David Steindl-Rast OSB (born July 12, 1926) is a Catholic Benedictine monk, notable for his active participation in interfaith dialogue and his work on the interaction between spirituality and science. As do many mystics, he expresses his views in terms of panentheism, where divinity interpenetrates every part of existence and timelessly extends beyond it (as distinct from pantheism).
He was born in Vienna, Austria, where he studied art, anthropology, and psychology, receiving an MA from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and a PhD from the University of Vienna. In 1952 he followed his family who had emigrated to the United States. In 1953 he joined a newly founded Benedictine community in Elmira, NY, Mount Saviour Monastery, of which he is now a senior member. In 1958/59 Brother David was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Cornell University, where he also became the first Roman Catholic to hold the Thorpe Lectureship, following Bishop J.D.R. Robinson and Paul Tillich.
After twelve years of monastic training and studies in philosophy and theology, Brother David was sent by his abbot to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, for which he received Vatican approval in 1967. His Zen teachers were Hakkuun Yasutani Roshi, Soen Nakagawa Roshi, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, and Eido Shimano Roshi. He co-founded the Center for Spiritual Studies in 1968 and received the 1975 Martin Buber Award for his achievements in building bridges between religious traditions.
Together with Thomas Merton, Brother David helped launch a renewal of religious life. From 1970 on, he became a leading figure in the House of Prayer movement, which affected some 200,000 members of religious orders in the United States and Canada. Also since the 1970s, Brother David has been a member of cultural historian William Irwin Thompson’s Lindisfarne Association.
For decades, Brother David divided his time between periods of hermit’s life and extensive lecture tours on five continents. On a two-month lecture tour in Australia, for example, he gave 140 lectures and traveled 12,000 miles within Australia without backtracking. His wide spectrum of audiences has included starving students in Zaire and faculty at Harvard and Columbia Universities, Buddhist monks and Sufi retreatants, Papago Indians and German intellectuals, New Age communes and Naval Cadets at Annapolis, missionaries on Polynesian islands and gatherings at the United Nations, Green Berets and participants at international peace conferences. Brother David has brought spiritual depth into the lives of countless people whom he touches through his lectures, his workshops, and his writings.
He has contributed to a wide range of books and periodicals from the Encyclopedia Americana and The New Catholic Encyclopedia, to the New Age Journal and Parabola Magazine. His books have been translated into many languages. Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer and A Listening Heart have been reprinted and anthologized for more than two decades. Brother David co-authored Belonging to the Universe (winner of the 1992 American Book Award), a dialogue on new paradigm thinking in science and theology with physicist, Fritjof Capra. His dialogue with Buddhists produced The Ground We Share: Buddhist and Christian Practice, co-authored with Robert Aitken Roshi. His most recent books are Words of Common Sense and Deeper than Words: Living the Apostles’ Creed.
Brother David contributed chapters or interviews to well over 30 books. An article by Brother David was included in The Best Spiritual Writing, 1998. His many audio and videotapes are widely distributed. At present, Brother David serves a worldwide Network for Grateful Living, through Gratefulness.org, an interactive website with several thousand participants daily from more than 240 countries.
For an in-depth portrait of Brother David, an extensive interview/appreciation by the writer John Horgan can be found here:
Excerpts from his writings:
“The religions start from mysticism. There is no other way to start a religion. But, I compare this to a volcano that gushes forth …and then …the magma flows down the sides of the mountain and cools off. And when it reaches the bottom, it’s just rocks. You’d never guess that there was fire in it. So after a couple of hundred years, or two thousand years or more, what was once alive is dead rock. Doctrine becomes doctrinaire. Morals become moralistic. Ritual becomes ritualistic. What do we do with it? We have to push through this crust and go to the fire that’s within it.”
“The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful. Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted.”
“Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefullness, and gratefullness is a measure of our aliveness.”
“We are never more than one grateful thought away from peace of heart. Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy — because we will always want to have something else or something more.”
“People who have faith in life are like swimmers who entrust themselves to a rushing river. They neither abandon themselves to its current nor try to resist it. Rather, they adjust their every movement to the watercourse, use it with purpose and skill, and enjoy the adventure.”
“Sometimes people get the mistaken notion that spirituality is a separate department of life, the penthouse of existence. But rightly understood, it is a vital awareness that pervades all realms of our being. Wherever we may come alive, that is the area in which we are spiritual.”
“Any place is sacred ground, for it can become a place of encounter with the divine Presence.”
“Try pausing right before and right after undertaking a new action, even something simple like putting a key in a lock to open a door. Such pauses take a brief moment, yet they have the effect of decompressing time and centering you.”
“In moments of surprise we catch at least a glimpse of the joy to which gratefulness opens the door.”
“There is a wave of gratefulness because people are becoming aware how important this is and how this can change our world. It can change our world in immensely important ways, because if you’re grateful, you’re not fearful, and if you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. If you’re grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people, and you are respectful to everybody, and that changes this power pyramid under which we live.”
“A lifetime may not be long enough to attune ourselves fully to the harmony of the universe. But just to become aware that we can resonate with it — that alone can be like waking up from a dream.”
“Monastic contemplatives have staked out a clearly limited area to be transformed by contemplation: the monastery. Lay contemplatives face the challenge of transforming the whole world.”
“As we learn to give thanks for all of life and death, for all of this given world of ours, we find a deep joy. It is the joy of trust, the joy of faith in the faithfulness at the heart of all things. It is the joy of gratefulness in touch with the fullness of life.”
“One single gift acknowledged in gratefulness has the power to dissolve the ties of our alienation.”
“So I wish that you can open your heart to all these blessings, and let them flow through you. Then everyone whom you will meet on this day will be blessed by you. Just by your eyes, by your smile, by your touch. Just by your presence. Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you. And then, it will really be, a good day.”
“You find many people that you would think lack the things that are nessecary to make you happy and yet they are joyful because they are grateful.”
“Gratefulness is a practice. It is so simple, so common and so universal to be grateful that we think, it cannot be a practice like zen or yoga or something like that. When you make it your practice, it can be really be on the same levels as these other traditions and practice. In learning the practice of gratitude, it’s naturalness and simplicity is a great advantage. Many practices are very hard and take very long, but gratefulness is easy. If you make up in your mind to say, ‘OK Gratefulness will be my practice and I will start right now. This very evening.’ It will have made you a lot more joyful quite immediately.”
“Open your eyes. Look at that. Look at the faces of whom you meet. Each one has an incredible story behind their face; a story that you could never fully fathom. Not only their own story, but the story of their ancestors. We all go back so far. And on this day, all the people you meet, all that life from generation to generation is from so many different places in the world is flows together and meets you here like a life giving water if you only open your heart and drink.”
“When we are grateful we are always in the present moment. We are grateful now. If you do nothing else but to cultivate the response (Gratefulness) to the great gift that this unique day is; As if it were the first day of your life and the very last day. You will have spent this day very well.”
“Begin by opening your eyes and be surprised that you have eyes to open; the incredible array of colors that is constantly offered to us for pure enjoyment. Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky. We so rarely look at it and note how different it is from moment to moment with the clouds coming and going.”
“When you are in the now, the ego (me) dissolves, because it feeds on past and future. The little me is made up of the past.”
“Gratefulness is really the key to happiness in life, or rather joy, which is the happiness that doesn’t depend of what happens. If you are grateful, you will be joyful regardless of what happens.”
“Open your heart to the incredible gift that civilization gives to us. We flip a switch and there is electrical light. We turn a faucet and there is warm water, and cold water…and drinkable water. It is a gift that millions and millions in the world will never experience.”
“Being grateful is being in the now. That may seem obvious, but we need to remind ourselves. Whatever is, is now. If is was, it is not now.”
“If there is anything the artist or a true work of art teaches us, it is that variety and complexity really increase the unity, and that to achieve unity within a great variety of complexity is a greater achievement and more satisfying piece of art than to achieve unity with just a few elements, which is relatively easily achieved.”
“Beauty seen makes the one who sees it more beautiful.”
“The experience of love and the experience of death destroy the illusion of our self-sufficiency. The two are closely connected, and to become fully human we must experience both of them.”
“A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace. Gratefulness is the great task, the how of our spiritual work, because, rightly understood, it re-roots us.”
“Impatience makes us get ahead of ourselves, reaching out for something in the future and not really being content with where we are, here and now.”
“Home and journey together constitute the creative polarity of the heart, the two dimensions we must cultivate if we want to ‘develop the heart.'”
“Order is the disposition of things in which each gives to the other its room, its own proper place. That’s the external aspect. The other is that order that springs from love: there’s no other way of establishing order except through love.”
“If you’re really mind-full, and if you underline that aspect of fullness, wholeness, or wholeheartedness, it reveals the gift character of everything.”
“Solitude without togetherness deteriorates into loneliness. One needs strong roots in togetherness to be solitary rather than lonely when one is alone.”
“The challenge is to learn to respond immediately to whatever it is time for. Not to wonder whether you have time for it or whether you like it, but simply to respond when it is time.”
“We can’t really waste our time; we have to see that we are all in the same boat and that different religious traditions point in the same direction, and now let’s get moving together, doing something for peace.”
“Truth is something we discover by carrying it out. It is not a list of statements, but a direction of life.”
“When you focus so much on the word, you tend to neglect the realm of silence.”
“What is necessary when we want to face reality? Stillness.”