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re: Zen and Catholics
Question from Juan José Martin on 8/21/2006:

Recently someone asked about the issue of Zen vs Catholicsm. Here is my view on this:

First, I don't see any "vs", and the Zen point of view on Catholic doctrine might not be anything new under the sun from a Catholic perspective.

As a follower of Saint Francis' doctrine, there are a lot of similarities; Zen is the divinization of the mundane, the existence of the spiritual in the most trivial and simple things in life, the sacralization of the mere act of life, the unity in spirit in everything, the aceptance of both "positive" and "negative" aspects of existence, etc. The works of St. Francis reflect all this perspective IMHO.

There have been many Catholic priests, monks, nuns... who have studied Zen (or other forms of Buddhism) and they have remained Catholic. Here are some: Pedro Arrupe (Jesuit), Díez Alegría (Jesuit), Raimon Pannikar, Anthony de Mello (Jesuit) to name a few.

All of them have studied Eastern philosophies, bringing them closer to Catholicism. I talked about this issue with a Catholic priest and friend during my confession, and he clearly stated that there's no apostasy, heressy or anything blasfemous in studying other forms of spirituality. I told him that I had rediscovered my Catholic faith through the interest in Zen I had experienced several years before, and he answered that it was quite common these days.

Our conversation went on to some meetings he had attended with members of other religions (Orthodox Christians, Islam, Buddhism...), and that the experience had been very enriching.

Now, I'm not advocating for a spiritual tutti-frutti sort of thing, but sometimes a different (many times, not that different) can make us see things under a different light and help us go deeper in our undertanding and living Catholicism.

Blessings, Juan

Answer by Richard Geraghty on 8/25/2006:

Dear Juan,

I am glad to hear that your experience with Zen had led you to a better appreciation of the faith. But in many cases this does not happen because people get in Zen because they are either against the teaching authority of the Church and wish to be spiritual without being obedient or do not know much about the faith in the first place or have not been instructed in the faith when they went to Church. If a person is well grounded in the faith, he can benefit from Zen. But that is often not the case. The historical fact is that Zen has been used by Catholic religious teachers as a way of dissenting from the Church while at the same time looking spiritual. That is the sad but certain fact.



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