Christian Zen?

Authored By: Catholics United for Faith


Catholics United for the Faith replies:

1) The matter of invoking Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others who are not only not canonized but were not Catholics should be charitably brought to the attention of diocesan officials, with copies of your correspondence kept for your records. Even for a Catholic, one must be "beatified" before being invoked at a liturgical service (Canon 1187). Thus, invoking Dorothy Day is also inadmissible because, though her cause for canonization has been introduced, she has not been beatified yet.

One can privately request the intercession of any faithful departed Catholic, although praying for the repose of their soul should be done as well.

2) Zen designates a school/technique of meditation that arose within Mahayana Buddhism in China in the 6th century A.D. Zen is characterized by its radical orientation to attain "enlightenment", understood as a super-clear experience of the original unity of being. It has two fundamental elements: Zazen and Koan. Zazen is simply the Japanese term for the upright sitting position with legs crossed used by the practitioners of Zen. (This position of itself would seem to posit no particular problem, except for the fact that it can serve as an enticement to other elements of eastern spirituality which are irreconcilable with Christianity). Koan exercises, on the other hand, express the monistic (i.e., all things are one; no essential difference between man and God) worldview of Mahayana Buddhism, and insofar as they do this they cannot be accepted. Also, as the technique is often practiced, it differs essentially from Christian meditation in that its focus is on the self rather than on God. In conclusion, due to the prevailing climate of poor spiritual formation of Catholics today, the common abuses which are taking place in the "adaptation" of eastern spiritualities to a Christian setting and the pervasiveness of the New Age movement, it is not prudent to expose Catholics to these techniques.

3) Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J., who wrote the book Catholics and the New Age (Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, Mich.), says the following, taken from an article in Our Sunday Visitor on July 5, 1992.

"The enneagram, from the Greek ennea (nine) and gram (line drawing), is a system of classifying personality types based on the figure of a circle with nine points on it, [each] connected by lines. Each point stands for an ego-type that has its own distinctive vice and virtue. Each can get worse by moving against the arrow.

"I was taught the enneagram in 1972 while a student in the Jesuit theologate. We used it in our spiritual and social life. But we noticed we were typing people incorrectly, and interest faded. "In the '80s, I saw an enneagram industry develop, but the versions being taught were contradictory. So I did research. The enneagram is supposed to be ancient Sufi wisdom, thousands of years old. But the sufis, who are Muslim mystics, aren't that old of a movement. The diagram itself can't be older than the 14th or 15th century. It was discovered in the 1890s in Central Asia by a Greek-Armenian occultist named George Gurdjieff. He got it from a secret brotherhood of Sufis called the Naqshbandi, who were using it for numerological fortune- telling. Gurdjieff, a charlatan and a swindler who was into gnosticism, taught it to his disciples as a symbol of the cosmos. Gurdjieff died in 1949 but left followers. Oscar Ichazo, a Chilean who claimed to have had out-of-body experiences since childhood and studied all sorts of psychic practices, learned the enneagram from such a group.

"In the 1960s, Ichazo devised a personality system of nine types -- each with its animal totem -- matched to the enneagram. Esalen Institute psychologist Claudio Naranjo, another admirer of Gurdjieff, collaborated with him. Naranjo spread the enneagram through Esalen classes."

Beside its occult roots, Father Pacwa says, "I have two criticisms [of enneagrams]. First, it's theological nonsense, suffused with gnostic ideas. For instance, the nine points of the enneagram are called the "nine faces of God," which become nine demons turned upside down. No one should speak that way. . . . And the way the enneagram is taught is Pelagian -- self- salvation through a man-made technique, not by God's grace.

"Secondly, this is a psychological system that hasn't been tested by professional psychologists. We have no independent evidence that it's true. As a result, enneagram experts -- who aren't necessarily aware of the occult aspects -- are making up descriptions as they go along. It's irresponsible to pass this off as true."

And what makes one an expert on the enneagram?

"There are no controls over who is an expert. You wouldn't go to any professional on that basis. Using the spiritual label guards them from stage regulations, but they're still giving psychological advice. I don't have much respect for the enneagram industry at this point."

Why do audiences accept it?

"They relate to the anecdotes. They recognize that people do have personality types. But they don't ask if this system is true or why it's supposed to work and not others. They don't see the potential for abuse if they start relating to other people by their enneagram numbers."

So what's the appeal of the enneagram and other New Age programs?

"Americans are narcissistic already. They're curious about the self and attempt to take control. They want to short-circuit the process by joining the in-crowd."

So is there a New Age conspiracy?

"Some like to spread that myth. We Jesuits are very sensitive about conspiracy theories. Powerlessness breeds them. The New Age isn't a conspiracy, but it is a danger to organizations and individuals because it leads people away from Christ and may damage their psyches. Still, I don't want to underestimate the New Age, especially if it should get political."

But we can't go witch-hunting either?

Of course not. Use common sense and charity. Challenge New Agers from sound knowledge of faith and fact. Remember, the point of Christianity isn't a higher state of consciousness, but an interpersonal relationship with Christ and with the other members of His Church."

Father Pacwa makes other comments in a July/August 1991 article in New Covenant.

"The social problems of typing people without their knowledge may not pertain to the essence of the enneagram, but it is endemic to enneagram workshops. The enneagram teachers and books give the bad example of typing people they do not know and who have no chance to make a workshop to type themselves.

"The books even recommend typing other people in order to deal with them better. This abuse happens in parishes and retreat houses so people should know they will encounter this unauthentic way of relating.

"I mentioned moral problems like channeling spirits, I Ching, horoscopes, drugs, and meditating to remove sins precisely because I have heard them in enneagram workshops myself. Others claim they continue to go on in some workshops. People should be alerted to them before taking the workshops.

"I did mention a priest who teaches others that original sin begins at age three or four when the ego takes shape. In all seriousness, Catholics taught me about the "nine faces of God," the upside-down devil, and essence vs. ego. Beesing, Nogosek and O'Leary write that Jesus had all nine personality types. These are not theoretical problems but real situations.

"Some people say the enneagram helps them remove the plank in their eye and struggle against self-deception. However, a problem inherent in the system is that people focus on one complex of faults, allegedly the ego compulsion, and ignore other compulsive behavior. The enneagram defines their set of compulsions and neglects other issues. That is not helpful.

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