Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Alone with the alone ...

... Raids on the Ineffable. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I would suggest that mystical theology and mysticism are not the same thing. Perhaps the leading Catholic expert in mystical theology is William Johnston, S.J. Here's an account of a conversation I had with him10 years ago:

Speaking by phone from S.J. House in Tokyo, the Rev. William Johnston, a Jesuit priest who published Christian Zen in 1971, said, ``the Pope regretted that statement and after that the Vatican arranged for a dialogue in Taiwan between Christianity and Buddhism. The Pope has said very nice things about Buddhism also, and the Asian bishops speak beautiful things about Buddhism. ''

An Irishman who has lived in Japan for 47 years - ``I tell my students that Ireland is my mother and Japan is my wife'' - Father Johnston said, ``The basic thing for a Christian is the commitment to Jesus Christ and to the Gospel. . . . When I do Zen, that basic commitment is always there. The Buddhists have their commitment to the Buddha and to dharma.

``I myself am committed to dialogue,'' Father Johnston said, but ``my basic commitment is to Christianity, to Christ and the Gospel. . . . Christ is always a person, the risen person, the glorified Jesus of Nazareth. . . . The Buddha-nature is a way of speaking of the unity of being, [but] the personal dimension is not there. ''

The Japanese word zen is a translation of the Chinese word ch'an, which is itself a translation of the Sanskrit word dhyana. All mean simply meditation. But, as Father Johnston points out in Christian Zen, it is ``not the discursive meditation wherein one reasons and thinks and makes resolutions. . . . It is meditation without an object. . . . One pays no attention to the thoughts and images that pass across the surface of the mind. . . . It is not preoccupied with past or future, right or left, up or down. One is simply present . . . in the eternal now, face to face with reality. ''

Father Johnston emphasized that Christians who practice Zen need to be aware of their own spiritual tradition. ``We get people coming to Japan - even priests and sisters sometimes - and they want to do Zen and they've never had any Christian experience in their lives and . . . that's not good. ''

Father Johnston pointed out that Buddhists exhibit great respect for Jesus. ``They see Jesus as a great mystic. . . . The recent scriptural movement with its emphasis on Jesus the man [has led us to] think that Jesus was just like the man in the street. [The Buddhists] may not recognize [Jesus'] divinity, but they see him as a Bodhisattva and a model for people who would seek enlightenment.

``There's great wisdom in Buddhism, so the thing is marriage, to put them together. That's the big challenge that's going to confront us in the 21st century. The future of Christianity is in Asia . . . not only geographically, but in Asian spirituality, and we will come more and more to the contemplative dimension. I think the Gospel has a very big future in Asia. ''

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