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    Saturday, November 04, 2006

    Same worthy thing, different goals

    This was the second "Monks in the West" interreligious dialogue; the first took place in 2004 at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in northern California. On the Catholic side, participants come from Benedictine, Cistercian and Camoldolese monasteries, and on the Buddhist side, from the Theravada, Mahayana and Tibetan traditions.


    In Collegeville the first session dealt with theory -- the "why" of celibacy. Buddhist participants explained that their teachings focus on seeing how suffering is created and cured. Attachments give rise to suffering, they said, so advancement in the spiritual life requires letting go of one's attachments. Attachment to desires, including sexual desires, is a hindrance to spiritual progress, they said.

    Benedictine Brother Gregory Perron from St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Ill., said monastic life demands a profound understanding and acceptance of solitude.
    "Celibacy is a tool," said Brother Gregory, "a skillful means, like intentional simplicity of life, by which our heart is burrowed out and the core of our being laid bare. By embracing it, the monk accepts the aloneness that characterizes every human being."

    Heng Sure, a Buddhist monk who teaches at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., said celibacy is the first step in a three-step process that goes from celibacy to stillness to insight.

    "It should not be seen just as a difficult adjunct to the spiritual path, but as essential to it," he said.

    "Something happens to the energy in the stillness," he added. "The pressure goes away."
    In married life, he explained, spiritual practice is "partial and piecemeal," making celibacy a more effective means to move toward insight, and the peace and happiness that flow from it.

    Benedictine Father Mark Serna, president of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, pointed out that "in Christianity married people can be holy, too; one doesn't have to be celibate to go to heaven."

    Catholic monastics emphasized how, in Christian faith, motivation for celibacy is strongly relational.

    "For me," said Benedictine Father Terrance Kardong of Assumption Abbey in Richardton, N.D., "it's the deep personal relationship with Jesus that enables me to do something this hard."

    Benedictine Father Michael Peterson from Blue Cloud Abbey near Marvin, S.D., drew laughter with his comment: "When college kids ask me: 'How can you live without sex?' my answer is, 'God's a better kisser.' In celibacy I transfer my desire for fulfillment to God."


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