A meeting place for Christianity and Zen
AMA Arokia Samy, SJ - Madurai Province
[From “Jesuits 2022 - The Society of Jesus in the world”]
The Bodhi Zendo Centre, 25 years at the service of dialogue, interreligious peace, and self-transformation.
Bodhi Zendo is Madurai Province’s international magnet. It was the first and the only zen meditation centre in India. I am privileged to be the first Indian zen master authorized by my Japanese master, Yamada Koun roshi. Yamada Koun belongs to the lay zen movement of Sanbo Kyodan. Sanbo Kyodan’s zen masters are now teaching all over the West.
Bodhi Zendo is a centre for Zen training and practice. It has been a ground of awakening and self-realization in the Kodai hills for the past 25 years. It attracts students from all over the world. Of course Indians also, most of them Hindus. Some Muslims also come here. Thus, Bodhi Zendo has become furthermore a dialogue centre in practice. Practitioners find this an ideal place for their Sadhana amidst the beauty of lush green valleys. Many find peace of heart in the silence and the communal living.
The centre is open to all spiritual seekers irrespective of religion, nationality, caste, colour, culture, status, etc. Anyone who is sincerely searching in spiritual life is welcome here. Every year hundreds of people come here and find their inner peace. Today it is well known as an International Zen Meditation Centre. The centre can accommodate 35 to 40 people at a time with individual room facilities. So far, the centre has been running smoothly by God’s grace and by the generous support of the good-willed people.
We are also running some social projects for poor children and women. The projects are supported by my students and friends. Zen meditation divorced from social issues will be one-sided and blind. Awakening and compassion are the heartbeat of zen.
After finishing my zen studies under my master,
I visited the famous Zuiganji in Matsushima accompanied by a Japanese sister,
Junko Isshihara, and met Hirano Sojo roshi.
The roshi made a deep bow to the
sister and said, “You Christians, particularly the sisters, are so
compassionate, caring for the poor. But unfortunately you do not have
enlightenment! We Japanese monks have enlightenment; we talk of compassion but
do not practice compassion. If we both Christians and zen people come together,
it will be the best for the world!”
The Japanese zen master Dogen wrote, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”
To forget the self means to let go of self-centred egoism and to become a clearance (Lichtung) for the beings of the world. For, in zen, the world is the self, the self is the world. The zen experience, for Christians, is to die to our ego and be transformed into the Christic form; for non-Christians it will be to put on the heart-mind of the Buddha. Those who come here are at least a bit transformed when they leave.
My master, Yamada Koun, was marvellously open to
Christians and to Christianity. He had said that the meeting of Christianity
and Zen was the hope for the modern world. In 1986 I was in Rome. I met Father
General’s assistant, Fr. Michael Amaladoss, and told him about the Roshi and of his help and guidance of us
Christians. That year was the golden jubilee of the marriage of the Roshi and his wife, so I said that it
would be nice if the General sent a note to them. The General sent to the Roshi a fine note of appreciation of his
Let me quote a few sentences: “I have heard of your generous and considerate work in guiding people in the way of Zen... Your enlightened guidance has helped many people to deepen their religious experience and strengthen their lives of contemplation and prayer. You have also greatly encouraged the dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity and the building of a peaceful and united world.” (Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., Superior General of the Society of Jesus, 3 December 1986).
In one of his talks, Fr Enomiya Lassalle, who opened the doors for me to Japan and the zen experience, has said that the future of religion and spirituality will be advaita and zen. Zen is a marvellous way of spirituality. It is mystical, it is nature-centred and life-centred, it is playful and humorous, it is also paradoxical in its koan practice, a method to bring about awakening in everyday life. Zen is very much earth- and body-centred. The goal of zen is liberation of all beings.
May All Beings be Happy!
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