Ruben L. F. HABITO, Zen and the Spiritual Exercises: Paths of Awakening and Transformation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013. pp 237. $25.00. ISBN: 9781626980464. Reviewed by Eric W. HENDRY, Plano, TX 75026
Habito’s latest text explores the dynamic interplay between Zen Buddhism and the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. The author himself has both the personal and professional background to bring an authoritative perspective to the juxtaposition and integration of these two traditions. In 1964, he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus, trained as a Jesuit priest, and was then sent by his superiors to study Zen under Yamada Kōun Rōshi, at the San-un Zendo (Zen Hall of the Three Clouds) in Kamakura, Japan. By the late 1980’s, Habito had been leading 30-day Ignatian-Zen retreats for Catholic seminarians in the Philippines, exploring these two diverse spiritual paths, drawing upon core similarities in traditions, and highlighting the beneficial interplay between them. Then, after more than twenty years as a Jesuit, he left the order, moved to the US and began teaching World Religions and Spirituality in a university. In 1991, he founded the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas, which embraces the distinctly lay traditions of the Sanbō Kyōdan (Harada-Yasutani) Zen lineage – a particular lineage known for actively promoting Zen practice for non-Buddhist, non-Asian faith communities and cultures – which employs elements of Harada Daiun (Great Cloud), Yasutani Haku’un (White Cloud) and Yamada Kōun (Cultivating Cloud), and derives from Sōtō and Rinzai traditions.
The author displays an ease, familiarity and depth in both the Zen and the Jesuit traditions from the very first pages of his engaging and clear text. He walks through the most significant elements of the Spiritual Exercises from an unapologetically Zen perspective; the subtleties of interplay between his own understanding of these two traditions is one of the most attractive features of this book. Habito believes the Spiritual Exercises can clearly serve as an aid to all Zen practitioners, and has adapted the Ignatian use of “active imagination” for the non-Christian readers in an inviting, unthreatening manner; this perspective allows the “earnest seeker” of either tradition to benefit from his insights. For instance, various Zen practices – prescriptions for posture, breathing, calming the mind, seeing, etc. – can help awaken a seeker from delusions to the reality of one’s true self, allow a “path of awakening” to be genuinely lived out, and effect a very personal transformation in the individual’s life and vision; on the alternative, the Ignatian use of the “active imagination” – employing the systematic, guided meditative-contemplative practice of the Spiritual Exercises – can similarly assist a seeker to foster the personal transformation process in one’s own life and vision. Here, the author carefully and methodically integrates the right-brained, non-discursive, intuitive and non-theistic approach of Zen – with the left-brained, discursive and analytical, purpose-oriented approach of the Spiritual Exercises.
Habito ably explores Zen’s aim, to live the path of awakening in one’s own life – then similarly captures the aim of the Spiritual Exercises, to seek the divine will for one’s life, and, ultimately, their eternal salvation. Each path is portrayed as clearly resonating with elements of traditional Western (read: Christian) stages of purification, illumination and union. Zen’s path of awakening is depicted as an ongoing awareness that transforms one’s entire outlook, and opens a seeker’s heart in Compassion toward others. Habito understands the First Fruit of Zen, Samādhi, as the power of concentration that helps one identify the pain and suffering in one’s life (Purification); he understands the Second Fruit of Zen, Kenshō, as the experience of seeing momentary flashes of one’s true nature or situation (Illumination); and understands the Third Fruit of Zen as the enlightenment or embodiment of the “Peerless Way,” an experience bringing all of the disparate, dissonant parts of one’s life back to center, and in a great interconnectedness that empowers the seeker for concrete acts of Compassion toward All (Union). Conversely, Habito sees the Spiritual Exercises as integrating these traditional Western stages within their overall structure and four weeks of meditations: the process of Week One, enables one to see how far one has strayed from the divine plan (Purification); the process of Week Two, helps one to achieve a deep sense of intimacy with Jesus (Illumination); and the process of both Weeks Three and Four enable one to participate in the “death” of one’s old self, and “new life” in the light of Christ (Union). The experiential summit of Week Four is seen in the “Contemplation on Divine Love,” which actively awakens an individual from selfishness, and moves that individual toward a selfless service for others – one empowered and sustained by that same Divine Love.
In a rapidly growing age of interspiritual dialogue and shared experiences, whether you intend to assign this text for the personal meditation and reflection of contemporary university students – or as a text that methodically introduces them to the personal spiritual paths of Zen and the Ignatian Exercises, I foresee that many will find this book to be a welcome and helpful addition to courses dealing with both World Religions and Spiritual Growth. I highly recommend it.