122 of 123 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2003
This is a simple, direct, and trustworthy introduction to Zen thought and practice. It's really Zen -- not watered-down relaxation exercises -- and it's really for Christians, for serious, fully committed Christians. There is nothing vague or wishy-washy about Boykin, either as a Zen practitioner or as a Christian.
Her meditation instructions are wonderful, and she spends plenty of time talking about the physical enterprise of meditation -- the mechanics of how to sit, where to sit, how long to sit, and so forth -- something I think many teachers neglect, forgetting maybe just how large that looms to a beginner. She corrects the most damaging misconceptions about meditation -- that it's a matter of trying not to have thoughts, for example, or that it's always a peaceful and calming occupation -- but she never lets the reader forget that meditation is a practice, not an idea: the only way to find out what meditation has offer is to meditate.
She presents the theory of Zen -- if it can be said to have such a thing -- just as clearly. "In Zen," writes Boykin, "the Buddha's teachings are not understood to be divine revelations or doctrines to be believed. Rather, they are understood to be observations about human experience -- observations made by a human being, the Buddha, that can be made by any human being." She goes on to summarize the fundamental teachings of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths, as clearly as I've ever seen them summarized. This part of the book alone would be worth the price of admission
When she considers parallels and analogs between Zen and Christianity, she does so without simplifying or compromising either. There's no nonsense about Zen "really" being Christianity or Christianity "really" being Zen. But there's a fascinating discussion of the Zen paradox that we are both already, and not yet, enlightened, in the light of the Christian question of justification by faith or by works; and a very sensitive exploration of what Zen and Christianity mean by "selflessness."
I came to this book with a great deal of skepticism. Mix-and-match approaches to religious traditions sometimes amount to keeping whatever is agreeable and discarding whatever is challenging -- reincarnation without karma, Christ without the crucifixion, Buddha-Nature without emptiness -- and it's all too possible, by carefully picking out every piece that reinforces your ego and leaving out every piece that subverts it, to construct an exact replica of your original confusion.
So I was delighted to find nothing of the kind in "Zen for Christians." Boykin is a serious Christian and a serious Zen practitioner, and she's written a serious -- though also wonderfully readable -- book about both. You couldn't find a better introduction to Buddhism; and really, though it was no part of her project, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better introduction to Christianity, either.
68 of 75 people found the following review helpful
While it is true that one could practice, say, yoga, and practice it well and fairly near completeness and still be a Christian, it is a bit of a stretch to fully immerse oneself in Zen Buddhism and remain a Christian. Or vice-versa.
This is not and cannot be immediately apparent to casual and beginning practitioners of either Christianity or Zen. Certainly however it should be clear to Kim Boykin. And, after a fashion, I think it is. What she has done is reduce Zen to something close to a non-spiritual practice, a "Zen for health," if you will, in particular Zen for mental and emotional health, and in that way make Zen compatible with Christianity.
As Boykin points out, the central tenet of Christianity, that of salvation, is similar to the Buddhist tenet of right behavior. In Christianity all have sinned, but if we accept Christ, who died for our sins, as our savior we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In Buddhism we are not "unsaved" or in a state of mortal sin, rather we are in a state of pain and suffering, some of it psychological. We overcome that state through Right Living, Right Behavior--the famous Eightfold Path. (See especially page 91.)
Boykin goes into the differences and similarities in her third chapter, "Zen Teachings and Christian Teachings." Basically she resolves all apparent conflicts by stating that "Zen teachings are not doctrines." This is precisely, exactly correct. Indeed, the central spirit in Zen is to laugh at all doctrines, to find enlightenment through "killing the Buddha" and "no thought," which are ways to get away from the limitations of the so-called rational mind. Typically a Zen koan presents the student with a logical paradox and demands an answer, an answer that can only be found by transcending the rational mind and all doctrines. So, by this method Boykin can accept any facet of Christianity including the most literal and fundamental and find no conflict with Zen.
So be it.
However, there is no "God" in Buddhism. Consequently for God to have a "son" can only be understood in a symbolic sense. The acceptance of Christ as a personal savior, again can only be done in a symbolic sense. To go even deeper into Buddhist "theology," if you will, or "psychology" (which I think is the best way to understand these things, at least in the beginning) it is necessary to realize that for the Buddhist we do not even exist in the same way we do in Christianity. In Buddhism the self is an illusion. In Christianity the self is very real and transcends death. Furthermore, there is no concept of karma or reincarnation in Christian theology. Boykin does not discuss either idea, possibly because neither idea is logically compatible with Christianity.
What Boykin does well here is to show how Zen meditation can enrich one's life, how "being here now" and other Zen practices can lead to a fuller spiritual experience, as they have for her. From a Christian point of view, prayer is the most powerful meditation. From another point of view, prayer is simply one type of meditation. Prayer and meditation are both practices, or techniques, if you will, for finding God or nirvana--which to some people amounts to the same thing. Zazen ("just sitting," i.e., sitting meditation) is certainly a practice that would be compatible with any religion.
So what Zen for Christians is about is using Zen techniques to further one's Christianity. This is fine, but theological speaking, Zen and Christianity are different ways to God and cannot be held as truths simultaneously without some strenuous mental gymnastics. (Or actually in the impish spirit of Zen, they can be held simultaneously in the mind with the greatest of ease!) A striking example of this discordance can be seen on page 40 where Boykin recites a prayer learned from Karl Rahner. It ends with the words, "I am powerless, blind, dead, but you are mighty, light, and life and have conquered me long ago with the deadly impotence of your Son." Prayer is surrender to a power greater than oneself. But words like "the deadly impotence of your Son" have no meaning in Zen.
More in concert with the spirit of Zen would be the 46th Psalm as quoted on the next page: "Be still, and know that I am God." However, the use of the word "God" and the sense that "God" would actually demand something of someone is foreign to Zen. In Zen one does not speak of God partly because traditionally the Buddha turned aside all such questions. (It takes some study to understand why he did.) But theologically speaking, to mention God would be to immediately identify God in some manner, and that would be meaningless since what stands for God in Buddhism is beyond any human designation--indeed beyond human comprehension. On the other hand, in Christianity God is made personal. Moreover, in fundamentalist Christianity, humans are said to be made in the image of God.
Boykin's style is engaging and her recollection of her Zen training and how she came to the Catholic Church make for interesting reading. I had the sense that one of the commonalities shared by Zen and Christianity that Boykin discovered, perhaps in a subconscious way, is in the practices of Zen and the rituals of the Catholic Church. Although they are very different in structure and event, they serve some of the same purposes, that of helping the aspirant find spirituality. And of course the monastic tradition in Zen has some similarities with that of the Catholic Church.
Bottom line: While this is a good introduction to Zen, if you want to read about how Zen and Christianity can and cannot be reconciled, I recommend Thomas Merton or Alan Watts.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2004
I'm glad these sorts of work are becoming more and more popular in the literary world, because we have them coming from both the Christian and Buddhist community. Kim Bokyin is a teacher of contemplative prayer (a subject Merton always wrote extensively about) to both Christians and non Christians. This books' more like a beginners guide for people who don't have any idea what Zen Buddhism is actually about. Like a nice lure giving the fish just enough that, with any luck, they will come begging for more.
She's a very concise instructor in here, pouring over the fundamentals with a sort of ease and conviction. She explains meditation, koan work, non duality, The Four Noble Truths here; and what's more, Christians don't need to feel they need to give up Christianity to practice Zen. It may be true on a deeper level that in order to truly devote yourself, this might be so. But you can enhance your current religious traditions and spiritual practice with zazen (Zen meditation) at any time. Even contemplating scripture as though they are koans, is a beneficial practice. Christianity has a lot to benefit from Zen, allowing people to place aside desires for achievements (I dare say even heaven) and simply realize your life as this moment. There is no "goal." Only this.
This was an excellent book, and for those with interest in further reading on the matter I recommend Ruben Habito's book "Living Zen, Loving God." He has studied Zen and Christianity for decades, and provides further illuminating insights for Christians on reconciling Zen with Christianity. Anyway, get this book. It's an invaluable tool on the spiritual path.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I have read ABOUT Zen for the past 10 or 15 years. This is the first book that has motivated me to actually practice! What an outstanding tool to help Christians like myself fearlessly begin to delve into zazen.
The writer approaches the subject from a very human point of view. She is "one of us," battling with fickleness and human nature. And yet, with simple language, practical examples and personal experiences, she helps us to smell the aroma of the spiritual feast that awaits us in Zen practice.
While this book probably won't add much to the knowledge or practice of those who are Buddhists or are already practicing Zen regularly, it will be very helpful for Christians who may have an interest in meditation. This book is Hands-On and How-To for those who want to do more than just know ABOUT Zen.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2003
Zen for Christians contains practical meditation instructions, interspersed with personal stories as well as more theological chapters. Boykin does a great job addressing theological questions about doing Zen practice without compromising one's Christian faith. Her explanation of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths is one of the clearest I've ever read. She takes complex philosophical concepts and makes them very easy to understand, but without "watering them down." Zen for Christians is a welcome addition to the growing number of books on interfaith dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2004
Zen for Christians is a fantastic book for those wishing to learn more on the basics of zen meditation. This is a step by step guide to getting the most out of your meditation. I would recommend this book to any christian who is hesitant about the merger of another religion. It really is simply a christians guide to better meditation and not a guide to merge any religions.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I was referred to this book by Kim's father. The further I got into 'Zen for Christians: A Beginner's Guide,' maybe after page 40 or 50, the author's voice, examples, and instructions began to settle themselves within my psyche. In other words, I needed to sit back and give the author and me time to get to know each other. While reading the book and upon finishing it, I found myself incorporating Kim's exercises into some of my daily routines, riding the TheraCycle, soaking in the hot tub, shoveling snow. It's been about seven months since I finished the book. I could do with a quick re-read as my Zen practices are not occurring as frequently as when I had just completed the book. The nice thing about Kim's book? Reviewing her Zen practices will be very easy thanks to her format and instructions. By the way, I don't belong to any organized religion. I waiver between being a theistic agnostic - believing in a superior being behind this universe while realizing that knowledge of that being is unobtainable - and believing that God is in each and every one of us, is in everything we gaze upon and hold close to our hearts. My only caveat is that you don't need to be a Christian to be able to benefit from this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I liked this for it's simplicity. It went in to the reasons why they can work together in plain language. I learned more about both than I knew before and it clarified the differences between the 2, ie Christianity is a religion and Zen is not.
I loaned it to my preacher to help me define where I am without an argument.
10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2005
If you are interested in zen meditation, and have no experience ,this is a good start, but there are many nonchristian meditation books out there that do a better job. If you want an analysis of christian and zen beliefs this does a decent job, but is very redundant at times and is mostly an account of the author's personal experiences. All in all the book is just OK, not good and not bad.
on January 14, 2015
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I bought this book because I wanted to know if, as a Christian, I can practice Zen and not violate the tenants of my faith. The answer is yes and no.
Read Dennis Littrell's review from 2003. I think it's the best explanation.
For me, practicing "Zen" as a meditation technique, and not delving into the Four Pillars of Truth and other doctrine, is the best way to accomplish my goal. One might call it "Zen Lite."
Well written and a very easy read.