Cover image for Wisdom roads : conversations with remarkable meditation masters
Title:
Wisdom roads : conversations with remarkable meditation masters
Author:
Muller, Lawrence G.
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Publication Information:
New York : Continuum, 2000.
Physical Description:
185 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
General Note:
"Laurence Freeman, Swami Satchidananda, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Edward McCorkell, Swami Shankarananda, Shree Chitrabhanu, Wayne Teasdale, Bhante Gunaratana."
Language:
English
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ISBN:
9780826412348
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Book

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Central Library BL627 .M85 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

A non-denominational treatise on the benefits of meditation.Laurence Freeman, Swami Satchidananda, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Edward McCorkell, Swami Shankarananda, Shree Chitrabhanu, Wayne Teasdale, and Bhante Gunaratana agree:meditation is for everyone. It is the practical, experience-based wisdom at the core of all religions and at the very heart of the spiritual life. This book of plain-speaking conversations brings together outstanding contemporary teachers of meditation from quite diverse yet very accessible wisdom traditions, including Christian Meditation, Contemplative Prayer, and Christian Sannyasa; Buddhist Bon Dzogchen and Theravada Vipassana; Jain Meditation; Integral Yoga and Kirya/Advaita Vedanta. This book does not focus on the theological or philosophical differences of its contributors but on the actual practice of meditation-how to meditate and get the most out of it. What emerges in the course of the book is how much the different roads of wisdom agree on the goal of the journey and the means to get there.


Author Notes

Lawrence G. Muller is a journalist, teacher and long-time mediator who lives in the Shenandoah Valley, VA. He is a lay oblate of the the New Camaldoli Hermitage, CA. He is the recipient of the 1999 Lord Fairfax Community College Inter-Religious Dialogue Award.


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Muller, a writer and journalist who is an oblate (a layperson who observes monastic tradition while maintaining a secular life) of the Benedictine New Camaldoli Hermitage in California, here records his interviews with eight great teachers of various meditation traditions. They include: from Christianity, Benedictine monk Laurence Freeman, Cistercian monk Edward McCorkell and Wayne Teasdale, a practitioner of Christian sannyasi; from Yoga, Swami Satchidananda and Swami Shankarananda; from Buddhism, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and Bhante Henepola Gunaratana; and, from Jainism, Shree Chitrabhanu. In each case, Muller starts with the basics--"What is Christian meditation?" "What are the key teachings of Yoga meditation?" "What is the centering prayer?"--and then delves into specifics about practices, techniques and beliefs. He investigates what all meditation traditions have in common and what unique characteristic each tradition possesses. Muller intends his interviews to be helpful either to people of faith who want to increase their understanding of meditation to apply it to their own religious practice, or to those who do not believe in one particular tradition but have an interest in the topic of meditation. The interview format limits how thoroughly and systematically the chapters can impart information, but it does allow a sense of the teachers' diverse personalities. The book makes for a satisfactory, if basic, introduction to these meditation traditions. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Christian Meditation with Laurence Freeman L.M.: What is Christian meditation--or the way of the mantra--as initially rediscovered and taught by Father John Main? And now, by you through the World Community of Christian Meditation? As a corollary to that, why should one practice Christian meditation?     L.F.: That's a lot for one question. It's like one of those Chinese boxes, one inside the other. Well, Christian meditation is a tradition of Christian prayer--a practice of Christian prayer which John Main found, and recognized, and rediscovered--particularly in the teachings of the early Christian monks, of the desert fathers. I think that the first thing one should say is that meditation itself is a universal tradition. You find it in all the great religions. But I also think that, for the Western mind, and for the church today, we have lost touch with our own Christian tradition of meditation. And, we often assume that meditation is only an oriental tradition or practice.     It was Father John's experience that he first learned to meditate when he was in the East, some years before he became a monk. That experience probably helped him to recognize the practicality of the teachings on prayer--that he later found in the writings of John Cassian. He was one of the great communicators of the wisdom of the desert tradition.     L.M.: In the fourth century?     L.F.: The fourth and fifth centuries. And really, he was one of the great pillars of the western spiritual, contemplative tradition. Cassian devotes two of his conferences to prayer--numbers nine and ten. The ninth is about the theory of prayer; it's a very beautiful and rich description of the nature of prayer. But he doesn't say how to do it. In the tenth conference, he actually gives a method. The method he gives is to take a phrase, which he calls a formula, in Latin, and repeat that formula incessantly, continuously. He describes the repetition of this single phrase over and over in the mind and heart--as bringing us to that poverty of spirit--which is the first of the beatitudes. Now, John Main recognized this, not just as a theory, but as an actual practice. His teaching comes directly out of the wisdom of Cassian. You will find the same tradition in many of the other great teachers, including the author of The Cloud of Unknowing .     L.M.: The anonymous, fourteenth-century English mystic. I understand that when Father John first became a Benedictine, there wasn't any knowledge of the way of the mantra in his monastery in Britain. In fact, he had first learned of the mantra through a Hindu teacher he met in the East.     L.F.: When he first became a monk in the fifties, it was still a long time before meditation would become generally known.     L.M.: It took another decade, the sixties.     L.F.: Exactly, this was before before the great era of TM--Transcendental Meditation--and the Beatles, and the great influx of Eastern spirituality into the West. Most of the religious orders, including monastic orders, and all the seminaries, had effectively lost touch with that central tradition of Christian contemplative prayer. They had really got themselves restricted to mental prayer, discursive prayer, or meditation. When John Main became a monk, his novice master heard him describe the way of meditation he was following, which had brought him to the monastery. The novice master couldn't understand it, and he told Father John: "This was obviously the Lord's way of bringing you to the monastery. But now that you're here, you should abandon it and return to our Christian prayer."     L.M.: So he ordered Father John not to meditate?     L.F.: Well, he advised it.     L.M.: He advised against meditation.     L.F.: Those were the days when monks were still obedient; so he obeyed. Father John later said that when he came back to the practice of meditation through Cassian, he came back on God's terms, not his own. He saw that as a desert period, but also as a purifying, fruitful experience.     L.M.: Did your own reading of some of John Mains writings lead you to become a monk?     L.F.: Yes, I was led to be a monk directly through meditation; and through having Father John as a teacher. I had actually met him a long time ago, before I was even thinking of becoming a monk when I was a boy in school. He was teaching school when I was about thirteen or fourteen. He wasn't teaching meditation at that point. That was my first encounter with him. And then we met again, in the late sixties, when he had started meditating again. He was at that time headmaster of a Benedictine school in Washington, D.C., Saint Anselm's. I was visiting there at Easter. And he introduced me to meditation.     I never doubted the rightness of the path, it just made sense to me. It was clear, it was simple, it was authentic. It was also a discipline--one that was quite challenging to me. I was then attending university, with many distractions and worries. So I practiced it very intermittently. Then, Father John came back to England, and he started a lay community centered on meditation at his monastery in London. The idea was that you would join the community for six months to receive instruction and training in meditation--and spiritual preparation for life. I joined that lay community. But because I am a very undisciplined and slow learner, I had to become a monk to learn it.     L.M.: It wasn't long thereafter that you made the commitment to monastic life.     L.F.: Yes, after the initial six months. I struggled with that. I had not intended to become a monk. It seemed to me to be the path to follow. For me anyway, the monastic life was the best way I could follow that path of meditation.     L.M.: One hopes that Christian meditation will have a real benefit for the majority of people in the church, for lay people living their lives out in the world. Are many parishes here in America encouraging Christian meditation practice?     L.F.: Well, there are now many parishes and religious communities and retreat houses where there are weekly group meetings. Also you'll find groups at places of work. There is one meeting here in New York, at the United Nations, that meets every week.     L.M.: They do the way of the mantra, or maranatha?     L.F.: Yes, they are following the tradition that John Main passed on. There are many other groups. There are contemplative groups in other traditions as well, such as Centering Prayer. So I think that there is a growth and awakening. It is mostly among lay people; the clergy, on the whole, are a little slow to tune into this. Though there certainly are wonderful priests and religious around the country who are deeply contemplative men and women. They teach and encourage lay people to teach meditation.     We recently had a school for teachers of meditation at our monastery in Pecos, New Mexico. Twenty-five people came from around the country. It was our first school for teachers in the U.S. There was perhaps one priest and two sisters, the rest were lay people. I was very excited and impressed by their depth and clarity; and, by their grasp of the teaching.     L.M.: Was Cassian's method then the practice of maranatha?     L.F.: No, Cassian suggested the repetition of a particular phrase from the Psalms, "Oh God, come to my assistance." That is the one which Saint Benedict took over for the opening verse of the Divine Office. John Main recognized Cassian's phrase to be like the mantra he had learned in the East. The basic teaching is that you choose a short word or phrase as your mantra, and that you repeat it continually. There are various phrases, words, or mantras that you could choose. The Cloud author suggests the word God , for example.     John Main felt that the word maranatha was a beautiful mantra for Christians, because it is the oldest Christian prayer. And it is in the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke. It is a scriptural word and prayer too, that Saint Paul ends the First Letter to Corinthians with. So it's a very suitable word. Also, the length and sound of the word are helpful in calming the mind. Another very ancient Christian mantra is the name of Jesus--which you find in the Jesus prayer tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church.     L.M.: It's also found in The Way of the Pilgrim .     L.F.: The hesychast tradition developed rather later in the Christian church. But the same understanding of the praying of one word is very clear.     L.M.: How does one go about Christian meditation, including the basic posture and breathing?     L.F.: We don't--John Main and those of us who follow in his tradition--we don't so much emphasize the technique aspect of it. It is more a simple discipline--not easy, but simple. We emphasize very much the simplicity of the practice. We would say, sit down: sit still with your back straight. So that you are in an alert, faithful, and comfortable posture. That also helps you to breathe properly. Close your eyes lightly--relax--and then, silently, interiorly, begin to say your word, say your mantra. When thoughts come into the mind--as they will in great number--just ignore them. Don't fight with them, don't waste any energy getting into conflict with them.     L.M.: Don't analyze them.     L.F.: Don't analyze them, just let go. Whether they're holy thoughts, or not so holy thoughts. Just let them go, simply let that level of mental activity go. Then, by continually returning to the word, gently but faithfully, you are led through the distractions, thoughts, and images to a deeper center, which we call the heart. In that center, we discover the peace of Christ. We discover Jesus at prayer in us. Now at the time of meditation we are not theologizing about it, or thinking about it. But the fruits of that journey from the mind to the heart, are readily experienced in daily life, especially in our relationships.     L.M.: I was reading one of Father John's essays where he mentioned the simplicity, as you said, of the mantra. How perhaps that simplicity is exactly what contemporary men and women find so difficult, about almost anything. If there is simplicity, they're even skeptical about it.     L.F.: I think that's true. We are a very complex culture; we worship complexity. Look at the way we are with computers and everything. It is very difficult for us to trust simplicity. And yet we hunger for it, we thirst for it, we crave it. We realize how emotionally and psychologically complex we've become. Our society is incredibly complex, sometimes to the point of absurdity. How difficult it is to make a telephone call in the United States--I always annoy the operators by telling them that it is much easier to telephone in India. Even materially, the culture complicates our lives with all these consumer demands. And we are conditioned to be constantly stimulated by desire, and constantly buying. So I think we crave simplicity, and that is why there is such a deep turning toward meditation in Western culture. And why people who are not trained to be disciplined are ready to undertake the discipline of meditation. Somebody said to me the other day that the only discipline that is left in the West is dieting. For some other people there are physical workouts, jogging, and such. But people are also prepared today to follow a spiritual discipline like meditation--which asks them to meditate every day. To meditate in the morning before the day's work begins, and before we're caught up in the complexities and busyness of the day. And again, meditate in the early evening, at the end of the day's work--ideally, before the evening meal.     L.M.: We tend to become sleepy after a meal.     L.F.: Yes, it's always better to meditate before a meal. And don't leave meditation for late at night, until just before you go to sleep; because then you're quite likely, or more likely, to fall asleep.     L.M.: I guess that Father Bede Griffiths of Shantivanam ashram in India, who died in 1993, deserved a special dispensation. As he usually meditated in bed at night before going to sleep.     L.F.: At the age of eighty-six, I think he was able to do that.     L.M.: What part does the teacher of Christian meditation such as yourself have to play in the life of the individual Christian meditator? And what is the community's role?     L.F.: I feel quite strongly that the teacher--for the meditator in the Christian tradition--or for one who is coming to meditation in the Christian faith--that the teacher would be Christ. You have a living master in Christ. He is not just a Socrates or a Lao Tzu, who has left us beautiful words and ideas. The Christian believes that Christ is a living teacher. Christ is teaching us continuously, and moment by moment in the spirit--in the gift of the spirit. I think that this is the great reference point in Christian meditation, with regard to the teacher.     Saint Augustine says that Christ teaches us to pray. Because he prays in us--with us--and for us. That is significantly different from the Eastern tradition of the guru, where the guru is a very important figure. He or she who seems to the Westerner to be almost divinized. The Indians and the Tibetans tend to see the guru as the personification of the Absolute.     L.M.: Father Bede encountered that too.     L.F.: Yes, Father Bede did. I was with him once when one of the Hindu villagers came to his hut, and fell at his feet, and kissed his feet. Father Bede, who was the most humble person you could imagine, simply looked at me and smiled. And when the man had left he said: "You know, he's worshiping God in me, not me." So I think for the Christian that is the starting point.     It is also true to say of course that Christ teaches us through one another. And in the Christian church right from the very beginning--as Saint Paul makes clear in one of his letters. One of the most important ministries and ways of serving the community was to be a teacher. There are individuals who are called to teach. I don't think that their personality is the center of the teaching. But they are called to use whatever gifts they have to serve the community. They try to bring people to the experience of the teacher within--to Christ. The individual teacher in the Christian tradition always teaches within a community, whether small or large. Whether we see that as a monastic community, or a contemplative network like the World Community of Christian Meditation, or within the church as a whole. The Christian teacher never strikes out on his or her own--or on his or her own authority. The church clearly needs men and women of personal authority, but they always teach within the context of the community.     One of the ways you see that clearly in our community is all these small meditation groups that meet all around the world. In all sorts of places, every week a small group of people ranging from twenty to thirty at the very most; but usually, about ten or twelve people, will come together. There is a short teaching, or reading. And there is the meditation together--which is the most important reason for the gathering--and, some time for sharing. The leader of that group may simply play a tape, or give a talk, if they feel called to do that. But it is the community itself, the group itself, that becomes in a sense the medium for the presence of Christ, the teacher. The group performs the role of the teacher--though not exclusively.     L.M.: It certainly doesn't take the place of the individual's meditation in the morning and evening.     L.F.: No, certainly it doesn't do that. And it doesn't necessarily take the place of other individual teachers within the community. But in the Christian vision, the role of the teacher is in a way more subtle and more dimensional than in the East.     L.M.: It's more egalitarian in a sense. The teacher doesn't have a special aura or charisma. That's not required.     L.F.: You don't worship the teacher. You don't focus on, or get hung up on, the personality of the teacher. Though human dynamics are at work in any group, it can happen. As John Main used to say, the first job of the Christian teacher is to get out of the way as quickly as possible. And to let the spirit reveal itself, or herself, as the teacher.     L.M.: I find that when I'm sitting in meditation with a group, or in a Buddhist monastery, that my mind is usually calm and collected. But back at home, my meditation is often more jumbled and distracted.     L.F.: There is a great value in meditating together. Christians have always come together to pray. That is a very important aspect of Eastern traditions too. They call it satsang , or good company--the company of truth. We also have that idea of the church. We are enriched by the experience of meditating with others. And there are different dimensions to that experience. We have the simple, psychological encouragement of seeing other people remaining faithful to the same path as you are. When you are feeling discouraged, others can stimulate you to persevere. There is also the give and take of faith-sharing that is a very important part of deepening your dedication and perseverance.     And over and above that, there is the mysterious, sacramental quality to the group. Jesus said that when two or more are gathered in my name, there am I among them. The group itself forms a community--in the mystical sense, a real sense--the body of Christ. So I think that Christ is there in a sacramental way. That is why people often drive many miles on a cold winter's night, simply to sit for half an hour in silence with others. There is an experience of sacramental grace in the presence of the group.     L.M.: How can meditation be integrated into the whole of our lives, in this busy, rather confused social milieu? Whether it's in the area of friendship, love and marriage, or work?     L.F.: We are entering a new phase of the tradition--with the great expansion of contemplative practice among lay people and married people. That is going to change our whole theology of mysticism, for example. William Johnston in his book Mystical Theology says that the old language, which we used to describe the mystical life, the church, and mystical theology, is no longer adequate to describe the experience of married people, lay people, and those in other walks of life--who are following a contemplative path. In our community, I know many couples who meditate together every day; it is a very important quality in their marriage and in their family life. Many of them also share a ministry of teaching meditation to other people. There is a couple in their forties in Singapore. They're extremely busy; he is a busy financier, and his wife is busy with many things, raising a family. Yet they meditate together at home. And they have formed over the years about twenty or thirty meditation groups around the city that they coordinate.     L.M.: That's very impressive.     L.F.: It's a very important part of their life. And it's a real, spiritual ministry. So I think it's a new era now, when we have to take account of these realities. It is one of the most hopeful signs for the new form of the church that are slowly, painfully, laboriously appearing.     L.M.: Jesus has also said: by their fruits you shall know them. Do the fruits of meditation lead to a more loving, compassionate, and understanding view of things--with one's partner or business associate, among others? Maybe you've been doing some therapy, and it seems like you're experiencing a higher consciousness. Then somebody shouts at you and right away you lose your cool.     L.F.: You have to recognize that the fruits of this regular practice--integrated into your daily routine--are deep and powerful. Saint Paul calls them the harvest of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control. You find almost the same list of qualities in the Dhammapada, the Buddhist scripture. The fruits of meditation are undeniable.     L.M.: With this practice, the fruits of meditation are gradual. We're not to expect instant results.     L.F.: We shouldn't expect instant results. Although I do think you perceive a change beginning fairly immediately after you've made a commitment to meditation. I don't think that we should look for anything to happen in the meditation period itself; that is very important. There is a great deal of literature on meditation and spirituality, and on mystical experiences of other traditions on bookshelves today--that tends to give the impression that we meditate in order to gain extraordinary experiences during the meditation period. But in fact, if you look at the wisdom of all the great traditions, they insist that you don't look at meditation for results. If anything does happen, you basically ignore it and move on. That was the teaching of John of the Cross.     L.M.: And of The Cloud author.     L.F.: John Main says that if you have a particularly vivid vision in meditation, probably it would be more useful to attribute it to what you had for dinner. It is not so dramatic for many people. But the fruits do begin to appear in your personality and in your life. Somehow these changes that take place in you are reflected back to you through your relationships in the workplace, family life, and in intimate relationships. Suddenly you will notice that you are more patient, more loving, or a better listener. That will take you by surprise. Because we don't usually think of ourselves as having these qualities. We're never made proud by that discovery. Whereas you can be made proud if you are looking for extraordinary experiences.     L.M.: The spiritual ego gets inflated.     L.F.: One of the great warnings of the desert fathers to the monks was not to gain spiritual pride. That is a constant danger. Rather, when you do become aware of these fruits in you, you are humbled by it. You realize that this isn't your doing. This is the mainfestation of the divine life in you through your personality. That provokes a sense of wonder in us, rather than a sense of pride.     L.M.: I understand that you made a pilgrimage with other Christians to Bodh Gaya in India, which is the place of the Buddhas enlightenment. It seems that the way of meditation opens a door--or window--that enables us to learn from other religions.     L.F.: The dialogue between Christianity and the other religions is one of the great moments of the spirit in the modern world, and one of the great signs of hope. But it will only really be successful if we develop a dialogue at a level of silence too. We can realize that it is from our practicing meditation together that the most important changes take place. One of the problems of dialogue at the intellectual, philosphical level is that you either end up in conflict and banging the door, or you go for a kind of diplomatic resolution--you try to paper over, or ignore the differences. But when you have this common practice of meditation together in the dialogue process, then you come to the words and discussions and arguments, and sharing of viewpoints, in a very different way. You come with a certain detachment from the words. You are not idolizing the words, and absolutizing concepts.     L.M.: Saint John begins his Gospel by saying that, "in the beginning was the Word." Just what is that "word?" Does it mean the Bible, the Psalms? Yes, that is part of it. But isn't it also something else--that is, the creative action of the Holy Spirit, which we experience in meditation?     L.F.: Saint John spoke about the Word, the Logos , as in the beginning--and, as being God. He was using a Greek concept, the Logos; you also find the concept of the Word in the Hebrew Bible. The word of God that is coming to the prophets, and entering into the mind and consciousness of the prophets.     L.M.: Even through dreams, prophetic dreams.     L.F.: There is in the Greek idea of the Logos--which has been translated as reason and as speech--nuances that would not have been familiar to the Hebrew mind. The Logos goes back to the origins of Greek thought. As Heraclitus says, the Logos is the principle of harmony and order which affects, controls, or, guides--that is, I think, the word he uses--the whole universe. So you can see the attraction of that concept of the Logos to Saint John.     The Logos is a very important concept for Christians, as they enter into dialogue with other religions. Because we probably face--as Bede Griffiths liked to remind us--the same kind of challenge today in relation to non-Christian religions, as the early church faced in its encounter with the Gentile world.     We have to expand our terminology, our thinking; we have to allow other ways of expression and other ways of thought to become our own--as we struggle to speak about the inexpressible mystery of God. We can do that because we believe in the Logos. Because we believe that wherever human beings have discovered, or expressed truth, or beauty, or goodness, that has been through the Word of God. The Word has been present and is present in other religions. For us Christians, we believe that this Logos became flesh for the world; the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ. The fullness of the divinity was present in that unique individual in an unrepeatable way.     L.M.: Is there any ongoing dialogue between the Christian meditation community and the Islamic community? The Western media are almost overwhelmingly negative about Islam, and Muslims are largely associated with terrorists and dictators.     L.F.: I would like to have more dialogue with the Islamic world, and I have been personally involved in some cases, but not as much as I would like. There is this stereotyping of the Muslim world, and even of Muslim belief. There are some terrorists who blow up planes in the name of the Prophet Mohammed; but if you look to the Koran, you see there is no justification for what they are doing.     L.M.: Also, some Christians probably think that Buddhists and Hindus are going to Hell.     L.F.: There is a great deal of prejudice and ignorance among a great many Western Christians toward other religions. I was giving a talk once and there was a well-educated, articulate, and intelligent person saying that Hindus were devil worshipers; and that to read their scriptures was very suspect and dangerous. We still do find a surprising amount of that kind of ignorance, which of course produces fear; and that produces hostility or even violence. It is a question of education, I think. Christian formation programs and religious education should include at least a sense of respect and reverence for other religions; and some of the basic elements of what they believe.     L.M.: What about children? They will be the adult generation of the future. Do you know of any educational approaches, perhaps in your schools in England, where children are being taught within a multifaith perspective that doesn't try to evangelize or convert; but, that really educates them about various religions?     L.F.: Many schools and educational systems do incorporate that into religious education. And students should receive that information about other religions in the context of their own tradition.     L.M.: It has to be rooted in one's own tradition.     L.F.: A lot of people are frightened about that approach today. Young parents will say: Well, I don't want to brainwash my children, I am going to let them make up their own minds. Yet, you wouldn't say: well, they are going to make up their mind about whether the earth goes around the sun or, about Shakespeare. You expect children to be exposed to certain beliefs and opinions, and other traditions in a tolerant, respectful way. I personally think it is very important that there should be a teaching on meditation for children early on in school. Many of our meditators--those who are also teachers--have taught meditation to children--say, at the beginning of class for five minutes.     L.M.: Did the children enjoy the meditation?     L.F.: They enjoyed it immensely. Kids today are so bombarded with images, distractions, and entertainment. But they crave stillness and silence. Whenever I have meditated with young children or even with adolescents, it is like water being drunk up by thirsty ground.     L.M.: It is essential for the religions to get their own act together; and, in turn, do their share in helping the world get its act together--as far as global poverty, demilitarization, and world peace are concerned. How do you see Christianity's role in this dialogue with other religions?     L.F.: We have just come to the end of a long period of imperial, missionary Christianity where we were allied with great, imperial Western powers. And we went into Africa, Asia, and South America, bringing the Bible.     L.M.: Here in North America too.     L.F.: In North America too, of course--bringing in the Bible with the sword, and for economic advantage. Now, we're discovering a new kind of mission. There are many missionaries I know through our meditation community. They have a very strong sense of mission, but in a different sense--to realize the presence of Christ, and communicate the true teaching of Christ, the mystery of his humanity, and the depth of Christian faith. And, to be communicating that in a tolerant and humble way. Jesus tells us to wash one another's feet. Not to seek the first place at table. We have to hear those words, not only as individuals, but also as a church. It isn't our place as Christians to try to get to the top place at the table of the world religions. The true Christian would be very pleased to wash the feet of the other religions, and to serve unity, understanding, tolerance, and mutual respect. To be a servant, the person who comes in with the tea and coffee, rather than the one who is trying to control the agenda.     I was speaking with a Christian leader who is involved in inter religious dialogue at a very official level; I was shocked when I realized that for him it was all diplomacy and politics. It was getting the agenda right, and being very careful of your statements, and so on. What he seemed to me to miss was the sense that Christ is serving humanity through us. We don't have to be concerned about our diplomatic status; we don't have to try to win the argument. Sometimes, it is people who don't win the argument who are the most eloquent.     L.M.: I am reminded of how both Charles Foucauld and Carlo Carretto gave their authentic Christian witness among Islamic groups in North Africa, though they didn't attempt to convert them.     L.F.: A few years ago we got a letter from a French priest who had been in the Arctic for many years. He was coming to the end of his career and was about to retire. And he felt he was a complete failure. In all those years, he had maybe one or two baptisms. So he was looking at his life as something that may have been wasted. Then he began to meditate in the last year or so of his work there. And he realized through that dimension of prayer, that all those years he had been witnessing--he had been the presence of Christ to the people. That is really all we are called to do. We are not called to control the conversion process--that is between them and the Holy Spirit. Our work is to be as fully as we can, channels of that humble love of Christ--that humble love which Christians need to tune into more.     L.M.: I noticed on the meditation community's website that you have what you call "bed and meditation," I think it is. So are people coming to your meditation centers the way they might go to a bed and breakfast place where traveling?     L.F.: Well, the "bed and med" as we call it was started by a wonderful couple in England, Daphne and Gordon Mackenzie. He recently died on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The idea was that this would be a way of developing community among meditators. We have a lot of people who would be happy to share their house, or room, on a bed and breakfast basis with other traveling meditators. They would meditate together, of course. And it has taken off; it is a very enriching, and economical, way of traveling.     L.M.: How does meditation help us to face--help us to cultivate--the good death--as Saint Paul said of himself: "I die daily"?     L.F.: John Main, shortly before his death, gave a series of teachings of death--on the role that meditation plays in preparing us for death. He was speaking within that great wisdom tradition that says: our life is very much a preparation for the way we die. Meditation trains us to die well. Because in meditation itself, we are entering into a death and resurrection process. For a Christian, this is the uniting of our own dying and rising with the central death and resurrection experience of Christ.     Every day has its own death: things we have to let go of. At certain crucial moments in our life, we may have to let go of people we would rather possess or control. We may have to let go of images of ourselves; we may have to let go of status and material wealth we have gotten used to. And letting go of these things is dying. I think when you are meditating every day, you are able to face those little deaths more peacefully. They still hurt. Nobody wants to die. You may still put up a fight. But meditation grounds you in the life of the spirit. And that grounding in the life of God gives you the confidence to look death in the eye. And to accept it as part of life.     That is why meditation reduces the fear of death. I don't say that it takes away the fear of death altogether. Because the fear of death is inherent in us, deeply. But it certainly reduces the fear of death, and prevents us from becoming a neurotic about death. Because we learn that every time we go into death with faith--always, always, and always--there is new life. We learn that on the pulsebeat of our own experience. Meditation highlights that and makes us conscious of that at a very deep level. And from that deep level, we are able to recognize the meaning of death on the ordinary physical and material levels as well.     We learn that death is not the end of life. It is a point of transformation. Copyright © 2000 Lawrence G. Muller. All rights reserved.

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