Secret Instructions for Reaching Xanadu: Go eastward from the Bewildered-Dragon Lake Until you see the Monastery of the West Tower straight and high above your head. Then take Those charms which, as I told you, in the breast Of your most inner robe you have hidden, and follow Their clear instruction.
Arthur Davison Ficke
Father monks, why do you fast! Why do you expect reward in heaven for that?...No, saintly monk, you try being virtuous in the world, do good to society, without shutting yourself up in a monastery at other people's expense, and without expecting a reward up aloft for it--you'll find that a bit harder.
Science is turning into a monastery for the Order of Capitulant Friars. Logical calculus is supposed to supersede man as moralist. We submit to the blackmail of the 'superior knowledge' that has the temerity to assert that nuclear war can be, by derivation, a good thing, because this follows from simple arithmetic.
Anyone who truly wants to escape human solipsism should not seek out empty places. Instead of fleeing to desert, where they will be thrown back into their own thoughts, they will d better to seek out the company of other animals. A zoo is a better window from which to look out of the human world than a monastery.
John N. Gray
Folk tell their children that success lies in working hard and being thrifty, but that is as much nonsense as supposing that a badger, a fox and a wolf could build a church. The way to wealth is to become a Christian bishop or a monastery's abbot and thus be imbued with heaven's permission to lie, cheat and steal your way to luxury.
We need to make our own the ancient pastoral wisdom which... encouraged Pastors to listen more widely to the entire People of God. Significant is Saint Benedict's reminder to the Abbot of a monastery, inviting him to consult even the youngest members of the community: "By the Lord's inspiration, it is often a younger person who knows what is best".
Pope John Paul II
What frustrated me was the thought that with three thousand years of history someone in China, some monk in a monastery halfway up a mountain, must have developed a magic kata, a physical expression of formae. Or at least have got close enough to explain all those legendary swordsmen and their inexplicable desire to roost on the tops of bamboo trees.
I do not wonder that, where the monastick life is permitted, every order finds votaries, and every monastery inhabitants. Men will submit to any rule, by which they may be exempted from the tyranny of caprice and of chance. They are glad to supply by external authority their own want of constancy and resolution, and court the government of others, when long experience has convinced them of their own inability to govern themselves.
We don't get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? So this is what we've chosen to do with our life. We could be sitting in a monastery somewhere in Japan. We could be out sailing. Some of the team could be playing golf. They could be running other companies. And we've all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it. And we think it is.
Possession of books denounced as heretical was made a criminal offense. Copies of such books were burned and destroyed. But in Upper Egypt, someone, possibly a monk from a nearby monastery of St Pachomius, took the banned books and hid them from destruction - in the jar where they remained buried for almost 1,600 years.
The Monks of Cool, whose tiny and exclusive monastery is hidden in a really cool and laid-back valley in the lower Ramtops, have a passing-out test for a novice. He is taken into a room full of all types of clothing and asked: Yo, my son, which of these is the most stylish thing to wear? And the correct answer is: Hey, whatever I select.
We took a bus to the nearby monastery of one of the last great Tang dynasty Chan masters, Yun-men. Yun-men was known for his pithy 'one word' Zen. When asked 'What is the highest teaching of the Buddha?' he replied: 'An appropriate statement.' On another occasion, he answered: 'Cake.' I admired his directness.
A writer arrived at the monastery to write a book about the Master. "People say you are a genius . Are you?" he asked. "You might say so." said the Master, none too modestly. "And what makes one a genius?" "The ability to recognize." "Recognize what?" "The butterfly in a caterpillar: the eagle in an egg; the saint in a selfish human being.
Anthony de Mello
Ah! I wish I had the courage to work for the debasement of my contemporaries. What good work it would be to defile their daughters: to insinuate something obscene into the infantile hands which caress each paternal beard and cheek; to poison them, even at the risk of perishing ourselves; to do as those Spanish monks did, who drank death in order that they might persuade the French rabble which had violated their monastery to do likewise.
Remy de Gourmont
The life of the cenobite is a human problem. When we speak of convents, those seats of error but innocence, of mistaken views but good intentions, of ignorance but devotion, of torment but martyrdom, we must nearly always say yes or no... The monastery is a renunciation. Self-sacrifice, even when misdirected, is still self-sacrifice. To assume as duty a strict error has its peculiar grandeur.
To eat in a monastery refectory is an exercise in humility; daily, one is reminded to put communal necessity before individual preference. While consumer culture speaks only to preferences, treating even whims as needs to be granted (and the sooner the better), monastics sense that this pandering to delusions of self-importance weakens the true self, and diminishes our ability to distinguish desires from needs. It's a price they're not willing to pay.
Not only is the day waning, but the year. The low sun is fiery and yet cold behind the monastery ruin, and the Virginia creeper on the Cathedral wall has showered half its deep-red leaves down on the pavement. There has been rain this afternoon, and a wintry shudder goes among the little pools on the cracked, uneven flag-stones, and through the giant elm-trees as they shed a gust of tears.
Westereners often think that the East is one vast Buddhist temple, which is rather like thinking the West is one vast Carthusian monastery. If the [Western people who like Buddhism] were to visit the East, he'd certainly experience many new things, but he'd find first, that the food is under lock and key and second, that humans are considered to be a miserable, destructive, greedy lot, just as they are in the West.
Fatigue can make it hard to have faith. Too much busyness can make it hard to have faith. Too much of too little solitude can impact faith. For that matter, so can a bout of hunger or overwork, anything carried to an extreme. Faith thrives on routine. Look at any monastery and you will see that. Faith keeps on keeping on.
Now you are walking in Paris all alone in the crowd As herds of bellowing buses drive by Love's anguish tightens your throat As if you were never to be loved again If you lived in the old days you would enter a monastery You are ashamed when you discover yourself reciting a prayer You make fun of yourself and like the fire of Hell your laughter crackles The sparks of your laugh gild the depths of your life It's a painting hanging in a dark museum And sometimes you go and look at it close up
The building is rather like a medieval Castle and was established in the Sixth Century and soon afterwards, as the Moslem armies advanced Westwards from the Arabian Peninsula, somebody had the prescience to build a small Mosque in its courtyard to guard against it being burned or demolished. At the time of the Crusades it was the turn of the Monastery to protect the Mosque, and so it has been down the ages, each House of God extending its shelter to the other as opposing armies came and went.
Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.
It's a huge Carthusian monastery, stuck down between rocks and sea, where you may imagine me, without white gloves or hair curling, as pale as ever, in a cell with such doors as Paris never had for gates. The cell is the shape of a tall coffin, with an enormous dusty vaulting, a small window... Bach, my scrawls and waste paper - silence - you could scream - there would still be silence. Indeed, I write to you from a strange place.
He'd once heard a story about a monastery on the top of some mountain in Japan or somewhere. After a long trek in the cold to get there, the monks would offer to sell you a cup of coffee. You had a choice: There was a two-dollar cup - or a two-hundred- dollar cup. When pressed to explain the difference, the monks were reported to say, 'A hundred and ninety-eight dollars.'
It was a very aged, ghostly place; the church had been built many hundreds of years ago, and had once had a convent or monastery attached; for arches in ruins, remains of oriel windows, and fragments of blackened walls, were yet standing-, while other portions of the old building, which had crumbled away and fallen down, were mingled with the churchyard earth and overgrown with grass, as if they too claimed a burying-place and sought to mix their ashes with the dust of men.
Everybody was talking about the religious man who committed suicide. While no one in the monastery approved of the man's action, some say they admired his faith. Faith?" said the Master. He had the courage of his convictions, didn't he?" That was fanaticism, not faith. Faith demands a greater courage still: to reexamine one's convictions and reject them if they do not fit the facts.
Anthony de Mello
The Jesuits are a MILITARY organization, not a religious order. Their chief is a general of an army, not the mere father abbot of a monastery. And the aim of this organization is power - power in its most despotic exercise - absolute power, universal power, power to control the world by the volition of a single man. Jesuitism is the most absolute of despotisms - and at the same time the greatest and most enormous of abuses.
For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to this agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his last punishment, let the flames of hell consume him for ever. Curse on book thieves, from the monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona, Spain
Mystics knew how to channel grace through prayer and they knew the power of that. They knew how to receive guidance through reflection and contemplation; they knew how to share the gift of illumination with each other. These are great gifts of life and profound grace that we are capable of providing for each other and the world. This is what it means to be a mystic without a monastery. You make a commitment to your own interior illumination and through that discover the "sacred" part of your "contract" and the true meaning of your highest potential.
FORTY DAYS is a social, spiritual and learning experiment in which people experience the intensity of monastic life. The purpose is not religious conversion per se, but it is to expose people to the reality of unplugging from modern life completely and creating the opportunity to explore their beliefs in a contemplative environment. The tone of the series will be thoughtful and respectful to the brothers and sisters who have made their monastery home to our production team and the participants in the series.
I am a lama, " said the man in yellow. "It is lamas who identify incarnate Buddhas. If I say the Lord Chenresi is among us, some will listen. Some of high rank will confirm my word. It is a good thing for religion to have manifestations-which have been scarce of late, and men are not so respectful as they used to be. Also, it is a long way from Lhassa to this monastery. There can be a rumor sent forth, that will take hold and excite, arousing the hope of people, of whom many will be monks. So that they who will be sent from Lhassa to investigate will not dare to deny the story, knowing how much safer it is to deceive men than to undeceive them.
I ended up going into this big art historical argument.' [Barry Blinderman] invoked, for example, Matthias Gre¼newald's Isenheim altarpiece, painted in the sixteenth century for a monastery where monks cared for people with skin diseases-so the suffering Christ in that painting shows symptoms of skin disease. 'It's because he's the man of sorrows, ' Blinderman argued. 'He takes on the suffering of the world. So if Christ were to appear physically today, one of the sicknesses he would have to take on would be drug addiction.
Learning to pass, it turns out, is less a matter of acting than not acting. You can become part of a given scene, situation, or people ('our people, ' as it were), simply by letting yourself serve as a mirror for those around you. When I was still in college, when I still thought I might make a good priest, I spent some time in a Trappist monastery. I found that by exerting as little of my own personality as possible, I was able to fit right in. The monks in no time came to call me brother, believing I was destined to make vows as one of their own. Passing begins with the assumptions of those around you. The best thing you can do to maintain the illusion is to come as close as possible to doing nothing at all.
The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce variety and uncompromising divergences of men... In a large community, we can choose our companions. In a small community, our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized society groups come into existence founded upon sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
Sri Yukteswar used to poke gentle fun at the commonly inadequate conceptions of renunciation."A beggar cannot renounce wealth," Master would say. "If a man laments: 'My business has failed; my wife has left me; I will renounce all and enter a monastery,' to what worldly sacrifice is he referring? He did not renounce wealth and love; they renounced him!"Saints like Gandhi, on the other hand, have made not only tangible material sacrifices, but also the more difficult renunciation of selfish motive and private goal, merging their inmost being in the stream of humanity as a whole.
You don't need to retire to a cloister or the desert for years on end to experience a true dark night; you don't even have to be pursuing any particular "spiritual" path. Raising a challenged child, or caring for a failing parent for years on end, is at least as purgative as donning robes and shaving one's head; to endure a mediocre work situation for the sake of the paycheck that sustains a family demands at least as much in the way of daily surrender to years of pristine silence in a monastery. No one can know in advance how and where the night will come, and what form God's darkness will take.
They told of dripping stone walls in uninhabited castles and of ivy-clad monastery ruins by moonlight, of locked inner rooms and secret dungeons, dank charnel houses and overgrown graveyards, of footsteps creaking upon staircases and fingers tapping at casements, of howlings and shriekings, groanings and scuttlings and the clanking of chains, of hooded monks and headless horseman, swirling mists and sudden winds, insubstantial specters and sheeted creatures, vampires and bloodhounds, bats and rats and spiders, of men found at dawn and women turned white-haired and raving lunatic, and of vanished corpses and curses upon heirs.
With the passage of days in this godly isolation [desert], my heart grew calm. It seemed to fill with answers. I did not ask questions any more; I was certain. Everything - where we came from, where we are going, what our purpose is on earth - struck me as extremely sure and simple in this God-trodden isolation. Little by little my blood took on the godly rhythm. Matins, Divine Liturgy, vespers, psalmodies, the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening, the constellations suspended like chandeliers each night over the monastery: all came and went, came and went in obedience to eternal laws, and drew the blood of man into the same placid rhythm. I saw the world as a tree, a gigantic poplar, and myself as a green leaf clinging to a branch with my slender stalk. When God's wind blew, I hopped and danced, together with the entire tree.
Mindful living is an art. You do not have to be a monk or living in a monastery to practice mindfulness. You can practice it anytime, while driving your car or doing housework. Driving in mindfulness will make the time in your car joyful, and it will also help you avoid accidents. You can use the red traffic light as a signal of mindfulness, reminding you to stop and enjoy your breathing. Similarly, when you do the dishes after dinner you can practice mindful breathing, so the time dish washing is pleasant and meaningful. You do not feel you have to rush. If you hurry, you waste the time of dish washing. The time you spend washing dishes and doing all your other everyday tasks is precious. It is a time for being alive. When you practice mindful living, peace will bloom during your daily activities.
Thich Nhat Háº¡nh
For moderns - for us - there is something illicit, it seems, about wasted time, the empty hours of contemplation when a thought unfurls, figures of speech budding and blossoming, articulation drifting like spent petals onto the dark table we all once gathered around to talk and talk, letting time get the better of us. _Just taking our time_, as we say. That is, letting time take us. "Can you say, " I once inquired of a sixty-year old cloistered nun who had lived (vibrantly, it seemed) from teh age of nineteen in her monastery cell, "what the core of contemplative life is?" "Leisure, " she said, without hesitation, her china blue eyes cheerfully steady on me. I suppose I expected her to say, "Prayer." Or maybe "The search for God." Or "Inner peace." Inner peace would have been good. One of the big-ticket items of spirituality. She saw I didn't see. "It takes time to do this, " she said finally. Her "this" being the kind of work that requires abdication from time's industrial purpose (doing things, getting things). By choosing leisure she had bid farewell to the fevered enterprise of getting-and-spending whereby, as the poet said, we lay waste our powers.
Religious despair is often a defense against boredom and the daily grind of existence. Lacking intensity in our lives, we say that we are distant from God and then seek to make that distance into an intense experience. It is among the most difficult spiritual ailments to heal, because it is usually wholly illusory. There are definitely times when we must suffer God's absence, when we are called to enter the dark night of the soul in order to pass into some new understanding of God, some deeper communion with him and with all creation. But this is very rare, and for the most part our dark nights of the soul are, in a way this is more pathetic than tragic, wishful thinking. God is not absent. He is everywhere in the world we are too dispirited to love. To feel him - to find him - does not usually require that we renounce all worldly possessions and enter a monastery, or give our lives over to some cause of social justice, or create some sort of sacred art, or begin spontaneously speaking in tongues. All to often the task to which we are called is simply to show a kindness to the irritating person in the cubicle next to us, say, or to touch the face of a spouse from whom we ourselves have been long absent, letting grace wake love from our intense, self-enclosed sleep.
Seeing that I would never manage to fall asleep, I arose, lit a candle, and after dressing went outside. Beneath the dull glow of the winter moon the snow glowed like pale blue china. The sidewalks sparkled weakly beneath the rays of the flickering street lamps; the benumbed streets slumbered forlornly. I walked, passing one corner after the other, and suddenly found myself on the edge of town. Further, beyond the square, an endless expanse began to glisten with a somber silverness. I stopped just before the gates. My intent gaze could distinguish nothing in the distant white expanse. Before me rose the imposing bank of the Volga like a gigantic snowdrift. So barren and uninviting was this deserted view resembling eternity that my heart contracted. I turned to the right and approached quite close to the monastery enclosure. From behind the bronze gates, glimmered a dense net of crosses and gravestones. The ancient eyes of the church gazed forbiddingly down on me, and with an eerie feeling I thought of the monks sleeping at this moment in tomb-like cells together with corpses. Were any of them thinking of the hour of death on this night? ("Lamia")
It was so cold. In the monastery. Sometimes the wind came from the sea with ice in it... It could freeze the skin off your face. Once the snow was so deep we couldn't get out of the doors to the woodshed. A monk jumped from a window. He sank into a drift and took a long time to get up. That night, they made me sleep next to the stove. I was small, thin, like a piece of birch bark. But then the Stove went out. Father Bernard took me into his cell... It was he who first gave me chalk and paper. He was so old his eyes his eyes looked as if he was crying. But he was never sad. In winter he had fewer blankets than the others. He said he didn't need them because God warmed him. (...) But even Father Bernard was cold that night. He laid me down on the bed next to him, wrapped me in an animal skin, then in his own arms. He told me stories about Jesus. How His love could wake the dead and how with Him in one's heart one could heat the world... When I woke it was light. The snow had stopped. I was warm. But he was cold. I gave him the skin but his body was stiff. I didn't know what to do. I got out a piece of paper from his chest under the bed and drew him, lying there. His face had a smile on it. I knew that God had been there when he died. That now He was in me, and because of Father Bernard I would be warm forever.
Picnic, Lightning It is possible to be struck by a meteor or a single-engine plane while reading in a chair at home. Safes drop from rooftops and flatten the odd pedestrian mostly within the panels of the comics, but still, we know it is possible, as well as the flash of summer lightning, the thermos toppling over, spilling out on the grass. And we know the message can be delivered from within. The heart, no valentine, decides to quit after lunch, the power shut off like a switch, or a tiny dark ship is unmoored into the flow of the body's rivers, the brain a monastery, defenseless on the shore. This is what I think about when I shovel compost into a wheelbarrow, and when I fill the long flower boxes, then press into rows the limp roots of red impatiens- the instant hand of Death always ready to burst forth from the sleeve of his voluminous cloak. Then the soil is full of marvels, bits of leaf like flakes off a fresco, red-brown pine needles, a beetle quick to burrow back under the loam. Then the wheelbarrow is a wilder blue, the clouds a brighter white, and all I hear is the rasp of the steel edge against a round stone, the small plants singing with lifted faces, and the click of the sundial as one hour sweeps into the next.
When a fine old carpet is eaten by mice, the colors and patterns of what's left behind do not change, ' wrote my neighbor and friend, the poet Jane Hirschfield, after she visited an old friend suffering from Alzheimer's disease in a nursing home. And so it was with my father. His mind did not melt evenly into undistinguishable lumps, like a dissolving sand castle. It was ravaged selectively, like Tintern Abbey, the Cistercian monastery in northern Wales suppressed in 1531 by King Henry VIII in his split with the Church of Rome. Tintern was turned over to a nobleman, its stained-glass windows smashed, its roof tiles taken up and relaid in village houses. Holy artifacts were sold to passing tourists. Religious statues turned up in nearby gardens. At least one interior wall was dismantled to build a pigsty. I've seen photographs of the remains that inspired Wordsworth: a Gothic skeleton, soaring and roofless, in a green hilly landscape. Grass grows in the transept. The vanished roof lets in light. The delicate stone tracery of its slim, arched quatrefoil windows opens onto green pastures where black-and-white cows graze. Its shape is beautiful, formal, and mysterious. After he developed dementia, my father was no longer useful to anybody. But in the shelter of his broken walls, my mother learned to balance her checkbook, and my heart melted and opened. Never would I wish upon my father the misery of his final years. But he was sacred in his ruin, and I took from it the shards that still sustain me.
When a man kills another man, the people say he is a murderer, but when the Emir kills him, the Emir is just. When a man robs a monastery, they say he is a thief, but when the Emir robs him of his life, the Emir is honourable. When a woman betrays her husband, they say she is an adulteress, but when the Emir makes her walk naked in the streets and stones her later, the Emir is noble. Shedding of blood is forbidden, but who made it lawful for the Emir? Stealing one's money is a crime, but taking away one's life is a noble act. Betrayal of a husband may be an ugly deed, but stoning of living souls is a beautiful sight. Shall we meet evil with evil and say this is the Law? Shall we fight corruption with greater corruption and say this is the Rule? Shall we conquer crimes with more crimes and say this is Justice? Had not the Emir killed an enemy in his past life? Had he not robbed his weak subjects of money and property? Had he not committed adultery? Was he infallible when he killed the murderer and hanged the thief in the tree? Who are those who hanged the thief in the tree? Are they angels descended from heaven, or men looting and usurping? Who cut off the murderer's head? Are they divine prophets, or soldiers shedding blood wherever they go? Who stoned that adulteress? Were they virtuous hermits who came from their monasteries, or humans who loved to commit atrocities with glee, under the protection of ignorant Law? What is Law? Who saw it coming with the sun from the depths of heaven? What human saw the heart of God and found its will or purpose? In what century did the angels walk among the people and preach to them, saying, "Forbid the weak from enjoying life, and kill the outlaws with the sharp edge of the sword, and step upon the sinners with iron feet?
If we are inclined to forget how much there is in the world besides that which we anticipate, then works of art are perhaps a little to blame, for in them we find at work the same process of simplification or selection as in the imagination. Artistic accounts include severe abbreviations of what reality will force upon us. A travel book may tell us, for example, that the narrator journeyed through the afternoon to reach the hill town of X and after a night in its medieval monastery awoke to a misty dawn. But we never simply 'journey through an afternoon'. We sit in a train. Lunch digests awkwardly within us. The seat cloth is grey. We look out the window at a field. We look back inside. A drum of anxieties resolves in our consciousness. We notice a luggage label affixed to a suitcase in a rack above the seats opposite. We tap a finger on the window ledge. A broken nail on an index finger catches a thread. It starts to rain. A drop wends a muddy path down the dust-coated window. We wonder where our ticket might be. We look back at the field. It continues to rain. At last, the train starts to move. It passes an iron bridge, after which it inexplicably stops. A fly lands on the window And still we may have reached the end only of the first minute of a comprehensive account of the events lurking within the deceptive sentence 'He journeyed through the afternoon'. A storyteller who provides us with such a profusion of details would rapidly grow maddening. Unfortunately, life itself often subscribes to this mode of storytelling, wearking us out with repetitions, misleading emphases[, ] and inconsequential plot lines. It insists on showing us Burdak Electronics, the safety handle in the car, a stray dog, a Christmas card[, ] and a fly that lands first on the rim and then the centre of a laden ashtray. Which explains the curious phenomenon whereby valuable elements may be easier to experience in art and in anticipation than in reality. The anticipatory and artistic imaginations omit and compress; they cut away the periods of boredom and direct our attention to critical moments, and thus, without either lying or embellishing, they lend to life a vividness and a coherence that it may lack in the distracting woolliness of the present.
Alain de Botton