catholicism

For Lexington author’s life Buddhism connects many points

Marc Fillipino, Wicked Local Lexington: When Meikle Paschal began writing down the experiences of his life, he did not know there would be a transcendental common theme connecting the events. After a closer examination, he realized his life had been threaded together through Buddhism.

In Paschal’s new book, “Black Buddhist,” he examines how his transformation from Catholicism to Buddhism shaped his life. On Thursday, May 30, the Lexington resident will discuss hismost recent book at Cary Memorial Library, 1874 Massachusetts Ave. at 7 p.m.

Paschal spoke to The Minuteman about his experiences as an author and as a Buddhist.

How did you find that you…

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Meditation experiences in Buddhism and Catholicism

Susan Stabile, OUP Blog: Becoming a Tibetan Buddhist nun is not a typical life choice for a child of an Italian Catholic police officer from Brooklyn, New York. Nevertheless, in February of 1988 I knelt in front of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, as he cut a few locks of my hair (the rest had already been shaved), symbolizing my renunciation of lay life.

I lived in the vows of a Buddhist nun for a year, in the course of spending two years living in Buddhist monasteries in Nepal and India. Including my years of lay practice, I spent twenty years of my …

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British priest bans ‘spiritual’ yoga from church hall

USA Today: A British priest has banned yoga from the parish hall because it is “a Hindu spiritual exercise” and therefore “not compatible” with Catholicism, according to news reports from the kingdom.

Cori Withell told The Mirror that with just 10 days remaining in the two-month instruction, St. Edmund’s Church in Southampton canceled her yoga and Pilates classes. She said a parish secretary explained that the hall must be used only for Catholic activities.

The decision to ban yoga or other non-Catholic activities rests with individual priests and is not official Catholic Church policy, the diocese said.

St. Edmund’s priest, Father John Chandler, and …

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Christian meditation for children

From the Independent Catholic News.

There is much noise and little silence in our children’s world today. Yet children have a natural capacity for meditation and research shows that teaching them to sit in stillness and silence encourages creativity and calms their behaviour. With benefits like this, why are we not teaching the spiritual practice and recognised life-skill of meditation in our schools, promoting balance and growth of the whole child?

A Seminar on Tuesday, 7 December from 9am – 5.30pm Regents College, in Regents Park, London, will discuss the impact of meditation programmes now being taught in schools and look at how this practice can become more widely available.

Dr Cathy Day and Ernie Christie, Directors of Catholic Education in Townsville, Australia will lead the seminar. They have created and implemented the world’s first Christian Meditation programme for all 30 Catholic schools in their diocese. Meditation is part of the curriculum and the daily life of teachers and 12,000 children in their schools.

Jonathan Campion, a British consultant psychiatrist has evaluated a schools meditation programme and will speak about its psychological impact and benefits.

Fr Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk and Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation will describe meditation as part of the prayer tradition and set it in the context of our pluralist world.

Further workshops are being held in Kerry (8 December), Belfast (10 December), Milton Keynes (13 December), Brentwood (14 December) and Birmingham (15 December).

For more information see: www.wccm.org.

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Students learn about healing programs for inmates

Inside Toronto: Prison inmates can find hope and healing through meditation and yoga, students at a local high school found out this week, in a presentation on the work of Sister Elaine MacInnes and her charity, Freeing the Human Spirit.

“Every day, 36,000 Canadians wake up in prison cells,” Cheryl Vanderburg, Freeing the Human Spirit’s program co-ordinator, told her teenage audience at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School, Wednesday morning, Nov. 10.

“More than half the people in prison are victims of child abuse. The majority have unstable job history. Every day, I go into prisons and I see kids like yourselves. They’ve done something stupid and gotten caught.”

Vanderburg was a guest speaker during the high school’s annual Peace and Justice Week.

For the majority of prisoners, they want to change. They’ve come from difficult circumstances, said Vanderburg, a yoga instructor.

“We carry a lot of stress in our bodies. Our aim is to help prisoners release some of that stress.”

Freeing the Human Spirit is a charity founded in 2004 by MacInnes, a Zen master and Roman Catholic nun. It works in 22 prisons across Canada and receives letters of thanks from inmates regularly.

“Once your spirit is free, you can make better choices and get on with your life,” wrote one in a letter that Vanderburg read to students.

MacInnes was scheduled to visit the school on Wednesday morning, but the 86-year old Toronto resident came down with the flu. Instead, students learned about MacInnes’ quest to bring inner peace to prisoners by teaching them yoga and meditation through the 2005 documentary, The Fires That Burn: The Life and Work of Sister Elaine MacInnes.

Born into a musical family in Moncton, New Brunswick, MacInnes joined Our Lady’s Missionaries in 1953 after moving to New York to study violin at Julliard.

MacInness found herself in Japan on her first missionary assignment where she climbed Mount Hiei, met a monk and went on to join an order of Rinzai Buddhist nuns at Enkoji in Kyoto, a place she called home for eight years. There, she practiced “zazen,” sitting meditation.

In 1976, through her work opening a Zen centre for the Catholic Church in Manila, MacInnes began teaching meditation to political prisoners, including Horacio “Boy” Morales, an esteemed rebel at the helm of the New People’s Army against dictatorship.

It was this work that attracted the attention of the Prison Phoenix Trust, a charitable organization in Oxford, England that teaches yoga and meditation to inmates. In 1993, she became its executive director, helping prisoners come to terms with their tremendous stress.

Her work overseas earned her the Order of Canada in 2001. Three years later, upon her return to Canada, she founded Freeing the Human Spirit.

The third day of the Peace and Justice week programming kicked off with the Freeing the Human Spirit presentation in the auditorium, followed by a talk by representatives from the White Ribbon Campaign, the world’s largest effort by men working to end violence against women.

This year’s focus of the 21-year old initiative was healthy relationships, said school Chaplain and Religion Teacher Elaine Orsini.

Representatives from METRAC, which works to prevent and eliminate violence against diverse women, youth and children, were on hand to lead an interactive discussion about relationships with Grade 9 and 11 students on Monday, Nov. 8. The week also included a visit from Free the Children and a showing of Social Justice documentaries.

“The purpose is to make students aware of the need for peace and justice,” said Orsini of the program, spearheaded by the school’s religion department and sponsored by the student council, “to bring people in to motivate students to become more aware so they can move into action.”

Peace, says Orsini, “has to begin within our own hearts, our homes and our own schools – that’s always been my message.”

Link to an archive of the original article…

See also our review of Sister Elaine MacInnes’s book, The Flowing Bridge.

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600 years of solitude, by Michael Chaskalson (Kulananda)

On the Irish isle of Skellig Michael, Celtic Monks once pursued a tough life of meditation. Kulananda (Michael Chaskalson) feels a connection across the centuries with these vanished contemplatives, and senses a continuity between his own efforts and theirs.

I am traveling about the Kerry coast with the team that runs the Dublin Meditation Center. As the Center’s president, I visit from time to time, helping out where I can. We are getting to know one another better, getting to know Ireland together, adventuring around its glorious coastline on a kind of pilgrimage.

One evening we set out in search of a place to hold an impromptu meeting: three members of the Western Buddhist Order meeting to discuss our practice and our work. We find a quiet cove and start along a “mass path” to an old “mass rock,” where outdoor mass was said in the absence of a church during the time of the Penal Laws that suppressed Catholic church services.

Thirteen monks, living a life of prayer and contemplation in their tiny, round, rock-built huts 600 sheer feet above the rolling north Atlantic.

It is a golden evening, the sun setting softly pink into the still ocean as we scramble over rocks and through purple rhododendron glades. Rounding a corner, the two Skellig islands suddenly appear before us, like huge Gothic cathedrals, floating in yellow light upon a gilded sea, an eruption from another dimension.

Some time in the sixth century a small band of monks headed out into the Atlantic Ocean off the south-west coast of Ireland in a hide-covered coracle. Their destination was a peaked rocky outcrop, seven miles out to sea. Battered by the deep Atlantic waves, somehow they negotiated a landing against the island’s steep face of crumbling sandstone. They had come to stay here, a day’s perilous journey from the mainland, on a barren, storm-battered rock at the edge of civilization on the western-most tip of Europe. On their horizon the sun set over the very end of the world.

Thirteen monks, living a life of prayer and contemplation in their tiny, round, rock-built huts 600 sheer feet above the rolling north Atlantic. Unbelievably, a small community flourished on that rock for six centuries. They fished, kept a tiny garden and maybe an animal or two. On the southern pinnacle, above a chimney of rock, a solitary hermit once passed his days in complete isolation.

…when most of western Europe was plunged into darkness and illiteracy, the Irish Celtic monks preserved classical learning…

Skeilic means “rock” in Irish. and there are two Skellig Islands. Little Skellig is an uninhabited haven of seabirds; a mile and a half away is Skellig Michael, dedicated, like so many high places, to the archangel of that name. It is barren pinnacle of rock, less than half a mile long and nowhere more than 500 feet wide. It rises steeply to a peak 700 feet above the ocean.

Six centuries. Despite, cruel winter weather, despite the scarcity of food and fuel, for 600 years a monastic community clung to that rock. And ever since has been a place of pilgrimage, a place of awe.

A romantic picture perhaps, but here in the west of Ireland the mind turns naturally to romance — it’s in the air, in the radiance of the light, the greenness of the land. Awestruck, we stand and quietly stare, new Buddhists on an old mass of rock, bringing a new religion to a country where an old one was once so hampered; gazing at an illuminated haven of timeless contemplation.

The next day dawns gray and wet, and there is only just time to buy ourselves green plastic rain capes before heading off to join our boat. “You’ll not be needing those today, boys,” says the boatman, seemingly oblivious to the squalling rain. But as we approach the islands the sky clears, the wind drops, and we circle Little Skellig on a clear, calm sea.

Little Skellig is home to one of the world’s largest colonies of gannets. They jostle for space and fleck the rocks white. There soar flocks of razor bills, guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes: a multitude of seabirds. Seals bask in small inlets, and there I caught my first sight of a puffin: a childhood wish at last fulfilled.

The smallness of the buildings is accentuated by the vastness of the space all around. Man, on this rock, is but a little thing.

Landing on Skellig Michael, we climb an ancient rock-cut stairway. A thin layer of soil clings to gray, lichenous rock. Sea campion, plantago, scurvy grass: a few plant species scrabble out a desperate living. A sign put up by the Office of Public Works urges us to take care of the flora, not to throw stones, and to respect the “spiritual atmosphere” of the place

The monastic enclosure sits on a flat terrace at the edge of a 600-foot cliff. The windowless huts are shaped like beehive domes and are roughly rectangular inside, none more than 15 feet by 12. The smallness of the buildings is accentuated by the vastness of the space all around. Man, on this rock, is but a little thing. There are altars, prayer stations, and a few Celtic crosses — everything starkly laid out against a brilliant Atlantic sky.

There are no springs on Skellig Michael; rainwater, as well as dew and condensed mist from the rocks, was gathered in cisterns. And since there is nothing to burn, there can have been few fires, and little cooking. The monks must have lived on a few vegetables, grain from the mainland, wind-dried fish and raw seabirds’ eggs in season. Through the wet, freezing winter their rough woolen garments can rarely have been dry. This was no easy life.

As my friends and I crowd into a tiny drystone cell, the silence settles and a sense of awe arises. We know why those monks came there, 14 centuries ago. In our own ways we know that same yearning, the desire for peace and solitude that moves all meditators.

This is expressed by the Buddhist poet Shantideva, writing in India maybe 100 years after the founding of Skellig monastery

… one should recoil from sensual desires and cultivate delight in solitude, in tranquil woodlands empty of contention and strife.

On delightful rock surfaces cooled by the sandal balm of the moon’s rays, stretching wide as palaces, the fortunate pace, fanned by the silent, gentle forest breezes, as they contemplate for the well-being of others.

Bound to none, one enjoys that happiness and contentment which even for a king is hard to find.

During the sixth century, when most of western Europe was plunged into darkness and illiteracy, the Irish Celtic monks preserved classical learning in a project of voracious bibliophilia. Not only the Gospels, but Aristotle, Euripedes, Virgil, Ovid. Whatever they could find they copied, preserved and returned to the rest of Europe. The debt we owe them is immense. But I don’t see these Skellig monks as scribes. We know very little about them but surely they were contemplatives, upholding the more inward dimension of the Celtic Christian tradition.

I am humbled by the commitment of those monks, by their single-minded devotion to the contemplative life

On the saddle of the island, with the blue sky all around us and the myriad-colored Atlantic rolling beneath, I sit talking with a friend. Discussing his meditation practice and thoughts about life, I feel a strong resonance come upon me. Yes — this is it. It rolls on and on. The same searching, the same fundamental quest. The Skellig monks practiced for the sake of the life to come, for the glories in heaven. Shantideva, like all Buddhists, taught practice for the sake of radical change here and now. But for all their differences, they share a profound commitment to spiritual effort, a deep dedication to the inner life.

On the boat back to the mainland a still solemnity steals over me. As a western Buddhist in western Europe, it is not often that I experience a sense of continuity between my efforts and those of the ancients. I felt it once on the Acropolis and something like it, from a different dimension, in Florence. But on Skellig Michael the feeling is much more immediate. For six long centuries that barren rock was dedicated to contemplation. So our journey there seems fitting, for although we are bringing something new to that land, something clear and not heard before, it distantly resonates with something very old, and long buried. I feel it welcoming us back.

With that feeling comes humility and awe. I am humbled by the commitment of those monks, by their single-minded devotion to the contemplative life, which led them to live far out in the wild North Atlantic. That level of dedication is something to aspire to.

But omens abound on Skellig Michael and solemnity doesn’t last. As I emerge from my reverie, a school of dolphins surfaces around the boat. Leaping and diving, they are joyfully at home in their own true element, out here in the wild Atlantic Ocean.


KulanandaMichael Chaskalson (also known as Kulananda) is a leading teacher of mindfulness-based approaches to work and healthcare, training senior executives, executive coaches, clinical psychologists and others in this radical approach to creativity and personal effectiveness. With Dominic Houlder he is the author of Mindfulness and Money and has written several books on Buddhist themes. See www.mbsr.co.uk for more information.

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Original faces: Reflections on purification

Saccanama has heard Vajrasattva’s bell calling him to realize his own innate purity, and is on a return journey to reconnect with his own stainless nature.

At the beginning of the Purgatorio, the second great canticle of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dante and Virgil emerge from the darkness of the Inferno to see “the tender tint of orient sapphire.” It is dawn, and Venus, “the lovely planet kindling love in man,” lights up the eastern sky. To the West lie the four stars of the four cardinal virtues. As they
proceed towards the mountain they are to climb on their pilgrimage, the two men stop:

When we had reached a place where the cool shade
allowed the dew to linger on the slope,
resisting a while longer the sun’s rays,

my master placed both of his widespread hands
gently upon the tender grass, and I,
who understood what his intention was,

offered my tear-stained face to him, and he
made my face clean, restoring its true color.
once buried beneath the dirt of Hell.
(translated by Mark Musa)

When they reach the shore, Virgil plucks a reed with which to gird his pilgrim and another springs up immediately in its place.

For anyone who has read the Inferno, or indeed suffered their own “torments of hell,” these images are a relief. They evoke the experience of emerging from great suffering. Dawn, the bathing of Dante’s grime-stained face in the early-morning dew, and the re-growth of the pilgrim’s reed set the tone for the next section of Dante’s great journey. For me they are also a western counterpart to the meditation on Vajrasattva, which like Dante’s epic, enacts a journey of purification.

Vajrasattva

My connection with Vajrasattva goes back to a time when I was staying at Guhyaloka, a mountain retreat center in Spain where I was preparing for ordination into the Western Buddhist Order (now the Triratna Buddhist Order). Part of the retreat focused on confession of breaches of the Buddhist ethical precepts. We spent our evenings reciting the chapter on confession in the Sutra of Golden Light and burning our confessions in front of the shrine, usually among fragrant cuttings of juniper bush. Such confession is a means of purification by which we can free ourselves of the influence of greed, hatred and unawareness, which obscure our true nature.

May the Buddhas watch over me
With minds attentive.
May they forgive my faults
With minds given over to compassion.
On account of the evil done by me previously,
Even in hundreds of eons,
I have a troubled mind,
Oppressed with wretchedness, trouble and fear.
With an unhappy mind,
I continually fear evil acts.
Wherever I go
There is no enjoyment for
me anywhere.

I confess all the evil previously done by me.
And I confess all my present evil.
For the future,
I undertake to retrain
From all acts evilly done.
(‘Sutra of Golden Light’, trans. RE Emmerick)

We also chanted the 100-syllable mantra of Vajrasattva, and this took the experience of purification on to a deeper level. I had been ill before I arrived in the mountains but, following this period of purification, my health deteriorated further and my mind was assailed by unresolved issues from my past. Yet, through these difficulties, Vajrasattva seemed to preside over the valley, looking down on me with compassion, somehow guaranteeing a return to peace and purity if I could place my trust in him.

  In the image of Vajrasattva, Buddhism teaches that an original, undefiled purity resides within our minds.   

Vajrasattva is said to have a bond with all beings that connects us all to a state of beginningless, original purity. Indeed, Vajrasattva — the pure-white, 16-year-old prince, sitting on a pure-white lotus made of light — is an image of our own purity. In the image of Vajrasattva, Buddhism teaches that an original, undefiled purity resides within our minds.

Something in us remains untouched by our unethical actions because it has not entered the world of time and space, with its inevitable compromises and limitations. This undefiled essential nature is symbolized by the vajra, the diamond thunderbolt of reality, which resolves all opposites — in particular the opposition of the unenlightened and the Enlightened mind.

Deep within us is something as clear as diamond and as powerful as thunder. The vajra is also the essence of Vajrasattva, whose name means ‘the diamond-being’, and in his right hand, close to his heart, the young prince holds a golden vajra. Our own nature, like the vajra, is also non-dual.

To contemplate Vajrasattva, then, is to seek to realize this undefiled nature and return to a pure, immaculate state. But we must first hear the call of that state and so the prince holds a silver vajra-bell in his left hand that rings to awaken us from our slumber.

I have heard that bell several times in my life. I heard it at Guhyaloka in the shrine room with the burning juniper and the sound of the Vajrasattva mantra running through my mind. Before that, not long after I had fallen ill, I had dreamed I was bitten by a poisonous snake and was lying in bed in a pure white healing room. Sunshine streamed through the windows and a man and woman were looking after me. Although my life had been in danger, there was an atmosphere of safety and rejuvenation in the dream, which mirrored the coming months of my life as I recovered from my illness. Vajrasattva was there in the whiteness of the room.

  Something in us remains untouched by our unethical actions because it has not entered the world of time and space…   

I also heard the bell in an increasing awareness of my own lack of wholeness. There seemed no depth or meaning to my life and I felt alienated from all that was good. I was struck by the perennial Buddhist story of making a return journey. In the White Lotus Sutra a young prince who had been banished from his homeland slowly comes to realize that he is lost and, with help from his father, returns to his country and his royal heritage. In many ways, this is the underlying myth of Vajrasattva — the sense of making a return journey to discover the pure nature that lies deep within us.

This myth is enacted in the mantra of Vajrasattva. Indeed, the mantra tells the story of the return journey in concise form, starting with the bond that already exists between Vajrasattva and oneself. It praises him as the defender of mankind and the guarantor of our true nature, who stands beside us with a deep love for who we really are. As we realize Vajrasattva’s presence, we draw closer to him, purifying ourselves; and we begin to realize that we have never truly been defiled. A great shout of joy erupts from within. We are free. Fear and evil are banished and Buddhahood is ours.

Om! Bond of the Adamantine Being.
Protector of my essential nature.
May your unshakable wisdom be my surety,
Your diamond nature ever stand at the seat of my being.
Be strong for me in times of conflict and self-doubt.
Let me realize the joy of effort directed with a pure motive.
Let me realize the bliss of your unstained nature, which is no nature.
Let me realize great love which flows throughout the universe
Let auspiciousness attend all I do.
Let your perfect nature arise spontaneously within me.
Let there be no thought of separation or impurity.
Let the chain of past thoughts be broken forever.
Let my mind realize at once its perfect beginningless purity.
The laughter of the unchained mind echoes forever.
Everything is blessed with Buddha-mind.
Liberate me. O you diamond-centered and jewel-adorned.
Encompass me, O you who are beyond all space and time.
Believe in my sincere efforts
Destroy all doubt.
Dispel all ignorance and darkness with your diamond-centered light.
O Great Hero of the universal bond, let all fear be destroyed

(The 100-syllable Vajrasattva mantra, a free rendition by Dharmachari Ananda)

The return journey is also the pattern of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The three great canticles of the Comedy represent the three main stages of that journey. Firstly, as Dante awakens to find himself lost in a dark wood, there is the awareness of fragmentation and alienation and all the dreadful consequences of such a state. Secondly, emerging from Hell on to the slopes of Mount Purgatory, there is the journey to the Garden of Earthly Delights, in the course of which the pilgrim is progressively purified. Finally, in an ascent through the heavens, there is the fruit of purification, a deepening unification with one’s true nature in ever greater visionary experience and bliss. We can be alienated from our purest nature and act with increasing unskillfulness, or we can move towards it, purifying our minds of defilement. We can ultimately become united with it.

  Vajrasattva is said to have a bond with all beings that connects us all to a state of beginningless, original purity.   

The call to purity has also come to me through faces. I saw one such face at the heart of Roman Catholicism, even though its teaching of original sin is the antithesis of the Buddhist teaching of original purity. Amid all the grandeur and triumphalism of St Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, there is a statue by Michelangelo: the Pieta. A life-size Madonna holds the body of the dead Christ in her arms, her face conveying a sense of utmost love and beauty. Looking at that face and knowing my own attempts to visualize the face of Vajrasattva, I felt that Michelangelo had possessed a vision of purity far beyond my own. I turned away as tears welled up in my eyes.

An old Zen koan asks: ‘What is your original face?’ There is no right answer to this question – that is the point of a koan. But one way of answering it might be to look through the love and beauty in the face of Michelangelo’s Virgin to Vajrasattva’s face. We might also look to Virgil, standing on the shores of Mount Purgatory, washing the tears and grime of the woe-filled world from Dante’s face, and restoring its true color with the early morning dew.

Contact with Vajrasattva can have this effect, too: restoring our beauty, making us pure and helping us to know our own true nature. With this vision and knowledge, our return journey will have finally been fulfilled.

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“Healing Breath: Zen for Christians and Buddhists in a Wounded World,” by Rubin Habito

healing breathZen and Christianity may have much to offer each other and to learn from each other. But is it possible to be both a Christian and a Zen Buddhist? Author Ruben Habito seems to think so. Reviewer Samayadevi is more skeptical.

Ruben L F Habito was for many years a Jesuit priest serving in Japan. He studied with both Father Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle, a spiritual pioneer in inter-religious dialog and with Koun Yamada, a renowned Zen teacher. He thus brings a fascinating perspective on the interplay of Christianity, as experienced in Catholicism, and the practice of Zen.

Healing Breath is aimed at those seeking a healing spirituality in their own lives and guidelines for a practice that integrates the personal, social and ecological dimensions of life. He assumes a familiarity with Christian concepts, beliefs and traditions and an unfamiliarity with Zen practice. These are fortuitous assumptions on his part as they allow Habito to explain and teach the four characteristics of Zen and the three fruits of that practice.

The overarching thesis of Healing Breath is that the Zen practice of being still, listening to the breath, and calming the mind all conduce to an experience of the interconnectedness of all life, to “seeing things are they really are.” The healing begins with a (radical) change in how we see the world, a “shift not of strategy but of cosmology”.

In this “right view” the spiritual path is “one with the path of active socio-ecological engagement,” and “healing the world is not unrelated to healing our personal woundedness.” Zen is presented as a practice that resonates with a Christian belief system and is compatible with a Christian faith commitment. “Christian expressions and symbols and practices point to transformative and healing perspectives and experiences opened to on in Zen practice.”

There are many lovely gems in this little tome. In writing about the second mark of Zen practice, not being limited by words or concepts, he writes: “The human capacity to name things takes its toll on our mode of awareness.” The implication is that Zen practice leads to the limitless spaciousness of the Heart Sutra. What an invitation to go beyond our analytical mind (our comfort zone), and, to go deeper into pure unfettered awareness!

Habito sees the violence and destruction in the world being caused by the illusion of “I” and “other”, and Zen sitting, following the breath and calming the mind, as leading to the dissolution of that false dichotomy. “The fruit of concentration is that the separation between subject and object is overcome and we can see our true nature.” It is from that dissolution that compassion for all beings flows.

The “art of living in attunement with the breath” is how Zen is described. These are all appealing insights and pretty much propel me to my cushion, or to my breath, as I sit here writing. On my first reading I was not so taken with the invitation to sit zazen (I tried that first in 1970), but on a second reading I could not help but be inspired. Especially in the midst of Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the image of quiet sitting to quietly realize an innate connection with all beings is pretty irresistible. It can even color and perhaps guide the potential frenzy of gift giving celebrations.

In discussing the Six Point Recovery to healing, Habito lists “integrating the shadow side.” Pema Chodron also often writes of befriending what scares us, what we want to hide, deny, or push away. It is an essential element in healing, in claiming our wholeness, and it cannot be said often enough.

In the section on Rekindling After the Burnout, Habito suggests that the very sense of “I” doing “good” to achieve good “results” is that cause of burnout! Again, we are reminded of the Heart Sutra: “Not even wisdom to attain, Attainment too is emptiness.” The practice is not to distinguish between the giver and the gift and the receiver. That is a high calling and a description of freedom.

So far, so good. However, I should admit that I was once a deeply committed Christian. I have a Master’s of Divinity degree from Weston Jesuit School of Theology. I am intimately familiar with Christian symbols and concepts. I am also a committed, practicing, ordained Buddhist. As Habito explains, the Christian corollary of “living in attunement with the breath” is found in Genesis, in the Hebrew word “ruah,” meaning “the divine breath that is at the base of all being and all life.” This breath inspired the prophets to speak the word of God. Christian spirituality is literally a life led in the Spirit or Breath, of Jesus Christ.” Zen practice is then (seemingly) used to access this Breath of Christ, to allow us to “…become an instrument of this Breath.” I clearly have trouble with this. I find a quantum difference between realizing I am not a discrete, inherently existing entity but rather deeply one in “interbeing” (Thich Nhat Hahn’s neologism) with all life, and believing that my ultimate truth is to be an instrument of the Breath of Christ.

Habito suggests that the koan practice of Zen is a means to “dissolve the opposition between subject and object.” The task of the practice is to remove obstacles to that realization. But this is followed by the suggestion that that realization is similar to glimpsing “the universe from the eyes of God; the one who hears is inseparable from the Word that is heard.” The concept of a creator God is so discordant with my Buddhist insights, I find it almost disturbing to try to mesh them together.

The implication throughout is that Zen practice and Christian commitment are not only compatible, but mutually beneficial. My own experience is that while Zen practice gives me the tools of sitting, following the breath, and calming the mind, the fruits of that experience exist in their own right without the need of a Christian world view. For a Christian, Zen may be beneficial in facilitating and fostering centering prayer, and a stillness of the heart.

Buddhists and Christians have so very much to learn from one another. Habito mentions at the beginning, that ‘Placing ourselves within differing religious traditions to discover mutual resonance, (leads) not only to inner healing, but to global healing.” I wish and hope that might be so. I just have trouble finding the resonance.


Samayadevi is a 65-year-old mother of six, step-mother of four, and step-grandmother of eight. She discovered meditation when she was thirteen and has been practicing (erratically) ever since. Her spiritual path has led her through Catholicism to the Episcopal church and finally into Buddhism. She was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order this summer on a three month retreat in Spain.

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Protests greet Buddhist visit to Catholic church (Associated Press)

Associated Press: A splinter group of conservative Catholics has disrupted a demonstration of Buddhist chants and prayers at a Roman Catholic Church in western Michigan.

The Basilica of St. Adalbert in Grand Rapids hosted seven Tibetan Buddhist monks in the church’s sanctuary Tuesday evening, where about 35 people gathered to see them.

But about 50 members of a conservative Catholic splinter group and their spiritual leader from Allendale said allowing the Basilica to be used by non-Christians amounted to sacrilege.

The members of St. Margaret Mary Church, which included several children, sat in the front pews and loudly recited prayers of the Rosary, preventing the monks from giving the demonstration.

That prompted the monks to move from the stage peacefully, confounded by the events.

Those who came to see the monks were not happy and accused the group from Allendale of being rude and not behaving like Christians.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Chris Kantor of Grand Rapids told The Grand Rapids Press. “If this is a sign of the times, we’re in big trouble.”

The Rev. Thomas DeYoung, pastor at St. Adalbert’s, asked the Allendale group to leave several times, but members ignored him and continued their recitation. Grand Rapids police were called but decided to let the group disperse peacefully.

The monks and those who came to see the demonstration moved to the basement, and once the sanctuary cleared out, the Allendale group left.

Protest leader the Rev. Michael McMahon said allowing the Buddhist monks into the Catholic church was offensive. His congregation, which practices Latin Mass, is not part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids.

“This goes against everything we as Catholics are supposed to believe,” McMahon said. “We can’t stand by while this irreligious group uses this beautiful basilica.”

The monks were invited by Yosay Wangdi, a Tibetan faculty member of Grand Valley State University’s history department. The monks also were to appear at the university Wednesday.

Wangdi called Tuesday night’s protest “unfortunate,” adding Christians have nothing to fear from Tibetan Buddhists.

“Buddhism is a very tolerant religion,” Wangdi said Wednesday. “The Dalai Lama has extreme respect for other religions. He and the pope are good friends.”

McMahon’s church is part of the Society of St. Pius X, a group that rejects many of tenets of the Vatican II edict that modernized the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s.

The society, which has churches worldwide, is rejected by most Catholics, and the Vatican does not recognize its priests or traditions.

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