zen christianity

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zen christianity
My own starting point is as a lifelong church-going Anglican Christian who has come to find the usual explanations of Christianity unreal. There's just too much use of "God can do anything so don't ask", too much use of analogy & metaphor, and too little reasoning about how things could possibly work given our actual experiences.
I don't suppose this is the only motivation for which this page is relevant. But for me it's just what I really think - it's a re-imagining of Christianity that makes more sense.


zen christianity

the end

The point of life is to be in heaven as individuals, as groups of individuals & in Creation as a whole.

the start

That we are "made in the image of God", which means "being in heaven", "uniting with God", "being your real self", "being whole", & "being holy" all mean the same thing, and that that is meant to be realised here & now.
And that Jesus is our best example of a human being in heaven, though he can't be unique in that else there's no point in us following him.

the way

Increasing your ability to love - in the Christian sense of not being that which stops others being their real selves - is also a path towards being your own real self - in the zen sense that being your real self is just not being dependent on things that aren't really you - which in turn is a path towards being in heaven in the Christian sense.


zen christianity


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Love has always been central to the Judeo-Christian religious path. It shows up in the summary of Jewish law "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength; love your neighbour as yourself", in Jesus' "Love your enemies." & "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another", in St Paul's "If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but do have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.", in Augustine's "Love and do what you will", even in the Beatles' still current sentiment "All you need is love". But very rarely does anyone say what they really mean by it.
One possibility, the Golden Rule, or "Do as you would be done by", says nothing about what another person might want or need, and so is clearly not about love in any usual sense.
The best approach to a definition I've come across is due to Vanstone. He defines love negatively, because you can really say only when love is not present, as not controlling, being vulnerable & not being self-sufficient. I disagree with the last in that "self-sufficiency" can be read both as "indifference" and as "independence". Vanstone, to my mind, talks only about indifference whereas dependence controls others by requiring them to be supportive, so I come to slightly different conclusions. I see love as essentially not controlling the other person, which includes not being dependent on the other person being in any particular way, but nevertheless being involved with them and thereby risking being controlled. The latter follows from the former in that if other people do need you to be a certain way, being or doing anything else would be some sort of control over those people.
So, love can be defined as "Do not be that which stops other people being their real selves", or, more catchily, "Be so that others can be".


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The word (dictionary) comes from the Japanese version of the Chinese equivalent ("ch'an") of the Sanskrit word "dhyanam" which is a term from Yoga meaning stilling or focussing the mind in meditation. The experience is of finding oneself through becoming able to see truly, that is to say without mistaking things that aren't really you with yourself.
Here the word "zen" is being used to refer to the entailments of love: the stilling of one's being by accepting the needs of other people to be more important than your own, and the focussing on becoming your real self by allowing your dependences on people & things that aren't you to be dissolved rather than followed.
There is not intended to be any specific relationship with Zen Buddhism, except insofar as zen Christianity is to Christianity what Zen Buddhism is to Buddhism. Everything in zen Christianity is to be justified as an interpretation of Christianity rather than because it may be seen in Zen Buddhism.
However, it's clear that zazen, the meditation style used by Zen Buddhism, can be used in Christianity, and is relevant here at least for individual spiritual progress.


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"Being in heaven" has to be defined as the most real state of being, and for us there can be no other meaning of "real" than being without dependence on things that aren't us.
That that is possible must be a matter of faith. We have Jesus' example of someone believing absolutely that being human is no barrier to being in heaven. However, it is the "pearl of great price" to which everything else we might want has to be secondary.


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We know we are not our real selves now because we know we sometimes do that which we don't really want to do & are sometimes dependent on things that are not really us. That's true, for example, of both high & low self-esteem - both are dependencies on what other people think of us.
Of course we are not alone in that so progress towards the ideal is necessarily mutual, complex & gradual, with some being able to drop a particular need as the trigger for others becoming able to drop one of theirs. I see people like Jesus as at the forefront of the ability to let go of their attachments to things & other peoples' natures, in his case to the extent of physical death, which is why he & others like him have been central to real progress in human life.
Sooner or later we come up against something we just can't do, or not not do, due to some need in ourselves that the world be a particular way, and the inability can mean we are preventing someone else from progressing towards being their real self, and certainly means we are not yet our real self. "Turn the other cheek" requires us to accept these painful situations as us being called to allow our ability to love to be increased, not by a willed suppression of desires or a faked humility - which is only a postponement of real change, and is probably damaging anyway - but for real. I think there may be several stages here, both of preparation & of consolidation, which are to some extent within our control, but the main one isn't at all: it is known as the "Dark Night of the Soul" & is when our dependency on something that feels essential to our nature - a source of the meaning of our life - but which is in fact not ourselves at all, is dissolved, and we re-form such that we no longer need that which previously limited us.
Some people react to the need for inner change by trying to simplify their exterior lives to the minimum by joining monasteries etc. That might have been necessary when ordinary life was mostly about survival, but nowadays there are so many ways to lead one's life that the need of the particular individual for a specific set of tensions & motivations is best met by the variety of situations that ordinary life creates. Anyway, it is necessary to connect with the world in general so that the world in general changes as we change.
It will seem that life isn't long enough for significant change. Many people go through it changing only right at the end, or perhaps on marriage or some other significant event, and many without apparently making any progress at all, though one can never entirely tell. Faith in our potential suggests reincarnation could be believed in as a way in which God gives us enough time, not only to change sufficiently but to do so within our own free will as our desires mature towards "storing up our treasure in heaven not on earth".


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At-one-ment (dictionary) is about being one with God. It also refers to what Jesus achieved by dying on the cross. The view here of what Jesus achieved is based on "Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friend". Loving someone entails wishing them to become who they really are, which means helping them to believe that letting go of their unreal dependencies will lead to them being more real, even though those dependencies currently define reality for that person. In allowing himself to be put through physical death Jesus showed us the greatest possible faith in the actual source of reality.


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Since we can be more real only by being less dependent on that which is not really ourselves there is a need, in the end, not to be dependent on external authority for truth & understanding. But we're not in that state of wholeness yet so there is also a need to pay attention to all possible sources of truth & understanding. The Anglican view lists revelation, church tradition, scripture & experience, but we shouldn't limit the divine to those. If it's true it'll stay without effort, if not it will fall away - "Neither accept nor reject.", "Judge not and you will not be judged.".


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Forgiving someone for something is when we no longer need anything out of that particular situation. By becoming independent of whatever it was we also give freedom to whoever we're forgiving, at least to try again if not actually to be free of whatever it was that motivated them in the first place.
Of course, it can also happen that another person's need to be forgiven is used, prior to them being forgiven, as a means to help them towards being less temporarily free. Being forgiven doesn't automatically set you free never to repeat the situation.


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A real King or Queen is the source of unity for their people. That entails them being whole & united in themselves, which means being independent, for their being, of things external to themselves. So a real sovereign would be divine, or at least closer to the divine than their people.

books etc

zen christianity


n.b. this isn't an Amazon referral site - no money is being made!
book cover
Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense, Bill Vanstone, DLT, 1977.
From which first came the ideas here about the nature of love.
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Everyday Zen, Charlotte Joko Beck, Thorsons, 1997.
Makes Zen Buddhism real in a very similar way to how I'm finding Christianity to be real i.e. as part of normal life.
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The Way To Love, Tony De Mello SJ, Image Books, 1995
An extended meditation on what it means to be dependent on things that aren't really anything to do with you.
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Zen & The Kingdom of Heaven, Tom Chetwynd, Wisdom Publications, 2001
A personal account of a Christian encountering zazen. Makes a case for Christian spirituality always having had a signifcant similarity with zazen.


A zen Christian poem, because of it saying that wholeness comes from lack of dependence on things that aren't you.


Thomas Merton linked Zen and Christianity - a Western Catholic Reporter article from 2000.10.23
Spirited away: why the end is nigh for religion - a feature article which appeared in The Times (UK) on 2004.11.04
this page in dmoz, google, buddhaindex
YakRider - a mix of all sorts of stuff about spirituality


zen christianity


This vote is completely anonymous. If you want the results to be useful in general you'll know what to do in particular. Occasionally it doesn't load, in which case try again later.


Here is a guestbook for recording any comments. I don't undertake to reply, but if one results in this page changing then that person will get an acknowledgement (probably in the changes list in the last section) unless they wish otherwise.


Here is a Yahoo eGroup - zenchristianity - to which you can subscribe by web or by (blank) email. It functions both as a web-based forum and as a mailing list. Anyone can read it, only subscribers can post to it. As the list starter I can use the eGroup facilities to do something about off-topic posts, but I won't do any other sort of moderating unless there is agreement on the list that that is necessary. If you want to post anonymously you can easily set up a new Yahoo id & have it forward to your real address. I will post changes to this page as "special announcements".
I can usually be found in uk.religion.christian though please bear in mind that that newsgroup is intended to be UK-focussed.


Well why not - here is the author's email.


zen christianity
this page. babelfish


to be mailed when changes occur.
add ClustrMaps, er, map
books etc: reciprocal link to buddhaindex.com
formatting by CSS instead of tables
general improvement to navigation
books etc: added where this page is in dmoz
contents: added tryptych picture
books etc: started poems & links sections,
books etc: added pictures of books
comments: BeSeen gave up so the poll and guestbook are now from Bravenet,
comments: added home email address,
bottom: NetMind gave up so the change notification is now by ChangeDetection, though I've kept the NetMind image because I like it.
understandings - zen: add that zazen is relevant,
understandings - change: add about high and low self-esteem,
books: add "Zen and The Kingdom of Heaven"
understandings: add "royalty" section, in view of the recent Jubilee
understandings: add "forgiveness" section
add hacked overLib hover boxes to navigation devices,
add a logo/icon, though it's not really finished
understandings: add "authority" section
comments: add how the Yahoo eGroup will be used to announce changes here, so you don't need to use NetMind
understandings: clarify the relationship with Zen Buddhism
comments: added Yahoo eGroup
why: made less negative, or at least less specifically negative,
understandings: add "atonement" section
books: add a zen christian poem
change "start" section to why
publish to see what happens
do essence & comments sections and start understandings & books
start this page as a blank space
form wish to have such a page, but remove initial offering


Patrick Herring, except where otherwise acknowledged eg. in "alt" clauses.