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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Shusaku Endo

There's been a discussion of detachment or indifference on Paul's blog and as always, that concept raises issues for me. I don't think I can articulate why this bothers me (except to say that it seems gnostically dualitic and world-hating :-) so I looked around the web for back-up. Didn't find any, but did find an interesting discussion between William Johnston, SJ, who's written on Zen and Christian contemplation, and the Japanese Catholic novelist Shusaku Endo. Wikipedia says of Endo ...

Shūsaku Endō (遠藤 周作 Endō Shusaku, March 27, 1923–September 29, 1996) was a renowned 20th century Japanese author who wrote from the unique perspective of being both Japanese and Catholic ..... his books mainly deal with the moral fabric of life. His Catholic faith can be seen at some level in all of his books, and it is often a central feature. Most of his characters struggle with complex moral dilemmas, and their choices often produce mixed or tragic results. In this his work is often compared to that of Graham Greene. In fact, Greene has personally labeled Endo one of the finest writers of the 20th century ...

Here below are just some bis from the discussion. What's kind of interesting is that Endo, though Japanese, seems actually more conservative and cautious about Buddhism and the blending of Catholicism and Buddhism than does Fr. Johnston .....


ENDO: Are you still interested in Buddhism, Father?

Johnson: Yes, of course. I don't think I'll ever lose my interest in Buddhism.

E: What aspect of Buddhism interests you most?

J: The meeting of Buddhism and Christianity ........

E: Little by little the dialogue is getting under way. A while ago in Sophia University I heard Buddhist monks chanting the sutras during Mass instead of Gregorian chant. If that had happened 20 or 30 years ago, there would have been an awful rumpus. But tell me, when did you first get interested in Buddhism? Was it before the Second Vatican Council?

J: Yes. The pioneer was Father Lassalle [Enomiya Lassalle, S.J.]. He influenced me a lot.

E: He built the Zen center outside Tokyo. But apart from Lassalle there wasn't much interest before the council ....... But when Lassalle began, it must have seemed heretical for Christians to practice Buddhist forms of meditation.

J: Not heretical, but progressive.

E: But what did the other missionaries think? I suppose they were indifferent. Or did they not think it was dangerous?

J: Some considered it dangerous. But aren't modern people attracted by danger? Don't they like risk?

E: [Laughing] There was a stage in the Japanese church when we thought we had to avoid all risks. But you seem to have done away with that idea. Was it because of the Second Vatican Council?

J: Of course. But you yourself are known for your interest in inculturation. There can be no inculturation of Christianity in Japan without dialogue with Buddhism.

E: Yes, but my efforts at inculturation got me into trouble with my fellow Catholics. [Laughing] You seem to have escaped ....... I have no doubt that dialogue is a very fine thing. But it has its limits. After all, when we Christians talk to Buddhists and learn from them, we must know where to draw the line. I would like to hear something about that.

J: Yes....

E: There are vast differences between Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhism talks about abandoning the self. It talks about getting rid of all attachments and it even claims that love is a form of attachment. We can never say that ......

J: Yet ..... when we come to dialogue, we must distinguish between Christianity as a living faith and Christianity as theology. The living faith is expressed in the prayer and worship of the people who say, "Our Father, who art in heaven" or recite the Jesus prayer. This does not change. Theology, on the other hand, is reflection on religion at a given time and in a given culture. It changes from culture to culture and from age to age, as we have seen so dramatically in the 20th century. Our task at present is to create an Asian theology.

E: I agree ..... I think you have practiced some Zen. You know that when one sits in silence for some time the unconscious begins to surface and one can come into considerable turmoil. Eventually one is liberated ("Body and soul have fallen away" they say) and one reaches enlightenment. Now tell me, is there anything like that in Christianity?

J: Of course. You get this kind of experience in the Christian contemplatives.

E: But is the experience of the Christian mystics like St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross the same as the Zen experience or is it different?

J: This is a much debated point. I can only give you my opinion. I believe that mystical experience is conditioned by one's faith. If one believes that God is love and that the Word was made flesh, this will enter into the experience. It certainly enters into the experience of St. John of the Cross, who speaks of the Incarnation at the summit of the mystical life and whose mystical experience is finally Trinitarian. In short, even though profound mystical experience is silent, imageless and ineffable, it has content. The experiences of St. John of the Cross and Zen master Dogen are not the same. To anyone who reads their writings this is obvious. Precisely because they are different, dialogue is meaningful ......


Well, that was interesting, but I'm still peeved about detachment/indifference. It seemed like Endo was about to explore the idea, but then never got on with it. I should mention that Ignatius believed indifference was essential ....

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created. For this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it. For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

This is something to which I have to give a lot more thought.


Blogger Jeff said...

I guess I've always strived for a certain detachment from the world (to enjoy the good things of the world, but not to worship them and live for them), rather than indifference. I'm not sure indifference is the key to a healthy spirituality.

I understand that Martin Scorcese is very close to releasing his new movie Silence, based upon the Shusaku Endo novel. I've been looking for a trailer, so that I can post it, but I haven't found one yet.

6:09 PM  
Blogger Rachi said...

I agree with Jeff- we are called to be detached from the world (to be in the world, not of the world)- but indifference is something different.
the opposite of love is not hate but indifference...

6:45 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Jeff, according to Wikii, the movie is due out in the summer of next year. It sounds like it will be really interesting.

I am so not detached. I don't care about a lot of things, but the things I do care about I practically have in a death grip :-)

11:30 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Rachel, I can't really see a difference between detachment and indifference .... they both seem to be about not caring. How can people passionately commit themselves to good causes that require courage and sacrifice, for instance, if they could take or leave the purpose of that cause? Just me babbling :-)

11:38 PM  
Blogger Rachi said...

I see what you mean about having passion for be detached perhaps is not so much to be indiferent about something, but maybe more not let it have a hold over you...
it's a hard one. and I dont think you babble :)

also Nick passes on his regards to you- we had lunch together today, which was great! :)

God Bless
love Rachel xoxo

12:36 AM  
Blogger Rachi said...

ps. thanks for compliments on the cake :)
my mummy is very clever, I'll pass on the message!

12:37 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

My regards back to Nick ... so copasetic that you guys have become friends :-)

1:28 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Hi Crystal,

Hope you are well. I'm going through a bit of a difficult time at the moment, and Rachel has been a great friend.

You might be interested to know that I have a new book of poems and philosophical reflections out at the end of the year. It is called 'Via Dolorosa', after the path Jesus tread while carrying his cross. I'll be sure to send you a copy.


3:28 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

I think one thing that was interesting in the discussion was the idea that Christians cannot be indifferent to love. That's very important. I think, however, you can be open to love and caring but not be dominated by unruly passions, and that's where indifference should be important -- also, we have to be able to accept what happens without despair and most of all accept God's will (knowing what that is, of course, is not easy). We have to be attentive not to engage in a passion that is really selfish at its core.

7:10 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Nick,

That's exciting about the book - I look forward to reading it. I'm sorry to hear that things have been difficult lately - having friends along the way can really make a difference. Prayers.

10:46 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


we have to be able to accept what happens without despair and most of all accept God's will

I think that's what Ignatius means by indifference. About love though, I'm not sure how to care while staying deteched. I wonder about Jesus - he seemed like the most non-detached person.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Mike L said...

Hi Crystal,

To me there is a great difference between detachment and indifference. Indifference means I really don't care one way or the other, whatever it is it has effect on my life. With detachment I may care a great deal, but it is neither going to make or destroy my life.

I am certainly not indifferent to the fact that I have cancer, but I think that I have enough detachment that I can go on with life, not throwing myself off a bridge, or seeking every magical cure that is offered.

I am most certainly not indifferent to the problems that you have, but I am detached enough to know that you are capable of finding your own way and that I have no need to interfere in you life. If, and when I can help, I most certainly will, but I am detached enough that I will go on with my life until such a time happens.

I am not indifferent to the Iraqi mess, but I am detached enough that I am not going to pass up surgery next week to participate in a peace march.

I agree strongly with Rachel, the opposite of love is indifference, and I might suggest that the opposite of attachment is freedom. I re-read that and it sounds a bit harsh, but I think that depends on what the word detachment means. In this discussion attachment means something is controlling my life. I find this different from the things that I decide to do because I love my wife and am "attached" to her. English is such a wonderful language that allows one to argue one way while meaning something entirely different :-).

I think, Crystal, you are much wiser, and know much more than you are willing to admit.


Mike L

11:02 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

how are you doing health-wise?

Raised by wolves as I was, I'm afraid detachment is really (in my case anyway) a kind of sociopathy that breeds an emotional distance. Or maybe I've assimilated cultural myths ... you know, the love that will make you kill yourself in despair like Romeo and Juliet, the passion that will send you half way around the world to fight another's war, like Byron, etc.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Garpu the Fork said... I understand it, the buddhist notion of detachment is rather nuanced. A person can become attached to non-attachment. It's not complete nothingness. It's kind of like in the Benedictine notion of property, the things themselves aren't bad, but being owned by the thing is.

9:50 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Garpu,

the things themselves aren't bad, but being owned by the thing is.

I think that is kind of the Ignatian view also - desires are good, it's just the proper ordering of them that's an issue.

I'm not sure about Buddhist non-attachment, though - never understood the philosophy very well.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Garpu the Fork said...

I"m not sure I understand it, either. Maybe I can get my fiancé, who's mostly Buddhist, to articulate it better. (He's not big on blogging.)

11:32 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

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4:14 PM  
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4:17 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

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7:28 PM  
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11:57 PM  
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Blogger crystal said...

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1:31 AM  
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1:33 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Woah, what happened? I was enjoying the back and forth.

1:33 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

uh oh - I thought you were done :-)

5:58 PM  

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