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Reviewed by:
  • Zen Wisdom for Christians by Christopher Collingwood
  • Daniel Millet Gil, Editor
ZEN WISDOM FOR CHRISTIANS. By Christopher Collingwood. Foreword by Father Patrick Kundo Eastman Roshi. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2019. 264 pp.

In Zen Wisdom for Christians, a non-academic book, Collingwood suggests that with Zen, Christian faith "comes alive in hitherto unexpected ways" (p. 32). His premise is that Zen can lead Christians toward the rediscovery of their deep spirituality. This notion is complemented by the ideas that both traditions present real convergences, can learn from one another, and meet in the ineffable ground of existence. Organizationally, the book is divided into three parts, each containing two chapters, juxtaposing comparable patterns of spiritual progress along the Christian and Zen paths. Collingwood starts with a historical introductory chapter where we are reminded of the early relationship between Christianity and Zen in Japan, which began with mutual incomprehension—even antagonism—between Buddhists and the earliest Christian missionaries. This is illustrated by the persecution of Spanish and Portuguese priests at the end of the 16th century, as depicted in the film Silence, directed by Martin Scorsese. The story ends with several Jesuits committing [End Page 475] apostasy to save converts. From here, the author jumps ahead 400 years to the arrival of Fr. Hugo M. Enomiya-Lassalle (1898–1990) in Japan. This German Jesuit was a missionary, fully committed to his Christian faith, who became a Zen master. According to Enomiya-Lassalle, Zen let him understand Christianity more deeply and become a better Christian.

In Part 1, "Raising the Bodhi Mind," Collingwood is concerned with what he believes to be a shared beginning in the spiritual quest: a universal search for the realization of our true nature (p. 39). In Chapter 1, "A Sense of Exile," he describes the practice of seated meditation (zazen, in Japanese) and explains what, in his view, Zen is all about: "to enable us to see into our true nature and to awaken to who we truly are" (p. 39). At the onset of the quest of Zen lies the intuitive realization that "we are not truly at home with ourselves," that we feel estranged from our real nature, along with a desire to find out who we truly are. In "Zen terms," Collingwood writes, this is known as "Raising the Bodhi Mind," which is about "responding to the intuitive aspiration to wake up to who we truly are" (p. 40), and leads to our desire to emerge from exile and return home. In this, Collingwood finds a common starting point with Christianity, which also starts with a sense of exile and the desire to return home.

Collingwood exemplifies this feeling of estrangement and homelessness with Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son, the biblical story of the Fall, and the story of Siddhārtha Gautama's search for awakening. In the Christian tradition, the sense of exile and the desire for homecoming are shaped by a sense of duality, fashioned by the desire to be a separate self, which produces estrangement and disharmony. As a result, the person longs for a way back home, which is found by reuniting with the Father. In the story of Siddhārtha's search for awakening, the expression "living in exile" may seem inappropriate. He had everything at his father's palace, but a feeling of discontent prompted him to seek liberation. In both cases, there is dissatisfaction, a yearning to return home, and a sense of exile that arises from the "I" which perceives everything as separate, and references all within its narrow self-interest. It is this wrong perception that Christianity and Zen, in their distinctive ways, deal with (p. 67).

Chapter 2, "Finding the Way Home," explores how the practice of Zen wakes us up to the need to return home and offers what the author describes as "a pathless path to that home" (p. 69). To do this, Collingwood uses the story of the Bodhidharma (c.440–c.530 C.E.), the First Patriarch of Chinese Chan. Through the practice of zazen, we discover that we identify ourselves with our thoughts and that the self, which is created by thinking, "is something of...


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pp. 475-479
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