- Zen and the Spiritual Exercises by Ruben L. F. Habito
What can those who make the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola learn from Zen practice in a way that enhances their experience of the Exercises? Conversely, what can those who engage in Zen practice learn from the Exercises in a way that enriches their Zen path? It is these two interrelated questions that Ruben Habito explores in this highly engaging and groundbreaking book on comparative Buddhist-Christian spirituality.
A native of the Philippines who is now professor of world religions and spirituality at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Habito entered the Society of Jesus in 1964. He first encountered the Spiritual Exercises during a thirty-day retreat as a novice, and then during annual eight-day retreats in the years that followed. In 1970, he was sent to Kamakura, Japan, where he became a student of Zen master Yamada Kōun Rōshi, then head of the Sanbō Kyōdan lineage, which incorporates elements of Rinzai and Sōtō Zen traditions in its training and practice. The present book is based on the transcripts of talks he gave during a thirty-day Zen Ignatian retreat held in Tagaytay, Philippines, in 1986, which he co-directed with Sister Rosario Battung, a member of the Religious of the Good Shepherd Congregation and a Zen teacher. Although Habito left the Jesuits in 1989, he continues to guide Zen retreats and serves as founding teacher at the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas. He is thus eminently and uniquely qualified to write the present book.
Habito acknowledges in the introduction to his book that, on the surface, the [End Page 234] Spiritual Exercises and Zen appear to be widely different and mutually incompatible paths of spiritual practice. On the one hand, the Exercises, which arose out of the sixteenth-century Spanish Catholic world of Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), presuppose an understanding and acceptance of key Christian doctrinal terms, such as God, sin, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, Zen, which emerged from thirteenth-century Japanese Buddhist context of Eisai (1141–1215) and Dōgen (1200–1253), claims no doctrinal commitment as a requirement for engagement but simply lays out practical prescriptions for bodily posture, breathing, and calming the mind in order to deepen one’s awareness in the present moment. “The Exercises,” writes Habito, “take a left-brained, discursive, analytical, purpose-oriented, thoroughly Christian approach, while Zen is a right-brained, nondiscursive, intuitive form of Buddhist spiritual practice that is nontheistic in its approach” (p. xix). At the same time, years of engagement with the Exercises and Zen have enabled Habito to appreciate that the three classic stages of the spiritual life—purification, illumination, and union—”operate in both spiritual traditions, in a way that sheds light on each of them” (p. xix).
Zen and the Spiritual Exercises unfolds in twelve chapters divided into four main sections, including a preface, introduction, and conclusion. Following the first section, “Preparing the Way” (chapters 1–3), which introduces the Ignatian Exercises and the Zen path, the next three sections correspond to the three classic stages of the spiritual life. In the first of these, “Purification” (chapters 4–5), Habito correlates the first week of the Exercises, with its principle and foundation and series of meditations on sin, and the first fruit of Zen practice: the development and deepening of the power of “concentration” (samādhi). As he summarizes, the first week enables us to realize how far we have strayed from the purpose for which we were created, which is “to praise, revere, and serve God our Creator on this earth, and thereby attain eternal salvation,” and in so doing undergo a change of heart and redirect our lives accordingly. Analogously, when we engage in the regular Zen practice of “seated meditation” (zazen), the various aspects of our lives that cause us to suffer and be “ill-at-ease” (dukkha) are brought together and seen in a clearer light, and we are provided with the inner strength to...