Christian Contemplation and Zen
Enlightenment: Are They the Same?

  The number of Christian students who have completed koan training under the direction of the late Zen master Koun Yamada is an indication of a deepening of the Christian-Buddhist dialogue from the perspective of practice. David Loy, himself a student of Yamada Roshi, addressed a questionnaire to his fellow students, and discovered "the most interesting result... was a division among Christian Zen teachers... between those who want to maintain a strong distinction between Zen practice and Christian practice, and those who see them at aiming at the same thing and therefore to be eventually united - which seems to mean using mostly Zen practice with Christian terminology." (Buddhist-Christian Studies, 1989, p. 53, note 2)

Yamada Roshi, for his part, addressed the following questions to his Christian Zen students: "First, why did you not just continue doing meditational practices following your own Christian tradition instead of coming to Zen? Was there something lacking in Christianity that led you to seek something in Zen, or did you have some dissatisfaction with Christianity that led you to Zen?" And also a question to Christians who have had the Zen experience through the Mu koan: "How would you express this experience in your own Christian terms?" (Habito, R., Total Liberation, p. 87)

Both David Loy's survey and Yamada Roshi's questions appear to me to point to the deeper underlying question about the relationship between Zen enlightenment and Christian contemplation. Are they the same? What do you think?

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Response from Dan:

Part of the problem is that Catholics don't realize that we have our own traditions that lead to Union with God. That is also the big difference between Zen and Catholicism. Our goal is Union with God thru Love.


I think that contact with Zen opens up new vistas, teaching me that there are possibilities in Christianity I never dreamed of. The practice of Zen has deepened and broadened my Christian faith. The contemplative ideal in Buddhism is reminiscent of the exquisite words in which John of the Cross describes contemplative experience:

Silent music, sounding solitude,
The supper that recreates and enkindles love.

How does Christ fit into this void, this emptiness, this darkness that transcend thought? If we go to Christ through Zen, we will find him in a different way from the person who goes to Him through Aristotle. In the face of Christ are myriads of contours yet to be explored. It is the hour of the East to explore all this beauty and find out what the West has missed. Words, to use a traditional Buddhist simile, are like a finger pointing to the moon. Cling to the finger and you'll never see the moon. Words, even
the words of Scripture, are fingers that point to something else. Words and concepts and images of Christ are not Christ. Zen meditation and mindfulness opens to us the possibility that Christ can be known without ideas, that he can be known in the emptiness that transcends thought.

I am hoping to find a Christian Zen Center near my home. Do you know of any Christian Zen Meditation hall in the Maryland area?
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts. Mimigrand3 @


Response from Jim Edwards

I have been reading some of your discussions & dialogues about Zen & Christianity. These are the very items that facinate me. I am a practicing Christian raised in the Presbyterian tradition, going off into disbelief & confusion, and finally coming to Christ during the Charismatic movements of the 1970s.

I've always been intrigued by Zen thought & meditation, and now practice daily. Many of my Christian friends think Zen is opposed to the Gospel, and while I don't spend alot of time arguing with them about it, it is a concern. Basically, I separate the practice of zazen & the martial arts I practice, from the doctrines of the Buddhist religion, in which I have absolutely no interest. However, Zen practice has enormous benefit to me personally.

I'm looking for a teaching/retreat center somewhere in the South (I live in North Carolina) where I can get some instruction in my practice with people of like mind. Your Zen-Christian Dialogue is exactly the sphere I am moving in and want to develop. At the heart of it, Who dwells in the 'Isness'? At the source of it, where thought ends & begins, where breath, heartbeat, light, space melt away into being, Who do we find? His Name is Jesus, looking back at us, drawing us on, perfecting us to be delivered into His Presence. Thank you sincerely for any help you can offer. Jim Edwards

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