[Zen again]

Dear Donagh,

I met someone the other day who was shocked that you have Zen and yoga in your Retreat Centre.  He tried Zen once, he said, and he found it “very dark.”  I didn’t know what to say to him, except that I know several people who have been to Zen retreats in Tallaght and none of them seems dark in any way.  Quite the opposite….  Could you throw light on this for me (and for him)?  Thanks.  Matt

Dear Matt,

Zen is nothing.  But it might be more explanatory to say: Zen is a mirror.  It has nothing to say about itself; it only reflects what stands before it.  If that person found Zen “dark,” that darkness was in himself.  Pointless to blame the mirror. 

Zen originated in Buddhism, and that may be a red rag for some people.  As you know, there are people who take fright, like a horse without its winkers, at the sight of a foreign word in religion (as if practically all our religious terms weren't foreign originally!).  I read about a junior school where the children were being taught a little yoga to settle them down in the mornings.  Some parents objected, so the school adjusted the names of the various postures to something less foreign-sounding: the ‘lotus posture’, for example, became ‘criss-cross’…. It solved the problem!  Likewise, Zen sounds ‘alien’ – an illegal immigrant sneaking into the Church.  But for heaven’s sake, most of the sciences that we take for granted – mathematics, logic, astronomy, philosophy, medicine, etc. – originated in ancient pagan Greece.  Nobody has a problem with this; it doesn’t bother people that most of the basic thoughts in their minds are shaped by Aristotle and Plato.  When kids are struggling with the square on the hypotenuse, they are not being brainwashed into the worship of Zeus or some other Greek god…. In religious matters it is fatally easy to lose one’s good sense.  I find that the less someone knows about some subject (like your friend, who tried Zen “once”), the more dogmatic they are about it.  

I see that there was a question about Zen on this site in 2010.  You might look at that.  Somewhere else on this site I wrote the following (I apologise for repeating myself): ‘A couple of years ago someone who attended a Zen retreat here in our Centre said she came to it because “it didn’t sound too Catholic!”  She had not set foot in a church for thirty years, she said.  But now, because of that retreat and its daily evening Mass, she goes to Mass every day.  We see many similar, if less dramatic, transformations.  It is heart-breaking to see so many Catholics alienated from their faith.  Something in their experience has locked them out of it; some key has been lost.  A key is a small thing, but when it is lost, you are excluded from the whole house.  In my experience, Zen is the key for some people, such as the woman I just mentioned.   There must be many other lost keys, and we need to find or invent them.  It is all too easy to lock oneself in, while locking others out, and to call this fidelity to tradition.’ 

As for yoga: you might ask your friend if he objects to criss-cross - or if he has similar objections to physiotherapy… or jogging. 

I hope these few words may be of some help to you, Matt.



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