Enlightenment: Zen, Christian, and Modern

John C. Médaille “A religion of Nirvana… cannot understand what kenosis means in a Christian sense; but it is a hair’ breadth away from it.” s Hans Urs von Balthasar

The Children Enlightenment

of

the

We are the Children of the Enlightenment. In fact, we are the heirs of two enlightenments, but one of them occurred a very long time ago and has been eclipsed, in almost every sphere of life, by the more recent one. This later enlightenment placed the Cartesian ego at “the starting point of an infallible intellectual progress to truth and spirit, more and more refined, abstract, and immaterial”1 and bases itself solidly on the power of reason and the sufficiency of the empirical world. Those of us who recall, however dimly, the older enlightenment may not be entirely pleased with the situation, but neither can we deny that our own tradition is implicated in the very success of this newer view. Cartesian dualism does not spring full-grown from the ground, but is grounded, to a large extent, in the Medieval Scholastic tradition. The scholastic, fascinated by the power of reason to dissolve the most difficult theological problems, gradually separated the intellectual from the spiritual; eventually, the divorce became final. The West wearied of its priests, prophets, and poets; we became convinced that by a steady gaze at the empirical world, mediated by the power
Thomas Merton, Mystics and Zen Masters, (New York: Delta Books, 1969) 26.
1

of reason, the truth would reveal itself in an infallible way. Enlightenment, once the province of all through grace and prayer, became the exclusive property of the specialist through education and science. In establishing man’ mind and s the empirical world as the whole basis of truth, Modern Man has rejected the primordial religious knowledge of man that “the world of appearances that surrounds us… cannot possibly be the ultimate, absolute reality.”2 As such, the modern world is the first authentically anti-religious society. Other cultures have, in practice, corrupted their religions to accommodate their secular concerns, but never has there been a case where religion, man’ longing for the s absolute, has been denied in principle. But however much society may deny the religious principle, it cannot suppress the religious longing. This longing remains at the heart of man’ quest for himself s and for meaning, and it begins with man’ vague awareness of his own guilt s and his firm knowledge of his own inevitable death.3 Man is aware, however vaguely, of the loss of some initial harmony, or primal unity,4 a unity
Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Christian and Non-Christian Meditation”, in New Elucidation, translated by Sister Theresilde Kerry, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986) p. 149.
3 4 2

Gawronski, p. 6. Gawronski, p. 8.

C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment.doc

Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM

Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM

12 He wrote: The body is the Bodhi-tree13 The mind is like a clear mirror standing. a dispute that begins with the Sixth Patriarch. 1956). translated by John C. This verse angered Hui-neng. however. p. p. but an illiterate oblate of the monastery who Zen Enlightenment: Distinctly Indistinct The “There is no Zen without satori [enlightenment]. frequently. p. 35. like this author. (Garden City. 44. p. an immediate grasp of being in its ‘ suchness’ and 8 9 Merton. but the question itself. Zen Enlightenment. and many seekers feel compelled to look for other sources. Dumoulin. 6. p.5 Since the question cannot be either answered or denied by the “enlightened” world. Probably the best way to grasp the experience. 1993). Dumoulin.10 contemplation of the Sutras (Scriptures). such as the “sitting-only” method of Dogen. Zen Buddhism. 44. Heinrich Dumoulin. for those of us. who have not experienced it. Shen-hsiu was the senior monk and regarded as the natural heir to the patriarchy. p. and many others besides. it can never enlighten us as to the ultimate ground of our being. edited by William Barrett. there are a variety of schools and methods. Page 2 ‘ thusness. 62. As in Christianity. Christian.7 It is “the ontological awareness of being beyond subject and object. That is. who was not even a monk. p. Merton. Take care to wipe it all the time. and a civilization based on rationalism can never do more than deny the questions. to communicate the precise nature of this enlightenment. 96-97. p. is to examine the most fundamental dispute in Zen. Sixth Edition. What the religions share is not an answer to this question. Such longings cannot be rationalized.Enlightenment: Zen.11 As the time came for the Fifth Patriarch. 10 11 5 6 Gawronski. Although the Christian religion also rejects the ego as the ultimate norm of truth.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . 12 Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki. 14. and among the most prominent sources of this light is Zen Buddhism. they seek the light from the East. New York: Doubleday Anchor Books. to transmit his authority to a successor. the tree under which the Buddha became enlightened. the experience is personal and subjective and more a matter of character than intellect. Allow no grain of dust to cling to it 14. which is indeed the Alpha and Omega of Zen Buddhism. he asked his monks to write a verse to summarize their insight. p. which is diametrically opposed to the enlightenment of rationalism. the one in whom the longing has not been totally anesthetized must seek his answer elsewhere. 14 13 Suzuki. Hui-neng. that between “mirror-polishing” and “nomirror” Zen. Hung-jen.”6 It is a difficult matter.9 the Koans of the Rinzai School. Origins and Meanings. 84. Maraldo. (New York and Tokyo: Weatherhill. 44. However much light the rational can bring to the phenomenal world.’ 8 Even the Zen masters ” dispute the meaning of the experience. it nevertheless has too often taken on the appearance of rationalism. and Modern he longs to recover. C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment. 7 Dumoulin.

but the whole object of Zen. p. so that it rests in our ideal essence or nature. “emptiness” itself is regarded as a possession and an “attainment. p. not one thing exists” 21 22 Fundamentally not one thing exists: Where then is a grain of dust to cling?17 Based on this sutra. p. and Modern worked in the kitchen. Christian. since it asserts inner 15 16 17 18 19 20 Merton. and from a Western viewpoint it is easy to understand. p. 19. “Fundamentally.” Thus. Merton. but ethics from religion. to eat its cake and have it. Hung-jen conferred the symbols of the patriarchy on Huineng. p. But it is “no-mirror” Zen which.16 He composed a response which he asked another novice to write down for him: The Bodhi is not like a tree. is precisely the dissolution of both the self and its ego. and to enjoy its own narcissism under the guise of “emptiness” and “contemplation. as we shall see. 48. However. although more problematical for the Western mind. the “spiritualized” ego thus is able to affirm itself all the more perfectly. religion does not arise from ethics. p. pejoratively called “mirror-wiping” Zen. Merton. p. mirror is nowhere Page 3 purity as the central reality.21 Such a preoccupation with purity places the ego at the center. The clear standing. it believes. pre-biological nature. however. Dumoulin. C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment. Dumoulin.” So the ego-consciousness is able. the verse is quite problematical. Thomas Merton sums up the problems of “mirror-wiping” Zen as: What has happened is that this clinging and possessive egoconsciousness.”19 Within these two schools. 23. we may get a glimpse of the poles of Zen Buddhist thought. Merton. It renounces its empirical autonomy in order to sink into its spiritual. “the mind” will be in “emptiness” and “poverty. Dumoulin. p. which it also “possesses. meditation is a means of achieving inner purity to obtain a pure view of the Absolute. Dumoulin. Zen is deeply ethical. “it indicates a program of purification and ‘ liberation’ of the soul from terrestrial and temporal conditions imposed on it by the body and the five senses. 45.” craftily tries to outwit reality by rejecting the thoughts it “possesses” and emptying the mirror of the mind.”22 The Northern School emphasizes the ethical. which at best ends in self-absorption. 19. seeking to affirm itself in “liberation. 19.18 The resulting split divided Zen into the Southern School of “sudden” enlightenment and the Northern School or “gradualism.15 Hui-neng had experienced sudden enlightenment upon hearing a verse of the Diamond Sutra. The Northern School of Shen-hsiu. and all Zen includes this ethical dimension. 47. who was forced to flee from the envy of Shen-hsiu and his followers.”20 From the Buddhist standpoint.” But in reality. 44.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM .Enlightenment: Zen. presents more clearly the paradoxes of Eastern thought. But since this nature is regarded as one’ s possession.

when taken by itself. Merton. The Essence of Buddhism. 12 26 27 Suzuki. Merton. then it must be reached through “no-thought”. it is not necessarily absolutely true. 26 Thus in seeing into oneself. is “no-thought” or “no-mind” and goes beyond any possible concepts.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . 28.”28 The conceptual is avoided as merely the minds obscuring of the purity of the Void. prajna. nondistinction… must mean nonexistence. p. 17. we are immediately forced to ask how the Void can be the ground of being. Merton.” But if being is void. p. 25 This self. “Zen insight is not our awareness. p. and Modern gets to the core of Buddhist thought: Nirvana. which is the central ideal of Zen. which is s the Buddha-nature. Some Buddhist scholars will find the two schools as necessary halves of a complete view. how the “nothing” can ground the “something. Merton. The methods of reconciling the two views need not concern us here. the Void. the self is the most fundamentally non-existent of all. makes no sense. Essence of Buddhism. p. sets up distinctions in the world of nondistinction and this mind must be destroyed at its foundations. The experience of Zen begins (and ends) in chein-hsing. is set up by intellection and constitutes the root of all evils. but in the pure Being which is “nomind”.23 But as soon as we have said this. Christian. 25. Sunyata. there is no “mirror” to “wipe”. 24. nondistinction or non-discrimination. Suzuki.” The beginning point for this connection to the Void is found by looking within one’ self. logically speaking. (London: The Buddhist Society. nothingness. 15. “seeing into one’ own nature”. which is the ground of being. 13. or rather the illusion of self. Reality is not located in the ego. Essence of Buddhism. distinction and non-distinction… ”34 But.24 The self. 15 Suzuki. The spirit-world is It should be pointed out here that while the opposition between the two schools is historically true.31 Thus.30 The “mirror” of our mind is not our mind but the Void itself. Merton. 24 25 23 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 Suzuki. Essence of Buddhism.32 Ultimately. since of all the things that fundamentally do not exist. because things are what they are by being distinguished and discriminated. what one encounters is the unconscious principle of being which makes our conscious minds aware of transcendent reality. p.27 Such a mode of expression is anathema to a “rationally” trained mind. our mind is a transient manifestation of prajna. Essence of Buddhism. what is contemplated? “What Buddhists strongly insist upon in their philosophy is the merging of the two contradictory terms. p. 15. p. this mind. 24. Wisdom. but Being’ s 33 awareness of itself in us. which is unconscious. If the Absolute cannot be grasped in concepts or in thought. the formless light. 1957).Enlightenment: Zen.29 This is so because what stands behind all reality is the Void (sunyata). p. p. 86. and the person who contemplates Being is empty. but the whole point of Zen is “that no spiritual truth can be grasped Page 4 by ratiocination. p. Suzuki. C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment. p. Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki. s But it is not really the “self” that one experiences in this process.

p. Ji exists by virtue of Ri. we see Buddhism make it closest approach to a notion of an absolute 39 40 Suzuki. The two terms do not exactly exist in “identity”. the Great Wisdom and the Great Compassion. but spiritually coalesced. Ji and Ri. Christian. as either phase of his being is emphasized for some special reason. p. Essence of Buddhism. or form. the “perfect unimpeded mutual solution” expressed as “simultaneous mutual selfidentification”. without them. 35 36 37 Suzuki.” Ji can be thought of as an “event. 46. pp. or “self-identity of the acting and being-acted-upon”. or Page 5 “simultaneous abrupt rising”. for there is nothing in our world of experience that keeps its identity even for a moment. it would be another Ji. 49. the One is to be represented as a person. For a more complete discussion of Kegon Philosophy.41 These two flow from each other and are thus one.37 Ji denotes an event. the particular. C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment. which D. reason. Ji is always contrasted to Ri. since existence is conceived of as static while objects must always be dynamic. it can exist only when it is considered in relation to a world of distinction. totality.” Thus objects have no real existence. it is subject to constant change. and it is precisely this dynamic from which “things” arise. but only by light can we see the content of anything.40 Another way to think of this dynamic is by the analogy of light. 10 Suzuki. 50. even though “fundamentally. 38 “The Kegon philosophers. according to Suzuki. Essence of Buddhism. since that would be a form of the “dualism” which the Buddhist abhors. Where there is no form (Ji). Essence of Buddhism. it is the one absolute world which exists by itself and does not require anything relative for its support. if it had. (Sunyata). Ri is principle. The Dharmakaya … is the Wisdom or the Compassion. p.”38 What then is the relationship between Ji and Ri? It is called the Jiji muge. p 53. the Dharmakaya. But in the case of Buddhist being. p. but Ri has no separate existence. … not mathematically united. see The Essence of Buddhism. there is no emptiness (Ri). emptiness is without self.”36 Kegon metaphysics revolve around two key terms. like all other Buddhists. but an absolute one.” This dynamic of Being has it roots in the interaction of the Tai-chi and the Tai-pei. the concrete.42 Here. form (Rupam). 46. it would be a “darkness.” The Essence of Buddhism. the individual.39 The “solution” here is a dynamic. But the Buddhist conception of a world of non-distinction is not a relative one. p. not only does the light enable the “things” we see “to be”.Enlightenment: Zen. do not believe in the reality of an individual existence. void. Light itself has no content.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . while Ri is nondistinction. Essence of Buddhism. not one thing exists. Essence of Buddhism. p. we must look at Kegon philosophy. Ji is distinction. Suzuki. and Modern therefore non-existent when it is made to stand by itself. Suzuki calls “the climax of Buddhist thought. 46-60.35 To grasp the apparent contradictions expressed here. Essence of Buddhism. abstract. hence it is always with form. a state of “as-it-is-ness” or “suchness. 41 42 Suzuki. 46. Suzuki. T. etc. but a “self-identity. but the light itself would be a void without the things it enables.

an object not a subject. If the existence of a tree existed. nature as void.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . It follows that existential activity as such can neither be affirmed nor denied.Enlightenment: Zen.” a God who becomes man. emptiness as totality. and Modern “person”.” for only persons can be conscious. we are contemplating a “thing”. But so long as we are contemplating natures. but we cannot identify being itself with the being of any particular thing. This activity cannot be denied because such a denial would deny that the thing is. etc. a crucified God. and the Dharmakaya. Frederick D. the dissolution of subject-object relationships and the rejection of all “concepts”. Sommerfeldt. the Taipei. then the tree would not be. As Frederick Wilhelmsen puts it. St. the paradoxical is broad enough to be open to the whole complexity of being. We are presented with a series of statements that appear to be paradoxical: Enlightenment by the contemplation of one’ own nature. And it is precisely in examining this act of existence that the paradoxes arise. A sign of this is the truth that the thing continues be-ing as long as it is. a knowledge that “knows and knows-not”. Michigan: Cistercian Publications. as “nos mind”. the structure of existence emerges as highly paradoxical.. at least not apart from some subject that possesses the nature in the act of existence.43 s Of course. From a standpoint of the strictest Thomistic metaphysical realism. Because existence is beyond affirmation and 44 The Paradoxical Christian The Christian. 1991) p. of all people. certainly a religion which preaches “three-in-one. and even to a “trinity”. Bernard is speaking of examining the whole person. For even in Christian metaphysics. The Paradoxical Structure of Existence. if not its fullness. Nor should it surprise us that the nature is “unconscious. This brief survey has attempted to identify some of the major aspects of Zen enlightenment and metaphysics. The rational tends to be exclusive to its own premises. 1970) p. Since this nature is also an image of the divine. no less than in Buddhist. C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment. Bernard identifies the first step of true knowledge as knowing one’ self. and an object that doesn’ even t exist. like the Buddhist. Wilhelmsen. we at the same time get a glimpse of the divine. Texas: University of Dallas Press. The Spiritual Teachings of Bernard of Clairvaux. The Christian mystic since Origen. In fact. but if the existence of a tree did not exist. that is. also begins his journey of enlightenment with the self. has some basis for dealing with apparent absurdity. the absolute as the “distinction of non-distinction”.” but certainly a consideration of one’ nature is part of s this process. wine that becomes blood. (Kalamazoo. and not just 43 John R. it cannot be “anything”. 71. 46. “The most striking paradox about the act of existing is that it neither is nor is not. then everything would be tree. cannot reject out of hand the merely paradoxical. (Irving. Christian. we may intuit that it is in the very absurdities that the two religions must find their common ground. the being of a thing cannot itself be a thing.”44 We live in a world of existing things. a trinity composed of the Tai-chi. Is it possible to reconcile some or all of these paradoxes with a purely Christian view? Page 6 one’ s “nature.

71. but it is the most impoverished in all meaning and comprehension because it says “nothing” at all about everything that is. p.48 Here we have reached. is so by virtue of being distinct. Wilhelmsen. is the distinction of non-distinction. yet no-thing that is can be without existence.” The essential determinations of being which he strips from his idea of “being” themselves are being. boldface in original. existence transcendence. p. horse. p. Hence. This relationship of being and essence is similar to the Jiji muge. it is not distinct. by being what it is and not something else. from a basis of Thomistic metaphysics. man. 74. we find that it is a fairly easy matter to fit this into a framework of the Aristotelian relation of matter and form. not one s thing exists. Existentially expressed in the light of identity. nor experienced by. then to his generic essence. 79. 59. But all that is. 76. we cannot isolate “being” as something separate from any particular thing. let us say a man. p. By nature.Enlightenment: Zen. nature is zero.46 Thus existence emerges as “radical-extramentality. Wilhelmsen. When we strip away the oriental vocabulary. and on back— through living substance to substance— until simply “being” is reached. C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment. It follows that his “being” truly is non-being. Wilhelmsen. “fundamentally. and Modern negation.”47 Wilhelmsen concludes his demonstration. We are all so many nothings made to be.” “This extramentality is neither conceived by. or the Thomistic relationship of essence and existence. it escapes analysis. being itself is without cause. animality. it follows that by essence all things are nothing. Being is neither the same as essence (the “whatness” of a thing. The logician’ “being” is actually s the last residue of a long series of abstractions which begin with the concrete thing.” Although we are immersed in a world of things whose essences may be analyzed and resolved to their causes. tree. all of the principles which may be analyzed and reduced to the four Aristotelian causes). 48 49 No matter how hard we try. … the logician— in order to reach his concept of being— is constantly moving away from existing things and hence from their “to be. is beyond concepts.49 Being is neither “this thing” nor “that thing” nor any “thing” at all. But although we are made to exist. Huineng’ insight. Hence we may say that all that is. and which proceed to his specific essence. humanity. Since no essence is identically being or existence. 45 46 47 Wilhelmsen. p. we find ourselves in a world familiar to both the Greek and the Christian. “the unimpeded mutual solution of Ji and Ri”. it does not reach their esse as it would a presence. things are nonbeing.45 is negative Page 7 Each essence is identically itself: man.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . boldface in original. This concept or idea of being possesses the greatest extension because it “covers” everything. that is. Direct metaphysical realism bears upon the direct evidence of a world of existents. Wilhelmsen. Christian. being takes no root in us. nor is being different from essence.

37. Balthasar. “Is the wooden post here tired. indiscriminate. This compassion is. more or less. Wisdom and Compassion interact to bring forth the “Law-Body. 50 Suzuki. J. 46. 82. and so on. because “unless the post was tired too there could be no real tiredness anywhere. perhaps into the very notion of the Trinity itself? Page 8 this illusion. above all. because for the Buddhist both the ego and the person are mere illusions. we have located the crucial differences. is not prized at all. and all ontology. As Suzuki explains the meaning of the Buddhist “Trinity”. Essence of Buddhism. compassion cannot be directed towards Henri de Lubac. ethics and religion flow from this fact. translator. the Bodhisattva embarks upon morality. but only towards the moral or physical sufferings themselves. since the person does not really exist. and cannot be. we find the same. it is “vulgar” and temporary. (London and New York: Sheed and Ward. just aggregates who are impermanent and filled with pain. S. except that there is no real neighbor.54 Charity remains at the bottom of the six paramitas or “perfections”. The term one most frequently encounters in Buddhist thought is not love. Gawronski. p. intelligent and aware Love.53 Thus. the person is not prized for himself. as in the Master Asanga. and after pondering it all night. p. Can these parallels be pushed even further. he asks. with love purged of human infirmities and defilements. there is an important difference. replies in the affirmative. from a Christian viewpoint. George Lamb. The Zen master Bokuju asks a student who has been watching a polo match if the men and the horses were tired. It is in this order that they lead to each other: having no concern for any kind of fortune. philosophy. However. 54 C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment.”50 Here at the center of Suzuki’ understanding of s Buddhism we find a lively. “The highest reality is not a mere abstraction. Since the person cannot exist. but compassion..”52 There is a real love of neighbor in Buddhism.51 In Buddhist compassion. That is. 158. too?” The student was taken aback at this question.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . After getting an affirmative answer. This is illustrated in the koan of the polo post. Buddhist compassion has a tendency towards the utilitarian: It becomes a technique for attaining selflessness. Aspects of Buddhism. 1953) p. it is very much alive with sense and awareness and intelligence. whose interaction produces the Dharmakaya. to be replaced by more worthy paramitas. p. It is in this order that they get higher and higher: morality is higher than Emptiness and Annihilation We have seen in Suzuki a “Buddhist Trinity” composed of the Taichi and the Tai-pei. p. and. 61-2. Christian. 52 53 51 Suzuki. if we cannot. His suffering is no more important than the suffering of inanimate objects. of Christian and Buddhist thought? Surely Christianity is rooted in the Trinity. and Modern Thus far we have looked at some of the more problematic aspects of Zen and found within the Christian tradition very close parallels. it is not aimed at persons as persons.Enlightenment: Zen.” Have we reached here an identity. At the center of Christianity. If we can find the same in Buddhism we will have discovered an identity. Essence of Buddhism.

” But this very dissolution breaks the tension on which paradox depends. Essence of Buddhism. in fact.59 From the standpoint of love. Nor must love be limited to a formless “compassion” that treats persons and polo posts as equals in pity. makes itself felt most painfully.”58 for in love there must always be an “I” and a “Thou. The “I” of the person is affirmed. p. 57 Suzuki. love bridges a gap precisely because it is a love between persons. p. because the person is no different from the polo post. Here. nor can such a virtue enter into any account of man’ last end. not one thing exists. Thus the annihilation of the self is also the annihilation of the absolute. Buddhist compassion must equally be offered to the person and the polo post. a God of charity. Quoted in De Lubac. De Lubac. and this self constitutes the root of all evils. and so on. the tension. He holds it dear because the divinity holds it dearly. the idea of “the distinction of non-distinction.” For the Trinity is not a mere “concept”. Paradox upholds both sides of a conundrum within a tension. but in the case of the person. This absence of the person has severe consequences for Buddhist thought.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . 43. 152. and so on. which itself can only be void.Enlightenment: Zen. For the Christian the commandment to love God is founded upon God’ love for man. It is in this order that they grow more refined: giving is. for the creation of this world is the first step in God’ s selfcommunication. the absence of a real God. not is it about mere “threeness” or even “three-in-one”. a living God. s and this love of God for man expresses the very Being of God: Deus est Caritas. comes the affirmation of the physical world. 151-3. if not a pre-existing self).57 The solution is to merge the self into the void. For the Christian. Thus far. p. as everywhere s else in Buddhism. 41. 56 If you lose the reality of the person. and seeks a solution which bridges. or at least all that the Christian holds dear. Trinity is about three persons that constitute the one living divinity.55 Here then we can see most clearly why the idea of the Trinity cannot simply be projected unto Buddhism. 58 59 C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment. Balthasar. rather than cancels. Not in terms of this virtue [charity] can the Supreme Being— or nonbeing— be defined. say. as Henri de Lubac explains. the self arises from intellection (although it is not clear what the source of the intellection is. vulgar. Thus the world is affirmed as “very good” and its “otherness” from God need not amount to alienation and unreality. The problem of the person dissolves into the absolute. Balthasar. and Modern giving. Zen is insufficiently paradoxical. we have been speaking of Zen in terms of paradox. Christian.” or the idea that “fundamentally. and affirmed in the most radical way possible: by an Absolute that is the “I’ s” own “Thou. p. this bridge is Love. the “many” is dissolved into the “one. all are one in the void. In creation. you lose all. the person (and the world) need no longer to be dissolved into a void. things which in themselves could easily find a Buddhist equivalent. 12. p.” Along with this affirmation of the person. unlike. In 55 56 Page 9 Buddhist thought.

but is communicated through history and through the world around us.61 This emptying has for its purpose a filling up with love. After all. 162. The Buddhist must let go of the ego at his center as a preparation for annihilation. himself a mere illusion. not towards an inner purity for its own sake. In fact. The Christian mystic as well seeks to empty himself in the face of the divine. God’ word is s not understood solely as something “inner”. p. which is the very insufficiency of the physical world? Is he not likely to maintain a healthy skepticism towards a system that maintains the absurdity of both the “absolute” and the “other”. it is an 61 62 Balthasar. for the many to become “one. and with it an annihilation of the 60 Page 10 individual.63 In both Buddhism and Christianity. p. it is suspiciously logical. the emptying imitates the Absolute. p.” and to be fully. of eliminating any resistance to his openness towards God. a viewpoint that proceeds by paradox. Gawronski. a solution devoid of any hint of paradox or complexity. so far. there is space for the “other. Is he fooling himself in thinking that he can achieve both emptiness and maintain his own personality? Is there any way to bridge the gap between the One and the Many. the Christian must let go of his “geocentric” world in favor of a heliocentric view in which his “self” is received entirely from the Central Son.60 There can be no doubt of the compelling logic of this case. and at this initial phase their tasks are the same. it is certainly surprising that the whole question ends in such a “neat” solution. but to a relationship of love towards one’ s fellows and towards God.” This. p. not just as an impermanent manifestation of the divine. a communication perfected by his own personal entry into that history. between emptiness and fullness? Kenosis: Fullness Emptiness as Both the Christian mystic and the Zen Master begin with selflessness. 160. and Modern God makes “space” for the other “to be. 63 C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment. 73. but a means for ordering the whole person. Balthasar. God can make this “space” because within the fullness of the Trinity itself.62 Thus it is oriented. almost mechanically so. The logic of the situation forces an annihilation of the many into the one. including its history is thus a means of God’ s self-communication. Zen takes it further by negating the one as well.” The full range of the physical world. which negates the many into the one. 159.Enlightenment: Zen. From a Zen viewpoint. and particularly for the individual “person”. For the Buddhist. even as the one itself turns out to be the emptiness of the void. Christian. This being the case.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . which is attained by accepting and passing on forgiveness. the only way to reach the absolute is to merge with it. for what could be more absurd that an “absolute” that is less than “all”? And if there is an absolute. is perfectly consistent with Greek philosophy. have we not just violated the primary motive of religious belief. At this point the Buddhist is likely to throw up his hands in total incredulity. Balthasar. The purification is never an end in itself. how can it leave room for the less than absolute. It is this emptiness which the Zen master seeks to touch.

it is not even “we” that imitates the divine. for love can let the other be. and then of his creatures. without itself being threatened. 1994) p. We must remember this. however. however crudely. For. Balthasar. Translated by Graham Harrison. Volume IV: The Action. Theo-Drama. God fills (or rather. And to eliminate the last vestige of the egocentric. The divine unity s Hans Urs von Balthasar. 65 66 64 Page 11 is not threatened. seals it and. in emptying ourselves of our ego-centeredness. a beloved. but the divine itself. Theo-Drama. In begetting the Son.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . but this emptying allows us to be filled with divinity. In these divine “emptyings” we find the ontological ground of our own kenosis. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. the Father. but not an abstract love.66 Here we see a bridging of the gap between emptiness and fullness. he is the whole divine essence. fulfills) the divine nature in emptying himself. He is as many as three. he maintains the infinite difference between them. in uttering and surrendering himself without reserve. just as he does not keep back anything of himself either. Ex Oriente. the Father must not be thought to exist before the selfsurrender. The Father’ s generation of the Son is an eternal act of self-surrender in which all that the Father is is handed over to the Son. without remainder. 323. bridges it. To do so. that works this emptying within us. does not lose himself. but rather affirms and perfects it. There is no longer need for annihilation. He does not extinguish himself by self-giving. and Modern imitation of the Void. Lux We have shown a clear parallel of many of the Zen teachings with Christian teachings. first of God. he cannot be God in any other way but in the Godhead itself. This union. he is the self-surrender that holds nothing back. however. creatures who are themselves created in love. Of course. We no longer need fret about the opposition between the One and the Many. he let’ the other “be”. because he has surrendered all he is. Theo-Drama. 64 The Son answers with a Eucharist as selfless as the Father’ self-surrender and the Holy s Spirit proceeds as their subsistent “we”. Here we see both God’ s infinite power and his powerlessness.Enlightenment: Zen. 324. It would be more accurate to say “God is a lover”. is not self-subsistent. All this is possible because God is Love. God in himself is both one and many. in his selfsurrender. it can only find itself in union with God. C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment. “As the essence of love. p. with a distinct “I” are possible. since he is the one Spirit of them both. for the Son continues this kenosis by emptying himself of divinity to take the form of a slave. For the Christian it is the image of the original Kenosis which is God himself. 325. p. but love which has an object. between the One and the Many. Christian. a love that moves beyond the abstract of “compassion” to affirm the other. Balthasar. though distinct. working through grace. Moreover. but he is many more.”65 But this kenosis which is God must not be understood as self-annihilation. does not annihilate the created person’ s identity. Thus real beings with a distinct existence. It is always the “we” but a “we” enabled to participate in the divine kenosis. this “I”. we imitate the divine action.

113. is understood in time. The hallmarks of this modern enlightenment are the elevation of the ego to a central position in knowledge and the strict separation of the subject and objects of knowledge.” the human person is “he who becomes. But there is a remainder. 67 Wilhelmsen.Enlightenment: Zen. and as long as he has time he has hope. Therefore. including much of modern theology. and Modern we have reached back into the Christian tradition to an era that predates the Cartesian-Kantian logic that dominates the Modern world. Though the Christian glories in his history. for we must also concede that it has brought new and urgent questions regarding freedom. production. Just as the divine person is “He who Is. Zen emerges as the antitheses of the Modern Ego. This separation is so complete that things in themselves. the social order. As such. However. It is from this Cartesian and egocentric standpoint that Zen appears most problematical. For surely we must concede that modern man has been able to peer into the heart of things as things. the Modern Enlightenment must be seen as truly enlightening. as well as to the enlightenment that comes from the East? We noted at the beginning the modern’ debt to the scholastic. if a theory that has proven itself so powerful could turn out to be completely wrong.” The human person works out his destiny in the order of time. Have we not seen into the very boundary between physics and metaphysics? Nor are the accomplishments of modernism limited to the world of physics. Yet we must ask. and that remainder is the person. completely without value. can never actually be known. is both the domain and the means of our enlightenment. nevertheless his mind does not rest there.”67 Time. “can modernism be so easily negated?” Is there nothing in the Enlightenment that is enlightening? It would be strange if this were true. the human person represents. etc. but it cannot blind us to the light of modernism itself. C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment. where everything appears to disappear into a pure mathematical dimension. Surely s we cannot merely deny our own child. we can confront the modern world with the confidence that we can claim what is valuable. From the standpoint of all of these undeniable accomplishments. an excessus. though complete in Christ. just as it is the moment yet to come. “a metaphysics of the future. the Kantian ding an sich. He has seen into the atom and beyond. Christian. that is. Revelation. and leave the rest behind. when the Christian looks at the Modern World. in the achievements of the Fathers of the Early Church and the Middle Ages. How then is the Christian to deal with this new Enlightenment.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . economics. For this reason. We have noted the startling similarities between the Christian and the Buddhist. p. in Christianity. it offers a powerful tonic to the modern world. as Frederick Wilhelmsen put it. he sees the hand of God working throughout history. Zen is indeed a light which enlightens many of these shadows. It dissolves the egocentric view and the subject-object duality that are the foundation stones of modernism. history. even if incomplete. for history is of course this moment equally with the previous moment. however unruly we find his behavior. and how close the religion of Nirvana comes to the religion of Kenosis. even if its light throws many dark Page 12 shadows.

The Zen master reminds us of our own tendency to forget our roots and lose ourselves in modern egoism. Page 13 C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment. towards the rising of the Son. and we must ever be looking towards this light. a message often drained of any authentic meaning and spirituality. we must remember that when we are standing in Tokyo. we can look toward the East for what is truly genuine. and an often tedious neo-Thomism. Christian. and for this light we must be thankful. with love. from no matter how far east it comes. From the East comes light. And East of Tokyo. lux. there is a level of enlightenment in Christianity— authentic Christianity— that cannot be reached by Buddhism alone. we must continue to look for the light from the East. Nevertheless. we cannot indulge any form of syncretism because. In an age of television evangelism.Enlightenment: Zen. but by itself it cannot reach the true self. Buddhims can be a stage in the journey. Ex oriente. individualistic Christianity.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . stands Jerusalem. Many have discovered the ancient motto. At the same time. as we have seen. the one emptied of self to be filled with God. many people— especially young people— have become weary of such a poorly presented Christian message. We can look for the light as far past Jerusalem as Tokyo. without the slightest fear of compromising the fullness of revelation. and Modern Similarly.

New York: Doubleday Anchor Books. 53-59 Dumoulin. Jr. New York: Hawthorn Books.” 5 (1978) Spring. “Catholicism and the religions. Volume IV: The Action. 1993. “Hans Urs von on non-Christian and meditation. 1953. O’ Hanlon. “Satori. London: The Buddhist Society. C:\Documents and Settings\Dad\My Documents\Enlightenment.1995. Heinrich. Irving. _________. “A question for Hans Urs von Balthasar. Thomas. George Lamb. 1967.” Communio.Enlightenment: Zen. or Enlightenment. Henri de. Garden City.” Communio.” Communio. 1957 _________. London and New York: Sheed and Ward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. Thomas. _________. translated by Sister Mary Theresilde.” Communio.” In New Elucidations. New York: Delta Books. 1956. 1970. Merton. Essential Sacred Writings From Around the World. 5 (1978) Spring. The Paradoxical Structure of Existence. 5 (1978) Spring. Cist. 68 J. “Mystics and Zen Masters. Wilhelmsen. Suzuki.” Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D. _________. 6-14. New York and Tokyo: Weatherhill. Christian. Daniel Balthasar religions Communio. 1986. O. Texas: The University of Dallas Press. Theo-Drama.” Mystics and Zen Masters. Irving: University of Dallas. Kereszty. Buddhism. Aspects of Buddhism. “Response to my critics. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. Word and Silence: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West. 1969. 4452. Frederick D. Zen Enlightenment: Origins and Meanings. 2001. The Essence of Buddhism. and Modern Bibliography Balthasar. 1994. tr. Daisetz Teitaro. Translated by John C. 6976. Raymond. 83-110. Eliade. 60- Schmitz. 5 (1978) Spring. Miraldo.doc Created on 3/9/2001 10:35 AM Last printed 6/3/2006 11:45 AM . Gawronski. Mircea. 2001. San Francisco: Harper and Row. “Divine initiative and Christian praxis. Roch. Edited by William Barrett. 11-44. John B. Irving: University of Dallas. Cobb. Suzuki. Kenneth L. T.. “Christian and NonChristian Meditation. Hans Urs von. A Supplemental Anthology of Texts in World Religions. Christianity Among Other Religions. _________. Page 14 Lubac. 1977. 5 (1978) Spring. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 140-168. Berry.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful