Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Zen Christianity

                                    Jesus, Zen Master

          Certain persons have had great effects upon me as I grow in my understanding of my life.
          My Mom certainly, loving me without any limits or conditionality. Her religious life was simple and faithful. Her devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague and the Rosary were her introit to God in her daily life. I remember how she wept voluminously at my entering into the Trappist monastery in 1963. She just couldn't understand how someone (she believed) who could do so much good in the world, could leave the world entirely as it seemed to her I was. Five years later, Mom once again wept as I came home- not just tears of happiness, but tears of sorrow that I would be leaving such a wonderful life with such tremendous friends. She and my Dad used to drive the 80 miles on good weather Sundays to attend Mass at the Abbey. They met Fra. Edward-John Mullaney and Frs.Simon Sansone, Regis Kelleher, Robert Morhouse, and especially, the awe of talking with Dom Thomas Keating, Abbot who possessed such a soul of wisdom and kindness which affected all he met.
          My Dad was an athlete in his youth and he loved talking with people, especially those in Walpole where he worked as an insurance agent and especially about sports. On Sundays, as we'd enter church, Dad would always peel off to the "Firemen's bench" at the back so as to discreetly talk a little sports during the dull parts. My Mom used to be really irked at him for doing this but she had long ago realized the futility of arguing with him about his custom. I know she never let me join him when I asked. Instead, she'd always start her explanation by saying," Now I want you to know that your Father is a good man...".
          Dad did not talk about religion with me, yet he gave me the greatest piece of religious advice I ever received.
          "Bing", he'd say," Don't ever be a phony."
I've found out that one can be a phony at anything. Whenever I'd hear the gospels read and the reading involved the Pharisees, I'd remember my Dad's advice. Whenever I'd read about bad priests, I'd think of my Dad's advice. But most of all, whenever I'd catch myself telling a lie or even a "fib", I'd remember his advice both at that time and later in the Confessional. As a teacher, especially as a teacher of religion, I'd often catch myself being a phony, and eventually I'd even be able to confess those times to my students.
           Years later, when my son Chuck was caught in a very minor fib to explain away his being late for Thanksgiving dinner, I remember telling him that night,
          "There are only two things you can do in life:
                           (1) Tell the truth, or...
                           (2) Say nothing
          ...there's no third option."
Many years later, when Tommy and Cathy went through such trials, as simultaneously did the whole family, I found myself reading Merton's "Easterly" works.
"Zen and the Birds of Appetite", "The Writings of Chuang Tzu" and Lao Tzu's  "Tao Te  Ching" as well as Father Louis' "The Asian Journal" and other earlier biographical works whetted my appetite for Zen. I found Daisetz Suzuki's "Beginner's Mind, Zen Mind" and considered it to be a book which started to become a spiritual guide for me. I read as many other "zen books" as I could find, but Suzuki was the best. On a week's retreat at Saint Benedict's Monastery in Snow Mass, Colorado, I met and had a great talk with Dom Thomas Keating, OCSO, my former Abbot at Saint Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, MA.
He asked me what I was reading and I told him that Suzuki was my favorite.
"Oh, that's great! Suzuki is a classic!" he replied.
Then I told Father Thomas that I thought that his project,"Contemplative Outreach" was really a wonderful work, but then I candidly asked him,
          "So why do I find that I just cannot join it?"
          "You’re not supposed to, Charlie" he said.   I was floored and elated by his response, but it has taken me years to understand his response.
          What I seem to be finding is that Jesus is the expression of God's reality within our time-bound, three dimensional world of physical experiences and conceptual communication. What he is saying is, with authority, what other great and truly holy men and women have said before him and since. I'm sure that Moses, Mohammed, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Siddhartha Gautama, Benedict and Antony, Augustine and Aquinas, Martin Luther and Martin Buber, Good Pope John XXIII and beloved Pope John Paul II, Merton, Suzuki, and the Dalai Lama and countless other humble holy men would sit down at table with Jesus and be lost in the wonder and joy of union.          Consequently it occurs to me is it is to that which we should be working. The focus from the Second Vatican Council was on a "Return to the Sources ("Ad Fontes") and getting in touch with the modern world ("Aggiornamento"). The spirit of Pope John XXIII was oriented to attainment of the motto: "Ut Unum Sint!"( That they all may be ONE!)
          I am hoping that the title of Zen Master for Jesus will be more clearly applicable by means of what this little work contains.
 "Personal experience is everything in Zen. No ideas are intelligible to those who have no backing of experience. A baby has no ideas, for its mentality is not yet so developed as to experience anything in the way of ideas.
          The foundation of all concepts is simple, unsophisticated experience. Zen places the utmost emphasis upon this foundation-experience, and it is around this that Zen constructs all the verbal and conceptual scaffold which is found in its literature known as "Sayings". Though the scaffold affords a most useful means to reach the inmost reality, it is still an elaboration and artificiality. We lose its whole SIGNificance  when it is taken for a final reality... Zen,therefore, most strongly and pesistently insists on an inner spiritual experience.
“The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a "sign" from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said," why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you no sign will be given to this generation."(Mk 8:11)
“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them,"Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them”. (Mk. 10:1-16)
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him: ‘Rabbi, we wish to see a SIGN from you’. But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the Prophet Jonah.’”(Mt.12:39)
"When I came to you brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ , and him crucified."(1 Cor 2:1-2)...
"...But we speak God's wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But, as it is written :"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him"-
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
Suzuki:  The basic idea of Zen is to come in touch with the inner workings of our being, and to do this in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external or superadded. Absolute faith is placed in a man's own inner being.(P.44)
For whatever authority there is in Zen, all comes from within. This is true in the strictest sense of the word. Even the reasoning faculty is not considered final or absolute. The intellect's job is to work as an intermediary, and Zen has nothing to do with an intermediary except when it desires to communicate itself to others."(P.44)

"As they were going along the road, someone said to him,'I will follow you wherever you go'.
And Jesus said to him, ' Foxes have burrows, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."(Luke 9:57-58)

"Zen has no 'abiding place', to use a favorite expression in the Prajnaparamita Sutras. When a thing has its fixed abode, it is fettered, it is no more absolute. The following dialogue will very clearly explain this point.
"A monk asked, 'Where is the abiding place for the mind?'
'The mind,' answered the master, 'abides where there is no abiding.'
'What is meant by 'there is no abiding'?"
' When the mind is not abiding in any particular object, we say that it abides where there is no abiding.'... ' Where there is no abiding place, this is truly the abiding place for the mind.'"(pp86-87)
It is my understanding that when Jesus went to pray he often went into a “lonely place”, an “empty place”, “alone” where he experienced the presence of his father (“Abba”). And when jesus taught the disciples to pray he told them:
     “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites! They love to  stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on street corners, so that everyone will see them…But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.”(Mt.6:5-6)
Thus to pray seems to employ the methods of Zen and the faith of Christianity. I guess that’s where you could say I am today; a Zen-Christian. More than any other books I am currently reading, one speaks more directly to my condition, the writings of my former Abbot, Dom Thomas Keating OCSO.  His most recent work is Reflections on the Unknowable (2014) at the age of 92. His work over the last thirty years has focused on being the spiritual director of Contemplative Outreach and as director of The Snowmass Institute for InterfaithDialogue.

A link to a teaching experience of Contemplative prayer can be found here.

In his Reflections, Father Keating writes: "Religion needs to make sure that it is leading and teaching people to go in this direction(i.e., towards contemplative prayer). Otherwise it is not really meeting its purpose and getting too involved with externals, rituals or structures. They are important, but only up to a point; they are not ends in themselves. God can work independently of religion (!). He has many ways of bringing people to Himself. Some people have been so damaged by religious malformation that they can no longer go by that path.(p.58)

That this applies to all religions in diverse ways is apparent to all of us honest enough to admit it. Religion is best used as a medium for God's message and not an obstacle to this "good news'.