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  • Healing Breath: Zen for Christians and Buddhists in a Wounded World
  • James L. Fredericks
Healing Breath: Zen for Christians and Buddhists in a Wounded World. By Ruben Habito. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006. xiv + 164 pp.

The acknowledgments offered by Ruben Habito in the first pages of his book tell quite a story. Among others, Habito gives thanks to Jesuits of the Japanese Province, including the late Thomas Hand, Hugo Enomiya-Lasalle, Kakichi Kadowaki, and Heinrich Dumoulin. He also mentions gratefully members of the Maria Kannon Zen community in Dallas, Texas. Thanks are also offered to family members in the Philippines and to Koun Yamada Roshi of the San-un Zendo in Kamakura, Japan. Ruben Habito was born in the Philippines and served as a Jesuit priest in Japan for twenty years. While getting his doctorate in Buddhist studies from the University of Tokyo, he joined a small group of Christians practicing Zen in Kamakura and was certified to teach Zen by Koun Yamada Roshi. He is now a professor at the Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University and the founder, along with his wife, of the Maria Kannon community in Dallas. Even after coming all this way, Habito never found it necessary to renounce his Christian faith. His book, therefore, raises the intriguing issue of "dual practice"—in this case, the dual practice of a Christian devoted to walking the path of Zen. In the preface of his book, Habito asks if it is possible for a Christian to walk this path. He has been answering this question for many years now. His answers have always fascinated and challenged me as a Christian theologian and believer.

Healing Breath is a reissued book. Orbis Books had published the original edition in 1993. Now, Wisdom Publications has brought the book out again in a new edition with some substantial revisions, especially in the first and last chapters. The revisions reflect the fifteen years of dialogue among Buddhists and Christians that have ensued since the first edition. The new edition gives more attention to environmental concerns and the notion of structural violence (a theme taken from the Christian theology of liberation). There is more concern for feminist issues as well. Although the book offers much practical advice and engaging reflections for Christians beginning a practice of Zen, Healing Breath will be of interest to Buddhists as well, who might be curious as to what sort of stray thoughts are plaguing the Christian sitting on the neighboring zafu. (This curiosity itself, of course, is a stray thought. Unfortunately, this book offers no advice for Buddhists suffering from this problem.) Habito offers [End Page 153] a bento plate of reflections on basic Buddhist teachings and the rudiments of Zen. Along the way, he touches on the teaching of Bodhidharma, Dōgen, and Hakuin, as well as the nuts and bolts of zazen and some very sensible advice about kōan practice. All of this is served up with insightful reflections on Christian spiritual and doctrinal teachings. Among other themes, he reflects on the notion of ruah (breath) in the Christian scriptures from Genesis to Pentecost, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Eucharist, and the Communion of the Saints.

Habito is not simply asking about how Christians might go about the practice of zazen with Buddhists. He wants to explore what it would mean for a Christian believer to take the path of Zen as way of living the Christian spiritual life. This is not an issue addressed in any depth by pioneers in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, such as Jan Van Bragt, John B. Cobb Jr., or Masao Abe. Instead, this question is being raised by a small number of Christian spiritual practitioners who have taken the path of Zen. The complaint I have filed more than once against Christians who practice Zen meditation is that they either answer Habito's question too quickly or, more commonly, that they fail even to ask the question at all. More and more, Christians are receiving instruction from Buddhist teachers in the practice of sitting as a useful means of supplementing their Christian spirituality. The question Healing Breath raises for us goes deeper: is it...


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