April 17, 2018 Author: Fr. Antony Ittikunnath OCD 0 Comments



In the preface to Elizabeth O’Connor’s book Search for Silence, N. Gordon Cosby writes: “The one journey that ultimately matters is the journey into the place of stillness deep within one’s self. To reach that place is to be at home; to fail to reach it is to be forever restless. At the place of ‘central silence’ one’s own life and spirit are united with the life and Spirit of God. There the fire of God’s presence is experienced. The soul is immersed in love. The divine birth happens. We hear at last the living Word.”[1] This paper is an attempt to capture Brother Lawrence’s spirit and style, with which, he experiences the presence of God in his daily ordinary life and to find out the harmonizing elements in the Zen practices of reaching the ‘consciousness.’ Both these forms of spirituality can be appreciated for their methodless method of paving a path in our daily “inward journey” to the core of our being. 

At the very outset, we must keep in mind that there is no concept of Almighty God/god in Buddhism or in Zen.  The Zen Way is strictly not a religion in the sense of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a supernatural Being. Liberation of the self is one’s own responsibility. It places heavy emphasis on self-reliance, self discipline and individual striving.  The ultimate objective of followers/practitioners is enlightenment and/or liberation from Samsara, the cycle of birth and death, rather than to go to a Heaven (or a deva realm in the context of Buddhist cosmology).[2]

The distinction for Merton between the Zen interiority and Christian mysticism helps us understand the difference between secular spirituality – the discovery of the inner self – and God based spirituality, which is the discovery of the relationship between self and God. In Zen for instance, there seems to be no effort to get beyond the inner self. In Christianity the inner self is simply a stepping stone to an awareness of God.[3]

So what I focus in this Paper is the ‘spirituality,’ behind both these journeys.  In fact, spirituality is more unifying than religion, for spirituality is less encumbered by the divisive religious doctrines. An in-depth encounter between both these methods leads to a ‘methodless method,’ where we find  mutual- spiritual enrichment.  What both Brother Lawrence and the Zen Way convey to us, seems to me, is a “celebration of everyday life’ by being conscious of what we are doing in the present moment. So the object these pages is to show how we can live out the spirituality of Bro Lawrence through making use of the practices of the Zen meditation, which will make our ‘inward journey’  more easier and clearer. Throughout this section, an effort is made to present spiritual journey of Bother Lawrence and the Zen way of meditation, conjointly. It is like a “passing over” from Brother Lawrence to the Zen Way and “coming back” to Brother Lawrence’s teaching becoming  “more enlightened.”

Concept of God: Indwelling in all Creatures, but, Independent of Them

For Brother Lawrence God is an indwelling presence in our hearts. Thus, his concept of God is very much based on his spiritual exercises. His practice of the presence of God is based on his strong faith that God is truly in our hearts, that we must adore, love and serve him in spirit and in truth, that He sees everything that happens and will happen in us and in all creatures; that He is independent of everything and the One on whom all creatures depend, infinite in every kind of perfection.

As St. Augustine described it, it is “more intimate to me than I am to myself” (Confessions III, 6:11). It is also beyond all that we can ever conceive or imagine that it is “Wholly Other,” as Karl Barth and many other theologians point out.[4] He is the one, by virtue of his infinite excellence and sovereign domain, deserves all that we are as well as everything in heaven and on earth, of which he can dispose as he wishes in time and in eternity. All our thoughts, words and actions belong by right to him. [5]          

We have seen that there is no concept of God in Zen as the ultimate goal of one’s spiritual journey. In Zen, thus the transformative experience of seeing into one’s nature is the starting point and the ending point, the Alpha and the Omega of Zen practice. [6] But the notion the “Buddha mind”- it is not something esoteric to be laboriously acquired, something “not there” which has to be put “there” by the assiduous mental and physical pummeling of Roshis, Koans, and all the rest. “The Buddha is your everyday mind.”[7] Thus we can see the ultimate goals of both these spirituality: one is  ‘enlightenment,’ and the other is the God- who ‘enlightens’ who dwells within the core of our being.

Practice of the Presence of God: The Core of his Spirituality

Brother Lawrence defines the practice of the presence of God as an application of our mind to God, or remembrance of God present, that can be brought either by the imagination or the understanding. He calls it by many names as “simple act,” or a “clear distinct knowledge of God,” or an “indistinctive view” or a “general and loving awareness of God” or “attention to God” or silent conversation with God” or “trust in God” or “soul’s life and peace” (Spiritual Maxims 21).

Zen meditation also invites for transforming our mental process, by honoring the present.[8]  It is a process of silencing the mind. In the Soto school of Zen, meditation with no objects, anchors, or content, is the primary form of practice. The mediator strives to be aware of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference.[9]  The tendency of the mind is to actively pursue objects of thought for reflection or rumination. Zen practice invites us to regulate this mental activity- using breath – counting as one very effective way to do this- thus helping this normally discursive, restless mind to become still in the present here and now.[10]

Thus this “simple act” mentioned by Brother Lawrence can be practiced more easily with the breathing exercise suggested by the Zen practice. Both these paths call for a discipline of the mind. Both tell the spirituality within the reach of all.

The Ultimate purpose of Man and His Identity

According to Brother Lawrence, as given in the first chapter of his Spiritual Maxims, the ultimate purpose of a person is to be the most perfect adorer of God in this life as one hopes to be throughout all eternity. And for that, one has to keep his eyes on God in everything one says, does or undertakes. And one must make a firm resolution to overcome, with God’s grace, all the difficulties inherent in his spiritual life (Spiritual Maxims 2). Because, a soul depends on grace, in proportion to its desire for greater perfection (Spiritual Maxims 5). And at the very beginning of one’s spiritual journey, one must seriously consider who one is, recognizing that one is worthy of all scorn, unworthy of the name Christian, and subject to all kinds of miseries and a multitude of setbacks. These disturb human being and one’s health, moods, inner dispositions and their manifestations changeable. But one must believe that it is advantageous for oneself and pleasing to God to sacrifice oneself to Him, that it is normal for His divine providence to abandon us to all sorts of trials, miseries and temptations for the love of God, and for as long as He likes (Spiritual Maxims 4).[11]

Stop and See

Zen Buddhism teaches that all human beings have the Buddha-nature, or the potential to attain enlightenment within them, but the Buddha-nature has been clouded by ignorance. To overcome this ignorance, Zen rejects the study of scriptures, religious rites, devotional practices, and good works in favor of meditation leading to a sudden breakthrough of insight and awareness of ultimate reality.[12] Zen is a centuries- old tradition whose key practice is summed up in these two words: stop and see. It has a long track record of enabling practitioners to see into their own true nature and live accordingly in its light. Sitting in stillness with full attention in the here and now is a most direct way of coming home to the innermost core of one’s being.[13]

Thus the purpose of the ‘inward journey’ in both these practices is to find out one’s true identity or nature. For Brother Lawrence, even though man is created in the image of God, because of his weakness, he is subject to all kinds of miseries and multitude of setbacks. So he needs a journey to refine his nature. And according to Zen, as we meditate we begin to see more clearly our many prejudices and sticking points.[14] And this leads us to try to refine our characters and finally to realize our inherent Buddha nature.

Work: a Prayer and Conversation with God

For Brother Lawrence, the holiest, most ordinary and most necessary practice of the spiritual life is that of the presence of God. It is to take delight in and become accustomed to his divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him all the time, at every moment, without rule or measure, especially in times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin (Spiritual Maxims 6). We must continually apply ourselves so that all our actions, without exception, become a kind of brief conversation with God, not in a contrived manner but coming from the purity and simplicity of our hearts. We must perform all our actions carefully and deliberately, not impulsively or hurriedly, for such would characterize a distracted mind. We must work gently and lovingly with God, asking him to accept our work, and by this continual attention to God we will crush the head of the devil and force the weapons from his hands (Spiritual Maxims 8).

Washing the dishes to wash the dishes

Zen uses the phrase of ‘being at home’ with the present. It is at home in the acts of changing a baby’s nappy, a staff meeting at work, stuck in traffic, or chopping vegetables for dinner, as it is in sitting on a remote mountain top. [15] Venerable Master Thich Nhat Hanh, says of two ways of washing the dishes:

The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.  If while washing the dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes.

In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future – and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.[16]

So in Zen tradition, we can see even the ordinary works we do, can be turned to be a bridge to the inner being of our self. And in the spiritual journey of Lawrence, they become a means to converse with the indwelling God. We read that even the slightest thing, like “flipping the omelet over in the pan,” he did for the love of God. He was content even when picking up a straw from the ground for the love of God (Conversations 8). Everything was accompanied by “this little inward glance,” a glance of “the heart.”[17]

Prayer within the Prayer

Brother Lawrence’s concept of prayer goes even deeper, as he defines the practice of the presence of God as a prayer within the prayer. He says: “During our work and other activities, even during our reading and writing, no matter how spiritual- and, I emphasize, even during our religious exercises and vocal prayers- we must stop for a moment, as often as possible, to adore God in the depths of our hearts, to savor him, even though in passing and stealthily. Since you are aware that God is present to you during your actions, that he is in the depths and center of your heart, stop your activities and even your vocal prayers, at least from time to time, to adore him within, to praise him, to ask his help, to offer him your heart, and to thank him” (Spiritual Maxims 9).

Eating a Tangerine

In his book, “Miracle of Mindfulness: a manual of  Meditation,” Thich Nhat Hanh narrates how he watched one of his friends chewing tangerine without being aware of what he actually was doing. His friend was terribly disturbed about his future plans. Thich Nhat Hanh reminded his friend saying: “You ought to eat the tangerine section you’ve already take.”  Hearing this, his friend was startled into realizing what he was doing. It was as if he hadn’t been eating the tangerine at all. Thich Nhat Hanh says, if he had been eating anything, he was “eating” his future plans.[18] Thus Zen too, calls us to embrace a spiritual practice that is hands-on, practical and down to earth, taking the Buddha’s invitation as a cue: stop (the working of you inquisitive mind) and see (what is, just as it is).[19]

Sometimes, even we do our vocal prayers, without being aware of what we are actually doing. We just recite them, without praying them. It is here, Brother Lawrence, whose heart had become a ‘prayerfield’[20] reminds us to become aware of what we are doing. While working in the kitchen, he must have had in mind St. Teresa of Avila’s statement, “The Lord walks among the pots and pans.”[21] And what Thich Nhat Hanh reminded his friend is not alien to this teaching that is to be in the present to here and now.

Characteristics of the Inward Journey

Brother Lawrence continues to speak of this inward journey more clearly, saying: “Nothing is more pleasing to God than to turn away from all creatures many times throughout the day to withdraw adore him present within. Moreover, this turning inward imperceptibly destroys the self- love found only among creatures. In the end, we can offer God no greater evidence of our fidelity than by frequently renouncing and scorning creatures in order to enjoy their Creator for a moment. I do not mean by this that you must withdraw forever from your duties, for that would be impossible; prudence, the mother of all virtues, must be your guide. I do say, nonetheless, that it is typical error among the spirituality minded not to withdraw from what is external from time to time to adore God within themselves and enjoy His divine presence in peace for a few moments” (Spiritual Maxims 9).

An Adoration of God in Spirit and Truth as One’s second nature

According to Brother Lawrence, adoring God in spirit and in truth means adoring God as we are supposed to adore him. God is spirit and we must adore him in spirit and in truth, that is, with humble, authentic adoration of spirit in the depths and center of our souls. God alone can see this adoration, which we can repeat so often that in the end it will become second nature to us, as if God were one with our souls and our souls were one with God. Adoring God in truth means recognizing him for what he is and recognizing ourselves for what we are. Adoring God in truth means admitting that, although we are completely opposite, he wants to make us like himself, if we desire (Spiritual Maxims 12- 14).

Becoming one with the Breath

As God is spirit, we must adore Him in spirit and as Brother Lawrence said this authentic adoration of spirit is in the depths and center of our souls it will become second nature to us. We can find the synthesizing point, when we consider the Biblical meaning of the Spirit as Ruah. The Book of Genesis introduce the divine Breath (Ruah) that lies at the basis of all being and all life, that power which gives everything its form and shape.[22] Thus constant awareness of the breath empowers and recreates the individual, often working profound transformations in his inner makeup. When Jesus “breathed on [the apostles], and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22), he was indicating that the breath and the Holy Spirit are identical–to meditate upon the breath is to meditate upon the Holy Spirit. Or more to the point: to experience the breath is to experience the Holy Spirit. The inmost, subtle breath that arises from the spirit is the transforming power of God. [23]

And in Zen meditation, the breath of the practitioner is the inner secret of the practitioner. The task of the Zen teacher is to help the practitioner to be fully tamed, healed, and transformed by the power of the breath. One definition of Zen is simply “the art of living in attunement with the Breath.” And, ultimately, the Breath itself will be the most reliable guide on his journey.[24]

Thus the Breath of the Lord active within a person transforms the one from glory to glory: in the Zen Meditation it takes you to an enlightened humanity with a Buddha Mind and in Christian Mysticism, to an enlightening Divinity which dwells in the core of one’s being.

Means to Acquire the Presence of God

Lawrence speaks of five means to acquire this presence of God:

1)      Purity of Life- one must maintain a greater purity of life

2)      Great fidelity to the practice of the presence of God, which is the interior gazing upon God in faith

3)      This practice must precede, accompany and complete all our activities

4)      Formulation of Phrases for the beginners such as “My God, I am completely yours,” or “God of love, I love you with all my heart,” or “Lord, fashion me according to your hear.”

5)      Mortification of the senses[25]

Practically, we can summaries the means, proposed by Brother Lawrence in these words: it is as unceasing inward journey with purity of life by means of formulation of phrases and mortification of the senses.

Means used in Zen Way

When one engages in Zen meditation, Zen recommends that its practitioner follow a three-step procedure: adjusting body, breathing and mind. But these are only means to attain an integral disposition to acquire ‘enlightenment.’ It also suggests the use of Koa­n. Koans are “riddles” students use to assist in the realization of Satori; these words and phrases were also used by the early Zen masters. Another method is meditation. Satori can be brought about through Zazen meditation. This meditation would create an objective self associated awareness with a feeling of joy that overrides any other feelings of joy or sorrow. Even though Satori is a key concept in Zen, it should be brought to the attention of the reader that Zen and its traditions do NOT have exclusive rights to the Enlightenment experience. That which is called Satori in Zen is a term that is wrapped around a phenomenon that “IS” and that “IS” is not “owned” by any group, religion, or sect.[26]

Meditation trains one to sit face-to-face with one’s self, while creating a temporary psychological isolation from the external world. With this, one enters into an internal world of psyche. As the practitioner attempts to enter the world of psyche, various things start surfacing in the field of the practitioner’s meditative awareness. These are mostly things of concern that have occupied the practitioner in the history of his or her life, or things the practitioner has consciously suppressed for various reasons.

Here too, we can observe that both these spirituality suggest, a kind of discipline of life, and an integral disposition body and mind, by way of using “phrases” and a custody of senses (in Zen, by use of breathing meditation), which are of course, a means to enter into the internal world of psyche and even beyond it, to a more intimate realm and to glance at our true nature.

Inward Journey leads to Three types of Union

According to Brother Lawrence, there are three kinds of union: the first is habitual, the second virtual, and the third actual. Habitual union is when we are untied to God solely by grace. Virtual union is when we begin an action by which we are united with God and remain united with him by virtue of this action the entire time of its duration. Actual union is the most perfect. And completely spiritual as it is, its movement is perceptible because the soul is not asleep as in the other unions, but finds itself powerfully stirred. Its operation is more intense than fire, more luminous than the sun in a clear sky. Nonetheless this feeling can be misleading, for it is not a simple expression of the heart, like saying “My God, I love you with all my heart,” or other similar words, it is rather, an “I don’t know what” of the soul, gentle, peaceful, spiritual, respectful, humble, loving, and very simple, that upholds and incites it to love God, to adore him, and even embrace him with an inexpressible tenderness that experience alone can enable us to understand (Spiritual Maxims 15- 19).[27]

For Brother Lawrence this inward journey requires a willingness to surrender one’s self to God, with all of his virtues and vices. We must carefully examine which virtues are the most essential, which are the most difficult to acquire, which sins we commit most often, and which are the most frequent and inevitable of our falls. We must have recourse to God with complete confidence at the moment of combat, remain firm in the presence of  his divine majesty, adore him humbly, bring him our miseries and weaknesses, and lovingly as him for the help of his grace. In this way we will find every virtue in him without our having any of our own (Spiritual Maxims 11).[28]

No- Self in Zen

            The culmination point of the journey towards the ‘Actual Union’ in Brother Lawrence’s spirituality is the death of one’s ego. It is a state of mind, where one comes to know finally that ‘he has nothing of his own (Spiritual Maxims 11). It is a state of total self surrender- a death of one’s ego.  In Zen, the continued practice of awareness can bring experiences of deep insight which change one’s to the point that one can see that the self to which one has been dearly attached for his or her whole life is nothing more than a self- made image. It is like peeling a banana tree. Layer after layer of mistaken thoughts are removed until not only does one not discover a disguised and pretending self, but also one does not see even a naked self. One aimed to discover one’s self, but end up discovering that there is nothing to discover. The concepts of ‘no- mind’ and ‘no- self’ consist in apprehending the impersonality of existence, recognizing that existence is a flux of arising and passing away of physical and mental phenomena in which there is no constant individual self or ego.[29]

A fuller and truer expression of Zen in Christian experience is given by Meister Eckhart. He admits that: “to be a proper abode for God and fit for God to act in, a man should also be free from all things and actions, both inwardly and outwardly.” This is Cassian’s “purity of heart,” and it also corresponds to the idea of “spiritual virginity” in some Christian mystics. But now Eckhart goes on to say that there is much more: A man should be so poor that he is not and has not a place for God to act in. to reserve a place would be to maintain distinctions.” “A man should be so disinterested and untrammeled that he does not know what God is doing in him.”  Only when there is no self left as a “place” in which God acts, only when God acts purely in Himself, do we at last recover our “true self” (which is in Zen terms “no self”). It is here, in this poverty (dark night), that the human being regains the eternal being that once she or he was, now is and evermore shall be.”[30]

Benefits of the Presence of God

Lawrence concludes his Spiritual Maxims, with a description upon the benefits of the presence of God[31]. They can be divided into four as follows:

Faith becomes more intense or livelier

 Particularly in times of need, since the practice easily obtains for us the grace in our temptations and in the inevitable intercourse that we must have with creatures. Finally it grows so penetrating that the soul might almost say, “I no longer believe, but I see and experience.”

It strengthens us in hope

 As our soul penetrates into the secrets of the Divinity, hope increases and grows stronger. And in some degree, soul tastes, reassures and sustains the greatness of the goodness that it expects.

It increases contempt for creatures

This is because; the soul is always with God. By the term creatures, Lawrence intents to say all that are opposed to God. Because Lawrence here asserts that God is loved, known, served and adored by all creatures (Cf. Spiritual Maxims 35).

Practice of the Presence of God becomes one single act that does not end

Lawrence concludes the Spiritual Maxims, by stating that, this final stage is a generous gift of God, given only to few. But for the consolation of those who desire to embrace this holy practice, that he ordinarily gives it to souls who are disposed to receive it. If god does not give it, we can at least acquire, with the help of ordinary grace, a manner and state of prayer that greatly resembles this simple awareness, by means of this practice of the presence of God.

We can here, summarizes the benefits of Brother Lawrence’s ‘inward journey’ as going beyond one’s false identity and finding the true identity which is incorporated into the God, the creator. One forms strong faith and hope in God, as he progress in the practice of the presence of God, which finally becomes, his second nature. He also develops contempt towards the creatures. And, as I have mentioned above, here, the ‘creatures’ mean, not ‘all that is created by God’, but all that hinders on our ‘inward journey.’ Because Lawrence here asserts that God is loved, known, served and adored by all creatures (Cf. Spiritual Maxims 35).

Three Fruits of Zen Meditation

Concentration (joriki)

 In the Zen context, con- centration is a state of mind and being where the separation between subject and object is overcome. In this state we are focused at and grounded in the core of our being, where we find our true home.

The awakening to one’s true nature (Kensho)

 Once we get rid of our self- centered attitudes, the turning point in the life of Zen occurs. We glims a dimension that entirely transforms our whole way of seeing and being. We come back to the ordinary life, but with a crucial difference: we now are able to see through the delusions of the egoic self that prevented us from seeing things as they are.

Embodiment of the Supreme way ( mujodo no taigen)

 It is the actualization of the way of enlightenment in one’s daily life. The awakened person is no longer deluded by a false ego. One sees the interconnectedness of all things. I am what I am because everything else in the universe is what it is; everything else in this universe is what it is because I am who I am. [32]

Spirituality of Connectedness

Recalling once again, main fruits of the practice of the presence of God and the Zen meditation, we can summarize them in the following way:

Both these spiritual ways lead us to the true nature of one’s self. And one results in a spirituality of connectedness, which is characterized by compassion. Even though, Brother Lawrence has not mentioned the term compassion as the benefits of the practice of the presence, the life of this ‘sandal maker’, ‘the cook,’ was a practice of compassion in its true sense. His biographer has left us a portrait of his social virtues. “Brother Lawrence’s virtue never made him harsh. He was open, eliciting confidence, letting you feel you could tell him anything, and that you have found a friend. From his part, once he knew who he was dealing with, he spoke freely and showed great goodness, what he said was simple, yet always appropriate, and made good sense. Once you got past his rough exterior you discovered unusual wisdom, a freedom beyond the reach of the ordinary lay brother, an insight that extended far beyond what you would expect” (Ways of Brother Lawrence 3).

He had “the best heart in the world. His fine countenance, his human affable air, his simple, modest manner won him the esteem and good will of all who saw him……he was not one of those inflexible people who consider sanctity incompatible with ordinary manners. He associated with everyone and never put on airs, acting kindly towards his brothers and friends without wanting to be conspicuous” (Eulology 35). 

A “Zen Person,” too, having reached the state of enlightenment, he or she becomes full of warm compassion towards all human and other beings. His or her character is radiant, open, and as bright as the spring sunshine. The person has the great conviction that I am, because, I belong. Such a person can be called enlightened. And in this sense, we see in Brother Lawrence, the Enlightened Sandal Maker.

Contribution of the Spirituality of Brother Lawrence and Zen to the Contemporary  Human Being’s “Inward Journey”

I would like to conclude this paper by pondering what the spirituality of Brother Lawrence and the Zen convey to the contemporary times. 

The Predicament of Contemporary Humanity: Absent from His own Life

Humanity in our age undergoes an identity crisis, as owe are caught up in a culture which forces one to ‘participate’ in a compromising world. A horror of vacuums (as Spinoza uses the term), which pulls us under forces us to ‘participate’ and eventually be satisfied with a ‘false identity’ of the self.[33]

Abba Anthony once said, “Who sits in solitude and is quite hath escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking and seeing: yet against one thing shall he continually battle: that is, his own heart.”[34] The predicament of the modern man is still worse in the battle against hearing, speaking and seeing and the continual battle in our hearts as we are placed in a culture of excessive distraction, comfort, immediacy, the world of modern technology and social and visual Medias.

Almost everything within our world militates against journeying inward towards stillness and silence as a remedy to the painful obsessions that we experience in our restlessness. Our culture invites excitement and titillation. The world suggests that solution to your restlessness lies outside yourself, in building a bigger and more exciting life, inviting us in a thousand ways to forget that God has called us to make an inward pilgrimage.

The Need of Quietness in Everyday Life

As I have mentioned before, the spiritualities under our discussion are both a “celebration of everyday life” by being conscious of what we are doing in here and now. We cannot hope to free ourselves from the false self- that the values of this world encourage us to create, to escape the self- alienation that marks our lives from the womb and is constantly fostered by worldly society, if we do not at times and even regularly seek periods of quietness. This is the goal of all authentic meditation practices and especially of the centering prayer that comes to us from these two spiritualities we discussed.[35] We need to find our own cell, a place of solitude, if one wants to return to his true sense of identity. The abbot Anthony said, “Fish, if they tarry on dry land, die: even so monks that tarry outside their cell or abide with men of the world fall away from their own vow of quite. As a fish must return to the sea, so must we to our cell: lest it befall that by tarrying without, we forget the watch within.”[36] What is most evident and distinctive about these spiritualities is that, they are within the reach of each one of us. They teach us a way of being ‘mindful’ in our doing and being.As, Brother Lawrence said: “Our every action should be preceded, continued and completed” with the practice of the presence of God.


As a conclusion, I would express the essence of these spiritualities in two words: “Consciousness and Compassion,” doing things consciously and compassionately. And these two words must embrace even our smallest actions. No matter whether we are brushing our teeth or sweeping the floor, driving to work, or taking out the garbage, we do it consciously and compassionately. 

Spirituality is a lived experience. Once Lawrence said: “If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing but the practice of the presence of God, and if I were a spiritual director, I would recommend it to everyone because I believe it is so necessary, and even easy” (Letters 3).  The credibility of his teaching is enhanced because he knows what he is talking about when he speaks of the routine of daily life. The reader of the Practice of the Presence of God cannot fail to notice Brother Lawrence freedom from dogmatism while he espouses orthodox theology with childlike simplicity. This is what prompted me to find the synthesizing elements from Zen, which gives importance to experiences, rather than concepts or doctrines.

As I have mentioned before, spirituality is more unifying than religions, for spirituality is less encumbered by divisive religious doctrines. An in-depth encounter between religion leads to mutual spiritual enrichments. And we saw, how both these spiritualities complement each other and help us to set our ‘inward journey’ to find out our true identity, which is not self- centered, but goes beyond our ego and lead us to live our life consciously and compassionately.

End Note

[1] Elizabeth O’Connor, Search for Silence, rev. ed. (San Diego, Calif.: LuraMedia, 1986), 1.
[2] Tan Swee, “Budhism: Major Differences,” Budhadharna Education association and BudhaNet, 1996, ,http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/snapshot01.htm. (accessed 27 April 2016).
[3] H. Mowat, “Defining the Spiritual – Training Implications,” mowatreasearch, http://www.mowatresearch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/DefiningTheSpiritual.pdf (accessed 28 April 2016).
[4] Ruben L F. Habito, Zen and the Spiritual Exercises: Paths of Awakening and Transformation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2013), 10.
[5]Salvatore Sciurba, OCD, Trans., The Practice of the Presence of God (Lincoln Road: ICS Publications, 1994), 37.
[6] Habito, Zen and the Spiritual Exercises, 39.
[7]  Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite, 8th ed. (New York: A New Directions Book, 1968), 6.
[8] “The Basics of Zen Meditation,” openway.org, March 13, 2013, http://www.openway.org.au/pdf/introzen.pdf (accessed28  April  2016).
[9]  Wikipedia, s.v. “Zen,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen#Observing_the_breath ( accessed 28 April , 2016,).
[10] Habito, Zen and the Spiritual Exercises, 45.
[11] Sciurba, The Practice of the Presence of God, 35.
[12] “Zen.” ReligionFacts.com. 10 Nov. 2015. Web. <www.religionfacts.com/zen> (accessed 25 April 2016).
[13] Cf Habito, Zen and the Spiritual Exercises, 29.
[14] The Basics of Zen Meditation,” openway.org, March 13, 2013, http://www.openway.org.au/pdf/introzen.pdf (accessed 28 April  2016). 
[15] The Basics of Zen Meditation,” openway.org, March 13, 2013, http://www.openway.org.au/pdf/introzen.pdf (accessed 28 April 2016).

[16] “Venerable Master Thich Nhat Hanh,” Buddhist library.com ,http://www.abuddhistlibrary.com/Buddhism/ Mindfulness/Teaching.htm ( accessed 29 April 2016).
[17] Camilo Maccise, OCD, “Lawrence of the Ressurection,”  Carmelite Digest 4 (1992): 57.
[18] “Venerable Master Thich Nhat Hanh,” Buddhist library.com ,http://www.abuddhistlibrary.com/Buddhism/ Mindfulness/Teaching.htm ( accessed 29 April 2016).
[19] Cf. Habito, Zen and the Spiritual Exercises, 18.
[20]Sciurba, The Practice of the Presence of God, xxii.
[21] Jean Maalouf, Practicing the Presence of the Living God: A Retreat with Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (Washington: ICS Publications, 2010), 7.
[22] Ruben L.F. Habito, Healing Breath: Zen for Christians and Buddhists in a Wounded World. (Boston: Wisdom Publications), 2013, 53.

[23] Abbot George Burke, “The Christian Tradition of Breath Meditation,” Original Christianity and Original Yoga, http://ocoy.org/original-yoga/how-to-meditate/the-breath-of-life-the-practice-of-breath-meditation/(accessed 1 May, 2016).
[24]Cf.  Habito, Healing Breath ,48.

[25] Sciurba, The Practice of the Presence of God, 41.
[26] Whitney Moss, “Story in Zen Buddhism,” The Wandering , http://sped2work.tripod.com/satori.html (accessed 1 May 2016).

[27] Sciurba, The Practice of the Presence of God, 38- 39.

[28]Sciurba, The Practice of the Presence of God, 37.

[29] The Basics of Zen Meditation,” openway.org, March 13, 2013, http://www.openway.org.au/pdf/introzen.pdf ( accessed 28 April  2016).
[30]Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite,  9-10.
[31] Mary David, Trans., The Practice of the Presence of God, 2nd ed. (Westminister, MaryLand: the newman book shop, 1957), 92-94.
[32] Cf.  Habito, Healing Breath, 30- 35.

[33] Yushi Nomura, trans., Desert Wisdom: Sayings from the Desert Fathers (Maryknoll: Orbis books, 1979), xvi- xvii.

[34]Helen Waddell, The Desert Fathers: Translations from the Latin, Vintage Spiritual Classics (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), 69
[35]  Basil Pennington, “Preface to the Vintage Spiritual Classics Edition” in The Desert Fathers, (New York: Vintage Books,1998),  xxi
[36] Waddell, The Desert Fathers 69


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Author: Fr. Antony Ittikunnath OCD