Jesus Christ and Christian Zen

By: Dr. John Ankerberg / Dr. John Weldon; ©2005
The sight of “Christian” Zenists denying or blaspheming Jesus while worshipping idols of Buddha is a striking one. Sitting in blissful meditation before statues of Buddha they describe the wonders of “Christian mysticism.” They cannot seem to comprehend how “the beauty of Christian Zen” only masks an ugly core of rebellion and nihilism.


Jesus Christ and Christian Zen

Zen avoids the historical Jesus Christ, and for good reason. Zen does not accept differentiated beings as having relevance or reality. The Gospel of Zen quotes Christian mystic Meister Eckhart: “Who is Jesus? He has no name”[1]—a fitting epitaph for the Jesus of Zen, who declares, “Split wood: I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.”[2] The historical Jesus has no more significance than wastepaper and, as Zenists would say, “wash out your mouth when you say His name.” Werner Erhard once blasphemously commented that, Jesus is dog excrement, although he used the four letter equivalent.

The essence of Jesus however is everything and nothing, reality, the void. For Zen, Jesus is also the Buddha, as is everything, for All is One. “No matter what the situation, you cannot neglect Buddha, because you yourself are Buddha. Only this Buddha will help you completely.”[3] According to Zen, Jesus Christ won’t help anyone.

The sight of “Christian” Zenists denying or blaspheming Jesus while worship­ping idols of Buddha is a striking one. Sitting in blissful meditation before statues of Buddha they describe the wonders of “Christian mysticism,” such as Zen satori. Although they do attempt to comprehend Zen, they cannot seem to com­prehend how “the beauty of Christian Zen” only masks an ugly core of rebellion and nihilism.

For Johnston, the author of Christian Zen, only a Zen Christ is relevant. This “Christ” is the real Christ and is Zen Reality. “Christ is the father of Christian mysticism” and “the great guru who knocked people into enlightenment with remarkable power.”[4] “Jesus, I believe, was so filled with God that he no longer had a human personality….”[5] On the other hand, the historical Jesus is depreci­ated as merely “the finger pointing toward the moon” and not the reality of the moon itself (enlightenment). Those who want the “real” Christ must not allow the “grubby little merchants” of Christianity to deceive them with their false concepts about Jesus Christ:

Properly and piously understood, one can say, “if you meet Christ, slay him!” And the meaning is: “What you see is not Christ”…. It is not necessary to have clear-cut images and concepts of Christ. If you have no such concepts … how happy you are! You have left the dirty cave of Plato and are out in the beautiful sunlit air. Don’t let these grubby little merchants drag you back to the murky underworld of conceptualization. Stay out. Enjoy your samadhi. Christ is with you…. The living and risen Christ [is], co-extensive with the universe and buried in the hollow recesses of the human heart…. So for Paul, Christ is beyond concepts, beyond images, beyond thought, beyond place…. He is our original face before we were born.[6]

While “Christian” Zenists are fond of noting the “reverence” that Zen monks display toward Jesus, it is only a Jesus of their own making, one who revels only in Zen. As far as the biblical Christ is concerned, He can only bring spiritual darkness. “The ‘Christian’ conviction that Jesus is … the standard by which ev­erything must be judged, is the depth of darkness to the eyes of Zen.”[7]

Just as Zen openly denies the biblical God, Zen openly denies the biblical Jesus Christ. Christian Zen, then, is an oxymoron. It does not point anyone to ultimate reality. Put in Zen terms, whenever you say “Christian Zen,” wash your mouth out.


  1. Robert Sohl and Audrey Carr, eds., The Gospel According to Zen, Beyond the Death of God (New York: The New American Library, 1970), p. 92
  2. Ibid., p. 72.
  3. Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (New York: Weatherhill, 1976), p. 76.
  4. William Johnston, Christian Zen (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1974), pp. 28, 90.
  5. Ibid., p. 14.
  6. Ibid., pp. 51-53.
  7. Tucker N. Callaway, Zen Way—Jesus Way (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1976), p. 158.


  1. anne moller on April 8, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    I find this astonishing. Before you comment on what another tradition thinks you need to have meaningful contact. If you are going to quote Meister Eckhart then it needs to be in context
    Again you need to spend the time. Through ignorance, fear mistrust and hatred flourish and people are harmed

  2. Bill Kitsch on March 15, 2022 at 11:26 am

    Using Zen to deny God is to elevate above him that which is in his subjection. There are many other views than this narrow view represented here.

    Christ is the Master of Masters. The Master of Time and Space.

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