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Buddhist-Christian Studies 23 (2003) 174-178

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Zen and the Kingdom of Heaven . By Tom Chetwynd. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001. 153 pp.

Tom Chetwynd brings many strengths to his book of reflections on Zen and Christianity. Because his most obvious strength is his craft as a professional writer, he offers us a book that is well written, carefully organized, and a pleasure to read. He divides his reflections into three parts: "Zen Experience," "Christian Meditation in the Light of Zen," and finally, "Christian Zen Practice." It is especially in the first and third parts that the author is particularly helpful for Christians engaged in interfaith dialogue.

In part 1 Chetwynd's reflections on the Zen experience are autobiographical. He tells us that he came to Zen as a committed adult Christian who did not jettison his faith for another but rather labored to integrate his Christian faith and his Zen experience. Those of us who travel this very same path are familiar with the stages of Chetwynd's journey: in the first stage our attention is drawn to Zen by a random phrase in a book or by a friend's interest in Zen; then follows our first attempt to sit in a sesshin with others; then the experience of boredom, pain, and frustration, all of which give birth to the conviction that Zen might very well work for others but not for us. However, our first meeting with a charismatic roshi who inspires, encourages, and launches us back on the journey with the challenging and consoling words: "[You] can do it." These words help us both to ignore our fear and to sustain our resolve to sit with vigor to the last bell.

What makes Chetwynd's experience so extraordinary and unique was the rapid opening of his mind. After his very first sitting, he tells us, he experienced his teacup "shining alone in empty space," and immediately following his first sesshin, Chetwynd reveals that his teacher, a Japanese monk, assured him that "he [the teacher] had nothing more to give [him/the student]." Chetwynd's experience very much reminds me of an incident that happened years ago in Tokyo. At a meeting with Kadowakii Roshi, he introduced me to a Mexican Jesuit who, the Roshi revealed, had experienced kensho during his first sesshin. I will always remember the Roshi's expression [End Page 174] of surprise and admiration as he uttered how wonderful and rare indeed was such an experience.

Chetwynd is candid about the effect that the Zen experience has on his Christian faith: comparing his Zen experience to the latter, he confesses that his three years of theological study were "all for nothing"; he acknowledges that he believes he has received more insight from one week of Zen sitting than from the twenty-five years he practiced Christianity; he claims that while his Zen experience enables him to return to his Christian prayer and liturgy with new insight, it also makes him aware that while engaging in these spiritual exercises, he finds his heart is elsewhere. He goes on to reveal that he fears losing his faith because the idea of a godless universe "quite simply appall[s him]." Possibly adding to his quandary was Kyudo Roshi's reaction to Chetwynd's question about the value of the prayer of petition. On two occasions the author tells us that his teacher "chuckled" in response to his question about the prayer of petition. One would hope that in interreligious encounters with Christians, Zen teachers in their compassionate outreach would remember that what is amusing to them—the value of the prayer of petition and its opposite, a godless universe—is "quite simply appalling" to their Christian friends.

Chetwynd's second part of the book, the story of Christian meditation in the light of the Zen experience, is extremely tentative. In it he builds a case for a number of possibilities: he suggests that the dharma of the Buddha is "not recognizably different" from the Kingdom of Heaven in Christian terminology; that the essential nature of the universe is not...


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