Unknown Date, Serial 00224

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.


Suggested Keywords:


Archival Photo




and since every speaker was being introduced, so I thought I'd try to do the job. But it's almost superfluous because everybody knows Father Lawrence Freeman here. But I just wanted to introduce one aspect. There are so many aspects. Since I tried to introduce all, no time for his presentation. Father Lawrence is a disciple of John May. I think that's the introduction you want to hear, I guess. He's a great master, John May. In the introduction to one of his books, he's certainly one of the greatest spiritual masters of our time, John May. Unfortunately, he died young. But providentially, and by providence, he was a good successor, a good disciple. He carried on a very important job of spreading the contemplative movement.


I think it's one of the two or three major contemplative movements in the Church. The Centering Prayer, the Christian Meditation, taught by John May, the Jesus Prayer, he said several major contemplative movements of the present time. Father Lawrence is the spiritual director of the World Community for Christian Meditation. The center is in London, where you are stationed. How many centers do you have throughout the world? We are currently 25. So it's a big responsibility and also a big spiritual power in the Church, promoting this so important contemplative movement. So I think this introduction will be enough. Another thing is that Father Lawrence is also very much involved.


He's the author of several books and many articles, and is very much involved in the Buddhist-Christian dialogue. He has attended a number of important meetings and encounters, including several major encounters with the Dalai Lama. And this evening, he's going to talk about some of his contributions to the Dalai Lama and the simplest way of peace. Thank you very much, Father Joseph. And I'd also like to thank all those who did make this evening's prayer service such a beautiful, wonderful, memorable moment. It reminds me of a time when I was a novice, when we were having experimental Vespers,


and I was asked to do one of them one week, and do some rather experimental things. And afterwards, as we were leaving the Church, I heard two of the aldermen behind me speaking about it. And one of them was saying to the other, Well, it was very prayerful, but it wasn't Vespers. I didn't hear anyone say that this evening. He doesn't really answer the question. Well, it is informal, so I won't take up much of your time. But I would just like to thank Father Joseph for one other gracious gift that he gave, which was not to expose me publicly at the opening, for having broken my trust and commitment to do a paper for this symposium.


But I will fulfil my promise to get it to you in a short time. I should give you a written paper. I'd like to say that one of the reasons I didn't do the paper was because I was so heavily involved with the dialogue with the Buddhists, but that wasn't actually the case, it was more domestic. But I would like to just share with you something of our experience in dialogue, particularly with the Buddhists, that has evolved over the last, well, in some ways, it depends where you start the story, like all stories. But being here this week and experiencing the tremendous gifts and intelligences


and enrichment of this group, it made me think about the nature of dialogue itself. So, while restricting myself mainly just to telling you the story of the Way of Peace, I'd just like to put it in the context of some reflections on the nature of dialogue itself. I suppose dialogue has been going on ever since the beginning, and religions have influenced each other through trade and cultural exchange and intermarriage and all other sorts of things from prehistory. But I think we would all agree that the interreligious dialogue of our own time represents a tremendous speeding up of that ancient human activity of sharing spiritual knowledge and practices and insights.


And maybe, again, a hundred years ago with the Nicananda, it took great strides ahead with Moshina and Merton, and then, of course, into our own time with many more. All of us, lesser luminaries, but all involved in it. And let me just share one, because I think the personal nature, the personal meetings, the personal interactions that really drive and deepen interreligious dialogue seem to me a very significant aspect of what is happening. And even this week, we can see that it's not just ideas, really, we're listening to and exchanging. It's the personalities that are presenting the ideas and the heart-to-heart, the meeting, the personal mystery of human beings meeting as well,


incarnating in unique ways their universal traditions. So I've had my own experience of that, and each of us could tell their own story, but for me it began one evening in Montreal when I was attending an interfaith service at the Catholic Cathedral, at which John Mayne had been invited to welcome the Dalai Lama as a fellow monk. And John Mayne had been approached by the organizers of the event, and they had asked his advice about what to do, and he had said, well, my advice is definitely put a period of meditation into it, otherwise you'll just have words and prayers. So they said, OK, we'll put in two minutes. Well, the clouds said it doesn't take any time at all.


It might take a little bit more than two minutes. So he finally got them, I think, to agree to 15 minutes. And the Dalai Lama remarked, in the small meeting afterwards, that this was the first time he meditated, actually, in a Christian church, at least for that length of time. And he met Father John, and just to be very specific, because it's out of these encounters that larger movements happen, Father John invited him to come up to our small little monastery, we had just arrived in Montreal, we had a small little house, and would he like to come up and join us for meditation. Well, the Dalai Lama's secretary was at his hand, and he stepped forward and he said, no, I'm afraid that would be impossible, because the schedule doesn't permit it. And then the Dalai Lama, with great delicacy, but great determination said,


but it will be possible. So it was possible, and he came with a great entourage to our very small little house, and we meditated at our Sunday midday meditation, and he stayed for lunch. And this was in 1980. And then he and John Mayne spent about half an hour talking together, and they emerged laughing and very relaxed, and obviously very much on the same wavelength. And that was it, John Mayne died two years later, at the age of 56. The community was now in a larger house, but we were still a very small, fragile little monastic and lay community, dedicated to the teaching of meditation in the Christian tradition.


John Mayne had first learned to meditate when he was a diplomat in the Far East, he learned from an Indian monk, practicing as a Christian, Catholic. When he had joined his monastery in London in the late 50s, he had been instructed to give up this rather pagan form of meditation, with the mantra, and in those days monks were still obedient, so he gave up his meditation. And he returned to it, actually on this continent, when he was headmaster of St Anselm's Abbey School in Washington DC, at the busiest time of his life, monastic life, he was a busy headmaster, but was led, during this period of personal interior and external change,


to a study, a re-reading really, of the Desert Fathers. And in the conferences of Cassian, the 10th conference in particular, he came across the teaching on the mantra, Cassian calls it a formula, that he recognized as a way, a practice, not just a metaphor, but an actual practice. And so he began to meditate again himself, returned to England, started a small meditation center at his monastery. In 1976 he gave a series of talks at the Abbey of Gethsemane, and it's still a very popular introduction to meditation, called the Gethsemane Talks. And it was out of that personal journey, and his own understanding that this was a practice, a way,


he never said it was the only way to meditate, but he did recognize that it was a way that was highly practical and available for many people who found it helpful. And it was out of that, that this encounter with the Dalai Lama took place, in fact, on that evening in the cathedral in Montreal. Well, history rolled on, and in 1990 I returned to England, and we moved the international center of what was now a growing, rather decentralized, but a growing network of meditators, weekly meditation groups, and meditation centers around the world, and now I think in 50 countries. So we moved the international center back to London, and I moved my present monastery in London,


the monastery of Christ the King, which is in the Olivetan congregation, which has been very welcoming and supportive of the Christian meditation community worldwide. And that monastic link is extremely important, I think. Not only can we see that this lay spirituality, if you like, grew directly out of the Desert Fathers tradition, but it's still being nurtured and inspired and encouraged by its association with monastic life, monastic teachers, monastic communities. Well, after John Mayne died, we began the custom of an annual seminar in his honor called the John Mayne Seminar. And we had some that started very small, and it's got larger, of course, as things do, and we've had some wonderful presenters over the years. And in the early 90s, I invited the Dalai Lama to lead one seminar in 1994, I think.


It's 4 or 5. And he replied immediately, to my surprise. I thought it would take months to get a reply, but he replied immediately. And he said he remembered his meeting very well with John Mayne. He was pleased to hear from time to time how the community of meditators was growing. He thought it was wonderful that Christians were meditating and this was the basis for new kinds of dialogue. And he said he would love to do the seminar. So that was wonderful news. But then I thought, what are we going to ask him to talk about? Because it wasn't just a talk. It was sort of three days, two talks a day. So, somehow or other, the idea came to us to ask him to do something very risky, and a bit foolish, which was to comment on the Gospels. So, again, I actually met him before putting this idea to him.


And he looked a little surprised, and then laughed, and then shrugged his shoulders and said, OK. So he said, I don't know much about the Gospels, of course, and I don't know much about Christianity, in a sense, theologically and so on. But he said, if you want me to speak about it as a Buddhist monk, that would be helpful. Let's try it. So, over the next year, in various meetings, we selected eight, quite carefully, selected eight Gospel passages. The first one was very simple. It was Jesus' teaching on non-violence. Obvious parallels with Buddhism, of course. They got a little more difficult as we moved on. The Transfiguration, the Beatitudes, the Transfiguration,


and finally, the Resurrection. So, the seminar took place in London, right next to our monastery, in a small university near our monastery in London. And about 400 people came, Buddhists and Christians. And the Dalai Lama began with the warning that he wasn't speaking as a scholar on the subject, or as an expert. And he said, maybe it's all going to be a complete failure, but we'll do the best we can. Well, it wasn't a failure. It was a remarkable moment, I think, for everyone there. I think when he read the Beatitudes, at each session, he would read the Gospel passage aloud. And there were funny moments, like the passage where he had to read


when you pray to not go babbling on, like the heathen do. He had actually been prepared for this, but he turned and said, what does heathen mean? So, there was a very moving moment, actually, when he read the Beatitudes. Because when we realized who was reading it, what he had suffered, what he was suffering, and what happiness he was showing through that suffering. The word Beatitude, of course, means happiness. I think we were all deeply moved. Well, it wasn't a scholarly dialogue, and I think one of the things we all realize is that there are different forms of dialogue. But it was a very profound dialogue,


and it certainly was full of very enriching intellectual insights and questions. And the seminar itself was later published as a book called The Good Heart, expressing his basic belief, of course, that the purpose of all religion is to reveal and realize the good heart. Well, the book became a great success. It was translated, I don't know to how many languages, but many languages. And meeting him sometime after that, we were talking about the success of the book. One of the things he said to me was that he was getting many letters from people around the world about the book. And he said, the ones that pleased me most,


he said, are the ones from Christians, who say that this has helped them to rediscover their own tradition at New Delhi. And I think that is a very important aspect of dialogue, that when we enter into dialogue with other religions, we're not simply learning about interesting ideas and rituals and insights from other exotic traditions. We're also learning, we should be learning, and this is probably the test of good dialogue, we're learning something new about our own tradition. And it was remarkable that he saw that, and not only saw it, but really rejoiced in it. The selflessness of his own spirit is very evident, and it's why he is such an extraordinary model of dialogue, and why it is so easy. Those of you who have been in dialogue with him will know.


Well, in one way it's very easy to be in dialogue with him. In another way, it's like walking a tightrope, because certainly in the dialogues that we've had over the last few years, it's taken the form of a conversation, which has then broadened out into a discussion with a larger group. And discussions are much more difficult to control than delivering papers and making more formal responses. So the conversation can suddenly take an unusual direction, and then you can suddenly find yourself asked, well, what is the resurrection then? Or why do you say the Son of God, not a Son of God? Is it the Spirit or the Holy Spirit, or is it the same thing? So these are very obvious questions that Christians usually don't like to ask themselves.


They're often asked sincerely, not as a test, but as a genuine, open-hearted curiosity, not just idle curiosity, but truth-seeking curiosity. Then the dialogue becomes, I think, an experience of change, of risk, and of joy. One of the great things about being in dialogue with him, of course, is also he can slide, as it were, very naturally along the spectrum of human emotion from great, serious, analytical introspection to just fooling around, just good humour, playing with words, and so on. And the play of laughter, as we've seen here, I think is sweet. The play of laughter and seriousness is also a crucial aspect of dialogue, which is probably why we've got to get together to do it


as human bodies in the same room, because jokes don't translate so well into books. Well, anyway, as a result of the Good Heart Seminar and the success of the book, we began to talk about doing something else. And at one point at the Good Heart Seminar, he had spoken about different forms of dialogue, the dialogue between scholars, the dialogue between practitioners. And he said they're all important. And he suggested that there were three forms of dialogue that could be developed between Buddhists and Christians. Pilgrimage, meditation and retreat together, and working together for social justice and reconciliation, peace and reconciliation. So we decided to do that.


The three-year programme, we called it the Way of Peace. The Way of Peace is the way to peace. Peace is the way. And the first step in that programme, called the Way of Peace, was in fact a pilgrimage. About three years ago, about 200 meditators, mostly Christian, but Christian with their Buddhist friends and other faiths as well, went at his invitation to Bodh Gaya, where he greeted us. And we spent several days there, meditating, in conversation and in fellowship. I should just say that a crucial element in the whole of this experience, way back to that first meeting with John Lane, was meditating together.


In London, at the Good Heart Seminar, we meditated three times a day for half an hour, before breakfast. Not many leaders of seminars would come to a meditation before breakfast, if it meant getting in a car, driving to it, and then driving back for breakfast. At midday and in the evening. And I'm convinced that that experience of meditating together, each in your own tradition, each in your own method, each in your own way, with the minimum amount of words and frills, is what creates an environment and a medium in which verbal and intellectual dialogue flourishes, and words come alive as a result of the silence. So this was the model we followed in all of the dialogue events since then. In Bodh Gaya, the first morning,


about seven o'clock in the morning, we met him at the entrance to the shrine, and we then processed to the Bodhi tree, and we meditated. He welcomed us there, and we meditated under the Bodhi tree, together. And after that, we returned to the conference center, and we began sessions of dialogue in the morning and afternoon. The theme we took for that dialogue was enlightenment and salvation. Are they different? Are they the same? In what way can they be compared? So, a very enriching conversation. But every morning, we would begin the day by meditating under the Bodhi tree. Then, I'll just give you a little break while I say that.


As we were driving on the first morning from the Bodhi tree to the conference center, I noticed some Tibetan stalls set up on the street, and I said to him as we were driving past, I'd like to get one of those Tibetan tankers to take back to our monastery. So he looked at me a little curiously. And when we had the opening ceremony, ten minutes later, they brought out this large tube covered in beautiful Tibetan cloth, and he said, this is my presence to all of you, and my welcome to this sacred place. And as it was being unrolled, it was obviously a tanker, he said, can you guess what it is? So I thought, well, a wheel of life, or a Bodhisattva,


or I didn't know what kind of theme it would be. And this is what it was. As far as this is my paper. You'll see that the theme is the birth of Christ. And it was commissioned obviously several months before the event, by His Holiness, and carried out in Dharamsala, by a group of Tibetan monk artists. The actual composition of it was inspired by a 15th century Dutch painting. But as you can see, the donkeys look remarkably like yaks. And the Archangel Gabriel looks rather like a...


what would that be? A Deva? If you look very closely, what looks like clouds, actually are a group of sheep. A group of sheep. Very good. Very beautiful. So that again seems to be a very beautiful symbol of dialogue. Because it's one thing to try to understand another person's traditions and symbols, and it's another to try to put yourself into them. And to express yourself through those symbols, without losing your own centre or identity. It's a game, it's a play, it's art. But it's somehow very... liberating, freeing.


So, that was the first stage of the Way of Peace. The second stage, you remember, is a retreat experience. So we had this at our monastery in Italy. And this was, again, several days of more intensive meditation together. We did come out of the monastery a couple of times for events in the city, including an interfaith service at the San Minnato, our monastery in central Florence. And also a meeting with about 2,000 young people. What was very interesting, those of you who won't be surprised about this, here we were in a very silent and quite intense meditative practice. This was about 80 people. And he would then come out with the full panoply of Italian carabinieri, with helicopters, armoured cars. In England they don't give many special protection.


In Italy they sort of brought the whole army. Very operatic performance. We drove at 80 miles an hour through the city. But what was remarkable was, his centredness wasn't shifted for a moment. It's not so surprising, but it is surprising when one sees it. And he remains very much the same. I did ask him once how he managed to stay so centred when travelling so much and having so many other responsibilities. And he said he tries to be the same person, whether he's on his own, whether he's with a small group of friends, or whether he's speaking to a large audience. And it was very evident that he was in that same sameness throughout. In Florence, the theme we took for the discussion was twofold.


It was the role of imagery in the two traditions, and also the role of scripture in the two traditions. And it unfolded very much in the form of a conversation and a discussion, but those were the themes that we followed. Now, the third stage of the Way of Peace is going to take place in Belfast in October. When we discussed the third phase, I asked him where he thought he would like to go. There's no shortage of places in the world where there's conflict and violence and division. And I said, what about Belfast? And he said, I would love to go to Belfast. He hadn't been there. And he said, I feel we may be able to do some good there. And so, that was another risk.


It's not so much of a risk maybe to go to Borghia, or such a risk to go to Florence, but it's a bit of a risk to go to Belfast. So I went to Belfast. We have a small number of meditation groups there. But there was no point in going unless there was local support and local interest. And Belfast, I won't go into the difficulties of doing anything in Belfast, but it's a very complex society. But what was amazing was when we began to discuss the idea with people from the Protestant and Catholic communities, the Nationalists and the Republicans, the Loyalists and the Nationalists. These are all terms that carry charges with them. It was quite clear that they would all welcome him as a man of peace, as a kind of icon, who was safe.


He was neither Protestant nor Catholic. And so the organization began to get underway. We found remarkable enthusiasm and support for it locally and overseas. And it's coming together in a way I can hardly imagine actually, because the organization has really been looked after by the Spirit. So, this October, we will combine the annual John Mayne seminar with the Way of Peace, the third phase of the Way of Peace. His Holiness will be the principal guest. But as it's the millennium year, we've also invited all the previous, most of the previous John Mayne seminar presenters. And the theme is religious harmony in the third millennium. The idea is that through inter-religious dialogue of all kinds,


the kind we're doing here this week, the kind we'll be doing in Florence, the kind we'll be doing in Bodh Gaya, all kinds, through inter-religious dialogue, a friendship will develop between religions through their individual practitioners. And for me, that word friendship is absolutely crucial to the whole meaning of dialogue. Otherwise, it's just rather sterile exchange or diplomacy. But if there's friendship, then people are changed, and we look at the world differently when we have a friend, a new friend. So this is our hope, that by showing this in some small way, there's a lot of organization, but it's only a drop in the ocean, but in some small way by showing that even Buddhists and Christians can be truly friends,


and many other faiths will be represented, all the other major religions will be represented in Belfast, that by cooperating through friendship, just the act of friendship itself directed towards a situation of violence, of sectarianism, of hostility, of ignorance, and so on, can make a difference. Now, we don't expect to solve the political problems of the last 500 years with one three-day seminar, but I do believe, and I have faith, and I hope you will keep this in your prayer, that it will make a difference, that it will be a memory, that it will be a surprising sign to people there. In my preparatory meetings in Belfast, I've been astonished by the number of wise and good people who have emerged out of that horror of barbarism and sectarianism, hatred and stupidity.


And there is a great mystery. I believe those places in the world where the worst things have happened can become places of enormous spiritual power. I gave a retreat a few years ago at a place in Scotland called Dunblane, where a man went in and killed 15 little children. And that place was a small village, a small town, devastated, destroyed, by what had happened, still recovering from it. But it has an extraordinary quality of presence about it. I was in Auschwitz last year and felt it was one of the most sacred places I've been to. So, I don't know, but we hope that there will be a small contribution made by this meeting.


Each of the former presenters of the seminar will be including philosophers. Charles Taylor, the philosopher, will be there. Mary McAleese, who is now the Irish President, will also be there. And there are psychologists and doctors, as well as theologians. Father William Johnston, the Belfast-born Jesuit, who has been in Japan for the last 49 years, will also be there. So there will be a wonderful array of workshops and sessions on the theme of peace, the quest for peace, the nature of peace, what is peace. In addition to that, the Dalai Lama will also have his own sort of separate program. And he will be going to meet the victims of violence in small groups.


And after that, he will meet with the political leaders, individually, and the religious leaders as well. And there's been warm response from all those quarters. We're expecting a little bit of hostility from the extreme fundamentalist wing, but we can put up with that. There will also be a youth forum for about 300 young people, drawn from all parts of the community, who will be discussing and reflecting with help on the roles of non-violence, and certain role models, Martin Luther King and Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama himself. And at the end of their day, he'll come and join them for questions, for meditation with them. Again, we'll be meditating three times a day together. And finally, we'll be having an inter-religious service, in which the United Nations will be participating,


as well as they will also be giving one of the workshops. The UN participation will be focusing on women's role in peacemaking, particularly. So, those are some of our adventures. And I think, as I say, I would just ask you to, if you can't be there in person, do keep it in your prayer. Especially those days, we're asking the meditators around the world, and all our friends around the world, to remember it between the 19th and to the 21st of October. And there are some flyers here, if you'd like to pass them around. Good. Well, that's my story. Would you like to raise any questions, or share any thoughts, or maybe you're ready for bed?


No, I think we can have at least ten minutes. Okay. Thank you so much. Thank you very much. There's also a newsletter. We only bring this one out every 25 years. But this is a collared magazine. It gives you a sense of the Christian meditation community. And something you might be interested in, bringing dialogue to the grassroots. When I was coming through New York on my way here, I stayed at a church in New York City, and I found this in the back of the church. It's a Catholic update put out by the diocese. And it's quite a remarkable, well-written, excellent introduction to the ordinary Catholic, on inter-religious dialogue.


It would be great for him to try to get the American bishops to send this out widely. Just have a look at it, because it's good news. He's not feeling too well. I see. So we have about ten minutes or so. So if you have any questions about the Dalai Lama or dialogue, inter-religious dialogue, any questions or comments? The Dalai Lama represents the Gelugpa sect, I believe, of Tibetan Buddhism. Do you make any inroads with four of the other sects in Tibetan Buddhism? I know he's the major, the most famous one. I'm thinking of the Kagyu, the black hats. Kagyu? You know, like, I mean, there are some other people who are less well-known,


and they sort of get short shrift or a short play because of his dominance. Any thoughts? Well, he embodies and is a master of the four traditions himself, so philosophically he's adept at all of them. But in terms of these events, no. I mean, we don't specifically target this. It's enough for us just really to work with him. But when he does come to a place, we always welcome any other Tibetan monks who want to come. They're usually a lot locally, and some of them travel quite a distance to be there. So we welcome them and make sure that they feel welcome. Apart from these dialogues we've had in the Way of Peace, we've had much more modest-sized encounters with other Tibetan traditions.


In London, especially, we're starting an interfaith centre at our monastery in London, and the people who are already running that can be in dialogue with the others. So there are quite a few centres in England, and so we're in touch with those. The Dalai Lama is the head of all schools, so it's not like there's equivalent figures for the Dalai Lama in all the other schools. All the schools recognize him as their religious head. So like the Kagyus and the Nyingmags, and everybody, if the Dalai Lama comes, they all turn around and they all recognize him as their supreme head. It's not as if it's a question of favouring one school over the other. When you invite the Dalai Lama, you're actually inviting all Tibetan Buddhists, and any Tibetan Buddhist, I think, would recognize that. We spoke of young people, and I think of my first experience of meditation was in Taizé.


Have you at all reached out to the Taizé community to be involved in this walk of peace? No, not that I have personally, but quite a few of our European centres have visited Taizé. They often collaborate with the small Taizé groups that are used in churches and things, and some of the larger pilgrimages, like the big ones in Krakow at the beginning of the year. So yes, at a more local level, I've been in contact with them. I'm wondering in the context of meeting in Belfast, if there's any part of what might be a Catholic-Protestant dialogue that would be part of that. And also, this is a corollary question, it seems to me teaching at PTU that there are a lot of Protestants who are interested in meditation too, but the Catholics have a deeper tradition of that and more experience of it.


I'm just wondering, especially in the context of meeting in Belfast. Well, there's a small minority, I would say, of Protestants and Catholic leaders or teachers in Belfast and Northern Ireland who would be in dialogue. But it wouldn't be really much of a theological dialogue. It's just that we're a long way from that here. Just for them to be together spiritually is enough, and even just to be in the same room sometimes is enough. But our meditation groups there are ecumenical. They tend to be predominantly Catholic. But I wouldn't say that they all affirm themselves as ecumenical, and some of them are. We've been working with a number of wonderful organisations in Northern Ireland which are ecumenical. And they tend to have a community-centred base and then operate from that.


But they have great leadership. There are some very significant people there. And I wouldn't, both here in the States and in Europe, particularly here in the States, there's a large number, a growing number really, of Protestant teachers and ministers who are seriously recovering the contemplative Christian tradition. And just realising that just as Catholics probably realise that we've lost out and neglected the scriptural aspect of faith. Catholics don't read the Bible. So the Protestants, in growing numbers I would say, sometimes rather cautiously and secretively, but increasingly I think are interested in this. We hope that one of the fruits of the seminar in Belfast will be a permanent meditation centre in Belfast


that will really be a Christian one for all denominations. So do keep it in your hearts and minds over these days. Thank you.