tv Mosaic World News LINKTV September 19, 2012 7:30pm-8:00pm PDT
more like what we call a numinous experience - in other words, there's a distinct difference. it's very typical of islam, of christianity - in this case, christianity, the coptic orthodox phase - typical, at some senses, in judaism, where you're here and you're so in love with god, allah, yahweh, whatever - jesus - you're so in love, that slowly but surely, the barrier between you and the other breaks down until there's this exultant unity. i don't honestly believe any of these monks would dare say, "i became god" - but maybe they would; i don't know. but there's not that idea of that sort of oneness, but you become at one - or not two, as the swami might say. that's what i'm hearing. but watch again. it's fascinating - a world away in terms of religion. we've got hinduism, for our monist mysticism, we might have heard something or will hear something from original peoples, first national peoples,
native americans. now we're going through the coptic orthodox faith, and two folks in this roll-in, both equally astute. one is brother mark, who used to be, i believe, a dentist or some kind of professional field, and he gave that up in order to go to this monastery, where he lives his life, and a life of meditation and prayer and connection with god. bishop thomas, on the other hand, is a major bishop in the coptic faith in egypt, but listen particularly, because we've had barbara's beautiful sahara - once again, we're getting too many synchronicities in this class. we have this book - from the library, folks; that's why you can't see the front on it - but we have this book about the sahara - we'll, we're going to the sahara; i forgot about that. yeah, we're going back to the sahara, and listen to what life would be like there. and so, if we could, let's go to st. macarius monastery in the deserts outside of cairo.
>> the word monk , or monastery, monasticism, from mono - mono means single, one-say but one. here is all the monastic ones - mono, monk, monastic - they lived as hermits alone in the desert. now we live in a community together, so we built a wall all around the land but till now, we live alone ourselves. we work together, pray together, eat together one meal a day in our dining room, but we live alone ourselves. every cell has two rooms, small kitchen, small bathroom, in every cell, for one monk - comfortable sense - but no radio, no tv, no newspaper, no refrigerators, no fans, no heater, nothing; only light and water,
enough for our life. a simple life. >> we're here at st. macarius monastery, a coptic orthodox christian monastery, located deep in the desert between cairo and alexandria. as i followed brother mark around the monastery, i had the uncanny feeling of crossing some invisible boundary into another space and time, and indeed, i was crossing into the rarified atmosphere of sacred space and sacred time. brother mark was a pharmacist before he entered the monastery, and he told me that the majority of the 100 monks dwelling here were formerly professional men - doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and engineers. what prompts these men to leave the comforts of the material world for the austerity of monastic seclusion? from the perspective of beliefs and believers, it is the experiential dimension. for these monks at st. macarius, spiritual experience begins at the key experiential event for jesus' first followers -
the last supper. the monks literally leave the table of the world for the table of christ. the monk's day is divided among worship, work, and study. food from the monastery's farm sustains over 100 monks who share everything, dress simply, and eat once a day. >> we fast half a year, 43 days before christmas, 55 days before easter, now we are in fasting time - about one month for some people in september and october, two weeks in august for the virgin mary, [inaudible] assumption, three days also before lent for some [inaudible], when he fasted three days. and every week we fast two days wednesday and friday - the memory of the crucifixion
of christ. if you collect all these days, it is around 180 days - half a year. during the fasting time, we don't eat any animal production- no meat, no cheese, no eggs, no milk, no chicken - we eat vegetables and fruits during fasting time. >> silence is observed at all times. poverty, chastity, and obedience are required. >> monasticism started in egypt by st. anthony. and the before st. anthony, there were groups of people that they were scattered, but st. anthony started to put teachings for this. the main concept of monasticism is to disconnect yourself from everything, to be united with the one, which is christ. and when you find yourself
connected and united with him, you find yourself that you are united with everything again - with the people, with the nature, with the matter, with the space, with the time - you find yourself that you are united with the divine being together with humanity. monasticism is a trial, to go deeper to oneself, and to pray for the others. it's not isolation, but it is unity. when you come deeper inside yourself, you will find yourself connected with the others as well, but in a different form - in prayers, in the spirit, you'll find yourself carried by the wings of the spirit, praying for everyone, and praying for the whole universe.
>> would you say that a monk in the monastery in the coptic tradition experiences a kind of mystical unity with god? >> definitely, it's a mysticism; definitely, it is. but it's not this kind of mysticism that you will go somehow - and the word, the line is superstitions - but somehow you know that this is your goal, and this is where you are heading to, and it is clear, the spirituality. and actually, i would rather say it is meeting your spirit, with the other spirits, shadowed by the spirit of god - for me, it's like this. and i think every human being should have a sort of,
or this kind of a spiritual concept. it would solve a lot of the problems in the world, even the clashes and clashes of civilizations and religions and identities, because i feel that every human being is like a tree - that as much as he goes deeper in himself and rooting himself into the understanding of humanity, then he would have stronger branches to reach out to the other trees nearby him, the other persons. so the branches will hug one another. but at a certain level, the roots themselves, as much as they go deeper, they meet together, and they hug one another from under the ground, underneath. and then here,
the roots will hug one another, and the branches will hug one another. then humanity will become united, without clashes. and this is the christian concept of globalization - it's not just everybody would just do whatever and everything would be vague. we need globalization according to rules and concepts and understanding and spirituality and truth, going deeper into human being - meaning of humanity. >> the monks have survived in the desert for almost 1,900 years, but not without some skillful adaptations. in ancient times, when attacks could come from any number of outside invaders, the monks built an inner sanctuary with a drawbridge. when danger struck, they would leave their caves, dash into the sanctuary, pull in the drawbridge, and simply wait until their oppressors left.
as we look at the ancient icons, the relics of long-gone monks, arches dating from roman times, or experience the vast silence of the desert, it becomes clear that the roots of coptic orthodox christianity are planted in this desert monastery. but these roots sustained the entire orthodox world - indeed, a most sacred space and time. see, experientially, something is happening. people don't just do this for a millennia, go off and say, "it's not enough; i want to be by myself." i got to go to a monastery in - where was it - lafayett oren, on a trip when i was a teaching assistant, or maybe i was an undergrad. anyway, i signed up to go on this for five days of silence, and whoa, right off the bat, that's intense.
but i remember one of the brothers there, he was a lawyer. he was a young, hotshot lawyer down in los angeles, and he's's on wilshire boulevard one morning, driving his old chevrolet, and he sees the car in front of him is a partner in his law firm, and it's a mercedes, and he's stuck in traffic, and he's just thinking, "okay, so i'm going to put 20, 30 years of my life into this effort being a lawyer, so that i can be stuck in traffic 30 years later in a fancier car? that's what i do? he quit the next day he turned in his papers and he went and became a monk. so something is happening, and that's why i wanted to bring this into the experiential dimension. sure. >> the question i have, they are living by themselves in a very enclosed, capsulated world and becoming satisfied religiously and spiritually within themselves, and yet he's talking about the branches and the roots reaching out to touch others. how does he do that
if he stays within those walls? >> i have heard that - >> i would like to understand that. if everybody stayed enclosed and capsulated, how's it going to spread? >> i've got a story on this one, but it's the premier question for a class in religious studies after hearing that. what are they talking about? isn't this supreme selfishness in the name of religion? why are these dudes hanging out while people are starving and dying? now, i'll offer my piece in, and then we'll get susanna and janet and chris to add theirs to it. but i talked to brother luke at the same monastery, and he was on that side of roman catholicism that was very socioactive - i mean, he was all - liberation theology, all over latin america, working for people, working with the poor, which is a highly important part of that faith. he said when he got the call to go to the monastery, which was an inward call, that he firmly believes - and he stressed this -
"i am doing more for humanity in this monastery, making those branches go deep" - and i'm borrowing the analogy from bishop thomas here - he didn't say that, but that was the gist of it - "by making my faith branches go deep, i am doing more practically to help the world than anything else." and for a secularized person, which i have, to some extent, like it or not, am, i would have to do a head scratch on that. but the way they say it, something's got to be cooking there. susanna? >> i was going to say that even within the monastery, there are many different styles. you can go to gethsemane in kentucky and feel a very similar feeling. when you just enter there, before you've spoken with anyone, you have a similar feeling. but here is thomas merton who spent most - a lot of years of his life in there - but also he wrote, and is probably the best known example of a modern-day seeker. in fact, he died seeking - he was in the far east -
nepal or wherever that was - when he died accidentally; they had poor electricity in their monastery. but yeah, you're connected. and things that he wrote conjectures on the guilty bystander - that because they go to the monastery, it doesn't mean they've left everything behind. they're human beings, they're men, some are women. there's quite a lot to it. >> i mean, talk about your synchronicity. you mentioned merton. i just happen to have the monastic journey , by merton, here, and just listen to this one passage he writes about this interconnectedness. "if therefore we seek jesus the word, we must be able to see him in the creative things around us - in the hills, the fields, the flowers, the birds, and animals that he has created, and the skies and the trees. we must be able to see him in nature - nature is no obstacle to our contact with him if we know how to use it." and it's that kind of mystical - that's almost a nature mysticism.
see how they combine? but that's what i'm talking about - this idea that you're in the monastery, behind monastery walls, but something is connecting. >> i said janet, and then we'll get chris here, and then - go ahead, janet. >> my teacher, who's a [inaudible] buddhist, when the question was put to him, he would say, "if i am putting my effort into meditation, i am not defiling any other persons. i am n going after someone else's wife. i am..." there's a whole mess of people who don't have to worry about me trying to do anything brutal to them, because here i am generating peace and love and kindness toward all other beings in the world. >> and atmosphere is so important. back to my crack i'll probably get sued for about chuck e. cheese, but the mental atmosphere that you absorb creates your attitudes, it really does. >> but coming in contact with a person who has concentrated themselves with generating
compassion and peace really makes you - >> you notice it. i mean, i'm just rushing around doing a teleclass and i run into that swami, and all of a sudden, time out! relax. calm down. my blood pressure, just by being near the guy goes, do-do-do-do-do-do-, it's down like that. chris, go ahead. >> well, i think it has a lot to do with the peace of god, or what we call the peace of god, in that when you stop talking about the peace of god, when you start doing it, that whether other people know it or not, they're being benefited by you doing it, whether you have a direct impact on their life or not. and so i can definitely see how monasteries help all humanity, instead of just them, and it's not a selfish thing. >> well said. i mean, it is a center of peace. i mean, we have centers where we're building nuclear weapons that can destroy thousands upon thousands
of people with one boom. here, we have a center of peace, and why shouldn't we have it and why shouldn't it interconnect. now, hold these good questions. we have one more roll-in which i've sworn to get in, because i wanted to get another perspective, and we still have a few minutes after that one. professor wendy wright has spent her entire life studying mystical experience and mysticism within the christian context, and i wanted to bring her on in this class, because she has a different perspective on it. we've heard from two gentlemen from the far corners of the world, and i don't think she'd mind me saying this. she was at the university of california, santa barbara - she was a teaching assistant when i was an undergrad, and gave me a b+, which i'll get even with her for. but anyway, she is a practicing mystic - she is a scholar who studies it, but she's very much in the mystical tradition. so just a few words, a short roll-in from professor wendy wright. >> i think people are most familiar with figures
like teresa of ahumada, some of the great - john of the cross, these great carmelite mystics of the tradition whose writings, especially as they attempt to describe the interior experience of this intimacy and these various dimensions - in other words, they talk about an interior path, an interior castle, or a process of going - the intimacy with god, and the writings of these peoples have been very influential. people have responded to them because spiritual journey is not only exterior and not only has to do with ideas and who they're with, but it also has to do with a growing sense of - again, that gathering of one's own energies around the focal point of god,
and that those are - in the christian tradition, it's often said that there are primitive movements. in other words, there's a way in which you make space in yourself through those disciplines, through prayer or whatever, and then god's own energy, god's own light that is illuminate you as move farther into the experience of relationship, a growing intimacy occurs. that puts it in very schematic terms. >> i really like your term "the inner spiritual journey." now, for a buddhist, it would be meditation as the method to take that journey. how does prayer work in the christian tradition? >> it's a central method. prayer is variously described in the christian tradition. in other words, you can have prayer, whether it is intercessory - asking god for something - you can have prayer that is praise, you can have prayer that is a conversation. probably the most typical
type of prayer that you describe when we talk about mysticism would be a contemplative kind of prayer, and that would be a prayer in which the agency is less yours than god's - in other words, it's a prayer of intense listening, a prayer of receptivity, a prayer of response, and it is a prayer in which deep silence - listening to the silence kind of the root of all things is paramount. so it's less about trying to figure out or ask than to receive experience of life as a mystery. >> in addition to prayer, what other religious practices lead one towards unity with god? >> it's very holistic - in other words, there are all kinds of practices. the mystical tradition is full of art and imagery,
which is transformational - full of musical processes - it's full of ascetic exercises - fasting, the discipline of the body in various ways that would, again, clear out, get rid of the extremist kind of concerns that would allow you to empty and become more receptive to the experience of god's presence. there are lots of them. >> hymns? music? that sort of thing? >> yeah, um-hmm. there are traditions in the monastic traditions of christianity of transformational music - in other words, music that is understood by its very nature to, by the sound and the act of singing, to help aid in this transformation that would effect an intimacy with god. >> see, that's another reason why i like to put the experiential dimension first when we move through an exploration of religion, because something has to happen.
and all these things that people do - and we'll get to the ritual dimension and mythic dimensions and doctrinal dimension further on - but all these things that people do come back to an experiential dimension. i mean, you know how it is, if you go to church and you're not used to the hymns or whatever, you get this book and you're listening to these old melodies and you're reading these words that may really not touch you or they may come out of 19th century or 18th century poetry, and nothing happens. but the idea of you're singing a hymn - in fact, wendy was very modest; she uses music as a transformative way to go into mystical experiences, you may have picked up. anyway, unless you are using the hymns, or whatever you're doing - you're chanting, you're praying - to really transform you experientially, then you're just doing something; you might as well be hanging out at chuck e. cheese's. well, maybe not that bad. i'll drop that. yes? >> the reappearance of jesus after the crucifixion,
would that qualify as a mystical experience, or just an experiential dimension, or a different category? i would say, from an academic scholarly point of view, in staying with our program here, i'd call it a numinous experience. we made the case that there's a slight difference between numinous experience and mystical experience in that with the numinous, there's very much a sense of separateness and awe and almost a terrifying fascinating with it, working off [inaudible]. so i'd call it that. but again, we're way down in the foothills once again. what the apostles experienced when they saw jesus there again, wandering amongst them, could have just run the gamut, i imagine, of possible spiritual, religious, mystical experiences. i sure wouldn't say it wasn't one. yes, susanna? >> i loved her description of centering prayer. i'd love to see that again. it really was my understanding of centering prayer. she didn't call it exactly that, but it's just another term
for the same thing, i think. >> who's the famous catholic teacher, thomas keating? >> thomas keating, basil pennington. >> this is a very popular kind of technique that works within the roman catholic faith. so we have - when you think of the belief style, i mean, the best - the one that jumps right to mind might be the great institution of the roman catholic faith. but here, within that, we see the constant pressuring of the seeker style and thomas keating - >> and merton obviously did it - >> merton too. to get something that really, actually works. yeah. >> we're going to spend a week at darkowty in july at the clearing, and we're going to study the cloister walk by kathleen norris - >> isn't that a new book out, her new- >> she's got a new book, but it's not her book. okay. >> that's another great one. >> yeah. and it's very much in the same vein. she's not even catholic - she goes to a benedictine monastery -
and her writings and her discoveries of her inner world are so incredible, just because of where she is, and the routine she has to follow as oblate. >> what was her name one more time? >> kathleen norris. >> you see, what we've come up in this class several times is you meet people, or maybe you read something they wrote, and you know that you have moved into new territory experientially - you are affected by them. and i mention that because i was reading an article on prophecy in newsweek magazine a while back, and there was just a tiny little insert, blurb from her - i guess it's her new book - that described her, what we should call interpretation of revelation and the apocalypse. everyone's concerned about this and there's all kinds of war and negativity and armageddon - we'll talk about that. but hers was so poetic and so deep. her roots were very, very deep, and you get with a person like that,
and you know what's going on. you can talk in a religious studies session about religious experience and we can create types and means of looking at them, but you get to talking to the believers, which is why i so much like to bring them in - even if we have to see them in video, we know we're getting somewhere. as we move through the semester, you can test for yourself, but we will have guests in here and see how things are as we move through them. yeah? janet? >> it was funny that you brought up the word cloister , because i grew up on the south side of chicago, and it was bungalow house, one after another, but a full block was an order of nuns that were cloistered. and growing up, they had opened the doors to the community, and they had a grotto there with the blessed mother. and then, in our family, anytime anyone was sick, my mom or either my sister or i, took a note with a small donation to the nuns and they'd answer the door,
and then they would pray for whoever it is that we asked to pray. so, they were cloistered, they were behind grilles and that, because i had the experience in high school, we danced in a play, and we were asked to come to the convent there, and we had danced for the cloistered nuns. all we could do was see their eyes behind the grille, but we felt that we were in their type of life and that. >> again, i think that's - i'm so glad we're moving in this class, and as it typically does, it goes by fast when we're moving into the last minute. but where we moved is i think so helpful, because we've raised a key question - is it morally or ethically justified for some people to close themselves off from the world? and when we get to the doctrinal dimension - we have one full class on the secular and the sacred - particularly in that class, we try to make sense of the amish, and what the amish do and why they do it. but your point of the cloister, it raises such important issues
about the religious impulse, about identity, and relationship, when intelligent, thinking human beings - and for the most part, when i've gone to monastic settings, they have been professional people with a great deal of education that have made these choices - what is it about that quest that causes people to leave the so-called wonders of the secular world and seek their own inner peace? but we'll have to stay with that one, because we've run out of time. so in the next class, hinduism.