Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Existentialism and Christian Zen

This blog is to recommend a short, excellent book by fellow blogger Bill McVey.  Its title is Existentialism and Christian Zen and you can buy it from  Early on McVey establishes the fact that existence precedes essence.  Trained in the tradition of Scholasticism, he renounces it promptly and centers on the reality that we live out our existence every day in anxiety-driven wandering and discover a solution by "reaching into the deepest elements of humanity."  For McVey this is Zen, which "fits will with my heart, mind and most of all my existential wandering soul."

In Zen "we face a similar existential philosophy and therapy, and it is the issue of being and non-being."  In order to experience being at the most profound level, we must first become no-thing, that is, an emptying of our consciousness and returning to our center core of nothingness.  Through the meditative practice of Zen, we rid ourselves of all extraneous thought and descend into the darkness of nothing, or no-thing.  This is not a pathological nothing, that which might be found in neurosis or psychosis, it is a nothingness that one fills up with  key word or phrase, repeated over and over again, that gives the meditating person a sense of complete being, hope, somethingness, an experience of the Divine.

While admitting that Existentialism and Zen are nihilistic in the language of silence, McVey contends that it becomes constructive nihilism based on a constructive mystical nothingness that is filled up with the images of Christ.  Thus, through the practice of Zen, the Christian can fill up his or her own no-thing with a Christian word or phrase, such as the Jesus Prayer.  There is historical precedence found in the teachings of the Spanish mystics of the twelfth century, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

When McVey teaches Christian Zen, he teaches the beliefs of Buddhism, i.e. "I take refuge in the Dharma (the way), I take refuges in the Sangha (my spiritual companions)".  I then explain that we will change these beliefs to:  "I take refuge in the Christ nature; I take refuge in the way of Christ; I take refuge in my spiritual community."

This important contribution to Christian spirituality is a mere 93 pages and well worth the read.  Amazon has very good prices.  Check it out.

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