Helen (heleninwales) wrote,
Helen
heleninwales

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Zen and Christianity

(I've got a bit behind with this journal. I've fallen foul of my usual problem with journal keeping, that is when I have time to write, I'm not doing anything interesting to write about, and when I'm doing interesting stuff, I don't have time to write.)

This follows on from the visit to Hay...

I had a look at the Zen book I bought in Hay. It wasn't quite what I thought it would be as on closer inspection it turned out to be written by a Christian. This was not really a problem, however, and I was quite interested to read his comparison between Zen and Christian mysticism. There are far more similarities than you might expect. Besides, the book did have exactly what I needed, which was the explanation of how to do Zen meditation, including the use of koans.


The book I had been using before was published by the Western Buddhist Order, which has quite a Tibetan slant, so after covering the basic Mindfulness of Breathing (which is also in the Zen book, I think it's one of the most basic of all the Buddhist meditation techniques), it goes on to the Metta Bhavana (Meditation on Friendliness) and even more esoteric stuff. Though having said that, and having just glanced at it, I see that I ought to read it again as it has a lot of useful sections on establishing a meditation practice.

I'd bought the Zen meditation book because the books I've been using to get into Zen as a way of life didn't actually explain what you did in Zazen (Zen meditation) or what happened in a Sesshin (whole day or longer period of meditation practice). As, for various reasons, I thought that I ought to get back into doing some meditation, I felt in need of further instruction. Of course ideally I would attend a meditation centre or Buddhist group, but there really isn't one locally. Well, there is a group that meets on Tuesday evenings, but evenings are difficult in term time because I teach two evening classes, so being out a third evening in the week gets a bit much and means that G and I begin to resemble Corporal Colon and wife in Pratchett's Guards novels. Also they're Tibetan rather than Zen Buddhists, so though there are some things in common, there's a lot that I don't find relevant. I have been to a couple of the talks they've arranged though, which were interesting.

While I was skimming through the meditation book, it came to me that the way I think about the different religions in the world has changed, or at least I would now use a different metaphor to express those thoughts. I remembered that when I was in my teens, and still a practising Christian, I used a mountain metaphor. I saw the goal of religion as trying to get at The Truth (which I saw as the mountain's summit) and the different religions as different paths up the mountain, some easier to follow than others and some more successful at reaching that final peak. Now (being more sceptical) I wouldn't talk about an Ultimate Truth, and I see religion as an expression and exploration of a common spiritual experience. Whether that experience is of something genuinely Other or whether it's some quirk of the conscious human brain is irrelevant. So now I see different religions as being more like different languages, all trying to express their version of the spiritual experience in the best way they can.
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