While I was a student at Loyola University in New Orleans, I studied Zen with a Jesuit priest named Ben Wren.
Shin Sai is the Japanese translation for Heart/Mind fasting. Shin Sai was once a non-profit in Louisiana, started by a group of students who are thankful to have studied with The Rev. Ben Wren, S.J. (former) at Loyola University New Orleans.
As a freshman, I read about a Zen class offered by a Jesuit priest. You had to arrange an interview to be admitted. The interview consisted of several questions about God, Jesus, Buddha, reality and the present moment. I was admitted to Zen I.
Through practice, prayer and study, my spiritual life was transformed. Ben encouraged me to follow my dream of studying in The People's Republic of China. After I graduated from Loyola, I continued to attend Zen class and Ben and I became good friends. Ben fell in love, left the Jesuits and was married. I was the best man at his wedding.
Ben, Pat and I traveled a lot and got into a whole lot of mischief together. My first funeral as an ordained Episcopal Priest was presiding at Ben's funeral.
Old pond. Frog jumps in. The sound of water.
Benjamin Wren or, 'Zen Ben Wren' to thousands of Loyola University students who knew him as a teacher of Zen practice and Asian history as a Jesuit priest, then as a layman, died of lung cancer at age 75.
Ben spent 35 years on the Loyola faculty. For almost all his career he was a Jesuit priest. He left the order in 1996 after 48 years as a Jesuit, married Pat Wren and remained at Loyola. He taught Zen in a spare, fifth-floor zendo, or meditation hall, in Marquette Hall where the center of focus was a metal figure of the crucified Christ hanging on a barbed wire.
Ben was fascinated his entire life by Eastern philosophy, which he believed could be successfully integrated into Catholic spirituality, despite some reservations from the Vatican. He used Zen as a form of nondirected meditation, believing it opened the practitioner to the experience of God.
'God is not found by adding, but by subtracting,' he said in a 1990 Times-Picayune interview. In the stillness of Zen, 'we find the present moment is pregnant with God. Most of us are guilty of abortion.'
He explored much of that territory in a 1999 book, 'Zen Among the Magnolias.'
Loyola spokeswoman Kristine Lelong said Ben's Zen classes were among the most popular on campus, and returning alumni would frequently ask about him.
Yet his Zen classes were not open to all. He screened applicants. 'Some people's consciousness is best left undisturbed,' he told an interviewer in 1999.
Not surprisingly, Ben's background was multicultural. His mother was born in Hong Kong; his father was an American Marine. Ben was raised in Georgia.
'I said my grandmother on my mother's side is buried in Singapore. And my grandmother on my father's side is buried in Georgia. So East meets West, and here I is,' he once said.
Ben entered the Jesuit order at 17. He earned advanced degrees in Eastern studies from the University of Arizona, taught high school in Texas and arrived at Loyola in 1970. Except for a one-year stint teaching in Tokyo, he remained continuously on the Loyola faculty.
Thirty-five years after his ordination, Ben left the Jesuits and at 65 married Pat. Although his ministry was no longer recognized by the Catholic Church, he considered himself a priest even in his new life, his wife said. He affiliated with CORPUS, an organization of men who had left the priesthood to marry, his wife said.
A memorial service for Ben was held Aug. 19, 2006 at All Saints Episcopal Church, 100 Rex Drive in River Ridge.
"A special transmission outside the Scriptures, no dependence upon words and letters, direct pointing to reality, seeing into one's own nature and realizing Buddhahood." Bodhidharma
Traditionally zazen has been learned through the study of Zen. Zen, or Chan, originated in China in the sixth century and grew and flourished in Japan in the thirteenth century. In the 1950s, interest in Zen developed in the United States, particularly through the teachings of Shunryu Suzuki whose Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind introduced Americans to the technique of zazen. Zen Centers were established mainly on the west coast where people could learn the discipline of zazen. Individuals like Alan Watts and Gary Snyder were highly influenced by the Zen philosophy.
"Among the most remarkable features characterizing Zen, we find these: spirituality, directness of expression, disregard of form or conventionalism, and frequently an almost wanton delight in going astray from respectability."
The backbone of Zen is the practice of zazen. Zazen, or contemplative prayer, is the highest form of prayer. The four forms of prayer are petition, adoration, praise, and contemplation. True contemplative prayer is wordless and imageless. It is being in silence without thinking or knowing. Zen is unique in that it teaches techniques for discovering the silence of contemplative prayer. Stillness of the body is attained with the practice of correct posture which emphasizes an erect spine and knees below the navel. Once the body is disciplined, one becomes aware of the inner noise of the mind. Through disciplined practice, one goes beyond the mind to the silence of true contemplative prayer.
"Zen aims at freedom but its practice is disciplined."
The evolution of Tai Chi Chuan can be linked to a physical expression and manifestation of the principles and philosophy of Taoism. Taoism finds its origins in ancient China during the Chou period (1100-250 B.C.) in the state of Ch'u.
"In the face of infinite time and space, they accepted the unimportance of individuality except as human beings are individual manifestations of vast cosmic forces."
(Faribank, Reischauer, China, Tradition and Transformation. 46-47.)
The way of the Tao is written about in three Chinese philosophical classics - the Tao Te Ching, the Chuang-tzu and the Lieh-tzu.
To learn the Long-Soft form, taught by Ben Wren, link to the video "Stillness in Motion."