Patrick Henry (Ed)
Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of Saint Benedict
ISBN 0 8264 6193X
Continuum, London & New York, 2002 £12.99
(price at publication of review)
Reviewed September 2003; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2003
ĎAre you a Buddhist monk?í That seems to be a frequent question these days if I am out and about in a habit. The Buddhist monastic presence can seem more visible in the West now than the Christian. This makes Benedictís Dharma a refreshing book to find as it is a reflection by four contemporary Buddhists on the Rule of St. Benedict. The admiration they have for the Rule and their respect for Christian monastic life in general is somehow reassuring. Perhaps the wise men and women from the East still have something to find in the Christian tradition.
This book arose out of a Buddhist-Christian encounter at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, sponsored by Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID). It was MID who then initiated this project and invited the contributors to participate. The essays then written and conversations shared were subsequently edited and arranged by Patrick Henry, a professor of religion at a US college. Also included is a conclusion by a Benedictine monk, and a complete new translation of the Rule of St. Benedict by the abbot of Ampleforth Abbey.
Perhaps, however, too wide a scope was attempted in one short book. Having four contributors, each from a different Buddhist tradition, means that it is sometimes difficult to find oneís bearings, and there is some overlap of content. Also slightly disappointing is the fact that the translation of the Rule itself, which takes up a large part of the book, is not integrated with the commentary. Having said this many good comments are made, particularly concerning how the values of the Rule can be lived in everyday life. It is a book that would be particularly helpful to those who seek to integrate the insights of the different traditions into a single life.
The abiding impression of the book is of the warmth of these Buddhist practitioners towards the Christian monastic heritage, while not avoiding the differences between the two religions. It is surely a sign of the maturity of the dialogue between the faiths that such reflections can be graciously offered and received.
Nicholas Alan SSF
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