Dainin Katagiri Roshi
Each gesture that accompanied his monologue was just enough to communicate the message — never too much, but never held back. . . . I became almost hypnotized by the perfect symmetrical beauty of his human form.

Brother David Steindl-Rast
He closed his eyes halfway and slid them to one side while making a joke at his own expense, widened them while listening to an especially telling story, and made everyone in the room laugh by narrating his own sense of being super-alive when he irons his clothes.

 

For seven years, Buddhist and Christian meditators have met at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, to understand each other’s religious experience, and to search out what it may have to offer the modern world. I went to the most recent conference, held last July, because the encounter between Eastern and Western spirituality had long been taking place in my own heart.

Paradoxically, after becoming a Buddhist, I felt that I was beginning to understand the teachings of Christianity for the first time — to see, behind the doctrine, confirmations of the insights I had discovered through Buddhist meditation practice. Moreover, the doctrines themselves, which I had always taken to be dogmatic leftovers from a tradition of superstition, now appeared to me as poetic statements of experience.

It seemed possible that Christian teaching might be valid in ways I had never suspected. But perhaps it becomes so only when the practitioner of this tradition connects with the living root of it, and experiences what the doctrines are intended to reflect — in other words, when the Christian follows the way of Christ.

Saying this is like announcing that wallpaper is useful only when it is applied to a wall. Yet I did not learn about the living root from a Christian church, but by following the instructions of my Buddhist master. For me, this says volumes about the value of the Buddhist-Christian dialogue. The two traditions act as mirrors for one another — or like eyes, working together to achieve a three-dimensional view.

The desire to explore this view brought me to Naropa. What I discovered was an event that reaches far beyond the limits of an ordinary academic conference.

The idea of a sustained dialogue between the Christian and Buddhist contemplative traditions came out of a conversation in Calcutta in 1968 between the Tibetan Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the Catholic Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Trungpa had escaped the Communist invasion of Tibet nine years earlier, and had since learned English and studied comparative religion at Oxford University.

Thomas Merton had become interested in Buddhism partly as a result of encounters with the Zen master and scholar, D.T. Suzuki. Merton practiced and wrote about Zen, and traveled to Asia specifically to learn about the Buddhist tradition directly from the source. He kept a record of that experience in his book, Asian Journal.

As Trungpa Rinpoche later told it, the two men got cheerfully drunk together and agreed on everything. The Buddha taught that the ultimate nature of things is sunyata, commonly translated as “emptiness.” That is to say, the ultimate is neither being nor non-being, and is completely empty of all our concepts, limitless and unbounded. This is also the ultimate nature of ourselves. Merton pointed out that in the Catholic contemplative tradition, as it has come down through St. Augustine and other great mystical saints of the Middle Ages, God is nothing; that is, God is not a being, but the source of all being.

Merton and Trungpa concurred that more dialogue between Buddhists and Christians would be an excellent idea, and would probably invigorate their respective traditions by helping them to clarify their distinctive features, as well as their common ground. They made plans to organize this dialogue formally when Merton returned from Asia.

Merton, however, was not destined to be a participant. His life was cut short by an accident in Bangkok that same year. Trungpa, who migrated to America in 1970, never forgot his conversation with Merton. By 1981, sustained Buddhist-Christian dialogue had become a reality at Naropa Institute, the Buddhist college founded by Trungpa.

Trungpa was inspired by Nalanda, the great Buddhist university of medieval India — a major center of culture and higher learning before its destruction in the Muslim invasions that ended the Indian Middle Ages. Nalanda was famous for inviting representatives from all religions and schools to come together and exchange insights. Naropa, a great master of the Buddhist Way, was the abbot of Nalanda University and one of its most renowned teachers and scholars. He imparted the Way to the Tibetans who made the long, perilous journey over the Himalayas to bring the Buddhist teachings back to their country. A lineage of direct oral transmission from master to disciple came down through the centuries to Trungpa Rinpoche. When he founded Naropa in America, therefore, he had carried the seed of Nalanda to Western ground.

A third moving spirit behind the Buddhist-Christian conferences at Naropa was Alan Watts, the English writer who popularized Zen in the West. According to Watts, the second half of the twentieth century will remembered chiefly for the meeting of Buddhism and Christianity. Listening to these conferences, it is easy to feel that this was no exaggeration.

The Naropa dialogues have accomplished at least four historically important goals.

First, the speakers from each tradition are committed to representing and comparing the two religions at their best, without bias. They are listening to one another with the respectful and heartfelt desire to learn. This in itself is a rare event in human history. It is far more common for the meeting of religions to be accompanied by bigotry, persecution, and warfare.

Second, the speakers are searching together for the experiential basis of their traditions, in order to find what is genuine — what insights are so undeniably real that we take our measure of reality from them.

Third, in the process of listening and searching, there is no attempt to convert the other side, or to water down one’s own religion so that it may be sold more easily. The integrity of each tradition is presumed. The polarity between theism and non-theism is not regarded as a problem, but rather as an exciting opportunity to manifest spiritual truth.

Fourth, the audience is brought into an authentic religious experience by contact with teachers who live complete, wakeful lives from moment to moment — who are not interested in the success of their personal careers, but have given themselves to contemplative practice for the benefit of others. The effects of this accomplishment, in particular, will spread without limit through time and space.

In his opening talk, Lodro Dorje, a practitioner of Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism — and the son of a Lutheran minister — referred to the “deeper reality” that we all sense behind our conventional lives. We might describe that reality in various ways: as a source of meaning, an intuition of sacredness, the unity of all that is. We might give it a name: God, Buddha, nature, Brahma. When we have given it a name, we introduce a problem, and a help. The problem is that we have invented a concept, which may alienate us from the reality we are seeking. The help is that we have a way of talking about it, a way of reading the maps left by others who have made the journey into this reality. Lodro Dorje then summarized the different approaches that the different spiritual traditions use to understand this deeper reality. He emphasized the need to investigate the self making the journey, for we are starting from confused ground.

I went to the morning workshop given by Katagiri Roshi prepared to take notes. But at the end, my heart was full and the page was blank.

Dainin Katagiri Roshi came to the United States in 1963 from Japan. He worked with Shunryu Suzuki Roshi to establish a Zen center in San Francisco, and now leads a Zen center in Minnesota. He is a short man with a round head, shaved according to the custom of Buddhist monks. His eyebrows are thick and dark. At the conference, he wore the long-sleeved black robe of a Zen master. Sitting down on the meditation cushion at the front of the room, he tucked his sleeves behind him and took a few minutes to adjust his legs.

When he laughs, which he does often, his eyes become twinkling half-moons and the stern expression on his face dissolves in warmth. His English is halting and sometimes difficult to understand, but much of his thought is conveyed by delicately poised movements of his hands. I watched the dance of his hands for about two hours.

Katagiri’s body formed a pyramid with a solid base, perfectly centered on the triangle of his crossed legs and spinal axis. From that firm position, he leaned and swayed into his talk.

To describe the criss-cross pattern of an oriental fabric weave, which he was comparing to human interconnectedness, he spliced his fingers together and set one wrist over the other. To demonstrate returning to the breath as a way of cutting through the busy mind, he dove the hands deep down into an imaginary solar plexus. To convey opening to the whole universe, he rolled the hands upward from his chest. To show the narrowing effect of clinging to concepts, he shrank an invisible ball with the hands, compacting it further into a tight fist. To indicate the release of letting go, he opened the hands as though releasing doves. To express tranquility, he leveled the hands as if smoothing a surface of waves. Each gesture that accompanied his monologue was just enough to communicate the message — never too much, but never held back. It all seemed spontaneous, without a hint of preconception or choice. Demonstrating his thoughts this way gave them a living presence and power beyond thought. They were as real as birds. I became almost hypnotized by the perfect symmetrical beauty of his human form.

He talked about how each moment of our lives is completely open and constantly changing; it never conforms to any expectation or fixed idea, and is always dynamic and alive. He taught zazen (sitting practice according to the Zen tradition) and answered questions. He said that zazen is like archery practice, and that we must miss the target many times to learn accuracy and precision. While at home in Japan, surrounded by a familiar environment, he felt he was an accomplished meditator who understood the teachings of Zen. But when he first came to America, he felt confused, disoriented, and disrespectful toward Americans — especially the “hippies.” He discovered that zazen is useless and he had accomplished nothing: Zen is not a tool for making personal achievements, in any case. Being plunged into a new and different world destroyed his comfortable illusion of having found the Answer; he felt that he knew nothing about Zen, and he cried. Although Katagiri did not say so, this crisis evidently ripened him for the radical transformation of consciousness which Zen aims to effect, called satori. By the end of the workshop, I wanted to cry, too — just because I loved him; I loved being near him and listening to his words of life.

He talked about how each moment of our lives is completely open and constantly changing; it never conforms to any expectation or fixed idea, and is always dynamic and alive.

I went outside and sat in the shade to eat my lunch. The wind stirred the leaves. A thundercloud rumbled overhead. Flashes of lightning split the sky. Inside the music building, somebody was playing the piano and singing a song. Voices in conversation murmured faintly near a cafe. “Each moment of our lives is completely open.” I was unutterably alive, and sad, and full of joy.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, is a thin man of medium height; the sides of his shaved head slope together at the top, almost to a cone. Like Katagiri Roshi, he has thick black eyebrows and a warm sense of humor. At the conference, his beard stubble was a few days old. He wore jeans and a black monk’s habit over a gray shirt.

To Brother David, the Way of Christ is a radically experiential religion. Our peak experiences, those moments of immersion in the Now that are self-validating and undeniably real, call forth in us a sense of limitless belonging. God is the ultimate reference point for our belonging, and we take our measure of what is real from those moments. They are not necessarily unusual; often they consist of seeing very ordinary events in a new light.

The participants in his workshop were seated around him in a circle. His style of teaching, the arrangement of cushions and chairs, and his posture were much less formal than Katagiri’s. He asked each person to describe an activity that made him or her feel super-alive. Some said when they took a shower, or sat by the sea, or walked in the woods; others, when they listened to their children breathe. According to Brother David, being super-alive means that our little self is transcended, but through that sense of limitless belonging, our personhood is fulfilled. He said love is a whole-hearted “yes” to belonging. He quoted a poet who had written, “That spirit who formed you in your mother’s womb, does it make sense that it should leave you orphaned now?”

In my classes and public talks, I have found that the Buddhist teaching which seems to disturb American students the most is egolessness: the doctrine that there is no enduring self, and that liberation from suffering requires giving up the illusion of ego. Christianity has often been contrasted with Buddhism on this point, for in heaven, according to Christians, the individual person is retained. Becoming one with God means the fulfillment of personhood, not its final dissolution. But, listening to Katagiri Roshi and Brother David, I felt that these two approaches, far from being mutually exclusive, are the complementary poles of a single truth. “Limitless belonging” and “the fulfillment of personhood” might be different ways of talking about hitting the target and expanding into the completely open, ever-changing Now. Both imply an unconditional connection with ourselves and our world. “Yes, you have to choose sides,” said Brother David. “Both sides.”

As he taught, I saw his aura standing out brilliantly three feet from his body. I am not especially psychic. Apparently some people can see auras, but I normally don’t, and it is quite a shock when I do. Brother David’s aura was rippling and trembling like a transparent fish. It had centers of brightness and shadow near his shoulders and head. There was a point of light over his right shoulder, and a long shaft of darkness rising from it in a straight line. The aura around his head and arms became liquid as he talked and laughed; when he gestured, spears of light flew off the ends of his fingers.

I have no idea what this means. What I felt was unreserved presence and communication from his whole being.

He closed his eyes halfway and slid them to one side while making a joke at his own expense, widened them while listening to an especially telling story, and made everyone in the room laugh by narrating his own sense of being super-alive when he irons his clothes. He pulled poems out of his pockets to read by Yeats and e.e. cummings, among others. He said that when he goes to a bookstore or a library, he gets goosebumps at the mere prospect of reading poetry.

I got goosebumps, too, watching that liquid fish undulate and swirl around his form. The setting was rather ordinary otherwise: a classroom, people in chairs, cars in the street; the only unusual feature was the sense of a deluge of blessings that poured into the room from Buddha and Christ. Suddenly there was nothing “ordinary” whatsoever, no more than if the cars had turned out to be herds of star-cattle running amok, and the sun a torch to call them home.

When my turn came to describe the experience of feeling super-alive, I said, “When I feel completely lost.” I was thinking of the stunned, bewildered, yet liberating emptiness that follows the end of a marriage, or the letting go of a major belief system, or the news of impending disability or death. Best of all is to be in that empty space while sitting in the train stations of a foreign country, when you can’t speak the language, and have no hotel reservations and no goal. Perhaps I wanted to test Brother David’s idea that super-aliveness is accompanied by a sense of belonging.

His eyes widened, as if in awe, and he said, “That is a great gift. You are very fortunate.” This was the first time I had thought of this faculty as a gift. I have tended to regard it more as a form of self-indulgence. Immediately, some shadow of alienation lingering within me diminished, and that sense of “belonging,” which he referred to so often during the conference, passed through me like a thrill of recognition.

Again I came out of the workshop so full that my eyes watered with happiness, and I wanted to smile and play tag, or walk the rail of a fence.

During one of the roundtable discussions, I asked why Christian worship features the repetition of doctrines such as the Apostle’s Creed: a liturgy, recited in Roman Catholic and many Protestant churches, affirming belief in the Holy Trinity, the Catholic Church, the Virgin Birth, and the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. In Buddhist services, we chant the Heart Sutra, which says, in part, “There is no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness, no suffering, no origin of suffering, no end of suffering, no path, no wisdom, no attainment and no non-attainment,” declaring that the entire conceptual structure of Buddhist teaching has no solid, objective reality, but exists purely and simply as a means to help the practitioner realize Buddhahood.

Is there a Christian liturgy, I asked, that says, “There is no Father, no Son, no Holy Ghost, no Innocence, no Fall, no Redemption, no Heaven and Hell, no Resurrection, no Devil, no Savior, and no one to be saved?”

James Finley, a former student of Thomas Merton, said that there is: St. John of the Cross outlined a path to God in which there is nothing in the beginning, nothing in the middle, and nothing at the end. Brother David said that the Apostle’s Creed mixes together statements from many different levels of meaning — history, poetry, and myth — and that the only way to relate to it is to take it as a poem. We do not insist on a literal interpretation of a poem, but instead read the images as paradoxical hints from a deeper reality that could not otherwise be expressed. I thought his comment transformed the Apostle’s Creed into a Christian Heart Sutra. This is also how the Sutra must be taken, if it is to make any sense.

Since I felt I had connected in a fundamental way with both Katagiri Roshi and Brother David, I was delighted by seeing them connect with each other. Katagiri spoke the night following Brother David’s evening talk. The Zen master began by saying that listening to Brother David made him want to be a Christian. “Amen,” I thought. He said that we must live as though stepping off the top of a hundred-foot flagpole: “Here am I, wholeheartedly.” This image reminded me of Brother David’s “wholehearted ‘yes’ to belonging.” Although his “yes” was a statement of Christian love, while Katagiri’s image was a Zen koan, the juxtaposition of the two made the contemplative experience tangible, as if seen from two directions at once.

Katagiri then told a story of a young Zen monk who did not like getting up in the morning to sit, and was always sneaking out at night to drink beer and carouse. The master summoned the carouser for an interview. As soon as he arrived, the master ordered him to leave. Thinking, “Ah, wonderful, now I can escape,” the student approached a door. But the master said, “You cannot go out by that door, it is not yours.” The student approached another door, and another, the master repeating the same words each time.

“Then how can I leave?” asked the student.

“If you cannot leave,” said the master, “stay here.”

Speaking about the dialogue between Buddhists and Christians, Katagiri broke into one of those broad, delightful smiles that turned his eyes into crescent moons, and said, “Oohhh . . . Brother David! Shake hands!” He went on, “We shake hands, and there is a short bridge between us.” But the more he thinks about Brother David, Katagiri said — wondering what Brother David is doing, whether Buddhism or Christianity are the same thing, whether Brother David and he can talk to each other — the longer the bridge becomes. Pretty soon they have to walk a long way to cross this bridge, and they meet somewhere in the middle. “Keep a short bridge,” Katagiri concluded.

The hard folding chairs made it difficult to sit still and pay attention for very long. Katagiri spoke for two hours and fifteen minutes. Finally he looked at his watch: “Oh,” he said, quietly. “I’m sorry.” Everyone laughed. But I wanted him to continue. I wanted to stay there for however long he would speak, whether it was two hours or two days. Again, though I came prepared to take notes, at the end of the session I had written nothing.

Father Robert Arida, an Orthodox priest, talked about the “battle between good and evil” in the human heart. His terms held the strong moral implications that my own background leads me to expect from Christian teachers. The nature of language, he explained, is “fallen” because it was used by the Devil as an instrument of lies; to redeem language from this corruption, it is necessary first to be silent. By silence, he meant complete non-attachment to the chatter in the mind, rather than a literal suppression of speech. Russian Orthodox priests, he said, could spend the entire day giving spiritual advice to parishioners, but never break the silence of their hearts.

The teachers I met at Naropa are not thrown into despair by the likelihood of planetary death. They do not ignore it, and they certainly care about it, but they seem to have stepped out of the trap of hope and fear.

Buddhists do not use terms like “fallen.” “Satan,” and “the battle between good and evil.” We would say that our use of language is “confused” and “ignorant” rather than “fallen.” Good and evil are among the concepts that are let go in our meditation practice, and a term like “battle” suggests a continued involvement in suppressing some thoughts and favoring others. Buddhists would also say that the Devil, like all personified deities, is a projection of our own minds — in this case, ego-mind, or that which is involved in stupidity, aggression, and greed. Listening to Father Arida, I was reminded — for the first time during the conference — that it did matter that I had chosen a Buddhist instead of a Christian path.

Yet even though Father Arida seemed to emphasize the differences between the traditions, I was moved by his sincerity and the authenticity of his experience. The inward “silence” that he referred to is precisely what Buddhist meditation practice is all about, minus the moral judgements. When he described the practice of painting icons, I thought immediately of Tibetan thangka, or icon painting, which has a similar importance in Buddhism. Both are deeply reverent meditative disciplines which combine artistic skill and thorough training by a specific lineage of masters with inspiration and prayer. Both provide images which serve as a focal point for religious devotion and practice. The Roman Catholics in the audience listened with keen interest to Arida’s description of icon painting, for they were learning about a Christian tradition as old as their own, which developed entirely outside of the Western church.

Many Christians came to the conference with a lingering stereotype of Buddhists as being so detached that they had an inadequate understanding of love. Mother Tessa Bielicki, a Carmelite nun, told the audience that she had thought Buddhists were cold. Many Buddhists, on the other hand, felt that theistic religions in general shield the ego from scrutiny by projecting it into the concept of God. Ane Pema Chodron, a Kagyu Buddhist nun, said that she thought “God” meant some kind of safety zone for the ego. It was heartening to observe these stereotypes being dissolved through the roundtable discussions.

Mother Tessa and Father Arida went to great lengths to illustrate, from the lives of Biblical prophets and the Christian saints, that there is nothing “safe” about God. From the day God begins to speak in one’s heart, one’s old life is pulverized. Jeremiah was cast into a well. Saul, who had a comfortable life persecuting Christians, was suddenly thrown off his horse in the middle of nowhere. After that, as the apostle Paul, he was confined in jails, lashed, tortured, banished, and finally executed for the entertainment of the Roman mobs.

Mother Tessa said that relating to God as a safety zone characterized the first stage of the religious life, when you think you have God boxed up neatly in dogmas and ideas. The second stage is the loss of safety: a terrible vacuum of emptiness, with no God, no self, and no purpose to anything at all. It is very common, she said, for the aspirant to bail out at this point and want nothing more to do with the spiritual path. The best medicine during this “dark night of the soul” is not prayer, necessarily — for prayer has been destroyed along with everything else — but simply staying immersed in the routines of daily living. The third stage is the connection with God, not as a zone of safety, but as the source of Being — beyond whatever we might think or want.

These three stages seem to parallel the Buddhist meditation process. We often begin the practice of meditation with some goal of self-improvement: we are going to become more peaceful and relaxed, perform better on the job, maybe even appropriate the spiritual life as a personal decoration. If we go deeper into our practice, it soon becomes boring, irritating, painful, and confused, gradually undermining the whole premise of self-existence — never mind self-improvement. Ultimately, there is a connection with egoless mind, unimpeded clarity of thought, and a sharpening of all the perceptions. But this happens only through surrender of our personal storyline, willingness to experience suffering, and devotion to one’s teacher.

Pema Chodron explained how compassion in the Buddhist tradition is a deliberately cultivated process of opening the heart through devotion, unconditional friendliness, and warmth. We begin by accepting and making friends with ourselves, including the qualities that we may not like. Because nothing is fixed or solid, there is room to respond without the reference point of personal security. Even if we feel heartless and cold, Buddhist practices are designed to soften us up and make us capable of tears. As we appreciate the preciousness of experience, a great longing is released in us to open further and further. Mother Tessa, visibly moved by Pema’s talk, responded that she was beginning to realize Buddhists were not, after all, lacking in love.

Dr. Sylvia Boorstein, a Theravada Buddhist, referred often to the simplicity of her tradition. Thoughts of good and evil, love and hate, she said, are simply allowed to come into the mind and then let go. She taught the practice of extending compassion to others, which consists of wishing that all beings be free of suffering, in progressively more and more extensive circles — beginning with oneself, loved ones, friends, acquaintances, enemies, and finally the universe in general. Her gentleness and understated warmth seemed to me to be the embodied synthesis of Pema Chodron’s “unconditional love” and Mother Tessa’s “love.”

The question was raised as to whether the Christian and Buddhist paths converge in the end. Brother David was firm in his statement, quoted from Baker Roshi, that they do not converge; they lose themselves in the same territory. None of the Buddhists disagreed with him. Upon reflection, I thought this was a profound insight. “Convergence” could imply that we can know where the paths are leading us, and jump ahead to where all difference is obliterated in the facile assertion that Everything is One. The notion of a path losing itself requires us to give up the conceit of a destination, and to give up, as well, any security the path may have provided. The territory is infinitely unknown. It will never be the same for any two explorers.

People came to this conference from all around the country: New York, Vermont, Connecticut, California, Virginia, Florida, as well as several Midwestern states; about half of the three hundred members of the audience on any given evening were from the Boulder area.

We were a courteous and friendly group; but, as with any gathering, an undercurrent of suffering ran beneath the surface of warm smiles and social pleasantries. In the afternoon, I heard a door slam in a hallway of the dormitory. “I’m coming back,” said a man’s voice. “No,” said a woman, weeping in anguish, “don’t bother, it’s too late.”

I walked across the yard. A group of vagabond birds were hanging out on the lawn, brawling and swarming through the trees, fighting over scraps. The echo of what I had just heard kept repeating in my mind. I took my seat among the animated faces in the auditorium — sharply aware, suddenly, of the longing that had brought us all to this place. The topic of the discussion was to be “Compassion or Love?”

I often wonder if it is “too late” — too late to reverse the destruction of the Earth, the pollution of the seas, the deterioration of the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, the results of acid rain, the elimination of the tropical forest, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear waste. To reverse all this, we would have to reverse our own stupidity, aggression, and greed. And we would have to do that now, in staggeringly large numbers — not after the Second Coming, not after the Revolution, not after some mythic return of the Star People, but now. When I think about these things, my conclusion is that we have already buggered ourselves and the jig is up.

Yet, the Christian and Buddhist teachers here had reminded me that every moment is completely open. They had done more than that — they had brought me into the moment and allowed me to experience it for myself.

In our ordinary lives, Brother David said, the Now — the source of Being where we feel super-alive — is always mixed with time: what is about to happen and what is passing away. In death, time disappears; when somebody is dying, we say that his time is up. Finally, there is only Now. “At last!”

All over the planet, people are stepping off the top of a hundred-foot flagpole, to use Katagiri Roshi’s koan. Katagiri’s answer to the koan — “Here am I, now, wholeheartedly” — may be the best response to the world situation. To live that way is to cut the root of stupidity in oneself. It is to access an unlimited mind, beyond the tunnel-vision that created our problem and that vainly keeps repeating old habit patterns in the effort to find a solution.

The teachers I met at Naropa are not thrown into despair by the likelihood of planetary death. They do not ignore it, and they certainly care about it, but they seem to have stepped out of the trap of hope and fear. Their lives are being fulfilled; there is no reason, therefore, to be terrorized by impermanence, even of cosmic proportions. Impermanence is the raw material of realization.

They proclaimed a steadiness, a sanity, that was open to all the Now contains; that can weep, and laugh, and be tender and responsive in the most subtle ways to the living — and dying — flow of events. If we do end up respecting our Earth enough to preserve it after all, the energy for the necessary reversal will come from the kind of steadiness and sanity cultivated by these teachers. They are setting an example desperately needed by humankind.

In this light, the meeting of Eastern and Western contemplative traditions does become truly momentous — enough to warrant the value placed on it by Alan Watts, who implied that it was more important than nuclear power, more important than the space age, the computer, the automobile, or the victory of any political cause. In their effort to understand one another, Buddhist and Christian meditators are restating their heritage as experience, thereby making its true meaning accessible to the world. They are sharing a common ground of egoless mind. Ultimately, they are giving us the keys to the prison of our lives.

I visualize them sitting on cushions, facing one another and communicating with their hands. To restate a heritage, the hands go deep down into the solar plexus and roll upward toward the heart. To share the common ground of egoless mind, the hands fan sideways, palms and fingers extended, as though healing crops from drought and blight. To offer the keys to the prison of our lives, the hands open, as though releasing birds.