Wednesday, October 19, 2011

V: 6

Chapter 5, Verse 6

"But renunciation, Arjuna,
Is difficult to attain
Without the Yoga of holy work.
When the wise are one in Yoga
They soon become one in God."

Father Bede Griffiths:

"The path of Sannyas [renunciation] is difficult without work. At the time of St. Benedict [father of the Benedictine order], there was much discussion in Christian circles as to which was the better, the common life or the solitary life. This was the subject of a great debate in Western monasticism. In the early Christian tradition, as in the Indian, there was a theory that the monk, the perfect contemplative, should live in solitude and silence and prayer without ceasing, only united to God and not doing any work at all. That was held to be the ideal. But that is a very difficult state to attain, as Krishna points out in this verse. In the Christian tradition, though intent on prayer and silence, the solitary monk came to be occupied in some simple work like basket weaving and so was saved from the dangers of life without any work at all. St. Benedict, in legislating for the monks of the West, still upholds the solitary life as the ideal. But the monk had first to be trained in the monastery, in community life, where he had to live and work with others. Only then was he fitted for the 'solitary combat of the desert,' as St. Benedict calls it.

In the West, the followers of St. Benedict have gradually eliminated the hermit ideal, and the common life with work is considered to be the typical monastic life. But we have often gone to the other extreme. Thomas Merton used to complain that at his own monastery the whole place revolved around the making of cheese. The monks were earning their living by cheese-making, and this tended to dominate the whole life. This is a problem in many monasteries today. If there is a large community of, say, fifty or sixty monks, they need to be supported by some kind of industry. In my own monastery in England, we had a farm and a pottery barn, and both of these tended to absorb the time and attention of the monks, taking them away from prayer and the normal life of the monastery. In the end, both were handed over to lay people so as to have the monks free for their proper work of prayer.

So the problem is always there: how to reconcile contemplation and action. Once we take up some activity, whether it is work in the monastery or some work outside like a school or parish, we tend to get absorbed in the work and the inner life of prayer declines and suffers. The Gita shows us that there is an answer to this dilemma. It is possible to work in such a way that not only does the work not distract us from prayer but it actually becomes contemplation in the true sense, that is, an activity of God within. This is the sublime teaching of Krishna."

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