A New Monastic Model?

Over the last few days we’ve been treated to such beautiful spring mornings! On my way to the Zendo before dawn and struck by a clear moon, I found myself gazing across our garden. It seemed to extend far beyond its boundaries, all the way to the horizon — a formless field of benefaction. I thought back on my life as an artist, particularly the years I actually lived in my studio. Spending day and night between large paintings, the line between canvas and the world often seem to drop away, as if the whole world was a generous painting that happened to be my home. Anyone who walked in could be happily welcomed.

And now, what a privilege it is, here in the north of Groningen, to have a real place for practice; a setting that welcomes everyone who aspires to examine their function in life. Perhaps we’ve hit upon a new model for monasteries. Nowadays, rather than a secluded place for monks, a monastery can be a temple for all people; for those who need to chill out, those who want to re-orient and transform themselves, and those who seek a new beginning for their life’s story. This model also implies a new role for the resident monks. Rather than turning away from society, they can help to prepare and maintain the ground for everyone’s continuous practice.

At our last Open House someone asked how we at Zen River reach out to society – it’s a good question. I answered that it basically happens by itself; society comes to us and walks in all the time. So many different birds fly in and out! Perhaps, for now, our most beneficial social action is to maintain the inner and outer temple, to keep our doors and minds wide open and to insure that the dharma keeps flowing for this and the next generation. The monastery becomes a place where one can discover that the whole world is a place for individual and communal transformation.

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