I went to Japan in 1970 in my early 20s, sent by the Jesuits to help out in the work there. And so, when I arrived I was enrolled in a language school and there I learned about Japanese culture and language and how to accustom myself to living and working in Japan. My spiritual director at the time, at the language school in Kamakura, was Fr. Thomas Hand. He was an American Jesuit from California who had already been practicing Zen himself under Yamada Koun-Roshi (whose Zen center was right there, in Kamakura). So, he recommended that I join him there at the San’un Zendo. So I did. That is what got me into the practice of Zen. This was as I was preparing my own studies for the priesthood in the Jesuit order.
And what was it about the practice of zazen that stuck?
I found it a very simple and direct way of coming to a point of stillness, without using discursive thought and without a lot of preliminaries. Of course there are physical and other preliminaries such as taking the posture, and so on. We had to go through eight introductory talks in the San’un Zendo as beginners before we could even join the rest of the group of sitters or being introduced to the Roshi. Again, the basic practice of zazen, is a very direct and simple way of being still. I found that very attractive and also very powerful. I came from a tradition of spiritual practice in the Jesuit order based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. These spiritual exercises can also lead to a very deep spiritual experience but it arrives there going through a lot of discursive language and theological presuppositions, and so forth, beginning with considerations of how the world is in a mess, and how I am part of that mess.