What ought I to do? Barry Magid May 3rd 2008

Thomas Merton once put together a translation of the "Sayings of the Desert Fathers" entitled "What Ought I to Do?" These were records of the brief teaching dialogues - very much in the spirit of our daisan interviews - between monks and their abbot teachers, which took place in the first monasteries and hermitages in the Egyptian desert, at around the time of St. Anthony, about the 4th century A.D.

As the title indicates, these monks might ask one very simple question, like "What Ought I To Do?" or "How Should I Live?" and might get in return a simple reply, "Have Faith." But I don't think we should hear these simple questions and answers as if they were nothing more than the repetition of religious platitudes. When the monk sincerely asked his question, in that moment of asking he had utterly emptied himself of his own thoughts and judgements and humbly placed his whole life in the hands of his abbot, in complete trust in his practice of faith and prayer. The utterly sincere question itself was the embodiment of the Christian virtues the monk had been practicing. And the abbot's response we can hear as the affirming echo of the question," "Yes, that's it, just have faith."

We are all a long way from that willingness to be utterly open and vulnerable. But the way we practice is to be as honest and focused as we can in our own emotional reality. That is what we present in daisan. And my job is not to offer some "answer" to that emotional reality which we usually present as a "problem" we want solved - but simply to encourage you to stay in the midst of your hurt, or anger, or confusion. Yes, that's it, just be That.

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