News at Tipitaka Network
Monks walk along trail to demonstrate interreligious harmony
BY DIANE MCCORMACK, Staff Writer, Pineandlakes.com, Wednesday, July 18, 2007
"Hey, you're dressed funny," said Jan Johnson, when someone walked through the door of her business, Silver Creek Traders in Pequot Lakes.
"If you think I'm dressed funny, take a look at this!" responded a man robed in black and wearing a woven farmer's hat, referring to his friend and traveling companion, a clean-shaven man wrapped from shoulder to toe in orange robes.
The Rev. William Skudlarek, a Catholic monk and priest from St. John's Abbey in Collegeville who was dressed in black, and Jotipalo Bhikkhu, a Buddhist monk from the Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in Redwood Valley, Calif., stopped in the store Friday, July 13, on Day 3 of their two-week walk on the Paul Bunyan Trail.
Johnson asked, "How do you get food?" Following Buddhist tradition, the men will eat only the food that is provided to them by others. The practice, called alms round, is a way to keep monks in touch with the community. They do not beg or ask for food, but stand with heads slightly bowed until someone offers them food. They then chant a meal blessing, celebrating the generosity of those who offered the food.
Johnson and her granddaughter, Lacie Johnson, offered the monks freshly made seven-layer bars. Three-year-old Lacie folded her hands and bowed her head as Bhikkhu chanted the blessing. She later told her dad about the prayer and blessing.
The walk itself serves several purposes, the primary being, in their words, "a simple, unpretentious experience of interreligious harmony."
Father Skudlarek is a former chair of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, an organization formed to promote dialogue between religions. He said too many Americans hear about conflict in the world between people of different religions. The monks hope to instead create awareness that there can be harmony between differing beliefs and cultures.
Another purpose for the walk is an opportunity to practice living with uncertainty. Skudlarek described it as a way "to push myself - have confidence that things will work out." For instance: "Where will we sleep? Will we have food to eat?"
Bhikkhu already has some experience with this. He began his first walking pilgrimage in March 2005, not long after he completed his initial five-year training period. He thought it would be a five-month, 1,800-mile journey from New Orleans to Thunder Bay. They stopped walking on Day 29, however, due to illness later diagnosed as mononucleosis.
The men started their walk in Baxter Wednesday, July 11, and are heading toward Bemidji. They will stop their trek July 25, whether they make it to Bemidji or not.
Wednesday, July 12, they logged 4 or 5 miles before pitching their tents, and they walked about 10 miles a day Thursday and Friday, spending the night with people who had generously offered them a place to stay.
They stayed at Pine River Journal employee Mary Bruemmer's home in Backus Saturday night. She offered her home again should they encounter bad weather or not find a place to stay Sunday, and they took her up on that offer.
They have spoken with a few people along the way, but admit that for the most part, and understandably in these times, people appear wary of them.
Those who do encounter them and take a moment or two to visit learn quickly that they are peaceful and friendly travelers willing to share their story with anyone who asks.
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Buddha sāsana.m cira.m ti.t.thatu.