lead me away from the path to ultimate liberation/salvation. In fact, I could be led so far away that I will be unable to find my way back to the path. Any action driven by self-will, while not necessarily a “serious” sin, is nonetheless not conducive for living the holy life of a monk, one who is working for/towards the Ultimate Source. Saint Benedict’s astute understanding of human frailty is demonstrated in his call for vigilance at every moment. For one un-heedful moment can unleash great pain and suffering.

He must recognize that he is at every hour in the sight of God in heaven, and that his actions are everywhere visible to the divine eyes of God.(7:13)

I can see how the first step of humility is connected to – and a result of – an awareness that God is always keeping his divine eyes on me. Of course, this doesn’t mean that some-one (e.g., “Big Brother”) outside myself is actually watching me, looking inside my mind. Rather, God is always within me, even when I fall into forgetfulness. However, the more I forget that God is present, the more I succumb to familiar mind-states of selfishness, pride, lack of concern or love for others, the less humble I am. Saint Benedict is, I believe, bringing out the point that I cannot hide from the divine presence at the very center of my being. I can choose to ignore that presence, I can distract myself with sensual pleasures and greediness, thus clouding over that awareness, but God is nonetheless still there. The Ultimate Being/Unconditioned neither comes nor goes according to my moods or level of awareness. The Transcendent One is always already present – pure presence that is not the mere opposite of absence. Monastic life is the most fertile ground to develop and maintain – to nourish – this awe-ful awareness. And with it, naturally comes humility.

The second step of humility is that a man should not love his own will nor take pleasure in carrying out his desires, but rather by his actions imitate the Lord in his saying, “I came not to do my own will, but that of him who sent me”. (7:31-32)

When a wish comes to my mind, an intention to do something for myself (e.g., make a cup of coffee, take a walk, speak to someone), I should examine the will that is behind it. Nearly all the actions generated by me are motivated by a quest for some type of pleasure or satisfaction. While many of these actions are not inherently bad, they are driven by the ego-self. However, if I drink a cup of coffee or take a walk keeping God/Ultimate Reality within my awareness, then every step in the process, every moment of pleasure is not only an action of my will; my limited “needy” self is then not only seeking to satisfy myself but is propelled by a far deeper quest for pleasure: being at-one with God in every moment of the action, sharing the pleasure with the Ultimate. I must train my heart-mind to open to God/the Unconditioned within as I undertake any action – work, leisure, meditation. This does not mean that I am dictated to by an outside power. It is more learning to tune-in to this divine presence. If I can perceive it at all times, then no action is done without reflection, self-will no longer “calls the shots.” My will and the natural flow of the Holy Spirit/Ultimate Reality are as one. This is a true humbling of the self-will.

The third step of humility is that for the love of God one should be obedient to a superior in all things, imitating the Lord of whom the Apostle says, “He was made obedient even unto death”. (7:34

Here is a challenge for a monk who is determined to reduce and ultimately disempower his ego-construct. The real test of one’s resolve is to be obedient to a superior whose motive does not appear to be self-less. One must nevertheless carry out the order not begrudgingly, not with grumbling, not with critical thoughts toward him, but with a joyful heart. For one is doing it for the love of God. That recognition spontaneously emits love throughout one’s being, and obedience is the manifestation of that love. The example of Jesus is awe-ful, it is the epitome of obedience. He obeyed his superior, the Ultimate Source, God the Father. He was not following a verbal command, of course, but rather the God-force within him right up to the unimaginably painful death of his body on the cross. He was obedient to the necessary brutal ending of this brief physical manifestation of the Transcendent. The power of such humility is a living inspiration for us all.

The fourth step of humility is that, when in the very act of obeying one meets with trials, opposition, and even abuse, a man should, with an uncomplaining spirit, keep a firm grip on patience, and as he endures he should neither grow faint nor run away. (7:35-36)

Some of the greatest trials, opposition and abuse one can experience are self-inflicted. The trial is a test of the strength of the monk’s faith in God and the monastic life as a means to live in close association with the Ultimate. If one’s faith and, thus, motivation are not strong, then even a relatively minor “trial” – an inconvenience, sacrifice of self-will and, above all, the humbling of the ego-self – will seem like a major hurdle. Opposition will then come from the affronted ego-self, fighting against the faith and motivation of the monk. This “opposition” could take various forms, such as abuse towards a superior, the monastery in general, and even towards the monk’s petty self itself that has had the “weakness” to submit to the command or sacrifice. The firm grip on patience that Saint Benedict urges his monks to have, together with an uncomplaining spirit and endurance can only come from the purified self that is attuned to God/the Ultimate Source. This is the agent-self, the self that wishes to dissolve the petty egoistic, non-spiritual self; this agent-self is that which one day will find re-union with the Divine. The “trial” is thus a state of mind which is stubbornly resistant to clarity and insight. It takes an enormous effort not to give in to the ego-self’s fierce fight, resulting in fainting or running away – in either case, in effect, giving up on the holy life. However, by using the effective weapons of wisdom and mindfulness to examine and analyze the afflicted self, one can persevere, generating loving patience not only with the challenging situation but also with one’s own struggling and suffering self. It is a formidable task to develop and nurture humility with a joyous heart.

Precisely then they patiently fulfill the command of the Lord in these trials and rebuffs, and when they are struck on one cheek they offer the other. (7:42)

I am in awe of the individual having the power and self-control to follow this famous teaching of Jesus. The command of the Lord is an imperative from the Transcendent/Absolute Love that suffuses one who is open to discovering it within one’s innermost ground of being and letting it pour out to others. In order for this to occur fully, i.e. thoroughly suffusing one’s body and heart-mind, the ego-self must be at least temporarily inactive or neutralized. Only by suffering trials and rebuffs can one train the heart-mind to remain open to conversing with the Divine within and at the same time keeping the ego-self “tied up.” In order to fulfill Jesus’ beautiful command to offer the other [cheek] to the one who has struck me, I must be at that moment in the presence of God and in order to be fully in that presence, the ego-self must be silenced. Having patient endurance in the face of physical or verbal attacks is a formidable expression of natural humility – humility nurtured by faith in God. The desired outcome is not that the attacker strikes my other cheek, but rather that the strength of my patient love for him disarms him by prompting him to be aware of his unwholesome act. He will see that we are not on equal footing, not because I am better than him but because I have subsumed my-self under the protective shield of the Unsayable One, whom he can neither harm nor gain victory over.

The fifth step of humility is that a man should in humble confession reveal to his Abbot all the evil thoughts that come into his mind, and any wrongful actions that he had done in secret. (7:44)

When a monk breaks a rule, performing an intentional action that he knows is wrong, it is imperative that he confess it. While he must first acknowledge it to himself, this is not enough. By revealing it to someone else, especially a superior or the Abbot, there is a sort of humble nakedness of the heart-mind. Confessing to oneself is useful for gaining more self-knowledge, but this does not shine a bright enough spotlight on the mental intention that prompted or at least preceded the wrongful action. Once the action is laid out on the table, so to speak, together with the intention that prompted it, there is no place to hide. The Abbot may not even need to say anything, nor give any punishment. He might just look directly at the monk – a look drawing on both the love and wisdom of God – and that should have a purifying effect on the mind of the offender and also re-align him to God within his own heart. For this is the perfect corrective for any intentional wrongful action. Saint Benedict’s inclusion of evil thoughts dovetails with a principal teaching of the Buddha; namely, all actions (good or evil) originate in the mind. Therefore, confessing evil thoughts, even if they have not yet led to evil actions, is imperative in order to wash them out of the mind.

The sixth step of humility is that a monk should be satisfied with whatever is of lowest value or quality, and with regard to the tasks laid on him should think of himself as a bad and unworthy workman. (7:49)

Being satisfied with whatever is of lowest value or quality goes completely against the grain of Western materialism, where everyone wants the best value and quality. Accepting whatever is given to me in order to satisfy the basic requirements of life – clothing, food, shelter, medicine – is the foundation for living the holy monastic life, a life in which one has completely renounced worldly concerns and values. A monk lives this way in order to weaken and eventually eradicate self-attachment and the greed that always propels one to satisfy perceived wants and needs. The advice that a monk should think of himself as a bad and unworthy workman could possibly be a method of deflating the ego-self. But for this to be effective, and not serve merely to depress or diminish the monk’s motivation, he must recognize his unworthiness in relation to the most worthy, his badness in relation to the highest good. In other words, this natural humility, the literal or figurative bowing of his head, is in recognition of his awe and love of God. Any work done by the ego-self can never be worthy of or in communion with the Divine. The monk who does the opus Dei or any task laid on him from the position of the limited ego-self is indeed unworthy because he is not humble. This recognition could be enough to jolt him into a state of pure humility regarding his work at hand, thus casting out the obstructive self-centered workman.

The seventh step of humility is that he should not only say in words that he is inferior and less virtuous than all other men, but that he should really believe it in the depth of his heart. (7:51)

Saint Benedict is merciless in his campaign against his monks’ inflated sense of self. That this “step” is intended to aid not hinder a monk on his spiritual path is without question. The loving author of the Rule surely doesn’t want any of his monks to get depressed to the extent that he feels so unworthy and so un-virtuous that he gives up on the holy life. A clear distinction must be made between the ego-self and the purified self/soul. The intention here is to aid the monk in eradicating the stubborn, prolific “weed” of the ego-self that without constant attention will block out the light of God from communing with the pure self/soul. Crushing the ego’s self-importance and pride, and its competitive or jealous non-loving relations with his fellow monks, stripping it of its false view of itself, will disempower it. If one has mental strength and determination, coupled with unwavering faith in God, then one can brutally attack the ego-self with accusations of lowliness, non-virtue, worm-ness, etc. These are all suitable descriptions of selfish or hateful behavior that one who is ruled by self-centeredness engages in regularly. The key, perhaps, is that while one “assaults” the ego-self, one opens one’s heart to the Holy Spirit. And the self/soul thus purified will naturally be humble in the presence of the Divine.

The eighth step of humility is that a monk should do nothing except what is recommended by the common rule of the monastery and the example of those above him. (7:55)

This makes perfect sense. Although each monastery follows the standard Rule, each also has certain “house rules” particular to that monastery. And this common rule must be followed as closely as the Rule itself. Harmony within a monastic community depends on an agreed protocol or way of doing daily tasks. In my experience, dis-harmony occurs in a community when some monks allow self-will/self-concern to dictate their actions rather than being attentive to the needs and comforts of their brothers. It is, of course, necessary that the common rule be clearly known by all and possibly reviewed from time to time. It might also be the case that certain things are not stated in the common rule, such as washing and drying one’s cup after use, leaving the bathroom in the condition one found it, etc. But such daily duties fall under the category of “being mindful of one’s actions,” which every monk in the community should be constantly doing – or at least striving to do. Ideally, the senior members of the community should set a good example for the junior monks. However, it might also happen that a junior monk needs to set an example for a senior who has become a bit sloppy. In this case, the junior monk needn’t actually point out the lapse, but simply perform the task, without comment, according to the common rule. This may be sufficient for the attentive senior monk to see his own weakness.

The ninth step of humility is that a monk should keep his tongue from talking; he should preserve silence and not speak until he is questioned. (7:56-57)

Mindless chatter, or even more sensible talk, should be avoided unless it is serving the purpose of helping a brother monk overcome some difficulty, and one feels able to help by offering some solace derived from one’s own experiential wisdom, or asking for help for oneself. Otherwise, an unrestrained tongue merely fills the silence of God with self-centered concerns. I can see two disadvantages from talking unnecessarily: 1) it distracts one from resting in the center of one’s being, i.e. God’s presence within; it leads one away rather than towards at-one-ness. 2) Having drifted away, one must now exert a greater effort (than before talking) to regain that inner resting place. Naturally, if one is questioned by a superior or is asked a necessary question from a brother (while working or performing a task), then one should respond, speaking only as much as necessary to fully reply to the inquiry. I think it is a worthwhile endeavor to develop a method of speaking silently with one’s eyes, a smile, or a gesture. In this way, one can communicate so much more than in mere words – words that often seem to miss the mark.

The tenth step of humility is that he should not be ready and quick to laughter. (7:59)

Certainly, laughter has its purpose and place. For someone who takes himself very seriously, becoming suddenly aware of this could provoke self-laughter. This can indeed be helpful. But for the monk, being ready and quick to laughter is generally inappropriate. That doesn’t mean that a monk should go about his day with a dead-serious expression on his face, with furrowed brow and stiff, tense movements. No, a monk can smile and be light-hearted. I have noticed that while meditating, “tasting” beautiful words, such as “thy will be done,” I naturally smile gently. It is a response from my heart to the perceived presence of God/divine energy. Yet, I feel no prompting to break into laughter; it is almost certain that laughter is not inspired by God, and it is equally probable that the object/cause of the laughter is someone not present. When I think back on those loud, abrasive laughs on TV situation comedies, the laughter was almost always at someone’s expense – making fun or being sarcastic or derisive towards someone not there (or maybe standing in the vicinity). Saint Benedict is absolutely right. Laughter is not in accord with humility. In fact, one who laughs is generally feeling the opposite of humble: namely, arrogant.

The eleventh step of humility is that when a monk speaks, he does so quietly, without laughter, with humility, with restraint, making use of few words and reasonable ones. (7:60)

It is jarring to hear a monk speaking loudly; it doesn’t seem to match the robes. It is as if someone from outside the monastery is occupying the body of the boisterous monk. It seems more natural for a monk to have a quiet speaking voice. He also should not make a lot of hand gestures when speaking, certainly not pointing his finger at the person to whom he is talking. In addition, he shouldn’t speak in an aggressive, pushy, or dominating tone. Every word that comes out of his mouth should have first passed through the heart-center of his mind. A few well-chosen words are far better than a spontaneous flood of words. When speaking, one should reflect: “Are my words beneficial for the other person? Am I speaking for his benefit or for mine? Is God present in my heart when I’m speaking?” If one babbles or speaks loudly, he will not be able to hear the answers to these questions.

The twelfth step of humility is not only that a monk should be humble of heart, but also that in his appearance his humility should be apparent to those who see him . . . he should always have his head bowed, his eyes fixed on the ground, and should at every moment be considering his guilt for his sins and thinking that he is even now being presented for dread judgment. (7:62-65)

This seems a rather harsh recommendation and would hardly convince a non-monastic onlooker that a monk’s life is the most joyful way to live out one’s days. I would suggest that Saint Benedict’s advice should not be taken literally. For even one who outwardly keeps his head bowed and his eyes fixed on the ground may not be practicing humility within. In fact, he could merely be posing as a “humble monk,” thus embodying the very antithesis of humility. If one is truly humble of heart, having successfully disentangled himself from the stranglehold of the ego-self, and opening himself completely to God, his appearance will naturally be humble. Even if he doesn’t literally fix his gaze on the ground, but, perhaps, smiles gently at whomever he meets, smiling with the glow of the Lord in his eyes, whether walking, sitting, or standing, always in the presence of God, he will emanate humility.

Even an attentive, heedful, loving monk will have some sins or debts to atone for. Keeping in mind that Divine justice will ultimately prevail, he easily casts off the weight of selfishness – the cause of many sins – and thus does not commit any additional misdeeds. He knows who the culprit is responsible for the sins already done, he takes full responsibility for these misguided actions and with authentic humility – humility nourished from the innermost depths of his heart – he bows with his entire body-mind to the loving and compassionate One, who forgives all, as he, too, forgives.

Thus when all these steps of humility have been climbed, the monk will soon reach that love of God which, being perfect, drives out all fear. Through this love all the practices which before he kept somewhat fearfully, he now begins to keep effortlessly and naturally and habitually. (7:67-69)

Having diligently chipped away at the hard, stubborn shell of his ego-self, the monk can lift his eyes upward to God, without shame, without arrogance, without self-will. The fear he previously experienced, fear of the repercussions of his misconduct – his failure to embody the Rule – is now transformed into awe of that ineffable loving presence at the very heart of his being. He no longer needs to strain himself to climb the steps of humility, he no longer needs to drag his recalcitrant self into following the rules that build humility. Although he can rightfully and deservedly enjoy the ease by which he now performs the practices, he must not relax his heedfulness; for past habits may seem to be gone but they may merely be hiding, waiting for an inattentive moment, a complacent negligence, and then, in a flash, they’re back, causing him to trip, stumble, and fall on the steps of humility.


Home | DIMMID Introduction | DILATATO CORDE
Current issue
Numéro actuel
Previous issues
Numéros précédents
| About/Au sujet de
| News Archive | Abhishiktananda | Monastic/Muslim Dialogue | Links / Liens | Photos | Videos | Contact | Site Map
Powered by Catalis