(Munich) St. Francis of Assisi? Old news! Today, Far Eastern Zen is in. That's how the Franciscans of the Friary of Unterdietfurt think anyway. And not only today. Since 1977, they have expanded the monastery into a Zen center and are proud to be "so to speak, the oldest Christian Zen monastery in the German-speaking world" as they write on their website.
Katholisches.info reported on September 1 of the dissolution of the Franciscan monastery Reutte in Tyrol. Although the Franciscan Friary of Unterdielfurt in Bavaria belongs to another province of the Order, there seems to be a correlation existing between the one and the other event.
Inculturation the Other Way
Five Franciscans currently inhabit the monastery in Unterdietfurt. The Franciscan establishment is well known in the Bavarian Oberpfalz as the Meditation House of St. Francis . Actually to a point it is mainly in advertising slogan "Zen in the Franciscan Friary". The house offers "from Zen to Ikebana to T'ai Chi Ch'uan" all in Eastern spirituality, Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto or Taoist in origin, as the website promises. Inculturation the other way.
"In Zen practice we follow mainly the tradition of Sanbô-Kyôdan here, as the foundation laid for our house by P. Lassalle and continued to be led by P. Victor Löw." The Dietfurter Zen Franciscans place great stress on the assumption: "This tradition gives us complete freedom with respect to confessional and religious affiliation." Today's guide is the 49 year old Samuel Heimler.
Guardian Heimler: start the day with "harmonization of Qi"
Brother Heimler is a Catholic priest. That's the best that can be garnered from the CV published by him in the Internet. Although the ordination should be the most important stage of his life, it is not mentioned. What is mentioned is that he has professional training with reinforced concrete contractors and entered his in 1988 to study theology, training in communication skills, to shape educators, and is a family counselor and a Neuro-linguistic Programmer (NLP). In Dietfurter Zen Friary, the Franciscans put emphasis on "other" matters.
Heimler is Guardian of the monastery and head of the meditation house staff for youth ministry "Orientation to Francis" and (presumably priestly) Assistant to the Secular Franciscan Order (FG).
Samuel begins his day with Qigong, a form of Chinese movement, concentration and meditation exercises in order to "harmonize and regulate" the qi in his body. Qi is Chinese for energy, fluid or breath and is a central part of the Far Eastern religion of Taoism. In the summer, Heimler does not sleep in his monastic cell, but in a cabin in the monastery garden because he or she can feel more in t contact with nature.
Far Eastern Buddhist Practices, Shinto, Taoist Origin
Heimler not look back in 34 years towards the east, but in the Christian and Franciscan sense of ex oriente lux . Heimler looks further into the geographical East and says to find what seems to him to Christianity seem to be missing in the Far Eastern religions. As Guardian and Head of meditation house, he is the "model" of his confreres. His life is marked by Qigong, which is also derived from Taoism, the "personality development" serving martial art Taijiquan, Japanese, derived from Buddhism and Shinto art form Ikebana, the sacred dance and especially the Zen Buddhism.
Almost 2,000 participants participate in the 48 courses offered in the course of a year in Dietfurter Zen Center. There are religious and lay people, believers and unbelievers. The confessional or religious affiliation plays no role in the courses. A specifically Christian, or a course recognizable as Christian does not exist. The crowd was so large that the Zen Franciscan was no longer sufficient to meet the demand. Moreover, to enhance the prestige as a Zen center, therefore, known Zen masters are also invited from abroad to conduct courses in the Buddhist-style center.
From the Franciscan monastery Zen Friary
Since 1665 there has been a Dietfurter branch of the Friars Minor of St. Francis of Assisi. The conversion of a Franciscan Friary into a Zen monastery took place not primarily by a Franciscan, but by the Jesuit Father Hugo Lassalle. Born in Nieheim in Westphalia in 1898, Lassalle came from a Huguenot family originally. In 1919, he entered, after the experience of the First World War, in which he had served as a soldier, into the Jesuit Order. Ordained a priest in 1927, he was sent in 1929 by his order to the Japan mission. Looking for ways to spread the gospel in Japan, he studied Zen Buddhism there. With its help, he hoped to understand the basics of the difficult access for Christianity into Japanese society. It was a job that was not generally suitable for him.
Instead of finding an approach for the Evangelization of Japan, he was taken with Zen Buddhism. In 1943 he participated in the first sesshin in part, a form of concentrated Zen meditation. Under the name Makibi Enomiya he became a Japanese citizen in 1948 and vicar general of the diocese of Hiroshima. His chosen name has both a reference to the Shinto shrine of Hiroshima and Buddhism.
Lassalle said after the Second World War, the defeated Japanese lead him "by Buddha to Christ." "The strengthening of the religious base in the form of Buddhism was supposed - after reinterpretation of Buddhist rites - to serve for the Christian teachings and ceremonies as a starting point," writes Michael Ihsen in the Biographic-bibliographic Church Encyclopedia of the German Jesuits. "The practice of egolessness seemed desirable to him also for Christianity", says Ihsen. Lassalle was taken with the idea to promote Buddhism, "Christianize" and thus to evangelize Japan.
With the Zen Buddhist monks, after the defeat of the war, he saw common ground with them and went with them on lecture tours to raise up the basis of a common ethics in Japan again. Both the Jesuits and the Buddhists were marginalized until the war ended in Japan, and attributed the war and defeat of the island nation to Confucism and Shintoism and saw the opportunity now to take their position in Japanese society.
Lassalle's path eventually led, not to evangelize Japan, but to give Buddhism access to the Christians in Europe. Lasalle's "best sellers" especially paved the way, like: "Zen Path to Enlightenment," which appeared in 1959 with the permission of Father Pedro Arrupe in book form. Arrupe, the Jesuit General who was to become the Father General in 1968, was then the first Provincial of the newly established province of the Order in Japan. He encouraged Lassalle's Zen studies and allowed him to build a Zen center on the site of the Jesuit establishment. There, Lassalle created among other things, a "Grotto of the divine darkness". Arrupe supported his German confrere also then, as in 1960, the then Superior General of the Jesuits, Father Jean Baptiste Janssens, forbade both Lassalle's book as well as any further involvement with Zen Buddhism by members of religious orders.
The Jesuit Hugo Lassalle and the Second Vatican Council
But times were to change quickly. Accompanied in 1959 by Pope John XXIII's first appointed Bishop of Hiroshima, Dominic Yoshimatsu Noguchi, Father Enomiya-Lassalle took part in the Second Vatican Council, where he held talks on liturgical inculturation. The new edition of his book received no imprimatur at first, because even Karl Rahner identified Zen as monistic and explained it as incompatible with Christianity.
Lassalle even borrowed from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, to correct deficiencies in his doctrine. However, atmosphere of the council initiated an "understanding" with the Eastern religions with the help of the Father General, Pedro Arrupe, who soon ascended to become one of the most important representatives of the "Christian-Buddhist dialogue". However Lassalle was threatened several times with exclaustration if there were too many problems with religious in his Zen-project along the way.
Father Enomiya-Lassalle intensified his Zen practice, but the Kensho experience , a Buddhist "awakening experience", failed to materialize. That was when he decided continue with the Zen-project without the Kensho experience. His promotion of Buddhist inculturation of Christianity he reasoned against critics again and again so that Zen "was indeed religious in origin, but includes lessons that are outside of the Buddhist doctrine." Yet there were always new doubts.
Father Enomiya-Lassalle was convinced that through Zen "the soul goes to meet God to the utmost limit of the possible". In 1973 it had come: Lassalle was finally recognized as a Zen master. The recognition of his Kensho was carried out by Yamada Koun Zenshin, a leading exponent of Zen Buddhism and founder of one of the many Buddhist sects. Yamada Koun (1907-1989) was, however, unlike other Buddhist Zen masters leader involved, to win many Christians for Zen Buddhism. One of them was the Jesuit Hugo Lassalle.
Lassalle's "Zen Eucharist" and the (lack of) consciousness quantum leap
Lassalle drew other religious in Europe under his spell such as the Benedictine Willigis Jäger, the Jesuit Brantschen, the Pallottine John Kopp, whom he brought in contact with Yamada Koun in contact and formed them. Even the later Niederalteich Abbot Emanuel Jungclaussen was influenced in the 70s by Lassalle. The Buddhist sect leader, Yamada Koun were "consecrated"together with the Münsterschwarzacher Benedictine Abbot Boniface Vogel, the Zen Center of Willigis Jäger in 1980. They all believed they were able to fully perform in the Far Eastern spirituality, a quantum leap of consciousness. The former immediately started after the Second Vatican Council and the revolutionary cultural upheaval of 1968, with their Zen Mission in German-speaking countries. Kopp in the diocese of Essen, Jäger in the Abbey of Münsterschwarzach in the diocese of Würzburg, Brantschen in the diocese of Basel. Lassalle was, as mentioned, instrumental in the creation of the "Zen monastery" of Unterdietfurt in the diocese of Eichstätt, among other things in 1977. The inauguration of the Meditation House of St. Francis was made in his presence by the then bishop of Eichstätt, Alois Brems.
Accordingly there was expectant criticism by Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar, who pointed out, among other things, that zen-practicing priests give up their priesthood, their leave their orders and even lose their Christian faith, was unheard in Unterdietfurt, as well as in Münsterschwarzach and elsewhere. They also wrote: "From the history of religion perspective, it is an outstanding achievement of cooperation between Lassalle and Yamada, that Christian ministers withdrew the teaching license of the Buddhist sect." Indeed! Cui bono?
Father Hugo Makibi Enomiya-Lassalle died in 1990, a year after Yamada, to whom the whole idea of "Christian" Zen Buddhism goes back in the West. At his request, Lassalle's body was cremated and the ashes transferred to Japan.
The Weakness of the Dietfurter Franciscan Victor Löw for Eastern Spirituality
It was the Dietfurter Franciscan Father Victor Löw, who had turned to Father Lassalle, and thus started the stone rolling at Dietfurter Zen Friary. Loew, a native of Budapest, had been imprisoned in 1949 by the new communist authorities. In prison he met a disciple of the Indian guru Ramana Maharshi who taught him Hindu practices. After the anti-communist uprising of 1956, Löw fled to the West. In 1967 he joined the Franciscan Order in Bavaria and was ordained a priest in 1972. In 1974, Löw contacted Lassalle, because he wanted to make the far eastern wave, which then rolled over the West, usable for Christianity - as the declared intention. Indeed he was, as his resume shows, pulled early under a spell into Eastern spirituality. Löw, who died in 1994, was finally made a Zen master by Lasalle and traveled like this "from monastery to monastery to hold meditation classes" as the Dietfurter Franciscans write. Lasalle complained of the "spiritual poverty" of the Catholic religious orders in the West and would not be resolved. The monasteries have since, however, "emptied".
The Dietfurter Zen Franciscans, however, see a very positive future and emphasize on their website with a self-justifying tone, "a celebration of the Eucharist [Zen Eucharist] is served daily in the small chapel in the meditation area offered on a voluntary basis, which always is very popular. Quite a few students have experienced the effect of Zen meditation at the Eucharist new and can deepen their faith or regain access to the Christian faith, they believed lost. Many people find their spiritual home here. Here they return to come to their senses and find new strength for their lives everyday. "
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
image: Franciscan Unterdietfurt / Wikicommons
image: Franciscan Unterdietfurt / Wikicommons
Trans: Tancred firstname.lastname@example.org