UU Sangha

Vol:II Number: 1 Journal of the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship Fall 1997

Reflections of a

Liberal Buddhist

At the Arlington Street Church in Boston, Kim Crawford Harvie guides an independent Zen meditation group. Another Zen group has been going at the First Parish in Framingham for more than a decade. At the Unitarian Church of Davis, members of the congregation have organized their own Vipassana practice group. At the First UU Church in Houston, there are two Dharma practice groups.

Across the continent Unitarian Universalist Buddhists are organizing study and practice activities. Is this the dawn of a new era? Or, is this simply another phase of our eternally questing and sampling liberal religious movement? Of course, only time will tell. But, I must admit to feeling a great hope growing within my heart.

I believe our Unitarian Universalist Buddhist conversation is rich with possibilities. If we pay close attention. If we do not give ourselves over to a facile eclecticism, but rather see within the Dharma and Unitarian Universalism, two complements on a way of genuine depth and total engagement; then much may be accomplished.

It is not impossible that this conversation may lead to a spiritual synthesis no less profound than that meeting between Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Chinese Taoism, which birthed the Zen way. What and how are yet to be seen. But, if we, as the pioneers of this wondrous conversation are willing to give ourselves fully to the work, then great riches may await us, and certainly await our children.

Our Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship is about nothing less than this great and wonderful conversation. We exist to further this work, and to serve as midwives in the birth of something new and precious. To this end we've tried to keep a visible presence at General Assembly. And, we've taken a new step in the last two years by establishing a web-page on the Internet. It is my personal hope that before long we will also begin to produce educational materials for both children and adults.

But, currently, the most important of our activities has been to create an ongoing forum and means of communication among us. That work has been this newsletter, which for the last five years or so, we've called "UU Sangha." It too evolves, changes and becomes ever new. The next step in its evolution has been bringing on a new editor.

It is with considerable pleasure that I introduce Sam Trumbore. Sam serves as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Charlotte County, in Port Charlotte, Florida. A birthright UU, Sam has a wide ranging interest in our traditional humanism, the newer spiritualities growing among us, and particularly our emerging western Buddhism. He has been a practitioner of Vipassana for many years.

Sam also has joined the Board of the UUBF as Treasurer. Speaking as a member of the Board, it is our hope that Sam's energy and insight will bring the "UU Sangha" to a new level of quality and regularity.

Metta, James

The Rev'd James Ishmael Ford

Secretary to the Board




Robert Tokushu Senghas
54 Rivermount Terrace
Burlington, VT 05401
(802) 658-6466
email: rsenghas@worldnet.att.net


James Ishmael Ford
3339 E Hampton Ave
Mesa, AZ 85204
(602) 899-4249 (o) (602) 807-0859 (h)
email: jjford@goodnet.com


Samuel A. Trumbore
1532 Forrest Nelson Blvd
Port Charlotte, FL 33952
(941) 627-4303 (o) (941) 624-2910 (h)
email: strumbore@uua.org


Ed Clifton
Yvonne Groseil
Marni Harmony
Dorrie Senghas
Janice E Seymour-Ford

Web page:



$20 per year

Please make check out to:

Sam Trumbore

and mail to his address listed above.

Nondeductible contributions gratefully accepted!

Any questions about subscriptions can be sent to Sam Trumbore and he prefers contact by email.

Editorial Insights

I am greatly honored to have been asked to take over editorship of UU Sangha. My first experience of practice was taking an introductory class in Insight or Vipassana meditation from James Baraz in Berkeley in 1984. Immediately I knew as I sat and watched my breathing process that this was exactly what I had been seeking to help me penetrate the confusion of my mind and the yearning of my heart. Since that time, the teachers to whom I have responded to most positively have been from the Insight Meditation School: Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and Larry Rosenburg.

As James mentioned on the front page, I would very much like UU Sangha to become a forum for the conversation about the intersection of UUism and Buddhism. As more sitting groups start and more UUs discover Buddhist practice, a synthesis can happen. My hope is that a new kind of spiritual practice will come into being which blends the great wisdom of East and West creating something much greater than either. May this journal be a great vehicle which can help carry forward that process.

The Editorial Vision

This conversation will not just go on between a few of us who serve as ministers. We need to hear from all your voices. For me to accomplish my goal of publishing four issues a year, I will need lots of help from our readers. Please email or write me with your thoughts, ideas, articles, poems, drawings, quotes, and anything else you'd like to share with the UU Sangha. We may want to start UU Buddhist retreats. We may want to start a UUBF discussion list on the Internet. This is an exciting moment for the possibilities are so rich. Let us join together to make our little community start some creative interchange.

The Subscription Situation

The last thing I need to mention is the subscription dilemma. Because the UU Sangha publication has been erratic, many of you have joined UUBF and not gotten much for your money. Because of that, everyone gets Volume II (a year's worth) of UU Sangha free. On the other hand, the UU Sangha bank account is empty. I would greatly appreciate all who are willing to send your dues for this year

which will make it much easier for me (and James Ford who is paying for these issues) to publish and distribute the next three issues. No checks before I became editor will be cashed (because I can't cash them)! Please make out any dues checks to Sam Trumbore. I vow to keep my day job and not to skip the country.

Faithfully yours, Sam




by Wayne Arnason

After twenty-five years of fairly consistent meditation practice, initially with Transcendental Meditation, and later in a Zen style practice, I came to the conviction in 1993 that I needed to establish a relationship with a teacher if I was to go any further with my practice. Many possibilities presented themselves. Charlottesville, Virginia, where I live, has Tibetan teachers readily available due to the presence in town of Jefferey Hopkins of the University of Virginia. There is a recently opened Zen Center, Mountain Light, in Albemarle County a short drive from my home. Two members of my church have advanced farther than I in their practices - one with TM, and another as a student of Robert Aitken of the Diamond Sangha. Each of them was willing to share their experiences and to help me with further explorations.

I was also aware of the teachers that some of my colleagues in the UU ministry have found. James Ford is a Diamond Sangha member. Several clergy within the Southeast UUMA attended Thich Nhat Hahn's 1993 retreat at Omega Institute and came back from that practicing the precepts and sitting together at our chapter meetings. I have known Bob Senghas since 1972, and was aware that he had become a senior student of the Zen Mountain Monastery in New York, where John Daido Loori is Abbot.

All of these possibilities excited me but left me confused. How does one find a teacher?

I began by talking to the friends and colleagues who had made such a commitment about how they had come to their decision. I tried to learn more about the communities their teachers had founded. With a sabbatical period ahead of me, I resolved that during 1995-96 I would intensify this search with some personal visits. These notes are excepts from a personal journal I began at Thich Nhat Hahn's 1995 Retreat at Omega Institute.

October 7, 1995: This journal is a gift to myself at the Thich Nhat Hahn retreat. It symbolizes what feels like a new start in my life. Taking seriously the precepts and acting on what I've learned this week would involve a new start. Mindfulness can be seen at the heart of all religious practice in any tradition. It can be practiced where you are, so the question arise for me - why do I need to go to a monastery to practice it? Have I already found my teacher?

I need to decide this afternoon whether I will do the Precept Ceremony and how many precepts I will take. Can I let go of alcohol and media that are toxic? Should I? Joan Halifax said today: If you're going to drink, don't take the 5th Precept. I feel the same way about the First Precept, which implies vegetarianism. My feeling is that I should take the 2nd through 4th and look towards the taking the 1st and the 5th at the retreat Joan will lead in March on Being With Dying."

October 8, 1995: Re-reading Precepts 2-4 after the Ceremony. I am convinced they are a greater challenge to me than I presently can imagine. I can see where they will invite and invoke the first and fifth precepts. I find each day here I have felt more relaxed and comfortable with the practice, and look forward to the challenges ahead as I try to bring the practice into my daily life.

October 9, 1995: In bed, at home, one day back from the retreat. Maintaining some degree of balance. Probably should meditate twice a day."

October 12, 1995: Now three days after coming back from Thich Nhat Hahn's retreat, more of my normal life patterns start to reassert themselves, but I am still able to connect with the deep joy and peace inside and keep my practice steady. We will see.

November 26, 1995: At Mountain Light, starting my sesshin. It looks like a very vigorous period of retreat and practice, especially the two forty-five minute sits in the late morning. It comes at a good time for me. I'm ready and open.

November 27, 1995:

Stacking a cord of wood

My task for the morning

My task for a lifetime

Big pieces on the bottom,

Smaller on the top.

Bring a pleasing order out of chaos

And then die

And return to chaos again.

What is there to be found in the wood pile?

In the spaces between the logs

Absolutely nothing.

Later: The book about the Desert Fathers surprises me with the same wisdom that is in Zen -- it is all there in the present moment. God is there in the present moment and God wants to be known. Is it possible to get past the preoccupation with thought, judgment, and wishing things were different - to be still, and know that I am God?

Later: Not too many questions for the teacher here. I told her my expectations for sitting are not high, that more centeredness and longevity around being with my breath is all that I hope for. My sense is that if I am to become a student here, it will be me that will do the asking. She says it is the conviction of the student that is most important.

November 28, 1995: A deep conversation with the teacher this morning. I am "shopping around" she says, which means that I'm not ready yet to be a student. My commitment isn't clear enough.

Later: There was a fly buzzing on the floor of the meditation hall this morning. Every so often it would make a noise but could only spin itself around on the floor in circles. That's how my commitment to practice feels to me right now. I want to ask more about recognizing the teacher. Is it like falling in love?

Later: She says that this recognition does not come without an act of will. It is not something that just happens...It is clear that she doesn't want to be my teacher right now. It will take an act of will and surrender on my part to make that happen.

December 1, 1995: Arrived at Zen Mountain Monastery and settled into my dorm. There must be twenty-five students attending this Introduction to Zen Training..

December 2, 1995: After caretaking, a talk from the senior students on the meaning of practice and work. Then Daido speaking about liturgy and precepts. Both good clear talks...but Daido!! What an engaging presence and personality he has! I was impressed, and joyful, just to be in his presence. Perhaps this evening I have a chance for dokkusan with Daido. We've had instructions on how to meet the Abbot and tips on what to consider as a question. Our instructor told us to remember that this is a tradition of mind to mind transmission. We are meeting the Buddha here. What would I ask? What would I say -- if I met the Buddha?

6:15 AM December 3, 1995: Did not receive dokkusan last night. The question is still up in the air.

12:10 PM December 3, 1995: So the question I finally asked him was this: How do I work with the fear I have of losing what my life is now if I put practice at the center? Daido replied: Fear arises from expectations and also from attachment. You have to remember that the practice involves releasing attachment, so that you are free to be one, to love, to work, to live in harmony, in oneness with all that is. Later he proceeded to speak to these same questions in his Dharma talk.

12:20 AM December 4,1995: Home again after five hours of driving and listening to tapes about home practice and Zazen. I feel more and more comfortable and confirmed that this is the path for me.

March 14, 1996: Back from my first weekend sesshin at Zen Mountain Monastery. I have been contemplating what a lifetime commitment means and how many of them I have made in my life. Not many. This may well be one of them.

March 24, 1996 (after four days at Upaya Institute): The last morning at Upaya was wonderful. The Precepts ceremony was deeply moving. I smiled the whole way through and felt very open and connected to it. I found myself flashing on ways that I have violated the precepts at different times during the ceremony, but I also heard myself say: That was then. This is now. I felt tremendous love and respect coming from Joan Halifax and that was an important part of the transmission. When I told her upon leaving that I felt I had decided to "sign on with Daido", I felt good about her response Somehow that affirmation from her was important to me,

June 2, 1996: My 46th Birthday. I am awake and in the zendo at Zen Mountain Monastery before 6 AM, feeling joy and excitement. Seeing the Guardian Council today and declaring my desire to be a student of the monastery is the most wonderful birthday gift to myself that I could imagine.

Later: Just before seeing the Guardian Council. Daido told a story this morning about a zendo cat who had a rat trapped in the narrow branches of a small tree. He asked the students:: What do you think is going to happen? The students all said; The cat will get the rat, but Daido said: I bet on the rat because for the rat it was a matter of life and death. Later when they looked again the rat had escaped. I am becoming a student here because I'm betting on the rat too.

Later: After Guardian Council and a nap -- the Council pushed me. They wanted me to express the pain that drives me to seek to be a student here. The true meaning of taking refuge is revealed when you touch that pain. I am not very good at expressing it, I guess. They kept pressing, but apparently my answers satisfied them. I was accepted as a student. I feel good -- exhausted -- a little scared... but very happy!

Quiet Mind,

Open Heart

by Sam Trumbore

Just what motivates Unitarian Universalists to participate positively in social change and social service, and advocate for social justice? Traditionally our motivation has come from our Unitarian and Universalist Christian heritage. That is changing today. As we have sought to identify ourselves as a religion which embraces a wide theological diversity, we have gradually broadened our self definition, so today a faith in God and/or Jesus is no longer required for membership. While becoming non-creedal has been beneficial in developing a new kind religion with a great degree of individual freedom, it has some consequences. I think it has weakened our willingness to accept the authority of the Bible as a motivation for our social action. Since today the majority of UU's are non-Christian and many are Humanist, I believe we need to find a new way to inspire social action compatible with the Bible yet arising from a different non-theistic religious root more compatible with the Scientific Humanism common in our membership. That new root for our collective social action I'm going to argue for is Buddhism.

This suggestion typically meets with some resistance. Because of the inward focus of the primary Buddhist practice of meditation and retreating from the world for inner exploration, some have sought to label Buddhism as a individualistic religion with little attention to social concerns and justice making. Some hear of the insights of the Buddha into impermanence and the unsatisfactory nature of existence and wonder why Buddhists would care to want to be active in social change if they believed the problems of the world can't be fixed. Some may have met a few self absorbed Americans experimenting with Buddhism and want to generalize that Buddhism leads people away from caring about the problems of the world.

This criticism comes particularly strongly from those who embrace an idealism inspired by the Biblical Prophets. That idealism might be summarized as follows: God has a vision for the way we should live and be faithful. Because of the evil tendencies in human nature to follow one's personal desires and neglect the law of God and the good of others, suffering enters the world. God wants us to fix the world through a freely chosen religious transformation of our highest commitment from self interest to God's Will. Religious people who decide to commit themselves to God's higher purpose must actively stand in opposition to the powers which collude with the indulgence of personal desire at the expense of the social whole.

This prophetically inspired idealism has power with those who look to the Bible for guidance in life. Every Jew is included in the covenant Moses struck with God on Mount Sinai and has a religious obligation to follow it. The good Christians faithful to their religion should become disciples of Jesus and engage in mission work spreading the faith. Both the Christian and Jew who embrace the Bible as authoritative today, must also embrace the prophets and labor to serve God's vision of how we should walk together. While Humanism excises God from the above formula, the social agenda of humanism is strongly anchored in the Biblical tradition and thinking-but with a twist.

Micah's prophetic imperative "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" (6:8) may inspire the true believer, but it may not be compelling for the average Unitarian Universalist. Many of us read the Bible as inspirational literature but not as a blueprint for constructing our lives and saving the world. Those UU's who embrace the teachings of the Prophets are likely to incorporate them as part of a personal philosophy rather than as a religious highest commitment. And those who embrace the prophets as personal philosophy may encounter problems.

The danger of embracing the prophets without a high degree of religious commitment which goes beyond the personal is activism without follow through. The typical life cycle of a social activist, especially among UU's might sound like this: A budding social activist is born as she rises to social awareness in her teenage years and discovers that the world isn't fair. Not only isn't it fair but the world is rampant with injustice, social inequality and evil. Good people get squashed under the heel of unfeeling institutions. Bad people escape punishment and even prosper. And having to watch the whole mess on the evening news is painful.

The thought occurs in her mind that something needs to be done. Her youthful idealism moves her to respond to the evil she witnesses and get involved in advocating for social change. The Biblical prophetic ideals enshrined in today's social change movements suggest to the young social activist that this isn't how God (or the Goddess, or the Force, or evolution, or nature, etc.) wants the world to be and needs the help of good people like her to set things right. She is inspired by the ideals, takes up the yoke and plunges into the task of saving the world.

After lots of energy is expended, most often with varied success and lots of failure, the changes accomplished do not meet her ideals. She begins to see the humanity of the social change people around her and those she is helping. Few are as pure of effort, motivation and heart as she expected. Her sacrifice for the cause becomes more and more difficult as harsh realities tear down her ideals. As we are seeing in a few books published lately by liberal activists who have turned conservative and cynical, She becomes jaded and begins to lose faith in being able to make a difference.

Where our hypothetical social activist falls off her beam has to do with her center of motivation and expectation. Activists are often unaware of the role of their emotions motivating their ideals. Many, I hope all, who engage in social action are motivated by the pain they feel witnessing the evil in the world. They see an act of injustice or domination, feel for the victim and experience anger toward the aggressor. Watching someone else suffer hurts us too because we are social animals with sympathetic responses.

Part of the motivation for some to engage in social action is to change the world so we, at some time in the future, will not have to feel these unpleasant feelings. When one begins to intuit that human suffering can not be eliminated easily-perhaps not even at all-then one must face the reality that there is no escape from this kind of pain. And the way the human organism deals with chronic pain is to become desensitized and to defend against it. The mind says to itself, "If I can't stop this pain, at least I can insulate and protect myself from it. If I can't fix the world then I will just hide and hope to get through life escaping too much misery." If you've got a lot of money and are Caucasian, you have a chance at this kind of escape. If you are colored and poor, you cannot.

Social idealism as a personal philosophy fails for many because I believe it requires a deeper commitment to work successfully than is possible through personal choice. Sustainable transformative social change requires a religious commitment which transcends the self. And Buddhist philosophy and practice can help us get to that kind of commitment.

Unlike Moses' promised land or Jesus' prediction of the coming Kingdom of God, Buddhism holds out no hope of things getting better. But things aren't necessarily going to get any worse either. Buddhism clearly looks upon the world and human nature as it is and outlines what is possible. Fortunately Buddhism is quite optimistic about what is possible for all of us. We can all be released from the unsatisfactory nature and daily suffering of life by following the Eightfold Path outlined by the Buddha.

Unlike theistically centered religions, Buddhism does not start with a confession of faith or the entering into a relationship with a deity. When the Buddha encountered those who questioned the beliefs underpinning his teaching, he didn't argue the point. Rather, he would encourage them to find out for themselves through their own direct experience using the techniques he taught. The Buddha's core teaching contains no revealed truth that is inaccessible to the student willing to sit and devote themselves to the meditation practice and the discipline of directly witnessing the functioning of the human organism in relation to the world. Because no faith is required of the practitioner, save some degree of confidence in the practice itself and the Buddha who discovered the practice, Buddhism, is very appealing to the kind of self reliant individualist found in UU congregations. It bypasses the idealism of trying to conform human beliefs, behaviors and understanding to a revealed truth and leads us to know ourselves as we are rather than who we would like to pretend to be. And who we are is much, much greater than we can imagine.

One of my introductions to Buddhist social action came from attending a lecture by Steven Levine. He had set up one of the first centers for what he called "conscious dying." Like the Hospice movement today, his center was for people in the last stages of dying with only a few months to live. Inspired by Elizabeth Kubler Ross's work and his own deep experience of Buddhist meditation, he helped people as best he could to have what he called "a good death."

From one perspective this is pretty depressing work. During the middle '80's I knew several people who were volunteering in the San Francisco Bay Area to work with AIDS patients. At that time, people died pretty quickly of AIDS. I remember these volunteers struggling with their feelings of loss and what they called "compassion fatigue." So I expected to hear similar stories from Levine at the lecture.

What Levine offered us, though, was something quite different. There was no question that he too experienced his own suffering as he watched his patients dying just like the AIDS workers I knew. But he didn't resist the pain nor hold on to those who were dying. He used his Buddhist meditation practice to release these attachments and aversions so he could be present with each dying person. And in this presence, without expectations, they were able to love each other into death. Levine didn't talk too much about compassion fatigue or that he was sacrificing himself for this work. Rather he spoke of the way he was growing in his love-by letting go.

Another area I've seen Buddhism inspiring social action has been in the area of environmentalism. These Buddhist environmentalists reject shaping the world into an ideal form or to conform to exclusive human needs. Rather than making the world comfortable for us, Buddhist philosophy encourages us to learn about rather than dominate natural systems and how we can participate in them without harming them. There are not good animals and birds, and bad bugs and serpents but rather an interdependent web which works together in a kind of creative harmony. We cannot separate ourselves out of this web and stand apart as soul infused beings different from the rest of creation. Buddhism rejects the idea of the individual separate soul which survives the body. We are part of the continuum of evolution and are one with the rest of life on this planet. This is really good news! If we are not separate from the ecosystem, what joy! We are part of it all, profoundly part of it all, and deeply knit into the fabric of existence. We are not alone.

Buddhism energizes and sustains social action because it operates from a strong foundation in both the reality of the world and what is possible for human beings. The meditative process of directly witnessing the functioning of the body, the senses, the feelings, the emotions and the mind yields incredibly important insights about the nature of reality which have tremendous social implications.

Yes, there is great injustice, inequality, misery and suffering in this world. Yes, these troubles cannot be removed from existence. Yes, everything changes and nothing lasts forever. The seeds of future problems are programmed into our genes. The bad news is acknowledged right up front in Buddhism so people don't get caught up in false hopes and ideals. There is no future time when things will be wonderful forever.

The good news is that isn't the whole story. Life also contains moments of great wonder, joy, love and celebration. Not only do these moments exist but they can be cultivated by the way we live our lives both individually and collectively. And how each of us lives our lives individually has a great impact on other people's access to these experiences of peace and serenity. The experience of this cessation of suffering is profoundly energizing and tends to connect us with others rather than separate us. The experience cultivated in meditation is the very experience that becomes the source of the desire to help others.

This is just what happens to me when I go away for a meditation retreat. As my body and mind settle down and I make peace with various levels of physical, emotional and mental attachments and aversions, I find when my mind is quiet, my heart opens and fills with love. This isn't the kind of love most of us know as the desire for a spouse, a son or daughter or a favorite chair, pet or spot on the beach. It is a love which opens to everything and everyone and celebrates both what is and what isn't at the same time. It is a kind of open, peaceful equanimity ready to engage with life and holding nothing back. It is in this solid sense of interconnectedness that the movement to help another easily arises. And from this kind of purity of intent, great things can happen.

I believe social activism arising from one's personal experience of the nature of reality is potentially stronger and more powerful than striving to follow an ideal vision of the way the world ought to be. By honing one's direct experience of reality, one is much better able to make positive change than when one is ends directed. There isn't the temptation to commit evil for the greater good of the ideal. There is no need to force another to accept an alien religion or belief system to save their souls or change their politics. There is no desire to sacrifice the children of today for a more glorious tomorrow. There is no rejection of the world as sinful in need of redemption. Little in life is more satisfying than cultivating the ability to work positively and creatively with whatever reality we encounter each morning. The individual engaging in this kind of social action doesn't have their eye on a shining and unreachable goal but rather on the problem or opportunity presenting itself today

Buddhism teaches a means oriented way to do social action which is in constant relationship with the present. I believe this has an advantage over the ends oriented idealistic path to social action for UU's because it doesn't defer individual satisfaction into the future nor require a faith based commitment. Rather than attempting to banish pain from the world, the unsatisfactory nature of reality is directly confronted and transcended through an evolution of consciousness. The social activist grows and matures whether or not the world is saved, discovering themselves through social action which is mutually transforming. No special revelation is needed. No belief is required. Only the willingness and commitment to actively engage life as it is and be ready to learn and respond.

Which ends up being the same destination as the Jew or Christian social activist as well. They too must eventually let go of their ideals. But instead of accepting reality, they recognize it as surrendering to the will to God. This is an equally fine way to engage in social action-if you are a believer. But if you are like many agnostic or atheistic UU's, the better inspiration for social activism is found through the path taught by the Buddha.

A Unitarian-Universalist

Monastic Community:

by Michael Masters

I have proposed the creation of a Unitarian-Universalist monastery and contemplative community. I see it as a spiritual community dedicated to contemplation, selflessness and simplicity. It would, in my conception, be a group of committed contemplatives who, however, did not necessarily share any central theological, doctrinal or traditional core, such as unifies and inspires all monastic communities of which I am aware. A monastery where each member, supported and encouraged and nourished by each other member, dedicated themselves to their own unique spiritual practice and path, perhaps not shared in specific detail with any other but all together leading to a unity in contemplative living, which would be expressed and celebrated as well in common practice. That, of course, is the approach Unitarian-Universalism in general takes toward spirituality, though usually in a very worldly manner.

Why a UU monastery, when there are so many other types already in place? Because some few UUs who are in every way in accord with the Principles of Unitarian-Universalism, and who have found their spiritual home there, at the same time have a strong inclination toward contemplation within their native personality. For those few people nothing but a community such as I've tried to describe would truly suit them, and allow them to be true to themselves.

Monasticism is not necessarily always an expression of specific faith, a way of bringing to life particular beliefs and understandings. Being a monk doesn't have to entail celebration of Christian truths only, or Buddhist, or Hindu. That would mean all the monastic elaboration of each culture, continuing unabated for thousands of years, just coincidentally so closely resemble each other in tone, temper and form.

The practice and emphasis which together most often comprise a monastic lifestyle -- conscious concentration on silence and solitude, purity, obedience, humility and poverty, on hard work, service and love, on selflessness and the transcending or dissolving of self -- are ways in which any human being who is drawn strongly enough toward what is most real, most meaningful, most essential in human life -- toward sharing, selflessness and love -- can be most true to their nature. The details of each monastic tradition are certainly very different, as are the mythologies they honor and respond to; but it seems clear that the heart of the contemplative life itself is very similar in each case, if not the same. That's what allows monks of various traditions themselves to meet and benefit from each others' experience: Thomas Merton conferring with Buddhists in Bangkok, Frs. Enomiya-Lasalle and William Johnston exploring Zen in Japan, Bede Griffiths living for decades in a Christian-Hindu ashram in India.

The content and techniques of individual spiritual practices can also certainly be very different. Zen Buddhist monastics -- as well, of course, as non-monastics -- do zazen and koan, while Theravadins do vipassana; Hindu contemplatives immerse themselves in yogic and devotional exercises; Catholic monks live as prayer, chanting the offices and reading Lectio Divina. But isn't their style of life at least close enough to each other that they can all be identified as monks? A monk is a person who lives consciously and purposefully alone: "all-one". A monastery is a place where people live alone together. The purpose is contemplation: concentrated attention, observation, awareness. That is born in solitude and silence -- which are endurable for long only with the loving support of others living in the same way -- and it is cultivated in sustained personal practice, individually and as a group.

The goal, at least for me personally, is selflessness. The only true experience of reality in this essentially illusory world comes at those moments when awareness of self is lost -- in concentration, in meditation, in prayer, in work, in study, in creativity, in service, in play -- in love, of one another and all others, and without object, as a way of life. The experience of selflessness itself is known to us as love. Therefore, a UU contemplative community would be designed to allow the widest and deepest possible expression and practice of selflessness; to embody love in all its facets.

Each member would have their own personal spiritual practice, perhaps but not necessarily shared with other members. At the same time, there would be a strong common practice and celebration that would bring together all members of the community, as its structure and foundation. Daily gatherings -- possibly many times daily -- would at the very least be of Quaker-style silent group contemplation, but would most likely include as wide a variety of traditional and non-traditional liturgical styles and observances as is conceivable. The UU Hymnal would be an obvious place to turn first for inspiration along these lines. But any or all of the following, and more, from any source, might easily be incorporated: chanting, singing, instrumental music, dancing, poetry, recitations, readings, talks, sermons, discussions, spontaneous interjections, candle-lighting, darkness: anything that leads to the creation of a shared contemplative atmosphere. In addition, stemming from the fruits of contemplation, there would always be intense, ongoing interactive contact with the wider UU family, and with the world, if not actual outside service activity as well.

Underlying the practice, there would also most definitely be a common system of belief. This would be fluid, composed by the members themselves, and changing with the coming and going of the membership. But it would, at least, be founded in agreement and adherence to the Principles of the UUA. The specific rules of the community, too, would be worked out by the members themselves. They might be inspired by the examples of the rules and precepts of other monastic traditions, that have allowed monasticism to thrive for those thousands of years. But there would be no slavish imitation. Each rule would be the result of extensive reasoned discussion, agreed upon by all in accordance with the requirements of this group, and of this time. Most especially in the case of such classic monastic disciplines as poverty, celibacy and silence, these rules must be embraced not in a spirit of hardship or renunciation, but of freely choosing a greater joy over a more shallow one.

Clearly, some sort of screening or discernment process would be necessary. It could not be as intensive, at first anyway, or as prolonged as those of Orthodox or Roman Catholic orders, which can last six years or longer. But it would have to be determined of every prospective member, without exception, that they are truly suited and committed to contemplation and monastic life.

Economics would, naturally, be crucial. So far in my search, I've met with a great deal of desire for a UU reflective retreat center, not of the conference and socializing type already serving us. It would be a place where any UUs or any others could come for a few days or a few weeks, to benefit from the silence and solitude to be found in a contemplative environment, to rest and recollect and revitalize. That, however, could probably not be the mainstay of financial support. My personal inclination would be to follow the lead of most Catholic and Orthodox monasteries, as well as non-spiritual intentional communities, and look to some form of agricultural, food, craft and/or cottage-industrial production as our economic base. Such decisions, too, though, must wait for discussion among potential community members, and would depend as well on their skills and talents.

Such a life would certainly not be for everyone! Indeed, I can envision a community of this type only as quite a small group of people. (Anyone who might possibly be interested can reach me at the address below!) I do believe that a UU monastery would be as true an expression of Unitarian-Universalism as any other; and that the mere existence, and accessibility of a contemplative center with the body of Unitarian-Universalism would both broaden and deepen UU spirituality as a whole, and benefit all UUs of every kind.

Michael Masters P.O. Box 144 Lyons, CO 80540 mmasters@lanminds.net


by John M. Johnson

When I reflect upon my 55 years, it is possible to identify many epiphanies, or turning points in my life, moments when a critically important definition emerged, or changed from one thing to another. Some of these epiphanies seem easily associated with one dramatic event or crisis, but others emerge, drift, and develop more slowly. Many epiphanies are associated with my home of origin, and it is now clear that many of the adult views I now hold stem from this context. Other epiphanies are associated with childhood and early adulthood; early successes and failures in school, friends, sports, organizations, and the vicissitudes of young relationships. Early tribal, religious, and community affiliations are important for gaining a sense of self identity, as are the momentous events of military, war, marriage, and health problems. Epiphanies such as these are important for the development of our self, and for our abilities to discern how we differ from other series and what we share in common with other selves. They play a crucial role in who we think we are in the mundane world.

Epiphanies or turning points are grasped and defined retrospectively. One rarely knows that one is living in or through an epiphany at the time of its occurrence and, even on those rare occasions when one does (such as the unexpected death of a child), what all this will come to mean is not unambiguously clear. So it appears to be our general human fate that we are continuously reviewing and rewriting our "past lives," in the social and experiential world, continuously revising the meaning of some relatively recent or remote social experience of the past. We commonly collude with others, perhaps brothers and sisters who were also at the scenes of the events, or perhaps with secular peers also struggling to grasp the embedded cultural meanings and how their interpretations change and evolve with the fads and foibles of contemporary secular thought. As long as we "live," an important part of our living consists of this continual and ongoing revision of our life story and the meanings of its definitional epiphanies.

All epiphanies or turning points in our social experience are important but not all are equally important. Some epiphanies have the potential and power to completely transform one's life, to transform it into something altogether different. One common epiphany which possesses this transformational power is parenthood. The process of becoming a parent in the true (as opposed to the technical) sense appears to begin a chain reaction of epiphanies, an auto-catalytic process which eventually produces a kind of "centering" for the self which is unparalleled even in cases of the more dramatic religious conversions. In recent years I have communicated my own sense of this transformational potential with a "joke" I tell to my children. I tell them that I lived the first 38 years of my life on a different planet, a planet called "Planet for People without Children, " and on this planet I experienced that most events were usually intelligible and comprehensible to me by using the commonsense knowledge and wisdom I had gained from my culture and worldly experience, as adumbrated by the theories, methods, and empirical data of modern and classical social though and literature. But then, beginning in 1980, I began the process of becoming a parent, and in this process I have been transported to a different planet, one called Planet for People with Children, and on this planet modern and classical social thought, and even commonsense, pales in grasping the wonders, mystery, awe, uncertainties, and joyous consummations with divinity which are so common in parenthood, for those who care to take the time to notice- These experiences are so world-shattering that I feel no need to "prove" this point with any evidence or data; as a reader you have either "been there," and visited this other planet, in which case you know what experiences my words are pointing to, or you haven't visited this planet, and thus will find fault with the empirical adequacy of my allusions.

Even during infancy, when the dependence of my children was greatest and the asymmetrical nature of my superior power most evident, it was clear to me that, in the most fundamental way, small children are the teachers and adults are the students. During these years I worked long hours at many tasks, billets and assignments which I considered of great importance, and yet I could spend hours down on the floor playing with my daughter, where the entire world centered on Strawberry Shortcake or Chutes and Ladders. The lesson was how to be in the Here & Now, and I wish I could report that I always did it well, but the truth is that it took quite a while for me to gain some mastery on this. But small children are unwavering Teachers when it comes to this, and for adults it is critical to learn this lesson well in order to pass on to the hundreds of subsequent lessons which lie beyond infancy. These early lessons teach parents about the world of love which lies beyond the ego, the selfless love which centers the ego for all which is to follow. Siddhartha Gautama, later known as Buddha, you will recall, left his young wife Yasodara and infant son Rahula at precisely this time in his life, and spent six years wandering the Terai plains with various ascetics seeking enlightenment, a time when he could have likely learned the same lesson playing Gobots with Rahula on the palace floor. But, as we've learned from the Buddha's teachings, there are indeed different paths to the top of the mountain, so it is unimportant how one path differs from the others.

My Buddhist initiation happened during a series of life-changing crises, when I worked three jobs in order to be the McMom my parents never prepared me to be, all while being the Brownie Leader, Soccer Coach, short-order cook and chauffeur to all places in the American Burbs. I didn't practice on a daily basis, but I did say my empowerment every now and then at soccer games, in the hopes that it would help Kyle score a goal. None of my days included long devotional puja to the White or Green Tara, but occasionally they did involve invoking the Buddha's name in vain when someone did something hurtful to my kids. When I did begin sitting more or less regularly, several years later, I did so for the crassest and most pragmatic reasons, namely, to try to find a small place of quietness and solace somewhere inside which would deliver me from the pain, confusion, conflict, evil, and chaos I experienced on the outside. The ways I have embodied Buddhist practice in the world were never envisioned at Tasho Gang Monastery near Paro, or anywhere else for that matter. I haven't taken the 253 laws of a Khenpo. I have taken one vow, to do what I can to raise my children in a context of love and the principles handed down to me by those who loved me. I call this indigenous form of American Buddhist practice "McBuddhism." It is a high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium, fast food kind of spirituality for those superficial non-monastics who are centered on doing what is best for their children, in a de-centered culture lost in the throes of topsy-turvy social change. Today my practice tends to be more focused, more systematic, more regular, and more centered, but perhaps still grounded in the vast pretenses of my incorrigible ego. While my commitment to Buddhist practice remains high, in recent months on three occasions I elected to go to a hockey game with my son Kyle rather than go to zazen, which I found instructive of the priorities of my current life. My present plan is to keep all of this a vast secret from the Buddhist authorities, so that they don't take away my membership card, and thus the discount privileges at Dharma Crafts.

About the Authors

The Reverend James Ishmael Ford is minister of the Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, in Chandler Arizona.

The Reverend Wayne Arnason is minister of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, in Charlottesville, North Carolina.

The Reverend Sam Trumbore is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Charlotte County in Port Charlotte, Florida.

Michael Masters

John Johnson is president of the Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, in Chandler, Arizona. He is a professor of Justice Studies at Arizona State University. John is an initiate of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism.)