One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same any place in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear. — Dave Brubeck


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Beginnings of a Christian-Zen Bibliography


Abe, Masao, "Emptiness Is Suchness" in The Buddha Eye, edited by Frederick Franck. 
NY: Crossroad, 1982
Abe, Masao, Zen and Western Thought. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1985
Abe, Masao, "John Cobb's Beyond Dialogue" in The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Spring 1985
Aquinas, St. Thomas, On Being and Essence. Toronto, Canada, The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1949
Boyle, Leonard E., "A Remembrance of Pope Leo XIII: The Encyclical Aeterni Patris" in One Hundred Years of Thomism. Houston: TX: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1981
Carlo, William E., The Ultimate Reducibility of Essence to Existence in Existential Metaphysics. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1966
Clarke, W. Norris, "What Cannot Be Said in St. Thomas' Essence-Existence Doctrine" in The New Scholasticism. Baltimore: American Catholic Philosophical Association, 1974
Cook, Francis H., "The Second Buddhist Christian Theological Encounter: A Report" in The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. XIX, No. 1, Spring 1986
de Finance, Joseph, Etre et Agir. Paris, Beauchesne et ses fils, éditeurs, 1945
de Mello, Anthony, Sadhana: A Way to God. St. Louis, MO: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1978
Dumoulin, Heinrich, Christianity Meets Buddhism. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1974
Eusden, John Dykstra, Zen and Christian: The Journey Between. NY: Crossroad, 1981
Fabro, Cornelio, La Nozione Metafisica, di Partecipazione. Torino: Società editrice internationale, 1950
Fields, Rick, How the Swans Came to the Lake. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1981
Gardeil, le Pilre A., La structure de l'ame et L'expérience Mystique. Paris: Librairie Victor Lecoffre, 1927
Gardet, Louis and Olivier Lacombe, L'expérience du soi. Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1981
Gardet, Louis, Etudes de philosophie et de Mystique comparées. Paris: Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1972
Gilkey, Langdon, "Abe Masao's Zen and Western Thought" in The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. XIX, No. 2, Autumn 1986
Gilson, Etienne, Being and Some Philosophers. Toronto, Canada: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1949
Gilson, Etienne, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages. NY: Random House, 1955
Graham, Dom Aelred, Zen Catholicism. HBJ, 1963
Habito, Ruben L.F., Living Zen, Loving God. Wisdom Publications, 2004
Heisig, James, "East-West Dialogue: Sunyata and Kenosis" in Spirituality Today, Vol. 39, No. 2, Summer 1987 and Vol. 39, No. 3, Autumn 1987
Huang Po, The Zen Teaching of Huang Po. NY: Grove Press, Inc., 1958
Izutsu, Toshihiko, Toward a Philosophy of Zen Buddhism. Boulder, CO: Prajfla Press, 1982
John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel. Translated and edited by E. Allison Peers. Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1958
Johnson, William, Christian Zen: A Way of Meditation. NY: Harper Row, 1981
Johnson, William, The Still Point, Reflections on Zen and Christian Mysticism. NY:Fordham University Press, 1970
Kadowaki, J.K., Zen and the Bible. NY: Routledge & Kegan, 1980
Kadowaki, Kakichi, "Ways of Knowing: A Buddhist-Thomist Dialogue" in International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. VI, No. 4, Dec. 1966.
Kalinowski, Jerzy and Stefan Swiezawski, La philosophie à l'heure du Concile. Paris: Société d'Editions Internationales, 1965
Kishi, Rev. Augustin Hideshi, Spiritual Consciousness in Zen from a Thomistic Theological Point of View. Nishinomiya-shi, Japan: Catholic Bishop's House of Osaka, 1966
Lassalle, H.M. Enomiya, Zen Meditation for Christians. LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1974
Maritain, Jacques, "Lettre sur la philosophie a l'heure du concile" in Approches Sans Entraves. Paris: Fayard, 1973
Maritain, Jacques, A Preface to Metaphysics. NY: Mentor Omega Books, 1962
Maritain, Jacques, Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism. NY: New York Philosophical Library, 1955
Maritain, Jacques, Existence and the Existent. Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1948
Maritain, Jacques, Moral Philosophy. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964
Maritain, Jacques, Notebooks. Albany, NY: Magi Books, Inc., 1984
Maritain, Jacques, The Degrees of Knowledge. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959
Maritain, Jacques, The Peasant of the Garonne. NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968
Merton, Thomas, Zen and the Birds of Appetite. NDP, 1968
Nishitani, Keiji, Religion and Nothingness. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982
O'Hanlon, Daniel, "Zen and the Spiritual Exercises: A Dialogue Between Faiths" in Theological Studies, Vol. 39, No. 4, Dec. 1978.
Sekida, Katsuki, Zen Training. NY: Weatherhill, 1977
Senko, W., "Un traité inconnu 'De esse et essentia'" in Archives d'histoire doctrinale et litteraire du moyen âge, 27. Paris: Libraire Philosophique J. Vrin, 1961
Shizuteru, Ueda, ""Nothingness" in Meister Eckhart and Zen Buddhism" in The Buddha Eye, edited by Frederick Franck. NY: Crossroad, 1982
Spae, Joseph J., Buddhist-Christian Empathy. Chicago: The Chicago Institute of Theology and Culture, 1980
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, "Self the Unattainable" in The Buddha Eye, edited by Frederick Franck. NY: Crossroad, 1982
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, "The Buddhist Conception of Reality" in The Buddha Eye, edited by Frederick Franck. NY: Crossroad, 1982
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, "What Is the "I"?" in The Buddha Eye, edited by Frederick Franck. NY: Crossroad, 1982
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. London: Arrow Books Ltd, 1959
Waidenfels, Hans, Absolute Nothingness. Nanzan Studies in Religion and Culture, 1980
Yamaguchi, Minoru, The Intuition of Zen and Bergson. Herder Agency. Enderle Bookstore, 1969

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

"Finding God in All Things"

January 20th, 2012


Bonnie Johnson Shurman
Jan. 20, 1944-June 2, 2011


Bonnie Johnson would have been 68 today. I am among the many people who loved her and miss her kind and warm presence. She was an extremely generous woman and expressed her love as wife and mother,  daughter, grandmother and friend, in a way you could count on. 


More than a decade ago, when she was first diagnosed with leukemia, her husband Daniel Shurman told me that she was interested in doing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and asked if I could suggest a book that she could use. She did the Exercises and I was blessed to be her guide. But it was her enormous spiritual gift that allowed her truly embody the Teaching of Jesus, and then to share it with others, just as the Lord asks us.


During the years that her cancer remained in remission, she continued to explore the path that her Lord, through Ignatius, opened. She continued to live her life in prayer, exploring and digging further, following her own inspiration and gifts. This mystical bent was always balanced by the consummate professional, a scholar with common sense. 


She found a link between Ignatius and Julian of Norwich via an informal association of seekers who called themselves “the Friends of God.” She wrote about Julian, Ignatius and the Friends of God when she was studying at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is dated March 8, 2005. 


Thank you, Daniel for being the kind of husband who inspires, and for introducing me to Bonnie, To thank Bonnie for the gift of friendship, I am going to post the paper, “Finding God in All Things,” here.


We miss you, Bonnie. and your gentle presence. We are enormously grateful for the gifts you gave us. May you sing with the angels.

I have given this paper the same title as William Barry’s book: Finding God In All Things, A Companion To The Spiritual Exercises Of St. Ignatius (Barry 1991). I was reading the book when Julian of Norwich was assigned in class. The similarities between Julian’s writings and Ignatius’s were striking to me. Both Julian and Ignatius write of multiple sensory experiences with God occasioned by life-threatening illness. Before I understood that Julian was born 150 years before Ignatius, I considered that her visions, like mine[1], might have been delirious manifestations engendered by Ignatian-style guided meditations. When I realized that she lived long before Ignatius, I abandoned the paper I was writing on the general topic of asceticism to delve deeper into parallels, coincidences, and possible connections between these two late medieval mystics.


The theological proposition of this paper is that the writings of Julian in circa 1400 and the writings of Ignatius circa 1525 are representative of a distinct spirituality: God as Friend. God as Friend is a paradigm shift from the dominant spirituality from the 4th century: Deity of Christ; it is distinct though related to two paradigms which were soon to emerge in the reformation: Salvation by Faith Alone and Incarnational Participation. At the end of this paper I will argue that the paradigm of God as Friend is finding new relevance in our time, hence bringing a renewed interest in both Julian and Ignatius.


In my search for a “social network” connecting Julian and Ignatius, I learned about an informal group called “Friends of God” from one of the many websites devoted to Julian. The name for this “association of pious persons, both ecclesiastical and lay [also men and women], alludes no doubt to John 15:14-15[2] … Friends of God appears to have had its origin in Basle between the years 1339 and 1343, and to have thence extended down the Rhine even as far as the Netherlands” (Walsh 1909). I am skeptical that Julian herself had any direct connection with the informal network of German mystics, but there is indirect evidence at least that many of them had access to her writing. One version of Julian’s Short Text (the so-called “Amherst Manuscript”) also contains writings of Friends’ mystics Marguerite Poerete, Henry Suso, and Jan van Ruusbroec (Holloway 1997). The manuscript had been in the Brigittine Syon Abbey; it was owned by the Lowe family and through them found its way to the Low Countries and Rouen (Holloway 1996). While there is no direct evidence of who might have read it and when, there is enough indirect evidence to conclude that Julian’s ideas were circulating among German mystics following her death circa 1425. The German mystics influenced Ignatius through the Carhusian and former Dominican monk, Ludolf of Saxony (Gieraths 1986). Ignatius is known to have read and re-read a four volume Spanish translation of Ludolf’s Life of Christ and to have been profoundly influenced, even converted, by what he read there (Ignatius 2000, p. xiv; Loyola 2000, p. xiv).


The references to Julian’s writing in this paper come from a “Long Text” version translated from the manuscript found in the British Museum. As I read Revelations of Divine Love (Julian 2002), I noted about sixty passages expressing ideas similar to those found the Spiritual Exercises, far too many passages to discuss here.[3] I am concentrating on five concepts that point parallel notions of God as friend; in particular, I am limiting myself to the best examples that reveal similarities in their views of how people carry on friendship with God various media/modes. I use quotations from the work of each to document my argument that friendship with God is created and maintained through intimate communications which take at least five different forms: imagery, senses, colloquy, consolation/ desolation, and prayer. In the conclusion of the paper, I also point similarities in how they describe the nature of this friendship in their discussions of sin, love, goodness, choice, and the indwelling of God in our nature.


Communication is the sine qua non of any friendship. To have a concept of friendship with God, therefore requires that there be some form of media which constitutes that communication. For both Julian and Ignatius, imagery is the most important media and the Passion is the most important topic of that imagery. In examining Julian and Ignatius’s imagery of Jesus’ Passion, such in the illustrative passages below, it is easy to dismiss their perspective on friendship. After all “Body of Christ” imagery was a common theme of medieval piety yet friendship with God was not. I have little knowledge of other writers in the “Body of Christ” genre, so I cannot say that the friendship imagery of Julian and Ignatius is unique. What I observe in their imagery, however, is its intimacy. Both show intimacy with Jesus’ body; this use of imagery signals closeness, friendship.


… All the precious blood was bled out of the sweet body that might pass therefore, yet there dwelled a moisture in the sweet flesh of Christ as it was shewed (Julian 2002, p.). 


… Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus hear me. Within Thy wounds hid me (Ignatius 2000, p. xlv).


Simply imagining another in a prayerful way can also create a close relationship with the one imagined with the need for conversation as we typically understand that term. A few months ago my husband and I were contacted by a friend to provide direction to on-line medical information for a friend of his with a rare bone marrow disease. We started to email with both Jim and his wife about Jim’s illness and potential resources in Palo Alto. Mostly we prayed intensely for Jim and also for his wife; we never spoke with them even by phone. When Jim died unexpectedly from a heart attack, both Daniel and I were devastated; we still cry at the thought of Jim. We had lost a dear friend, one whom we knew only through imagery, email, and prayer. It was a dramatic Julian-Ignatian lesson for me: I felt so close to this person and that closeness was entirely the product of my imagining his circumstances and my daily prayers for him. Knowing Jim in this way helped me to experience God in a fresh way; I learned how I can know God without human encounters just as I had known Jim without these encounters.


Imagery in Julian and Ignatius is not only visual, it is also multi-sensory.


I HAD, in part, touching, sight, and feeling in three properties of God, in which the strength and effect of all the Revelation standeth (Julian 2002, p. 197). And then shall we, with His sweet grace, in our own meek continuant prayer come unto Him now in this life by many privy touchings of sweet spiritual sights and feeling, measured to us as our simpleness may bear it (Julian 2002, p. 90). 


The Fifth contemplation will consist in applying the five senses to the matter. … seeing in imagination the persons, in contemplating and mediating in detail the circumstances in which they are… hear what they are saying… smell the infinite fragrance and taste the infinite sweetness of the divinity … touch, for example by embracing and kissing the place where the persons stand (Ignatius 2000, p. 45).


Communicating with one’s Godfriend goes beyond merely experiencing God through ones imagination and senses; both Julian and Ignatius converse directly with God. Throughout the Julian text, she is posing questions to God, and God is answering her, for example: “AND thus our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts that I might make, saying full comfortably: I may make all thing well, I can make all thing well, I will make all thing well…”(Julian 2002, p. 61); the result of this is conversational. Ignatius uses the term “colloquy” to refer to conversations with God (and also with Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Spirit on occasions): “The colloquy is made by speaking exactly as one friend speaks to another” (Ignatius 2000, p. 24). These two examples exemplify a pattern of “shewing” vs “exercise” that I find over and over as a distinction between these two books: Julian shows her communication with God; Ignatius instructs the maker of the exercises to perform these same kinds of communications. Thus, “revelation” in Julian becomes “exercise” in Ignatius.


God has special kinds of communication with Julian that I would call, following Ignatius, “consolations” and “desolations.” In Ignatian spirituality, consolidations and desolations are the movements of the spirit—“internal movements” by which we can discern God’s will in our lives. Those making the exercises are taught how to listen or feel for these movements and thereby to guide their lives in accord with God’s will. Again, we see that Julian experiences these interior movements but makes no methodical use of them. Ignatius’s biography describes how he initially experienced them much as Julian did and then learned to put them to use in his own communications with God.


AND after this He shewed a sovereign ghostly pleasance in my soul. I was fulfilled with the everlasting sureness, mightily sustained without any painful dread. This feeling was so glad and so ghostly that I was in all peace and in rest, that there was nothing in earth that should have grieved me. …This lasted but a while, and I was turned and left to myself in heaviness, and weariness of my life that scarcely I could have patience to live. This Vision was shewed me, according to mine understanding, sometime to be in comfort, and sometime to fail and to be left to themselves. God willeth that we know that He keepeth us even alike secure in woe and in weal. And for profit of man’s soul, a man is sometime left to himself (Julian 2002). 


God alone can give consolation to the soul without any previous cause. It belongs solely to the Creator to come into a soul, to leave it, to act upon it, to draw it wholly to the love of His Divine Majesty (Ignatius 2000, p. 119 section 330). ...When one is in desolation, he should be mindful that God has left him to his natural powers to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy in order to try him. For though God has taken from him the abundance of fervor and overflowing love and the intensity of His favors, nevertheless, he has sufficient grace for eternal salvation (Ignatius 2000, p. 116, section 320).


On the topic of prayer, Julian and Ignatius could not be more similar. Yet, it is not as simple to point to parallel passages as with the preceding topics. For them, prayer is not just a “doing” – not just a message we send to God, in the form of a petition, for example. Rather, prayer is a way of being in which ones very foundation, ones “ground” is God and therefore prayer is fitting ourselves to that Ground of our being. Julian puts it this way:


OUR Lord God willeth that we have true understanding, and specially in three things that belong to our prayer. The first is: by whom and how that our prayer springeth. By whom, He sheweth when He saith: I am [the] Ground; and how, by His Goodness: for He saith first: It is my will. The second is: in what manner and how we should use our prayer; and that is that our will be turned unto the will of our Lord, enjoying: and so meaneth He when He saith: I make thee to will it. The third is that we should know the fruit and the end of our prayers: that is, that we be oned and like to our Lord in all things; and to this intent and for this end was all this lovely lesson shewed. And He will help us, and we shall make it so as He saith Himself; Blessed may He be! For this is our Lord’s will, that our prayer and our trust be both alike large. For if we trust not as much as we pray, we do not full worship to our Lord in our prayer, and also we tarry and pain our self (Julian 2002).


“Grounded in God” has several implications. First, that prayer is about the will of God and our place in that will. From this the next implication, only implicit in the statement above, that God is eternally present and has already “answered” our prayers in our very existence, our salvation, and in all that we enjoy: “The first is our noble and excellent making; the second, our precious and dearworthy again-buying; the third, all-thing that He hath made beneath us, [He hath made] to serve us, and for our love keepeth it. Then signifieth He thus, as if He said: Behold and see that I have done all this before thy prayers; and now thou art, and prayest me” (Julian 2002). Julian cautions us not to go looking for this or that way that God might have answered our small petitions, but to understand that God is answering even the prayers we have not yet asked. So how then should we pray? We should pray that “our will be turned unto the will of our Lord.” The true end of our petitions is that we become like God, indeed that we are at one with God.


William Barry describes the same understanding in Ignatius in his chapter entitled, “Grounded in God: The Principle and Foundation” (Ignatius 2000, pp. 33ff.). God is up to one action; we can experience the creative action of God which is always at work (Barry 1991, p. 39); Ignatius draws out the implications of our place in God’s one action in the Principle and Foundation: “We must make ourselves indifferent to all created things… Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a short life. … Our one desire and choice should be what is conductive to the end for which we are created (Ignatius 2000, p. 12, section 23). In other words, it is about God’s will; our prayer is our participation in that will. We are engaged in the world of God’s creating and God is already answering the prayers we have not yet made.


We have seen in both of these late medieval mystics a central concern with our relationship with God and how that relationship is continuously created through various media. The relationship is one of love. While both mystics write extensively on sin, theirs is not the sin of the medieval church or of Jonathan Edwards. Indeed, Julian comes as close as one might in her day to saying that her Church is misguided in its notion of sin and salvation (Julian 2002, p. 104). Ignatius’ first week of the Exercises is devoted to examining one’s sin, but the point is not to berate or belittle the maker of the Exercises. Rather, the grace of the first week is the experience of love. “Ignatius expects that God will reveal our sins in such a way that we will actually be consoled. We are to have an increase of faith, hope, and love, be moved to tears of sorrow for our sin, but also to tears of love for a God who has been so good to us” (Barry 1991, p. 51). The heart of the message from both Julian and Ignatius is the goodness of God, the love of God, and the freedom which God gives us in the hope that we will choose to put God at the center of our lives, and participate in God’s mission.


Both mystics are saying that we must look in the world and in ourselves to find God. Their piety is finding God in all things, starting with finding ourselves IN God. “For our Soul is so deep-grounded in God, and so endlessly treasured, that we may not come to the knowing thereof till we have first knowing of God, which is the Maker, to whom it is oned” (Julian 2002, p. 133). This is such a contemporary message; it is not surprising that both mystics are being read more in our time than in any time of the past, including their own.


I have argued here that both Julian and Ignatius provide us with kataphatic paths to relationship with God as friend, one in which we are constantly called to God’s mission, but never coerced or threatened. We are called to examine our own sins, not the sins of others; we communicate with God who already God loves us and forgives us already. This is a contemporary theme. These are mystics for our time.


Notes:


1 Since this is not a “personal reflection paper,” I will not discuss further my own experiences. Suffice to say that the parallels I find in Julian’s writings to my own experiences were the motivation for my choosing this topic.


2 “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my father.”


3 References to “Pages” in Julian are to the original manuscript pages; references to Ignatius are to pages in the Vintage-Random House version with section numbers referring to Ignatius original sections.


References


Barry, W. A. (1991). Finding God In All Things A Companion To The Spiritual Exercises Of St. Ignatius. Notre Dame, IL, Ave Maria Press.


Gieraths, G. M. (1986). "Life in Abundance: Meister Eckhart and the German Dominican Mystics of the 14th Century." Spirituality Today 38 (August): Supplementary Book.


Holloway, J. B. (1996) The Westminster Cathedral/Abbey Manuscript of Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love. http://www.umilta.net/westmins.html.


Holloway, J. B. (1997) Godfriends: The Continental Medieval Mystics. http://www.umilta.net/godfrien.html.


Ignatius (2000). The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. New York, Random House.


Julian (2002). Revelations of Divine Love. Grand Rapids, MI, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.


Walsh, R. (1909). Friends of God. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Online Edition, K. Knight. 6.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Nanso no Ho practice


Nanso No Ho, or “soft-ointment meditation,” is a 'naikan' (transformation) practice originally taught by Zen master Hakuin Zenji (1689-1768)as he describes it in Yasen Kanna [translation by Norman Waddell]

"Imagine that a lump of soft butter, pure in color and fragrance and the size and shape of a duck egg, is suddenly placed on the top of your head. As it begins to slowly melt, it imparts an exquisite sensation, moistening and saturating your head within and without. It continues to ooze down, moistening your shoulders, elbows, and chest; permeating lungs, diaphragm, liver, stomach, and bowels; moving down the spine through the hips, pelvis, and buttocks. At that point, all the congestions that have accumulated within the five organs and six viscera, all the aches and pains in the abdomen and other affected parts, will follow the heart as it sinks downward into the lower body. As it does, you will distinctly hear a sound like that of water trickling from a higher to a lower place. It will move lower down through the lower body, suffusing the legs with beneficial warmth, until it reaches the soles of the feet, where it stops.

"The student should then repeat the contemplation. As his vital energy flows downward, it gradually fills the lower region of the body, suffusing it with penetrating warmth, making him feel as if he were sitting up to his navel in a hot bath filled with a decoction of rare and fragrant medicinal herbs that have been gathered and infused by a skilled physician.

"Inasmuch as all things are created by the mind, when you engage in this contemplation, the nose will actually smell the marvelous scent of pure, soft butter; your body will feel the exquisite sensation of its melting touch. Your body and mind will be in perfect peace and harmony. You will feel better and enjoy greater health than you did as a youth of twenty or thirty. At this time, all the undesirable accumulations in your vital organs and viscera will melt away. Stomach and bowels will function perfectly. Before you know it, your skin will glow with health.

"If you continue to practice the contemplation with diligence, there is no illness that cannot be cured, no virtue that cannot be acquired, no level of sage hood that cannot be reached, no religious practice that cannot be mastered. Whether such results appear swiftly or slowly depends only upon how scrupulously you apply yourself."

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Zen Bland!



Originally posted December 21, 2011, revised during the Coronavirus lockdown, March 25, 2020








In the Spring of 2011, I did a Zen retreat at a former catholic convent, the Angela Center, in Santa Rosa California. As I was unpacking my bag, I thought to myself that my “cell” was just a slightly less Spartan, more feminine version of the one where I was isolated from the outside world for two years as a Jesuit novice 45 years earlier, the same bland institutional architecture put up to accommodate the large numbers of men and women who were entering religious life after World War II. 
  
In a Jesuit house of formation, we got up at 5:30 and went to bed at 9. Now my concentration started an hour earlier and lasted an hour later, and seemed to re-stimulate both the ecstatic and painful memories of my novitiate, a period that was for me an extremely difficult initiation into religious life. I couldn’t stop a flood of memories, tastes of prayer, study, and feelings that soon included my 11 years of Jesuit indoctrination as well as the aftermath.  

I followed the schedule and brought as much of myself as I could to the practice. It was difficult.

After breakfast on the morning of the 4thday, as I was walking back to the room, my actual perception of the building suddenly shifted. I was just walking on a linoleum floor that was just a floor, the walls of lightly plastered-over cinder block were just walls. Nothing more. No sounds but the sound of my feet, no visions but what I saw through my eyes—just pictures on a wall, just a door, just a room, just a grey carpeted floor with black cushions. It was not a dramatic, flashing-bright-lights insight, no angels descended from heaven with all the answers that I was hungry for, or had told myself that I really sought. Rather bland for a mystical experience.

But then I began to notice something very powerful open up inside me—every burden that I had been carrying since my Jesuit training was gone. It was extinguished, not conceptually but actually. My past life as a Jesuit was gone, completely gone. Not that it didn’t happen, not that it had no effect on me, but I understood in a non-intellectual way that anything I carry into the present moment was for me to carry. It doesn’t drag itself along. Actually there’s nothing there. It’s not real.

Suddenly in that moment of bland Zen, I was totally and irrevocably free—no one, no thing, no outside authority, no god, no doctrine, no experience could ever enslave me.

Three cheers for bland Zen!


The light rain
clears momentarily.

Cold.

A bird's three bare notes—
infinite variations
flood over me.

Red Camilla blossoms
fall
upside down.


*The title of this reflection comes from a piece my friend Laurence Platt wrote, “Zen Bland,” which was not at all bland but very juicy. He argues that simple and unembellished language is the only authentic way to describe deeply moving, transformative experiences—living life here and now, speaking about it simply, not altering our experience trying to make it into something else! 


Dedicated to Chris Wilson, head of practice at Spring sesshin, a generous, guiding spirit and friend.



The Beginnings of a Christian-Zen Bibliography

Abe, Masao, "Emptiness Is Suchness" in The Buddha Eye, edited by Frederick Franck.  NY: Crossroad, 1982 Abe, Masao, Zen ...