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Ganhwaseon Practice(看話禪修行) in Europe: Present Situation and Future

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                                         Written by  Bernard Senécal sj
Faculty of Religious Studies,
Sogang University,
Seoul, South Korea

                                               
Introduction

The practice of Ganhwaseon1) in Europe is in line with the broader context of the introduction of Buddhism into the Western world. Accordingly, in order to study that practice we must first examine the context it belongs to. The English historian Arnold Toynbee(1889-1975) did not hesitate to say that the introduction of Buddhism in the West constituted the most important historical event of the 20th century. It may perhaps be compared with the introduction of Indian Buddhism into China some two thousand years ago. As a result, the encounter of Buddhism with the West most certainly represents and event of extremely broad and deep meaning.
Many scholars have strove to define the boundaries of the encounter of Buddhism with the West. In 1952, Cardinal Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) published La Rencontre du bouddhisme et de l’Occident, a work that would become a classic.2) In 1999, Frédéric Lenoir published another book,3) on the same topic and with exactly the same title, in which he updated de Lubac’s work. And in 2000, the famous Singer-Polignac foundation, located in Paris, organized a colloquium on the understanding of the encounter of Buddhism and the West since Henri de Lubac(L’Intelligence de la rencontre du bouddhisme, La rencontre du bouddhisme et de l’Occident depuis Henri de Lubac).4) This colloquium may be understood as an attempt to understand the main events having marked the history of Western Buddhism during the second half of the 20th century. In 2002, also came out a book entitled Westward Dharma, Buddhism Beyond Asia.5) According to its authors the study of Western Buddhism has begun only recently6) and it is still to early to describe its outcome.7)
In fact, it is quite difficult to define in a fully satisfactory way such broad entities as Buddhism and the Western World. Consequently, in 2003, willing to favor a complete, precise and balanced understanding of Buddhism by Westerners, Paul Magnin published Bouddhisme, unité et diversité-Expériences de libération.8) Of course, the seven hundred and fifty pages of this synthetic introduction to Buddhism represent the culmination of the author’s thirty years of scholarly research and reflection. But as I began writing this paper, I would have appreciated to find a work capable to match Paul Magnin’s book, and that would have been entitled L’Occident, unité et diversité-Expériences de libération. If such a book existed, it ought to state clearly the ground on which the unity of the Western world and its experiences of liberation may be defined. Nevertheless, in order to talk about the encounter of Buddhism and the West coherently, one has to provide at least a minimal definition of those two concepts. But such definitions should be dynamic, that is, capable of taking into account the fact that reality is constantly changing. And that is even more so when we begin to realize that Buddhism and the West are already engaged in a process of mutual transformation. Such is the context in which we have to examine the practice of Ganhwaseon in Europe.
Since our research is limited to Europe, it may look easier at first sight. But such is not the case. That is because the Ganhwaseon practiced in Europe comes from at least four different countries : China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Moreover, things may be complicated by the fact that  traditions that existed independently in their homeland may now interact freely as they have to coexist within the European countries they have been imported to.9) In addition to that, one has to take into account the fact that the activity of Masters like Seungsahn and Thich Nhat Hanh goes well beyond Europe. That may make it all the more arbitrary to try to describe the practive of Ganhwaseon in Europe. We should also keep in mind that Europe is a huge continent of 3.900.000 square kilometers, with a population of 456.000.000 people, living in 25 different countries and speaking 20 official languages, not to talk about dialects. Even as it is strugling to achieve its unity, Europe keeps expanding by accepting new countries.10) As the result of those geographical characteristics, the context in which Buddhism is expanding in Europe is very different from that of America.11) Similarly, Buddhist-Christian dialogue has started later in Europe than in America.12)
There are two ways to approach the practice of Ganhwaseon in Europe. The first one consists in reducing the dimensions of the topic. In order to do that we can limit our study to the three main European schools offering Ganhwaseon practice to their followers.
The first one has been founded by the Japanese Taisen Deshimaru(1914-1982), a disciple of K?d? Sawaki(1880-1965) from the S?t? school(???). Arrived in Paris in 1967, Taisen Deshimaru trained a lot of disciples and founded the Association Zen d’Europe, which later became the  Association Zen Internationale(AZI).13) In 1979, he acquired the estate of la Gendronnière(Loir-et-Cher) and founded the first European Buddhist monastery. His several thousand disciples have founded over a hundred temples all over Europe. At present, the AZI runs over  two hundred temples worldwide.
The second one is the Sanbo Kyodan(????),14) a minority group among the Japanese Zen schools, also called the Kamakura school. It has been founded by Hakuun Yasutani(1885-1973)15), a disciple of Harada Dauin Sogaku(1871-1961)16), who had inherited the Dharma of both the Rinzai(???) and the S?t? schools. This school distinguishes itself by two characteristics.  First, it never required from its Western followers that they convert to Buddhism. On the contrary, it still claims that anybody, including non Buddhists, can benefit from the practice of Ganhwaseon. For this reason, the Sanbo Kyodan has transmitted the Dharma to a number of Westerners that were working in Japan, including Christian pastors, sisters and priests, as well as rabbis. As those people went back to their native countries, they created branches of the Sanbo Kyodan.
The third group has been founded by Thich Nhat Hanh and is based on the practice of the Vietnamese version of Seon called Thiên. Thich Nhat Hanh came to the West in 1970 and created several meditation groups in a number of countries. In 1982, he decided to settle down in France at the Village des Pruniers(Dordogne), and created an association called l’Ordre de l’Inter-Être,17) which very strongly emphasizes both the practice of meditation and the importance of social work.18)
Each of the above three groups reckons approximately thirty thousand people. Nevertheless, with around half of its members practicing hwadu(??) meditation, the Sanbo Kyodan from Japan is by far the most important European school of Ganhwaseon. There are, of course, other schools of Ganhwaseon in Europe, like for instance from the Japanese Rinzai or the Korean Kwan?m(??)19) lineages. However, since they numerically much less important, just like Taisen Deshimaru’s AZI or Thich Nhat Hanh’s Ordre de l’Inter-Être, in the fourth part of this paper we shall focus our attention on a more detailed description of the Sanbo Kyodan.20)
A second way to study the practice of Ganhwaseon in Europe, which we shall also use in this paper, consists in observing how the Western mind interacts with the spirit of the Seon school. More precisely, we will try to show how this mind encounters the religious tradition that has most contributed to the shaping of the Western mentalities. Even though Western Christianity is facing a deep crisis it undoubtedly remains the main religious tradition of the West. Therefore, the first part of this paper will be a synthetic introduction to the encounter of the practice of Ganhwaseon with the Occident. The second one will point to some aspects of Christianity that may facilitate the adaptation of Ganhwaseon practice to the Western world. A third one will describe what kind of help and transformation Christianity may expect from such a practice. A fourth and final part will describe some of the concrete attempts that have been made to integrate hwadu meditation to traditional Christian methods of meditation.

1. Understanding the Encounter of Ganhwaseon with the West
  
Above all, one should keep in mind that Ganhwaseon has a very long history. A rapid glance at a book like Jeong Seongbon S?nim’s Seon’?i Sasanggwa Yeoksa21) is enough to realize it. In order to understand Ganhwaseon practice as it has been completed and established under the Song dynasty by Wono K?kk?n(????,22) 1063-1125), from the Yanggi  branch of the Imje school(??? ???23)), and his Dharma heir Taehye Chonggo(????,24) 1089-1163), one has to trace the remote beginnings of its history back to the third millenium B.C. in Indian Antiquity. As a result, the development of Ganhwaseon has taken place over several centuries and left us a considerable amount of litterature. It is a well known fact that Ganhwaseon  practice may be considered the ultimate fruit of the encounter of Indian Buddhism with Chinese thought. Moreover Seon also is the most Confucian form of Buddhist.25) As a result, Ganhwaseon practice not only represents the result of a long encounter of Chinese thought with Indian Buddhism but also the complete emancipation of the latter from the speculative tendencies of the former.26)
This all means that Ganhwaseon is inseparable from very concrete situations. Consequently, one cannot but wonder how harmoniously the result of such a long historical process in the Far East can integrate itself as such to the West. Accordingly, it certainly isn’t an exaggeration to say that a full integration of Ganhwaseon to the Occident may require several centuries. Moreover, in order to be successful, the result of such a process should involve both faithfulness to the original spirit of Ganhwaseon  and its perfect adaptation to Western culture. Maybe it will be possible, then, to talk about the quintessence of the encounter of Far East Buddhism with Western culture.
However, we may wonder if our scholarly knowledge of Buddhism and the sophisticated means of communication and transportation that are available in today’s world will not greatly accelerate and facilitate the settling of Ganhwaseon in the West. This could then mean that the Occident does not need, in order to understand the Buddha’s teachings correctly, a phase of adaptation similar to the one China went through as it interpreted Buddhists concepts through Taoist categories during two centuries.27) As a result, quoting the worldwide achievements of Masters like Hakuun Yasutani, Seungsahn or Sheng-yen,28) some do not hesitate to claim that Ganhwaseon has already taken root in the West.
Nevertheless, Victor So?gen Hori29) from McGill University does not hesitate to say that the Dharma still has to come to the West. Such a statement does dot deny the existence of a great number of Seon centers throughout the Western world, but challenges the validity of the meditation practiced and the authenticity of the Dharma  transmitted in those places.30) I also believe that it is to early to claim that the Dharma has already arrived to the Occident. Indeed Ganhwaseon practice only represents a fraction of Western Buddhism’s practice and, even though the Buddha’s tradition seems destined to enjoy a bright future, its followers still do not represent more than a tiny minority.
The following table displays the number of Buddhists and Buddhist groups found in ten European countries in the late 1990s.31)

Country
Buddhists

Buddhists from Asia

Groups and

Centers 

Approximate Total Population

(Millions)

Percentage of Total Population That Were

Buddhists 
 France
 ?350,000
 ?300,000
   ?280
     58
     0.6
 Britain
   180,000
   130,000
     400
     58
     0.3
 Germany
   170,000
   120,000
     530
     82
     0.2
 Italy
   70,000
 ?25,000
   ?50
     57
     0.1
 Netherlands
   33,000
   20,000
     60
     15
     0.2
 Switzerland
   25,000
   20,000
     100
     7
     0.3
 Austria
   16,000
   5,000
     50
     8
     0.2
 Denmark
 ?10,000
 ?5,000
   ?32
     5
     0.1
 Hungary
   7,000
   1,000
   ?12
     10
     0.1
 Poland
 ?5,000
   500
     30
     39
     0.02
                            note: ?denotes very rough estimate
As we can see, in England, France, Germany, Holland and Switzerland the numbers of Buddhists coming from Asia is far superior to that of the native converts. We must also notice that the statistics corresponding to French Buddhism are nothing but a gross approximation. That is because good information remains difficult to find and because it is hard to define who really is a Buddhist.32) But this identification problem seems to go well beyond France.33)
We should also be careful to keep in mind that the figures displayed in the above table do not correspond to the Seon school but only to Buddhism as a whole. However the following chart gives an idea of how Buddhism from five European countries may be categorized according to tradition.34)

Tradition

Great Britain

(%)

France

(%)

Germany

(%)

Switzerland

(%)

Netherlands

(%)
Theravada
18.5
6.5
15.2
21
14

Mahayana

(Seon)
18.1
53
35.6
29
44
Tibetan
36.9
36.8
42.2
48
37
Non-aligned
26.5
3.7
7
2
5

It has to be noticed that, with the exception of France, Tibetan Buddhism has a majority in all countries. Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that a certain number of Seon centers in France have had to close their doors because of the fierce competition coming from Tibetan Buddhism. In other words, Europeans are strongly attracted by Buddhism from Tibet.
According to Martin Baumann, Buddhism is destined to remain a minority religion in Europe during the 21th century.35) That is enough to make some people in the Far East hastily conclude that Westerners cannot achieve enlightenment. Such statements recall us the Roshis(??) claiming that being  Japanese was a condition sine qua non to achieve enlightenment. Such a declaration is not only founded on ultranationalism, it also denies the core teaching of Mah?y?na Buddhism, according to which all sentient beings are endowed with the Buddha nature(??). In order to refute it, let us quote the dialogue that took place between the young and illiterate Hyen?ng(??, 638-713) and the Fifth Patriarch Hongin(?????, 594-674).
"The priest Hung-jen asked me : ‘Where are you from that you come to this mountain to make obeisance to me ? Just what is it that you are looking for from me?’ I replied : ’I am from Ling-nan, a commoner from Hsin-chou. I have come this long distance only to make obeisance to you. I am seeking no particular thing but only the Buddhadharma.’ The Master then reproved me, saying : ’If you’re from Ling-nan then you’re a barbarian. How can you become a Buddha?’ I replied : ’Although people from the south and people from the north differ, there is no north and south in Buddha nature. Although my barbarian’s body and your body are not the same, what difference is there in our Buddha nature?’ The Master wished to continue his discussion with me ; however, seeing that there were other people nearby, he said no more. Then he sent me to work with the assembly. Later a lay disciple had me go to the threshing room where I sent over eight months treading the pestle." T.2007, vol.48, p.337a27-b7. Translation from The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, the text of the Tun-Huang manuscript, translated, with notes, by Philip B. Yampolsky, New York, Columbia University Press, 1967, p. 127-128.36)
Needless to say that it is very contradictory to pretend that the Dharma has to be transmitted to the West while harboring such prejudices.
Roshi Albert Low from the Montreal Zen Center insists to say that it is quite counter-productive to claim that the Dharma has not come to the West yet. Instead, he suggests to work at discovering or rediscovering the elements of Western thought and culture that may favor the acceptance and integration of the Dharma to the Occident.37) In a sense, what Albert Low says may be understood as Buddhism already existing in the West even before the coming of the Dharma.  Nevertheless, however seductive such an idea may be, it ought to be handled carefully. Because if the Dharma already exists in the West, then its introduction from Asia shouldn’t make any difference.
In the next chapter, we shall examine closely some aspects of Christianity that may facilitate the adaptation of Ganhwaseon to the West.

2. Christian Hermitic life and Ganhwaseon

In order to understand how Ganhwaseon may be adapted to the West, it is very important to grasp thoroughly what constitutes the core of hermitic life in the Christian tradition.38)

1)  The Age of the Desert Fathers
 
Western hermitic life began in the third century with Saint Antony of Egypt(250-356). He retired alone to the desert39) in order to begin living as a hermit. People being attracted by his life of asceticism, he soon found himself surrounded by many followers. Moreover, Antony’s influence rapidly reached the rest of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Arabia and all parts of Europe where thousands of people made the decision to become hermits.
The appearance of Western hermitic life corresponds to the time when Constantine(? -337) converted to Christianity. Christians naturally rejoiced greatly as a long dreamed of event finally materialized. But such a triumph also had its side effect. Indeed, as the political power of the Church started to rise, the fervor of its followers began to cool down. Since it is precisely that fervor that had favored the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman empire, its loss could not but be deplored by lucid believers. Therefore, it certainly is no coincidence if the beginning of hermitic life corresponds to an overall weakening of the Christian faith. In other words, hermitic life can be understood as the strong reaction of some believers willing to recover the spirit that had animated the martyrs throughout three centuries of harsh persecutions. The Christians who animated that very powerful renewal movement are called the fathers of the desert.
In fact, in order to find the origins of Western hermitic life, one has to go back to great figures of the Old Testament like Abraham(19th c. BCE), Moses(13th c. BCE) and Elijah(9th c. BCE). And, of course, one also has to remind John the Baptist(1st c. BCE-1 c. CE)40), who lived in the desert during several decades, and Jesus the Christ, who did the same during forty days, fasting and overcoming all temptations.41)
The desert fathers left us a huge inheritance : "collections of their sayings, letters, sermons, ascetical treatises, biographies, monastic rules, and historical and theological essays of great value."42) Among the praying methods that they have thaught us, one deserves a special attention. It is called ?prayer of the heart? and chiefly consists in repeating, day and night, to the rhythm of one’s breath, the name of Jesus. In many ways, this technique of meditation resembles the continuous(omae iryeo ????) observing(kan ?) of the critical phrase(hwadu ??) of a kongan(??).43) The practice of the prayer of the heart began in the Eastern church from where it has spread all over the world. Its goal consists in achieving continuous peace of the heart. The literature left to us by the desert fathers has considerably influenced all currents of Christian spirituality.44)
Over the centuries, Christian hermitic life has taken a great variey of forms. It is neither necessary nor possible to describe them all in this paper. Therefore I will only indicate briefly the role played by hermitic life at some key moments of the history of Christianity.

2)  The Middle Ages and Saint Francisco of Assisi
     
 Francisco of Assisi(1182-1226), the famous Italian saint who created the religious order that bears his name, may well be considered one of the chief representatives of hermitic life in the Middle Ages. In his time, the Church enjoyed considerable power and wealth. The extreme poverty that characterized Francisco’s life style has been a powerful challenge for an institution that had moved away from Christ’s spirit. There is no doubt that the long time that Saint Francisco spent in solitude, praying and fasting, allowed him to gather the spiritual energy necessary to accomplish his mission .45) It is also well worth noticing that he wrote a rule for hermits.   

3) The Renaissance and Ignatius of Loyola

The Church of the Renaissance saw the rising of the Basque Ignatius of Loyola(1491-1556), the founder of the Society of Jesus, also called the Jesuit Order. Ignatitus came to realize that the Church of his time was to narrowly centered on Europe and that it had to open itself up to the rest of the world. That is the reason why he founded an international religious order which he placed directly under the authority of the pope. As a result, the members of that congregation could go anywhere in the world in order to answer rapidly and efficiently to any demand of the supreme authority of the Church. But the most amazing is the fact that Saint Ignatius not only lived as a hermit for over a year, but also considered seriously dedicating all his existence to that life style. Indeed, he wanted to enter in the Carthusian Order, whose most famous monastery, la Grande Chartreuse,46) is located in the French Alps. That religious congregation has been founded by Saint Bruno(1030-1101) for people desiring to spend their whole life in a community of hermits. Though Saint Ignatius’ desire has not been realized as such, it has considerably influence all the spirituality of the Jesuit Order. That is why it may be said that the Jesuits are Carthusians living right in the middle of the world. This means that there is a common ground between the desire of a hermit to enjoy the freedom of a complete solitude, that allows the total entrusting of oneself to the action of the Spirit, and the apostolic freedom, to be found in the middle of action, aimed by Saint Ignatius to realize the same goal. This means that the contemplation of a hermitic life can be fully combined to a radical social commitment. It is written in the constitutions of the Society of Jesus that any Jesuit willing to become a Carthusian monk is perfectely free to do so. This means that for the fully awakened one there can’t be any contradiction between living in complete solitude and being present to the whole world. It also signifies that as it is possible to contemplate right in the middle of highly dynamic action,47) it is also possible to be active in the depth of the most profound contemplation.48) Here we can discover one of the main characteristics of the way of life embodied by Christ himself.49)

 4) Today’s Hermitic life
 
Hermitic tradition remains very lively in today’s world. The mere fact that it exists offers to people the possibility to take some distance from a society that is so full of itself that it believes that its high technique and industry is capable of satisfying all of human desires. Indeed, even though they lived in solitude, hermits have always played the role of spiritual director for those that came to beg their help. Moreover, when hermits live in communities, they often run retreat houses allowing those willing to do so to share their life style for some time. Here, rather than describing the multiple forms of hermitic life found in today’s world, I will briefly recall some of its key figures. This should allow us to detect the main trends of hermitic life in today’s world.
The French Charles de Foucauld(1858-1916) has spent his life as a hermit in the Hoggar Mounts of southern Algeria. By doing so, among other things, he aimed at entering into dialogue with Islam.
The Frenchmen Jean Monchanin(1895-1957) and Henri le Saux(1910-1973),50) as well as the Englishman Bede Griffiths(1906-1993) have dedicated their lives to a dialogue between Christianity and Hindouism by living with the hermits of the Saccidananda region of India.
As one of the most famous hermits of the 20th century, the American Thomas Merton(1915-1968) considered that the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers "enables us to reopen the sources that have been polluted or blocked up altogether by the accumulated mental and spiritual refuse of our technological barbarism.51) Such words remind us (8 c. BCE) what God  said, through the prophet Hosea, to the Hebrews who once more had abandoned Him to worship idols :  “I shall seduce you, take you to the desert and speak to your hearth.”52) One of Merton’s biggest contribution is his beginning of dialogue between Christianity and the Buddhists monks and nuns of Asia. This dialogue has kept developing ever since.53)  
Catherine de Hueck Doherty(1896-1985), from Russian descent, has written over thirty books, the best known of which is Poustinia. In that work she encourages people living in huge modern cities to create a space of silence and prayer, ie of desert, right in the middle of their homes. That is in order to become more intimate with God in every day life.  
 Finally, we can think of the Swissman Brother Roger(1915-2005), assasinated lately, whose Taizé community in France has considerably favored the development of Christian ecumenism worldwide.
The above examples allow us to draw the following conclusions. Although the meaning of hermitic life is very often misunderstood by people, it has always had a considerable influence on all the Christian tradition. Indeed, even though they dwelled in solitude, hermits have always strongly influenced not only the life of the Church but also the societies on the fringe of which they lived. In this sense, it is not exaggerated to say that hermitism is the life of Christianity.
Even though hermits have never been more than a very small minority, it is important to underline that they have kept recalling all Christians the irreplaceable importance of silence and meditation whenever one wishes to deepen his understanding and knowledge of truth. Moreover, today’s hermits are inviting all Christians to achieve unity and to dialogue with the world religions.
All the above facts on hermitic life allow us to realize that Western society has at its disposal a strong tradition that can considerably facilitate its acceptation of Ganhwaseon practice.


3. The Help that Western Christianity can get from Ganhwaseon

Like all religions Christianity has been victim of its success. This is true to such an extent that we may say that as failure is the mother of success, success is the mother of failure.54) Western Christianity, despite having had to face challenges coming from atheism and inner divisions, has managed to maintain the same shape during several centuries. Moreover, it has had no serious contacts with another well organized religion, like Buddhism for instance, also dealing thoroughly with the problems of suffering and death.
There is no need to describe in this paper the actual situation of European Christianity. As we have said above, this Christianity is facing a crisis. The decreasing number of its faithfuls should be enought to prove it. As an explanation of this situation, we may say that European Christianity has lost a huge part of its vitality. Consequently it has also lost a lot of its capacity to attract people. In front of such a situation some naturally ask whether Chrisitianity still has a future or not.55) That is why so many Europeans are looking for a new source of hope. It is against that backdrop  that Ganhwaseon is being introduced into the Western world. My argument is that as a transfusion of blood may save the life of a dying person, so may Ganhwaseon practice, without loosing its identity, become a source of renewal for Western Christianity. Of course, Christianity may end up developing a new shape through such an encounter.
From here on , before explaining what kind of help Christianity may get from Ganhwaseon practice, I will recall briefly what is the original spirit of the Christian tradition and what are the consequences of its lost .

1) The Original Spirit of Christianity

In the New Testament Christ says of himself that he has nowhere to rest.56) In many ways such a statement may resemble one that is found in the Platform S?tra of the Sixth Patriarch(????) and according to which non-abiding is set as the main doctrine(????).57) In order to understand the meaning of Jesus? words, we have to go back to Abraham, the common ancestor of Christians, Jews and Muslims.
As a Bedouin, Abraham lived in the solitude and silence of the deserts he wandered about. As a nomad, he had a tent for abode and did not store surplus products. He lived entrusting himself to the circumstances and believing that all he needed, beginning with water and food, would be given to him day after day.58) Even though the land Abraham was waking toward had been promised to him,59) instead of being thought of as a country like today’s Israel, that land should rather be understood as the true self60) that one has to find within him. In other words, in some ways, it resembles a lot the Pure Land.61) In that sense, Abraham was walking toward himself, that is toward his true nature. As he was following his course, Abraham was always opened to God and the others, so that he kept experiencing new realities. That is why it may be said that God kept surprising him. As God was not where Abraham expected him to be, He also was where Abraham did not expect Him to be.62) Similarly, Abraham did not know whom he would meet during his journeys across the desert. Such unexpected encounters kept transforming him. Consequently, as we can discover through Abraham’s experience, truth is not an abstract reality such that we could take hold of it. On the contrary, truth is a dynamic and lively reality we are being seized by through concrete experience. Such a truth is given at every step and rediscovered at every instant. If there were some signs along the desert roads followed by Abraham they kept indicating contradictory directions. In other words it was a road without road.63) . Some of Jesus’ words may help us to understand what this means : “The wind blows where it will. You hear the sound it makes, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. So is it with everyone who is borne of the Spirit.”64)
It is in order to rediscover the nomadic spirit of Abraham that hermits made and still make the decision to entrust themselves to the solitude and the silence of the desert. It is this very spirit that has allowed them to act as reformers within Christianity. As this spirit when it is fully-fledged is the Spirit of Christ, it has to be the spirit of all Christians. In other words, as all Buddhists have to become living buddhas so should all Christians become living christs.65) But unfortunately, the descendants of Abraham tend to forget his spirit.


 2) The Problem with Christianity

History teaches us that Christians, Jews and Muslims keep displaying a tendency to forget the common root of their respective faith : the spirit of Abraham. In other words, they tend to prefer a sedentary life to a nomadic one, noise to silence, and gathering together rather than solitude. That is why they abandon nomadic life, and build houses in cities well indicated by road signs and in which they can store in large quantities just about anything they want. However such a transformation of their way of living has a considerable impact on their conception of truth. Truth loses its concrete and dynamic character to become a fossilized an absolute abstraction. At the same time, the Christians lose their ability to deal with reality inductively and their thinking becomes more and more deductive. Instead of being constantly transformed by constant and unpredictable encounters with God and others, they try to control those encounters by reducing God and others to their limited horizon. In a word, instead of living by the truth, they become administrators of the truth. As a result, the clerics harboring such a state of mind end up transforming the temple of Jerusalem into a place where a stuffed god is being worshipped. Such was Judaism in Jesus’ time. It may be said that Christianity is a reformist reaction to such a temple. Jesus said to the clerics of his time : “Woe to you experts on the law! You have taken away the key to knowledge. And not only haven’t you gained access, you have stopped others who were trying to enter.”66)
Of course, all that we have just said represents a dramatized and condensed view of Western Christianity. Nevertheless, it may be said that a  constant conflict, between a nomadic and a sedentary paradigm, constitutes one of the main impulses behind the unfolding of Christian history. Each time that the course of events has had an excessive tilt toward the latter, a reformist movement based on the former has arisen. This is exactly what a synthetic look at the history of hermitic life within Christianity has allowed us to highlight. And it may be said that the Christian conscience is always tempted to rebuild the Jerusalem temple,67) let it be in Rome or elsewhere. Such a tendency deepened as the Catholic church became split with the Orthodox church in 1054 and with the Protestant church in 1517.68) But the ecumenical council of Vatican II(1962-1965), as it has emphasized both the unity of all Christians and opened dialogue with all religions of mankind, has made a historical effort to put the situation right. And Pope John Paul II(1920-2005) has been perfectly faithful to that spirit of renewal.69) Such an opening in an effort to renew Christianity reminds us of the one made by some adepts of Seon desiring to renew their tradition through contacts with the West.70)

3) The Contribution of Ganhwaseon

I think that Ganhwaseon can bring something to a Christianity eager to renew itself. Indeed, Ganhwaseon practice can remind Christians of the traditional values hermitism and of Abraham nomadic life : silence, solitude, the mobility of non-abiding and meditation. Such a reminding cannot come from a inner challenge alone, it must necessarily also come from an external one. This means that a genuine reform is possible through an epoch-making event like the encounter of Ganhwaseon with Christianity.
Ganhwaseon has the advantage that it can be practiced, either individually or in group, even in the middle of cities. It suffices to regularly create a space of silence and solitude in the place where we dwell. Ganhwaseon may allow our troubled minds to get rid of their endless and sterile calculations to recover their original simplicity. As a result, it helps us to acquire a right view71) as he faces the world he lives in.
It cannot be said that Christians do not have traditional methods of prayer. On the contrary, though they have many, most of the time they either do not know them or do not use them. Moreover, if they want to recover a dynamic understanding of truth, these methods of prayers may gain much from an encounter with techniques of meditation coming from another tradition. For instance, though there exist both an affirmative and a negative way (Via Affirmativa and Negativa)72) within Christianity, the vast majority of those who pray usually tend to rely solely on the latter. As a concrete example, let us recall one of the sayings of Jesus to his disciples : "Still, I must tell you the truth : it is much better for you that I go."73) In fact, this means that in order to fully understand who He is and what He has said, Christians must let him go. Even though Jesus has clearly told them not to do so, Christians keep being attached to him in an excessive way, as if they were hooked to a finger pointing the direction of the moon.74)  In many regards the dialectical relation of the affirmative and negative ways found in Christianity is very similar to the one found in Buddhism and especially in Seon .75) But the mutual complementarity of the two ways being much more clearly emplasized within Buddhism, the practice of Ganhwaseon can certainly help Christian to discover, or rediscove, and use a much more balanced approach of those two paradigms. In a word Christians have to be born again from above. As Jesus has said : “Unless one is born from above, one cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is exactly what the practice of Ganhwaseon may allow Christians to discover. And if I say it, it is because I have experienced it.
Of course, some people could easily argue that the main ideas developed in this paper tend to reduce the understanding of the practice of Ganhwaseon to some of the needs of Western Christianity. But D. T. Suzuki did exactly the same when he introduced Seon Buddhism to the West as the non historical essence of all religions. It can be said that this is an extremely limited and selected view of Buddhism. Because by introducing Seon as such in his most famous works,76) D. T. Suzuki repackaged Buddhism according to the expectations and hopes of his Western readers.77) Such an attitude may deserve many criticisms.78) Nevertheless, it is precisely because of that repackaging that D. T. Suzuki could successfully introduce Seon Buddhism to the Occident. And even though what he did may be considered some flawed, since he intended to remain faithful to the spirit of Seon, it is hard to say that such a repackaging was completely wrong. Moreover, it is possible to say that the whole history of Buddhism is filled with similar examples. For instance, in his History of Buddhist Philosophy, David J. Kalupahana introduces Buddhism to Westerners through occidental categories,79) to such an extent that some critics claim that what he talks about isn’t Buddhism anymore. But in fact, since Buddhism has kept doing the same thing, for the sake of its adaptation, each time that it entered in a new area, such criticisms seem misplaced. The birth of Mah?y?na or of Tantric Buddhism may be considered other examples of the same phenomena.80)
I shall now talk about the concrete attempts that have been made to integrate the practice of Ganhwaseon to Christian methods of prayer.

4. Attempts to Integrate Ganhwaseon Practice and Christian Methods of Cultivation

Since there exist both common points and differences between Buddhism and Christianity, the attempts to integrate Ganhwaseon practice to Christian teachings have sparked off a number of reactions. I am now going to mention some of these reactions. Afterwards, I will describe the Sanbo Kyodan and give an account of the past history and of the prospects of the attempts made to achieve an integration of Ganhwaseon practice to the Christian tradition.

1) Western Reactions to Seon Buddhism
   
A first reaction consists in believing that the practice of Seon is the sole way to achieve truth. As a result the advocates of such a position consider that Seon Buddhism is superior to all other religious traditions and they look down at them. The Dalai Lama is very critical of such people.81) They believe that the followers of traditions others than theirs cannot discover what they find in Seon Buddhism. Such a feeling of superiority may make them look endlessly for an ever purer form of Seon tradition. As a result, they may end up looking and sounding very fundamentalist. They may end up confusing unessential matters like, for instance, clothes, furniture, or the tea ceremony, with essential ones. Such people make the Dalai Lama laugh .82) At the opposite extreme some people consider that Seon Buddhism is nothing but a hoax destined to fooling people. This is exactly the position of H. Van Straelen in his Le Zen Démystifié.83)
The two fundamentalists attitudes that we have just described are clearly opposed to a dialogue between Seon Buddhism and the West. Between these two extremes, we can find positions that are opened to a dialogue between the cultural and religious context to which Seon Buddhism has to adapt. But the problem is to find a good balance between mutual transformation and the maintaining of each partners identity.
Let us take a look at some attitudes regarding Christian Seon. According to Jacques Brosse, any attempt to disconnect the practice of Seon from Buddhism amounts to its neutralization.84) Similarly, Éric Romeluère claims that the teachings of the Seon school and of Christianity are so different that Christian Seon amounts to pure schizophrenia.85) On the other hand, the Benedict monk and priest Willigis Jäger86) has got so deeply into the practice of Ganhwaseon within the Sanbo Kyodan that he has obtained the Dharma seal and became, though still a Roman Catholic priest, Ko-un Roshi. He also runs a very successful meditation center, called the Benediktushof,87) near Würzburg, in Germany. Moreover, at an international level, Father Jäger is one of the three highest persons in charge of the Sanbo Kyodan.  But recently, the Vatican has decided to prevent Father Jäger from teaching, declaring that the overall content of his predicatio

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