monks

A Million Prayers

The first time we visited my sister in her monastery
Was just after one of our sons had survived massive
Surgeries, before and during which all the monks &
Nuns in the monastery, not to mention thousands of
Other generous souls, had prayed constantly for him
And it turned out that they had gone over the million
Prayer mark for our son, which, according to the law
Of the monastery, gave him lifetime privileges. He’s
No dolt, this kid, and he took off running, to hammer
On drums, and eat the cookies on an altar, and pursue
The grim local peacocks, who were deeply aggrieved.
By the time we retrieved him he was worn and happy
And the peacocks were huddled bitterly in the maples.
Even now I sometimes wonder if he will end up there
In his golden years, maybe retiring there at age ninety
And serving as the soul who calls everyone to prayer;
He did exactly that when he was a small boy, after all.

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland (Oregon) and the author most recently of The Thorny Grace of It, a collection of spiritual essays.

Image: peacock feather, Roxana Gonzalez / Shutterstock

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A Community of Strangers

When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” —Matthew 22:34-40

FAITHFUL PEOPLE are often stubborn people. Cambodian Buddhists are no exception. Truth-seekers in Cambodia sometimes spend a year living as beggars. They walk from village to village, trying to avoid the millions of remaining land mines. Their only possessions are a bright orange robe and a beggar’s bowl. After the ravages of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime, which dismantled community trust one forced-labor camp at a time, one might think the Buddhists would write off this ancient tradition, for no other reason than that it is grounded in the blind trust of perfect strangers. But faith, as Jesus taught, needn’t be any larger than a mustard seed. No regime, regardless how brutal, can eradicate faith.

This Cambodian Buddhist tradition of giving your entire well-being over to a community of strangers is one that has something to say to those of Christian faith. Giving yourself over to poverty, over to those who don’t know you from Adam, must change a person. After spending a year as an intentional beggar, as theologian Barbara Brown Taylor notes, you’d be hard pressed to differentiate yourself from all those “others” we tend to pity, fear, admire, or despise.

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Monks Win Latest Court Battle in Bid to Sell Caskets

NEW ORLEANS -- In a sometimes harshly worded ruling, a federal appeals court last week smacked down the Louisiana funeral board's continued attempts to prevent a group of monks from St. Joseph Abbey from selling their hand-crafted caskets.

"The great deference due state economic regulation (does not require) courts to accept nonsensical explanations for naked transfers of wealth," wrote Judges Patrick Higginbotham, Catharina Haynes and Stephen A. Higginson of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 23. "We insist that Louisiana's rules not be irrational."

The appellate judges sent the case to the Louisiana Supreme Court, refusing to consider the funeral board's appeal of a lower court ruling that said it was unconstitutional for the state to give funeral directors exclusive rights to sell caskets.

"Simply put, there is nothing in the licensing procedures that bestows any benefit to the public in the context of the retail sale of caskets," U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled in July 2011. "The license has no bearing on the manufacturing and sale of coffins. It appears that the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry," which he wrote is not "a valid government interest."

After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the abbey's timberland outside Covington, La., a longtime a source of revenue, the monks decided to sell their handmade caskets as a way to supplement their income. The abbey invested $200,000 in St. Joseph Woodworks and sold two types of caskets, "monastic" and "traditional," priced at $1,500 and $2,000 respectively.

"To be sure, Louisiana does not regulate the use of a casket, container, or other enclosure for the burial remains; has no requirements for the construction or design of caskets; and does not require that caskets be sealed," the appeals court ruled.

Monks’ Caskets Suit Heads Back to Court

Wood coffin image, _Lonely_ / Shutterstock.com
Wood coffin image, _Lonely_ / Shutterstock.com

A group of Catholic monks who sued for the right to sell handmade caskets will head back to court this week, fending off an appeal from the state funeral industry after a federal judge last year struck down a state law that permitted only licensed funeral directors to sell coffins.

Three members of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments June 7 n the case of the monks of St. Joseph Abbey versus Louisiana funeral homes.

The monks wanted to sell handmade cypress caskets that are made at their wood shop without paying the expensive fees and meeting the stringent requirements to obtain certification from the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. The abbey has said it counts on the casket sales to help finance medical and educational needs for more than 30 monks.

Last July, U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval ruled that the state statute unfairly shielded a funeral industry monopoly to the detriment of consumers.

Buddhist Bhutan Fails on its Own Happiness Index

Wouter Tolenaars / Shutterstock.com
Monks rehearsing for the Jakar tsechu which is held the next day on Oct. 23, 2010 in Jakar. Wouter Tolenaars / Shutterstock.com

THIMPHU, Bhutan — In a country that prides itself on measuring quality of life in terms of "Gross National Happiness," this small Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas seems to have a problem: at least half its citizens aren't happy, according to its own measurements.

While more than 90 percent of the 7,142 respondents said they were "happy" in a recent government survey, only 49 percent of people fit the official definition of total happiness by meeting at least six of the survey's nine criteria.

Bhutan's fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the phrase GNH in 1972 on the belief that people's happiness did not depend on the nation's economic wealth alone.

GNH indicators -- as opposed to more traditional measures like a nation's gross domestic product based on economic activity -- recognize nine components of happiness: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance.

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