Welcome Letter from the Abbot President
The monastic traditions Science Abbey probably resembles most are the Forest tradition of Theravada Buddhism in South East Asia, known for its dedication to meditation; Chan, Soen or Zen Buddhism, which is likewise focused on formal meditation; and Christian Benedictine monasticism, which practices Lectio Divina, or “Divine Reading,” with reading, meditating, prayer and contemplation.
Attending a “Meditation Week” such as those held at the origin of Chan Buddhism, the Shaolin Temple, is an excellent way to withdraw from mundane affairs and delve into one’s meditation practice. The way to improve on the accepted approach today is to adapt the process to modern scientific medicine. There is nothing about sore legs, an aching body or exhaustion that will add to or benefit your meditation practice. In fact, these things are distractions just as any other medical issue might become a problem.
There is no need to use sticks to hit those who are meditating, when they are in good health and complementing their sitting meditation with proper habits. Adult participants in these retreats should have about eight hours of sleep, depending on their own individual constitution, and they should be required to stand up, walk, stretch and warm up as necessary to maintain proper blood circulation and bodily health.
Incense is bad for the lungs, like smoking tobacco, so unless the smoke is escaping outside, this practice is not recommended. Holding in urine or excrement in order to wait for a formal break period is unhealthy. When one is hungry, one should eat; when one feels the call of nature, one should answer. Such health concerns should not be taken to extremes, but one should be alert to these needs, and the middle way should be observed. Decorum and discipline can be maintained using these basic principles of health.
Shaolin temple offers boiled salt water with ginger, and ginger is known to reduce inflammation, so here is a precedent for using diet or herbs as a form of therapy. This may be similar to the customs of Indian monastics who practice Ayurveda. I would promote further study to find the best meals and beverages for meditators.
Long periods of sitting meditation may cause discomfort or pain. Meditation need not cause intense pain. Overcoming such pain is not necessary to transcending the illusion of pain and the material world. This is simply superfluous abuse that can be avoided by following the principles learned from professional scientific study of the human anatomy, physiology and health. Shifting position is not a problem, taking short breaks between long periods of sitting meditation is not a problem, and maintaining health and concentration is important.
Sometimes I want to feel the burn and endure through the pain, so that my body becomes stronger, and this is probably useful, although I have not seen any studies on it yet. The Shaolin masters can meditate over two hours without moving or showing pain. With all due respect to these venerable friends, to me, this is not much of an attainment, although it is exemplary.
I am more interested in one’s enlightenment and whole lifestyle. When I am not in such a good mood because my mind or body is too tired, and my body’s aches are so intense that they become distractions, I will pause meditating and read, rest, eat or do some work. Every day, all day is therefore a meditation, a retreat, and the mundane is married to the transcendental.
Likewise, celibacy and vegetarianism are not necessary, for sexual health and diet are particular to each individual, as are resources, so the utmost health using available resources is the most practical goal. Science has much to say about sexual health and diet. These considerations are not born from the deep gratitude or compassion I feel for my fellow Chan practitioners or yogis, which are attachments I do not mind, but it arises from the knowledge which it has been my privilege to inherit from my Western heritage.
Christian and Buddhist abbots must ask themselves, when interpreting and formulating rules, what would Jesus do, or what would Buddha do? These two legendary figures are considered by their followers to be the complete incarnations of truth and correct discipline. The Order of Science has no such historical founder with supernatural perfection about his person; we instead face the fact that without material evidence of such a Sublime Person, our example to imitate is purely hypothetical and subject to change as science evolves.
When interpreting and formulating rules we do not look to a person, our favorite guru or “divine law-giver;” we look to science, itself. The deepest wisdom and highest truth are not secrets of one or another teacher or so-called accepted authority: they are accessible to all through scientific exploration, that is, reason and investigation.
No one will ever need to ask, “what did the founder say about this?” or “what would the founder say about this?” Scientific inquiry will provide the answer in accordance with the ultimate goals of the Order of Science. If there are disagreements of what ultimate goals ought to be, which cannot be decided absolutely with unanimous agreement, perhaps the parties in disagreement are best served by separating into different priories to follow their own lights.
This policy, the question of division into separate priories over irreconcilable differences, can also be decided by science. Observations should be made of priories that operate under the stress of opposed ideas, and priories that have separated into new individual priories over the same controversies. Cost-Benefit lists can be made in regards both circumstances and each can decide on their own which situation best suits her or himself.
The Rule of Saint Benedict and the Benedictine tradition teaches us much about monastic discipline. It is built on religious scripture, of course, and not science. Anyone interested in an evidence-based discipline must make adjustments to Benedict’s Rule. The most ancient extant Indian Buddhist Vinaya (monastic) texts are still used in Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. They are quite involved in every detail of the monk’s life, and often the rules are totally arbitrary, surely not based on any scientific evidence. I personally, therefore, could never submit to the Vinaya code.
The Chanyuan Qinggui (Rules of Purity) is the oldest existing Chan monastic code, the inspiration for many future codes, including Dogen’s code for Soto Zen monasteries in Japan. It is not a scientific code, but it is a useful model for a scientific code. I could not devote my heart and life to anything less than a true scientific code, therefore as much as I love and respect the Chan way, I must pursue the way of the Order of Science. Because no such order yet exists, I must create it. A scientific monastic code is long overdue.