From Long Island Catholic:
Zen brings Eastern discipline
to Christian meditation
By Mary Gorry
Manhasset — The room is dark and quiet and the scent of incense hangs in the air. Inside, people are praying. The lighted candle signifies that this is a place of meditation. It feels like a chapel, but it is the zendo at St. Ignatius Retreat House here, one of the places around the diocese where Catholics are coming to practice Zen meditation as a way to enhance their prayer lives.
Zen is the practice of stilling the mind through deep concentration on breathing. The emphasis on the importance of proper breathing in Zen is meant to eliminate every thought but one, focusing only on the breath. Buddhist monks began the practice of Zen more than 1,000 years ago, believing that the best way to reach a state of enlightenment was through meditation.
Vox: So "enlightenment" is the goal now, I take it. Interesting.
Many people are under the initial impression that Zen is a religion. That was the concern of Cathy Wade’s daughter when Ms. Wade, a parishioner of St. Aidan’s Church, Williston Park, expressed interest in learning about Zen.
“That would be like saying the Benedictine way of prayer is a religion,” said Jesuit Father Joseph Costantino, executive director of St. Ignatius Retreat House. “Zen is a discipline adapted from Buddhism. The Buddhists do it the most, but you don’t have to be a Buddhist to do it. You could sit Zen as a Buddhist, you could sit Zen as a Christian, you could sit Zen as a Jew. In fact, I know a Jewish roshi.” A roshi is a Zen master or teacher.
Zen “is a discipline,” explained Father Costantino. “It’s a prayer practice, a centering prayer. It’s beautiful. It clears the mind. It gives you the framework, the discipline to meditate.”
“It’s an Eastern form of meditation, but it’s been adapted to Christianity,” said Ms. Wade, adding that meditation is not new to Christian prayer. “The rosary can be meditation.”
“Zen is a practical form of Buddhism,” noted Jesuit Father Robert Kennedy, head of the Inisfada Interfaith Zen Center at St. Ignatius and a roshi. “It is an effort at insight, to see more deeply into life. It’s a gentle invitation to sanity.”
At St. Ignatius, there are many opportunities for Catholics to learn about and practice Zen, with several overnight retreats throughout the year and four sessions every week, one session of which is specifically set aside for beginners. The Zen retreats are usually “filled to capacity,”
noted Father Costantino.
Ms. Wade attended her first session for beginners at St. Ignatius last week. “I’ve been interested in (Zen) for a long time,” she noted. “I want to bring peace to my life.”
Try Jesus, dear.
A typical Zen session at St. Ignatius consists of three 25-minute zazen, or sitting meditation periods, interspersed with two five-minute walking meditations. During the session, people are encouraged to meet individually with the roshi to ask questions about Zen, about the roshi, and about themselves.
Father Costantino noted that in a modern world where everyone is so busy and everything is so noisy, Zen meditation is one way of slowing down and focusing on God, no matter what a person’s faith. It also provides an alternative to memorized prayer, he added.
At St. Ignatius, Zen has a bonus benefit in making people aware of the traditions of other faiths, said Father Costantino. People of many religions, or no religious affiliation, come together to practice Zen. “Zen is very much interfaith.”
For Father Kennedy, that is the most important part of practicing Zen as a Catholic. “We are no longer condemning other faiths,” he noted. “We try to see the good in other faiths. Interfaith dialogue should be a part of Catholic life. These people (of other religions) are our brothers and sisters.”
All the other faiths are true now, are they, Father? Or is it that none are true, or all are both true and false? Or that "true" and "false" are ridiculous Western categories that don't reflect anything seen in the englightened mind? If so, why are you talking to us about the goodness of Zen? Does the sound of one hand clapping even remotely resemble the sound of one nail being hammered through a hand?