Date: Sept. 28, 1999
Before I ask you my questions I'd like to introduce myself. I'm a full-time lay pastoral worker in the Philippines. I'm the head of a Catholic lay covenanted community with 70 core members which was founded by my late father in the early seventies ( 1972, to be exact).All of our members are lay people coming from all walks of life (single, married, students, professionals, businessmen, etc.) trying to live a Christian life in the world. Our community was the offshoot of the Charismatic Renewal. However, our community has a strong contemplative orientation since our main charism is Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in our community center 24 hours a day.
Although I'm Catholic and our community members are all Catholics, we are open to other forms of prayer and meditation from other religious traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. My own exposure to oriental spirituality started during the seventies, when I got hold of 2 books - Christian Yoga, written by a Benedictine monk - Fr. Dechanet, and Christian Zen, written by Fr. Johnston, a Jesuit priest.
I started to practice Zen meditation in the early eighties under a Canadian nun who is also a Zen Teacher and a disciple of the late Yamada Roshi. However, for one reason or the other, I did not continue my Zen practice. It was only recently that I resumed the Zen practice that I started many years ago. I had the opportunity to resume my Zen practice by attending a one-week Zen retreat a few months ago given by a Filipino nun who is also Zen Teacher and a disciple of the late Yamada Roshi. I attended that retreat with some members of our community, and we had intense experiences. (I have written down my experiences during that retreat, and probably I'll send you a copy one of these days.)
Right now we have a Zen meditation room in our community center where I and my staff sit every morning for 1/2 hour after we recite the Liturgy of the Hours. Also, once a week we sit for an hour and a half in our meditation room with other members of our community who are Zen practioners. My questions are:
1. What is the relationship of Zen Meditation/Zen Enlightenment experience to Christian Prayer/Christian Mystical Experience?
2. Can we consider Zen Meditation as a form of Christian Prayer?
3. Is the Zen Enlightenment experience similar to the mystical experiences of the the great Christian mystics like St. Teresa of Avila or St. John of the Cross?
I read your message with great interest. Your questions go to the very heart of the Zen-Christian dialogue. My wife and I have spent a lot of time thinking about these issues and trying to express something about them. But to try to give you a direct and concise answer: while I believe enlightenment is a deeply spiritual experience and that we could even say from a Christian perspective that it is a mystical experience of God as the author of being, I do not believe that it is identical to the Christian mystical experience, as described by Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross.
And so I do not think that it is good to call it prayer in the Christian sense of the term, either.
As the Zen-Christian dialogue spreads around the world, it also goes deeper and deeper into our own hearts. My wife and I also practice Zen meditation, and we have a great admiration for Yamada and his students for bringing this wonderful gift into the Church. But I think that we need to carefully distinguish enlightenment from Christian contemplation in order that we can truly bring them together.
We would like very much to hear more about your community and its
experience of Zen. Sincerely, Jim and Tyra Arraj
Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 18:10:19 +0800
Dear Jim and Tyra,
First of all, I'd like to thank you for responding to my message about the relationship of Zen and Christianity. I've been reflecting a lot about this issue for quite some time now, basically for practical reasons. Resuming the Zen practice that I started 20 years ago this year resulted in experiences which I need to integrate in my life. However, I'd like to integrate these Zen experiences not as a Buddhist but as a practicing Christian.
Also, my interest in the Zen-Christian dialogue is motivated by my desire to explain Zen practice from the Christian perspective to people in our community who are interested in practicing Zen meditation. As I mentioned in my message, there are some people now in our community who are practicing Zen meditation. We are doing this quietly, without much fuss and publicity. Still word gets around, and, from time to time, there are people in the community who ask us about our Zen practice.
Normally, certified Zen teachers conduct Zen orientation talks for those who are interested in Zen meditation, Unfortunately, our Zen teacher is based in Manila, which is about 250 kilometers from where we are. Also, she's quite busy, and this prevents us from communicating with her on a regular basis. She's a nun and has responsibilities in her religious congregation, and at the same time taking care of a flourishing zendo in Manila. So, even if I'm not a certified Zen teacher, I have taken it upon myself to conduct a simple 2-week Zen orientation session. Each session consists of a talk lasting for an hour. After the talk we allow the orientees to join us in our weekly hour and a half of sitting in our meditation room to give them a taste of what it is all about.
Usually Zen teachers would frown upon the idea of a Zen practicioner who's not a certified teacher conducting Zen orientation talks. But our teacher seems to tolerate it, probably because of our particular situation which prevents us from having regular access to her. Anyhow, I really need some inputs on the relationship of Zen and Christianity, and issues arising from this relationship, to be able to explain Zen to people who are practicing Christians, who like to practice Zen and integrate it in their spiritual lives.
Based on my own personal experience and reflection, I would tend to agree with you that the Zen enlightenment experience is not exactly the same as the Christian mystical experience; although, from my point of view, there may be some similarities/points of convergence between the two experiences. However, your point that Zen meditation is not prayer in the Christian sense has set me thinking...
Until recently I have taken the position that Zen meditation is a form of Christian prayer. I've been influenced by this by Fr. William Johnston. In his book, Christian Zen, he writes:
"Sitting and breathing, performed in silent faith, can itself be an act of meditation. People think they are not meditating unless they are using their brain. But can there not be a form of meditation in which one sits and breathes and let the heart beat? Surely total silence can be a wonderful expression of adoration."
If Zen meditation is not prayer in the Christian sense of the word, what do you consider it to be? Could you perhaps elaborate on this matter? I'd really be interested in knowing your thoughts about this.
Attached to this message is a Microsoft Word document about my own Zen experiences during a Zen retreat which I attended last March. I hope it would be of interest to you. Also, I'd would really appreciate it if you could share me your comments and reflections on the experiences. You may share it with others if you think it would help and would be of interest to them.
In the Love and Peace of Christ,
Next week I'll be attending a one week Zen retreat to be conducted by K_____ Roshi, a Japanese Zen Buddhist Master. He comes here in the Philippines twice or thrice a year to conduct Zen retreats. I am informed that the participants are usually nuns and lay people. It will be my first time to attend a Zen retreat conducted by a Japanese Zen Buddhist Master. After the retreat, I'll probably write to you about it.
Day 1: Beginning
The first day started with an evening meal. The retreat master was late. Later on she explains that they were stuck in traffic. The first formal activity was an orientation talk.
* * *
Days 2 & 3: Calmness, Awareness, & Detachment
I was initially very tense at the start of the retreat, and I wasn't able to sleep well during the first night.
* * *
I, together with the other retreatants, started 5 - 6 hours of zazen daily. A lot of times I was in pain - sometimes almost unbearable pain. There was one period of zazen where I was literally sweating in pain. But, inspite of that, I felt calmer.
* * *
During one period of zazen I experienced moments of intense awareness. I was simply aware of my heartbeat and my breath, the chirping of the birds, the sound of the cars and jeepneys by the road, the occasional movements of some of the retreatants - and even the sound of silence.
There was no longer any difference between silence and sound, stillness and movement. Furthermore, I became aware that there was more to the silence and the sounds, the stillness and the movements. I became aware that there was an underlying Source from which all life comes from. This Source reconciles all opposites. Silence and sound no longer oppose each other but are simply manifestations of this Source of life, not clashing against one another but simply revealing the existence of this Source.
A phrase, which struck me when we were asked to reflect on the Sufi prayer, during one of our morning prayers, summarizes that experience of awareness. The phrase was: " I AM the silence and the thought, the tongue and the talking."
* * *
I was struck with the following remark of Sr. S___, our retreat master and Zen teacher during dokusan: "The reason why you are in pain is because you are fighting your thoughts." I realized that this was true.
So I started to follow the injunction in dealing with thoughts and distractions during zazen: "Let it come, let it go." Lo and behold, as if some miracle was performed, at least half of my bodily pains simply vanished. That for me demonstrated the power of detachment.
Days 4, 5, & 6: Oneness
I started sensing a sea of powerful but gentle Energy surrounding me while performing Tai-Chi. Tai-Chi was no longer a series of slow and gentle physical exercises but a way of swimming in this sea of Energy.
* * *
During kinhin I became aware that the Energy was no longer surrounding me but was not following me just like my shadow.
The Energy followed me as I proceeded to the dining room for our coffee break. When I was in the dining room sitting and holding a piece of cracker, something strange and out of the ordinary happened to me. Time stood still and, as if I was in a dream, I felt that the cracker was no longer a cracker - it was a part of me, somehow connected to me. The same thing happened to me as I was lifting my cup to drink coffee. The cup was no longer a cup but a part of myself. This lasted for a minute or two.
Upon reflection I thought that my mind might be playing tricks on me, that I might be imagining things. I talked about this experience with Sr. S___ during dokusan. Instead of confirming my doubts and brushing aside my experience, Sr. S___ validates my experience. She says: "This is as close as you can get in experiencing your True Self." Her validation proved much more disconcerting than her rejection. A part of me wanted her to reject my experience because I didn't want to deal with it.
* * *
Towards the end of the retreat, during the last night, as we were finishing our evening prayers I had another experience. The powerful but gentle Energy suddenly no longer surrounded and followed me but this time it penetrated me. I felt an inner explosion. I felt something inside of me being blown away. There was no longer inside and outside. There was no longer subject and object.
I was tempted to request Sr. S___ for dokusan. But I knew she must be tired and I ought to allow her to rest. Besides, I didn't want to over react. It could be an experience of not much significance. So I told myself: "Why rush? Why not present the experience tomorrow morning? If the experience is true, then it won't matter much if you wait till tomorrow."
* * *
When I woke up the following morning - our last day, I felt the Energy surrounding me again and each object in the room suddenly took a life of its own. Each object was alive and glowing. I felt that each object, though totally independent and each having absolute value, was at the same time fully interconnected with one another and with myself.
I went out of my room, feeling light and giddy, to go to the bathroom. I met L____, one of the participants and a member of our community, and my spontaneous reaction was to bow before him. At that instant I saw myself in the person of L____.
* * *
I presented these experiences - the Energy penetrating me the night before, the independence yet interdependence of the objects in my room, seeing myself in the person of another person - during the first dokusan of our last day. Sr. S___ listens and explains to me some of my experiences.
* * *
I felt disoriented. I felt overwhelmed by the series of experiences I had during this retreat...
* * *
I attended this retreat simply to get back to the Zen practice I started almost 20 years ago when I was still a college student, as a way of coping with my additional responsibilities in our community. But I got more than I bargained for. I had a glimpse of the world of Oneness although I would be the first to admit that my realization is still incomplete and imperfect. In fact, I feel I am only beginning in this wonderful journey. Imperfect and incomplete though it may be, it has changed my life.
I would like to express my gratitude to Sr. M____, who is now a missionary in Botswana, who introduced me to my first Zen teacher - Sr. E____. I am thankful to Sr. E____ for starting me in the way of Zen almost 20 years ago. I am also thankful to Sr. P____ for inviting me to join this retreat. Above all, I would like to thank Sr. S___ for helping me experience Oneness.
The challenge now is not to allow what I experienced during the retreat to be simply a happy memory. The challenge is to make it a living reality constantly operating in my daily life.
Your account of the Zen retreat was quite moving. What a wonderful gift to have that opening to enlightenment, and I think you would agree with me that this would be a very precious gift to bring into the life of the Church as the Yamada students are doing. But the issue is, as you say, how to explain Zen practice from a Christian perspective. This is a difficult task. Some people in Zen would even question the need or possibility of such an explanation. But from a Christian perspective it is a valuable and vital challenge.
I would put it like this. How can we situate Zen enlightenment in relationship to Christian metaphysics and mysticism. At first glance, this may seem far removed from your more practical perspective of explaining Zen to your community members, but I think it is another way of addressing the same issue. Good spirituality has to be based on good philosophy and theology. I have written two books that deal with this question (God, Zen and the Intuition of Being, and Mysticism, Metaphysics and Maritain) and have created with Tyra a number of videos that touch on it, as well.
(Blossoms of Silence with Jim Grob; Profiles in Buddhist-Christian
Dialogue: Don Mitchell, etc.)
My own take on the question is that Zen enlightenment is a deep seeing into the very isness, or existence, of things, and as such it is a certain kind of contact and union beyond concepts and beyond the distinction between subject and object, between our own selves and these things, and with God who is the author and sustainer of their existence. We could say that it is a mystical experience of the very mystery of existence, and in some way embraces all that exists: ourselves, the cracker, and in an indirect but very real way, God who is existence Himself. In some traditions like in Advaitan Hinduism, ourselves or souls are identified with God. In others, like Zen, the isness of things is identified with emptiness, as in form is emptiness and emptiness is form. But from a Christian perspective, we could say that Zen enlightenment is the experience of the very isness at the heart of things and ourselves, and how these things are resplendid and luminous with the mystery of God whose name is Is.
But is this the same as Christian contemplation, or mystical experience in the traditional Christian sense of the word? I don't think so. The heart of Christian mystical experience is a contact with God who as a loving person makes himself present to us, and calls us to share in his own life through Jesus. This is why the accounts of enlightenment and Christian contemplation do not sound alike. Imagine that at the very center of the experience of the isness of things God would show himself not only as the author and sustainer of being, but as the Father and lover of the soul who wants to transform the soul by love so it shares in his own nature. There certainly cannot be any opposition between enlightenment and contemplation because, seen in this way, to oppose them would be to oppose God as the author of being, and the Trinitarian God that the Scriptures teach us about. But at the same time I believe we can make a distinction between these two kinds of mystical union, and I think we need to because they demand different means to arrive at them. Hopefully, however, a Christian spirituality of the future would embrace them both. Sincerely, Jim
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 1999 12:12:05 +0800
Again, I'd like to thank you for responding to my message and queries. I got your response just before I was about to leave to attend K_____ Roshi's sesshin which I mentioned to you in my previous message. At that time, I didn't have enough time anymore to respond immediately to your message.
We came back ( I and 2 other members of our community ) from the sesshin last Sunday. It was held at the Mary Ridge Retreat House in Tagaytay City, which is a city set high on the mountains about 60 kilometers away from Manila. The retreat house had a beautiful view of the Taal Lake and the surrounding mountains.
The retreat was much more physically demanding than the one I attended last March. We practiced zazen from 8-10 hours daily for 4 1/2 days! It was, however, a very fruitful one for me - a time of deepening and integration, especially of my Zen experiences. Practicing zazen, listening to the simple but inspiring teishos, and having dokusan with the roshi has deepened my Zen practice. I'm sure it also did the same thing for the 50 or so participants of the retreat.
K_____ Roshi is about in his mid sixties, if I'm not mistaken. He really looks just like a regular guy, and acts like one, which was not quite what I thought a roshi ought to be... Anyway, I'm glad that he is, and, by the way, he likes to joke and laughs easily.
But he is also a very gentle and compassionate person - a buddha-like figure, and I could really sense this especially when he delivers his teisho or holds dokusan. He is one person whom I could immediately relate and feel at ease with.
The retreat for me was, however, uneventful and undramatic compared to the one I had in March, except for the fact that the roshi confirmed my experience as a kensho experience. He also confirmed the kensho experiences of three other participants.
Thank you, for sharing with me your insights about the relationship of Christianity and Zen, and for elaborating it during your last message. Reflecting on our Zen experiences as Christians is, for me, quite important not only for personal but also for pastoral reasons. Your explanation was quite clear.
I'm beginning to read the articles on the East-West Contemplative Dialogue in your website. I've read, with a lot of interest, especially the accounts of experiences of non duality of westerners and also the accompanying article on the Mysticism of the Self, which, I believe, is an excerpt from one of your books. I'm also starting to read excerpts of your book - God, Zen, and the Intuition of Being. I have to admit, though, that it is quite heavy reading for me.
By the way, have you explored the thought of Meister Eckhart? I'm reading his sermons now, and it seems to me that he is the closest thing in Christianity to Zen. I believe that studying him would help us in our Zen-Christian dialogue, and also integrating our Zen practice as Christians in our spiritual lives.
That's all for now, and till the next time...
In the Love and Peace of Christ,
Thank you for sharing with us about the Zen retreat. It sounded like a challenging but fruitful time. If after having looked at the things about the Zen-Christian dialogue on our website you would like to pursue the matter further, I would be happy to send you some of the items in the catalog as a gift. Just send us your address and the kind of things you might be interested in. The videos, by the way, are in the NTSC format and I don't know what format you use there.
You are in a wonderful position now to carry on this Zen-Christian dialogue within yourself, and I think that if enough people genuinely do that, then we will find the answers about the relationship between enlightenment and contemplation. I can see why you would have an attraction for Meister Eckhart, which is an attraction shared by many people in the Zen-Christian world. But I think this comes about because Meister Eckhart had his own deep Zen-like experiences, and so what he says resonates with those who have had similar experiences. But precisely because he is closer to the Zen world, he might not be the ideal person to form a bridge between Christianity and Zen. Another way of saying it might be are John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila talking about Zen enlightenment when they are describing contemplation? Sincerely, Jim
Date: Mon, 29 Nov 1999 18:38:22 +0800
I just read your e-mail message for me last Oct.29. The reason why it took me so long to respond was that our computer was down for almost a month. Our computer was repaired only a few days ago and I was only able to read your message yesterday.
Thanks for responding and for the offer of providing us some of your resources on the Zen-Christian dialogue. Thanks also for sending me the November issue of the Christian Prayer and Contemplation Forum.
I just came from another Zen retreat conducted by Sr. S______ - our Zen teacher; this time mainly for the staff ( our full-time workers and part-time volunteers ) of our community. All in all, there were 9 participants - 2 from Sr. S_____'s group, 6 from our community and a priest who regularly celebrates the Eucharist in our community center. Though we were few, it was quite an extraordinary and powerful retreat. One of the reasons why this was so was that the priest and 3 members of our community had kensho experiences which was eventually confirmed by Sr. S_____ during the retreat. This was the first Zen retreat of the priest and the other 2 participants whose kensho were confirmed. The other one whose kensho was confirmed was already able to attend 3 Zen retreats previous to this one, although she only started Zen practice earlier this year. This was indeed a
grace-filled and extraordinary retreat!
However, we are encountering some difficulties because of our Zen practice. Our community is basically a covenanted charismatic community with about 70 committed members, and some are of our members are having difficulties with our Zen practice. They think that we are mixing up things. Would it be possible to ask you for some advice on how to handle a situation like this? I would appreciate if you could share me your thoughts about this matter.
Also, I really appreciate your offer of providing us some of your materials on the Zen-Christian dialogue as a gift. The items that are of interest to us are those which tackle the relationship of Christian contemplation and Zen enlightenment. These are:
1. Your book - God, Zen, and the Intuition of Being.
2. Your video or audio - Christian Contemplation and Zen Enlightenment. ( By the way, the video format that we're using here is NTSC also.)
I hope that we can continue in sharing with one another ideas, experiences and concerns about the Zen-Christian dialogue.
Thank you very much and may God bless and reward you and your family.
In the Love and Peace of Christ,
We very much enjoyed hearing the next chapter of the evolving story of your community living out the East-West dialogue. We are sending off the things you requested, but it may take a while for them to arrive.
It seems that there are two distinct problems that you are dealing with. In the first, there are people who simply by temperament or education want nothing to do with any kind of dialogue with another religion. In that case, all you can do is be patient and understanding, and try to make them understand that your interest in Zen does not prevent you from trying to be a good Christian.
In the second case, which is what has been coming up in our correspondence, there are, indeed, difficult problems in the Zen-Christian dialogue that have not been resolved yet. Even the Catholic students of Yamada Roshi who have done so much to bring Zen into the Church do not, I think, agree on how Zen enlightenment relates to the Christian tradition of prayer and contemplation. So you have to feel your way. The Church can be wonderfully enriched by Zen, but it is going to be a delicate process because we don't want to somehow forget or overshadow the riches of our own tradition as this happens. Sincerely, Jim
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 1999 16:43:54 +0800
Thanks for your response to my e-mail. I'm always looking forward to receiving your responses to my messages. I've really found your comments and explanations very helpful. As I grapple and, sometimes, struggle with issues related to our Zen practice as Christians, it is good to be able to talk to someone like you who have taken the time to reflect about these things.
I consider the Zen experience as one of the wonderful graces that I've been blessed with by God. Thanks to Yamada Roshi and his disciples, we, as Christians in the Catholic Church, are now able to partake of the treasures found in Zen. ( By the way, my Zen teacher - Sr. S_____, was a disciple of the late Yamada Roshi.) In fact, for me, at this point in my life Zen practice is foundational in my life. This does not mean, however, that no difficulties have been experienced and are still being experienced in the process of integrating Zen practice to our Christian faith, for me as well as for others. The Zen experience does not sweep away all difficulties under the rug. On the contrary, it even sometimes highlights the apparent contradictions, difficulties, loose ends, etc. that needs to be resolved especially by people like myself who'd like to practice Zen and at the same time remain as faithful Christians.
Speaking of Christians struggling to integrate their Zen experience with their Christian faith, right now, Fr. N_____, the priest who went with us during our last Zen retreat, is having some difficulty - mostly theological and philosophical in nature - in coming to terms with his Zen experience. I am not a trained theologian or philosopher, so that for the most part I cannot answer his queries. I suggested that he direct his queries to our Zen teacher, Sr. S_____. One thing that I've found helpful, however, is printing some of the materials in your website as well as your responses to my queries and sharing it with him.
I'm looking forward to receiving your book - God, Zen and the Intuition of Being, as well as your audio or video of the relationship of Zen enlightenment to Christian Prayer. Again, I'd like to thank you for your generosity in providing us these materials. I'm planning also to share these resources with Fr. N_____ and to others who might need it.
I am grateful that you are taking the time of addressing the issue of how to integrate Zen practice with our Christian faith through your website, books, tapes, and videos. I hope, one day, the insights that we've learned from Zen and other Asian religions/philosophies will be integrated in the mainstream of the Church's life.
That's all for now.
God bless you and may you have a Blessed Christmas.
In the Love and Peace of Christ,
I'm now beginning to read other articles in your website on theology and Jacques Maritain. Among other things, I'm also reading 2 books on quantum mechanics. I've found the parallels between quantum mechanics and Zen quite striking. It was a surprise and a delight to me when I found that you've written three articles - Human Origins and Catholic Doctrine, Can There Be a Quantum Theology? and Quantum Spirituality? Christian Spirituality and the New Cosmology - that is related to quantum mechanics, even though your treatment was not about its parallels with Zen. When I have more time, I'll read the other topics in your website like Christian Mysticism & Simple Living since I am also interested in these issues.
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2000 17:25:42 +0800
I just received your book - God, Zen, and the Intuition of Being as well as your tapes on the relationship of Christian Contemplation & Zen Enlightenment - Christian Contemplation & Zen Enlightenment: Are They the Same?, from the mail. Again, thank you for providing us with these resources.
I was so excited that I immediately listened to the tapes as soon as I got home. I've been reading already some parts of your book on your website since you posted it there. I found the tape a much more simpler way of understanding of what you're trying say in your book. However, after listening to the tapes I can now understand better the portions that I've read and I plan to read all of it. I found these materials quite insightful, especially the idea of Zen as a bridge between metaphysics and
By the way, I just came from an 11-day pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Late last year, I was asked to join this pilgrimage. One of the amazing things about the pilgrimage was I didn't pay a single cent! I was sponsored by the travel agency who organized the pilgrimage. God indeed is so good!
It was a grace-filled pilgrimage. Sometimes, I felt like pinching myself to be sure that I wasn't dreaming. Never even in my wildest dreams did I dream that some day I will be in the place where Jesus once walked.
My Christian faith was strengthened and renewed by this pilgrimage. There were times that I could sense the presence of Jesus, his apostles, and his mother in the holy sites that we've visited. As we read the scriptures in these holy sites, I could see it coming alive before my eyes. This must have been a taste of what the disciples on the road to Emmaus experienced when Jesus opened their eyes as he explained to them the scriptures.
I remembered you and your wife in my prayers while I was there. You're really helping a lot of people like me who are grappling with the issues involved in integrating insights from the emerging East-West dialogue as well as other areas like Jungian psychology and the new cosmologies, into our Christian faith. I pray that God continues to bless you and your family in this wonderful work.
I and our small group here continue to practice Zen quietly, and we continue to benefit from the riches of this eastern practice. Your book and tapes will surely help us in integrating our Zen practice with our Christian faith.
So long for now, and till the next time....
God bless you and your family.
In the Love and Peace of Christ,
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2000 14:40:04 -0700
How have you been? I remember with pleasure the e-mails you sent me concerning your community and your deepening immersion in the Zen-Christian dialogue.
I would like you to consider writing something about the topics you covered there that we could post on our website. What you had to say before touches on many important questions that I think more and more people will have to face in the future. I realize your need for discretion, but if you can see your way clear, it would be good to have you do something on those themes, whether you post it anonymously, or with your name. Sincerely, Jim
Date: Wed, 06 Sep 2000 14:24:01 +0800
I just read your e-mail dated June 14, 2000. You might be wondering why it took me quite a long time answering. Our computer crashed at about that time, and it is only now that we've been able to have it repaired and have certain parts replaced ( actually, we had to replace our hard disk among other things ). Budgetary constraints prevented us from having had it repaired as soon as possible.
W'ere doing fine so far as our Zen practice is involved. We have a few but committed Zen practicioners in our community. Sr. S_____, our Zen teacher, has been kind enough to visit us from time to time and conduct sesshins for us. She even invited me to come with her to Japan to attend a 3-month Zen-Christian dialogue conference. However, responsiblities in our community prevented me from accompanying her. Personally, Zen practice has become apart and parcel of my life. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is sit in zazen. I believe it has made me a much more better person and a better Christian.
I've read ( and re-read ) your book though I have to confess that I found it to heavy reading at first. Perhaps, because of my lack of background in philosophy and/or theology. Explaining the Zen experience in the light of St. Thomas' Aquinas metaphysics was quite illuminating. Also, I found your explanation of the difference of the Zen experience and the contemplative experience of the great Christian mystics like John of the Cross quite enlightening. There are some who say that both experiences are the same. Distinguishing the Zen experience and the Christian mystical experience made sense to me.
However, I still continue to reflect on my Zen practice/experience so as to integrate it in my Christian life. I'm presently reading Paul Knitter's book: No Other Name?, A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions. It's quite comprehensive, though a little bit radical from my point of view (also, quite heavy reading for me, since it is a theological book ). I wonder if you've read it. I've also finished reading Crooked Cucumber, which is a biography of the Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki. His biography made me realize that there are many ways of approaching Zen practice. Previously,I thought that all Zen teachers functioned like my teachers ( Sr.E_____, Sr. S_____, K____ Roshi ). But reading Suzuki Roshi's biography made me realize that Zen teachers have different ways of teaching Zen.
I'd be happy to write for you about my experiences and reflections on the Zen-Christian dialogue. In fact, if you'd like to and if you think it will be helpful, please feel free to post the things that I've written to you so far through e-mail.
Thank you for taking the time to keep in touch, and God bless you and your family.
Date: Thu, 07 Sep 2000 13:57:25 -0700
It was good to hear from you. I think your e-mails could help other people who are trying to deal with the same issues. I will put together a kind of dialogue from your e-mails and mine, and then send it to you to see what you think of it, and give you a chance to change it if you like, and then put it up on the website. You can post it anonymously, or with your name and e-mail address.
We went to the International Buddhist-Christian conference held in Tacoma, Washington. That was quite a week with a chance to talk to all sorts of people, including Ruben and Maria Habito. There is an on-going working group of people who practice in both traditions in various degrees, and this meeting was very interesting. If Christians are practicing Eastern forms of meditation, there are also Buddhists who are struggling with how to get in touch with their Christian roots. I think that at the heart of the issue is the question of the relationship between enlightenment, the Christian intuition of being, and love mysticism. Sincerely, Jim
Date: Mon, 11 Sep 2000 13:27:00 +0800
Thanks for responding to my e-mail. It's interesting to hear that there are Buddhists who are struggling with their Christian roots. ( I assume that they were Christians before turning into Buddhists.) I guess, we can never really completely renounce our religious roots without doing violence to our spirit. I believe that the best approach, at least for me, is not to chose one religious tradition over another but to integrate both traditions without, of course, falling into the trap of religious syncretism.
I'm looking forward to the dialogue that you are planning to put up between my e-mails and yours. I'm glad to be of help to those who are grappling with the same issues as I am regarding the practice of eastern forms of meditation ( specifically Zen meditation ) and integrating these forms of meditation with the Christian life.