ASCENDING MOUNT CARMEL was the metaphor of St. John of the Cross for seeking God. To show the most direct route, his drawing of the mountain had "nada, nada, nada" (nothing,nothing, nothing) written on it all the way up. This path of emptying out, of relinquishing everything, and of seeing the "nothingness" of objects to which we might cling is also the way of Theravadan Buddhist vipassana (insight) meditation. Christian insight meditation uses this time-honored, precise meditation method to implement John's ascetical and mystical teachings.
Since my co-authors and I published Purifying the Heart: Buddhist Insight Meditation for Christians in 1994, many more Christians have discovered Buddhist meditation and appreciated its helpfulness in supporting their spiritual work.' are happy to offer a revised edition of our book under its new title: Christian Insight Meditation: Following in the Footsteps of John of the Cross.
We addressed the first edition of this book to Christians who long for the happiness of seeing God as Jesus promised to the pure in heart. By offering an ancient Buddhist meditation practice within a Christian prayer tradition, we hoped to teach our readers a process of inner purification that we believe can lead to deeper Christian faith in this world and the direct vision of God in the next.
Since that time, we have also found Buddhists interested in the teachings of St. John of the Cross. We offer this new edition for any readers who might feel that exploring the spiritual traditions of John of the Cross and Theravadan Buddhism could enhance their spiritual life.
Eastern Riches for Christians
Despite the long history of mysticism within Christianity and its many and varied approaches to meditation and contemplative prayer, more and more Christians have turned to Eastern religions to find guidance for their interior life that they did not find in Christianity. Some have completely abandoned the religion of their childhood, believing they have found the "pearl of great price'" in Eastern meditation.
Since our first edition, many Christians who are interested in or practice Eastern meditation have come to our retreats. Some had discovered for themselves Christianity's rich mystical tradition. They set out on their own to build a bridge between their Eastern meditation practice and Christian contemplative prayer. Such persons, who often call themselves Buddhist Christians or Christian Buddhists, draw equally upon both traditions to assist their interior development and growth in faith.
Other Christians who began with Buddhist meditation have experienced its physiological and psvchological benefits; however, the)! arc uncertain how to relate meditation to their faith. They are open to integrating their meditation practice into their Christian life if someone can show them how. Some worry about syncretism in their religious practice or fear becoming New Age dilettantes, believing it safer to keep religion and meditation separate.
We cannot know how many Christians, not yet familiar with our work, have at least some experience with Eastern meditation, but we suspect there are many. This book offers all these Christians reliable guidance for integrating at least one form of Buddhist meditation into one tradition of Christian contemplative prayer.
The Silence and Awareness Retreat
This book grew out of our eight-day Silence and Awareness retreat, which we have directed since 1989. Some readers of our first edition have attended this retreat, and others have worked privately with the published tapes of our 1991 retreat. The retreat teaches the Theravadan Buddhist practice of vipassana, or insight meditation, within the framework of Christian contemplative prayer found in Carmelite spirituality, especially in the life and writings of St. John of the Cross. His Carmelite contemporary, St. Teresa of Avila, also appears in our work.
As we developed this retreat from year to year, we gradually recognized the need for this book. We wanted to make the basic instructions for insight meditation available in writing for Christians who wanted to work with this practice on their own. We also wanted to set down, as clearly and simply as possible, our understanding of how this venerable Buddhist practice can be integrated with Christian prayer.
Our intent in this book is primarily pastoral and practical. We recognize, but do not discuss, many important questions that occupy professional scholars in the Buddhist- Christian dialogue and in the study of Christian spirituality. We are also aware of, hut again do not elaborate, the social and political implications of collaboration between persons of differing religious faiths.
We want simply to teach the practice of Christian insight meditation, providing only as much history and theory as seems necessary to show the compatibility of this simple Buddhist practice with Christian prayer. We believe that Christians who are faithful to this practice soon discover for themselves its power to bring inner peace and healing, its implications for Christian life, and the inseparable connection between wisdom and compassion known for centuries to both Christian and Buddhist meditators.
Our Interfaith Perspective
This book invokes the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, which exhorted Catholic Christians to "acknowledge, preserve, and promote" the spiritual and moral goods and cultural values of Hinduism and Buddhism.6 Vatican II also challenged missionary members of religious institutes to reflect attentively "on how Christian religious life may be able to assimilate the ascetic and contemplative traditions whose seeds were sometimes already planted by God in ancient cultures prior to the preaching of the Gospel."
We have tried to be as faithful as possible to the integrity of both Buddhist insight meditation and Carmelite spirituality. At the same time, we attempt to point out the similarities between these two traditions that enable Christians to assimilate Buddhist insight meditation into Christian prayer and to practice an authentic Christian insight meditation.
We deeply believe that the Christian insight meditation taught in this book, a twenty-five-hundred-year-old Buddhist meditation practice integrated into Carmel's eight-century tradition of contemplative prayer, can satisfy the hunger of American Christians for spiritual
nourishment-one of the most pressing pastoral challenges to Christian churches. To feed this desire, we offer a meditation practice that not only purifies our hearts, but also draws us directly into the paschal mystery, the self-emptying death of Jesus Christ that gives new life to our world.
Emptiness is a common theme in the spiritual teachings of both the Buddha and John of the Cross. Emptying our lives of attachment to everything contrary to God's will and opposed to the free movement of the Holy Spirit within us is the essential process that prepares us for transformation of our lives.8 By fostering this emptiness, by leading us securely along a lifelong path of poverty of spirit and purity of heart, Christian insight meditation disposes us for this unfathomable blessing that alone satisfies all our longings.
Plan of the Book
Part I briefly lays the foundations of our approach. It first presents
Jesus' call to purity of heart. Next it gives a historical outline of the
Buddhist tradition of insight meditation and the Carmelite tradition of prayer.
Part II gives the instructions for insight meditation as they are taught during our retreats. This enables the reader to learn and experience the meditation practice directly. It also offers some new material giving guidance on setting up a practice, and discusses how to find help.
The unit's final chapter presents, more fully than the first edition did, the overall path of practice as both traditions see it.
Part III compares the teachings of John of the Cross and the Buddha on interior purification. This comparison provides the primary theoretical basis for our effort to integrate insight meditation into Christian prayer.
Finally Part IV discusses some questions people attending our retreats often ask about using insight meditation as prayer. The last three chapters in this unit are new, written for this edition, to address the more recent questions we have been asked.
Two appendices offer additional information. Appendix I recaps our own work in drawing from Christian and Buddhist scriptures and other teachings the contemplative practice we call Christian insight meditation. Appendix II lists resources for help in continuing the practice of insight meditation.
Because insight meditation focuses on self- emptying purification, we refer only briefly to the Buddhist loving-kindness (metta) meditation practice. However, Gentling the Heart:Buddhist Loving-Kindness Practice for Christians teaches this practice in detail within Christian perspectives. Together, these two books show both the interior and social implications of Theravadan Buddhism for Christian spirituality.