Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Brother David Steindl-Rast. Brother David is an international lecturer, author, and leader in the monastic renewal movement as well as the dialogue between Eastern and Western religions. After 12 years of training in the 1,500-year-old Benedictine monastic tradition, Brother David received permission to practice Zen with Buddhist masters.
With Sounds True, Brother David created an audio program called The Grateful Heart, where he describes prayer not as a dogmatic ritual, but as a way of opening to the blessings that await us in everyday life. Brother David will also be speaking at Sounds True’s Living a Life of Presence event, which is a benefit for the Eckhart Tolle Foundation and takes place September 29 through October 2 in Huntington Beach, California.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Brother David and I spoke about facing death and the concept of “the Double Realm,” a realm in which time and eternity are one. We also talked about gratitude as a doorway to the Double Realm, [as well as] Brother David’s suggested practice of “Stop, Look, and Go” as a way to practice gratitude in any moment of life. We talked about how to let go of any sense of entitlement and see the opportunity in every experience—even when at first we don’t feel grateful. Finally, we talked about what Brother David thinks about the future of religion and spirituality in our world today. Here’s my conversation—it’s over Skype and there are a few challenges with the audio, but it is well worth listening to and listening carefully—with Brother Steindl-Rast:
Brother David, I feel so happy after many years to have this chance to talk with you. Thank you so much for making the time. Thank you.
David Steindl-Rast: Thank you. Thank you, Tami. I’m happy to be [inaudible].
TS: Now, I’m talking to you from the Sounds True in Boulder, Colorado and you’re in Austria, you tell me. What are you doing in Austria?
DSR: Well, in recent years I have spent more time in a monastery in Austria than in my own monastery in New York State because I have more work in German—both writing and lecturing. So my abbot gave me permission to stay here in a monastery that’s called Gut Aich near Salzburg—let’s put it this way.
TS: Now, one of the things I’m curious about is being a monk in our contemporary society and if you see that there’s a particular sacred function—if you will—for monks and nuns in the world, and what that sacred function might be.
DSR: Well, I think that there’s a monk in each of us. In whatever profession we follow, we have this deep inner longing to concentrate on the things that are really essential. Monks and nuns are the lucky people who by circumstances are given the opportunity to carry out that in their actual living.
It demands a price. But, if you’re really called to be a monk, then you find the price worth it.
TS: When you say “it demands a price,” what’s the price you’re paying?
DSR: Well, one thing you find is you can’t have a family—not because not having a family is something that’s not good. It’s a very great good. But, there is in the life of a monk something that for those who choose that life is still more important because—nice as a family is—it’s still a constant distraction from the things that we as monks devote ourselves to.
TS: So, tell me more: when you say this longing inside for something essential—what [is] that like for you now at this point in your life? Do you still feel a sense of “longing” for something?
DSR: Oh, I think that’s something that’s simply part of life and is not something that is ever fulfilled. Or rather, when it is fulfilled, that longing grows even stronger. It has been said that this is the difference between the appetites that we have for food and drink and the spiritual appetites. When we long for food and drink and get it, the longing subsides. But, if we long for spiritual things and get them, the more we get the more the longing grows.
What I’m talking about is something that every human being experiences. Spirituality for me means “aliveness.” It comes from the Latin word spiritus, which means “life” or “life breath.” So, spirituality is our full aliveness—particularly the aliveness to that mystery with which we are confronted in life. As human beings, we are confronted with mystery—that which we cannot grasp. We cannot get it into our grip. But, we can understand it by letting it grasp us.
That is the longing: to find opportunity to let yourself be gripped and grasped by this great mystery. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a great medieval mystic, says, “Concepts give us knowledge. What we can grasp gives us knowledge. What grasps us gives us wisdom.”
Every human being longs for that wisdom—longs to be touched by that mystery. A good example is music. We can’t grasp music. Nobody can grasp music. But, we can understand music. How do we understand music? When it grasps us—when it does something to us. Then we understand. That is a big, pretty accurate image for what it means to be to be in touch with what I call mystery.
TS: You know, Brother David, I love hearing you talk about longing and how that is one of the only appetites that increases even when the mystery touches us. I think that’s because a lot of people in the beginning of the spiritual quest—at least, I’ve seen this—they want to get rid of their longing because it’s something in the heart that aches. It’s like, “I want to solve that. I want some book. I can read the book and now that’s calmed down and I’m not having that yearning of the heart anymore.” What you’re saying is something quite different.
DSR: Yes. All longing—our deepest human longing, I think—is for belonging—for belonging to our true selves, for belonging to all others—and that doesn’t only mean human beings, but all other animals [and] plants. [It’s] belonging to the whole universe. We long for that. That longing gives us charge.
And [it’s] belonging to that unfathomable mystery that we are confronted with on every side. That’s what makes it human—those deep questions that we have all along.
“Why?” for instance. The question, “Why?” Why is there anything other than nothing? Why does it ultimately lead us to that fathomless mystery—and the question, “What?’ What is anything—nature or manmade? What is it? What is it ultimately? That also leads us into that deep mystery.
The third big question is the dynamic one: “How?” How should I do it? How should I live? How can I live? That again leads us into mystery because [inaudible] understanding it in conceptual terms. We can only understand it by doing—and then you can understand what life is.
Doesn’t that ring true to your own experience?
TS: It definitely rings true that the answers to all three of those questions are laced with mystery. That part rings true. I think when you got to the idea, “OK, so how do we approach this mystery? Live,” I would want to know from you—here in your ninetieth year, Brother David—and I have so much respect for you, truly, and gratitude in my heart that we’re having this conversation. I would love to know—in terms of how you approach living with these mysterious questions in your heart—what have you discovered that’s really meant the most to you?
DSR: Well, we were talking about monastic life. So, I have the blessing of living monastic life for 60 years now. How do I experience it? What is it that monastic life gives me and gives me so much joy?
One of the things is silence. That is one of the things that many people prize, but cannot have because of the path they have chosen. If you have a family, you pay the price of not having the silence. That silence is the opportunity to let yourself down into mystery—to let yourself be touched by mystery. That is like the joy of music, but only a thousand times deeper and greater.
TS: Now, here I mentioned—Brother David—that you’re in our ninetieth year of life. Of course, one of the greatest mysteries we all face at whatever age we are is the mystery of dying—the mystery of our own death. I’m curious how you are contemplating your own death. What comes up for you in the face of death?
DSR: Well, the key term in this context is “Double Realm.” The poet Rilke used that and coined that term in German—the Double Realm, the doppelbereich. When I think about death, the most important aspect is this Double Realm in which right now we live.
“Double Realm” means not two realms put together, but one realm that is at the same time one thing and the other. What I mean specifically is that we live in time and we live in Now. Those are two completely different realities. Time—our body lives in time, and time runs out. When my time runs out, then I die. That’s how I define death: when time is up.
Does that mean that everything’s just over? Well, everything that has to do with time and space is over, but in this Double Realm we are also aware of another reality—namely of Now—that is not in time. Many people think Now is a little point in the present, and everything before it is the past and everything that comes after it is the future, and the Now is just a little stretch of time.
But, that’s the wrong concept. You can make a mental experiment. Cut that little stretch of Now in half. Half is not because it is no more and the other half is not because it is not yet.
So, [inaudible] a very, very narrow little strip of time. Well as long as it’s a strip of time—you can cut it in half. It shows you that Now is one way of approaching the fact that Now is not in time. In fact, we can turn this around and say [that] time is in the Now because—when you remember the past—you know you’re talking about the past and you know you’re remembering the past. But, you remember it as Now. You can’t remember the past any other way than as Now.
And when you imagine the future, you’re also imagining it as Now and you can’t imagine it as future. But instead, it’s the Now projected into the future. So, when the future comes, it also is Now. It’s not future. It’s Now.
From this point of view, you can see Now contains our time. When time is up, what remains for me is my Now. That isn’t even affected by dying. I live both in time and Now—or you can call it “eternity.” [I don’t] mean by eternity now “a long, long time,” but the very opposite of time—the Now.
So, when my time is up, everything that belongs to time and space is over. But, it is contained in—as [inaudible]—in the great Now. That Now is not affected by it.
So, what I’ve learned from that is what affects my daily practice is that I practice more and more to be in the Now. What is in the present moment—Now—T.S. Eliot called it “the moment in and out of time.” It’s a Double Realm. It’s in time and it’s out of time, being in this present moment. And then when my last moment will come, I will also be in this moment and everything that has to do with time is over. What remains is the Now.
So, I’m not talking about life after death because after death—my death initially—comes nothing. That’s when time is up. But, I’m talking about life beyond death. To practice and particularly be aware of [and] be conscious of life beyond death. That is the great task, I think, for all of us—especially if you are 90. I myself—as you know—time is going to be up pretty soon.
TS: Now, Brother David, that was really one of the most beautiful and quite original explanations. I had never heard this term “Double Realm” before. Unusual explanation of the present moment, if you will.
I agree with you. I think many people—when they think of the present moment—think of just being in touch with what’s happening in time. They’re not necessarily connecting to the timeless or touching eternity, if you will. So, I’m curious: for you, was there a breakthrough—if you will—in your life where you were like, “Oh, that’s what eternity feels like or timelessness is like. Oh, I get it?”
DSR: Well, it has a lot to do with my becoming a monk. I grew up in Nazi Germany—all in my teens. When I was 12, Hitler came and ruled for seven years. We were under Nazi occupation. War [inaudible] and at that time I came across that little book that was called the Rule of Saint Benedict, in which Saint Benedict writes how to set up a monastery. It’s just a tiny little book, but we read anything that the Nazis didn’t want us to read. Anything religious we were eager to read.
So, that’s how I came across the Rule of Saint Benedict. In it is a little sentence that was the most important sentence for me in the whole book. It says, “The monk should have death at all times before his eyes.”
I was very young. I just thought that was really important—that was really interesting. But, I didn’t understand it really. It just interested me very much.
Then I was 19 and the war was over. I was alive. I’d never thought this as a possibility. Not that we had feared death. We were just living with the understanding that soon it will be over because all our friends that were a year or two older were drafted and a few months later were dead. So, we didn’t expect to live long.
Then, I suddenly had a life ahead of me. I couldn’t believe it. It was the happiest time of my life. I was with a girlfriend and music and dancing. It was just fantastic.
At that time, I remembered again that sentence—”. . . to have death at all times before your eyes.” I suddenly—there was this sudden crash, and I suddenly became aware of the fact that the reason why we were so happy—we were at a very happy time for the Jews. Very happy—doing great against anything else, bombs and death and all. But, we were so happy because we had to live in the present moment because we had death at all times before our eyes.
We couldn’t wait for anything afterwards, but we were confronted with death. Therefore, I now connected that with the idea [that] if I would be a monk—a Benedictine monk—and have death at all times before my eyes, then I would be as alive as we were in the middle of the war.
I didn’t like the idea of becoming a monk. I didn’t like it at all. In fact, I ran away from it for seven years, actually, before I entered the monastery. Then it wasn’t difficult at all. I saw the monastery and it was kind of love at first sight.
But, that had to do with my vocation. I wanted to live in the present moment, and monastic life—everything in the monastic life—is directed toward helping you live in that present moment. As I said before, it isn’t something that is only for monks. It’s really what makes everybody’s life happy and satisfying. It’s what we are made for. But, for monks, it’s made so much easier.
TS: Now, Brother David, I can imagine somebody listening and hearing you talk about the quality of silence and not having a family, and how that’s a price to pay—but at the same time, you don’t the same noisy children running around in your house, pulling on your apron strings or your jacket all the time, wanting your attention—and feeling like, “OK, this is all great for Brother David. He says we all long for this and there’s a monk in all of us. But, my life’s really different. I have a lot of chaos and responsibility in my life. How am I going to follow and go deep into what Brother David’s saying here?”
DSR: Well, anyone would say that to me, I would commend to him or to her to read the books by Eckhart Tolle. Much, much later in my life, I came across Eckhart Tolle’s book [The Power of Now]. That book—I must have listened to on tape—I would not be surprised if it was 30 times or more.
I was constantly listening to it. I knew it practically by heart. It didn’t tell me anything new. That book was such a joy because that was what it’s all about. That was my life—to live in the Now. And that’s why I like that book so much.
Eckhart Tolle has the greatest advantage of talking not only alone and only to monks, but talking for every human being and giving practical examples—how one can practice that living in the Now. I recommend reading his books more than my own! [Laughs.]
TS: Brother David, I know you’ll be coming to the conference—Living a Life of Presence—later this year [on] September 29 to October 2 in Huntington Beach with Eckhart that launches the Eckhart Tolle Foundation. It’s great to hear—I didn’t know that—that you’d listened to The Power of Now audio program so many times.
But, I want to follow up with this question because I know a lot of people who are exposed to Eckhart’s work—they read his books, they watch his videos or they listen to his audios—and when they’re in his energy field, if you will—when they’re listening to him—they feel this sense of timelessness. They tune into it.
But then when they’re not listening to the audiobook or being with him at a retreat, they’re not really changed. They go back to their normal, everyday, rush-around life. There’s not a transformation that happens.
So, I’m curious how you could address that. What do you think would help?
DSR: Well, the key to what you just now said is timelessness. I’m not talking about timelessness. I’m talking about the Double Realm. And almost at the same time, when Rilke coined this term, Double Realm, T.S. Eliot wrote that “the moment in and out of time”—in his Four Quartets is this line. “The moment in and out of time.” That is the same as the Double Realm.
In my life, I discovered that what was practically ready for most [inaudible] and for other people who come for life and for friends and family. And other people who are not monks—the best way is through grateful living.
And by “grateful living,” I mean a real practice which we also have started for a long time—15, 16 years by now. We have this website with thousands and ten thousands of hits probably every day. It’s called gratefulness.org—a gratefulness website. It has spawned other websites in Spanish—agradecido. In German, dankbar leben. In Chinese even, and [in] a few smaller countries there are websites that are affiliated with the English one.
People have this wave of interest in gratefulness and in grateful living. The simple practice is, “Stop, Look, Go.” That is something everyone can do. Thousands of people practice it. It means that in the course of the day, you train yourself every so often to stop, look, go.
Stop because you have to break this automatonism into which we slide. That means coming into the Now. But, I’m not talking about sitting now in meditation for half an hour or more. I’m talking about a split second in which you train yourself.
For instance, when you put the key in the ignition of your car, before you turn it—between it putting it in and turning—you train yourself to put a little moment into it—a split second. That is the “Stop.”
Then comes the “Look.” The “Look” is for the gift within every gift, and that is opportunity. You look [at] what this Now is the opportunity for.
Then comes the “Go.” You take advantage of that opportunity. You stop, look, and go. Take grip of the opportunity.
I could for instance imagine that somebody puts the key into the ignition and then—before turning it—stops for a moment, is already in the habit of looking [at] what this opportunity is for—and immediately says, “Wow! I have a car. It may not be the model I like or it may be older than I thought. It may not even start. But eventually when it starts, it gets me out.”
And that raises your gratefulness for a split second in your heart. That is the goal—giving you this joy. That is completely different from taking life simply for granted. Whatever you take for granted doesn’t do anything for you. Whatever you are grateful for gives you great joy.
So, the “Stop, Look, Go” has become a real method—a very spiritual method—for the practice of gratefulness, which is a practice that more and more people [are adopting]. It’s almost becoming a fad.
TS: Now, Brother David, I want to talk to you more about gratefulness and the practice of gratefulness. But just for a moment, if you could connect a dot for me that’s not a hundred percent clear—how does the practice of gratefulness help me access the Double Realm?
DSR: Because the “Stop” puts you into the moment in and out of time—puts you into the Now. That Now is both time and eternity—time and no time; beyond time. There is no need to think about it and speculate much about it, and get caught in all sorts of questions. It is enough to practice that and to find—it’s the Double Realm.
So, don’t look in it—so to speak—for something second. It’s one—one realm. As you live in the present moment of time, you’re living in the Now, which is beyond time.
Now, does that connect the dot?
TS: Yes, yes. It does. It does.
Now, I have a question though about gratefulness, because I listened to your TED Talk. In your TED Talk, you talk about how it’s not happiness that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us happy. I thought, “OK. I believe that.”
But, what came up for me was: “What about those times when it would be false to summon gratitude? I don’t feel grateful. I feel upset. I feel disappointed. I feel betrayed. I feel let down. Something like that. I don’t want to conjure up something that’s not real in my experience, and my experience is I’m disappointed right now. I’m not grateful.” What do I do then?
DSR: Right. Well, I know that from my own experience—and I think anybody who practices gratefulness knows it from one’s own experience—there are times when it is very difficult to be grateful. For instance, when you are tired, that’s usually a good example. You’re just tired. So, you are not really much alive. Or, you might even be depressed at certain times.
More importantly, there are many, many things for which one cannot be grateful. You have listed some of them. Betrayal, you said. That word—exploitation, betrayal, and sickness. You can think of innumerable things for which you cannot be grateful.
But, you can be grateful in every moment of life—even when you are confronted with these things or something for which you cannot be grateful. I said that earlier, but I just need to repeat it—the gift within every gift is opportunity. Opportunity is the most important thing.
When you try to think of something that’s obviously a nice gift—a bunch of lovely, seedless grapes. That’s something I really love. Sleek, seedless grapes: grateful, joy. [You feel joy with] these grapes, and with every one you put into your mouth, the joy rises. The joy of gratitude arises in you. You don’t have to do anything else, just taste them and enjoy.
And yes, but you think you are grateful for the grapes. What you are really grateful for is to enjoy the grapes because those grapes will not be there if they are in the store and you are at home and can’t go and get them. It’s not the grapes. It’s the opportunity to enjoy.
So with everything—and most of the time—it’s opportunity to enjoy when we are really grateful for something. But, there are many things which we cannot enjoy. Then, when you’re in practice, you ask yourself, “And what’s this the opportunity for?” It may be the opportunity to learn something new, which may be quite painful. Or, the opportunity to grow by this experience, which can also be very painful—growing pain. Or, it may be the opportunity to protest. There are many things in life for which we find the opportunities to protest against it because it ought not to be so in the private life and in public life.
If we do that—if we avail ourselves of that opportunity, which is the way to show yourself grateful for the opportunity—to avail yourself of it—we get, in the midst of things for which you cannot be grateful, the joy. The joy of doing the right thing. That joy is the gratitude. It’s not something that comes naturally, but arises when gratitude rises up in our hearts. We produce this mercy and joy rises up in my heart.
TS: That’s very helpful. I’m curious, though—and this is a personal question, Brother David—did you ever go through a period in your life where it was really hard to see the opportunity in what was happening, and you didn’t move forward and be grateful and go—but instead you experienced some kind of wallowing, if you will, in pain?
DSR: Yes, yes. I’m a Number One on the Enneagram and we are the resentful ones. So, resentment rises easily in my heart. That happens often— not just one period in my life, but again and again. I have to struggle against that. That’s probably one of the reasons why I have to learn to rise to the opportunity—because that’s the joy of living gratefully.
But, it’s not one period. Two areas that I can point out: On the one hand, personally I go off and on to fortunately rather short periods of depression. When I’m depressed—”Poor me. What can I be grateful for?” It’s very near at hand, that thought.
But, then I’ve learned to ask myself, “What is this now the opportunity for? It’s very unpleasant, but it’s an opportunity.” It’s an opportunity, for instance, to become aware of what other people suffer who suffer the same thing. There are millions of people with depression. There is a certain sense of solidarity I wasn’t aware of. If I learn the lesson, I will be available for people who depressions and who understand them and have compassion. To learn compassion—whenever I suffer, it’s an opportunity to learn compassion.
That would be a personal example. Then there are public examples. It’s hard to think what’s happened in politics—I can get very resentful against them. Then I ask myself, “Yes, that is an opportunity to stand up and do something.” I think there was a time especially in the United States where there was a lot more protest going on.
I can remember times even [during] the first bombing of Iraq—that was still under the first Bush—I was standing all alone in the snow with my sign [laughs] in the traffic. Some cars—that was in Ithaca, New York at the time. Some cars would wave and honk their horns, and other cars would shake their fists. It gave me great joy that I was healthy enough and aware enough to stand there and protest.
So, [many people] thought, “Well, that doesn’t make much of an impact”—especially our protest against the Vietnam War. But, then Nixon’s diary came out years and maybe decades later, and at a time that we were protesting and thinking, “Well, it doesn’t make an impact,” one of his aides—remember, this time, it was one of his aides [went] to Nixon and said, “Well, I guess you won’t be able to use atomic weapons in Vietnam after all because there were too may demonstrators on Constitution Avenue last Friday.” None of those demonstrators knew that they had made that much of an impact.
So, those would be the two areas—dealing with depression and dealing with political injustice.
TS: That’s helpful, Brother David. Thank you so much for being willing to be vulnerable and just share about your own process. Sometimes, I think when people hear somebody talk about gratitude and [how] gratitude leads to happiness, they think that the person must be grateful all the time. “This is someone who’s figured it out.”
DSR: [Laughs.] We usually teach what we most need to learn, don’t we?
TS: Now, you created a pledge for grateful living that’s the website you mentioned—gratefulness.org—and it’s a beautiful pledge. There are just a couple points I wanted to pull out and have you comment on, if that’s OK.
In the first part of the pledge, you say, “In thanksgiving for life, I pledge to overcome the illusion of entitlement.” I thought that was very, very important for me to hear. You go on to say, “. . . by reminding myself that everything is a gift.”
So, how do we overcome this illusion of entitlement?
DSR: The short answer is through being grateful because life gives us what we need—not necessarily what we want. But life—if we look back on life—we see it always gives us what we need. We can even come to see [that] life knows better because we often get gifts which we think are just awful, but turn out to be valuable gifts. Everybody that looks back on their life can see times that seemed like catastrophe and they were a completely new beginning and very important.
So, life gives us what we need whether we want it or not. Entitlement means that I know better—I know what I ought to get. That is the difference. That’s the basic, basic difference between these two—the difference between trust (trust ultimately in life) and fear (fear that there is not enough to go around; fear that I’m stepped on; fear that whatever). Fear is the opposite of trust.
Basically, we must make that choice. There are two choices. You can’t choose otherwise. It just won’t lead anywhere. But, we can choose—as it says even in the Hebrew Bible—”I put before you today life and death. Choose life,” as if everybody of course chooses life. We don’t of course because in order to choose life means to trust life. There is always within us that fear.
We must clearly distinguish between and fear and anxiety. Anxiety is unavoidable in life. Fear is giving in to that anxiety. That’s also a very important point in regard to that question about entitlement. When I don’t trust life, then I think I know better and fear that life will cheat you—something like that.
We learn sooner or later [inaudible] that life gives us what we want. Again and again, you ask questions for which the answer is really, “Try it and you will see.” Try living gratefully and you will see that it brings you joy and that overcomes that narrow notion of, “Poor little me. I’m stepped upon. I’m not getting enough,” and so forth.
I just—as a parenthesis—want to say there are often people who don’t treat their employees fairly and say, “Oh, you just have this notion of entitlement.” In that case, my attitude is to protest—stand on your hind legs. More often something that is just a question of justice is labor entitlement. In that case, that’s not what we’re talking about. In that case, look at the opportunity and stand up against it.
A very important case in question right now in the United States are the farm workers and the undocumented immigrants. “They have just entitlement.” That’s not question of entitlement. That’s not what we are talking about. Do you understand that?
TS: Yes. I think you’re making a very important point, [though.] That’s good to keep in mind. But, I do hear a lot people—”I’m entitled to have my soul mate. Where is this person? I should have this person. How can I be grateful? I’ve never met the right partner for my life. I’m entitled to have a house that’s nice as my neighbor’s house, and I don’t.” Things like that. I think that’s pretty rampant.
DSR: It is. You just showed that we don’t really live from our healthy self. But, we forget that self and in that moment, the “I” closes up and becomes the ego. Our whole society and our lives are ego-ridden. The soul all is abandoned, and it’s the thought of the ego.
When I forget the great self to which I belong and which is one self for all—there is one great self for all, and not only for all humans but for all animals, plants, and all living beings—probably even the non-living ones. The animal self is strong, and we belong to that. To say “I myself” expresses that belonging to that great self in which we all belong together.
But, when we forget that, I shrivel up into the little ego and the first thing that happens is fear. Of course it is fear. If I’ve got one little ego among millions and billions of people in the world, I must be afraid—and that makes me aggressive. Fear makes you aggressive. Fear makes even little animals—if they can’t flee, they will likely attack you.
So, fear is the root of aggression. Fear is the root of rivalry. “I must use my elbows. I must get the head,” says the little ego.
It’s greed. “Oh, there isn’t enough to go around. I must get more and more and more.”
So, fear leads to aggression, to violence, to rivalry, to greed. On the other hand, trusting in life leads to nonviolence [and] leads to love, belonging—yes, to belonging. Instead of rivalry, cooperation. Instead of greed, sharing. That is the world that we all long for. We don’t long for it if we live from our little ego.
So, a way to get out of the ego is—again—moment by moment to live in the Now because in the Now we are also aware of being connected with all. I cannot actually—I’ve been thinking about it, and we cannot very clearly articulate this yet. Why these two are practically synonymous—being in the Now and being in the Self, the great Self the Buddhists call “buddha nature” and Christians call “the Christ self.” Christ lives in me. While I live, Christ lives in me. The great communion of all.
I have not figured out—I’m working on it—why the moment we are in the Now, we are also in that great Self and vice versa. But, it’s a fact.
So, if you practice any practice, they all lead us into the Now. All the usual practices that I’ve come across do that. Also, gratefulness leads us through “Stop, Look, Go” into that present moment—into that Now.
TS: OK, Brother David. There’s just one more area I want to talk to you about before we run out of time here, which is I know that in your life you’ve been a leader in interfaith dialogue between Zen monks, Christian monks, et cetera. Here we are [in] the time in our society where there’s so much questioning about the future of religion. Churches are closing down. People are confused. “Can I just take a little bit from here and little bit from there?”
What do you see on the horizon, if you will, for spiritual practice of the future—religion of the future?
DSR: Well, I’d like the quote that, “Predictions are very difficult, particularly when they are concerning the future.” [Laughs.]
I don’t really often make predictions, but one thing that seems important to me in this context is the fact that all different religions and religious traditions with which we are familiar are expressions of one need—what I call “basic human religiosity or spirituality.” “Religion” is a good word because it [inaudible] means something like “retying broken bonds”—the bonds that we have to ourselves, the bonds we have to all others, the bonds we have to that great mystery. Religion is the retying of these broken bonds. But, most people speak about spirituality and that’s a life mission that’s just as well.
So, every religious tradition is a different expression of this basic human spirituality or basic human religiosity, which means allowing yourself to respond to that great mystery which goes from—use the term [inaudible].
I’m not particularly concerned when a tradition that wasn’t there before it was created also comes to an end. That’s not the important thing. If it helps people, it’s fine, it’s wonderful. If it doesn’t help, if it comes to an end.
But, religions are not the important thing. The pull of the religions is to make us religious or make us spiritual. They bring us back to the basic human spirituality and religiosity that belongs to us—that makes us what we are as humans. It’s the contemplation of the mystery and will always remain as long as we remain humans.
And I do know that we will create new forms pieced together from multiple traditions—new forms that will help us interact with that mystery and therefore interact with one another in loving ways—and find our own truth for ourselves. That seems to be the important core for the future. Predicting that which will also happen is a little difficult, but I do hope that it will.
TS: OK, Brother David. Just one final question here, which is: A long time ago—oh, 20 years ago—Sounds True released a program with you called A Grateful Heart. Part of what you talk about in that program you’ve talked about here, which is the practice of gratitude. But, you also talk about how we can come more into our heart and live more wholeheartedly, if you will—and pray more wholeheartedly.
I wonder if we can end on that note. I can imagine someone listening whose heart is really moved by our conversation, and yet feels part of their heart shut down in some way. How can we come into more wholeheartedness?
DSR: It seems to me that being in the present moment is always wholehearted. Being grateful is always wholehearted. Imagine somebody who is halfheartedly grateful. That makes no sense. In fact, it’s a contradiction in terms.
So, if you contemplate grateful living by the simple method of the “Stop, Look, Go,” your heart should cultivate wholeheartedness. That seems to be the connection between the two.
What a joy it is to live wholeheartedly. That is the real aliveness of which we are speaking.
So, I hope that whoever is listening to our conversation and feeling, “I like that, but my heart isn’t in it,” just look at something for which you are easily grateful. Don’t start with the difficult things. Look at something that makes you grateful, and immediately you will be wholehearted and your heart can expand. Then you can’t get far. Then you know where your heart is, and that’s a good start. That’s where you want to take things.
TS: Brother David, I want to thank you so much for this conversation. I’m so happy that I’ll get to be with you in person—at least, that’s our plan—September 29 to October 2 at the Eckhart Tolle Foundation launch event, Living a Life of Presence, in Huntington Beach, California. I’m looking forward to being with you then.
DSR: Delighted! I’m looking forward to seeing you there. Thank you.
TS: Thank you so much. God bless. Thank you so much, Brother David.
And I want to thank all of our listeners. I realize that the Skype quality to Austria had some challenges, but what a tremendous conversation with such a beautiful human being—Brother David Steindl-Rast.
SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.