Through the years, we have heard countless claims of apparitions and “locutions” (the hearing of a heavenly voice). From time to time, we submit some of the more interesting ones for your discernment. We can’t vouch for all such claims, especially when they involve locutions (which can easily be a result of the imagination or a deceptive spirit). We go back and forth in many cases. There are pros and cons. The vast majority of those making such assertions are good, devout people, but even the most well-intentioned can be deceived. Few cases are open-shut, black or white. Many fall into a “gray area.”
Such is the case with Reverend Shaka Kendo Rich Hart of West Hempstead, New York — who claims that several years ago the voice of Mary rescued him from suicide. From the outset, let’s make this clear. Reverend Hart remains a Buddhist. He operates the Clear Mountain Zen Center on Long Island. We have obvious problems with Buddhism. Moreover, the experience involved a locution — Mary’s alleged “voice” — not an apparition.
But Hart now also attends Catholic Mass several times a week (he has formally received his First Holy Communion), and we’ll let the experience speak for itself, at least as told by Hart, a former Marine from Brooklyn who became a Buddhist more than thirty years ago, and recently suffered grave illness, which is where — allegedly — the Blessed Mother came in.
“I had a stroke, and it knocked half of my body away,” says Hart. “I lost eighty percent use of my right side. And I was in a state of despair. After about a year of working with this, I just said, I’ve had enough and I took a handful of sleeping pills — a huge handful, expecting that would be the end of it.
“Instead,” continues the monk, “I had this big experience where the Mother comes through and is talking to me. I knew instantly that this was the Holy Mother, and I wasn’t a Catholic at the time. But there is no question I knew this was the Holy Mother, and my first response was, ‘Holy Mother, have you gotten the wrong address here? I’m a Buddhist monk!'”
It had nothing to do with that, Hart claims he was told. And instead of passing out, instead of falling into a stupor from the pills, nothing happened. “I didn’t get drowsy,” he says. “I don’t know what to say about it. I would say I heard her voice ten or 15 minutes after I took the pills. It was my father’s sleeping pills, and I just took them. It had just been renewed and so it was a full bottle.”
Hart says the voice had “such an enormously comforting quality” that it wasn’t so much what she said, but just the voice itself that caused emotional and apparently physical healing. “I don’t have a good recollection of what was said, but everything that was said just produced an enormous state of comfort, and for a long time afterwards it was like that.”
The voice went on for about a year. Afterwards, it seemed to change, and here we exercise an even heightened discernment. We’ll stay with the original voice. This is tricky territory — made all the trickier by the factor of Buddhism. But if saving a person from suicide is a “good fruit,” the original voice is worth consideration. Hart never saw her but has experienced the aroma of roses and associates her with an image of a “blue and white Lady,” as at Lourdes. In fact, a statue to that effect has been placed at the Zen center, where Hart says he freely discusses the Virgin.
Hart says the Blessed Mother never spoke about world affairs but only his personal life. After the suicide attempt, Hart says there was still despair, “but this voice made the despair bearable.”
“At a certain point she said, ‘Now I want you to become a Catholic,'” says Hart. “I was very surprised, because at first it was like it didn’t matter that I was a Buddhist. I went to see a priest and made arrangements to receive my First Holy Communion.”
Hart credits the Virgin along with a therapist in helping him recover about 70 percent of what he had lost from the stroke. “I was at the point,” he says, “where all I could do was lay in bed. The pain was so enormous I couldn’t get around. I was in this out-of-it state, and all of a sudden she would start talking to me.”
Hart was raised Methodist and after his time with the Marines became an alcoholic, recovering from that — and even a time when he was on the street as a “Bowery derelict” — through what he describes as an earlier “divine experience.” He said he was drawn to Buddhism after meeting a monk at the suggestion of Chester Carlson, who invented Xeroxgraphy. Hart now attends Mass at a local parish called St. Thomas the Apostle.
[resources: Michael Brown retreat, New Orleans]