Dialogue with Buddhists, Muslims helps prayer life
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
ROME (CNS) — Benedictine Father William Skudlarek said Buddhists have helped him learn to listen more when he prays, and Muslims have helped him show deeper reverence in prayer.
He was in Rome Sept. 17 - 25 to lead a workshop for members of the Congress
of Abbots of the Benedictine Confederation of Monastic Communities.
The monastic dialogue began in the 1970s, and Skudlarek began participating
in the mid-1990s.
The Benedictine said his contact with Buddhists has led him, twice a
day, to sit in silence like Buddhists do when they meditate.
“I don’t know if I can exactly describe what I’ve gotten
from that, but I sense I’ve gotten something,” Skudlarek
“I think I’ve come to a much deeper understanding of prayer
as simply pure receptivity,” he said. “I’m not there
to tell God anything that God doesn’t already know. I’m simply
there and I’m simply present.”
Skudlarek said he was also impressed by the committed celibacy
of Buddhist monks, who don’t have the motivation of following Jesus’ example
of total dedication to ministry.
In his more limited contact with Muslims, he has been struck by their
dedication to praying five times a day.
Muslim prayer can seem very “formalistic” in its gestures
and words, the Benedictine said, but he has come to recognize it as “a
deeply spiritual path. It comes out of a sense of wanting to be totally
faithful to God.”
Muslims at prayer express “an almost palpable reverence, an incredible
reverence,” he said. “I look on my own prayer, and so much
Christian prayer, and it seems sloppy by comparison. It just seems like
it’s too informal.”
Exposure to Muslim prayer has increased his appreciation
of the formal, communal prayers that mark his life as a Catholic monk,
he said, teaching him to see them “not just as legalistic formalities, but as a way
of heightening one’s sense of what one is doing.”
On the other hand, Skudlarek said, the Christian belief
that God became human in Jesus Christ gives Christian prayer a “familial sense” that
Islam, with its emphasis on the utter transcendence of God, does not
Although the monks and nuns engaged in the dialogue do
discuss questions of theology, their focus is on “spiritual experience and spiritual
practice,” he said.
Catholic monks and nuns find common ground with Buddhists, and with Muslims
practising Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, in a regulated religious life
devoted largely to contemplation, he said.
Monasticism is “a search for God, ultimately,” and Catholic
monks and nuns “are interested in how others search for what they
would refer to as ultimate value or ultimate meaning,” he said.
“This makes it sound very deep, very serious, but my experience
of dialogue is what really happens, in the first place, is that we become
friends with each other” and recognize that “all of us have
more questions than answers,” he said. “All of us are still
In many ways, “it is not that we are on different paths all going
up the mountain and going toward the same goal,” Skudlarek said. “We
are on the same path going in different directions . . . we’re
ending up in different places.”
“The way a Buddhist describes ‘nirvana’ is quite different
from the way a Christian — and maybe a Muslim and a Jew — would
describe heaven or paradise,” he said.
“Don’t ask me to explain that,” Skudlarek said, “that’s the theologians’ work.”
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops