Monk and friend of Danmission combines prayer and meditation

Monk and friend of Danmission combines prayer and meditation

The American born Catholic monk Michael Highburger is presently visiting Denmark for a few days. Invited by Danmission IKON Michael Highburger visits from his home in India to share his experiences from a long life of prayer - prayer he is inspired to by Hinduism and Buddhism.

What does “prayer of the heart” mean?

“Michael Highburger (MH): ”Prayers of the heart are also called contemplative prayers – or inner prayers. In this kind of prayer, it is us who listen to God, as opposed to God listening to us and our prayers. Silence of the mind is a prerequisite before you can listen to God the way it is done through contemplative prayers. But it is not easy.”

In our modern world silence of the mind is a very difficult discipline. Your mind must be as relaxed as it is while you sleep. But, at the same time you must be aware and present in a way that you are not when you sleep. No runaway thoughts. Just quiet. And present”.

How is your Christian prayer practice inspired by prayer practices in Hinduism and Buddhism?

(MH) “I am using the ancient traditions and modern Eastern techniques, that were once also present in the Christian tradition, but which somehow were all lost in the modern Western church – perhaps except for the Greek Orthodox and The Coptic Church, which have maintained some of the principles. So, I did not travel to Asia to discover something new, but to rediscover something forgotten”.

What, on the other hand, can Christianity offer Hinduism and Buddhism?

MH: ”In order to answer that question, I will use the concepts of ”Ascent” and “Descent”, as well as the classic paradigm about Moses, who climbs the mountain and meets God to bring the message to the masses. When Moses has returned from the mountain, his face glows so much, that he must cover it.

I think, that the Eastern tradition is strong concerning the Ascent and meeting God. In this field, we Christians perhaps are less strong. But, in return we are good at bringing God’s gifts down to the people. We can thus speak of two axes – the vertical and the horizontal. We Christians are very strong on the horizontal axis, but we have lost the grip on the vertical axis. Namely, the mysterious encounter with God and the inner wisdom it gives.

Conversely, we cannot just settle for the vertical axis. If we do not share God’s gifts, nothing has been achieved. But if we learn to balance the vertical and the horizontal axis, then what we can offer the world becomes very strong. For when our inner prayers – contemplative prayers – are in place, then whatever we go into the world with will be useful, because it has wisdom.

That is also why the bodhisattva of compassion (one who has devoted himself to helping all beings realizing their Buddhahood) is often portrayed with hundreds of hands with an eye in each hand.

This means that it is not merely hands, that want to give and help, but hands that hold wisdom. Hands that know how to help”.

You believe that we in the West long for inner, intuitive wisdom. How does that longing come to fruition?

MH: “For example, in my home country, the United States, “mindfulness” is now introduce in primary school, so small school children experience meditation on the school schedule every day for an hour.

It is practiced in a very secular way, because it is in public schools, but that does not make it less beautiful”.

What does ”Space for Grace” mean?

MH: ”Space for Grace is a new approach in organizational theory and management training, which includes spirituality and creates breathing space in our often very busy daily life and work life. The goal with Space for Grace is to find a neutral language, that does not exclude people regardless of their faiths.

The common starting point is that the spirit is what animates us and brings us to life. A protestant priest, who was mentor of Martin Luther King, summed up very precisely what Space for Grace is, when he said: “Do not ask yourself the question: What does the world need? Or, What can I bring to the world? Ask rather: What gives me the feeling of being alive? Because, that is what the world needs: People, who are alive”.

About Michael Highburger

  •  Born in the United States in 1960, Michael Highburger spent six years studying Continental philosophy for his BA at UT Austin, Baylor University and the University of Copenhagen. He did his graduate work in philosophy and linguistic anthropology at UT Austin with a later stint at Brite Divinity School.
  • Living one year in Africa followed by one year in Israel, he did his field work in Guatemala. Subsequently he did seven years of non-resident training in Buddhist meditation in the Kapleau lineage at Rochester Zen Centre in upstate New York before taking up residence at New Camaldoli Hermitage, a Camaldoli Benedictine community in Big Sur, California in 1997, where he took first-year vows as a junior monk in October 1998.
  •  In October 2000, he moved to Sri Ramanasramam in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, South India, the community where he now serves and edits a monthly English language e-magazine and assists in hosting (Christian) groups from the West. Michael Highburger Lives very close to, and often cooperates with, the inter religious dialogue centre Quo Vadis, which Danmission supports.
  • Having authored and edited various books on the Advaita Vedanta of Ramana Maharshi, his 17 years in India has been devoted to the study of interfaith dialogue with Hinduism and Buddhism including participation in various interfaith dialogue conferences.