VOLUME XI:2 July - December 2021


The Charismatic Zen of William Johnston SJ

In 1976, when I was about to leave Taiwan with my wife and three little children for the United States after a sabbatical in Taiwan, I happened upon a tattered poster on a telephone pole:
Sunday-Friday Ash Wednesday Week
I knew that Father Johnston was the well-known Irish Jesuit theologian at Sophia University in Tokyo, widely honored for his studies of mysticism and his major contributions to the development of Buddhist-Christian encounter. I was totally intrigued. Instantly I decided to attend the retreat which would end just before our family was scheduled to fly to San Francisco, with an overnight stopover in Tokyo.
Day One           
I arrived on a Monday afternoon at Saint Benedict’s Convent and Retreat House, tucked away in the low-lying hills of Tamsui by the sea in northern Taiwan. Since I was late, I rushed to open the heavy doors to the chapel where the retreat was being held, announcing with a mighty thud my presence to a full gathering of retreatants sitting silently in the pews. Suddenly, here I was, the sole layman among a group of Catholic priests and sisters, most of them American-born, who were serving as missionaries in Taiwan. I looked and felt like a misfit, especially since Father Johnston had to wait to begin the retreat because of me. The chapel setting was Far Eastern in its simplicity and decor. Square in shape, it had a low altar in its center, about a foot and a half high. A plain muted oil lamp hung to one side, softly gleaming in the semidarkness of late afternoon. Tatami mats and cushions were placed on the spacious floor around the front and two sides of the altar, so that after today’s introduction, participants could sit on cushions according to zazen form and face the altar.
As I dashed into a pew and looked up, I experienced a Catholic’s shock. To my utter surprise, Father Johnston appeared in black Japanese yukata robes, instead of a priest’s black suit. He bowed deeply before the altar, where he placed the Eucharist in a ciborium in plain view instead of in the tabernacle where it belonged. Turning to face us, he sat on a cushion zazen style with his legs crossed; the ciborium was behind. There was no “In the Name of the Father” or “let us pray.” We simply maintained a long silence. In imitation of Japanese monks, many of the religious women and men retreatants were wearing dressing gowns or robes, while the priests among them had on cassocks. Everyone but me had dressed appropriately for a Zen sesshin. I guessed many were fellow neophytes like me as we all awkwardly sat zazen with legs crossed as best we could. We would quickly discover together that, for the uninitiated Westerner, zazen would initially prove a painful affair.
Father Johnston was partly bald with longish hair at the temples, bushy white eyebrows, a gray-brown beard, and a radiant smile. While born in Ireland and definitely Irish, you could tell by his clothing, carriage, and bearing that he had been profoundly touched by Japanese culture and language through his long years in Japan. Nonetheless, you readily knew by his sparking blue eyes amidst his ruddy complexion that the Irish remained in the Japanese.
I had brought my Zen sitting cushion all the way from my home in Pelham, Massachusetts, to Taiwan, and had practiced daily morning zazen in our Japanese-styled residence while teaching and researching at Tunghai University near Taichung. But feeling late and a bit shy about being up front with esteemed Father Johnston and among the clergy and religious, I placed my cushion at the back of the chapel, sat down and crossed my legs. Father Johnston noticed that I was off by myself and came over. “Good,” he laughed, complimenting my sitting posture. “But pretty hard to sit on a marble floor!”
He explained to the participants that the schedule he set would be followed beginning the next morning, and that it was entirely voluntary. You could practice cross-legged zazen on your cushion and mat on the chapel floor or sit in the pews. The general atmosphere would be both disciplined, Zen-style, and relaxed. “Please keep silence at all times,” he requested. Morning zazen was very early—from 3:00 to 4:00 am, resuming at 10:00, 5:30, and 9:00. Although we might find that sitting was painful, we were to try to keep sitting cross-legged during daily Mass, father’s conference talks, and Night Prayer. “You are free to go to bed in the evening whenever you wish.” He welcomed confessions and individual conferences.
That first afternoon, I was impressed by the Chinese language facility of all the Western missionaries who joined the Chinese Sisters and sang the Psalms of the Divine Office beautifully in Chinese. That night at our first sitting, I was stirred again, but in an entirely different sense. While it was February and early spring in Tamsui, the indoor temperature here was 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, and given the damp, sub-tropical climate and lack of indoor heating, the chill was penetrating. All through zazen I kept silently chanting “It’s cold. It’s cold. It’s cold.” Another snag was the Taiwanese Chinese priest with whom I roomed was the most colossal snorer of all time. When he snored, I thought his face would fall off from the reverberations which shook the walls and rooftop of Saint Benedict’s Retreat House. Although I had spent years studying Chinese, somehow I didn’t know the Chinese word for “snore.” I kept yelling out loud through the night, “Shenfu, Shenfu, buyao ‘Snore!’”—Father, Father, STOP SNORE!” But it didn’t do a rice-grain’s worth of good.
Day Two
Conference One: Faith and Zazen
At first, I felt vaguely uncomfortable having the Eucharist exposed on the altar, and not in the tabernacle. Somehow that did not fit with zazen, I thought, I didn’t know why. Was it vaguely “sacrilegious” to practice Zen sitting before the Eucharist? As a Catholic, I was used to a church or chapel being reserved for the Mass and Eucharist, with scriptural readings, homilies and prayers of the faithful before the altar. But Father Johnston preferred that we reassemble for conferences in the chapel after Mass and a short break.
Gradually I came to appreciate and understand his manner. Soon I realized my unease was because I was a beginner in East-West contemplative prayer. How wonderful it was throughout the retreat to have Jesus in the Eucharist before me as I sat! Indeed, Father Johnston's entire unveiling of Christian-Zen accorded with the spirit of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which had ended nearly ten years before. In Pope John’s celebrated invitation to begin Vatican II, he had said it was time to “throw open the windows of the Catholic Church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through.” And here we were, with the priest facing us, all of us dressed in robes in imitation of Japanese monks, sitting on the chapel floor on Japanese Zen cushions, and integrating Buddhist meditation and teaching within Catholic prayer and liturgy.
We opened the conference singing “Keep in mind that Jesus Christ has died for us and is risen from the dead. He is our saving Lord; he is joy for all ages.” Johnston’s presentation was that of an oral storyteller, intimate and dynamic, entertaining and instructive, a felt bodily presence. He would gesture with his hands raised, palms facing us, to stress a point, or pucker his lips and raise his white eyebrows, indicating surprise or disdain. From time to time, he put a hand behind an ear, and slowly whispered the word “Listen!” to encourage deepening our interior hearing. As he spoke he gazed on us reflectively and pointedly, noticing each person individually. We experienced a living relationship between himself and us. His voice was warm, friendly, and penetrating, and he spoke in a smoothly flowing, natural rhythm, spontaneously, passionately, from deep within, with an immediacy which was very appealing, making us eager to hear and understand.
“Christian-Zen was started by the Jesuit Father Enomiya Lasalle," he began, “one of the pioneers of the encounter between Zen Buddhism and Christianity.[1] At first the Japanese were not interested,” he mused, his eyes shining with quiet joy, “but now they are.” Much to our surprise, he added,
Sitting or cross-legged sitting is not central. What is central is faith. The Buddhists say the same thing. You do not hear much about this in western books on Buddhism. But in fact, you have to have the faith as a Buddhist that you will be enlightened. A Christian has to have the faith that he or she is loved by God. Buddhist faith means that you know everything is all right; there is no need to worry.[2] For the Christian, there comes a time when an existential experience happens—the individual truly realizes that everything is all right. The key is an attitude of mind—Faith. Faith that I can break through. We can enter into contemplation. Faith that is a liberation from fear.
He quoted Isaiah, “Do not fear, for I am with you” (41:10). “I have called you by name, you are mine.” (43:1). He emphasized reading Scripture copiously during the retreat. “An enlightened book by enlightened people,” he called the Bible.
“Good,” I thought to myself. “The Book of Enlightenment. How do I read it that way?”
He paused, stood up, and looked about the chapel, earnestly checking to see whether we were following him. Elaborating on faith, he noted that faith and education were two aspects of meditation, the latter being like the training of an athlete, noting that Saint Paul used the same simile to speak of himself.
Paul was known to have been concerned with games and athletic contests. His view was similar to that found in the Orient regarding the importance of training (Japanese gyo 行) for various arts, sports, and meditation. Faith and training go together. Training includes controlling the mind, breathing, and the body in order to be in the present. At the same time, in a deeply complementary sense, the Taoist concept of wu wei (無為), literally "non-doing," is vital. It means not impeding but getting out of the way of the Way (Tao 道) so that the Tao might prevail, letting the Holy Spirt act.
“Follow wu wei,” he urged. “In fact, in doing that, an inner dynamism in the human psyche goes to work. It is at this level that the Spirit acts.” Citing Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he stated that in the Zen way of meditation, the Holy Spirit is crucial: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26).
He suggested taking a “Zen” walk outside during the retreat for mind-body practice of doing nothing.
“Like this”—he paced in very slow footsteps back and forth in front of the altar, his right hand holding his left thumb, and both hands against his chest. “This is kinhin, Zen meditative walking. Instead of thinking about a problem and being oblivious to your surroundings, be aware of what you see and hear. Be present to reality.” He cupped both hands behind his ears, and slowly gazed at objects in the chapel—statues, windows, the ciborium—and we sitters before him, one by one. We are always escaping from the present and living in the past or future. If you live in the present, you become more deeply aware of the past—it becomes luminous.
Father Johnston then turned to the practice of Zazen.
Start sitting in a couple of alternative ways—looking and listening. What is about you, what in front? Or say a word repeatedly to yourself. Keep your back straight so that you can breathe abdominally and be calm. Keep your eyes open. Why? The answer is emptiness. If you close your eyes, you are not completely empty. You become filled with your own internal states of consciousness—even nice ideas about God are examples. If your eyes are open, you are empty of this. With your eyes open, sitting before the altar, you can look at the ciborium. With your eyes open you will keep being present to reality.
He moved on to breathing. “In zazen,” he noted,
it is important that your breathing be abdominal. Take a few deep breaths when you begin meditation. This helps bring yourself into the present where reality is. Between tasks during the day take a deep breath. This will help you concentrate. Breathing deeply makes your joints more supple and helps you sit more comfortably. Practice by counting your breaths up to ten on the exhale. Counting helps you get away from your reasoning and thinking, and from your anxieties about the past or future.
He added that most people are distracted by the time they get to five.
“That’s all right,” he encouraged us. “Just go back to one again.”
We laughed out loud.
A Catholic sister and priest in the front row of sitters began chatting together. The sister raised her hand. “We want to know why breathing is so important. Could you link zazen breathing to prayer or Scripture?”
Breathing is essential because, at the most basic level, as you know, you have a voluntary and involuntary nervous system. The breath acts as a sort of mediator or go-between between the two systems. The breath is both involuntary and voluntary. It is both automatic and controllable. More profoundly, in Chinese, Chi Qi 氣), air, breath, is the vital energy within one, the vital energy within the universe. In the Bible, the breath is also of essential importance. Think of Genesis, the creation of man, when the Lord blew into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7). Therefore, since this breath is crucial, it is vital your breathing be relaxed during meditation.
The two nodded affirmatively, and smiled, noting the common ground East-West.
Sitting down again, Father Johnston outlined three simple steps for this to happen: begin by counting your breaths and keep coming back to this counting as an anchor when you find your mind wandering. Second, cease counting, but simply maintain an awareness or consciousness of the breathing; follow your breathing. Third—enter into the silence.
He then began to illustrate proper deep breathing from the abdomen, the hara (腹),considered the center of one’s being, the “elixir field,” or reservoir of vital energy, about two or three inches below the navel, against which the sitters fold their hands. For a few minutes he began inhaling and exhaling from his abdomen, like an opera star or athlete.
“Remember that breathing is symbolical,” he urged.
In the Orient, the breath is the whole cosmic force. It does not have the same meaning for us Christians. To us, the Holy Spirit is the breath. Breath is the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathes upon his disciples. Pentecost is described in terms of a great wind and fire. Breathing can be an experience of the Spirit, of breathing the Holy Spirit. This is why the attitude of mind with which you begin meditation is fundamental.
Again, you must go to do this breathing with faith. This is what makes this sort of breathing and sitting different from the breathing and sitting you do in preparation for judo, karate, aikido, painting, etc. That is, as a Christian you have a specific attitude of faith. Similarly, in zazen, the orientation and attitude is different from say, judo. The difference in Zen is also one of faith.
Lastly, regarding the “how” “what” and “why” of zazen meditation, Father Johnston raised up language, specifically a special word or phrase which for the sitter is personally significant. Its meaning or content may not matter. What does matter is that the word becomes a way to inner purity, an invocation.
“Combine with your breathing a word or phrase,” he counseled.
For instance, “Come Holy Spirit.” Place your hands over both your ears and your eyes, count to ten, and become conscious of your body, your breathing, and of here and now as you say the words. On your exhalation, say the word “wu” or “mu" or “kong” (空)—words meaning emptiness or nothingness. Recall Saint John of the Cross’ “todo y nada,” “everything and nothing.”
You exhale and “empty” yourself. Everything is emptied in order to be filled with God. For us, depending on our faith, this is kenosis. Jesus emptied himself, taking himself as a slave, and “God also highly exalted him” (Philip 2:9).
Father Johnston closed his lesson on faith and zazen with a poignant vignette that was to strike home for me in the immediate future and the years ahead.
He stood up, paused, and penetratingly gazed into our eyes before speaking.
During a Zen-Christian dialogue in Japan, a Catholic Japanese priest, citing Jesus’ words on the cross, cried out, “My Zen is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46). A Zen monk remarked softly: “Beautiful, beautiful.” Jesus at this point on the Cross had lost everything, even the sense of God. This is a way of life, an attitude towards life, a faith.
Years later, I came to realize that the anonymous priest who thus identified his Zen was the Japanese Dominican, Father Shigeto Oshida, OP, Zen Buddhist and Catholic hermit, founder of the Takamori Hermitage in Japan.
Private Meeting
At lunch break I was able to have a personal conversation with Father Johnston. For our discussion, we met in a spacious outdoor alcove adjacent to his room, overlooking a natural Japanese garden—well preserved from the days of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. Two bamboo chairs and a small, glass-topped wicker table were set in place under an awning, and two cups of green tea. On the table I noted two or three books Father Johnston may have been using for his talks and a prayer book. As we sat, we looked out upon a fishpond with lovely multi-colored koi swimming about. The fragrance of some early spring blooming flower or shrub in the bamboo garden was a delight.
When there came a reflective pause in our talk, we both gazed at the wondrous koi.
As we sat and began to chat, he affirmed clearly: “Christian-Zen has a great future, and Christians need and want it.”
I turned to the example of the Christian Zendo he and his Jesuit confreres and friends had in Tokyo, asking whether Christians and Buddhists chant together.
“There is still no agreement on the ‘Christian’ element,” he allowed.
His Jesuit confrere Enomiya-Lasalle believed everything should be “purely Japanese” in Christian Zen practice, so that the Christian student would have a true experience. This is why Father Lasalle was adamantly against having the Blessed Sacrament in the Zendo. On the other hand, he said, a well-known Japanese Catholic priest (that would be Shigeto Oshida I believe), formerly a Zen monk, had the opposite viewpoint. “At present,” Johnston remarked, “what we have in the Zendo is a rock—a true symbol for both Christians and Buddhists.” He noted that, after centuries of intolerance on the part of Christians, Japanese Buddhists were polite in their relations with Christians, but hesitant to be “palsy-walsy.”
“Experience is the very best level of exchange,” he reminded me, speaking broadly and succinctly. “When Christians and Buddhists sit together, they really are sharing something.”
He advised me to read the Canadian Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan as the best theologian to use in approaching Christian-Buddhist dialogue. “Lonergan makes the important distinction between faith and belief, or faith operating on the intrinsic and extrinsic levels,” he explained. According to Lonergan’s theory, everyone shares faith on the intrinsic level. People differ on the extrinsic level—the expression and interpretation of faith which is belief. Faith (the intrinsic level) is therefore not a system, but a way of life, a felt reality.[3]
I asked Father Johnston whether participants chanted at the Christian Zendo, and which statues they used.
He explained that again, there was no agreement. So, they did not chant. “The question is,” he joked, “What chant should they use? The same is true of statues. Which would be appropriate?” His example was persuasive. Should there appear a statue of Buddha or Kannon (Chinese Guanyin) in the Zendo, Japanese Buddhists would misunderstand and think the Christians had become Buddhists.
“Right now,” he noted, “they did have the cross in their zendo, of course, but they were unclear about what direction in which to go in terms of art and liturgy.”
We sat in silence, contemplating the koi roiling the surface of the pond. So much overlap, East-West, I considered, especially in relation to the Holy Spirit—breath and breathing, Qi, faith—yet different philosophies, beliefs, worship, and symbols.
After a while, Father Johnston stood up, and smiled. He noted it was time for Mass. I stood too, then bowed in thanksgiving, feeling deeply touched that I was moving into a realm of spirituality that was of endless promise, like the ceaseless movement of the koi.
Afternoon Liturgy: Mass of the Holy Spirit
For me it was important to be engulfed in the awareness that the first Eucharist in the chapel at the Charismatic Zen retreat was, fittingly, the Mass of the Holy Spirit, and to be called to the Spirit’s movement in Holy Communion, meditation, and zazen. This special Mass, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, blesses beginnings—the start of a school year, educational gatherings, and convocations of church members—asking the Holy Spirit to be with all those gathered to learn, to be able to see the presence of God in the world, and bless all participants with the fruits and gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, and fear of the Lord (wonder and awe).[4]
Father Johnston placed a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit during the whole retreat, starting with his instructions on breathing the breath of the Holy Spirit during zazen. He had a strong belief in the Charismatic Movement, the charismatic experience, and the healing power of the Spirit, and was much in favor of the charismatic movement within Catholicism.
In his homily at the Mass, he spoke of the Spirit as a gift to us for which Jesus himself prayed.
“The Holy Spirit is now with us,” he declared, noting that a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence was our peace. “If we have the habit of daily prayer, of Saint Paul’s 'pray without ceasing' (1 Thess 5:17), other gifts are ours,” he reminded us. “The discernment and direction of the Spirit come to us. Our thoughts and actions are guided by the Spirit. Just as we have an inner Spirit which knows us completely, so God has a Spirit which knows him, the Holy Spirit.” In relation to Buddhism, he highlighted the Holy Spirit as “the Enlightener, the source of Christian enlightenment,” or satori. “What is special to Christians is the possibility of group enlightenment,” he emphasized, contrasting this to individual enlightenment in Zen Buddhism.
The closing prayer at the Mass anticipated the reception of the Holy Spirit. That night the Spirit’s influence was felt during Night Prayer following dinner. The prayer was charismatic, an experience of people spontaneously singing different songs or melodies, somehow all in harmony. My legs were sore from sitting but my voice was strong: “It’s cold! It’s cold! It’s cold!” I chanted, in tune with the Spirit.
Conference Two: Zazen as a Journey of Faith
“Sitting in Japan is part of a whole series of arts and accomplishments,” Father Johnston began, after we had reassembled in the chapel for the morning conference. Again, he was speaking from his Zen cushion. “You have to be just sitting, and not thinking of something else. Thus you will gain serenity.” Sitting meditation, he pointed out, is used in Japan to prepare oneself for archery or any of the martial arts, the tea ceremony, or traditional theater performance. He reiterated what he had said the previous day:
The major difference between these arts and zazen is that in sitting meditation you sit with faith. You do not dream or think but listen with the whole of your being. This is an experience of God in what we are doing—not God looking at us from the outside.
He contrasted faith-filled sitting in Christian and Buddhist religions to meditative traditions where faith was not preeminent, such as in Transcendental Meditation. Citing Bernard Lonergan’s description of faith, Father Johnston emphasized a Buddhist-Christian parallel.
“Faith is the infra-structure. It is the grace of God showered upon all people of good will in the world. When people accept it, this is faith. They may not know it consciously. Yet, it is faith.” Belief, on the other hand, belongs to the superstructure. Noting his own study, The Mirror Mind, he added, “For Christians, belief is expressed in the Bible, Christ, and the Church. For Buddhists, belief centers on the Sutras (scriptures), Buddha, the Sangha (monastic community), and the Dharma (teaching, the law).” This gift of God, faith, “is the basis for ecumenical dialogue between Buddhists and Christians.”[5]
Belief remained vital in both traditions, Johnston held. Faith was incomplete without belief in the teachings (the superstructure) because there was the need to express faith, even though it could never be completely voiced. “It is the dialectic between faith and belief that is religious experience,” he explained. “Christians believe that Christ is the mediator.”
For the whole of this conference thus far, Father Johnston sat cross-legged, Zen style, in the full lotus position. Now he stood up, and raised his arms in a sign of blessing, his palms facing towards us. Recognizing his gesture, we accordingly stood up and bowed. After the blessing, he held us in silence as he gazed fondly upon us, deeply touched by the sincerity of our Christian-Zen quest.
He then drew a parallel between faith and belief in the experience of human love.
The love between a man and a woman needs to be expressed—perhaps in language, or song, or sex, or marriage, or children—but it can never be completely revealed. It resides as a faith and is expressed as a belief. Faith therefore is transcultural. It is indeed what you share when sitting with Buddhists. Sitting is sitting with faith.
And, I added to myself, struck by Father Johnston’s own example, sitting is sitting with tenacity, faith, belief, and love.
Ten Ox-herding Pictures
To illustrate the journey of faith, Father Johnston next walked over to a table to the side of the altar where there was laid out a series of scrolls, the famed “Ten Ox Herding Pictures,” a succession of paintings of Chinese origin, widely honored in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean art and in the Zen tradition, which depict stages of progress towards enlightenment. One of the retreat house assistants set up a stand on the table and hung the scrolls in the appropriate order, one by one, as Father Johnston spoke.
He viewed the ten paintings as “A Journey of Faith,” which illustrated contemplation not just as a Buddhist journey, but the human journey, paralleled in the Book of Exodus, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Saint John of the Cross’s Ascent of Mount Carmel. The common point in the Ox herding paintings, the Scriptures, pilgrimage writing, and mystical literature is, he affirmed: “meditation or contemplation is life,” a life of training and faith. Johnson did not comment on all ten illustrations, only those that are referred to in what follows.[6]
Picture 1: Searching for the Ox.
Father Johnston mentioned that this scroll of a young ox herder reminded him of Saint Paul’s description in his letter to the Romans of Abraham’s journey—a man is lost and seeking to find his way. He proposed that the Christian parallel to the boy’s situation of being lost or missing the ox is the state of “original sin” found at the outset of Dante’s Divine Comedy, the anonymous medieval Piers Plowman, and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
In Buddhism, you begin with the awareness of avidya, 'Ignorance.’ But this Ox herder is already on the way because he knows he is lost. Recall Christ’s words, “"If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,' your sin remains” (John 9:41). These words describe the man who is lost, in sin, or in ignorance, but who does not know he is lost.
“Awareness of being lost is always the initial step in the journey of faith,” he added, with a mild look of admonishment.
Picture 2: Seeing the Footprints of the Ox.
Picture 3: A Glimpse of the Ox
“Here again, we have a common experience. We see footprints. We have a glimpse of the way out. There is salvation, or enlightenment. This glimpse may be sudden or come very gradually. In a sense it is a call.” He made the further point that Zen says there is no such thing as grace, but he felt this glimpse, this awareness, is a grace, a call, which comes to us freely and is not of our own choosing or making. However, following the glimpse may lead to conflicts.
Again, we see the experience shared in various cultures and religions. You are torn in two directions. One may have to leave friends behind or be rejected by them. Or there is a conflict with one’s own lifestyle or pattern of living. Well, you are free to follow the footprints, or not.
Picture 6: Riding the Ox Home
"The boy rides the ox, but still the ox is not tamed.," Johnson went on. "He bucks and jumps. This is the deep experience of conflict in the very midst of enlightenment or awakening. It is Saint John of the Cross's 'Dark night,' that is, a bridge to enlightenment, but not enlightenment itself."
Picture 8: Transcending Ox and Boy
“Traditionally,” Johnson explained,
the accompanying painting is a full circle formed by a single brush stroke overlapping the point where the circle begins. Ox and Boy have vanished. This describes the experience of complete emptiness or nothingness. It is paralleled in Saint Teresa of Avila’s ‘spiritual marriage’ in The Interior Castle, where she recounts her union with God as a stream flowing into the ocean. This circle is probably the most controversial picture to Christians, but at least it does describe one experience along the journey of faith—the total loss of self, the total lack of differentiation. It is the experience of absorption. This absorption is to be distinguished from union.
As Teilhard de Chardin notes, "Union differentiates in the realm of personality." This is the lived and experienced paradox of deepest prayer and deepest love: you are completely one with God, or with the other, and completely yourself. As you get deeper into reality, the subject-object conflict disappears. All is one. There is no longer: "I am here. God is there." God is everywhere and nowhere, beyond space and time.
In the course of Chinese history pictures 9 and 10 were added.
Picture 9: Return to the Source
“In the beginning,” reads a Zen poem, “mountains are just mountains and rivers are just rivers.” But as you go deeper into the journey of faith and the experience of transformation, “mountains become rivers, and rivers become mountains.” In the end, ”mountains are just mountains and rivers are just rivers.” That is, the fullest enlightenment is to become completely human, to see things as they are. This is to return to the source, to go back to your ordinary everyday mind.
Picture 10: Entering the Marketplace
“To me this final picture, the return to the marketplace, depicts contemplation in action, the overflow of contemplation with which we retreatants can all resonate,” Father Johnston declared. He recalled Saint Teresa telling the sisters of her community that God gives the gift of contemplation not merely for our own gratification, but so that contemplative experience could bear fruit in loving action for the world. “Perhaps this overflow, the integration of contemplation with action, is a Christian insight that might be shared with Buddhists.”
Father Johnston suggested it might be very constructive for contemporary people to rework this ox-path, this journey of faith, in the light of modern psychology. Metanoia or conversion is often tied to ordinary human experience—birth, adolescence, middle age, old age, death—a series of possible dark crises, one of which may be experienced as an eruption into the light of day. One can experience conversion but not know it at the time. Times of conflict may turn out to be times of conversion. But keep in mind that what is essential for the Christian and the Buddhist on the journey is not only a knowledge of crisis points, but faith. You are not merely interested in psychological health, but in the experience of God, emptiness, the true self.
“On the whole,” Father Johnston concluded, “What is excellent about the Ten Ox Herding Pictures is that they focus on the essential—faith and mystery.” In the paintings he found the meeting ground of the Christian and Buddhist traditions: personal experience. He drew an analogy between the Zen enlightenment portrayed by the illustrations and metanoia or conversion revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures, Christian mysticism, and the New Testament. In the gospels soon after the blind man’s sight is restored he worships Christ. (John 9: 38); doubting Thomas places his hands in the wounded side of Christ and exclaims, ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28). Of course, experiences differ. In seeing the footprints of the ox the boy has an overwhelming sense of union. “In Christian experience,” Father Johnston underscored, “what is seen is the glory of the risen cosmic Christ.”
Private Meeting
When I visited Father Johnston after lunch before afternoon Mass, he held his finger over his lips, indicating I must be silent. We walked slowly, inch by inch, to his alcove, and saw standing stock-still at the edge of the fishpond a lovely all-white Chinese Egret furtively eyeing the surface of the water. It had yellow-green legs, bright orange bill, yellow iris eyes, and an enchanting two-foot-long luxuriant crest.
The koi had all disappeared under overhanging rocks and two large rings filled with floating plants for protection.
Father Johnston and I oohed and ahed under our breaths, as the bird remained firmly in place for several minutes, like a monk in unwavering zazen. Alas! After a while, the egret spotted us, raised its great white wings and flew off, a bit frustrated perhaps, but seemingly intent on a new, more provident destination.
“What a meditator!” I exclaimed.
Father Johnston smiled, readily agreeing, and asked about my practice of zazen and experience of teaching East-West contemplative literature. I mentioned my personal issue of daydreaming when I sit zazen, and what I call “scar tissue” among students in my contemplative literature class. When I talk about “Buddha” or “Tao” in class, they smile happily. Should I mention “sin” as in, say, Dante’s Inferno, they squirm in their seats, as if to cry out “Stop! Stop!” Professor Miller, you are killing me.” “I’m spiritual not religious,” they insist. “It’s the seventies,” Father Johnston laughed, underscoring the sometime exaggerated extremes of student behavior of the present decade we knew so well. He briefly shared his view, noting a related phenomenon, the shift from West to East among students and pilgrims drawn to spiritual traditions and practices. In his experience of westerners coming to Japan, it was unusual for those who became interested in Buddhism to remain Catholic. “As for day-dreaming,” he added, comforting me, “Perhaps day-dreaming is something creative people just do.”
Ash Wednesday Mass
Before Mass began on Ash Wednesday afternoon, on entering the chapel, all the retreatants offered a prayer aloud as they placed the bread to be consecrated in the ciborium.
I prayed for the unborn and the Holy Innocents.
A beautiful shared homily was given by several priests, marking the beginning of Lent, reflecting on a theme I noted was common in divergent ways to Christians and Buddhists—our nothingness or emptiness (sunyata)—for the former, our essential poverty, making us dearer to Christ and enabling us to love him all the more, for the latter, the true nature of persons, things, and events, all empty of extrinsic existence.[7]
The group homily closed with our chanting together a charismatic prayer, an echo of Taiwan’s February weather: “All the world is cold, dear Lord. Warm us with your love.”
At the close of Mass I watched each sister and priest before me receiving ashes on their foreheads, myself wanting to be last so that I could sense their piety and share their joy over being blessed by the Holy Spirit.
Evening Prayer
In anticipation of an evening of charismatic prayer, Father Johnston spoke briefly on healing and Jesus as a physician. He accented the movement and working of the Spirit, reminding us that Jesus and his disciples healed both through love and the laying on of hands. He invited us to think about what needed healing in us, and to come forward if we wished and ask for that healing in faith. Four priests who were part of the charismatic movement, took their places about the chapel, and after we voiced our needs or requests, laid on hands and anointed with holy oil each of us who had come forward.   
It was a deeply moving Ash Wednesday—the thought of Bernard Lonergan and a meditation on the ten Ox Herding P, the private meeting with Father Johnston affirming my zazen daydreaming, our shared reflections on East-West encounter, the Eucharist with Lenten ashes and shared homily, and finally the evening healing service—all followed by evening zazen.
I believe I gave myself completely to the day, and I do believe in charismatic healing, but for myself I gathered that God wants me to go the long way around most of the time.
Penance in confession was especially efficacious—“return to the awareness of Christ’s love for you, his love for the goodness and beauty placed in you, his presence in you.”
Day Four
The Journey Continued
Conference Three: Questions, Insight, and Metanoia.
For roughly half of this conference, Father Johnston walked about among the sitters, or more accurately, those trying to sit. Most of us were beginning to grow weary with sore knees, legs, and backs. He seemed more energetic than ever, wanting to interact with us retreatants,
A hand went up. “Can one be a Zen devotee and a revolutionary?” asked a well-known brave Maryknoll sister revered for her work on behalf of social justice and the poor in Taiwan.
“Yes,” Father Johnston affirmed. “Just look at the example of Thomas Merton.”
He walked over to another Maryknoller I knew well, Father Louis Quinn. He was trying hard to sit on his pillow. He was a priest from California who had been called to work among the Taiwanese community and who was fluent in Taiwanese. He had twinkling blue eyes, bushy brows, ruddy complexion, and a wondrous, thick, handlebar mustache which wiggled up and down as he spoke. Like Father Johnston, he too was Irish. The priest smiled painfully. “Father!” he sighed. What about distractions? I can’t get rid of them!”
Father Johnston nodded, a look of ready familiarity on his face.
“There are two levels to meditation,” he answered.
On one there are practices such as the counting of breaths or, the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.” At another level there is distraction. Actually, a distraction can be a healing thing. That is, an anxiety which is present at the second level can be healed or solved if it is coupled with meditation at the first level. Just let be. Don’t focus on the distraction. This experience is common to all people who have sat for a long time. True, there is another kind of distraction where you are completely preoccupied. The only thing to do here is to have an anchor. Keep coming back to a word or breathing.
As he passed by a foreign missionary priest from Spain, the latter reached out and gently tugged on the hem of Father Johnston’s yukata, a reverent, pleading look on his rugged, craggy face, like that of the Basque shepherds in the California desert that came my way when I was a child. I thought of the many gospel stories of the sick who were healed when they touched Jesus’s cloak. Father Johnston was well aware of the man’s veneration but overlooked it.
I mention this moment because there was a spiritual presence about Father Johnston, a charism, if you will, that I and other retreatants felt deeply, like the Spanish priest did.
“Regarding the journey of faith you speak about, the priest implored. “Is there a way to follow, a direction?”
In response, mindful of the retreatant's Spanish Christian heritage, Father Johnston cited the Spanish mystic, Saint John of the Cross, to whom he had referred earlier when talking about deep breathing and kenosis, the experience of emptiness.
“‘To go to a place you do not know, you must go by a way you do not know’ (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk 1, Ch 13, Nos. 11). Here again we have the parallel with the experience of Abraham—God asked him to sacrifice his only son. He did not know the way nor where he was going.” The priest bowed tenderly in recognition of this truth, his hands folded in prayer.
A sister with a tranquil, mystical presence about her wanted to know if in sitting there are “intuitions or a kind of wisdom, or maybe a vision that is supposed to come?”
“Actually,” said Johnston, smiling knowingly, “usually these come to one at times other than in sitting. For example, the awareness of forgiveness. We suddenly realize who are the people we do not or will not forgive. Or there is the experience of self-acceptance. We have compassion towards ourselves where previously we were self-hating. There comes a gradual self-acceptance. And when total forgiveness and total self-acceptance arrive, the barriers fall down.”
“Should I seek a special teacher,” wondered the same woman who was so obviously touched by her first experience of zazen and wanting to go further. “A guru or Zen Master?”
Father Johnston paused thoughtfully, then raising his bushy eyebrows, he looked steadily into her eyes, his own blue ones glittering with tears of sympathy for her need, her naivety.
“The Master is really a rare person,” he commented simply, not wanting to disappoint her. “But it is good to have someone to talk to.” He suggested the importance of guidance in spiritual growth, parallel to the need for support in the movement from emptiness and breakdown to self-esteem and healing in human psychology. “It is so good for people to know what is happening or to speak with someone who does know,” he affirmed. “This makes a big difference.”
Father Johnston then went back to his cushion and sat down, returning to two subjects he wanted to say more about in closing: insight and metanoia. In the latter half of this conference, he wished to underscore what he perceived to be an important Buddhist-Christian distinction regarding suffering and conversion.
“The central Christian insight is the suffering of Christ and one’s own suffering,” he began, taking a deep breath.
I believe you find this deep insight in Christian mystics, but not in Buddhism. Here we encounter the love of the Cross, or suffering. It is a fruit of Christian enlightenment. This can only come about after you have seen the ox several times. Otherwise, you cannot understand how to accept rejection, or what is really meant by, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22).
I thought of the obvious: foundational Buddhist texts tell us the first teaching of the historical Buddha was on suffering, encapsulated in the “Four Noble Truths”: the truth of suffering, its cause, cessation, and path to the end of suffering. We are the source of our suffering, caused by our desire and ignorance, our craving for and clinging to things and states that are all impermanent, including the self.[8] Solving or becoming free from the problem of suffering is a major concern of Buddhism. But Father Johnston’s point was to stress the Christian way is the embrace of suffering, not its cure. In our imitation of Christ on the Cross, our suffering is redemptive, for ourselves and for the world.
As for metanoia, or conversion, Father Johnston drew an important distinction between Buddhist enlightenment and Christian transformation. He did not elaborate on the former, preferring to comment more fully on Christian transformation. I would note that, according to various sources, “enlightenment” is a Western translation of Buddhist terms such as bodhi, “awakening,” satori, “insight,” or the attainment of Buddhahood.
The common thread among different Buddhist traditions is that enlightenment means awakening to awareness, or insight into the true nature of reality and transcendental truth. For some it can be a sudden realization or illumination, for others it may be a permanent state, taking a lifetime or endless rebirths to attain.[9]
Father Johnston looked about the chapel, pausing once again, this time eyeing each face, one by one. It seemed he wanted to be sure we were following him. He nodded in affirmation and moved on.
“I consider conversion rarer than insight,” he stated, “yet part of the phenomena of living—conflicts and crises being occasions of conversion through which people become more authentically human.” He referred to the Jesuit Bernard Lonergan’s theory of the innate structure of levels of consciousness, whereby individuals follow intrinsic transcendental precepts. “Be attentive to experience, be intelligent in grasping it, be reasonable in judging experiences to be true or false, be responsible in making judgments, and be in love (committed), especially be in love with God.”
Lifting his hands, palms up, in an encapsulating gesture, he condensed Lonergan’s meaning, his eyes flashing: “When people follow what is inborn and intuitive, they make decisions and judgments by which they experience a radical change in consciousness and choose a new beginning. In short, conversion.”[10]
He then outlined the three types of conversion Lonergan describes—intellectual, ethical, and religious—with God always taking the initiative.[11]
Intellectual conversion means simply, “Be Aware.” Be aware that the clock is ticking, that the rain is falling. Ask questions. Listen. Be intelligent. Be reasonable. This is the insight of Archimedes: “Eureka! I have found it!” Irrespective of how l feel, this is so. Ironically, for intellectuals, one problem is that many are not converted intellectually. As for us [meaning, I believe, we Christians], we must listen to Buddhism, Taoism, whatever. Be aware.
Ethical conversion connotes “Be Responsible.” As a Jew, Paul was faithful to the Law. In Philippians (Chapter 3), he speaks of how his values have changed. A whole new ethic comes in knowing Christ; his norm becomes Christ, not the Law.
Religious conversion is love without restriction, without limit. It intimates “Be in Love.” It is mysticism. The classic example of religious conversion is Saint Paul’s meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. He talks about it three times in the Acts of the Apostles. It is Christo-centric conversion. Later on, after his conversion, we find Paul praying to the Father through and with Christ. He speaks to Christ. We see a kind of objectified Christ. Still later, Paul is transformed into Christ. “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). It might seem that Christ is not in this prayer. Well, he is; it is a question of faith. We believe that this is what is happening—the transformation into Christ. This is why we have the Eucharist present in our midst in the chapel during our retreat. He is there, even though we may not be praying to him directly in our Zen-type of prayer.
Father Johnston then stood up and covered his eyes with his hands. Of course we wondered what on earth he was doing. Did his eyes hurt? Was he crying? Was the leader of our East-West retreat overwhelmed by the truth of conversion? The chapel was completely silent for what seemed to be five or ten long minutes. Gradually, there came the sound of shuffling about among the participants, pained from too much long-lasting zazen.
When Father Johnston spoke again, we sitters suddenly awoke to the realization he was highlighting the corporeal dimension of Paul’s religious conversion, and for us Christians, ours as well.
Note the fact of Paul’s visit with Ananias in Damascus. When Ananias laid his hands on the blind Paul, the ‘scales’ over Paul’s eyes fell and he could see. Paul’s conversion is not complete until then, when he is filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized (Acts 9:17-18). The point is that somehow or other this conversion has to be incarnational, through others and in others like Ananias. “Jesus is Lord” is the expression of this conversion. Any spirit that says this is from God.
Father Johnston was referring to Saint Paul’s affirmation, No one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).   
He amplified his point, adding that Paul’s experience of death and resurrection— the loss and emptiness of all things, repentance and transformation into Christ—epitomizes Christian religious conversion, or metanoia. He spoke of the seemingly baffling paradox of “the Death and Resurrection of Christ” as a Buddhist koan, and I was reminded that Joshu Sasaki Roshi had been welcomed at Saint Joseph’s Cistercian Abbey by Dom Thomas Keating precisely because Roshi had promised to teach “crucifixion and resurrection” to the monks.
“There is a kind of inevitability in this,” Johnston observed, quietly and somewhat sadly, as though the remembrance of Christ’s passion as well as the human condition was a painful fact. “It is going to happen—the loss of friends, the experience of dryness, the awareness that nothing works. This is Death.”
He frowned and paused for a while. The chapel fell silent once again. He returned to his pillow, and his tranquility.
Soon afterwards, he brightened, seemingly lifted by musing over “Resurrection” in the koan. It was a moment when he looked inspired, as though touched by his charismatic mentor, the Holy Spirit. I looked around the chapel, knowing that everyone was in pain from sitting cross-legged through the long conference and this extended still point. But no one made a move. All were lost in the hushed quiet, their faces one with Father Johnston’s bliss.
Suddenly, the noise of loud commands, and banging pots and dishes was heard, coming from the kitchen. A delicious aroma wafted through the room.
Lunch was being prepared.
Father Johnston bowed, mischievously, a glint in his eye, pretending to honor the hubbub. Without explaining his reason, he said we would skip the usual morning sitting after the conference. My guess was he wanted to let us savor alone what we had heard and experienced together. Some smiled, happily, looking forward to a break. Others were silently weeping, moved by what they had seen and felt. For them Father Johnston’s deep prayer was a moment of spiritual encounter which they had not known before.
Father Johnston dismissed the conference with an ultimate point about Christian conversion (metanoia), briefly identifying it with the apostle Paul’s “this” in his letter to the Philippians once again, not only in contrast to Buddhist enlightenment, but adding its soteriological dimension—the salvation, redemption or deliverance of the soul effected by Christ in the movement of time and eternity.
“Do you remember what Paul says about his ‘success’ as a missionary and man of prayer, a ‘sitter,’ if you will?" Father Johnston held up both hands, smiled, arching his distinctive eyebrows, and, with his first and second fingers, playfully spelled out quotation marks in the air, signifying he was being facetious about Paul’s ‘zazen.’
“Not that I have already obtained this” (Phil 3:12), Paul insisted, meaning attaining some final, changeless goal of conversion and insight.
In other words, he is still running, still the athlete, still on the way. You can never say, “I have arrived.” “I am enlightened.” Indeed, Paul says he goes on, “forgetting what lies behind” (3:12). Again, there is always that snare: the danger of living in the past. Paul is not clinging to the past but moving forward.
Do you know what the mystic, John of the Cross, said about memory and hope, linking them both? Indeed, he calls memory hope, meaning hope should be in the memory. Memory is a faculty for looking forward, eternally, like ceaseless conversion in Paul. Be mindful that theologians are now saying that even in eternity we are moving on, deepening our knowledge of God. In healing, the journey, insights, and conversion, we see the common parallel—the unceasing movement on and on.
In eternal life there is ceaseless growth and conversion.
He bowed three times before leaving, as if he were thanking us for some gift we had not known we had given.
Private Meeting
When I visited Father Johnston in his garden alcove, the next to the last time, it was amidst a tremendous sub-tropical storm, with thunder and massive amounts of rain pouring down. We could hardly hear one another speak, so we sat in silence for a long period, watching the pattern of raindrops pattering in loud splashes on the fishpond.
The koi were nowhere to be seen.
When the storm subsided, I told Father Johnston about my experience of pain during a sesshin with Joshu Sasaki Roshi, and the latter’s admonishment that I should “love my pain like a rice-covered baby.” (Roshi meant “lice-covered baby,” but he had a hard time with the English pronunciation of the letter “l”). He laughed, recognizing the Zen spirit in Roshi’s gentle reproof, and my confusion over “rice” and “lice.”
He himself did not feel too much pain was good.
“If I had to do it over again,” he remarked, “I would combine the lotus position and chair sitting during marathon sesshin. Some people experience a breakthrough from great pain to peace. I myself have too, but not often.”
Following the Soto Zen tradition of “just sit” or “sitting only,” (shikantaza 只管打坐), he did not use Rinzai stye Zen koans, but he was interested to hear about Sasaki Roshi’s employment of them. He thought the koan Sasaki Roshi assigned Trappist monks at Spencer—“How do I experience God when I make the sign of the cross?” or, “How do I experience my true self when I bow before the cross?”—good koans, ones that he might use in the future.
Intrigued by the prominence of the Holy Spirit in his “Charismatic Zen” retreat, I asked Father Johnston to elaborate. I had never until this retreat associated Zen with the third person of the Trinity and charismatic prayer. He cupped his chin in one hand, opened his eyes wide, and reflected thoughtfully during a space of silence and deep breathing.
“Yes,” he responded very affirmatively after his pause, “the Holy Spirit goes very well with Zen. In fact, the Spirit is indeed the heart of it. I want to make my Zen retreats as Christian as possible. That is why I encourage charismatic response in evening prayer, for example, because I feel the charismatic component is very much part of Zen.”
After another moment of silence, he turned to the Japanese model, making his Zen-Christian link more emphatic.
“Look what happens in sesshin,” he urged. “There is a great outpouring of spirit—shouting, laughing, crying. And likewise in Zen art and painting, the unmistakable manifestation of the spontaneous overflow of what is deepest.”
In contrast, he alluded to the institutional church in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea, which, much to my surprise, he did not think would survive. Hong Kong was a possible exception, he noted, as there people were beginning to ask what form of Christianity can persist when the Communists take over, “as they surely will.” (They did twenty years later, in 1997.)
I wondered what his own response was to the phenomenon of the disappearance of what my students call, “organized religion,” exemplified in their frequent adage, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”
“What will prevail?” I asked.
“Contemplative prayer and the charismatic movement,” he answered straightaway. “That is, people can and will pray—the contemplative way, and they will meet in homes, not churches, for prayer meetings. Zen and the charismatic renewal are providential.”
With the subsiding of the storm, the koi had returned to roiling the garden pond waters, rotating inexhaustibly from end to end, side to side, flashing by in full color array. One last zazen hour was about to begin.
I took my grateful leave, thankful again for this opportunity to meet privately with this grifted and graced spiritual pioneer in Christian-Zen encounter.
Final Conference: Enlightenment—Buddhist and Christian
Father Johnston seemed very delighted as he viewed the retreatants gathered for his last conference in the chapel, pleased with themselves for having made it through what was for most of them a strenuous week of sittings, and clearly pleased too by what they had learned through Father Johnston’s thorough introduction to Charismatic Zen and Christian-Zen. The majority had begun the week as rather benighted pilgrims, ignorant yet eager and curious, especially since they were all permanent residents of Taiwan, whether native residents or missionaries from abroad, the latter living as priests and sisters immersed in Chinese culture, many becoming Chinese citizens of Taiwan, “the Republic of China.”
At this ending point, Father Johnston wanted to wrap up the retreat by a further, brief comment on enlightenment from Zen and Christian perspectives, based on his experience and hopes. He also wanted to remind us of our “inner vocation” as Christians and followers of the gospel of Jesus, that is, the extension and fulfillment of contemplative prayer and Charismatic Zen—namely, the call to the marketplace—the ultimate destination and point of arrival of the Ten Ox Herding Pictures.
This Christian enlightenment meant reaching out to the poor and Holy Innocents, and the fearless serving of the cause of social justice. I thought of the German Lutheran minister, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who paid “the cost of discipleship” by being hanged in a Nazi concentration camp for his resistance to Hitler.[12]
As we listened attentively, Father Johnston spoke very deliberatively, slowly, without interruption, standing before us in front of the altar, in a spirit of closure.
Enlightenment,” he began, “does not have to be some great event—this is the view of the Soto school of Dogen. Even if there is no Great Enlightenment, enlightenment comes. Sitting in silence is itself enlightenment. Simple prayer is participation in the Holy Spirit. You do not have to have a big flash of light as in Rinzai.”
He closed his eyes for a while before continuing.
We are lost in the woods of ignorance and original sin. We return to the world enlightened. Zen is not the only way, but prayer in some form is the only way.
This is an old idea.
In Plato, we read of the Myth of the Cave. People are chained together looking at shadows on the wall. One individual breaks the chain, goes out to the cave opening and sees the light, the green hills. If he should go back to the cave to tell the others about the light he has seen they would want to kill him. The enlightened person, the one working for social justice, is liable to be killed. Today, the great need in the church are leaders who are enlightened—most of you present here are leaders. There is a need for conversion, perhaps a group experience of the whole church. Certainly conversion is needed in each religious order. And then there is the need to be aware. We must be aware of the suffering, of what is happening. We need to listen to our prophets, and not to kill them.
In Saint John of the Cross, there are two nights—the Night of the Senses and the Night of the Spirit. The Night of the Senses represents what bothers us in ourselves, our own anxieties and sins. In the Night of the Spirit, the person who has been purified now has a deep concern for the world rather than for the self. A great social awareness. The awareness of social structures that are the bases of injustice.
This is the weak point of Zen, the area of social justice. Effective social justice requires ethical and intellectual conversion as well as religious conversion. But Buddhists do live frugal lives. They do go on pilgrimage and see what is happening. Saint John of the Cross says that one in this Night of the Spirit is informed of the suffering of persons in other parts of the world.
Paul VI may be said to share in this kind of awareness. We think of Gandhi. At the end of his life Gandhi became more aware of the importance of sacrifice. The most profound social action is to lay down your life for another. In Mao Zedong we find a tremendous sense of the masses—the spirituality of awareness that should come from the masses. Mao said, “Our God is the masses of the Chinese people.”
We too need the spirituality of the masses.
Regarding the spirituality of the masses, Father Johnston cited parenthetically, the Catholic Church’s declaration of the dogma (authoritative teaching) of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—the doctrine that she was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory at the hour of her death, or, some held, even before she died. Because she was conceived without sin, she need not have known death.
“The masses of the people believed in it before it was proclaimed,“ he remarked. “It was a kind of ‘vox populi vox Dei,’ ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God.’
The Zen theme of the Return to the Marketplace is summarized in Jeremiah the Prophet. He discovers an inner vocation. He struggles against it. He realizes it is the work of God, and not of Jeremiah. And he hears the words: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you” (Jer 1:8).
These are the characteristics of both prophesy and enlightenment: call; protest; God’s work; liberation from fear.
Afternoon Conclusion and Celebration
We gathered in the Retreat House dining room joined by Father Johnston, to express and share views of our Charismatic Zen Retreat. It was a lovely setting, with pots of sub-tropical plants set here and there—bamboo, red-leaved anthurium with yellow lance-shaped stalks sticking up from their centers, Malaysian orchids, pink Bromelia, blue ginger, and Zebra plants, their deep green leaves patterned with cream-colored stripes. On the wall hung Tang and Sung dynasty scrolls and selections of Chinese calligraphy and poetry, all excellent replicas of their originals kept in the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
Clearly, the dining room was like an art gallery and plant conservatory, well-planned to delight the contemplative eye of retreatants enjoying a time apart in the Taiwan countryside.
Most of the Chinese clergy and religious had already left, so the lingua franca was English. Father Johnston was obviously enjoying himself, but he did not comment—he just wanted to listen, he said.
Generally, there were two themes.
One was deep gratitude—for the shared sense of the presence of God and one another in the common silence and zazen, and for Father Johnston. (It wasn’t long before he jokingly began holding his ears when our praise was too much for him). The other theme echoed Father Johnston’s call to social awareness and just action. There was general agreement among the foreign religious, most of whom were activist missionary priests and sisters, regarding ‘the return to the marketplace.’
There was some anticipated guilt as well. With respect to zazen, how could they be justified spending time in meditative sitting when the need for service and help in Taiwan was so great?
As for social action, one priest confessed to being "sanitized." He was paid to "do good." He was not experiencing the hurt that the poor of Taiwan knew intimately.
A Sister asked that we pray for the silent church in Taiwan—faithful and religious who knew corruption, repression, and inequity, and did not speak out.
Well beyond the raising of consciousness the retreat brought about, most of us knew we had been moved by the Holy Spirit, each now more awake and aware, and contemplating the integration of Charismatic Zen in our prayer, workplace, and mission.
Retreatants then moved to the recreation room for a little social, celebrating the euphoria which inevitably follows a Zen sesshin, and after Father Johnston’s Charismatic Zen retreat, a pervading tone of joy which was a gift of the Holy Spirit. Someone had told the Taiwanese cook that foreign missionaries loved Taiwan snacks—I had my favorites too— so there was a table of baked pork buns, stinky (fermented) tofu, crisp taro balls, chicken and pig’s feet. Special deserts were mango milkshakes and sun cake pastries. Yum! We dove in. With our plates and beverage choice in hand, we sat in a circle in comfortable chairs, our food in our laps, and chatted some more. It was glorious to talk freely after a week of silence.
My compensation for sleeplessness caused by my roommate’s snoring came after I plunked myself down in a chair next to the wonderful Maryknoll priest I mentioned earlier, Father Louis Quinn, missionary to the Taiwanese. With his bushy handlebar mustache which bobbled up as down as he spoke, “Louie” had a charm that was irresistible. His English homilies I heard years later in the states were always peppered with startling assertions such as, “Your sins look good on you,” or “if you only say ‘thank you’ once in your life, that’s enough!” One Christ the King Sunday at the Catholic chapel of the Newman Center at the University of Massachusetts, I was deeply moved when he pointed to the hanging corpus of Christ on the Cross and declared, “That’s my king!”
At one point during our celebration, we retreatants were voicing lofty thoughts about Jesus and Buddha, mysticism and enlightenment, or complaining about our sore knees. Suddenly Louie jumped up, went to the center of the circle, stripped to the waist and started performing Chinese Tai Chi, his mind and heart one with the movements of his body.
Everyone burst out laughing—Louie’s half-naked flamboyance and sheer joie de vivre transformed the retreat’s ambiance of somber soul-searching and heady analysis into an instant satori. For a moment we got it as a group, the “it” being the heart of Buddhist realization, Taoist Way, and Christian freedom of spirit.
A friendly Taiwanese sister who spoke fluent English was sitting beside me on the other side from Father Louie. Had I heard the news that Father Johnston had not come to our social because he was to leave for Japan immediately, and had gone to his room to pack? I certainly had not.
I rushed through the Japanese garden to his alcove and saw him closing a suitcase through the sliding glass door. He waved hello and I quickly bowed, my hands folded in the traditional gassho style of gratitude—palms joined together—signaling I had one last request.
He opened the sliding door, crossed the alcove, and asked me what was on my mind?
Did he have any recommendations for me as to what I should do—what should I read?—the professorial element in my teaching brain hard at work. How should I continue zazen practice? Did he think Zen had a future in the American Catholic church?
Instantly, he made a suggestion that struck a chord deep within my being.
“If you are really serious about encountering Buddhism and ‘Christian Zen,’ he insisted, “you must go to Japan and meet Father Shigeto Oshida and stay with his Takamori Soan community.”
Immediately a silent “Yes” flashed through my mind. I had a plane reservation leaving in two days for the states, and there was no time to get a visa to stay in Japan. Even so, without any doubts, I decided that when my flight from Taipei to San Francisco landed at Haneda airport in Tokyo for a layover, I would jump ship. 

Feeling touched by the Spirit, I bid adieu to the happily swimming koi. Something deep within drew me inexorably to Father Shigeto Oshida.

[1] Father Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle SJ (1898—1990), German Jesuit priest and Sanbō Kyōdan Zen master, a Dharma successor of the Yamada Koun Roshi, who died in 1989.
[2] The Chinese and Japanese character for faith is  xin 信 (person ren 人 standing by his/her word yan 言), i.e.  trust, confidence, reliableness. The student can trust completely in Buddha, Buddhist dharma (teaching), or an enlightened teacher, like a baby resting in the arms of its mother. Johnston’s Christian faith shares this Japanese emphasis but also assumes a supernatural adherence to God and belief in faith as divine gift, foreign to Buddhism.
[3] Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (Herder and Herder, 1973) “Religious Belief,” 118-124. William Johnston, The Inner Eye of Love (Fordham University Press, 1997), Chapter 6, “Mysticism in Religion,” 61-71.
[4] Libbie Steiner, “Catholicism 101: “Mass of the Holy Spirit,” The Torch, Boston College, September 29, 2015.
[5] William Johnston, The Mirror Mind: Zen-Christian Dialogue (Fordham University Press, 1990), chapter 1, “Inter-religious Dialogue,  1-25.
[7] Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (Routledge, 2008). pp. 68–69.
[8] Rahula, Walpola What the Buddha Taught (Oneworld Publications: Oxford, 1959, revised 1974). Rupert Gethin, The Foundations of Buddhism (OUP, Oxford, 1998).
[9] Robert S. Cohen, Beyond Enlightenment: Buddhism, Religion, Modernity (Routledge 2006).
[10] Bernard Lonergan, op. cit.
[11] Lonergan, op. cit. 105-124, 217.
[12] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Touchstone, 1995 [first published in English in 1948]).
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