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Reviewed by:
  • Living Zen, Loving God
  • Robert E. Carter
Living Zen, Loving God. By Ruben L. F. Habito. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2004. Pp. xxi + 129.

At a time when one hears all too often of the irreconcilable differences between religions, it is a relief and a delight to read the words of someone who has gleaned much from Christianity (as a Jesuit priest) and from Zen Buddhism (as a practitioner whose enlightenment has been duly authenticated). Father Ruben L. F. Habito's challenge has been to harmonize the beliefs of these two distinct traditions, both of which have provided him with quite distinctive transformative experiences. It is a mutual influencing that he presents in very accessible prose in Living Zen, Loving God.

While the lectures in this volume are not attempts to reconcile competing doctrines and approaches in detail, they do strive to move the reader back to those originary experiences of spiritual insight that both traditions share. Father Habito seeks to uncover the spiritual springs of Zen and Christianity, letting each speak in its own way, for religion is not about doctrines and dogma; rather, as the Zen philosopher Nishida Kitarō maintained, "religion is an event of the soul."1 Habito seems to be in agreement with such a position. In explicating this experiential territory, he includes chapters on emptiness and fullness, the Heart Sūtra, the four vows of the Bodhisattva, Kuan-yin with a thousand hands, and Zen and Christian spirituality. There are many apt conclusions and comparisons in these pages, such as a Christian adaptation of the Buddhist admonition to slay the Buddha if you meet him-for to meet him is to lose him by fixing his significance and intent as rigid doctrine and by rendering the absolute a "thing" in the first place. Habito writes that "if you meet the Christ, crucify him!" (p. 36). Or again, there is an excellent and simple account of compassion: "an out-stretched hand adjusting a pillow in the middle of the night . . . the night of emptiness, of unknowing. . . . And in the middle of this, as my pillow slips off, and my head feels displaced, spontaneously, my hand reaches out to adjust the pillow, and I go back to sleep. That's all. This koan is saying, that's compassion" (p. 76). The self has dropped off, and one now acts spontaneously and effortlessly from the purity and depth of radical interconnectedness.

What is impressive about this book is the accuracy and ease with which difficult Zen and Buddhist ideas are expressed. For example, kensho is seeing clearly "the reality of everything as not separate from oneself, of everything as it really is" (p. xiii). This realization of interconnectedness results in social engagement, "the discovery of the real and deep bond that makes that person one with society, with the marketplace, with the whole universe" (p. 22). More precisely, "one sees one's True Self in the 'other,' the 'other' in one's True Self" (p. 22). While the goal of meditation is personal enlightenment, the fruit of enlightenment is the emptying of the ego-self, [End Page 343] and a reconnection with the everyday world, with a concern and passion heretofore unknown.

Yet, as a devout Roman Catholic, Habito filters Zen through Christian lenses as often as he filters Christianity through Zen lenses. Creation ex nihilo, he urges, can be understood "as an invitation to that experience of the nothingness that is at the heart of our being, which becomes the fulcrum for experiencing the infinite life of God pulsing through this being, through the universe, from moment to moment" (p. 23). Each and every thing is now to be understood as "a complete and perfect manifestation of the Infinite" (p. 23). But what is less than clear here is the meaning of "manifestation." Exactly what is every thing a manifestation of? The Zen answer must be that the awareness of everything as a manifestation of the "absolute" must be understood nondualistically. Habito provides a powerful chapter on the Heart Sūtra, which instructs us that emptiness is precisely form, and form precisely emptiness. Everything is a manifestation of the creative universal energy that is the...


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