A Pilgrim – in which Direction?

The door to the Journey about to be described here, had been long searched for, and it opened at the first moment of my encounter with Fr. Enomiya Lassalle. Eighteen years of companionship with him confirmed the authenticity of this path, so that my decisive commitment to it could mature. Nevertheless, the question about the direction that this path takes – present from the beginning – is still with me. Breaking- through to the foundations of this path, is not that which is being sought. Fr. Lassalle laid the foundation-stone, the development lies in the hands of those who are on this path, from different traditions and understandings, who are seeking this jewel and endeavouring to hand it on.

Encounters with Zen-masters in Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan resulted in my several lived-in experiences in their monasteries and participation in exercise-periods with their monks. Particular temples will now be mentioned where I spent extended periods of time, under the direction of Zen-masters in charge.

Firstly, Tenryūji in Kyōto deserves mention. Here I practised Zen under the accomplished direction of Hirata Seikō Rōshi; in his temple I took part in the Sesshins for thirteen years. To him and his monks I owe a great debt of gratitude; there, the main task was to break the nut-shell.

Next, in Mampukuji, Ōbaku, under the direction of Sengoku Taisan Rōshi, the Chinese element was included. This built on my experience in China and Taiwan – the Sutras, and in the Zendō – in sharing their training, their exercises and life. In a relationship with Sengoku Taisan Rōshi, lasting to the present, he opened to me essential Buddhist texts of scriptures, which revealed the Zen path from different traditions; this circumvented a narrow view.

Moreover, in Paeg Yang Sa, a well-known Temple in Korea, under the direction of Seo Ong Sinim, the experience of the Korean Zen-tradition and the practice of the exercises there, opened my understanding to yet another dimension. It is generally believed that the origins of Zen – Dhyãna – has Indian roots. In that original tradition the year is divided into four periods: into two three-months training-periods for Sesshins, and two three month-periods of pilgrimage from Temple to Temple; this practice is still current today in Korea. I am particularly grateful to Seo Ong Sinim for his integrity and unique teaching; through his whole-hearted direction he imprinted my understanding profoundly.

Alongside these three exemplary Temple-experiences, many encounters occurred – in connection with the Sessions – with masters and monks, through which the richness of the school-traditions became clearer: this involved a diversity united in a foundational understanding, namely to discover the darkness of our consciousness – Mumyō –, and to enlighten the boundaries in this darkness. From the beginning, access to this Way – is obtained only through corporate practice with others –, that is, to another dimension that leads to an open, unequalled widening into the Sublime, that sustains and supports us. In all my encounters with masters and monks in East Asia, I noted great openness and generosity in their handing on what had been entrusted to them to me, all were ready to share their understanding of this Way.

Finally, it is a matter of striding through our given span of life, in a manner that our consciousness opens out to the infinite. Should we attempt to describe Shugyō in simple signs, then we have to become aware of three dimensions: to recognise the micro-cosmic dimension in an encounter with myself; to become conscious of my connectedness with the macro-cosmic dimension as a condition of my life; the experience of our micro-macro-cosmic dimension opens our consciousness to the whole of reality, when I discover and accept the fundamental dimension of my dependence on Life-Itself.

The successful transmission of this experiential knowledge can take place, thanks to persons who seek to be awakened, – who are ready for continual praxis –. This call to awaken embraces a common praxis of Zen-exercises, my attitudes in daily life and Eucharistic worship. In this triad the tradition is handed on, and all is finally offered in worship. Here we become freshly aware that the exercises derived from the East do not stand in contradiction to our Christian tradition – the foundation of our culture – instead, and much more, we are forced to integrate them, for the sake of health in our consciousness and to meet the challenges of our time. [1] We hand over to the future! Tried and tested, the fruit of that which is conveyed from the East to the West will go back to the East.

Fr. Gebhard Kohler 31 August 2011

Short Biography:

Fr. Gebhard Kohler, founder of the Zen-Jou Community was born in Germany, where he completed different studies, lives in Japan and comes twice a year to Europe, in order to integrate what is derived from East Asia into the Faith Journey revealed in Christian Revelation, by means of week-long sessions, which he leads in various centres in Western Europe and in England.

For Father Kohler's publications see  publications.

[1] Two developments are to be noted here: that the heritage from the East – practised by monks only – is now being handed on through the Zen-Jou Community in the West to the laity. The clarity of consciousness derived from purification through Shugyō prepares for the Eucharist and the sacramental life. If we can bring together this purification-process and Eucharistic worship, then we live by the Word of Jesus said to Nicodemus: ‘Unless one is born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (John 3: 3). Then a necessary contribution is made for continuing the mission of Jesus in the contemporary challenging context.