Witness to World War II in Austria, Benedictine monk for the last 66 years, friend to Swami Satchidananda, and internationally-recognized practitioner of gratitude Brother David Steindl-Rast sits down to talk with Avi Gordon of the Integral Yoga Teachers Association. The discussion covers prayer and meditation, Swami Satchidananda, gratitude, fear and trust, the remembrance of death, joy, and other topics.
David Steindl-Rast was born Franz Kuno Steindl-Rast on July 12, 1926, in Vienna, Austria, and spent his early years there and in a small village in the Alps. He spent all of his teen years under the Nazi occupation, was drafted into the army, but never went to the front lines. He eventually escaped and was hidden by his mother until the occupation ended.
After the war, Franz 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, where he became “Brother David.” In 1958/59 Brother David was a Postdoctoral 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 Hakuun 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. 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 students in Central Africa and faculty at Harvard and Columbia Universities, Buddhist monks and Sufi retreatants, members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, 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 for MInd, Body and Soul; Deeper than Words: Living the Apostles’ Creed; 99 Blessings: An Invitation to Life; The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life; Faith beyond Belief: Spirituality for our Times; and his autobiography, i am through you so i.
Brother David has contributed chapters or interviews to well over 30 books. 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 and territories.