What Zen Can Teach Christians About the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist

November 1, 2006

In the ninth chapter of Zen Gifts to Christians, Robert Kennedy, SJ sums up a set of critically important points that Zen Buddhism has to teach Christians, or rather remind us of, about some of the fundamental mysteries of our faith.  In future posts I hope to discuss what may be right and what may be wrong about Kennedy’s statement, and I hope that readers will also offer their comments.  Here it is:

Speaking to us in our theological langauge, Zen Buddhists would say that Christ and the Father are one, and to say that there are two persons is misleading.  There is only one God with one intelligence, one will, and one salvific intent.  The Father is everything invisible in the Son and the Son is everything visible in the Father.  They are one beyond any duality.  Analogously there is no dualism between God and the world.  They are not two things or separate realities.  They would agree with St.  Thomas Aquinas that creation adds nothing to the sum total of reality and that the world is the manifestation of its creator and adds nothing to the creator’s existence.  They would say that Jesus is the incarnation of God and the sign or sacrament of what we too are and must always be.

Zen Buddhists would claim that the union of the absolute and the relative in Jesus is not an absolutely unique miracle that excludes the rest of humanity, and that analogously you and I are not two separate realities but one.  They would very much contend [sic — he means agree] with St. Augustine that there is only one Christ loving himself, one reality with many faces.  And finally since the absolute and relative can never be separated, they would hold that there is no separation between the Jesus of history and the universal Christ of faith, and that the Eucharist is not a sign pointing to a distant God but a fact revealing the eternally present Father, Christ, you, and me.  For Zen Buddhists what can be distinguished must never be separated. 

The Zen Buddhists would agree completely that the Eucharist is not just a symbol that points to or represents an absent reality.  Rather the Eucharist renders present what it expresses.  This bread and wine is the body and blood of Christ.  So similarly are the mountains and rivers the body and blood of Christ.  What else could the universe possibly be?


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