Dilatato Corde 1:2
July - December, 2011


“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy strength and thy neighbour as thyself”. My neighbour might be someone of a different Faith.  Can a meeting with someone of a different Faith enlarge my heart? Of course it can! Every meeting with someone who is different from us can enlarge our heart. Perhaps there is one qualification: have WE an open heart? If we do, we will always be willing to learn from someone who is different from us.

I was brought up in the household of my grandparents and it was there that I first saw how people of many different sorts were openly and warmly received into the home. Also, when on one occasion I laughed at a symbol of another religion a very fat Buddhist monk my mother said that I should never laugh at something that is important or holy to another person.

My mother or the old Swiss lady who lived with us always prayed with me when I went to bed. My mother’s parents with whom we lived were Jewish and quite open about it.  My other grandparents were Lutherans. In my child’s mind there was no difference. They both loved me.

In 1933 Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and increasingly Jews were under threat. At school I was fortunate enough never to be badly treated because I was half Jewish. Nevertheless in 1938 my mother’s brother who was already in England said that we must come out of Germany NOW.   We were allowed to bring all our goods out of the country because my mother emigrated officially— that was still possible at this time—but she could bring out no money.

On October 1, 1938, I began to study at Bristol School of Architecture, where a fellow student had been in lodgings with a Chinese man by the name of Loke Tai Leong. He introduced us to the writings of Lin Yutang. Two of his books, My Country and my People and The Importance of Living, had—and still have—a tremendous influence on my life. At this time also I read about Confucianism and Taoism and later about Buddhism. My mother had a German copy of the Tao Te Ching, which I saw when I was a child, but never read until this period. It was a revelation to me.  In the German version, Tao, the Way, which I suppose for us is “God,” is referred to as “It” not as he or she. I suddenly began to understand something of the nature of the Godhead. My mother was a great reader of Meister Eckhart and introduced me to him.

After the fall of France in 1940 I had to leave Bristol because I was an “enemy alien,” and I began working on a farm in Gloucestershire near my uncle’s home. My mother lived in Cambridge and during that time she sent me books on the Far Eastern religions and quotations from Meister Eckhart.  We had a most wonderful correspondence. Entering in this way into Far Eastern religious thoughts and beliefs enlarged my mind, my heart and my horizon to an unbelievable degree. It formed me for the rest of my life.

After a year and a half, a friend got me a job on a small-holding in Cambridge, nearer to my mother, and then I went to a larger farm nearby where the farmer gave me a job as a general labourer.  At the end of harvest, the farmer invited his workers (six of us) to the nearby pub for a drink. There I met two students, one half-Belgian, half English, called Paul, the other Turkish. The farmer invited them back to the farm for a meal. On the way I asked the Belgian student if I could have met him before, and he wondered if we had met at the Buddhist Society.  I had never been there, but Paul soon introduced me to Zen Buddhism, another opening of the heart for me.

On the same farm a Burmese prince, son of a former prime minister of Burma, came to work during the summer. He was studying agriculture at Cambridge. He was the first Buddhist I met. He brought me copies of The Middle Way, the magazine of the Buddhist Society, and we talked a lot about Buddhism. Several years later, when I had become a monk, I wrote to him that many people were interested in Buddhism. He replied “Yes, but most of them are only interested superficially and not willing to take the noble Eightfold Path seriously.” Probably Jesus would say the same about the Beatitudes now. When I first went to Prinknash and later to Turvey, to my joy I found great interest in Eastern religions. At Prinknash a well-known Tibetan Lama had been a guest for quite a while, and since then there have been many contacts with mainly Tibetan Buddhists. A Zen monk also stayed at Prinknash for about a year.

When I came to Turvey, “my heart was enlarged” when I saw a small statue of the Buddha that the superior had placed on the mantelpiece. In another room there were also symbols of various other religions.  During my first year an Anglican priest visited us and gave a Zen retreat to a group of people. He had spent several months in a Zen monastery. I attended some of the sessions, which moved me very deeply, a further opening of the heart.

Another day a small group of Japanese monks came to visit us from the Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda. The came to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and I was deeply impressed how they prostrated themselves in reverence for what is sacred in quite another religion. A few years later the secretary of the Buddhist Society of Bedford asked us if we would like to meet some Buddhist monks from the newly established Amaravati Buddhist Centre. We were delighted, and one afternoon he brought two monks from there, the present Abbot of Amaravati, Ajahn Amaro, and the Abbot of Chithurst, Ajahn Sucitto, who were going to give a talk to the Buddhist Society of Bedford in the evening. That was the beginning of a long and enriching friendship between the two communities.  Soon afterwards I got an invitation to go to Amaravati for Buddha Day. Unfortunately that coincided with Pentecost and I was unable to attend. So a few weeks later a new invitation arrived, to come to Amaravati for a Peace Vigil. The Secretary of the Buddhist Society took me and instructed me on how to behave and how to address people. It was wonderful to arrive there and to find the Abbot, Ajahn Sumedho (retired in 2011), standing outside the building, waiting to welcome me. I felt at home immediately. At first I was to sleep in the guest dormitory, but as I was unpacking my bag, a monk arrived and said: “We are going to put you in a room”.  Amaro Bhikku was away at the time and they gave me his room with a mattress on the floor.  During the two-hour vigil a group of guests sat in two rows on either side of the large Meditation Hall. The Abbot sat at the end in front of the large Buddha image. After he had spoken everyone was invited to say a few words. My main memory is of the large monastery cat coming through the door, slowly walking all the way through the middle of the room, and jumping on the Abbot’s lap where it was made welcome. Many visits to and from Amaravati followed on this first one.

In 2003 Amaravati organized a huge conference called “Faith in Awakening”. Representatives came from thirty-five different religions and religious groups, including two monks and two nuns from Turvey Abbey, of whom I was one.  There were talks, and in the evening silent meditation periods. One exciting happening was that each group had the chance to make a “devotional offering” according to their own practice. It was tremendously impressive.  But for me the most wonderful thing was when we all sat together and meditated in silence. There was the most powerful sense of unity and compassion binding us all together in the group.

Another beautiful thing was that the Sisters of Turvey made friends with those of Amaravati and Chithurst, and later gave joint retreats both at Amaravati and in Turvey. This was a great joy to me and I attended several of the Turvey retreats.  Later on I stayed at Amaravati on my own for several days a few times and on each occasion they welcomed me as though I was one of them. At meal times they gave me an alms bowl in which to collect my food as they did, food offered by lay visitors.

A most memorable occasion was a Buddhist-Christian meeting at Sharpham House near Totnes in Devon. Two Buddhist monks and two nuns and three Christian monks and one nun met for three days. I was invited because one of the Christian monks had dropped out. The subject was monastic contemplative life and all of the monastic men and women spoke about their own experience.  It was a moving and heart-warming experience. I travelled with the Buddhists from Amaravati. On the way we stopped for tea at Stonehenge—a monk and a nun in with shaved heads and wearing brown robes, and another monk and nun in white. People stared at us, and we wondered if they thought we were Druids.

Present at this conference were Christians and Buddhists of various different traditions. There were two Benedictine monks of different monasteries, one Anglican nun and a monk of a tiny ecumenical community in Scotland. On the Buddhist side there were two Theravada monks from Amaravati Buddhist monastery, one Zen monk and an English nun of a Tibetan Buddhist community. On the return journey the Amaravati group and I stayed the night at the Buddhist vihara in Devon and in the morning I joined the two monks on their alms round to the village. Again the experience of living briefly as a monk among (Buddhist) brothers was deeply moving.

Another Buddhist-Christian contact for me was a biennial meeting in London, first at Heythrop and later at the Buddhist Society. We were about fifteen people, both Christians and Buddhists—(not all monks)—of different traditions. A Buddhist and a Christian each gave talk on a single theme, and then there was discussion and quiet meditation. The group had been started by a Quaker and continued for several years ending only with the death of the founder of the group. A Buddhist monk friend introduced me to this group, the same friend whose suggestions started the Christian-Buddhist Eckhart weekends in Turvey.

In 2007 the Anglican Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield organized a Christian-Buddhist conference. Our communities of Amaravati and Turvey sent representatives, and we joined up and travelled together, which was a wonderful experience of the dialogue of daily life – sharing travel arrangements, picnicking together on the way by a lake and talking to each other in the (Amaravati) bus.

Did all these experiences with people of other Faiths “enlarge my heart”?  Immensely! I saw that God is everywhere. We can see Him everywhere. He can never be exclusively contained on our behalf in one Faith. Where one person finds him here – another finds Him there, and He is even present where some think and believe He is nowhere to be found, but is just a figment of the imagination or an invention of the heart, or wishful thinking. He is the One Reality, He who IS.


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