I’ve been re-reading and re-enjoying a book written by Brian J. Pierce, OP called We Walk the Path Together (Learning from Thich Nhat Hanh & Meister Eckhart) © 2005, Orbis Books. In preparation for a discussion with a Washington University Professor Emeritus, I have selected the sentences or phrases from each chapter that most “spoke to me.” I thought my selections might encourage you to read the book and share your sentence/phrase selection. I hope you join me on this mindful journey.
Introduction Author Brian Pierce kicks off his book with a quote from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Going Home, Jesus and Buddha as Brothers © 1999, Riverhead Books: “If you love French cooking, it does not mean that you are forbidden to love Chinese cooking….you love the apple…but no one prevents you from also loving the mango.” Pierce adds “The apple and the mango, Jesus and the Buddha. So different, yet so much common ground between them….Meister Eckhart and Thich Nhat Hanh (their respective disciples) invite us into the dialogue.” p. xv.
Chapter 1 Magnanimity (Learning the Art of Dialogue) “Pope John Paul II wrote the following words, stressing that dialogue is another word for love: ‘We are all brothers and sisters and, as pilgrims on this earth, although on different paths, we are all on our way to the common Homeland which God, through ways known only to him, does not cease to indicate to us. The main road of mission is sincere dialogue’ p.13
Chapter 2 Mindfulness and the Eternal Now (Present Moment, Moment of Peace) “From the point of view of the Christian mystical tradition, eternity is not a future time out there in heaven….’What is today? Asks Eckhart, a question to which he gives his own answer, ‘Eternity’” p.21
Chapter 3 The Breath of the Holy Spirit (Learning to Breathe Again) “There is no doubt that the East is helping the West recover the simple art of breathing – that most basic of human actions, the one that will not let us escape from the present moment. We cannot breathe yesterday or tomorrow. We can only breathe in the here and now.” p.35 “The breath symbolizes the living, divine Reality present in each of us and in all creation.” p.37 “We breathe in the gift, and we breathe it out again, through loving-kindness and service.” p39
Chapter 4 The Water and the Waves (Water-soaked Ground) “if what Eckhart and (Nhat Hanh) say is true – namely, that the drop of water or the wave ‘become the ocean’ – then what happens next? Do we just disappear? What happens when we merge into God? Eckhart smiles at the earnestness with which we ask the question, and then with the wit of a true master of wisdom, he replies: So, you want to know what happens with the drop of water? ‘It finds God; and the finding of herself and the finding of God is one and the same act.’” p.57 “The author of the Chinese Tao Te Ching has a similar insight:
There was something formless and perfect before the universe was born. It is serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. It is the mother of the universe. For lack of a better name, I call it Tao. It flows through all things, inside and out, and returns to the origin of all things.” p.58
Chapter 5 Jesus and God (“Coming Home”) “For Christians, the question inevitably arises: Then how do we get back home to God? For (Nhat Hanh) the answer is quite simple: through the practice of mindfulness. We Christians can find much to imitate in this teaching, for only through mindful spiritual practice does the Trinity move from the theology books to becoming a reality in our lives. p.84 “from T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets: ‘What we call the beginning is often the end, and to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from….we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.’” p.85
Chapter 6 Christ (The Amazing Grace of God) “the reality of our true nature is that we are historical and eternal beings, human and divine, wave and water, heaven and earth. Or, in the image that St. Paul uses: ‘We hold the treasure of divine life within the earthen vessel of our humanity’ (Cor.4:7)…Says Eckhart, ‘The soul is created as if at the junction of time and eternity” p. 97 “from the well-known song ‘Morning Has Broken’: Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning. Born of the one light Eden saw play! Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day.’” p.102 “It is heartening for both Buddhists and Christians to know that, in the absence of our respective teachers, the body of their teachings lives on, guiding us toward truth and life.” p.109
Chapter 7 Suffering “The Buddhist journey out of suffering and into freedom is a the heart of the Christian Gospels as well….The Book of Deuteronomy records this admonition from God: ‘I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life that you and your descendants my live. (Deut. 30:19)” p.114 “Spirituality is not primarily about following rules, but about living a life that generates happiness and well-being for oneself and for others.” p.116 “No one possesses the truth. On the contrary, we are possessed by the truth. Truth is the Ground upon which every this and that stands.” p. 120 “A person must be willing to stop trying to solve life’s aches and pains by placing one’s trust in the gods of money, power, prestige, relationships, spiritual pleasure, and the like and plunge into the naked, silent Ground of God within.” p. 125
Chapter 8 Compassion Born from Suffering (Looking Deeply) “The discipline of meditation slows us down and trains us to look at the world with understanding and compassion. The result? We begin to see the world around us as it truly is. p.129 “Compassion is love that is willing to run the risk of suffering with and for the beloved….the risky business of loving, of course, requires great patience The two words, compassion and patience both come from the Latin root patior, meaning “to suffer.” p.132 Love is not generic; we do not love in general. Love is always concrete. It always involves real people….the only way we have to love God is by loving this person right here and right now….The ‘perfect’ relationship is not one that is free from suffering, but one that is full of compassion.” p.134 “Suffering is part of loving; it just is. There is nothing romantic or heroic about it.” p.135
Chapter 9 The Tree of the Cross (The Cross: Path to Freedom) “The cross…is more of a path to follow that something we are encouraged to imitate” p.144 “a lived response to the great question of life and death and inner freedom. Do we answer the question and speak the truth – ready to pay the consequences – or do we remain silent and immobile, paralyzed and enslaved by fear?” p.147 Jesus, like the Zen masters, leads his disciples along the path of dying to the self-sufficient ego….He calls us to die to the illusion that we are separate from God, that death has any ultimate power over us.” p.149 “The cross is the Christian version of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.” p.159 “All of us who have chosen a spiritual path have, at one time or another, fallen short of the goal. We are all human beings in process, learning day by day to be more human….We learn from the mistakes of the past, so that today we can say yes once again to the journey.” p. 161
Chapter 10 Love in Full Bloom (Equanimity: What Is, Is) “Equanimity is …the calm, peaceful acceptance of the way things are in the present moment…..’if life hands you lemons, then make lemonade’….equanimity teaches us to smile and to laugh at life. We learn to accept each other and every situation just as it is and, to the best of our ability to do so with a sense of humor.” p.168 “Through the practice of equanimity, we lose nothing. What we gain, though, in inner peace and tranquility, is immeasurable.” p.171 “To grow in love, says (Nhat Hanh), requires that we develop the spiritual capacity to rise above the fray of life, to be able to observe any given situation without being attached to either this side or that side.” p.175
CONCLUSION A Journey and a Begging Bowl “Thomas Merton wrote a prayer ‘My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end…I know that …you will lead me by the right road.” p. 179 “As spiritual practitioners of the twenty-first century, we, like our ancestors, are on a journey, walking a path that unfolds in each and every step. The practice of mindfulness teaches us to savor each step, to live the present moment in all its fullness, aware that the kingdom is either now or never. p.181 “Master Eckhart once said that if he had to summarize the entire spiritual life into a single word or phrase, it would be ‘Thank you.’….The journey, though different and unique for each practitioner and each tradition, is one, and the great joy is the discovery that we walk the path together.” p. 183
This 202 page book includes a lengthy final Notes section that provides detailed references for all the sources cited throughout. Surely, my brief recap does not do justice to this excellent comparison of the Christian and Zen Buddhist traditions. Clearly your key passages would be different than mine.
I welcome your thoughts on the book, and more importantly, on your spiritual path. Have you found inspiration from multiple traditions?
Patrick, I can see these excerpts, which I really enjoyed reading by the way, finding their way in your next book. Perhaps as inspirational lead ins to chapters. Well done. Ari
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