The second edition, revised and updated, of Roshi Kennedy's seminal work, Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit, is available for purchase on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Zen-Spirit-Christian-Revised-Updated/dp/163557997X/
Sensei Amy Yee has completed a beautiful translation of the book into Mandarin Chinese. You may purchase a copy directly from the publisher: http://www.kcg.org.tw/detailbook.php?id=859
Buddhist-Christian Relations, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, Georgetown University, Zoom Tuesday December 1, 2 pm. https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/events/buddhist-christian-perspectives-on-contemplative-practices-and-religious-belonging#rsv
R.I.P. Willigis Jäger OSB (1925-2020)
Father Willigis Jäger, a monk of Münsterschwarzach and well-known Zen Roshi, died on March 20, 2020, at the age of ninety-five.
Father Jäger began Zen training with Yamada Koun Roshi in 1975 at the Sanbō Kyōdan in Kamakura, Japan.
He founded a center of Zen and contemplation at Münsterschwarzach in 1983. Ordained a Zen Master (Roshi) in 1996, he founded his own Benekiktushof: Zentrum für Meditation und Achtsamkeit [Centre for Meditation and Mindfulness] in Holzkirchen (Unterfranken) near Würzburg in 2003.
His obituary, which appeared on the website of Münsterschwarzach, can be found here with an English translation.
Ellen Birx Sensei, new book: EMBRACING THE INCONCEIVABLE, Interspiritual Practice of Zen and Christianity
Review by William Skudlarek, monk of St. Johns Abbeu, Collegeville, MN, July-December 2020 Monastic Interreligious Dialogue
One does not have to read very far into Ellen Birx’s insightful and accessible book on the interspiritual practice of Zen and Christianity to recognize that this is an author who is worthy to stand among other fine writers— Aelred Graham, Hugo Enomiya LaSalle, William Johnston, Ruben and Maria Reis Habito, Tom Chetwynd, Elaine MacInnes, Robert Kennedy, and so many others—who have given testimony to the way their Christian faith and practice has been enlightened and strengthen by the practice of zazen. What sets this book apart is her insistence that if you do decide to incorporate another religious tradition into your spiritual practice, do not pick and choose. As she says at the end of her book, “In my life I have focused on these two spiritual traditions because it is difficult to go deep enough into more than two traditions, and depth is of the essence” (p. 190).
Birx’s concluding comment echoes a statement made by Father Pierre de Béthune, first Secretary General of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, in the 2016 documentary film “La voie de l’hospitalité” / “Strangers No More.” I quote here from the subtitles of the English version, beginning at 23’36”:
If you are deeply rooted in your own tradition . . . you don't have to be afraid of immersing yourself in another religion. It’s not a question of compromise, saying I’ll accept this, but not that. No. I accept everything! But I accept it with all that is mine. It's a meeting from faith to faith or, more exactly, from fidelity to fidelity.
Virtually every page of this fine book indicates just how deeply rooted Ellen Brix is in the spiritual and doctrinal tradition of Christianity. As a dharma successor of Roshi Robert Kennedy SJ, she has also gone deep into the Zen tradition, not only that of the Sanbō Kyōdan, the lineage of her teacher, but of “all Zen teachers and practitioners back to Buddha who kept this practice alive to this day” (p. xi).
The theme that runs through the entire book is that the essence of Zen is the experience of nonduality, “seeing through the illusion of a separate ego self to directly experience ultimate reality, which manifests as you and the whole universe, from which you are not separate (p. 51). What Zen offers those seeking this illumination is training in practices that can prepare one for this life-altering experience, especially meditation, but also rituals, chanting, and working with koans.
How to conceive of or even recognize the experience of nonduality is often difficult for those formed in a Western culture that is so focused on individual dentity and distinctiveness. Birx’s reference to what the Council of Chalcedon (451) said about the hypostatic union of Jesus is helpful. In him divinity and humanity are distinct but not separate realities. Her own practice of zazen led her to the experiential realization that this teaching applies to us as well. We are “already one and not separate from ultimate reality, or God. Yet we are distinct; we do not merge like a drop into the ocean—at this time, nor in the future” (p. 45; emphasis added).
Early in her book, Birx recognizes that Zen terminology such as nonduality can seem abstract and confusing. “However,” she continues, “before I was a nurse, a nursing professor, or a Zen teacher, I was a first-grade teaching, so I am confident that I can make Zen terms clear and simple” (p. 3). She then goes on to clearly describe and explore the various ways in which “the Zen awakening experience did not negate [her] previous Christian awakening to God’s love [but] expanded it” (p. 17), organizing her reflections under five headings: “Entering Interspiritual Practice,” “Experiencing Nondual Spirituality,” “Discovering the Nonseparate Self,” “Meditating and Praying,” and “Embodying Loving Action.”
Embracing the Inconceivable offers the reader an extended and compelling reflection on the ways Zen can aid Christians in the fulfillment of their vocation to recognize and experience that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, as Saint Augustine so memorably put it, that we are one in Christ and one with the world we serve through works of compassion, justice, and truth.
As a Benedictine monk who has long admired the courageous and eloquent witness that the French Benedictine, Henri Le Saux (Swami Abhishiktananda) gave of the nondual spirituality that Birx describes and elucidates so masterfully, I cannot help calling attention to her mistaken reference to him as a Dominican priest (p. 110). However, since he believed that “You will only find yourself in the total loss of yourself” (diary entry for February 3, 1960 in Ascent to the Depth of the Heart, p. 231), he probably would not have minded in the least.