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"Christian Zen"

An eastern religious practice on a more popular level is offered in the book of an Irish Catholic priest: William Johnston, Christian Zen. The author starts from basically the same place as the author of Christian Yoga: a feeling of dissatisfaction with Western Christianity, a desire to give it a dimension of contemplation or meditation. "Many people, discontented with old forms of prayer, discontented with the old devotions that once served so well, are looking for something that will satisfy the aspirations of the modern heart." "Contact with Zen... has opened up new vistas, teaching me that there are possibilities in Christianity I never dreamed of." One may "practice Zen as a way of deepening and broadening his Christian faith."

The technique of Japanese Zen is very similar to that of Indian Yoga from which it is ultimately derived although it is rather simpler. There is the same basic posture (but not the variety of postures of Yoga), breathing technique, the repetition of a sacred name if desired, as well as other techniques peculiar to Zen. The aim of these techniques is the same as that of Yoga: to abolish rational thinking and attain a state of calm, silent meditation. The sitting position "impedes discursive reasoning and thinking" and enables one to go "down to the center of one's being in imageless and silent contemplation" to "a deep and beautiful realm of psychic life," to "deep interior silence." The experience thus attained is somewhat similar to that achieved by taking drugs, for "people who have used drugs understand a little about Zen, since they have been awakened to the realization that there is a depth in the mind worth exploring." And yet this experience opens up via new approach to Christ, an approach that is less dualistic and more Oriental." Even absolute beginners in Zen can attain "a sense of union and an atmosphere of supernatural presence," a savoring of "mystical silence"; through Zen, the state of contemplation hitherto restricted to a few "mystics" can be "broadened out," and "all may have vision, all may reach samadhi" (enlightenment).

The author of Christian Zen speaks of the renewal of Christianity; but he admits that the experience he thinks can bring it about may be had by anyone, Christian or non-Christian. "I believe that there is a basic enlightenment which is neither Christian nor Buddhist nor anything else. It is just human." Indeed, at a convention on meditation at a Zen temple near Kyoto "the surprising thing about the meeting was lack of any common faith. No one seemed the slightest bit interested in what anyone else believed or disbelieved, and no one, as far as I recall, even mentioned the name of God." This agnostic character of meditation has a great advantage for "missionary" purposes, for "in this way meditation can be taught to people who have little faith to those who are troubled in conscience or fear that God is dead. Such people can always sit and breathe. For them meditation becomes a search, and I have found... that people who begin to search in this way eventually find God. Not the anthropomorphic God they have rejected, but the great being in whom we live, move, and are."

The author's description of the Zen "enlightenment" experience reveals its basic identity with the "cosmic" experience provided by shamanism and many pagan religions. "I myself believe that within us are locked up torrents and torrents of joy that can be released by meditation sometimes they will burst through with incredible force, flooding the personality with an extraordinary happiness that comes from one knows not where." Interestingly, the author, on returning to America after twenty years in Japan, found this experience to be very close to the Pentecostal experience, and he himself received the "Baptism of the Spirit" at a "charismatic" meeting. The author concluded: "Returning to the Pentecostal meeting, it seems to me that the imposition of hands, the prayers of the people, the charity of the community these can be forces that release the psychic power that brings enlightenment to the person who has been consistently practicing zazeen." We shall examine in the seventh chapter of this book the nature of the Pentecostal or "charismatic" experience.

Little need be said in criticism of these views; they are basically the same as those of the author of Christian Yoga, only less esoteric and more popular. Anyone who believes that the agnostic, pagan experience of Zen can be used for a "contemplative renewal within Christianity" surely knows nothing whatever of the great contemplative tradition of Orthodoxy, which presupposes burning faith, true belief, and intense ascetic struggle; and yet the same author does not hesitate to drag the Philokalia and the "great Orthodox schools" into his narrative, stating that they also lead to the condition of "contemplative silence and peace" and are an example of "Zen within the Christian tradition" ; and he advocates the use of the Prayer of Jesus during Zen meditation for those who wish this. Such ignorance is positively dangerous, especially when the possessor of it invites the students at his lectures, as an experiment in "mysticism," to "sit in zazen for forty minutes each evening." How many sincere, misguided false prophets there are in the world today, each thinking he is bringing benefit to his fellow men, instead of an invitation to psychic and spiritual disaster! Of this we shall speak more in the conclusion below.

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