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:: Friday, July 23, 2004 ::

A Conversation About Zen

A few weeks ago a reader sent me some interesting questions about "the supreme identity" concept in Buddhism and was curious if there was a correlation in Orthodoxy.

What follows is another excerpt from the email discussion:

He wrote, "I understand from my Christian perspective, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the supreme identity of God's incarnation and revelation. But don't we also speak of incarnation in other ways?"

Yes we do (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20; etc), but these all flow organically from The Incarnation. Otherwise we run the risk of divorcing the Essence of God from His Energies....

"I've been pondering the notion that when a Zen practitioner claims to have a satori, and that he or she has touched the divine that what may be happening is that they are awakening to an awareness of their own spirit, or getting in touch with their 'Imago Dei'. It's not a direct touching of God, but a glimpse of His reflection in our own created being."

Sure, to some extent I think this is true. Most western practitioners probably aren't going as deep as they think they are because we tend to "play" at Zen. We don't really take seriously the ascetic lifestyle needed for this kind of illumination. There are so many stories and warnings from the desert fathers about the dangers of what they call "prelest"; spiritual delusion as a natural consequence of indulging in "mystical experiences" not tethered to the Church and her ascetic and liturgical life. Any "spirituality" that isn't focused on and flowing from Christ is bound to become prelest sooner or later....

"While I agree with you regarding your observation about the absence of the Personal aspect, mystical experience is transpersonal, but this doesn't necessitate the exclusion of the Personal. It's just as you've said, language is inadequate to describe or define it. Therefore we can only communicate in metaphors which do not do complete justice to the experience."

True. This is why Orthodoxy has always been a "come and see" kind of faith....human language can point the way and in some ways open up the door. But we have to walk through it in faith and in experience. It was coming to realize, in some very profound ways, that Truth was a Person (not an koan, a state of nirvana, or simply knowledge for its own sake) that I was able to turn toward Christ.

"I also have some questions about the asceticism and the 'simply dying' idea. I wont quote D.T.Suzuki, or Alan Watts, or even Ken Wilber, but for my example I'll use the obscure 60's song by Donovan, where the refrain repeats an old Zen description of satori, 'First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.' This sounds absurd to those not studied in Buddhist tradition, but this is a typology of resurrection. The first mountain is the common conception of the mountain, then there is no emptiness, or seeing beyond the form of all things, and then there is the mountain again, but a qualitatively different mountain, one for which the devotee now sees in it's absolute relationship to all things."

I see what you are getting at. I suppose if I was going to qualify what I originally said in this regard, it would be to note the importance of the Orthodox understanding of the passions--the powers of the human soul. The Church's view of asceticism is quite different than both the western Christian and Near East understanding and it stems from a different view of what a human being is....In a nutshell, true asceticism is a purification, a restoring of what is good in essence but has been stained by sin and twisted by the misuse of our free will

The Buddhist view of asceticism, because of the implicit dualism at its core, ends up rejecting incarnated living as an essential component of what it means to be fully human....thus the injunction to "cease from all desires" never restores the proper place of desire--it just annihilates it.

One of the beautiful things about Orthodoxy is that things like contemplation, mystical prayer, the centrality of paradoxical language, etc, are all an organic part of the Orthodox way of life. Anything Zen has to offer, Orthodoxy has *and has Christ at the center of it*...and this makes all the difference.

In other words, there is no need to pursue Zen or other mystical approaches to life if one wishes to be a Christian.

:: Karl :: 7:34:00 AM [Link] ::

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