Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Rule of Hospitality

"Wide Open Spaces"

We've had house guests visiting us this weekend. It has given me an opportunity to reflect upon what may be the most important rule of any spiritual path: "The rule of hospitality."

Over the years I have visited a number of monasteries in various places throughout the country (and throughout the world).  At the entranceway of most Christian (Benedictine) monasteries you will likely find a sign posted that reads: "Receive All As Christ." 

Anyone who shows up at the entranceway of the monastery, rich or poor, saint or sinner, is to be greeted and welcomed as if it were Christ himself standing at the door - afforded the same dignity and respect, no questions asked. 

In several conversations with various monks I have learned that this "motto" posted at the entranceway pretty much encapsulates the very foundation of the monastic life, expressing their common  understanding of their mission in the world.

The rule of hospitality supersedes every other rule monks may be required to follow -  saying prayers, going to church throughout the day, studying, working together - nothing is as important as the "rule of hospitality" in the monastic life.

I have discovered that this same principle of "no questions asked" hospitality is also a hallmark of the the Buddhist monasteries I have visited.

I particularly remember my time in Seoul, South Korea where I was welcomed with the smiling faces and open arms of a community of hundreds of Buddhist monks all dressed in their saffron robes. We all ate a meal together, prayed together, and shared many laughs together. I entered the monastery as a stranger and I was treated like a brother. We had to talk with one another through a translator but we all knew that we were speaking that universal language of love and acceptance.

The "rule of hospitality" is so important for monks because it provides them with a lens for seeing the world.

When monks receive anyone who crosses over the threshold of their lives and treat them as the Christ or as the Buddha, they are practicing a spiritual discipline and offering great wisdom about the spiritual path:

You must walk the spiritual pathway with always-open arms and always-open hearts, welcoming and embracing all human beings who may come your way, friend and foe, people who you like and people who you might not like so much, people who are similar to you and those who may be very different.

Receive all as the Christ - Receive all as the Buddha

The rule of hospitality is certainly not just something that applies to monks in monasteries.

We live in a time of such rampant individualism. This is especially true in Western culture where the motto is "every man for himself" as opposed to "Receive all as the Christ, the Buddha." In the culture of  "rugged individualism," only like-minded people sit at the table together and there is no room at the feast of life for the foreigner.  Practicing the "rule of hospitality" is about as counter-cultural as you can get nowadays.

On a weekend such as this, millions of people attend a church or a synagogue, a mosque or temple. They say their prayers and engage in various rituals and then they go home and lock the doors of their lives to everyone except the chosen few.

The "rule of hospitality" teaches that if you are on a spiritual journey of any sort you must be on a path of opening doors rather than closing them -  eagerly embracing anyone who crosses the threshold of life, welcoming them to sit next to you at the table of life.

As usual, I sit in my garden at the beginning of another new day. In the background I can hear the rustlings of our house guests moving around.

How exciting! The Christ is here. The Buddha has come to visit.


  1. And it is the poor who are more willing to open their doors and hearts and share from the little they have than the rich and whatever lies in between.
    Thanks, Paul! I always enjoy your posts. They help reminding me of my Self. Keep them coming.

  2. Thank you Paul. Your words are a good reminder to me and a way into the words of Jesus as I consider Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 10:40-42). ~dan