Yoga and Zen in Christianity


Germany, before the war with Hitler, was in the front rank of science. Now they knew perfectly well that this Aryan myth of Aryan superiority was scientifically nonsense. They’d got the best scientists perhaps in Europe but the people didn’t want to listen to them and didn’t listen to them.

It’s like music, you can’t make people like Beethoven. You can play it. If people go on listening to music, in the end they will come to Beethoven but they’ll start with Johann Strauss. We must study these elements in yoga and Zen which poor people can do. We mustn’t have magnificent services or huge buildings or own a lot of property. When Buddhism was very strong in China, the emperors wanted to smash it periodically. Now all the sects had big temples and the relics of the Indian founders were in those temples.

To be ordained a priest in that sect, you had to be ordained in front of the relics of the fountain, the bones of Kumārajīva who brought it from India, or the others. Well the emperors struck at those temples, burnt them and destroyed the relics. That meant, in these sects, you couldn’t have any more priests. Of course they have ordained priests but everybody knew it hadn’t been done properly, not in front of the relics of the founder. But in Zen, they could dispense with ceremonies.

They do have them but they can dispense with them completely. The teacher and the pupil could be working together side by side in a field. The teacher didn’t have to have a robe, didn’t have to have anything and so it couldn’t be stamped out. After the persecution passed, Zen was the only one that was left. Well we must remember this point. We must remember this point.

Female Questioner: Mr. Leggett, have you ever found any relationship between Zen and Christianity?

Trevor Leggett: Yes. There is a great Jesuit centre in Japan and a Jesuit father there, Professor Kadowaki, is taking Zen lessons, doing Zen training under a very good teacher. He has written two books on it. I asked the teacher about this, the Zen teacher about it and he said, “Yes.” He wrote for me, in the front of one of these books, Di means great and is the first syllable of Christos. He said, “In Christianity they teach too much the small Christ. They don’t teach the universal Christ enough.”

Now I was very impressed with that remark. I had a look through. I remember seeing it in some of Paul’s letters where he speaks of Christ as universal. Well that Jesuit father said that it’s vivified his Christianity. Another Zen teacher, Suji, again, I’ve known him for a long time, in his unpublished autobiography, now he gave as the answer to one of the koans, “Not I but Christ in me.” Now what do you think the teacher said to me? Well he didn’t say I was wrong. There is yoga and Zen in Christianity but we shall have to revive these traditions. They probably exist. There are people who know them but it’s been pushed on one side.

They said, “Do social service. That’s the thing. What Christ really taught was the brotherhood of man, wasn’t it, and not these theological considerations.” Well he didn’t think so, if you read Christ’s words. He didn’t think the main thing he was teaching was the brotherhood of man and love your neighbour. He did teach that. But if you read what he said when the disciples of John came to him for instance and said, “Are you the one we seek or must we seek further?” he didn’t say, “Well here I am teaching the brotherhood of man,” no.

I think that our teacher said that yoga will have to be accepted by the people here as a reinterpretation of Christianity and people mustn’t feel I’m leaving Christianity. If one reads the Gospels with this in mind, you get some surprises. “If thine eye be single,” what does that mean? “Light of the body is the eye. If thine eye be single, then is the body full of light,” what does it mean? These things, because it’s a sacred book, you just go, “If thine eye is single then is the body full of light,” and so on. You go on and on and on and you think, “Well I suppose it means something or it did once but anyway, it’s holy.”

It doesn’t do to think about it too much otherwise you might end up not believing and it will have to change, and it will change.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Damascus 1977

Part 2: Meditation on the navel

Part 3: Yaza is real devotion

Part 4: Not in Samadhi all the time

Part 5: The glories of Zen in Japan

Part 6: Disillusionment in society

Part 7: Yoga and Zen in Christianity



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