Our goal is “contemplation in action”
我這一年在加州紅木林谷森林中的塔伯山修道院住。此修道院亦為一禪觀教派，沿襲東正教的儀典，但是仍然承認梵蒂岡教皇的領袖地位。我在美國中西部的一所大學擔任全職教授之後，一心沉浸在禪觀世界之中。一個週末要改 120 份學生作業，同時又要保持禪觀是非常困難的。
[Editor’s Note: The following talk was given by Father Raymond at Daoyuan Hall on March 8, during a visit by students of Humboldt State University to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.]
For several years, I used to work in Washington, D.C. with an old priest, Father Horace, who was in his early eighties. He had worked so hard for the people all his life that the bottom of his feet constantly bled and the flesh had worn away. I used to change his socks for him. One snowy night while among the street people, he found an old woman frozen in the snow. In spite of all the difficulties, and him being 83 years old, he still managed to carry her up three flights of stairs. That basically saved her life. Father Horace was a very holy man. I once asked him what the spiritual life was all about. He, being an Irishman from New York, said in his Irish accent, “Ah, it is nothing but sinning and going to confession.”
I am a Jesuit priest, which means I’m a member of the Society of Jesus, a religious order in the Catholic Church. We are about 400 years old. We are somewhat like monks, but not actually. [The Catholic writer and Trappist monk] Thomas Merton explicitly said, “Jesuits are not monks.” But we are a religious order, and we are given to contemplation; however, unlike for full-time monks in any tradition, our goal is “contemplation in action.” So from the Chatholic point of view, we are trying to walk the narrow way, where we are in the world and involved in the world, but we are supposed to be contemplative all the time while in the world. The world is our meditation subject.
The Society of Jesus was founded by a Spanish mystic, a converted soldier named Ignatius Loyola in the 16th century, at the end of the medieval period in Europe known as the Dark Ages. This was also the end of the religious civilization in which there were monks and nuns everywhere, who spent years doing nothing but contemplating. This contemplative tradition is the root of the Western civilization as well. A Jesuit took a monk’s cell, and that cell would be his world. Looking at you right now, talking in this assembly is my spiritual practice, my cell. This is my encounter with God right now, right here in this place.
I am presently spending a year at Mount Tabor Monastery in the forest in the Redwood Valley [in California]. Theirs is a contemplative order that follows the Eastern rites but still recognizes the Pope as the head of the Church. I am being immersed in the world of the contemplative life after having been a full-time professor at a university in the Midwest [of the United States]. It is very difficult to be contemplative when you have 120 papers to grade the same weekend.
I am a native of New York. I call myself a refugee from New York who came to California. I was ordained into the priesthood when I was 26 years old , and I have been in it for 21 years.
As a student, I was immersed in this encounter with Asian religions, with no previous background in this area. During my junior year at college, I was on a student trip round the world and was literally dropped into a Zen monastery in Japan. I was fascinated by it. Then I began to practice meditation. Just sitting for half an hour, I felt tremendous agony in my knees. Over the years, my Comparative Religions professor told me, “If you want to sit, just get rid of your chair and sit.” I learned to calm the mind. I began to pray with a new depth and intensity that I wouldn‘t have otherwise known. Years went by, I had many experiences, but it became clear to me that the deepest call of my heart was to know Jesus Christ. But I seemed to have lost sight of it along the way--how to let that love for this person be at the center of a respectable and professional life, and yet still be in touch with the contemplative life.
In my study I have tried to rediscover what Christianity is really about. Among my contemplative friends most tended to become Buddhists. That was wonderful, but I was a Christian, and I am a Christian. Looking into my own tradition, I saw all kinds of massive destruction on all sides. Yet my deepest desire was to know truth, peace, and love. The path for us is the love for a person.
In Christianity, Jesus didn’t teach a path. He said he is the path. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” You can see this statement on billboards throughout the South. So the Way of a Christian is this very person, is being a person. This can be taken glibly. But on a deeper level of practice, we have been so compromised that as a result of the growth of modernity most Western Christians have lost the sense of their contemplative natures. For example, in the Eastern Church they celebrate the Great Lent. Traditionally for Christians that means eating no animal products for 40 days: no butter, no milk, no eggs,... so it is a strictly vegan diet. In this way the body has a role in our prayer. We do many prostrations at night; this too is an ancient practice of the Church. We have night vigils, in which we pray and chant. It is a very, very rich contemplative tradition which involves the body as well as the mind.
In this tradition, the way to God, as Pope John Paul says, is the human. Human beings are the way to God. It moves through the human heart, and involves the human community as it is. I think of Mother Teresa in this sense of human dignity, in which our God is identified with the most needy. So to encounter God is to help those in need. That is what you are going to be held accountable for in the end when stock is taken: what you gave and what was given to you in this life.
What is meant by being fully human? I think it means being in relationship with others, being part of a community. Because in the classical Christian understanding ultimate reality is a community of persons called the Blessed Trinity. That means there is a family that is the ultimate reality: persons in an eternal relationship of perfect love.
To be on the path, following Jesus, who is the teacher for the Christian, and is the Way, is to try to share his life, be conformed to him in this life so that we can attain to the life of the Resurrection, which is eternal life. The ideal Christian community is a place where the Risen Life is already being lived. So you can actually taste the Resurrection in this life.
If you come to the Eastern liturgy you will see as the early Russians did, that “here is something of Heaven on Earth.” As members of a religious order, we also take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. We share very much with the ascetic practices of other traditions. There is a kind of universal contemplative and ascetic experience common to humanity. And as Thomas Merton said, we in the West very much need to benefit from the experiences of other traditions, which remind us of many things we ourselves have lost.
In conclusion I’d just like to encourage everyone to come up and visit Holy Transfiguration Monastery at Mount Tabor sometime.