J. T. DILLON
J. T. Dillon is a professor of education at the University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521, USA. His current books include House of Formation: A Catholic Seminary in the 1950s (Riverside, CA: University of California Riverside Press, 2003) and reissues of Personal Teaching: Efforts to Combine Personal Love and Professional Skill in the Classroom (Landham, MD: University Press of America, 2002) and Jesus as a Teacher: A Multidisciplinary Case Study (Riverside, CA: University of California Riverside Press, 2003).
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Located in our region is a well-regarded monastery, one of a larger family of monasteries. It is situated a bit apart from the central areas of habitation and industry, up in the foothills, somewhat difficult of access. The road leading to it is narrow.
Over the course of recent events, popular resentments against the élitism of the monastery came to be publicly voiced. In response, proposals began to be forwarded by political, social, and business leaders who, acting in congratulatory partnership and collaboration, worked to open up the monastery to more of the deserving populace, so that expansive and distributive access to the monastic experience might be made available with no discrimination and at little or no cost to the individual. Now all who would strive for them could gain monastic goods, and our society would benefit.
To the 100 monks up in the foothills were added 1000 postulants from the valley. The traditional Master of Novices and the conservative Monastic Chapter scrupulously moved to send home all but one or two of the new thousand, usually on suppositious grounds of lack of vocation or even religious inclination. But energetic community leaders soon rallied the forces and resources necessary to reform the archaic procedures of reception into the monastery and to provide new facilities and functions in order to make this once-forbidding place friendly and welcoming to all of the newcomers, so that they would immediately feel at home upon setting foot in the cloister.
Thus on the motto, 'Let the monastery reflect the society', the character of the monastic milieu was, almost as if by engineering, actively transformed to mirror the familiar character of secular life in the city. Arriving in the cloister, postulants found themselves at ease in the surroundings that, newly engineered and transformed, evoked in them the same range of expectations, attitudes, aspirations and behaviours as they had been accustomed to exhibit in the shopping malls, parking lots, and entertainment venues of their youthful life down below. They already knew how to act in the cloister, and they had no cause, thankfully, to conduct themselves otherwise than as accustomed.
Passing from oratory to scriptorium, for instance, the postulants could enjoy the bustle and animation of their stimulating urban milieu back home. Clustered about the campanile in the middle might be rock bands and automobiles for sale, while spoking out towards the four corners of the quadrangle were the humming bazaars of beads and t-shirt sales, and the smiling approach of folks offering you credit cards and discounts for Disneyland. Follow any path and the postulant arrived at fast-food restaurants of all types---although the monastery had recently been Pepsi-branded---with surrounds of video-arcades, pinball machines, TV sets, ATMs and the happy like. And there filling the whole space were one's fellow postulants in their rainbow-colored robes energetically yelling, laughing and hub-bubbing, skate-boarding and scootering about, or squatting on the flower-beds snacking on doughnuts and working away at their monastic exercises on laptops while talking on a cell phone to their friend in the city below with one ear plugged to the rap-CD player clipped to their cincture. The cloister now exhibited all the riot of the joyous mosaic of life down in the city.
The thousand new postulants were accommodated in other wonderful ways too. Housing, classrooms, and services of all kinds were generously provided. Forward-looking leaders of the business community joined with the newly installed abbot and his community-oriented team to develop a corner of the property into a midsize but upscale mall complete with a multiplex cinema. It was in its stadium-like theatres that the postulants took their classes, redressing the profitless lulls when movies were not being shown. Leaving the cloister in lines, the postulants had but to walk a moment or two to enter the mall, next pass the shops, then ascend the temple steps and pass through the portals of the cinema, past the placards and popcorn-and-Pepsi counters, show their postulant ID, turn down the carpeted way and file into the theatre, sitting themselves in the plush reclining seats, placing their soda-pop in the holder provided and their pizza atop the little table withdrawn from between the seats. Thus established they were to attend to the spotlighted instructor on stage who transmitted to them in Dolby surround sound the age-old principles of meditation and the arcane practices of asceticism, enlivened with a few contemporary anecdotes and a touch of levity. It cannot be said that much smooching could be observed in the dark of the balconies, but ensconced in the recliner, the anxious neophyte could see all around the reassuring activities of fellow-postulants chatting on cell-phones, listening to CD's, surfing the Net, doing homework, eating, sleeping. It was all of one familiar piece, making this monastery doable, thank God.
Dormitories and refectories and services were provided as lavishly as the instructional theatres, not excluding male/female cells for those postulants who wished, and group-identity cafeterias for postulants of a kind. Softening the élitism of the Tibetan types who used to dominate monastery life, sensitive administrators and supportive politicians tailored the housing to the diversity of the postulants, any grouping of which could lay claim to its own dormitory. Likewise, tailored offices, halls, and clubs as well as dormitories and refectories---and, finally, classes---were made available to postulants who were put off by the shaven-head and burlap-bag style affected by the older monks. There was accordingly an office for bouffant-hairdo postulants, another for pierced and tattooed postulants, for halt and lame and left-handed ones, and the rest. In these features too the monastery took on the celebrated character of the multi-pluralistic diversity of our region. It looked just like the polity below.
In the same manner a number of new chapels were built about the property, since it was no longer possible to accommodate the new novices in the old chapel and it was no longer thought desireable to make all the monks come to any one single chapel. In any event few of the postulants could be made to warm up to the cold proceedings in the old chapel, the stilted language and decor, the quaint tingling of the bells, the fasting and watching and chanting at all hours. Alternative services were designed of every possible religious type to which postulants might betake themselves as befitted their background or tastes in these matters, providing as well that any postulant might attend any number of different chapels as the spirit wafted. Care was also wisely taken to provide a small chapel and a separate budget given over to the non-religious postulants so that unbelievers too would not be excluded from monastic life, and the monastery not exposed to disruptive protests and expensive lawsuits. Now everyone could follow elective courses of worship or not, on the principle of individual choice so fertilely implanted by the market forces that have made our country what it is today.
The physical appearance too of the monastery was transformed by the influx of the thousand new postulants. Naturally enough the postulants brought with them their secular habits, yet the monastery proved able to quickly accommodate to secularism. But some of the postulants regrettably also brought into the monastery their vicious habits, so it became first prudent, next necessary, and last legally enjoined to remove the bushes, hedges, and other vegetative screens where vice and darkness lurked. The majority of the postulants being Californian, they required as by right of birth the personal use of an automobile, and thus the orchards on the perimeter of the monastery were extracted and airport parking-lots laid down in their place, complete with prison-like halogen lamps and busy shuttle-buses, the allowance for which latter convenience entailed ploughing a network of four-lane striped avenues to the centre of the cloister, punctuated by bus-stops with their entertaining posters, advertisements, and hot-dog carts, and policed. Within the cloister itself lawns, paths, flower-beds, gardens, and grounds generally were seen to undergo effacement from the normal comings and goings of a thousand exuberant novices, and in the end were just paved over as the sensible thing to do, at first with black-tarred asphalt but later, as funds permitted, with the more enduring concrete---which, as it turns out, was much favoured by the maintenance people for ease of sweeping away layers of hamburger wrappings and soda-bottles, and appreciated too for its acoustic advantages by the boom bands performing there every noon for the passing novices.
The transformation of the monastery is much acclaimed. Successions of public ceremonial and rhetoric, media outlets and customer relations, brochures, banquets and photo opportunities, political, social, cultural, and business assemblies, all celebrate the new character of the monastery. Here is Growth before our very eyes. What is more, daring plans have been announced to triple the number of postulants by decade's end, for the Space and the Will are there. Electric tractors haul miniature trains full of worried aspirants all around the cloister, tooting their horn and broadcasting aloud the many places where novices may readily find recreation, entertainment, and refreshment in the modern monastery. Parents and families---they who had always been unjustly denied the opportunity to go to a monastery---exude pride and vindication at seeing their thousand sons and daughters graduate from the novitiate, no longer just the Brahmin few but everyone and anyone from the valleys and villages, the heartland and hinterland, the alleys and byways of our great nation. And the people are glad.
The transformation is now complete. The monastery has successfully been transformed in its functions no less than its facilities, in its character no less than its appearance. It is no longer recognizably a monastery, nor is the experience of it any more a monastic one.