A Zen Invitation into the Ring of Fire

francis xavier
According to the good folk at Wikipedia this is the day in 1549 that the Jesuit Francis Xavier’s ship arrived in Japan.

When I went to the google machine for some details I saw near the top of the page for “Francis” and “Xavier” and “Zen,” a link to a video clip that claims the good father actually converted to Zen Buddhism. A sweet fantasy that might appeal both to those within the Zen Buddhist community that always like another fellow traveler, and those within the more traditional forms of the Catholic church who are aghast at the amount of Zen practice that has been incorporated into Catholic life by a surprising number of people, including Jesuits.

However, it isn’t Father Xavier who introduces the heretical practices of Zen, it is another Jesuit, at another time, much later. The Reverend Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle who seems the first Jesuit, and maybe the first Catholic to be authorized as a Zen teacher within an authentic Zen lineage. Not the last, of course. There are reasons for the glee and the upset…

But, Francis Xavier is a saint of the church. Someone to notice. And there is no doubt his arrival in Japan was momentous. I addressed this a few years ago. I think maybe time to revisit some of what happened.

While in fact fervently hostile to nonChristian religions, and with some blood, if indirectly, on his hands in that regard, I believe Francis Xavier is also the first moderately accurate reporter of Zen writing in a European language. That is certainly worth noting.

And what he noted, as well, is worth paying attention to…

Xavier appears to have actually cultivated a genuine friendship with Abbot Ninshitsu of Fukushoji in Kagoshima. They spent many hours together and talked of many things.

Heinrich Dumoulin gives a delightful accounting of Xavier’s inquiry into Zen’s meditation and the abbot’s response, translated and paraphrased, I don’t know how loosely from Xavier’s “famous” “great letter.”

In a stroll through the temple grounds the two friends came across monks seated in meditation. Deeply impressed by the modesty, the concentration, and the repose they displayed, Xavier asked the abbot, “What are these monks doing?” The abbot laughed and said, “Some are calculating the contributions received from their followers during the past months. Others are thinking about how they might get better clothing and personal care. Still others are thinking of vacation and pastimes. In short, no one is thinking of anything important.”

I really, really like Ninshitsu Roshi.

I don’t believe the good father quite got the point.

But, maybe you can.

Christian?

Buddhist?

Something else entirely? Or, of no persuasion at all?

Doesn’t matter.

What does matter is do you care about life and death, and in particular your own life and death?

Wonder if there might be a place to encounter as fully as a human being can, what is?

Zen claims it can point that way.

And, here in that encounter between a Jesuit and a Zenshu priests in the sixteenth century, we get a pointer into the mind that sees, and the great invitation…

Right into the ring of fire…


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