Zen Buddhist Emptiness and Christian Centering Prayer
Recently Ken McLeod presented “Freedom of Choice” as a way to differentiate forms of spiritual materialism and emotional escapism from serious Buddhist practice. He noted The Heart Sutra negations. There is no attainment for bodhisattvas as they pursue the perfection of wisdom. Ultimately, everything is empty. He refers to the illusion of choice as a hindrance to freedom. The more options we have the greater energies, angst, and preferences we experience. These are ways out of serious, dedicated meditation. When we become safely lost in our soothing practice, we may tend to withdraw from the challenges of everyday life in our chaotic world. Pursuit of preferred options and alternatives may soothe us but it also limits our mind training – purified attention and concentration on one thing in the here and now of presence. Having less options on our personal spiritual paths will ensure that we encounter the painful realities of our own emotional lives. If we succeed in this encounter, we may experience healing. What we need is Suzuki Roshi’s “way-seeking mind.” In such ways the Zen meditation may provide direct experiences of emptiness.
David Frenette’s book, The Path of Centering Prayer, notes many details on this practice. Perfected practice in Centering Prayer may open up greater divine love and allow experiences of emptiness. To maintain open curiosity for readers, I will use the words higher power to replace references to god/God. Centering prayer is part of the long, honored Christian mystical tradition. Simplicity is its core, and this simplicity allows greater and greater connection to higher power. It is the presence of higher power as we sit that influences us positively. Higher power presence allows for a life of improved unity and togetherness with all. Centering prayer as a daily practice opens us up to positive attitudes about process and allows deeper internal experience. Gentle receptivity of radical acceptance may open up thoughts, emotions even behaviors; when we experience these as interferences, simply go back to effortless, calm breathing and a selected sacred word. Focus on these as your meditation deepens. If we are successful, we will experience a deep connection to higher power and ultimate emptiness of it all. As our skills improve, we will notice sacred experiences in the words we use, in our breath, and in our spirit. A loving friendship with higher power and self and others may emerge over time. We will use Thomas Keating’s instructions. Recognize he is a priest and a psychologist.
Now we will practice Thomas Keating’s Centering Prayer process on higher power and emptiness. For even more simplicity I have modified a few steps.
- Sit quietly with your eyes closed.
- Hold an intention to contact higher power and to practice regularly.
- Practice counts; there is no perfect way to do this. Just keep practicing.
- Select a sacred word (mantra) as your symbol of your spiritual connection with higher power.
- As you calm and deepen your breath, say your sacred word over and over again.
- When thoughts, emotions, pain, suffering, even behaviors interfere with your practice simply DO NOT engage in story-lines and bring attention back gently to breath and word. Repeat this process over and over again.
- Work to let go of your stream of consciousness. Let go of past and future. Stay in the present.
- Maintain a friendly, loving attitude to whatever comes up to distract you. Continue to breathe and say your sacred word.
- Let go of your false self by misidentifying with ego-self, family, groups, ethnic and racial roots. Be one!
- Continue to practice by just be a human being with compassion and love. Let the higher power do its work for you. As you meditate deepen, deepen and deepen.
For more information refer to Keating, T. (1986, 2006). Open-Mind, Open-Heart. St.Benedict’s Monastery/Continuum Books. Frenette, D. (2017). The Path of Centering Prayer. Sounds True. McLeod, K. (2017). “Freedom of Choice.” Tricycle Community. Retrieved 9-21-17. Bourgeault, C. (2016). The Heart of Centering Prayer… Boston,MA: Shambhala Publications.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness